It’s said that hardship builds character. Being forced to wait teaches us to be patient. Trials build faith. Have you ever wondered where God is in the midst of your trials and hardships? Has your faith ever been put to the test? Join us this week as we start a new series, “Characters”, and learn from, and relate to, the life of Joseph.
We’re going to kick of the Characters series today by looking at the life of Joseph in the Old Testament.
We’ll learn some lessons from Joseph about waiting on God.
How many of you like waiting?
Do you enjoy a nice long wait?
It can drive me crazy when I have to wait for something; especially when I feel like, “I don’t know how long this is going to go on.”
We long for, “Now,” but we live in a world of, “Not yet.”
You get stuck in a traffic jam. You feel like it’s never going to untangle.
Or you make a phone call and someone puts you on hold.
Have you ever had this happen? Someone answers the phone, and they say, “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” It’s rhetorical. You can’t say no.
Did you ever listen to a sermon that just goes on and on and on? You start to think, “Is this ever going to end?”
If you haven’t, just wait for it.
Well, as a teenager, Joseph got a pretty clear picture of what his future would be.
But he had to wait on God.
In the waiting, he was faced with all kinds of temptation to focus on the problems that were right in front of his face.
I want you to know up front — we’re going to be flying through a number of chapters of Scripture, so when you get home you might want to read in the Book of Genesis from chapter 37 to the end if you want to get the full picture of Joseph’s life.
There are several key principles that I want to point out from Joseph’s life as it relates to waiting on God.
Principle #1 is this:
God has a plan for your life and he has a much better view from above.
Recently, I had a night where I couldn’t sleep and was troubled by all kinds of thoughts, “what if” kinds of thoughts.
What if I don’t get what I think I so desperately need?
What if some things don’t turn out the way that I desperately want them to turn out?
What if some things don’t change the way that I think they’ve got to change?
These were kind of frantic voices inside of me. There was an appearance of truth to them – bad things can happen — but they didn’t lead to life.
I was reading in Mark 4 where Jesus and his friends are in the boat, and there’s this storm all around them. They get real frantic and panicky.
Do you know what Jesus is doing in the boat? He’s sleeping.
They wake him up, and he just says to them, “Be still.” He says to the storm, “Be still,” and everything becomes still.
And it struck me — there’s an aspect of life that Jesus did not experience.
Jesus had pretty much every human emotion — sorrow, joy, pain. He was tired, he was angry, he was hopeful and so on.
But there’s one aspect of our lives that Jesus never experienced. He was never frantic. He never panicked. Jesus was never in a hurry.
And that may get irritating to those of us who are in a hurry, but Jesus was never in a hurry.
God has a 30,000 foot view, an eternal perspective, on every situation that happens in life.
And I become more confident when I remember God can see it all, and he has a plan. He has the master plan.
There is a master plan for my life and I know who has it.
I don’t have it.
You don’t have it.
My wife doesn’t have it.
My boss doesn’t have it.
It’s in the hand of God. And so I’m just going to trust him with it.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God has something in mind when he thinks about our lives.
For Joseph, God had a unique plan for his life.
And, incredibly, God let Joseph, as a 17 year old, in on it.
Wouldn’t that be great if God told you when you were 17 what your life was going to look like?
Look at Genesis 37:3-8
Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 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.
Now we see Joseph was his daddy’s favorite. He had been given special treatment with this special “coat of many colors” that made more than just a fashion statement — it flaunted his father’s partiality in the face of his brothers.
There’s a story about a salesman who goes door-to-door. He knocks on one door, and a 10-year-old kid comes to the door smoking a big cigar.
The salesman says, “Is your mother home?”
The kid says, “What do you think?”
Now either his mother wasn’t home or that kid was the youngest in the family.
Because the babies get away with everything, don’t they?
How many of you are the baby in the family?
See how fast they raised their hands? They’re proud of it. “Yeah I was treated better than my siblings.”
I admit it, my youngest gets away with more than the other two. I don’t know how it happens, but it’s true with most families.
So the fact that Joseph was his dad’s favorite wasn’t Joseph’s fault.
It wasn’t the best parenting, but you can see why it says his brothers couldn’t stand him.
So here’s Joseph, this handsome, talented, intuitive, visionary, teenage golden child, with jealous brothers who absolutely hate his guts.
And he shows up and reveals a dream that God gives him.
Can you imagine your youngest sibling walking into the family room one day and saying, “Excuse me, everyone. Got an announcement to make. Got a word from God. Don’t have all the details, but it’s pretty clear everyone in this family is going to serve me. You’re all going to bow down before me.”
And your dad would say, “Okay, before we do that, could you take out the trash, your majesty?”
But that was the word God gave to Joseph.
He was saying to him as a teenager, “I’m going to raise you up to a powerful position over all the nations, including your family and your brothers.”
So let’s fast-forward to Joseph’s life at age 30.
The Pharaoh in Egypt, the most powerful man in the most powerful nation on earth at the time says to Joseph, “You are now in charge of the nation. All the things under my power are now in your command. There is nothing that is done in all of Egypt that is not first passed by you.”
And Joseph ruled the nation as a 30-year-old.
Some of you are thinking, “Man, that sounds like a good master plan to me. That’s pretty exciting. I’m 33 — a few years late on my plan, but I’ll take it. In fact, next Tuesday is pretty open.”
A lot of people would love to hear something like that from God.
You say, “I’ve been waiting, God. Come on, you can move me in a powerful position any day now.”
But you know as well as I do — this great adventure of hearing from God and knowing and following God’s will can be quite the roller coaster ride.
Sometimes when you hear the still, small voice of God say, “This is where I’m leading you; follow me.” In the next breath he says, “And please fasten your seat belt. Grab hold of the bar. Please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.”
And that’s what we discover in Joseph’s plan.
From 17 to 30, the 13 years that fall in between those two events were wild ride years.
Thirteen years where it might have been possible for Joseph to lose sight of any hope that God really cared about him at all, much less that God had something good in mind for his life.
Joseph had a long 13-year wait to understand what God’s plan was for his life.
Have you ever had one of those days? One of those weeks? One of those months? One of those lives?
Joseph’s brothers hated him; they didn’t like him at all. And when he comes on the scene with this “you’re going to bow down and serve me” stuff, they really get ticked off.
His brothers are way out in this place called Dothan tending sheep, and the father sends Joseph to take some supplies to them.
They see him coming over the hill in his “dad likes me better than you” coat, and they’re not happy.
Their hate and resentment and jealousy and envy and rage start to churn and burn within them, and they say, “You know what? When he gets here, let’s just kill him.”
Now remember God’s plan. He’s going to rule the nations.
His brothers are thinking, “Yeah, we’ll see about that.” And they devise a plan.
They find this pit, this empty cistern, and they say, “Here’s what we’ll do. When he gets here, we’ll throw him in this pit and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do to him.”
We see beginning in Genesis 37:21 that one of Joseph’s brothers, Reuben, has mercy on him and has plans to come back and let him out. But all the rest of the brothers, they just wanted to kill him.
They said, “We’ll teach him. We’ll just rip the robe off of him. We’ll kill an animal, throw some blood all over the robe, and drop his body in this pit. And then we’ll tell dad some animal got him on the way here. He’ll be history; and we’ll never bow down and worship him. We’ll certainly never serve him, and we won’t have to worry about him anymore. He will be out of the picture.”
And some of you think you’ve got sibling rivalry going on in your house.
So Joseph shows up and says, “Hey, guys, got some stuff for you from dad.”
They say, “We’ve got something for you.” And they grab him, rip off his robe, and all of a sudden, he’s in a pit looking up.
Ever have one of those days?
His brothers sat down and started eating lunch, thinking about what they were going to do — “Should we stab him? Should we beat him? What are we going to do?”
About that time they see some Midianites, sort of a gypsy band of people, moving across the desert in their caravan; and one of the brothers sees dollar signs flashing in front of his eyes.
He says, “Hang on, guys, we don’t have to kill him. Let’s sell him to these gypsies coming by. We’ll get some cash for him and then we’ll tell dad he’s dead. We’ll say we found his blood-soaked robe. Dad will never know the difference. We won’t have to live with the guilt of killing our own brother, and we’ll make a few bucks in the process.”
So the Midianites come along, and Joseph’s brothers actually sell him for about eight ounces of silver into the hands of these gypsies who go straight into Egypt.
They put him on the slave block where he’s bought by a guy named Potiphar, who was the head of the bodyguards for Pharaoh.
This guy Potiphar takes him home and puts him to work.
Joseph is no longer the golden child of the family. This hope and a future thing was not working out exactly as he thought it would work out.
But the Scripture says in Genesis 39:2 that the Lord was with Joseph.
Joseph was obedient.
He worked hard.
He did the right thing.
He didn’t complain.
He was full of integrity.
He served from the bottom of his heart.
And he kept looking past the circumstances of his life.
As a result, God used Joseph’s life and Joseph had success with everything he touched in Potiphar’s house.
He was really, really good at this slave thing.
Well Potiphar recognizes this and he finally says to Joseph, “Everything I have is in your command. You get the full run of the house. You’re the head guy in all of my household affairs. You’ve got administrative power over everything in my household.”
So here’s Joseph going through the trials… but he’s doing it with character; and he’s being honored by God.
Things weren’t exactly the way they were back home with dad, but the slave thing was working out okay.
Until Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for Joseph.
Now the writer of Scripture literally says that Joseph was a well-build, handsome man.
I did a little word study on the Hebrew word for handsome. It’s literally translated, ‘tall, skinny, dark-haired.”
Look it up on your own; do your own word study.
Anyway, Joseph is this handsome young man and Potiphar’s wife wants him.
She tries to seduce him; but because of the authenticity of Joseph’s heart, he won’t give in. He knows Potiphar trusts him. Potiphar has let him run everything in his house, and Joseph tells her he can’t do this. He can’t sin against God.
Well, she was frustrated by that, so one day when no one else was around and Joseph was working inside the house, she grabbed his clothes and demanded that he sleep with her.
As he pulled away his cloak comes off, and she’s left there with his jacket in her hands.
She starts to scream that she’s been assaulted by Joseph and makes up this big, melodramatic story when her husband comes home.
Potiphar gets furious and throws Joseph in jail for attempted rape.
Ever have one of those days?
You’re just trying to do the right thing. You’re just trying to do the honorable thing and then all of a sudden you find yourself looking up through the prison bars of false accusation.
You know what the writer of Scripture says?
God was with him. Right there in the jail, God was with him.
Maybe God was reminding Joseph that he had a hope and a future for his life, that he had a great vision for his life and was going to take him somewhere and do something extraordinary with him.
And Joseph was thinking, “Yeah, great, God. You’re the most creative God I’ve ever seen —
Getting beaten up by my brothers and thrown in a pit; that was awesome.
That road trip with the gypsies — can I rebook that trip again? That was great.
Potphar’s wife — she was awesome, too.
“This is exactly how I pictured this plan working out, God.”
But you know what? After a while, the warden made Joseph head over the whole jail.
Joseph was one of those guys who decided he was just going to bloom wherever he was planted.
God was with Joseph… and Joseph was so honoring him and he was so filled with integrity and so filled with a servant spirit and so looking past the problems in front of his face… that they made him inmate #1. They made him a trustee over the whole jail.
Well, the story goes on with Pharaoh getting really temperamental one day, and he sends two guys — his cupbearer, a kind of personal butler, and his baker — to prison.
I don’t know; maybe the Krispy Kremes were a little stale one day or they put too much starch in his shorts or something. But he gets ticked off, and he throws these two servants in prison.
While they’re there, the cupbearer and the baker have dreams; and they talk to Joseph about how they can’t figure out their dreams.
Joseph says he can interpret the dreams — “Back when I was 17, I had a dream that God was going to make me the ruler of a nation and all my brothers and family were going to bow down to me.”
And they had to be wondering what he was doing in jail.
These guys tell him the dreams; and Joseph, through God, interprets the dreams.
He says, “Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t know how to break it to you, but I’m sorry, Mr. Baker, this is going to be it for you. Your days are numbered — three, to be exact. You’re going to be executed and impaled on a pole.”
Then, “Mr. Cupbearer, I’ve got some good news for you. You’re going to be restored to your position with the Pharaoh. And just one small thing: I’m not really supposed to be here. I’ve been framed. I’ve been falsely accused. I’ve been set up. So when you get back to the palace, the name is Joseph. Put in a good word for Joseph.”
Well, it happened. In three days, exactly as Joseph had predicted, the baker was executed.
And in three days the cupbearer was right back in the throne room of the Pharaoh.
And guess what he forgot to mention?
He forgot to mention Joseph.
Ever have one of those days?
The writer of Scripture emphasizes that for two full years, Joseph waited in that jail until finally Pharaoh has a couple of dreams.
Pharaoh’s stressed out about them. He can’t figure out what they mean… and he can’t get an answer from any of his magicians or any of his wise men of the nation.
All of a sudden, the cupbearer recalls, “There was a man I met in prison. He’s great with dreams. You ought to bring him in. His name is Joseph.”
Now let me just push ‘pause’ on the story right there and say this:
13 years have gone by.
Not 13 minutes, not 13 days, not 13 weeks, not 13 months — but 13 years; 4,745 days have gone by.
And I think during that whole time Joseph had the same opportunity that you and I have to lose sight of the fact that God really does have a plan for our lives and he has a much better view.
Every one of those moments, I think Joseph could have been limited by the little snapshot he saw and forget that God could see the big picture.
Today I think God is saying to us, “You may be right in the middle of a 13-year plan.”
God says, “I see the whole picture; you don’t see it all. I’ve got a bigger canvas in mind when I look at your life. I do have a hope and a future for your life.”
Can I add this disclaimer?
God’s plan doesn’t necessarily look like the American dream.
I think it’s important to understand that if you and I are ever going to get a handle on this thing called God’s will.
Because what happens is — our culture paints a picture of what God’s plan should be for our lives.
And we sometimes paint a picture and say, “God, as long as your plan looks like this, I’m good with following you.”
And God says, “Excuse me. You call that letting me lead your life? You call that letting me speak to you?”
I think God says, “Somewhere along the way, did I say that I created men and women to live in America and have all the things that make us happy and comfortable in this world?
“Did I say somewhere that I wanted everyone to be wealthy?
“Did I say somewhere that I wanted everyone to experience a pain-free, trouble-free, bliss-filled existence where everyone gets ahead in this world’s terms?
“Or did I say I just want every person to burn with passion for me and my purposes and to trust me to mold them into the person I want them to be?
“To follow my voice, knowing that my ways are higher and my thoughts are higher; knowing that I have a much better view from above?
“To choose joy no matter what your circumstances are in this sometimes difficult life… and to live grateful lives that are molded in the image of Jesus? To make an eternal difference with their one and only life wherever I lead them?”
GK Chesterton said this:
Jesus promised those who would follow Him only three things; that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.
You see, the same God who said, I know the plans I have for you — “to give you hope and a future,” also said that in this life you will have trouble.
What I’ve learned from the life of Joseph is that God is much more interested in my character than he is my comfort.
And until we start thinking that way, we’re going to miss it.
God says it doesn’t have to look like we think it should. “I’ll take you anywhere I want to take you. You can trust that. But along the way, you can trust me.”
Alright, principle #2:
God is at work even when you wait in the dark.
What Joseph could have done at any of these stops along the way is say:
I guess God was wrong.
Or maybe he changed his mind
Or maybe I did something wrong that got him ticked off and I got bumped off the master plan track.
Or maybe God just wasn’t real to begin with, so I better start trusting myself.
I’ve got to figure out on my own how to make this life work.
I’ve got to figure how to get out of this pit.
I’ve got to figure out how to get a better job than Potiphar’s slave.
I’ve got to start planning a prison break and get back home.
But he didn’t do that. He continually submitted himself to God.
And I think I know why.
Repeatedly in the text we hear this refrain…
The Lord was with Joseph and blessed him greatly as he served in the home of his Egyptian master…
but The Lord was with Joseph there, too, and He granted Joseph favor with the chief jailer… the chief jailer had no more worries after that, because Joseph took care of everything.
The Lord was with Joseph.
God was with him in Potiphar’s house.
God was with him in the jail.
And I think Joseph all the while remembered God was with him. God was at work in the darkness.
See, when it gets dark, God doesn’t sleep.
God never gets tired.
Look what the writer of Scripture says in Psalm 121:4-5:
Indeed, he who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The writer of scripture is reminding us that tonight when we fall in bed because we’re exhausted, when we close our eyes to rest, God will be working the nightshift all night long.
When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, God’s plan was still moving ahead.
When Joseph was in Potiphar’s house, God wasn’t caught off guard.
When Joseph was falsely accused and when he was betrayed and put in jail, God wasn’t derailed.
When Joseph was forgotten by the cupbearer, he wasn’t forgotten by God.
And as Joseph continued to wait in that jail, as those two years passed, day after day after day, God was timing the events of his life until just the right moment when Pharaoh has a couple of dreams.
And in one 24-hour period, God would move Joseph from that jail to the power of second person in the nation of Egypt.
You see, when it looks dark, God is at work. He is with you.
No matter what your situation is, God has not abandoned you. He has not forgotten you. He never left. He’s working behind the scenes of whatever your dark-night experience is right now.
He is committed to working all things together for good for those who love him. He is with you in the dark.
Maybe you just need to get real honest with God and say, “God, help me to see beyond the darkness. Help me to see past the circumstances and look at you. I’m feeling crushed right now, God. Remold me; help me trust the fact that you see the bigger picture. Keep me focused on the promise of a future and a hope.”
I urge you to pray that kind of honest prayer.
If Joseph could survive all those years of mistreatment, loneliness, and loss, then you can, too, because he’s the same God. And he loves you just the same.
Alright, principle #3:
God’s plan is to have the right person in the right place for His purpose.
That’s always God’s plan.
And it’s such a good feeling to step back and realize you are that person.
Ever been in that circumstance where you just step back and go, “Whoa, that was amazing. That was a divine appointment right there; there’s no other way to explain what just happened.”
My wife was reading an old CS Lewis book and she came across a note from a guy named Matt who lived with us during his last semester of college when we lived in San Diego.
She read the note to me and we shared some funny stories that we remembered of him. We hadn’t thought about or talked about Matt in 10 years.
That night I had a dream about Matt. I don’t remember the content of the dream, but I remember freeing like God was telling me, “You need to reach out to Matt.”
I remember thinking, “This is weird. I haven’t talked to Matt in a long time, but if you want me to reach out to him God, I’ll reach out to him.”
So I called Matt and I said, “Matt, I know we haven’t talked for a long time, but I felt like God just wanted me to call you. And I told him about the note and the dream that I had.
And he said, “Matt, today I was planning on taking my life.”
And so for the next hour I just talked to Matt about how much God loves him, how God has a plan for him, what an impact he made in my life, and the people all around him when he was serving in our student ministry in San Diego. And I got him connected with some people where he lived.
It was just amazing to be that person, in that place, in that time, for God’s purpose.
And I think Joseph understood all about this.
Here’s how the story ends.
Pharaoh has two dreams and he asks Joseph to interpret them.
Joseph says it’s beyond his power to do that, but with God’s help, he’d reveal to him what they meant.
So Pharaoh goes through his dreams, and Joseph says, “Here’s what the dreams mean. It’s going to get bad around here. You’re going to have seven years of plenty, some major heavy-duty bumper crops; and then you’re going to have seven years of absolutely nothing. A big famine will come on the land.
“And, Pharaoh, if you’re smart — for these seven years of plenty, you will discipline yourself and you will store away so that when the seven years of famine come, you’ll have plenty for everyone.”
Pharaoh said, “Wow, you’re no ordinary Joe. You’re pretty sharp. God is with you. In fact, I’m going to put you in charge of the whole storage process. In fact, I’ll be the only one with a higher rank than you.”
So for seven years, Egypt disciplined itself and stored the excess. And as the dream foretold, major famine came upon the land — seven years of famine.
And you know what?
No one in the land had any food except for Egypt.
And you know who was in charge of all the food in Egypt?
And guess who came to Egypt looking for some food for their families?
They came not recognizing Joseph, and they bowed down before him.
Now if I’m Joseph, I’ve got a celebration dance going on inside of me at this point.
I’m thinking, “Well, well, well, look who’s here.”
“You guys have traveled such a long way. Allow me to show you to your deluxe accommodations. How about individual pits for every single one of you? I know this great band of gypsies; you could take a cruise with them.
“Potiphar’s wife—evil woman; you’d love to meet her.
He didn’t do that.
Let’s read in Genesis 45 where Joseph reveals his identity, his godly character, and the understanding of God’s plan for his life.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! (Genesis 45:3-4)
Now you know they had to be absolutely freaking out.
As he’s speaking, in their mind what they’re hearing is, “I’m your brother who you never thought you’d see again and I’m ruling Egypt and therefore am in control of your destiny. Right now I am your absolute worst nightmare.”
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (Genesis 45:5-8)
Joseph is standing there face to face with the brothers who beat him up and sold him.
He says, “Listen, I’m not bitter with you guys. I’m not seeking revenge. This has been a 13-year roller coaster ride… but God used it all to make me into the right person so that in the day of famine the right person would be in the right place to accomplish the right purpose of God.”
You see, it’s true.
The immediate purpose was to feed the nations for seven years, but the greater purpose was to preserve the sons of Jacob so they could become the nation of Israel.
For the purpose of God, for the birth of Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world, for you and me to be sitting in this room today — it was important that Joseph be on the throne that day in Egypt.
And I think it was God who first said, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
You see, God can take your history no matter what it is and he can shape your destiny.
Look at Genesis 50:18-20.
The brothers are begging for forgiveness. The father’s just died, and the brothers are thinking now that dad’s dead, Joseph is going to come down hard on them — which moves Joseph to tears.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
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.
The right person in the right place for the right purpose.
I love the story of Joseph because whenever I have one of those 13-year seasons when I have to say “God, I think this whole thing is coming unraveled around me. Everything is going wrong. This is not the picture I had in mind…”
I can also say, “You know what, God? I can’t make sense of this, but I trust you. I trust your heart and I will wait for you… because I know you love me and I know you see better than I can see.
“And I know you’re smarter than me. And I know, God, you have a hope and a future for me. You promised it to me.
“I may not see it on this side, but I will see it in eternity forever and ever and ever and ever, God. Thank you so much. I will trust you.”
God holds so much more than what you can currently see. Look past your circumstances — look at him.
Alright, let me pray for you as the worship team comes to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church