There are questions that plague mankind, questions that we have all asked at certain seasons in life. “What should I do with my life?” “Why am I here?” “Will I ever find someone to love?” “Why do gas stations price gas at 9/10 of a cent?” During the years I have spent as a thirty-something fellow, I have found myself asking a new set of questions that sound something like, “Is this how my life was supposed to be?” “How did I end up here?” and “Did I make the right decisions?” I know that these are not novel questions, but as kids say these days, “the struggle is real.”
I wish I could say that I easily resolved these nagging questions and have been able to march forward with confidence in my career and relationship with God. However, this has not always been the case. My business is getting healthier every year and I am enjoying my work more and more. Why, then, do I struggle with questions like, “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?” or “Is this really how God wants me to spend my life?” The reason is pretty simple – since becoming a Christian as a teenager, I knew deep down that I would never be satisfied spending my days doing anything except serving God obediently and advancing his kingdom. I was captured by God’s story, engaged in an adventure that was bigger than me. After logging twenty years as a disciple of Jesus, five of which were in ministry school and almost nine on church staff, I still cannot escape the deep longing to make the most difference that I can for God’s kingdom. On its best day, this tension is a true calling from God. On its worst day, it’s an unhealthy desire to be spiritually important. Most days it’s simply the life of a “type A” personality infused with sincere zeal for the Lord.
At times I feel like I am being drawn and quartered between God’s big plan and the position in life where he has placed me now. If I wasn’t extremely certain that I followed God into this business, I would have jumped ship a long time ago. Seminary classes feel like home for me, not staff management, budget projections and endless hours of music lessons. Though I do find joy and purpose in every aspect of my business, my heart longs for more. It’s a deep ache that I can’t seem to shake. (I’m a poet…)
I find a lot of comfort in the realization that God does not climb my ladder. His path to “greatness” looks nothing like mine. He does speak to his children, his promises are true, he is faithful to do what he says he will do, and the deep struggle is legitimate. However, I can expect my path to look less like corporate advancement and more like a Hebrew sold into slavery. I identify with the story of Joseph and find a lot of comfort from it.
As a young man, God gave Joseph a dream. A big dream. He was wise enough to understand that it was from God and that it was important, but immature enough to run his mouth about it without really knowing what it meant. (Man, that sounds familiar.)
Joseph’s self-importance ticked off his family and his brothers sold him into slavery (only after relenting from their homicidal Plan A). Joseph is carted off across the border into Egypt. This kid definitely looks like God’s rising star, right?
After ending up in Egypt, Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. If you are familiar with the story, you may immediately remember Joseph’s success and promotion in Potiphar’s house, or the persistent declaration that “the LORD was with Joseph.” However, don’t rush past an important fact… JOSEPH IS A SLAVE. This young man with dreams of importance is living under duress as the property of a foreign official. As he would lie on his bed in the slaves’ quarters, I’m sure Joseph would recall his dream and compare it to his current state, asking God a few questions of his own.
Joseph works hard, is faithful to Potiphar, and uses his skills to serve his master well. He is rewarded with great authority… and is framed as a pervert by Potiphar’s wife, landing in prison. Again, the LORD was with Joseph. Again, I’m sure Joseph had a question or two for his divine cellmate… like, “If you’re ‘with me,’ why are we HERE?!”
During his stay in prison, Joseph has an opportunity to interpret dreams for Pharaoh’s incarcerated cupbearer and baker. This interaction (and the following one with Pharaoh himself) shows me something about Joseph’s faith. Despite his status in life and his assumed struggles with God, Joseph has remained sensitive to the Spirit of God and has an intimate relationship with him. This is a big deal. The hard seasons of life and the questions they raise can too often cause us to become angry toward God, too calloused to feel the movement of his Spirit. If we are unable to remain intimate with God as we wrestle with him, I’m afraid that we will find ourselves stuck indefinitely in difficult places. Prison and Potiphar’s house are meant to be classrooms for our souls, not our permanent residences.
Skipping to the end, Joseph’s faithfulness to God and his skills in leadership and spiritual discernment land him an audience with Pharaoh himself. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and rescues Egypt, the surrounding countries and his own family from a devastating famine. He ends up in a position of incredible honor among the elite of Egypt and after interpreting all of these other visions, he finally sees the fulfillment of his own dream, the dream that started this whole tangled-up journey.
He ended up right where God said he would, but no one would have guessed the path that God would use to get him there.
That’s where I find hope in this story. Maybe you can, too.
I dare to believe that God is writing a story and I have a role to play in it. I fight to remind myself that the story isn’t about me, but I also find joy in knowing that I play a part that matters. In a culture that is obsessed with advancement, God’s story is less like a ladder to climb and more like a serpentine path through the forest, with unforeseen stops along the way and surprising vistas around the corner. Despite my questions, I know I am on the right path. Though I would rather explain Greek verb tenses than G major chords, I know I have followed God’s leading to this place in the journey. He is with me, even when I feel like I’m in prison or Potiphar’s house. What can I do in the meantime? Work in a way that brings glory to God. Use my gifts to serve those around me. Develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. I’m not wasting away in prison, I’m doing God’s work at this point on the journey. Who knows what the next step will be?
My prayer for you is that you will invest the time to know God intimately, to learn to hear his voice, to practice following him as your Good Shepherd. This skill set is more important than selling, marketing or management skills. My confidence in his ability to speak and lead has sustained me through the difficult early years of this adventure into business. I cannot imagine surviving (financially or spiritually) without that foundation. Love God, listen closely, and don’t despise the place where he has put you right now. He is not going to climb your ladder, but he will lead you on a great journey that brings glory to him and purpose to your life.
To read Joseph’s story in more detail, check out Genesis 39-41 (that’s the most exciting part of the story, in my opinion).