Where is Your Grace When I Need it Most, Lord?

In my last post, we saw Joseph in the process of “testing” his brothers and for the first time saw his brothers being introspective about their sin against Joseph nearly 20 years prior.

In Genesis 42: 29- 44:33 we see the brothers finally face the gravity of their sin, as Joseph requires them to leave Benjamin in Egypt while they return to their father. Judah speaks up and pleads with Joseph not to make Benjamin stay in Egypt, as his father, Jacob will surely die if they don’t bring him back with them. He asks, “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father.”

Genesis 45 opens with this: “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” He then made himself known to his brothers and“he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharoah’s household heard about it. Joseph said, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. One commentator writes the word “terrified” here refers to a “paralyzing fear as felt by those involved in war. Their lives are clearly in the hands of the one they thought they killed.”

Joseph then invites his brothers to come close to him and he says, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Joseph throws his arms around his brothers and weeps over them before he sends them back to their father Jacob, instructing them to bring Jacob back with them along with all the family and their possessions. He tells them they will live in the land of Goshen and he will provide for them. He admonishes them not to “quarrel on the way” and they depart. Jacob was stunned at the news but determines to go see his son Joseph before he dies.

G. von Rad comments, “Here in the scene of recognition the narrator indicates clearly for the first time what is of paramount importance to him in the entire Joseph story: God’s hand which directs all the confusion of human guilt ultimately [leads] toward a gracious goal.” Joseph describes himself as God’s agent four times in the account in Genesis. Although, many times throughout his story the reader feels like life is unfair and that God is unjustly inflicting upon Joseph some kind of cruel joke. But Joseph seems to be enabled to choose a different perspective. He chooses to believe that God is working through him to bring about what is good, not just for himself, but for others as well.

I wonder, what kind of difficult circumstance you find yourself in today? Have you tried for years to conceive to no avail? Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with cancer? Do you have a child with an addiction problem who refuses help? Have you discovered your spouse has been using pornography? Were you abused as a child and still suffering the consequences well into your adult life? Have you prayed for a situation in your life or in the life of someone you love only to have it get worse?

Be assured that God’s sovereign grace is at work even though it may be imperceptible now. You might want to read Psalm 86 as a prayer. It often lifts my heart when I’m feeling troubled or forsaken. Here are the last two verses:

            “Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant and save the [daughter] of your maidservant. Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”

May this bless you today!







Does God Really Care About My Life and Circumstances?

As we return to the story of Joseph in Genesis, here are a few things to remember:

·      Joseph was 30 years old when he entered into Pharoah’s service. He is now about 39.

·      Egypt is two years into the famine at this point of the story (Gen. 42)

·      Jacob, Joseph’s father has been in Canaan over 20 years believing his son Joseph is dead.

Genesis 42 opens with Jacob learning there is grain in Egypt and he asks his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” Then he orders them to “Go down there and buy some [grain] for us, so that we may live and not die. Ten of Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt, but Jacob kept Benjamin home with him “because he was afraid that harm might come to him.”

The prophecy originally given to Joseph is about to be fulfilled in the three journeys to Egypt recorded in Genesis 42-46. The first journey is by Joseph’s scheming brothers (42:1-38), the second by the brothers and their younger brother Benjamin (43:1-45:28), and the third by all the brothers and his father, Jacob (46:1-27).

Here’s what one commentator noted: “The plot tension pertains primarily to the theme of the alienated brothers struggling toward reconciliation and secondarily with the family’s struggle to survive the famine. The two themes are inseparable. The family cannot find salvation in Egypt until the brothers are first reconciled with Joseph.” (Waltke)

It’s in chapter 42 that we see Joseph “testing” his brothers. Some commentators view Joseph as retaliating against his brothers as he seems to make them jump through some hoops. First, he accuses them of being spies, imprisons Simeon, and requires that they bring their youngest brother, Benjamin back with them. In verse 21 we hear for the first time the brothers’ considering their sin against Joseph. “Surely we are being punished because of our brother [Joseph]. We saw how distressed he was when we pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.

 Joseph then orders his servants to place the silver they brought to buy grain back into their bags without their knowledge. When they discover it is there “their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, ‘What is this that God has done to us?” The brothers mention God for the first time here and seem to be acknowledging God’s involvement in the events of their lives. (Waltke)

We begin to see the brothers taking stock of their sin, but not without the hand of God being at work through it all.

We also see Joseph who has trusted God’s sovereignty begin to see the providential care of God, not only over his life, but also the life of his family.

Have you seen God’s providential care for you in your life? When? As you look back on that time, what stands out to you about God’s character? If you haven’t told anyone about this experience do so this week. Write about it in your journal so that it might be a testimony to future generations. Take a few moments to praise and thank God for his loving care over your life and those you love.

How Long Must I Wait, Lord?

Years ago, I was approached by a publisher who wanted to know what God was doing in my heart. I shared with him how I was waiting on God for answers, but found none. As we talked further, he seemed intrigued by the subject and asked if I would consider writing a book about “waiting on God.” I laughed. Then, I made a confession. I’m not a very good at “waiting.” He asked me to pray and get back to him with an answer.

I spent some time in prayer over the next several weeks seeking God’s direction. I felt God urging me to write it. But, I resisted.

“Lord, if You haven’t noticed- I’m not very good at waiting.” The Lord affirmed that and then said, “That’s exactly why I want you to write about it.”

I was stunned. Where do I begin? What business do I have writing about something I’m terrible at? I made another attempt at bargaining with God: “Lord, okay I’ll write it only if you will give me the outline of the book in advance.”

He did. I awoke one morning with a series of “W’s” on my heart. They were coming to me in rapid fire like an automatic weapon expelling its bullets:

·      When Waiting Brings Wondering

·      When Waiting Brings Wandering

·      When Waiting Brings Whining

·      When Waiting Brings Wallowing

·      When Waiting Brings Wrestling

·      When Waiting Brings Weeping

·      When Waiting Brings Willingness

·      When Waiting Becomes Wisdom

·      When Waiting Becomes Wellsprings

·      When Waiting Becomes Worship

I had no other valid excuses so I contacted the publisher who sent a contract that I signed and returned, promising the book in a year. Months went by without a word written. I would cloister myself in my office and stare at the outline without a clue. Friends were praying and still nothing was flowing. Humorously, several friends suggested I contact the publisher and just tell him, “I am waiting on the book on waiting.” I’d already used up that excuse. An editor was scheduled to meet with me in 3 months to check on my progress and I was panicked.

I called a dear friend and prayer warrior who asked me a pivotal question: “What has God said to you about this book?”

I said, “The only thing He’s told me is to read my journals.”

“Well,” she asked, “have you done that?”

“No, I don’t have time!” I said rather dismissively.

“Jan,” she said in a matter of fact tone, “you might want to start by reading them!”

She was right. Little did I know that as I read through about ten years of my journal, I discovered the treasure. Embedded within several entries were the concepts or the exact words in the outline God had given me from the beginning.

The book was completed and titled, A Graceful Waiting: When there’s nothing more that you can do, God’s deepest work has just begun.

I was reminded of all of this as I’ve been exploring Joseph’s process of waiting over these last several posts. I must confess that Joseph was much more “graceful” in his waiting than I am.

But, both Joseph and I have something in common. We have a Gracious God who works within us while we wait and He is faithful to bring about His sovereign purposes at just the right time.

In Joseph’s story, the time is approaching. Take a few minutes to read Genesis 42-44. What do you think Joseph is up to with regard to his brothers? Is he seeking revenge? Is he testing them? Is he purposely making them jump through hoops for his own gratification?

We will look at Joseph’s motives in my next post. Until then, think about waiting seasons in your life. How have you weathered them? Are you in a waiting season now? Do you identify with any particular “w” in the listing of the chapter headings? Take some time- sit with your journal and record your thoughts and any words or scriptures that God places on your heart. You might not write a book about it, but I can guarantee you that you’ll need those words and thoughts during another waiting season! Trust me, I know!



When Dreams Have Yet to Come True

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered into the service of Pharoah and spent the first seven years of abundance collecting and storing food and grain in preparation for the upcoming seven years of famine.

At the end of Genesis 41 we read that when the famine hit, Egypt was the only place that had food and that all the countries of the world came to Joseph to buy grain.

Genesis 42 begins with Jacob telling his sons to go down to Egypt and buy some grain “so that we may live and not die.” Interestingly, Jacob sends tens of his sons down to Egypt but keeps Benjamin, Joseph’s youngest brother home for fear “that harm might come to him.”

Here’s what we read in verse 6-8: “So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them” but in verse 8 we’re told that although Joseph recognized them, “they did not recognize him.”

And then we read a pivotal turning point in the story in verse 9. “Then he [Joseph] remembered his dreams about them…”

We miss the significance of this statement unless we have been calculating time. Remember, Joseph was 17 in Genesis 37 when he first tells his brothers and his father of his dreams. He is now 39, and has been serving Pharoah for 9 years.

Before we go on in the story, I want you to pause and think about this time period for a moment. It has been 22 years since God gave Joseph that dream of his brothers bowing down before him. Think about all that Joseph has been through in those years. What must that realization been like for him?

I wonder if you have ever waited for a prayer to be answered over a long period of time? Or had a dream that seemed to be inspired by God that has yet to come true. After months or years with no answer or fulfillment in sight, what has happened in your heart? Can you see any evidence of what God has been doing in your heart during this time?

Take a few moments to talk to God about this waiting season in your life. Maybe you need to ask Him some questions or share your feelings with Him. Maybe you might want to praise and thank Him for the way you’ve seen His Spirit at work. Maybe you just want to tell Him you love Him even though you have yet to see that prayer answered or dream fulfilled.

Joseph waited a long time. But he trusted in the One who promised.


When We Feel Forgotten

In my last post, we found Joseph in Genesis 40 accurately interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the king's former cupbearer and baker. In Genesis 40:14, Joseph says to the cupbearer, "when all goes well with you, remember me and show kindness; mention me to Pharoah and get me out of prison." However, in verse 23 of the same chapter we read:

"The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

I have to be honest, when I read this, I asked myself how is that possible? How could it slip the cupbearer's mind? Was he so elated about being released from prison that he "forgot" the guy who accurately told him his former job would be restored to him? Or, was he just so preoccupied with resuming his duties that he never gave his prison experience another thought? Or, was the whole prison experience so humiliating that he simply blocked it out of his mind? Did he never recount to anyone the amazing story of his dream and its interpretation? How could he NOT remember Joseph? One commentator notes, "this is not a mental lapse but a moral one. He (the cupbearer) self-centeredly does not bother to "re-member" himself with his former inmate.

Genesis 41 begins with these words:

"When two full years had passed, Pharoah had a dream..."

Actually, Pharoah had two dreams on consecutive nights and "his mind was troubled" to such an extent that he called upon all the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but no one was able to interpret his dreams. The chief cupbearer appears on the scene and says to Pharoah:

"Today I am reminded of my shortcomings."

(One commentator noted that this word "shortcomings" in the Hebrew means "sin.")

The cupbearer then proceeds to tell Pharoah about the dreams he and the chief baker had while in prison and the "young Hebrew" who interpreted both dreams accurately. Joseph is summoned by Pharoah and tells him he's heard he can interpret dreams. Joseph replies, "I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires." Joseph tells Pharoah that the dreams are "one and the same" and that God has revealed to Pharoah what he is about to do: there will be seven years of plenty in Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then recommends that Pharoah look for a "discerning and wise man" and put him in charge of all of Egypt to prepare for what is ahead.

Pharoah speaks with his officials and asks them "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?" So, Joseph is appointed as Pharoah's right hand man--he is in charge of all that goes on in the palace and in the whole land of Egypt. Pharoah even removes his own signet ring and places it on Joseph's finger, a sign of royalty and power. "Joseph was thirty years old when he entered into the service of Pharoah king of Egypt."

Thirteen years have passed since he was thrown into the cistern by his brothers and sold to the Midianites.

I've always wondered why those two extra years in prison? Why didn't the cupbearer mention Joseph to Pharoah before? What was going on with Joseph in those years? Nothing is recorded in Scripture so we have no way of knowing. What strikes me is there is no sign of bitterness in Joseph's life. He doesn't confront the cupbearer about his forgetfulness or show any sign of disillusionment or frustration. He speaks humbly of himself and gives reverence and honor to God alone.

I think because many of us are so familiar with Joseph's story we tend to elevate him and put him in an exceptional category far beyond our reach. Joseph seems to be perfect--never questioning God about timing, no indication of frustration or retaliation against those who've wronged him. He seems to have come to place of deep and abiding faith and trust in God's sovereignty.

I wonder where you are today. Have you struggled to understand God's timing? Do you feel as though God has forgotten you at times? What might God be doing in your heart during seasons of silence? How does it feel to surrender to His sovereignty and timing?

I want you to know, you're not alone.



When God Delays His Promise

In my last post, we found Joseph falsely imprisoned. We now turn to Genesis 40 to see the events that transpire in Joseph's life while in prison. You might recall that in Genesis 39: 20b-23 we saw how God granted Joseph "favor in the eyes of the prison warden" and Joseph was made "responsible for all that was done there." Even in the midst of the injustice of his circumstances God was "with him."

Lest we think Joseph's imprisonment was easy, there's a few verses in Psalm 105: 16-19 that provide a fuller picture of Joseph's experience:

"He [God] called down famine on the land and destroyed all their supplies of food; and he sent a man before them--Joseph, sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, till what he [Joseph] foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true."

Interestingly, that word proved in verse 19 in the Hebrew is a word that means to "test, refine, to fuse metal." In essence, it means "to refine by means of suffering." Have you ever felt God was "refining" you? How would you describe that period of time in your life? What benefit can you now see that you didn't see at the time?

I was reminded of a book I read years ago that is still on my bookshelf. It is entitled The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. In it he talks about Joseph:

"He [Joseph] carried a dream--a word from God--in his heart. While the manifestation of that word was delayed, that word "tested him." It was the fire of delayed answers."

I can't help but think about Jacob, Joseph's father. What must he have thought and felt during these years? Jacob presumed Joseph was dead, along with his dreams. But God was at work behind the scenes.

Is there a dream you've had for your life or in the life of one of your children that has yet to materialize? Is there a promise you heard from God many years ago that is yet to be fulfilled? Have you wondered if it's too late? How has the Spirit of God worked in your heart to refine you? What can you see now that you didn't see before?

We get a glimpse of Joseph's heart in Genesis 40 when the king's imprisoned cupbearer and baker both have dreams the same night, but they do not have anyone to interpret them. Joseph finds out and says to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." He then proceeds to interpret the dreams, and three days after, the events transpire just as he said they would. I love this! Joseph has not lost his faith in God or in His word. Nor has he relinquished his gifting. He had a dream as a seventeen year old that has yet to come true but he doesn't forsake His God or his God-given ability to hear God speak.

I wonder, what do you feel when God has delayed answering in your life? How have you responded? Have you given up? Have you felt God must love others more than you since He hasn't answered? Are you holding on by a thread that God is still at work? Or are you like Joseph who refuses to be deterred in believing God and trusting in His timing?

I don't know about you, but I want to be more like Joseph. How about you?

Is God With Me or Not?

In my last post, we were asking ourselves the question:

Am I where I am supposed to be?

We're looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis. Most of us know the end of the story, and because we do, we rarely take time to contemplate each stage of the story as it unfolds. As a result, we miss the "process" of what Joseph must have gone through. There's no way to be sure of Joseph's emotional state along his journey because there is little written in Scripture about it. As a result, I think we "de-humanize" Joseph--we tend to think about him in "super-spiritualized" terms. And because of that, we are likely to disconnect ourselves from his story.

All that being said, I would ask you to give me a little latitude as I explore what quite possibly could have been some initial emotional reactions along Joseph's journey. 

If you didn't read my last post, you might want to do that now so that you are up-to-date with Joseph's story. Here's the link:


We now turn to Genesis 29 to follow up on the next phase of Joseph's journey. According to Genesis 37:36 Joseph is sold by the Midianites to Potiphar, Pharoah's captain of the guard, in Egypt. We read in verse 2, 3, 21, and 23 the phrase "the LORD was with Joseph." For years I believed that it was Joseph's integrity that merited God's favor. Hearing sermon after sermon about the life of Joseph seemed to accentuate Joseph's stellar character warranting God's providential care. Don't get me wrong. Joseph does exemplify righteous behavior especially as it concerns the sexual advances made by Potipher's wife. He set up good boundaries for himself and refused her solicitations on the basis of his loyalty to his master Potipher, and more importantly, out of his commitment not to "sin against God." 

We then read in verses 16-20 how Potipher is deceived by his wife's false accusations against Joseph, which lands him in prison. This is immediately followed by verse 21:

"the LORD was with him [Joseph]; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden."

So here again, Joseph is exalted and then experiences humiliation.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were wrongly accused? How did you feel? What did you do in response? Did you find yourself wondering where God was in all of what was happening to you?

We have no record of Joseph's feelings, but I can't help but wonder if he might have pondered the question I've asked myself at times:

It wasn't until fairly recently that I took a broader view into the life of Joseph. I think I over-identified with Joseph "the victim" rather than seeing him as a "conduit of blessing" in the hands of an Almighty God.

Next time you find yourself questioning if God is with you or not, take a step back. Ponder some ways God might be at work in your heart or in the circumstances. Is there something bigger that God is doing than meets the eye? What might God be teaching you in and through this seemingly "unjust" situation? Is this making you "bitter" or "better"? What encouragement can you draw from Joseph's life?

Tune in next time to follow Joseph into prison and see how God uniquely gifted him for what was ahead.


Are You Where You Are Supposed to Be?

I started reading through the Bible this year using the One Year Bible. I'm a person who needs structure. Without it I seem to meander. I like that the One year Bible has an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a portion of a Psalm and Proverb.

I have been reading about Joseph in the last few days. Like me, you probably have heard several sermons based on Joseph's life. If you're not familiar with him, read Genesis 37 as an introduction to his life. I have tried to look with fresh eyes even though I know the end of his story. If you read Genesis 37: 1-4 you might come away thinking that Joseph was a bratty, tattle-tale of a younger brother. His father, Jacob favored him and made an ornamental robe to wear which seemed to incite his brothers' jealousy.

Joseph has two dreams in which he is elevated above his brothers and he brazenly shares them with his brothers and his father. By this time in the story, I'm thinking this kid has major entitlement issues and somebody better set him straight! Jacob does rebuke Joseph for his arrogance, but he "kept the matter in mind."

Jacob then does something that baffles me. He sends Joseph out to spy on his brothers who are tending their flocks near Shechem. Jacob seems to be clueless about how his other sons feel about Joseph. When the brothers see Joseph coming toward them from a distance they plot to kill him. Wow! This jealousy must have been brewing for quite some time because it's now turned murderous.

Reuben, the eldest brother talks them out of murder and proposes a compromise. "Let's just throw him in an empty cistern," while secretly intending to go back to rescue Joseph on his own. Along comes a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt, and Judah, another brother suggests they sell Joseph into slavery for profit. They all agree except for Reuben who is on his way to rescue Joseph. When Reuben discovers that Joseph is gone he is beside himself, because as the eldest, he will bear the responsibility before his father. They decide together to create a ruse that will exonerate them from responsibility. They took Joseph's robe, dipped it in blood and brought it back to Jacob. Seeing the evidence, Jacob concluded that Joseph had been "devoured" by a ferocious animal and he mourned his death "for many days."

"Meanwhile" the text says Joseph is sold in Egypt to a wealthy man named Potiphar.

If you know this story, try to suspend yourself from jumping to the end of the story. Just on the basis of what you know now, what are you thinking?

  • Does it seem like Jacob sets Joseph up for resentment?
  • Does Joseph purposely try to incite his brothers' jealousy?
  • Why doesn't God intervene to prevent this ruse?
  • What do you think Joseph is feeling when he is being sold by his brothers?
  • How do his brothers justify or rationalize their actions?

I'm not going to answer these questions because I want you to give them some thought. Why? Because I think all of us are in the middle of our own story. We haven't figured everything out and sometimes we wonder what God is doing. We ask ourselves questions: wondering if we've somehow taken a wrong turn; or made a bad decision that is irreversible.

As we move through Joseph's life, I hope the question, "Am I where I am supposed to be?"  will be answered.

A Final Word to Parents of Adult Children: Let Go and...

Do you find yourself worrying about your adult child's future? Do you sometimes dread talking to them wondering what current crisis is unfolding in their life? Do you carry their problems with you mulling them over repeatedly throughout your day?

I understand. I was caught in this trap as well. I found myself weighed down by the potential ramifications of my adult child's circumstances. Even though I wasn't "rescuing or enabling" in some tangible way, I was emotionally enabling my adult child. I realized, that by doing so, I was shouldering responsibility for her life. In effect, I was hindering her from assuming her own responsibility and the self-respect that she would gain through the process of solving her own problems. I didn't realize it at the time, but my worry, fears, and preoccupation fed into her self-doubt and avoidance of facing issues in her life.

So what do you do with the ache in your gut when you see your adult child repeating patterns that are all too familiar and destined for heartache? You let go and let God. I know. Easier said than done. But for me, the secret was learning to praise God and express gratitude for His ability to work in ways far beyond anything I might devise or implement. His resources are limitless and unsearchable. I had to turn my eyes away from what seemed to be insurmountable problems and refocus on the God who had rescued me so many years before. I had to remember and rehearse how faithful God was in spite of my sin and rebellion. And I had to begin to "see" with eyes of faith what He would do in my daughter's life because of His great love for her.

As I began this process of "letting go and letting God" I noticed a change in our relationship. It was very subtle at first, barely perceptible on the outside, but somehow my confidence in God seemed to fuel self-confidence in her. I've often said that "self-respect cannot be fueled from the outside" but I think I'm wrong. I think as I genuinely show respect for my adult children and give them the dignity of being an adult it's as if those qualities within them burgeon forth.

The issue boils down to this: enabling or rescuing our adult children is really about our inability to fully relinquish to God what He entrusted to us in the first place. 

It's time-