While I prepare my little meal of loaves and fishes (tuna has been mixed, bread is toasting) I just needed to spill out some of the cacophony of thoughts bouncing around in my head.
The sermon today was on Luke 5:1-11, the calling of the first apostles. Not that I haven’t heard that taught on before, not that I haven’t read it any number of times, just… it resonated today in a way that I would be hard-pressed to describe. I definitely reacted to it, and I’m going to need a little more time to digest it, and figure out what that reaction might mean, if anything.
On my way to church, however, this is what I was wondering:
What was Joseph’s prayer life like?
Jesus is the central figure of my life and faith, but I do love the story of Joseph.
Often, what resonates with me in his story is that the Bible tells us that – regardless of circumstances – over and over again the people around him could tell that God was with him. It showed in his life, and in his words. He gave glory to God.
I would like to be a person in whom God’s presence is apparent, a person who gives God all glory.
Other times I come back to Joseph’s story because I find myself in circumstances that pinch, and from which I can’t rescue myself. Not a sin issue, just… life being life. Life in this fallen world being hard.
A friend of mine a while back prayed hard about a decision, felt led to go in a certain way, and then found herself in tough circumstances. And when that happens, the questioning naturally starts: Did I do something wrong? Did I misread the signals, and follow my own voice instead of His? Is this some kind of cruel joke, or did I wander outside of His will along the way? The underlying assumption being that if I were doing what God intended, it would somehow be easy.
And when I, like she, am faced with these kinds of situations, I think of Joseph. The center of God’s will brought him to some pretty dark places before he came out into the light. Being “within His will” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy walk, just that He will not allow us to go through it alone (and having lived years apart from Him, I am well aware of how much worse it is to go through life without Him). Walking in step with the Spirit will keep us from wandering into sinful situations where we will bring terrible consequences on ourselves, but it doesn’t mean that the world will be less hard, or that trouble won’t still find us. So-called “name it and claim it” faith overlooks that Jesus tells us that in this life we will have trouble.
The world is a fallen, sinful, hard place much of the time.
I take heart, for He has overcome the world.
(pauses to eat tuna sandwich)
In the Psalms we can hear the heart of King David, crying out his confusion, his pain, his sorrow, his frustration, his repentance and his hope to God. I’m so glad that we have all of that. Otherwise, we might be tempted to think that our own need to cry out to God is some sign of unacceptable weakness, an offense to God. But David is called a man after God’s own heart, and it’s clearly not because he was so uniformly “good” (adultery and murder are pretty big no-no’s on anyone’s list) but, I believe, because he so consistently sought after God, took everything – his victories and his losses – to God, and kept his heart open and humble before God.
But the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Joseph’s conversations with God. I’m sure his prayers didn’t end there, but I imagine that his prayers tended to include a lot of requests to go home, to be rescued, to see his father, to be set free. In his place, mine certainly would. I imagine that he must sometimes have felt frustration or disappointment that those prayers seemed to be unanswered. I wonder what he felt, as his life story reads like a rollercoaster. Up: I’m my father’s favorite and I dream dreams of greatness. Down: my brothers hate me, plot to kill me, sell me into slavery. Up: I do well in Potifer’s house, and after a while I’m in charge of virtually everything he owns. Down: I’m falsely accused and put into prison. Slightly up: I’m in charge of the prisoners. Way up: I’m set free, given authority in Egypt, reunited with my family, save my people.
Was he still having dreams to encourage him? In between prayers for deliverance, was he asking God to help him see what He was doing in all of these situations?
Surely he must have clung hard to God through it all. Otherwise, how did he even bear it?
I put myself in his place, even for just a single slice of time: He’s been in prison for a while and is given the opportunity to interpret dreams for two men, one of whom returns to the king’s service. He obviously sees this as a way God might be working to set him free, even asking the man to remember him. And then… nothing. For years nothing, until God’s timing is revealed. Hope unfulfilled can be more painful than hopelessness. How could he have borne it, if he had not been pouring out his heart to God all the time?
Unlike David, who had a promise directly from God for his kingship, Joseph was resting in a few dreams and (like us) promises given to the generations of believers before him (in his case, literal ancestors). Did he sometimes doubt their reality? Did he sometimes question whether God was good?
I don’t know. I don’t suppose I would blame him if he sometimes did. But the evidence of his life is that if he felt that way at times, he didn’t stay there for long. He did not give in to despair or let those moments embitter his heart. What we see in his life is that – whatever else he sometimes felt – he worked well and glorified God; one could say that in all things he worked as to the Lord. And we see that when it all turned around, he had a heart of forgiveness for his brothers and had perspective to see that God had been working all along.
I can only assume that while we don’t have the benefit of seeing his journey play out, he was much like David in taking his troubles to the Lord. He may well have come to the place of being able to say to God, let Your will and not mine be done.
Help me, Lord, to walk in step with your Spirit. In all circumstances help me to rest in You, trusting that whether it is given for me to see or not… You are, indeed, working all things out for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. And let Your will be done in my life.