God’s plan is rarely the straightest or easiest. Following it doesn’t guarantee immediate success the way we look at it. If you look at the story of Joseph in Genesis, you’ll see a young man who was given a pair of dreams. In one dream, eleven stalks of corn, representing his brothers, bowed down to his. In his next dream, eleven stars and the sun and moon, representing his parents, bowed down to his star. He shared his dreams and was ridiculed. His brothers threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, he was falsely accused and sent to prison where he was forgotten. It was around fourteen years before the dreams came true. Fourteen years of hardship before God’s plan came to fruition.
In Judges 20, the tribe of Benjamin had done an evil thing. The other eleven tribes joined forces to attack Benjamin. They asked God which tribe should attack first. God told them Judah. They went out to war and 22,000 died. They fasted and prayed, then asked God again if they were to go to battle. God told them yes again. They took positions the next day again. They were beaten again. This time losing 18,000. They cried and prayed to God again. A third time He told them to fight. This time they won. They routed Benjamin and nearly wiped out the entire tribe. Even though they followed God’s orders, they were defeated twice losing around 40,000 men.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (NLT). Following God’s plan will not always yield instant success, nor will it make your life easy. You may be pressed on every side, feel perplexed by what’s happening and get knocked down or back. However, we do have God’s promise that we will not be forsaken or abandoned in these times. We will not be crushed, driven to despair or destroyed. Keep going back to God seeking His will through the hardship. Keep making sure you’re following His orders and what He promised will come true. Don’t give up in the struggle. Victory is near.
There’s a scene in “Dances With Wolves” that I always remember. After Lieutenant Dunbar tells the Native American tribe that the buffaloes are moving through and they hunt, Dunbar is invited to their camp for a feast. After dinner, Wind In His Hair wants Dunbar to she a story again, but Dunbar is tired of sharing it. He sees that Wind In His Hair is eyeing his military jacket. He immediately takes it off and offers it to him. Wind In His Hair tries it on and loves it. He then takes off his chest beads and gives them to Dunbar, who puts them on. Wind In His Hair then hits hit chest and reaches across and pats Dunbar’s chest trying to communicate that he wants to trade. Dunbar accepts and says, “Good trade.” It reminds me that even though trades like that aren’t very common anymore, but we still make trades every day.
In Genesis 42, there is a severe famine in Egypt and it’s surrounding areas. Jacob and his sons are deeply affected by it. He hears that there is food in Egypt and sends ten of his eleven sons to get food. He refuses to let Joseph’s younger brother go. When they arrive, Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him. They ask for food, but he accuses them of being spies and locks them up in jail. He then agrees to let all but one go home until they bring back their other brother. When they tell Jacob.he refuses. He’s now lost two sons and Benjamin is his favorite now. They try to convince him to let them go back, but in verse 38 he says, “My son will not go down with you. His brother Joseph is dead, and he is all I have left. If anything should happen to him on your journey, you would send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave” (NLT). Jacob refused to let go of his son to trade him for food to live. It would take a long time before he let go, thereby delaying the blessing God had for him.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” God offers many trades with us. We give Him our burdens and He gives us rest. We give Him our sin and guilt and He gives eternal life. We give Him our old life and He gives us a new one. What are you still holding onto that God is offering a trade for? Don’t let fear or pride keep you from making a good trade. He takes our worst and gives us His best in exchange. Release it to Him today. By holding onto it you’re denying yourself the blessings He has for you in exchange.
Most of us can point to a period of adversity in our lives that shaped up. Some of us look back on that time with a bit of sorrow or even bitterness because of how bad it was and where it left them. Others look back on it as a bad time that created a positive outcome in their life. It could have been just as bad as someone else’s, but because the end result was different, they change how they look at it. How do you view that time? How far had God brought you since then? It’s hard to see God’s hand in our lives the closer we are to that time. However, the farther away we get, if we look back, we should be able to see God’s hand in it carrying us or moving us into a position through it. We rarely know everything He is doing, but with some distance and perspective we should be able to see how He can work everything out for our good.
In Genesis, we find the story of Joseph. He was a man that went through 13 years of adversity without letting it make him bitter towards God or others. His own family beat him, threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave. The man who purchased him from the slave traders lived in a foreign land. Joseph was a hard worker despite his circumstances. He was given more and more responsibility until his master’s wife made a pass at him. Because he rejected her, she lied and had him thrown in prison with no parole. He was left there and forgotten even though he helped people there. After he interpreted pharaoh’s dream, he was given all authority in Egypt to make decisions as he led them for 7 years of blessings and through 7 years of famine. During those 14 years, he got married and had two kids, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Genesis 41:52 says, “He named the second [son] Ephraim (fruitfulness), for ‘God has caused me to be fruitful and very successful in the land of my suffering.’” The more Joseph looked back on that time, the more he could see the faithfulness of God who was positioning him so that the dreams God gave him as a boy could be fulfilled. He didn’t allow bitterness to grow in his heart towards God or others. In doing so, he was able to be fruitful and successful even though he didn’t understand as he went through it. Our attitude in adversity, and even after, will often affect our outcome. God is faithful and able to turn any situation around for our good, no matter how bad it was. When I’m discouraged in times of adversity, I find hope when I look at Joseph knowing that God can make me fruitful and successful no matter how bad things get, and that He will be faithful to His Word through it.
The story of Joseph in Genesis is one of my favorites. As a late teenager, his brothers beat him up, threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. The brothers told their dad that he was killed by wild animals. God was with Joseph through the trials he endured giving him favor with the people he met. Things were going well with Potiphar, but his wife wanted Joseph. When he refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without a trial he was sent to prison for life. Many years later the pharaoh’s wine bearer and baker joined him in prison. For a long time, Joseph waited on them. They both had a dream one night, Joseph interpreted them and they came true. It was two more years before Joseph would be freed from prison and placed second in command to pharaoh.
After nearly twenty years since his brothers sold him, they traveled to Egypt looking for food. Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. They were hungry and out of options. They begged Joseph for food, but we’re treated harshly by him. After accusing them of being spies Joseph put them in prison for three days. He released all but one as an incentive to get them to bring their other brother to Egypt. When Jacob found out, he was distraught. In Genesis 40:36 he said, “You have bereaved me [by causing the loss] of my children. Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin [from me]. All these things are [working] against me” (AMP).
Many times as God is working out His plan in our life, things appear to be working against you. For years nothing seemed to be going right for Joseph. For years Jacob grieved his son and then ran out of food. In those moments, the feelings of doubt, fear and that everything is against you are normal. In the case of Joseph and Jacob, they were in a place of preparation. We don’t see them curse God or even question Him. I’m sure they spent many sleepless night crying out to God wondering why. However silent God might have been, they stayed faithful in that place and God honored it. He honors our faithfulness as well. The place of preparation can be dark, lonely and hopeless, but while everything seems to be working against you, God is working things out for your good.
I’m bad about losing my cool when things don’t go the way I planned. I like to look at a goal, see the steps that need to take place and then take those steps. When something unplanned happens along that journey, I start to stress out, think of the worst case scenario and complain. On the other side of the coin, when I come to my senses and have a clear mind, I have a great ability to improvise. I can make connections where there don’t seem to be any and get things back on track no matter how far off they are. It’s really a matter of self control in those times when my plans go awry. My wife usually has to remind me that it’s not the end of the world and to step back, clear my mind and reassess.
Joseph, who was Jacob’s son, had a dream that went awry too. After expressing his dream that one day his mom, dad and brothers would all bow to him, he was sold as a slave where no one would bow to him. Instead of panicking, he held onto the dream. When he was accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, he was thrown in prison, even farther away from the realization of his dream. We never read where Joseph panicked or complained. We simply read of a person who did what was required of him in whatever situation he was in. He kept a clear mind no matter how crazy life got, and God’s plan still prevailed no matter what his circumstances were telling him.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reminded Timothy that no matter what, he should hold true to his calling to preach the Word. Then he gave him insight that things will get messy and people won’t listen to his message. In verse 5, he wrote, “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (NLT). He was reminding him and us to do the work we were called to do no matter what things look like or how bad they get. Each of us have a ministry that God has given us. If we get distracted by the things going on around us, we will fail to do it. However, if we keep a clear mind, stay the course and continue working, we will carry out all God has created us to do.
On a trip to California, I went to Napa Valley because I had been told that it was beautiful. As I drove through it, I was mesmerized by the straight rows of vines going for miles. I decided to pull into a winery and take a tour to learn of their process. One of the things they shared was how good seasons don’t produce good wine. The good wine comes from the years when the vines struggle. There’s something about the fight for water, the digging into the soil and the struggle to stay alive that produces a complex flavor in the grapes, which in turn, makes for a “good year”.
As they spoke, I couldn’t help but correlate that to life. There are good seasons we go through and there are bad seasons. When we look back on our life, it’s the “bad seasons” that produce the most growth in us. That’s when we learn what we’re made of and how strong our faith is. It reminds me of Romans 8:28 that says how God works together all things for our good. The good that He works is often in our life for the long term even though that season is very painful.
In Genesis 37- 41, we read of a 17 year stretch where Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison and was forgotten. After he was restored, he married and had kids. Genesis 42:52 says, “Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief’”. God is able to make you fruitful in the most painful times and places of your life. You must hold onto to His promises, stand strong in your faith and keep believing that He’s working things out for your good.
“One time Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more.”
Genesis 37:5 GNT
Joseph is one of those people in the Bible that no matter how many times I read his story, I always learn more. He was disliked by his own brothers, sold as a slave, lied about, put in prison, I pressed the pharaoh, got promoted to second in command and saved his family. One of the catalysts for this series of events in his life was a dream that God gave him. I’m sure he was excited about what God showed him and he just wanted to share it.
Has that ever happened to you? It has to me. God gave me a vision of the ministry He was calling me to. At first I was terrified and ran from it. When I finally embraced it and gave in, things began happening quickly in my life. People of influence in my life asked what was going on. When I shared with them what was happening, they said, “Well, don’t get too carried away. I don’t know that God will keep doing it like that. Slow down and be patient.” Just like that, the air was let out of my ballon. I lost my momentum and faith in what God called me to.
Another friend recently asked about my calling. After a few minutes of beating around the bush, i finally told him. His response was, “A calling like that requires preparation and that’s what God is doing right now in your life.” It breathed new life into me. Just like Joseph had to go through these years of slavery and imprisonment to prepare him to fulfill the dream God gave him, you and I have to go through preparations too.
If you feel like God has forgotten the dream He gave you or you shared that dream and were made fun of, keep holding on. God isn’t finished working out His plan in your life. It’s not too late. You’re not too far gone. Just like blowing on some embers can rekindle a fire, God can easily move in your life and complete that which He called you to. Look at this time as your period of preparation. It may feel like you’ve been forgotten in a prison in Egypt, but God is placing you where He needs you and giving you the tools to be successful.
Patience. It’s not a word we like very much. We like to have results quickly without having to put in the time and effort. We want answers given to us without us having to dig for them. We want growth without risk, and we want fruit without tending the garden. We’ve heard the saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” but who really wants to wait? We live in a now society where everything is given to us quickly. The temptation is to let our societal speed carry over into our spiritual growth.
Endurance. It’s not something you get in good times. It requires pushing yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of. It takes mental toughness to get it. You have to withstand pressure repeatedly in order to attain it. Giving up can’t be an option if you’re going to increase your endurance. You have to keep your mind on the prize to keep your mind off the struggle of you’re going to build your endurance. It isn’t given to you, it’s earned.
Both of these things are required of us as Christians. The more of God you want to know, the more patience and endurance you’re going to have to have. If we are willing to give up in the struggle, we will miss the blessings God is preparing us for. Hebrews 10:36 says, “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised” (NLT). When things appear to be going wrong in our life, God is preparing us to receive all He has for us.
We can’t be like Jacob and fight it. In Genesis 42, there was a famine in the land. Jacob sent 10 of his sons to get food in Egypt. Joseph wanted them all there so he pretended to not know them, sent them home with their food, and held one brother captive until they returned with their other brother. Jacob felt like he was being punished when God was just trying to get him to the land of plants. In verse 36, he cried out, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!”
If everything is going against you, it’s quite possible that God is actually trying to bless you. Jacob waited a long time before he sent his sons back to get more food and their brother. He could have been living without fear of starvation. He could have had the relationship with his son restored. God was trying to use what appeared to be negative circumstances to move him into a place of blessing. Imagine what God could be trying to do for you in your situation. Work on having patient endurance instead of complaining, and see what God does.
When going through difficult seasons in life, it often feels like they will never end. The hits seem to keep coming. After a while, it’s easy to quit looking for the lesson and to start wondering what we’ve done to deserve it. Our prayers that ask God to restore us seem to fall on deaf ears and we question whether God remembers who we are. As time goes on. It becomes the new normal for life and we wonder if we will ever be restored to that place of joy.
Joseph, the guy with the coat of many colors, went through an extended period of hardship too. His season of sorrow lasted 13 years. He was betrayed by his family, lied about having his good name smeared, wrongfully thrown in prison, and forgotten. This season lasted 13 years of his life. We think God has forgotten us after 13 weeks. This man endured 13 years of sorrow, yet he remained faithful to God throughout it. We know this because God blessed him during that time.
Just like all seasons, there will be a turning point in your life. It will not last forever. When we are faithful to God even when we can’t see Him, hear Him, or feel His presence; He will reward us and restore us. He takes what seems like an end and turns it into a beginning. He takes a period of sorrow and turns it into a lifetime of joy. He takes the hardest times in our lives and shows us the greatest grace we’ll ever see.
When Joseph’s life was restored and things were going well, he had two sons. Their names are very telling of what God will do for us when we’ve been faithful. Genesis 41:51-52 says, “And Joseph called the firstborn Manasseh [making to forget], For God, said he, has made me forget all my toil and hardship and all my father’s house. And the second he called Ephraim [to be fruitful], For [he said] God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (AMP). God will help you to forget how hard the struggle was and make you fruitful in that time.
Jeremiah 18:7-8 echoes this for us. It says, “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” (NLT). Even in your time of sorrow or your drought, God will cause you to be fruitful if you trust in Him. Even when everything in you tells you that God doesn’t see you and that He doesn’t care, stay faithful to Him. Your restoration is on the way.