By Carley Marcouillier, Crosswalk.com
Ever experienced a devastating disappointment that left you questioning everything you thought you knew? If so, you are in good company. As much as I would love to say my life has played out like a storybook fairy tale, I cannot. Like any good story, life often provides us with chapters of triumph followed by sudden changes which tend to foreshadow a roller coaster of themes. Life as we know it is riddled with subheadings and scenes we never would have foreseen.
When dreams are destroyed, we tend to resort to discouragement and begin to believe that God has given up on us or has forgotten us all together. Yet, looking throughout Scripture, we see time and time again how God used unthinkable situations for his good, and we can remain faithful.
One such story is found in Genesis and recounts the struggle of Joseph, son of Jacob. Like many of us, Joseph’s life was full of plot twists and painful circumstances, yet within the chapters of this story, we are invited to take hold of a new and powerful perspective.
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What Happened in Joseph's Story?
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis chapter 37 and spans the following 12 chapters. Joseph was described as his father’s beloved (Genesis 37:2) and this favoritism is what fueled the friction within his family. To make matters worse, Joseph was given the gift of dreams, foretelling of his power over his family, which caused even more dissension. From dreaming to devastation, Joseph was rejected by his brothers and sold as a slave.
This ill-treatment was only compounded by false allegations in Genesis 39, when his Egyptian master’s wife attempts to seduce him. Although Joseph fled her advances, he was wrongly charged and placed in prison for a crime he did not commit (Genesis 39:1-20). While imprisoned, it is recorded that Joseph willingly helped interpret the dreams of fellow prisoners and remained there for two years (Genesis 40:1-41).
One day, things suddenly shifted for Joseph when Pharaoh became distressed by dreams he could not understand. Joseph’s gift for interpretation was finally recalled by his former inmate and he was brought before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:14-36). The text explains that after Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, He was appointed to Pharaoh's service.
The remaining nine chapters of this story depict the redemption of reconciliation and restoration of Joseph's family. It is this continual theme that invites us to look at our hardships and struggles with new strength.
“As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
These words of Joseph to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 profoundly echo the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, where we are reminded that God works all things for our good. Yet, this truth is incomplete without the following verses which assure us that our good is nothing more than to be conformed to the image of God’s son (Romans 8:28-31). The words of James also allude this same theme within the Gospel story, in saying that when trials arise, we are emboldened to take hold of a deeper awareness of God’s grace, named joy (James 1:1-2). So, how do we begin to withstand hardships as Joseph did and find the strength to embrace the painful parts of our own stories?
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3 Lessons That Empower Perseverance
When reading Joseph’s story, it is important to reflect on what provided him with the perseverance to press into the painful parts of his journey. In studying the passages of Joseph’s life, I cannot help but be reminded that this story, as with all of Scripture, points to the power and promises of God. Thus, by learning to look for God's role in our stories, we will be able to view our problems and pain in a whole new way.
God Is Present in Our Problems
The first lesson in Joseph’s story is seen in God’s continual presence. In Genesis 39, at the onset of Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt, God’s presence is mentioned verse after verse.
“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands...the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field” (Genesis 39:2-3; 5).
God’s presence did not change Joseph's circumstance, but rather empowered Joseph to remain patient and faithful within the present problem. Though separated from his family, wrongfully accused of indecency, and forced into slavery, Joseph was sustained by God’s presence.
We see this theme continue to follow Joseph into his imprisonment, where it states, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed Him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21).
Throughout the Old and New Testament, God's presence is given to man as a promise of God's steadfastness in hard times.
David writes in Psalm 23,
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
Isaiah 43:2 Also reminds us of this assurance saying,
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Finally, we see God's presence manifest in Jesus, our Immanuel, meaning, “God with us.” It is this same presence that Christ speaks of in John 16:33 saying, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Whatever the problem we face, may we look to God’s presence for the strength to persevere and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).
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2. God Is Preparing Us in the Process
In addition to God's presence, we also can see God working in the process. This is what I like to call the waiting ground for God’s goodness. If there is anyone who could relate to a season of waiting, it was Joseph. Imagine waiting 12 years in wrongful slavery and imprisonment. I tend to view seasons of waiting as time wasted, yet as I reflect on Joseph’s story, I am better able to see how God uses the process to prepare me.
A significant amount of time passes between Genesis 40-42. Here within the two years of Joseph’s waiting, we see how God prepared him in the process. In chapter 40, Joseph interprets two dreams of fellow prisoners. This account seems unimportant to the story, yet it is this single interaction that God uses to develop Joseph’s gifts to prepare him for his moment with Pharaoh years later.
As I reflect on the many remarkable men and women in Scripture, who with endurance were faithful in the process, I see how God uses our waiting to prepare us for our future purpose. Scripture repeatedly reminds us to cling to this truth in times of trial and prolonged suffering.
We read in 2 Peter 3:9 that, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
And in Romans 5:3-5 Paul reminds us of the prizes of our suffering saying, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
As we learn to embrace the process, whether waiting or in want, we will begin to view even insignificant experiences as the stepping stones of sanctification that God uses to position us perfectly. Let’s press into the process as we patiently prepare!
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3. God Will Repurpose Our Pain
Through God's presence and preparation in our lives, we also learn that He repurposes our pain. In the final chapters of Joseph’s story, there are several mentions of his strong emotions related to the reunification of his family. The intensity of emotions described in these final chapters evokes the depth of Joseph's pain.
In chapter 45, we read of Joseph’s emotional reveal of himself to his brothers and the powerful perspective he gives to them saying,
“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:5; 7-8).
What a powerful way to view His painful experiences. Like many of us, Joseph was rejected, judged, and forgotten, yet God’s sovereignty and sufficiency repurposed his story by using Joseph as a faithful servant. For in his enslavement, God was present, in his imprisonment God was preparing him, and in his empowerment, God was repurposing his pain to save the lives of His people.
Joseph’s declaration in the final words of his recorded story foreshadows the New Testament’s reminders of God’s goodness in all circumstances when he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." (Genesis 50:20a).
May we treasure the story of Joseph and reflect on the lessons it offers our own stories. For we are not alone in our problems, we are being prepared in the process, and surely, God will repurpose our pain. Fellow sojourners, let us learn to press into these promises and persevere.
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Carley Marcouillier: A northerner by heart southerner by choice, Carley currently calls Virginia her home. After completing her Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, Carley began to develop a passion for integrating the principles of counseling practice with the foundation of Christian theology. In addition to her clinical work, Carley is passionate about discussing topics of faith, theology, psychology, and everything in between on her social media platforms www.carleymarcouillier.com, Instagram, and Facebook