At the turn of the century the storm clouds that had long been gathering in South Africa suddenly broke loose. Britain and the English-speaking South Africans went to war with the Dutch-descended Boers. The Morning Post offered Winston Churchill a job as Chief War Correspondent. He jumped at the chance. Once at the front, he was on a troop train when it was captured and he was taken prisoner.
After three weeks he escaped. The first night of his freedom he slept among the empty coal bags of a train. He hid during the day and then the second night as he traveled he saw the lights of a mining town in the distance. He decided to chance his luck. He knocked on a door and a tall man eyed him with suspicion until he gave his name. “Thank God you have come here,” the man said. “It is the only house in twenty miles where you would not have been handed over.”
Now, I ask you, was it an accident, was it sheer luck, that Churchill knocked on the only door in twenty miles where he could find help? Did it just happen or was he guided there, led there by an unseen hand? Was God at work in this situation to bring Churchill to exactly the one house where he could be saved, knowing what he would mean to England and to the whole free-world during the crucial days of World War II?
Those who know the contribution Churchill made to history have to believe that God was working early in his life to preserve his life and to bring him to a place of prominence in world affairs.
Providence is the belief that God has a plan for the world and for our lives and that He is working in the affairs of men every day — fitting things together to accomplish His glorious purpose. Providence refers to His guidance, protection, control and preservation in our lives to bring His will to pass.
Churchill’s experience is not an isolated example. History, both sacred and secular, is full of examples of divine providence. The story of Joseph is perhaps the most thrilling, dramatic example of this in all of scripture.
Joseph was the favorite of his father’s twelve sons. And unfortunately his father Jacob did not hesitate to show his favoritism. He bought Joseph a flashy new sport coat and left the other boys to wear hand-me-downs. And he always gave Joseph the easiest jobs around the house. Naturally, the other brothers became resentful.
On top of that, Joseph was given to dreaming — dreams in which he always saw himself ruling over his brothers. The biggest problem with dreamers is that they are like joggers and people who get up early. They have to tell everybody about it. Joseph was no exception. He told everybody his dreams and that further incensed his brothers.
So intense was their hatred of Joseph that one day, when they caught him alone and far from home, they plotted to kill him. Before they could carry out their scheme they spotted a caravan headed for Egypt. So they decided to sell him to the caravan and then told their father that he had been devoured by wild animals.
This could have been a devastasting blow to young Joseph, who was only seventeen years old at the time. It might have broken his spirit and turned him into a bitter, vengeful young man. Such experiences have ruined other men. But not Joseph. He believed too strongly in the providence of God for that. God had given him a dream and he clung to it unwaveringly.
In Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. In Potiphar’s household Joseph worked hard and the Lord prospered him. He received promotion after promotion until he was made the overseer of Potiphar’s entire household. Joseph was now the top man in the household of one of the top government officials of Egypt.
Joseph had a lot of things going for him. He was young, handsome, intelligent … and always around. That was more than could be said for Mr. Potiphar. He was always gone on government business. While he attended to state affairs, Mrs. Potiphar fantasized of affairs of her own. It was one of those typical soap opera situations — an affluent household, a bored wife, a husband who was always away on business, and a handsome young man who was available.
On at least two occasions Mrs. Potiphar made sexual advances toward Joseph, but Joseph rejected her. He had such a high regard for his master and such a deep devotion to God that he wouldn’t sleep with her. Angered and hurt, she falsely accused him of the very thing he had refused to do. Potiphar believed her trumped-up charge and — acting on circumstantial evidence — had Joseph thrown into prison.
Surely this would break his spirit. Life had handed Joseph a raw deal twice in a row. How much should one man have to take? But once again, Joseph rose above his circumstances and refused to become bitter. His confidence in God was unshakeable. His dream would yet come true.
Surely this would be enough to break the best of men. Here is a man trying to live right, and everything goes wrong. His life up to this point could be summed up in three words: rejected, suspected, and neglected. He was rejected by his brothers, suspected by his employer and now neglected by a man he had befriended. That would be enough to cause dejection in anyone.
Nobody would have faulted Joseph if he had become sour on life. After all, life had handed him another lemon. Yet it would not dim his confidence in God. His dream had not faded from his mind.
After two more years in prison the Pharaoh had a dream that he couldn’t understand. He called on all the wise men of his kingdom to interpret it but no one could. It was then that the butler remembered Joseph could interpret dreams. He told Pharaoh, who quickly secured the release of Joseph and had him brought to him.
When the dream is related to Joseph he interpreted it this way: There will be seven years of prosperity and plenty in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine. He, therefore, recommended to Pharaoh that agricultural reforms be inaugurated immediately to conserve grain and prepare for the coming years of famine.
Pharaoh is so impressed that he appoints Joseph as his Secretary of Agriculture and gives him vast administrative powers. He is now second only to the Pharaoh in authority in all of Egypt. At last his dream had become a reality. What God had revealed had come to pass. It didn’t happen the way he would have planned it but it did happen. God had not failed.
In his new position Joseph is able to lead the nation in a program of food production and conservation that would carry them through seven years of the severest famine they had ever experienced.
When the years of famine came, Egypt became the grainery of the world. Soon caravans were streaming from all parts of the world to buy grain there. Among those who came to buy grain were Joseph’s brothers who were still living in the land of Canaan.
When they appeared before Joseph he immediately recognized them, but they did not recognize him. It had been over twenty years since they had last seen each other. Joseph was now a grown man, dressed in the robes of an Egyptian offical and almost completely forgotten by his brothers. It is natural that they would not recognize him.
When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers they were frightened. They expected Joseph to be bitter and vengeful. They assumed anger had festered in him through all these years and he would be waiting for a chance to get even.
Joseph surprised everyone with his response. Instead of being angry at them, he told them not to be grieved or angry with themselves, for he said, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So, now it was not you that sent me hither but God: and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).
In those words we see what sustained Joseph through all the years and kept him from becoming a bitter, vengeful man. It was his confidence in the working of God in his life.
With the approval and the assistance of the Pharaoh, Joseph had his entire family — his father, brothers, and all of their children — moved down to Egypt, where they lived in peace and prosperity for the rest of their lives.
In time their father Jacob died. Once again the old fears of these brothers surfaced. They thought maybe Joseph had been gracious to them because of their father. Now that he was dead they surmised Joseph would seek revenge. They could not believe that Joseph had come through all of his misfortunes with such a gracious, loving spirit.
Once again, Joseph reassured them saying, “… Fear not: for am I in the place of God?” Don’t miss the significance of that statement. It is clear evidence that Joseph is not bitter. He has come through all this without emotional scars. He wants no revenge. He’ll have no part in playing God.
Getting even is God’s business. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive’ (Genesis 50:19-20).
In these words Joseph acknowledged God’s providence in his life. As he looked back on his life he saw the evil intentions of others has been used by God for good. His providence had overridden the wicked deeds of evil men. Joseph saw God at work in his world and in his life to accomplish His good purpose.
If you have been rejected by people you love; if you have been misunderstood and mistreated; if you have been neglected and forgotten by people you have trusted; if you have been neglected and forgotten by people you have befriended; if things have not worked out for you in life as you had hoped, don’t lose heart. If you have waited on God and He has not acted, if you have prayed to God and He has not answered, don’t fling away your faith.
There is an overruling providence at work in our world and in our lives. If we love Him, live for Him, and serve Him, He will ultimately bring His purpose for our life to pass. He can take even the evil intentions of wicked men and the injustices of life and turn them to good ends.
There are three truths we need to learn about the providence of God from Joseph’s experience.
God’s Work is Imperceptible
The working of God in our lives is often imperceptible; that is, it is often obscure and difficult to see except in retrospect. It is only as we look back that we are able to see the hand of God moving and working in our lives.
There must have been times when Joseph wondered, “Where is God in all of this?” It would have been hard to see the hand of God working from the bottom of the abandoned well in Canaan, or to feel the presence of God in the desert heat as he walked in chains with the slave traders. It must have been hard to believe God was with him when he stood falsely condemned before Potiphar and no one would testify for him. And the silence of God must have been deafening as he sat two full years in that Egyptian dungeon.
In those dark days, it was only his faith in God’s providence that kept him going. He kept believing God, trusting God, serving God even when he could not see His hand at work or feel His presence. It was only years later, looking back, that he could say, “God sent me to preserve you a posterity … God made me a father to Pharaoh … God made me Lord of all Egypt.”
Usually it is only in retrospect, as we look back, that we see this and the meaning of many things that baffle us in the present. We don’t know how to read the true meaning of what’s happening now. That is why we must learn to trust the providence of God even when we cannot see His hand at work or feel His presence.
It is possible to have movement without perception. And it is possible for God to be at work without our seeing it or feeling it. Let me illustrate. The earth is spinning on its axis at a speed of one thousand miles an hour at this very moment. Yet you and I have no sense of motion.
At the same time it is rotating around the sun at a speed of sixty-six thousand miles an hour. Do you feel dizzy? The earth is moving but we do not perceive it. Einstein used to strike two quick blows with his fist in rapid succession and then say, “Between those two strokes we travel thirty miles.” That’s movement without perception.
Just so, God is moving in history. He is active in our world and in our lives even though we don’t always see it or feel it.
Someone found, scribbled on the wall of a basement in Germany at the close of World War II, these words:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
That’s the faith we need: to keep believing in God when He apparently does nothing and says nothing. We believe that His silence is not due to inactivity or indifference. Far from being unconcerned, God is at work quietly, secretly, and imperceptibly implementing His designs — never too early, never too late, never in error. He is working in history and in our lives to achieve His glorious purpose even though we don’t see it or feel it.
God Is Redemptive
God’s working in our lives is redemptive; that is, God is able to take even the wicked intentions and evil designs of men and turn them to His good purposes.
As Joseph looked back on his life, he saw the hand of God working in both the good and the bad he had experienced. God used all that had happened to him — the evil as well as the good — for a redemptive purpose. What his brothers had intended as harm, God had turned into help for thousands.
Joseph’s life is a practical working out of Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28 is the basis for a good philosophy of life. What it does not say is almost as important as what it does say. The verse does not say God causes everything that happens. He doesn’t.
We must not take everything that happens in life and lay it in the lap of God. To do so is to take the evil of men and attribute it to God. God is not responsible for murder, rape, child abuse or drug addiction. We must not take what the law labels a crime and call it “the will of God.”
Nor does the verse say that everything that happens is good. It isn’t. There is much evil in the world today.
The verse does not say that everything is going to work out for good for all people. It won’t. You don’t have to move off of your block to know people for whom all things are not working out for good.
What the verse says is that all things work together for good “to them that love God.” Even God can do some things for the person who is walking with Him that he can’t do for one who is running from Him.
And the verse does not say that all things are working together for good as we define good. They won’t. Most often we define good in terms of health, wealth, and success. What is the good promised here? You don’t have to take anyone’s word for it. It is explained in Romans 8:29. These two verses ought always to be read together.
The good promised in Romans 8:28 is defined in Romans 8:29 as a growing conformity to Christ-likeness. God dares to take his matchless Son as a flawless pattern and make us like Him. The will of God for all of us is the same: a maximum family resemblance to our elder brother.
To accomplish this end, God can use all things — the good as well as the bad. He can take the joys of today and tears of tomorrow, the defeats of one day and the victories of another, and mix them all together for our spiritual good. He can take the failures, the successes, the accidents, and the tragedies of life and transform them into good ends.
The truth of this verse is that no experience has to be a total waste if we give it to God. He has the ability to overrule even the wicked intentions and the evil designs of sinful men to accomplish His glorious purposes. And he will do that in our lives if we love Him and keep following Him.
God’s Working Is Progressive
The providence of God is progressive; it cannot be fully understood until God is through with it.
We are like a little boy watching a circus parade through a knot hole in the fence. Up ahead there is a band that is playing beautiful music. Back down the line there are clowns and dancing bears and wild animals. But the only part of the parade we can see is that part directly in front of us.
If we could find another vantage point, if we could see from atop a tall building, if we could see the parade in its completeness from beginning to end, it would look so different. Our vision is limited because of where we are. It is so in life. For that reason we ought not to say of any experience, it is good or bad until God finishes with it.
If Joseph had evaluated the events of his life while he was in the pit he would probably have said, “I see no ray of hope.” If he had rendered a verdict on life while he was on the witness stand before Potiphar, he would probably have concluded, “There is no justice in life.” If he had assessed his life while he waited two full years in prison in Egypt he would probably have said, “No one can be trusted.” It was only after God was through and as he looked back upon God’s finished work that he could say, “God meant it unto good.”
We can evaluate an experience too soon. Waiting time is never wasted time.
Pat Neff, one time governor of Texas and later president of Baylor University, told of two school teachers who met back on campus after having not seen each other for many years. Their conversation went something like this:
The first lady said to her friend, “I have gotten married since we last met.”
The second replied, “Oh, that’s good.”
The first responded, “Well, I don’t know about that. My husband is twice as old as I am.”
The second replied, “Oh, that’s bad.”
The first responded, “Well, I don’t know about that. He’s worth a million dollars.”
The second replied, “Oh, that’s good.”
The first said, “Well, I don’t know about that. He won’t give me a cent.”
The second responded, “Oh, that’s bad.”
The first said, “Well, I don’t know about that. He did build me a $200,000 house.”
The second said, “Oh, that’s good.”
The first said, “Well, I don’t know about that. It burned down last week.”
The second said, “Oh, that’s bad.”
The first said, “Well, I don’t know about that … he was in it.”
We can’t say that a thing is good or bad until God is finished with it. It is because His working in our lives is progressive, gradual and continous that we must not evaluate a thing as good or bad by isolated events.
Roger Staubach, in his years with the Dallas Cowboys, over thirty times brought his team from defeat to victory in the last quarter. Nineteen times he brought them from defeat to victory in the last four minutes. And at least once he brought them from defeat to victory in the very last second of the game.
Yogi Berra was right, “It’s not over til it’s over.”
It is that way in sports. It is that way with God and life. The stream of God’s working is always moving. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always moving. I like the words of that wise man who said, “God is never in a hurry, but He is never late. Always right on time.” It is this confidence that keeps us from bitterness in life. It is this confidence that causes hope to spring eternal within us.
The supreme example of this happened some 2,000 years ago. Jesus, the Son of God, came to seek and to save that which was lost. Evil men rejected Him and nailed Him to the old rugged cross. When their work was finished they brushed their hands and said, “Thank God, it is over. It is finished. We are through with Him.”
His friends then put His body in Joseph’s tomb and rolled the stone over the door. They, too, thought this was the end. For three long days and nights, God seemingly did nothing. The silence of heaven was broken only by the weeping of the angels.
But on the third day the angel of God strolled into that garden, rolled away the stone and the Son of God came out of Joseph’s tomb alive. And he has been marching on to victory ever since. The message of the empty tomb is the same: “It’s not over until it is over.”
If you have been rejected, misjudged, falsely accused, even forgotten by those you have befriended, don’t become bitter, angry, or vengeful. If you feel that God has deserted you, don’t despair. If things haven’t worked out as you had hoped they would, don’t lose heart.
Put your life in God’s hands; trust Him, love Him, serve Him, be true to Him and know that He is still working in your life to bring His glorious purposes to fulfillment.

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