Living Through Challenges?

Are you struggling with a major hit to your life? Have circumstances around either your job, school, finances, relationships or family taken a downward turn leaving you reeling and confused? How does one really, honestly, live through the problems in life? 

problemsI’ve been thinking much about the unfortunate plight of a 17-year-old boy who went through some rough times and got derailed from a high-potential life. Things went from one misfortune to another and then from bad to worse as he was mistreated by family members and eventually sent away to the home of strangers. He was eventually falsely accused of a crime and sent into custody.

It was a disaster. And so unfair.

This young man spent the next 13 of what should have been his most productive years under the control of others and even in jail. While others his age were free to explore their dreams and live unfettered, he had to endure wasted time and bitter injustice.

But by the time he was 30 years old, young Joseph, son of Jacob, grandson to Isaac, great-grandson to Abraham, living 1,900 years before Christ, became one of the richest, most powerful men in the world.

He also profoundly impacted human history.

Are You Living a Trial?
Have you lost a job, failed in a relationship, become overwhelmed with financial debt, lost substantial sums of money, struggling with children, been mistreated or betrayed by friends and even family, or found yourself alone, lost, deserted and desperate?

Ever felt so low that the prospects for your future seem slim to none, and where the thought of a “loving God” is a disappointing wish that is not going to come true?

How does the life story of Joseph in the Old Testament apply to your life’s problem or crisis? What does the Bible and some character you may even think is a fairy tale have to do with you and the problems that may be leaving you reeling and confused?

If you’re a Christian you might be citing Romans 8 – that “all things work out for the best” verse everyone always quotes. Or you might be thinking, “I know, I know, hang in there and it’s all going to work out. Right?”

Actually, not necessarily as you might have it.

The Joseph Lessons
Let’s first dissect the intriguing narrative of Joseph’s story. In doing so we can gain helpful insights and understanding into the ways of God and the wide range of our potential reactions to our negative circumstances and perspectives. There are 5 lessons of note here:

1. God’s Use of Dreams – Joseph’s problems with his 11 brothers began with his prophetic dreams which predicted his one day ruling over his father and brothers (Genesis 37:5-11). Joseph mishandled the sharing of these dreams within his family which led to anger and jealously and their evil response. He nevertheless did experience dreams of his own which were substantive though not clear to him at the time. He was later allowed to interpret dreams of others (the cupbearer, baker, and Pharoah) acknowledging that “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8 and 41:16)

Lesson: Yes, God does reveal things to us in our minds via dreams and thought-streams. Listen and pay attention to what God is telling you, not man; with a caution toward whom you share such inputs. Understand though that the dreams are not always interpreted in our desired ways or timing. And it is God who can give the interpretation, though at times only through His selected interpreters. Pray for God to bring you clarity.

2. God’s View of Prosperity – Joseph was made a slave to Potiphar, yet was “prosperous.” It was even clear to his master that Joseph was blessed. The Lord was with Joseph, so that he became a prosperous man. He was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper. – Genesis 39:2-3.

Lesson: We can be in a negative situation and still be prosperous and blessed. Joseph had every reason to complain and rail against God, family, his oppressors, and his poor fate. He did none of that. Joseph received God’s favor in spite of his earthly circumstances and became a positive blessing to those around him, even his captors. (Genesis 39:5)

3. God’s Sense of Justice – Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife yet did not yield, remaining obedient “to God.” There was no short term benefit to his faithfulness. In fact, he was falsely accused and put into prison and endured without complaint a gross injustice. He was in prison for a least 2 years. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison….the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it to prosper. – Genesis 39:21, 23

Lesson: Joseph still endured his dark circumstances while remaining steady in faith, mindset and behavior. He “prospered” yet while in prison! One’s plight is a function of perspective and our standing under God as the engineer of all things, even one’s unfortunate situations which may be quite desperate and unfair. Unfortunately, our just reward for good behavior is not automatic in the small frames of God’s big picture.

4. God’s View of Hardship – God foreshadowed in Pharoah’s dream a coming famine that would last 7 years after 7 years of abundance (Genesis 41:25-32). Great harm and damage came to the land and the people though God had a purpose for His actions and a provision for their survival. God used obedient Joseph. For his discernment and wisdom, Joseph became second in command under Pharoah at age 30 – “Can we find anyone like this man, in whom is the Spirit of God?” – Genesis 41:38. In all, God would be shown to be Lord over earth, man and nations.

Lesson: God would have that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that all would be saved. He always provides an out, an escape clause for those who pay attention, obey, and surrender to the Master Agreement. Just because hardships arise does not mean that God does not know exactly what He is doing and have things in complete control. Maybe not to your liking, but it’s not your call.

5. God’s Treatment of Time – God timed the famine and the development of Joseph from the age of 17 to 30 in ways in which we can only marvel. Joseph’s actions in Egypt led to the spawning of historically real Israel (Genesis 46:3) as Jacob’s 12 sons would become the 12 tribes of Israel. In bringing them to Egypt, 400 years later, they would eventually multiply to become 2-3 million slaves to another Pharoah, this one cruel and bitter. Another God-led leader named Moses would arise to usher them into the land of Canaan, the marked land originally promised to Abraham. Then through centuries of on-and-off disobedience of an obstinate people (Israel), warning prophets, wars, kings, temples, rising and falling nations, God produced a saving miracle through the Jewish bloodline of Joseph’s brother, Judah (Matthew 1:1-17), the ultimate savior of the world, Jesus the Christ.

Lesson: God has the long view, much longer than ours. Who are we to question what God is doing on a grander scale? Those 13 years of slavery status and prison time for Joseph is but a nit in the grand scheme of time and eternity. His wasted teenage years and first decade as a young adult were but a small price to pay for such output and yield over time. He played it well even in the midst of not understanding anything other than God was God and he was not.

So Now What?
It does not always work out as we would have it or plan. It often does not work out “for good” in this lifetime. It will however in the longer view. It has to. God has ordained it. So, like Joseph, relinquish control and suffer the consequences of an unfair world while staying true, obedient, steadfast and faithful. God is in control. You really don’t know what’s He’s doing, but you can trust. He can carry the burden, guiding and prospering you as you live through the challenges of life.

How’s your perspective on your challenges?
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:26-28

Categories: Abundant Living, Marketplace, Old Testament, Prayer, Purpose, Suffering

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