Saturday, February 18, 2012

In the Land of My Suffering

I love the stories of the Bible.  I love that they don't sugar coat anything. It is difficult for me to read in places, because they could be so screwed up, but I love that we see the history of our faith, warts and all.  Because we aren't perfect.  We know we screw things up - and in some twisted way, it's encouraging to see that they did too.

One of my favorite stories is the life of Joseph.

Brief synopsis if you're not familiar:

He was a son of Jacob, the favorite son of Jacob, actually.  Jacob made the mistake of treating him with favor in front of his other brothers.  Joseph was perhaps a little arrogant about his place in the family as well.  Brothers got tired of it and one day, while they are all out far from home, they sell him to a group of traveling slave traders, and tell his father that he was killed by wild animals.  (See, lots of families are far from functional).

You would think this would be enough, but no.  Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar.  So, just to clarify - he has moved from favorite son to a slave in the blink of an eye.  But eventually God blesses him there, until he is head of the whole household of slaves.  He is rockin' along doing his job fabulously - everyone loves him.  And then, Potiphar's wife tries to seduce him.  When he runs, as any honorable man should, she accuses him of trying to rape her.  Potiphar believes her and throws him in jail.

Enough already?  Not quite yet.

He spends several years in this prison - so now he's a slave AND a convict.  It just keeps getting better and better!  But, over time, God again blesses and he is placed above all other slaves in their work in the prison.  He interprets some dreams accurately and eventually (very eventually - years, actually), word gets to Pharoah, who has had some bad dreams.  He calls for Joseph, who interprets them accurately when no one else can, advises Pharoah on the best way to deal with the coming feast and famine that the dreams predicted.  Again, God blesses and Pharoah puts Joseph over all. of. Egypt.

Finally...Joseph gets the pay off for all the hell he has lived through.  I love what he says.  After he has been placed in this lofty position, he marries and starts his family.  When his second son was born, he says, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."  I love that.  "In the land of my suffering."  God still did not remove him, but He made him fruitful right there in the middle of it.  And Joseph was thankful.

I fail so much at this, and am so encouraged by Joseph.  When I face difficulties, all I can think about, pray about, work towards, is when God will deliver me.  Joseph had to have had those days, because he was human, but it seems he trusted that God would be faithful - and He was.  Just not in a way that Joseph probably ever dreamed it would happen.  That is one of my prayers - that I will trust that God has a better plan, and if that means blessing me "in the land of my suffering", that I will trust that His plan is best.

Here's my other favorite part.  Joseph seems to think at this point that it's done.  He can see the reason for all that he's gone through.  God is delivering millions of people from starvation through his leadership, he is delivered from slavery - the reasons are becoming clear - he knows why he had to suffer through all of this past junk.  God's done, right?

Not yet. :)

Out of the dregs of his history, God brings back all those sorry brothers.  They show up, hats in hand, needing help and not even realizing that they are bowing down before the brother they were sure was dead and gone, at their hands.

Joseph does not seek revenge.  He has all the authority of Egypt at his disposal.  The power of life and death is in his hands.  He is facing brothers that do not even realize who he is.  And he forgives.  Through a series of events that he orchestrates, he sees that their hearts are changed.  He forgives.  He brings them into his "land of suffering" and cares for them, feeds them,  loves them.

The story ends with Joseph encouraging the brothers that had made his life such a living hell for so many years.  "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  Don't be afraid."

So, even in his healing, God surprised him with even more - the chance to forgive and be restored.

My prayer is that I will be faithful to wait for God to work, in the midst of my suffering, trusting that He has a reason.  I don't believe God orchestrates our suffering - the evil of Joseph's brothers brought this on him, not God.  But I do believe that God will use whatever evil men bring our way to make us stronger, to bring about good.  He is big enough, kind enough, strong enough.  Man's evil will not thwart His plans.  But I pray that I will trust that in my suffering, not just when I read of others'.

I love how strong and good God is.  I love that He surprises us with more than we could ask or imagine.

So, how has God surprised you?

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