Why God takes longer than you think he will.
We are thrown into a spiral of consistent change every day.
From the beginning of time, there have been circumstances outside of our control that have affected our daily lives without asking us for permission. In the most recent months, coronavirus has been the epicenter of such circumstantial chaos.
With the first death just a few miles from our church’s gathering space, it was a mad dash for our region to move church to online platforms, which meant stretching teams to develop and respond quickly. Schools were shut overnight, leaving students and teachers with the loss of not seeing each other again. Businesses closed doors and employees were placed on standby. The unknown and fear washed over us and threatened to constantly control our lives.
Where is the light? When will this end? How long is this going to take?
Consistent, unwelcome change reminds me of the life of Joseph. He was the favored son ofJacob whose story took longer to fulfill its purpose than I’m sure he would’ve liked. His story isn’t perfect. Nor was Joseph. He had moments where he was filled with pride, he experienced betrayal, greed and learned the value of personal sacrifice. However, after years of long and hard situations and never ending faith in God, his story was restored and filled with forgiveness, humility and generosity.
What does the story of Joseph teach us about God’s storytelling nature? Why does he tend to take the long, unpredictable, uncontrollable route?
Joseph was his father’s favorite, but he was hated by his brothers. Is it any wonder why with words like these?
“He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said” (Genesis 37:6-9).
That hatred grew into a murderous plot that ended with Joseph being thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery. He was sold again to Potipher and became a slave in his home. Despite such a cruddy start, all seemed to be going well for Joseph in Potipher’s house, because “the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful…” (Gen. 39:3)
As a result of unmerited favor, Joseph was put in charge of all that Potipher owned and his household, which then caused the house to be blessed by the Lord (v. 39:5-6). His good standing in the palace of which he was formerly a prisoner, was a direct result of God’s promise to bless him personally, “...the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor...” (Gen.39:21).
But wait! Things change yet again. It was long afterwards that Joseph found himself in another pit of a different kind. Joseph was a well-built and handsome man (v. 39:6) and since he was spending his time in the household where Potipher’s wife was, she began to notice him with desire. She repeatedly asked Joseph to sleep with her but he continued to refuse because “he would not betray his master’s confidence or sin against God.”
Then one day she found him alone in the house and caught him by his garment. He was able to escape her but left his garment with her. With the garment in her hand she was able to use it against him to claim he assaulted her and fled as she screamed for help. Joseph was ordered to prison even though he was in charge of the household because the wife of Potipher had power over him.
It wasn’t until all of these events took place that Joseph was finally put in the position that God had planned for him. He had to go through all of these terrible things before he could become the man who would rule the kingdom with compassion and justice.
So let’s do a quick tally on Joseph’s timeline so far:
1. Thrown into a pit.
2. Sold into slavery.
3. Thrown into prison.
4. Promoted to a great job.
5. Thrown back into prison.
6. Finally, given the position God had planned for him.
Are there places in your life that feel like this? Is there an ebb and flow or back and forth—do you see any patterns of demotion and promotion? Why do you think God’s storylines do this? What is the Master Storyteller doing when it seems like he’s taking the long way around?
This season of life has felt like that for me. At the beginning of the year I was let go from a job I had for many years. A job that brought so much joy, friendship, and memories to my life. It was my identity and my whole life revolved around it. Unemployment and loss was what my whole world felt like. Heartbroken and discouraged, I leaned into my faith more and learned along the way that my identity needed to be in God. My purpose in life was to not be successful at my job, but to live into what God has called us to do.
Then, with my new knowledge under my belt, a month later I was offered the first job I applied to a ta hotel in Kirkland. The interview process was quick and I was hired in a week. It felt like an answer to prayers! However, the day before I started the job, the first person in the United States died ofCOVID-19 in Kirkland, WA not far from the hotel. My first day was full of training and excitement, but there was a layer of panic and unrest across the team.
In those moments I tried to remember that my identity was in God and that I had more purpose than my job. I tried to channel that as I came to work for the next two weeks. More and more personnel were laid off each day. Then my day came, two weeks after I started, and what seemed like the next chapter in life closed. I was furloughed.
I spent the next five months unemployed, but also having a job. It was not easy! I had issues with my unemployment that forced me to lean on others for help, which is not easy for me. Many daysI felt like a failure. There were days that I didn’t get out of bed till noon and others where I was up and baking bread all day. I prayed more in this time than I ever did before. Then in July I was officially laid off forever from my new job. I had felt it coming and was more prepared for it, but remained confused on what God was doing. I was disappointed.
Today I have a new job, but still feel unsure if it will last. In those moments I focus on what is true from the scriptures, that God is forever faithful (Psalm 146:6), he is always with you (Isaiah 41:10),he is holding you (Psalm 73:23) and he is our hiding place (Psalm 32:7). No matter if my new job lasts or I get laid off tomorrow, I know God is with me and my story is being used for good. Similar to Joseph—except much less prison time.
Joseph’s faith and calling on his life did not save him from wickedness and sin, and it won’t save us from ours either. But God continued to work in his life in the background. So even though in the story we find Joseph in prison that was not the end for him. He had more to come in fulfilling the calling that God had on his life and the continuing lesson of his story that “things that were meant by others for evil turned out to be for good.”
Joseph’s story foreshadows the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. Jesus willingly laid his life down for sins he did not commit. He went through unimaginable circumstances for us, even if that included betrayal—he faced it all with forgiveness. These stories are not about us, they come from the master storyteller preparing us for life on earth.
So friends, as we look at the world we might feel like we are in a prison after prison. We may feel stuck working at home, homeschooling children, or facing cultural injustices each day. We just want it to end. We want the good and shiny parts. We want to rush to the happy ending. We long for a time when we can go back to normal.
But friends, what if this is normal? What if this is the time we are called to? Joseph went through a few more circumstances where he gained power and then was forgotten about or lost his power again. What didn’t change; is that God was with him. And the same is true right now, God is with us.
With the hard and pressing circumstance he faced it put him in the place to give forgiveness to his brothers. “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:19-21)I
t may be your worst season, but God restores. He restores our stories either here on earth or in heaven. But there’s one thing I can promise you, God is with us right now. He is in the hard moments and the happy moments. It might take a few more hard moments to reach full restoration, but I bet if you look closely you can see God working right now.
So look closely.
Take some time to write down hard things right now. The things that keep you up at night. Walls that just don’t move. Then, reflect on the things God is teaching you, providing you with or how this is preparing you for the future.
(These could be unexpected visits from friends. Coffee gift cards. A sweet note from you child. Your spouse or roommate putting the dishes away. Or it could be something bigger! Like answers to big and risky prayers. Or steps in new directions. God is in them all, let’s all look closer.)