Those two stories serve as tragic reminders of how people may miss joys of today and hopes of tomorrow. Reliving and recalling the sorrows and pain of yesterday does nothing but prevent you from experiencing the wonders of the present. Every Christian knows that to be true. A call to serve God and others confronts us with the decision as to whether or not we will let go of our past and with the help of God focus on our present and future. In1 Timothy 1:15
, Paul confides to Timothy,
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."
Paul never forgot he was "the worst of sinners." Yet he believed that God's forgiveness could change his dark past into a bright future. His life is an example that a Christian's past does not poison their usefulness to God, if their focus is on the present. Saul the murderer becomes Paul the missionary. Paul's past was always with him, but so was his God, who offers all a new future.
The same is true of Joseph. In fact, Joseph was able to make peace with his past because . . .
III. Joseph Saw the Hand of God in the Person He Became.
With all he had been through, Joseph came to realize that God, not his brothers, determined what Joseph would become. Three times in this chapter, Joseph declares his belief that God's purpose, not their evil intention, brought Joseph to Egypt. In Genesis 45:5
he says, "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because is was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. . ."
Later in verses Genesis 45:7-8
"God sent me ahead of you . . . So then it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire house and ruler of all Egypt."
Joseph believed that for whatever reason, God was at work through all the painful events, preparing and molding Joseph to be the person God needed him to be. Faith in a sovereign God calls Christians to believe in a God who is working even in those areas of our lives where we do not envision God is at work. Ultimately, Christians become the sum total of all of their experiences, which for whatever reason, God has permitted into their lives. In Paul's words,
And we know that in all things (both good and bad) God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those He foreknow He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . ."
A sovereign God could shelter us from life's pain. It is often those painful events that conform believers to become more like Jesus, though. Such events are the divine preparation for serving God and others.
It has been my observation in the pastorate that the most effective ministry is accomplished by those who personally know the hurt. The key behind the success of many support groups, is that the members have "walked in the same shoes" as those they are working with. Questions are anticipated. Feelings are understood. All because the members have been there.
The world is full of pains that few of us will experience, but our experience often becomes God's classroom. No book can communicate what a couple feels when a marriage is crumbling. No words can accurately express the hurt that results from burying a spouse. . . or watching a parent slowly lose their mental capacity to Alzheimer's disease. Those who have crossed that valley --hey have been there. They can look back and attest to God's hand leading them through it, and shaping them while they were in it.
Someone once said, "Just as a diamond cannot be polished without friction, a man cannot be perfected without trials." For divine reasons, God permits the painful trials to come in order that we may be of more value to others and the work of the kingdom. Joseph understood that the hand of God was in the situations he had experienced, and shaped him into the persons he became. Like Joseph, we have been prepared for whatever ministry God has in store for us. Perhaps this awareness may help us deal with the memories, let go of the pain, and accomplish the service for which we have been called.
1The Saturday Evening Post, 246 (October, 1984), 16-19 and People Weekly, 20 (November 21, 1983), 152,153.
2Don Emmitte, cited in The Pastors Professional Research Service, Seven Worlds Publisher, (January-February, 1988), 24.