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Strange, Slow, Strategic

"The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him." —Psalm 37:23

Notice how the Psalmist is addressing those who “delight” in God, a reference to those of us who are desiring His glory, even pursuing His purpose in history. If you choose to live your life under that banner, God promises to ensure that each step you take will be made firm. The Hebrew emphasizes how God intentionally empowers those steps. Each one will be deliberate. Each will have a missional purpose. Each step will teach us something about ourselves. Each step will show us something about the greatness of God. Each step will provide developmental training for our future, probably more than we might think we need, and certainly more than we would want.

Each of our lives reflects a continual sequence of specific assignments. The one God’s extended most recently is probably neither the first nor will be the last of your tasks. You don’t know where His plan is ultimately going to take you, or exactly how He wants to use you, so you can’t necessarily know what it is He might be preparing you to do next.

You may have heard about the “six degrees of separation” rule, that everyone is six (or fewer) social connections away from each other. Well, my time in God’s Word has provided a new version of that rule lately. Regardless of what happens in my life, or the passage I’m considering in my study, the same guy from the Old Testament eventually keeps showing up. Joseph, the son of Jacob. As my conversations have turned toward subjects like fairness and the scarcity of it, or family and the importance of it, or need and God’s provision in it, I simply can’t get away from the guy! It’s been kind of weird. So I’m going to drag you into his world for a few minutes, and see if you can relate like I can.

Joseph’s story is obviously one of family betrayal, as his brothers sold him out because they were jealous of his relationship to their dad. They actually sold him into slavery, essentially because of envy. You may know the story better than I do. It takes the last 14 chapters of Genesis to tell it. It’s such a long narrative that, as we read it, there are times we feel like we're actually living it with him in real time. But, seriously, in each one of those chapters, Joseph could be the poster boy for Psalm 37:23, “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.”

His story reflected a continual sequence of specific divine assignments. Each step had a missional purpose. Each step taught him something about himself. Each step showed him something about the greatness of God. Each step provided developmental training for his future, probably more than he thought he needed, and certainly more than he wanted. For most of his adult years, the most recent assignment God gave him wasn’t the last one he was going to get. Joseph didn’t know where God’s plan was ultimately going to take him, or how God would exactly use him, so he couldn’t necessarily know what it was he was being prepared to do next.

I think we can all agree that God doesn’t condone trafficking. But, even in that world, God so superintended Joseph’s life that, in the midst of broken people and broken systems, God’s purpose was still accomplished. In other words, God would have preferred to prepare Joseph for his role as a world leader a different way. But since his family was so jacked up with pride, God prepared him for his future in a strange environment. Now there’s a strange thought, that we need to trust God even when His plan seems like a strange one!

We’re not privy to Joseph’s thoughts and how he had to work through the hurt of his brothers’ betrayal, what had to be a profoundly bitter pill to swallow. We’ve often talked about how Joseph was an Old Testament type of Christ, in that his life reflected some of the same characteristics of Jesus’ life. Specifically, like Jesus, Joseph was sold through betrayal and then came back to save his people. But, even though he was a type of Christ, he wasn’t Christ! Joseph wasn’t perfect, so I have to believe that he struggled with trusting God, just like you do and I do. But, at some point, we all come to that fork in the road where we have to decide, once and for all, if all those things we were taught in Sunday School are true. Can God be trusted, or can’t He?

You can look back on your own life. I’m sure we’d choose our experience over Joseph’s, but ours has still been one that’s been infused with confusion and difficulty. This life can seem very strange, even seem very unfair, but it still all boils down to that same question. Can we trust God with all of the steps of our lives? Is God trustworthy, or isn’t He?” Should we always be suspicious that He is up to something really good, even when life is super strange?

But then, to add insult to injury, God’s strange plan can also, at times, be an unbearably slow plan. And since we’re consistently told that anything slow is repulsive, we expect success to always come quickly. If it doesn’t, we run out to purchase new technologies or decide to forsake old relationships. We’ve all been convinced, to varying degrees, that we somehow deserve high speed everything!

I’ve always been impressed (and not in a good way) by our cultural bent toward, as the old saying goes, “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Just because bath water becomes a bit cloudy, should we discard the baby too?

Some police officers have dishonored the badge, but should we defund all of them?

America has flaws, but should we give up on democracy and flip to socialism?

Okay, your spouse is bugging you, but should you give up on her and get a new one?

So your pastor said something you don’t like, but should you give up on him and find a new church? (Be careful about that one!)

When people feel so hopeless that the baby is at risk, it’s a clear signal that common sense is at risk too.

The entire world has been snared in this “gotta have it now or move on” mentality. We preach about how patience is a virtue and how people should never let God’s slow plans derail their faith. But then His plan for us slows down, and all bets are off.

Joseph was innocent of all charges, but was still locked up for 13 years. He found favor in Potiphar’s house (the Captain of the Guard in Pharaoh’s Palace), but then lost that favor when he was unjustly accused of making a play for Potiphar’s wife, so he was thrown in jail. While he was there, he met a couple of cellmates who were two of Pharaoh’s former employees. Joseph interpreted some of their dreams, and thereby got a reputation for being somehow “divinely connected.” When the word leaked up to the palace, Joseph was eventually asked by Pharaoh himself to interpret one of his dreams. And because he was able to do that, Joseph was asked to serve in Pharaoh’s administration, as the Prime Minister of all of Egypt. And can you guess what was required for his very strange “prisoner-to-politician” career to develop? A really long time!

Okay, that’s the bad news (or at least the hard news). The good news is that, while God’s plan for our lives can be surprisingly strange and annoyingly slow, it will also be amazingly strategic. Those steps will always have His purpose embedded inside of them, as He confirms each one we take.

The Christian faith requires that we sign on to God’s plan for our future, even before we understand what it is. There is certainly no way that Joseph could have understood it, not while he was caged up during that Midianite caravan to Egypt, or during those sleepless nights in an Egyptian prison.

And even when things were going well for him, and he was administering Potiphar’s personal affairs, he couldn’t have known that Potiphar wasn’t the endgame that God had in mind. He couldn’t have known that God was going to send him to Pharaoh’s house. And when things were going well in that elite political circle, he couldn’t know that Pharaoh himself wasn’t even the endgame, that his family’s redemption was.

“You (brothers) intended to harm me, but God intended it (your debauchery) for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” —Genesis 50:20

I don’t know what the endgame for you might look like, what your signature ministry be, or where will it take place. But, each step of the way, I’m telling you, you’ll learn more about yourself and more about the greatness of God. And you’ll receive more of God’s preparational training for your future assignments, whatever they might become.

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© 2020 by Tom Mercer