by Dave Pedersen
I have found much to think about and feed on from the life and lessons of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob.
He was deeply loved by his dad and grew in the capacity to dream and interpret dreams. Being loved helps this to happen!
Unfortunately he didn't have the character maturity to know that the particular nature of his dreams would not be well received by his brothers! He was only 17 years old at the time.
His life demonstrates THREE TESTS that are common to many of us:
Joseph meant well but suffered adversity time and again. His brothers rejected him, threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery to get some advantage as well as to cover their vengeful tracks.
His adversity included the abuse, the pit, a prison, and being forgotten.
We are experiencing massive adversities in our cities and nations these days. Covid was a test too! It's biggest costs include both the illness itself as well as the economic implications of severe Lockdowns. Most disastrous was the effect of isolation on our relationships.
These fears, struggles, injustices, and restrictions on our shared humanity constitute huge adversity.
In SA this was compounded by the adversity of rampant corruption by authority figures with impunity which has given rise to despair.
Joseph found himself tested by opportunities fueled by entitlement, such as the seductive demands of Mrs Potifar and the false accusations that followed. He was also tempted to be vengeful toward his brothers in their neediness, as in some kind of 'payback time'. He was tempted to despair when forgotten after two years of helping othe prisoners with their dreams.
Temptations often arise in the areas of money, sex and power. None of us is immune to this. How we handle these tests will express where our characters are rooted!
Joseph finally after 13 years of these trials, was called on to help Pharoah know and interpret his dreams. Joseph’s gift made room for him!
He was promoted to Abundance and Prosperity. In this place of power he had the capacity and freedom to indulge selfishly and vengefully. He was tempted to use his position to dominate and pay his abusers back. He wept in the agony of what this all meant.
This is a test for many previously disadvantaged and abused people in South Africa too.
Just as for Joseph the test will be whether you will use your entitlement and affirmative advantages for self indulgence or with integrity and true UBUNTU for the greater good of all.
It is my observation that often, among pastors, the most tardy or reluctant to engage in fraternals or wider relational events are precisely those who feel smug in their self-sufficiency. If their churches or organizations are running in measures of affluence a reluctance to engage wider fellowship corrodes the integrity of their commitment to Jesus Christ. They act as lone rangers.
Paul urges us as 'fellow workers ' not to waste the grace(my paraphrase of 2Cor 6:1). We are fellow workers! We have been blessed to be a blessing!
Joseph used THREE TOOLS to help him pass these tests:
TOOL ONE: FAVORABLE PRESENCE OF GOD
Numerous times (especially in Gen 39) it is reported that God was with Joseph and he prospered. He found mercy which flowed from Intimacy with God.
Even when Mrs Potifar tempted him Joseph responded that his respect for God was not up for compromise.
His practice of the presence of God was a powerpack in times of human vulnerability.
God is good and delights to do His people good(Jer32).
We simply cannot expect to flourish if we stay addicted to negativity and complaint. We have the 'But God' factor in ALL circumstances. God proved this at the Cross when He caused the Empty Tomb. The Cross is the ultimate demonstration that God and His Love wins!
It may be Friday but Sunday is coming!
TOOL TWO: PERSISTENT GIFT USAGE
Joseph kept exercising his gift of dreams and interpretation of dreams regardless of circumstances. He was tenacious in willingness to bring what God had empowered him to carry.
Serving in season and out of season is a mark of character depth. It defies addiction to popularity! The praise of man is a fickle idolatry.
His resilience to serve with his gift was rooted in his awareness that this was empowered by God who enabled him.
TOOL THREE: PROCESS
Joseph processed his adversities, temptations and prosperity with reference to the purposes of God. We see, for example, in Gen 45:8 when his identity had been disclosed to his brothers and they became petrified of retribution, Joseph declared the outcome of his processing in these words: “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, Lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."
Joseph also , after Pharaoh's death , assured his brothers that he had opted for forgiveness not vengeance. (Gen 50:20).
He saw how God would use it all for the greater good. He does this in all circumstances for those who love Him.
But HOW DOES PROCESSING WORK?
There are FOUR STEPS in Processing, as ABCD:
We see these playing out in how David processed in the Psalms too, as in Psalm 16.
Self-awareness is the beginning.
It is the acknowledging of neediness, of vulnerability, of humility.
David admitted his awareness of his need for safety (v1). He was vulnerable.
God gives grace to the humble, said James(the brother of Jesus).
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:3 NIV).
God is close to the brokenhearted. (Ps 34:18).
My own journey in processing in earnest started 30 years ago when I admitted to God in my journal, ' I don't like the man I have become. I am tired of being a struggler.' Some family patterns and history had gotten to me. I listed my broken and unhealthy ways. I acknowledged my dissatisfaction with myself.
Awareness is when we are willing to say such things.
Another way to understand Intimacy is as ' into-me-He-sees'. It is the willingness to lean into transparency.
David says he discovered(after his adultery with Bathsheba) how God loves truth in the inmost place.
B. Be re-fathered by God.
David acknowledged his leaning into God's defining of him (v 2). He reached for God’s re-fathering.
I had an encounter with God after Tony Fitzgerald prayed for me to be freed from an 'orphan spirit' in 1993. The next day God revealed His Sovereign Love for me at the Tennessee River. This was a powerfully transformative moment. I felt the Lord say to me :
' Just as there is nothing you can do to stop this river so there is nothing you can do to stop Me loving you. It is My choice. There is nothing you can do to make Me love you more and there is nothing you can do to make Me love you less'.
From that time I began to pray that He would show me how to live from this revelation. I was being re-fathered.
Over the next 12 years I found myself engaging in distinctly restorative ways.
I understood the significance of the Father speaking over the Son at His baptism (before the start of public acclaim and achievement):
' This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased '. The Holy Spirit came as a dove to confirm this.
This celebrates Being, above Achieving or Doing.
David declared his appreciation of fellow believers in his journey of process(v 3).
This is so significant. No man is an island unto himself.
In Africa we call this factor Ubuntu which declares that a person is a person through other people.
It invites transparency and vulnerability. It results in healthier people !
As we engage in these things we find healing, freedom, belonging, and humanity. This was my story too. I found friends and counselors who talked, listened and prayed with me very intentionally. What an amazing gift to do church as community.
This celebrates Belonging above Achieving!
When Jesus invited the ragamuffin tax collector Zaccheus down from his tree and used his name which means 'righteous one' as He did so, the invitation to come and belong preceded the upcoming changes that ensued.
James also encourages us to 'confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed'.
Without such functional fellowship we will be poorly developed in our EQ no matter how impressive our IQ!!!
D. Do Differently.
David declared changes in his behavior that he was effecting(v4-8).
Do something differently. In fact, doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result has been described as Insanity.
Psychologists sometimes refer to this changing of behavior as Behavioral Psychology. If we do different we can start to feel different.
Our lives are lived expressions of our views of God. We express who He is by how we live. If we know His love for us we will embrace compassion, courage and resilience!
In SA we have the opportunity to live as salt and light with dramatic contrast, such is the current gloom.
Our positive God-inspired Doing specifically serves as seeds of an emerging new humanity.
Daniel said the people who know God will be strong and do exploits.
This too was my narrative. I did differently and reaped different results. Strangely around this time I found people around me were easier to get on with!!! Obviously I was changing.
Besides I began to like myself! This was not an egotistical thing but positive self-acceptance because God accepted me.
David told Solomon ' God liked me to make me king'!!!(1 Chron 28:4).
In conclusion, as David did, I found that life has become far more celebrative and that in His Presence is fulness of joy(v9-11).
In Intimacy with Him Resilience grows.