When Life Feels Stuck [2/6]
This is the next instalment in a series of posts from Howard and Holly. Read Part 1 here.
Grow Up | Joseph | Genesis 37-47
Have you ever felt like you’re working your heart out at something but you just can’t catch a break? You’ve got big dreams, and you’re faithfully working your hardest but it’s just not working out?
You just keep getting sold into slavery or thrown into prison.
Sorry, what? We’ve lost you there, haven’t we? Maybe not slavery or prison (at least for most of us) but we can feel, and in some senses be, imprisoned by other’s lies: we can be sold-out or betrayed, and our honest work overlooked.
Joseph had big dreams; God given dreams. He knew he was destined for something important, but fast-forward and he gets sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt and falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. Joseph was stuck, and God’s big dreams must have felt like a vague memory from another life.
When you feel like you just can’t get to where God has promised you, it can be tempting to give up or bury what you thought God once said. It can be tempting to fall into apathy and see your life as static, stuck in the mud. Well, you know what they say? One man’s quicksand is another women’s face mask (I, Holly, made that one up myself)! Joseph may have been very contained, but his life certainly wasn’t static or sinking for the two years plus he spent in prison. The Joseph that emerges from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and be chosen to rule over the land is a very different man to the arrogant boy that was dragged into Egypt by those Ishmaelites.
That prison wasn’t a holding space, but a work-yard for Joseph’s character and his skills too. Others may have temporarily forgotten him, but the Lord was with Joseph, “And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23). Because the Lord was with Joseph, the prison keeper put him in charge of all the prisoners. He learned how to rule and order the land by learning how to rule and order the prisoners. In hindsight, we wonder how Joseph ever thought he would achieve those big dreams without a time like this? Yes, his parents were educating him but he wasn’t even given the responsibility of watching the sheep like his brothers. That might have felt like a win at the time, but how was he going to be a leader without practically learning to take responsibility and knowing what leading really involved?
For the sake of the refinement of his character, Joseph also needed to be forgotten for a while. The boy at the start of the story needs no extra encouragement; he is very confidently aware of his future and abilities. In fact, it’s his arrogance that gets him into the cycle of being stuck to begin with by fuelling his brothers’ jealousy. He is the apple of his father’s eye to an unhelpful extent. He needed time to learn humility and to remember who the source of his future and abilities was (the Lord), which enabled him to have the maturity later to not just rule, but to also forgive his brothers.
The prison was not a time of waiting for Joseph; it was a time of learning and transformation. We could argue it was his time of preparation for the big event of his life – saving thousands from famine. For us though, this was his big event – the prison. This was the turning point in defining Joseph’s character and future. History will remember a great leader, but we can imagine that from God’s eternal perspective things can look a bit different. After all, we know that was God’s rescue; not Joseph’s. It was all because the Lord was with Joseph.
God is often more interested in our journey of faith and transformation than whether worldly ‘success’ is achieved at the end. The greatest achievement, the big event, was Joseph surrendering to God’s greatness and his own smallness.
Joseph learnt to grow up. He saw and engaged with the lessons and opportunities of his ‘stuckness’. The Lord may not put you in charge of prisoners, but he is still also with you. And he longs for you go deeper in your understanding of who He is and who you are in Christ. Will you?
Will you dignify the trial? Develop through difficulty? Surrender to God in your stuckness?
Will you grow up?