Each of us has a clarifying moment in our lives. Joseph’s clarifying moment occurred on the day his ten brothers filed into the throne room, desperate for food, awed by the splendors of Egyptian royalty, and totally oblivious of his secret identity.
The ten men hadn’t changed much. Older now, faces showing wear and tear, hair thinner, stubble grayer, eyes duller because of long-harbored guilt. Genesis 42 says they came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but they did not recognize him.
He could have exacted revenge—or justice—on that day. He could have settled the score and balanced the books. But instead, he wept; and his tears washed away years of confusion, for he was beginning to see God’s end game. There was a purpose to the pain he’d endured. God has reasons for our struggles, too, though we can’t always see them at the time. I can’t tell you specifically why certain things are happening to you; but through Joseph’s story, I can show you some of the patterns of God’s clarifying grace.
Problems Provide Greater Opportunities
For Joseph, the road to the throne wound through Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s prison; but every time a door slammed shut, it jarred another one open.
You may be imprisoned by a set of circumstances that aren’t to your liking, but problems are God’s way of providing us with opportunities that would never otherwise come. In every obstacle there is an opportunity.
Problems Promote Spiritual Maturity
Problems can make us better if we refuse to grow bitter. Few people have experienced worse treatment than Joseph. He was maligned, cheated, abused, and betrayed by one person after another. But there’s not a shred of evidence that Joseph grew angry at God. Instead, the circumstances matured him.
As we look back on Joseph’s life, we have the impression that he had a rather soft childhood. While his brothers were out working, Joseph was walking around in his fancy coat. Though younger, he was the favored son. But the Lord sent experiences to harden him up. Psalm 105:17-18 says that Joseph was laid in irons. The marginal reading says, in effect, that his soul came into iron. An old English translation says that iron entered into his soul.
When Joseph came out of prison, he was an iron-souled man, a man of strength, courage, and wisdom. He was ready at age thirty to carry his adopted nation through prolonged crisis without one sign of revolt. He was prepared for the hardship of famine because he had experienced the pain of prison.
God could spare us from hardship, but how would we learn? How would we grow?
Problems Prove Integrity
Our character, if genuine, is never altered by circumstances. Nothing exemplifies our moral fiber like the way we face difficulties. It’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the reality and the integrity of our character before others.
Joseph’s character was a steadfast compass in his soul, but it was put on public display because of the hardships he endured. Whether we realize it or not, the same is true for us.
Problems Produce a Sense of Dependency
Problems also teach us to depend on the Lord. Whenever I read about Joseph in the Bible, I’m impressed with a phrase that’s repeated several times: “But the Lord was with Joseph . . . . The Lord was with Joseph.”
Our sins can separate us from God, but never our circumstances. The secret of Joseph’s power was his consciousness of God’s presence.
Problems Prepare our Hearts for Ministry
Finally, problems prepare us for ministry. We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from the Lord. Joseph was able to comfort his family and nation because he knew firsthand the faithfulness of His God.
Sometimes problems are God’s way of preparing us to help someone else. That’s what happened to Joseph. From his prison experience, he became a servant of the whole world. Joseph went from pasture to pit to prison to palace—and at every step God was with Him, causing all things to work together for good under the omnipotent hand of divine sovereignty.
If we’ll only step back from the distress and see beyond the pain, we’ll understand there’s a purpose to every problem and a reason for every riddle; and when we realize that, it is a glorious clarifying moment.
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point for God, and serves as Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. For more information about Turning Point go to www.DavidJeremiah.org
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