I love the way the stories in the Bible stir my soul. I love reading how real people really handled the messiness of their stories as God wrote the various chapters. One of the stories that continues to captivate my imagination is the story of Joseph. There's something about Joseph as a young dreamer that inspires me. He wasn't afraid to believe God for something greater than he could see. He wasn't afraid for his dreams to challenge the status quo. He wasn't afraid of what could be. But one of the things that impresses me most about Joseph is that he wasn't afraid to hang on to those dreams in spite of what others around him said. He didn't flush those dreams when difficult days tried to wrestle them out of his hands.
As much as my soul is stirred by the passion of this young dreamer, I'm even more inspired by what God did in Joseph's life during those years of waiting.
God gave Joseph those dreams when he was only 17 years old (Wow. Why would God entrust such dreams to such a young guy?? Seems awfully irresponsible of God. That's another blog for another day), and He would take the next 13 years of his young life to prepare him for the day when those dreams would become tangible. Scripture records in Genesis 41:46 that Joseph was 30 years old when he stepped into prominence in Egypt.
I'm impatient by trade. If I could make money by using my master skills of impatience I'd be a gazillionaire by now. I want to see my dreams happen yesterday. I want my life to count, and the last thing I have time for is wasting it.
We have the privilege of being able to hold the pages of Joseph's story. We know how it ends. We see God's fingerprints the entire way. As I read about his life, I try to read it in real time. How on earth did Joseph persevere through such difficult days? How did he hang on to those dreams when nobody, not even his own family, really believed him? How did he keep from giving up when circumstances stood ready to have the last laugh?
God has a peculiar way of reminding us that the story He's writing for our lives is infinitely greater than any story we could write for ourselves.
The problem when we write our stories is that we often write ourselves in as the starring role. The spotlight has a funny way of shining on us when we're trying to be the author. God was writing a massive story for Joseph, but at the end we discover that God's purpose in Joseph's story was to make much of Himself. That sounds great in a sermon or in a blog post, but if we'd all take a moment and be honest, I think we would admit that we all struggle with wanting to play the starring role in the story of us. I certainly wanted to play the starring role in mine.
But what happens when our stories don't turn out the way we had written them?
Not sure Joseph dreamed many dreams that involved him being betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a hole, lied about, sold for twenty shekels of silver, slandered, accused of rape, sent to prison on false charges, and on and on. Genesis 39 tells us that Joseph was also given the job of jail warden. Not sure that was the job he had in mind as a 17 year old dreamer. One chapter later we find him assuming the role of psychologist as he interprets the dreams of other prisoners and eventually doing the same for the Pharaoh.
But what about those dreams? They seemed possible when he was breathing the familiar air of home and sleeping in his own bed back in Canaan, but now he's sleeping in a prison full of the people that Pharaoh hated. Dreams can't sprout roots in obscurity can they??
13 years of waiting and wondering.
13 years of heartache and loneliness.
13 years of second thoughts and what-if's.
13 years of wondering why his brothers betrayed him.
13 years of what felt like meaningless detours.
Yet God was with him...
Genesis 39:2 "The Lord was with Joseph..."
Genesis 39:21 "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love..."
Genesis 39:23b "because the Lord was with him."
I don't know about you, but rarely if ever do the detours in my life cause me to feel like God is with me. But that's my problem, my feelings often preach a false Gospel. Feelings are terrible places to plant the seeds of our faith. Don't get me wrong, feelings have a role to play in our journey of faith, but they were never designed to be the chief informer of our faith.
Too many Christians make the mistake of going to war with the wrong weapons. Our enemy comes at us when we least expect it. He knows where the holes are in our armor. He knows how to make us stop fighting. He knows how to get us to doubt. We take one look at our surroundings and we make a lot of uninformed assumptions based on what we see and what we feel. We leave truth on the pew or on our nightstands, and rarely take it into battle. I don't know how Joseph knew that God had never left him in spite of what his circumstances told him, but the writer of Genesis made sure we all knew that God never left him.
The Gospel is the beautiful reminder that God will never leave us either.
I wonder what decisions we would make differently today if we were convinced that God was with us? Somewhere in your soul there's a dark, dusty shelf where you've hidden the dreams of your past. "Maybe I heard God wrong?" or maybe someone led you believe that your dreams were too big... for you or for God. Maybe it's time to take those dreams off the shelf.
[Tweet "I wonder what decisions we would make differently today if we were convinced that God was with us?"]
What would you do differently today if you were convinced that God wasn't done writing your story? What if I told you that God is more committed to your story than you are?
"...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." Hebrews 12:2
[Tweet "What would you do differently today if you were convinced that God wasn't done writing your story?"]
As I've been reading and studying the life of Joseph over the past two years, God has taught me a massive lesson that will stay with me forever:
Where many would like to place a period in our stories, God places a comma. For most of us, our greatest ministry will come after the comma of our greatest heartaches.
[Tweet "Your greatest ministry will often come after the comma of your greatest heartache."]
The more I study my Bible I see those commas everywhere. Where it would make logical sense to place a period and end the story, God inserts commas and keeps writing. The seemingly insignificant commas in our lives set the stage for Jesus to be the hero of the story. Those commas preach grace in HD to a watching world. Commas remind us that there's a greater story being written. Commas remind us that the story isn't over.
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20
Did you see it?? Joseph just put a home run ball in the cheap seats with that one.
His life is a powerful reminder that even in the midst of others trying harm us, in the midst of our trials, in the midst of our valleys, in the mist of our pain... God is working. God used the circumstances and heartache of 13 years to bring Joseph, his family, and a nation to a place of divine provision. God used the pain of those difficult years for the benefit of others. I'm so grateful for that comma in Genesis 50:20. I'm so grateful for all the places where I can look back and see God inserting commas in my story.
I don't understand why God has allowed us to go through what we've been through, but I'm convinced that He's going to use it "for the saving of many lives" in the years ahead.
Dear Christian, God isn't finished with you yet. Today is not the day to give up on your dreams. God hasn't brought you this far to leave you. There's purpose in your pain. There's hope in your heartache. Let's be careful about trying to place periods in someone else's story today. God might just use you to play a role in the comma of someone else's story.
What about you? Where have you seen God use commas in your story? I'd be honored if you'd share some of them in the comments below.
Grateful for commas,