Don’t let them drag you down

People who are perpetually discontent often try to spread discontentment to otherwise grateful people. Don’t let them drag you down. Call them out of their negativity to a more God-honoring way of seeing life. We don’t want to be in the group identified as “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16). 

Reflect and act

  • Philippians 2:14-15 – “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (NLT)
  • I Thessalonians 5:18 – “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” Spirit-filled people are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
 God calls us to be extravagantly grateful! A moderately grateful person is not doing life in the will of God.
  • I Corinthians 13:7 – ” “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (NLT)
  • Titus 3:10-11 – “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” (NLT)

See: Grouchy people sharing a gospel of grace? Steve Cornell

Discouragement – a “dis” on courage

Discouragement is a “dis” on courage! Have you ever thought about it that way? It’s a loss of courage, confidence or hope. Discouragement includes some degree of fear. 

The word “courage” is part of the word “discourage.” It’s like the word disheartened (a “dis” on heart or a loss of heart). Don’t let life “dis” on your courage or heart! 

Why do our words need prefixes and suffixes?

When we rebelled against God’s good plan for us, our existence required prefixes and suffixes to negate otherwise good words. Dis -courage, dis-obedience, dis -able, dis -agree, dis -advantage… Faith-less, hope-less, etc…

We must come to see sin as something that not only disobeys God’s will but also spoils the good and corrupts worthy virtues. Discouragement assaults and spoils courage.

This is why we need exhortations like the one to “….. stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Like Joshua, we need to hear God saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Sometimes, (with sensitivity), discouraged people need gentle but firm admonishment about a loss of perspective that leads to a loss of courage.

Discouragement is more than a feeling. It involves a loss of wider life perspective. It narrows life down by discounting things that count. Courage is necessary for life in a fallen world. It helps us see things more honestly and positively. It fortifies us to tackle the work of everyday living.

“Despondency has a way of selectively focusing on certain aspects of life and conveniently overlooking others. Despair is always colorblind; it can only see the dark tints” (David A. Hubbard).

Discouragement wants to blind me to all the encouraging little things in life. I need to be admonished to, ““Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

And sometimes I allow discouragement to derail my prayers so that I focus prayer so much on obstacles and challenges that I fail to give thanks for many great little ways God is working.

The way out of the dark tunnel of despair is not always a change of circumstance but a change of perspective. The humble worship of repentance (over my ingratitude) leads me to the worship of gratitude and frees me from the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety that so often accompany discouragement.

It’s easy to be misunderstood when you need to discourage the discouraged. People will sometimes accuse you of causing them more discouragement. But we cannot adequately encourage those who have lost perspective without discouraging them from a frame of mind that binds them to their discouragement. (Read it again).

Sometimes we can’t shake our discouragement because we don’t feel God is caring for us as we believe He should. When we feel down we often lock ourselves more deeply into our feelings with wrong ways of thinking. We bury ourselves more deeply into discouragement by listening to ourselves instead of speaking truth to ourselves. Part of the cure is to begin to think differently based on God’s truth and hope-filled promises (see: Spiritual Depression).

The primary New Testament Greek word translated “encourage” is “parakaleo” and means to call alongside. The word was used in a military context to call for reinforcements. Encouragement (like an encourager) functions as a reinforcement for life — a boost to our courage!

Offering encouragement is a means of giving courage, hope and confidence to others. It’s usually in the form of verbal affirmation, comfort, and exhortation. We need encouragement as part of the cure for discouragement. But sometimes our need is not merely to hear words of positive reinforcement. 

Getting out of the fog of despondency often requires a little loving admonishment. Caring friends will cross this line with love and sensitivity when they sense we need a better perspective. But we must allow people with mature perspective to have this kind of access to us. (For building larger perspective: Counseling the whole person).

Steve Cornell

Confused about God in a world of suffering

What kind of God do we serve? Does he care about how bad things are on the earth?

The way God revealed himself 

God entered our mess through the life of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3,14; Colossians 1:29). When Jesus walked on earth, he suffered in many ways as we do. On one occasion, Jesus wept over the grave of His dear friend (John 11:34-36), even though he knew he would raise him from the dead (John 11:38-44).

Our merciful Lord can empathize with the feelings of our trials and suffering (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). But does the Lord continue to weep over graves? Should we think of God in these terms?

Early in human history, the compassionate heart of God was revealed when, “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).

If we only think of God in terms of His sovereignty, we might miss His heart. Of course, God would not be worthy of the title if He did not posses ultimate and final authority over all things. This means (among other things) that God is free to act as He chooses in alleviating suffering or restraining evil or lifting the restraints on evil and evil beings. But God’s sovereign authority over every molecule of life should never be thought of in a way that impugns Him for the evil actions of other beings (James 1:13-17). 

Saddened but not Surprised

While God is deeply saddened by evil, suffering and death, He is never surprised, shocked or “caught off guard.” Sometimes God chooses to restrain evil but, on other occasions, He allows evil to violate His moral will and break His heart. The most dramatic example of this occurred “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).

Jesus was “heard by God because of his reverent submission” yet “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21). God the Father let His Son go to a brutal death at the hands of wicked creatures — even as Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46

The point we must understand is that it’s not enough to think of God in terms of sovereignty and absolute authority. While we should look to God for guidance and protection in this evil world, we must do so recognizing that God never promised that we will not be affected by evil in this life. Nor does God force His moral will on those who reject it. One day everything will conform to God’s moral will under His judgment. When this day comes, Scripture clearly emphasizes that, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In our efforts to understand how God relates to the evil actions of humans (or even to His own acts of judgment), we must make some important distinctions concerning God’s will. We must learn to think in terms of God’s sovereign, moral and dispositional will. If we look only at God’s sovereign will, our understanding will be inadequately based on selective parts of His revelation of himself in Scripture.

God has also offered us a window into His heart or His inner most intentions — His dispositional will. 

Looking at God’s heart

II Peter 3:9 reminds us of how “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Obviously this refers to something other than the sovereign will or predetermined plan of God because some people will perish. This tells us that God does not desire that people perish – even though, in His judgment, He must cause some to perish (cf. John 3:16-18,36).

A classic statement making this distinction is found in Ezekiel 33:11 - “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ” (c.f. Lam. 3:33a).

God made deeply moving pleas for human repentance that offer a window into His heart:

“‘Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord God. `Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, `Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

We see this emphasis also in the writings of the apostle Paul: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” ( I Timothy 2:3-4).

What others have taught

“All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (R.C. Sproul, Following Christ, pp. 217-18).

“Despite everything it (Scripture) says about the limitless reaches of God’s sovereignty, the Bible insists again and again on God’s unblemished goodness. `The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds’ (Ps. 145:17). `His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He’ (Deut. 32:4).” (D.A. Carson).
Wait just a minute!

One might be inclined to ask, “If God is sovereign and He desires that all be saved and none perish, why doesn’t God simply decree what He desires?” An absolutely sovereign God could have decreed a world without the possibility of sin. So why is the world the way it is?

Remember these four truths

First, when God created the earth and gave it to humanity, He declared all He provided to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 

Secondly, the apostle Paul wrote, “For by one man sin entered the world and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12).

Thirdly, God has decreed a world without the possibility of sin and suffering – the new heavens and new earth. “Nothing impure will ever enter it” (Rev. 21:27;Rev. 21:3-5; II Pet. 3:13). Only those who have confessed with their mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead will enter this perfect world.

Finally, Scripture emphasizes that those who reject God’s provision; those who choose not to believe in Christ come under God’s wrath (John 3:16-18, 36). This reveals the extent of God’s respect for human responsibility (cf. Josh. 24:14-15), but also provides hope for those who are too young or unable to make this kind of decision.

For those of us who are able to respond, Scripture warns against taking the kindness of God lightly.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:4-6).

Scripture also reminds us that God is willing to judge evil but restrains His wrath so that more people might come to salvation.

“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23).

Wrap up

We ought to recognize with humble gratitude that if God operated this world on a principle of immediate justice, we all would be doomed (Romans 3:10, 23).

We can avoid unnecessary confusion about God and gain strength to hold on to the hope given to us by understanding the various dimensions of God’s will revealed in Scripture.

We certainly don’t want to be like Job’s three friends to whom God said, “I am angry with you … for you have not spoken accurately about me,…” (Job 42:7-8).

Steve Cornell

Scene 3 – Life as a prisoner

Audio message for all five scenesPlay Audio!

Sold to a different human owner, Joseph soon found himself in more painful and perplexing circumstances beyond his control. But he also continues to experience the Lord’s presence and blessing through it all.

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:1-4).

Another trial for Joseph

Joseph had the “misfortune” of being “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6a). This would result in Joseph being the object of lust and false accusation. As the story continues, “After a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (Genesis 39:6b-7).

This was a very real and dangerous test for Joseph. Sexual temptation is real for all men. Joseph, however, responded with a kind of principled integrity that sets a great example for all men.

Yet doing what was right did not mean that he would be “blessed” circumstantially. Joseph paid a severe price for his obedience.

Follow closely the line of reasoning he used for refusing to give in to sexual temptation.  “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9).

Guided by four great principlesTrust, Reputation, Ownership, and Obedience to God, Joseph stood firm against temptation.

Did God bless him for his obedience? Should we expect obedience to bring blessing? Did it for Jesus?

Joseph stood his ground even as things intensified from sexual temptation to sexual harassment. “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (Genesis 39:10). The persistence of this woman would not be deterred and Joseph couldn’t do anything to change what happened as a result.

Often in life we become the object of other people’s passions. Joseph was the object of parental favoritism, sibling envy and hatred and now lust and false accusation by Potiphar’s wife.

Another abrupt change occurs for Joseph.

“One day he (Joseph) went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house. When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:11-20).

Have you ever been falsely accused?

It is a very painful experience. It cuts into a person’s heart. When we do the right thing only to be misrepresented, slandered and wrongly charged, temptations toward self-pity, resentment and despair are hard to overcome.

How would Joseph respond to this abrupt and undeserved turn in his life? Would he be confused? No doubt! Would you have been?

Could you hear his prayers, “Dear God how could this happen to me?” “Haven’t I suffered enough?” “How much can one man take?” “I tried to do the right thing and look where it landed me!”

We don’t read much about Joseph’s struggles but we must not treat him as if he didn’t. I am sure he wrestled through a number of dark nights of the soul. Have you had any dark nights like this?

Shortly we’ll notice that Joseph did not take lightly or completely forget the wrongs committed against him. Joseph was human and battled feelings common to all people.

But, again, I suspect that through a series of deep, dark nights of the soul, Joseph reaffirmed his conclusions about God and life (we will see these soon).

Once again, he faced options. We always do in our trials. Joseph needed something to lift him from the temptation to self-pity and despair; resentment and bitterness.

If he had chosen these responses, the story would not have been the same — for him and for many others (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). Our responses always have generational consequences.

Joseph prospers in the prison

“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:21-23).
 
Notice again that the Lord’s presence with Joseph and the blessings of God’s kindness and Joseph’s success (whatever it looked like) did not translate into immediate release from prison.

  • So what did God’s kindness look like in prison?
  • How did Joseph experience it?
  • Did he question whether God cared?
  • Did Joseph pray for release?

We know his desire for release and memory of his suffering never left him. Some time later he would interpret a dream for a new prisoner that indicated this prisoner would soon be released. Then he said to the prisoner, “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15, emphasis mine). His sense of justice was clear.

The prisoner was released just as Joseph said. No doubt, this inspired renewed hope in Joseph that he would be release from prison. Yet to Joseph’s trial was added the additional pain of being forgotten.

With a simple stroke of the historian’s pen we read, “The chief cupbearer (the prisoner who had been released), did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).

It hurts to be forgotten.

Could you hear his prayers? “Please God, cause him to mention me.” “Don’t let me be forgotten in this place.” “I have had so much evil committed against me, I am not sure I can take much more.”

But again, with another simple stroke of the pen we learn that, “When two full years had passed…” (Genesis 41:1), Joseph would finally be remembered.

Have you ever had to wait two full years for something? Why two full years? How did Joseph guard his heart against discouragement and despair? Was God not good and great enough to lift him from this dungeon?

At the risk of being repetitive, allow me to again emphasize that through a series of deep dark nights of the soul, Joseph had to reaffirm his conclusions about God and life. He needed something to lift him from temptation to self-pity, resentment and bitterness.

Ultimately, we see that he resisted the temptation to resign to fate — to stop believing that God cared. There was something stronger that held and guided Joseph through his many abrupt changes and dark years of doubt and discouragement?

But it also protected Joseph from a darker prison — the prison of anger, resentment and bitterness. More than that, (and how important this is), Joseph’s chosen perspective blessed many people and preserved a remnant for Israel (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). 

Steve Cornell

Scene 2 – Life as a slave

 

Audio message for all five scenes: Play Audio!

At the vulnerable age of seventeen, (at the hands of his very own brothers), Joseph was ripped from his family and sold into slavery.

“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe… and they took him and threw him into the well. The well was empty; there was no water in it… Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed” (Genesis 37:23-27).

We can be sure that slavery to the Ishmaelites was no picnic. Separated from his home and parents at such a young age, Joseph was thrown into a life of uncertainty, loneliness and severe hardship.

  • An occasion for resentment and bitterness? Yes!
  • How would Joseph resolve this bizarre twist of circumstances?
  • How would he protect his heart from anger, bitterness and hatred?
  • More importantly, how would he trace the hand of God in the painful mess of life?

Joseph’s brothers then lied to their father about his disappearance.

“They got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’ He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his clothes, and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.’ So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:31-36).

In a casual stroke of the historian’s pen, we learn that, “Meanwhile the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”

From one human owner to another, Joseph’s life appears to be defined by the evil actions of his envious and hateful brothers.

During these dark days, do you think Joseph missed his home and his father? Did he pray for release and an opportunity to go home? Of course he did. But, as the years passed, so many experiences would be lost and never regained.

Think of what could be lost from age 17 to 32!

But far from family and all that was familiar, Joseph maintained his faith in God, his care for others and an amazingly deep personal integrity.

These should have been some of the best years of life. When youth merges with adulthood, career, marriage and family, the blessings should be multiplied as they are shared with extended family. Joseph, however, would be deprived of these experiences. 

  • How many times did he pray to be restored to his family?
  • Why did his prayers go unanswered for so long?
  • How could he trace the hand of a good God in what he would later call, “the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52)?

It isn’t difficult to imagine Joseph’s heartache from missing all those years with his family.

Loss is one of the hardest human experiences.

Did he resolve matters with God through many dark nights of the soul? We know Joseph’s father wept and mourned for his son many days and refused to be comforted” (Genesis 37:34). No doubt, Joseph also wept and prayed — pouring his broken heart out to God (we see his deep emotion at the time of his reunion with his brothers).

Did God meet him as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles”? (II Corinthians 1:3,4). Repeatedly we are reminded of God’s presence with Joseph.  

  • But what did God’s presence mean if it never resulted in a trip home?
  • Did Joseph stop praying for the one thing he wanted more than anything else? How did he protect his heart from turning in on itself in bitterness and despair? What did he do with his pain?
  • And, more importantly, what did he allow his pain to do to him?

There is no way to regain lost years. As those years passed, Joseph’s heart could have easily grown bitter or turned to a sense of futility and despair.

In this world, it doesn’t take long to collect your share of losses. Have you ever felt tempted to add up your losses?

Although blessed in many ways, I have had my share of setbacks and trials. I have also walked closely with many who have suffered more intensely than me.

When the sun stays hidden for years, the mind easily wanders into a tunnel of despair and the heart can slowly turn to resentment and bitterness. One person, describing such an experience said, “If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.”

When setbacks and losses multiply, the optimism of youth easily becomes the pessimism and despair of age. We must fight against this drift into discouragement and despair. I am reminded of an exhortation given by a good friend:

“We need to stop wasting God’s time rehearsing our pain and start leveraging the opportunities before us.” (Crawford Lorrits)

Joseph’s story will help us find our way out of the tunnel. He will teach us how to respond when it feels like the Sun stays hidden for years. He will guide us away from the bitterness that poisons hearts and destroys lives. As you follow Joseph life through all five scenes, you will be personally encouraged and better equipped to help others navigate the losses of life in a fallen world.

Steve Cornell

When life takes painful turns

Audio message for all five scenes of Joseph’s life: Play Audio!

The story you’re about to read is one man’s journey through many painful and difficult years in a strange land – one he later called, “the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52).

His name is Joseph. His story unfolds in Genesis 37-50.

Joseph was a late born son to his father Jacob who took particular delight in this boy. He was a reason for Jacob to be happy. He was a reason to live.

But the fatherly love Joseph enjoyed became poison in the hearts of his older brothers. They clearly noticed dad’s favoritism and resented Joseph for it.

Joseph was loved and then hated for being loved.

He was loved disproportionately compared with his other siblings. This stirred sibling resentment. Some parents are unaware when they tend to favor those who satisfy them the most.

Joseph did not choose to be the object of parental favoritism and sibling hatred. The choices of others (his father and brothers) plunged Joseph into unimaginable circumstances. Joseph life involved a series of abrupt and confusing setbacks that were beyond his control.

A large and important time of his life appears to be defined by the misdirected love of his father and the bitter envy of his brothers.

Joseph‘s story is one of suffering, perseverance and recovery.

The way Joseph endured and overcame his adversity is a great example for people who battle hardships, particularly when their troubles come from wrongful treatment by others.

This is an invitation to journey through one man’s story and to learn from his responses to life’s painful turns.

What you are about to read could change your life.

Those who struggle with discouragement and despair or with resentment and forgiveness or with restoring broken relationships will especially benefit from the truths woven through the life of Joseph.

And those who counsel others facing these struggles will be better equipped to help them.

Joseph’s story teaches us how to protect our hearts from the poison of bitterness and the prison of despair.

Even more, Joseph will guide us in relating to God when life appears to be controlled by other people and prayer doesn’t lead to any immediate change in our circumstances.

This is a training manual in a story.

Joseph was a man with many human reasons to justify an angry and bitter life. But he made choices in response to his sufferings that shaped his life and profoundly affected others. It always works this way.

Suffering is unavoidable, but how we respond to our trials is another matter.

Joseph was well aware of his sorrows. We know this because he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble…” “… because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.””(Genesis 41:51,52)

Joseph’s lifeJoseph’s life unfolds in five main scenes.
 
1.    Life in a dysfunctional family
2.    Life as a slave
3.    Life as a prisoner
4.    Life as a ruler in Egypt
5.    Life at the family reunion

I will post a section on each scene throughout the week. Let’s start with scene one:

Scene 1 – Life in a dysfunctional Family

It all began for Joseph with a dysfunctional family. Many painful and difficult stories begin in the same place. Joseph came from a large family. He had many brothers but his father loved him more than any of them. Favoritism from his father came with benefits but soon turned tragic.

Like most people, Joseph’s earthly journey was shaped by the responses of others. 

Joseph became the object of sibling envy (see: Genesis 37:11). When only seventeen years old, “his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4).

As an object of two opposite human responses (parental favoritism and sibling hatred), Joseph was plunged into unimaginable circumstances.

Making matters worse, Joseph had those dreams portraying his brothers as his future servants. Later these dreams proved to be divine revelation but perhaps with youthful naïveté, he shared his dreams with his brothers and they responded, “‘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” (Gen. 37:8).

One day, without worrying about Joseph’s well being, Jacob sent him to check on his brothers. When his brothers saw Joseph coming from a distance, “they plotted to kill him.” “‘Here comes that dreamer!’ they said to each other. ‘Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these wells and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.’”  (Genesis 37:18-20).

Instead of killing him, “When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing - and they took him and threw him into a well.” But “the well was empty; there was no water in it” (Genesis 37:23-24).

Another brother said, “‘Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. “So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the well and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt” (Genesis 37:27-28).

This act of hatred (inspired by envy) changed the direction of Joseph’s life for a very long time. It will be at least 15 years until he sees his father again.

But far from family and all that was familiar, Joseph maintained his faith in God, his care for others and a deep personal integrity.

These should have been some of the best years of life. Youth merges with adulthood, career, marriage and family, and the blessings are multiplied as they are shared with extended family. But Joseph didn’t even know if his family was alive during these years.

How many times did he pray to be restored to his family? Why did his prayers go unanswered for so long? How could he trace the hand of a good God in what he would later call, “the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52)?

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is first about God

The act of forgiveness occurs first in the presence of almighty God as I surrender my desire for revenge before the God who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). This is why I view forgiveness as an act of worship — as occurring in the context of worship as Jesus taught (Mark 11:25). Forgiveness is first about God. It is a confessional affirmation of God’s prerogative over justice. 

But this is not a “God will get you mentality.” Such an outlook would be an effort to use God not worship Him. Forgiveness happens in response to the God who holds the right of vengeance, but also the God who forgave my sins (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

This way of approaching forgiveness provides a gospel-focused perspective that frees us from the grudge-bearing vindictiveness and the troubling and infectious root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). It equally empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8; see also,Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). This is how forgiveness liberates us to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28).

Yet approaching forgiveness this way does not ask us to downplay commitment to justice with silly clichés like: “It’s no big deal.” or “We’re all sinners.” When I forgive, I bring the matter before the one who is both Judge of all the earth and my faithful and merciful High Priest. No moral neutrality here! This is not a feigned effort at “forgiving and forgetting.”

When my heart allows feelings of hurt and betrayal to lead to desires to “even the score,” I must return again to this place of worship (Mark 11:25). I must reaffirm my confession of God as final Judge. 

What about reconciliation?

With this view of forgiveness in mind (and heart), in cases where an offender is unwilling to acknowledge wrong-doing, sometimes we have to build boundaries around our relationship with him. But, in such cases, we must guard our hearts (and perhaps seek wise counsel from one who clearly understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation) so that our boundaries are not retaliatory but appropriately protective and guided by the hope of restoration.

Quick reset

As forgiven people, we should be open to the possibility of reconciliation (unless personal or family safety are clearly at risk). Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and regain trust.

Forgiveness and reconciliation must occur together in resolving minor offenses. But when behavior is repeatedly hurtful in significant ways or trust has been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, “Pretending” all is well (when it clearly is not) is not a loving option.

As John Stott noted, “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which by-passes the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Steve Cornell