Eugene Peterson, in his famous translation of the Bible, says, ‘Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come to you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try and get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way’ (James 1).
Again in the Message he tells us further, ‘We continue to shout our praise even when we are hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next’ (Rom. 5).
Joseph had every human reason to feel that life had been cruel to him and that God had forgotten him, but we are told that even in prison he was a successful man. How do you remain successful when everything looks so dismal, when events and people treat you so harshly?
Surely one of Joseph’s secrets was to forgive his brothers completely and not to accuse God. He refused to be trapped in his immediate circumstances and to allow bitterness and unforgiveness to wreck his life. You cannot be successful if you are always living in the past, full of regret and recrimination. You cannot enjoy God’s keeping grace if, in your heart, you are accusing Him of failing you and thereby trap yourself in some earlier painful experience.
Joseph kept believing God. He knew his brothers meant to do evil to him but he kept believing in God’s total providence and reckoned that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good.
God was at work painting a bigger picture and unfolding a greater design. Joseph’s freedom from the past gave him liberty to enjoy God’s provision of peace in the present.
Some day my prince will come
Joseph also overcame the temptation only to live day dreaming about the future and putting everything on hold until things worked out. He did not press the pause button and just wait for a better day. Endurance is not about day dreaming that ‘when I’ve finished school’, ‘when I get married’, ‘when I’m full-time’, ‘when the kids grow up’, ‘when circumstances are more convenient’ – ‘I’ll be fulfilled.’ Meanwhile I am marking time.
Some people seem to think ‘there’s a bright tomorrow and I’ll wait for that to come along.’ Some think ‘until they make me an elder how can I really serve?’ or ‘if I’m not full-time there is nothing I can do.’ Delay then brings frustration not maturity.
Jesus tells us first to be faithful in the small before we are given the large, to be faithful with other people’s things then we will be given our own, and even to be faithful with financial matters before we are given the responsibility of true riches (see Luke 16:10-12).
Delay is not like the commercial time on TV – time to flick through the channels; time for short-term distractions until returning to the plot. Delay is part of the plot! Delay is God’s way of proving you, testing you to see what’s in your heart. God told the Israelites that He had led them through the wilderness for this very reason, ‘that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not’ (Deut. 8:2).
Soon, like Joseph, they were to be in a good land of overflowing blessing. How would they manage the desert first? Joseph was soon to see the total fulfilment of God’s promises. He managed the delay with flying colours. He endured by continuing to believe and by keeping his eyes on God.
[To be concluded]