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From Nigel

That hard lesson: it really isn’t about me

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Now we see how Joseph had risen to power (Genesis 47:13-31). God had given him years of training; he had experienced rejection, been abandoned in the depths of a well, sold into slavery. He had to resist temptations, known life in prison and learnt to handle his own gift with responsibility. He had extended forgiveness and mercy, he was now ready to be an administrator in Egypt.

Now, in a position of power and influence, Joseph refused to take glory for himself. He was trusted by Pharaoh, he had brought great profit and glory to Pharaoh but had taken nothing for himself. Many today want recognition, they like the spotlight to be on them. Joseph had been like that, but now he had lost that self-glorifying spirit. He did what he did, not for himself but for others (we will come back to this).

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine.  Genesis 47:13

What Joseph did, he did for the people, to save them. Firstly, the people gave money for grain (vs 14), then they paid in livestock (vs 15-17). Soon the entire livestock of the land belonged to Pharaoh. Then the people had no choice but to offer their freedom in exchange for food (vs 18-19). Joseph gave the people back food in return for land (vs 20) and the people went wherever Joseph sent them (vs 21). Joseph had married a priest’s daughter which meant that his wife’s family were exempt from the restrictions. Joseph had the power but led the nation in such a way that enabled trust and he did it without that power becoming self-corrupting. He used his power and influence for the good of others and the people’s response was, ‘they said, you have saved our lives’ (vs25).

The glory we get for anything we do must not be stolen or taken for ourselves. It is always for Jesus. Our contentment must be in that we are happy to do his will, to serve him and to fall into the shadows so that His name alone is glorified and honoured. Joseph was content to do the will of God his Father and was content that the honour should go to His Father.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

The highest example of humble, self-effacing, self-sacrificial, self-giving service for the sake of others is perfectly found in Jesus. Imitate him, follow his lead. Have this at the forefront of your mind.

It is quite stunning, only God could turn greatness upside down and make what looks loss become great. Be like this! Some folk, much smarter than me, have said that Paul constructed this hymn based on the fact that he had spoken with people who recalled the famous incident in the life of Jesus: the foot-washing episode in John 13. Although the verbal parallels are few, the conceptual and theological similarities are striking.

In John 13, knowing he had come from God, Jesus rises from the table and lays aside his outer garments (vs 4). Likewise, in Philippians 2, from his position of eternal, pre-existent equality with God, Jesus, as it were, lays aside the garment of his visible glory (vs 6-7).

In John 13, Jesus clothes himself with a towel. In Philippians 2, Jesus clothes himself with human nature.

In John 13, Jesus performs a menial task often assigned to slaves (washing the feet of others). In Philippians 2, Jesus takes the form of a slave and serves others.

In John 13, when Jesus finishes, he once again takes His outer garments and puts them on. In Philippians 2, after his work on earth is finished, He returns to the visible glory with the Father that was His before time.

In John 13, Jesus resumes his place at the table, from which he had temporarily departed. In Philippians 2, Jesus is exalted by the Father and sits down again on his heavenly throne.

Jesus concludes by saying, “You call me teacher and Lord and you are right, for so I am” (vs 13). In Philippians 2, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is “Lord” to the glory of God the Father (vs 11).

The story in John 13 is an example of humble service. In Philippians 2, Paul uses the incarnation and humiliation of Christ as an example of humble service (see verses 1-5). Maybe just clever eh! But going back to our main theme Paul reminds us to….

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

This exhortation has two sides: Paul denounces not only sinful pride (assuming a role or position for which God has neither called or equipped you) but also false humility (the tendency to underestimate and undervalue what we can and ought to do). Humility “is not assuming the least role, or taking the worst of everything. Rather humility is an attitude and action which results from taking an honest look at where we best fit into the whole of God’s work as He has determined by His gifts to us”. Joseph’s humility did not stop him leading but rather it defined his leading.

Paul does not forbid thinking about ourselves. He says, rather, that we should neither think too highly nor too lowly, but soberly and with sound judgment. That is, we are to assess the gifts and opportunities that God has graciously bestowed upon us and respond appropriately.

This from John Piper:

“We read in verse 3 that God gives varying measures of faith to his people. Paul says that we ought “to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” In the context this is not a limited reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9) For Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” “To each” refers back to “everyone among you.” God has given all Christians varying measures of faith. This is the faith with which we receive and use our varying gifts. It is the ordinary daily faith by which we live and minister.

In the context, Paul is concerned that people were “thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think.” His final remedy for this pride is to say that not only are spiritual gifts a work of God’s free grace in our lives, but so also is the very faith with which we use those gifts. This means that every possible ground of boasting is taken away. How can we boast if even the qualification for receiving gifts is also a gift?

That’s how important humility is in God’s eyes. This is exactly the same aim of God mentioned in (Ephesians 2:8-9)where Paul stresses that saving faith is a gift: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is a gift from God, so that no one may boast. Or, as Romans 12:3, so that we will not think too highly of ourselves. The last bastion of pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith.

Let’s use what God has given to his glory with great humility.

 

 

 

It’s never too late to go on an adventure with God

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Sometimes God calls us to new ventures with Him at a time when we think we are going to be settled for the rest of our life. I understand that, as I write I am sixty three, nearly sixty four. I have been thinking about my retirement and what that might look like. I had a part time job when I was fourteen and started full time employment at sixteen so I felt I deserved a rest from work after fifty years! In truth, this had taken place when I had been sitting in a deck chair out in the garden with a glass of wine and then earlier this year someone prophesied and spoke into my life and turned it upside down. I can’t share it all with you but one phrase will give you the picture “you retire when God tells you to not when you decide!”

Jacob never imagined, in the later stages of his life, when he was settled in the land of Canaan that he would be suddenly called to go and live out the rest of his days in Egypt. He had never been to Egypt. I have to admit my preconceived ideas limited me from hearing God, my expectations limited me from hearing God. Do you do that? Are you doing that?

There are always doubts about new adventures with God, and always reasons why we should not do something new. I am sure Jacob knew that Abraham’s time in Egypt brought him nothing but trouble (Genesis 12:10-20) and that Isaac had been forbidden from going there (Genesis 26:2).

This new life would be very different and he wouldn’t see Canaan again. I don’t know if you are like me, but I can talk myself out of things and conjure up all sorts of reasons as to why I shouldn’t do something God is speaking to me about. The Christian life is one of obedience and faith, but nobody said it wouldn’t be hard and scary. So how did Jacob cope with these changes?

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Genesis 46:1

He puts himself in a position of submission and worship and he is open to God’s voice and God’s leading.  We have to deliberately take up a posture of openness and honesty before him asking “Father, speak with more authority than my fears. Lord, accepting not being in control isn’t one of my strong suits but here I am”

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Genesis 46:2-4

Here’s the great thing, when God sees Jacob’s worshipful and open heart he speaks and confirms that he should be going to Egypt. He calms his troubled heart and tells him that none of the promises given to his father will be lost. It is not a step back but a step forward. What he did do however was to put all his trust in God.

I am reminded of Hebrews 11 and those great men of faith. So what is faith? The word “faith” appears twenty-four times in this chapter alone!

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1

As you know, there are a variety of differing translations of verse 1. The old King James Version renders it: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The NIV says: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for.” According to the Phillips translation, “Faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for.” The ESV uses the words “assurance” and “conviction”. Believe it or not, I think the KJV rendering is the more accurate!

But what could it possibly mean that faith is the “substance” and “evidence” of the things for which we hope, the things we have not yet seen? I think it means that genuine faith is more than merely a subjective confidence about what will happen in the future. Make no mistake it is that. Faith is the internal assurance we experience that what is hoped for will, in fact, come to pass but it has to be more than that. Faith is our reliance on God to do what he has said he will do even when present circumstances suggest otherwise.

One word of caution, don’t ever think that these people were extraordinary, perhaps spiritual super-heroes of some sort whose lives were so beyond ours in terms of obedience and love and faith that all we can do is admire them from a distance. Going back to our passage Jacob was not an all round good guy! What we are reading about in Hebrews 11 is not only what God expects from all of us but what he has promised to more than abundantly supply in us. This is ordinary Christian living. You and I, regardless of how much we may struggle, can live in the power of this sort of faith no less so than they did. God has made sufficient provision of his power that whatever is required to walk “with him” in faith is available for the taking.

So let’s drift back into our passage, there is in Chapter 46 a list of the families who would make this trip to Egypt. I will leave you to read that.

Jacob is now about to receive his reward for his faith and trust in God.

He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen Genesis 46:28

Judah goes ahead, now trusted by his father he is leading the family into this new place.

Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while Genesis 46:29

Joseph set out to meet his father. What a day that was. They had not seen each other for more than twenty years. Jacob had never expected to see Joseph again. Joseph had ached for this day that God had promised to him. The day was heavy with emotion. When we commit our ways to God His promises will be fulfilled. When we commit our ways to God He will give us the desires of our heart.

Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”  Genesis 46:30

Note the satisfaction and the contentment in those words, and he was one hundred and thirty years old! (see Genesis 47:9)

Whilst I was working on my retirement plans, I read Psalm 71 which is harshly entitled, “Forsake me not when my strength is spent” that’s encouraging! The reason that the psalmist could handle his problems so well as an old man was that he had developed a walk with God in the years leading up to this time. He had a proven resource in the Lord which enabled him to be strong inside, even though his body was growing weaker and his enemies were powerful.

Surely that principle should be applied to us all, a developed walk with God will enable us to be open to him, hear his voice and to respond in faith to our next adventure with Him.

The extent of forgiveness

By From Nigel No Comments

Joseph was now satisfied that the time had come to tell his brothers who this ‘Prince of Egypt’ really was. We are in Genesis 45. The story of what his brothers had done was likely to become widely known if Joseph revealed himself in front of an Egyptian court, so he dismissed the court (vs 1). The emotions of all the years spilled out (vs 2). It’s so helpful to learn that Joseph did not want others to know how much he had been hurt, he protected his brothers and he would not dishonour them. It’s so easy to drag others into our disputes and lower the view of those who have hurt us to those around us.

The brothers were terrified when they realised that this Prince of Egypt was in fact their brother Joseph. Their fear was genuine and real believing that their sin would be punished and that they were at his mercy (vs 3). Is this not us as we stand before God, guilty and at God’s mercy? Oh the mercy!

Has life pressed in on you and subdued the wonder of God’s mercy? Has the pressure of just making it one day at a time caused you to lose sight of the unimaginable depths and indescribable heights of divine mercy to a sinner such as you are? Have the banal, mundane, and often perverted images and sounds of TV, the Internet, Twitter, e-mail, films, and Facebook dulled your heart to the majesty of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ? Would you pray this prayer with me?

I pray that the Spirit of God will intensify and deepen in my heart an increasing wonder for the glory of the cross, the centrality of Christ, and the ever-expanding joy of heaven in the ages to come. May my fascination and excitement and awe for the wonder of God’s mercy never end! Amen.

Joseph would not leave his brothers in either guilt or limbo. He didn’t just want them to know forgiveness, he wanted them to feel forgiven.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:4-5

It’s not a text card in a Bible Book shop it is a reality in life that all things work together for good. Joseph wanted to make it easy for his brothers to receive their forgiveness, not hard so it helped them to see the bigger picture.

“God sent me” “it was not you who sent me here” (vs 5-8).

Not only did he want them to feel forgiven, he wanted them to feel reconciled to him. He was now a very important person. They must take news back to their father and bring him to Egypt. He wanted them to feel his concern for them and their family. Many forgive and others say I forgive you, but secretly, underneath some may hope that the person being forgiven will still feel the burden of what they have done. Joseph was not like that and neither should we be. In our forgiving we release the person. Joseph wept over them, he kissed them and spoke with them not from a throne but as equals, brothers, friends.  What kind of forgivers are we to be?

The Egyptians get to hear about this incredible family reunion (vs 16). They are kept from knowing about the betrayal, the hurt and the hatred of the previous years. All that has been covered, hidden. Love has covered a multitude of sins. Let’s keep loving one another “since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). Love ought to lead us to overlook the sins and offenses of others (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). See especially Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (also James 5:19-20)

The brothers attracted the favour of Pharaoh who then acted generously towards them and their father (vs17-20). Joseph himself sent gifts (vs 21-24).

People are looking for love and looking for something very different from the attitudes of the world that encourage revenge and pay pack. If there is genuine love between us, then our ‘Egyptians’ will see it and recognise it.

We believe that loving relationships should permeate every aspect of church life. As God has first loved us, we are called to love one another (1 John 4:19). So love is grounded, not in our self-righteousness, but in the grace of God. As such we consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Celebrating God’s love, we should pursue restoration within a Christian community of acceptance and forgiveness of one another which is centred in the person and works of Jesus Christ.

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18

 

Is it a trick?

By From Nigel One Comment

Joseph has released his brothers to travel back to Canaan with the all the food they can carry (Genesis 44:1). Their money has also been returned to them but, Joseph has paced his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. It’s a set up!

Soon, Joseph’s men catch up with them and demand to know why they have stolen from Joseph (vs 3-5). The brothers protest their innocence.

Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants. Genesis 44:9

The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (vs10-12). What was going on here? Was Joseph playing with them or being vindictive?

Joseph was apparently testing their genuineness, testing their repentance was real. I can remember, on several occasions, in the process of leading now dear friends to the Lord, that point in repentance when you wonder if this is an emotional response or genuinely real. One person repented for over an hour, confessing to all sorts of things. Another handed over icons and books and things they had dotted all around their home putting them into a huge cardboard box which they then insisted I took to the tip immediately. Another invited me to a bonfire in their back garden which was quite fearsome.

It’s just a thought but do we test repentance? Is the lack of repentance why we are dealing with Christians struggling with their faith and the pull of the world?

How would the brothers react? Would they betray one of their own? Twenty years before they planned the death of Joseph, would they sacrifice another brother for their own good. Would they take into consideration their father’s feelings towards losing another son?

Benjamin was now on a road to execution.

The brothers demonstrated a very clear and deep repentance. Judah acted as their spokesperson.

And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” Genesis 44:16

They were clearly admitting their guilt. This is so helpful in regard to the issue of repentance. When we lead someone to the Lord we can often leave out or avoid the tricky issue of the confession of sin and admittance of wrong by rather moving swiftly to the love of Jesus. The brothers thought at this point that they were being justly punished for what they had done wrong. They were now sorry for their sin. However Joseph offered them freedom as long as Benjamin remained in Egypt as a slave (vs 17).

At this point we get an incredibly moving and emotional response from Judah (18-34). How things had changed with now a plea for salvation.

Years before they had not cared for their father Jacob but now they were very different (isn’t this so helpful?). Jacob loved Benjamin greatly (vs 18-20). Jacob had released Benjamin reluctantly (vs 21-29). Jacob’s life is bound up in Benjamin’s life (vs 30). If Judah goes back to Canaan without Benjamin, it will break Jacob’s heart (vs 30-31). Judah is pleading for Benjamin out of his great love for Jacob.

See the picture of Christ and our own salvation here as Judah offers himself as a substitute. Let me take the penalty, let me pay the price for another.

Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. Genesis 44:33

Out of Judah’s great love for his father he is prepared to become a substitute, to pay the debt in order for Benjamin to be released. It is precisely the thing that Jesus did for us on the cross. On the cross, it was as if Jesus was saying to his father “let me remain instead of…..(put your name in here).” “Let me take the place of the ones who have sinned. Let me face your anger instead of them.” Judah is being Christ-like, he would rather bear Benjamin’s punishment in order that another would be restored to his father. He (Jesus) would rather bear our punishment so that we might be restored to the father.

Can I recommend a book: Pierced for our transgressions: Rediscovering The Glory Of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery & Mike Ovey.

A helpful definition of penal substitution is provided by the authors of that book: “The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin”

John Piper adds: “If God did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God. We have only one hope and it is “that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God”

J I Packer explains how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death.

Note the following sequence.

“What did Christ’s death accomplish?
It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Titus 2:14, Revelation 5:9)

How did it do that?
By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:11-15)

How did that sacrifice achieve its redemptive effect?
By making peace, achieving reconciliation, and so ending enmity between God and ourselves (Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Ephesians 2:13-16, Colossians 1:19-20).

How did Christ’s death make peace?
By being a propitiation, an offering appointed by God himself to dissolve his judicial wrath against us by removing our sins from his sight (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

How did the Saviour’s self-sacrifice have this propitiatory effect?
By being a vicarious enduring of the retribution declared due to us by God’s own law (Galatians 3:13, Colossians 2:13-14) in other words, by penal substitution”

I think this is appropriate from G.F.Handel (1685-1759) “turn it up”

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world is become
the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ,
and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords.
King of kings, and Lord of lords.
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
and Lord of lords,
and He shall reign,
and He shall reign for ever and ever,
for ever and ever,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
And He shall reign for ever and ever, for ever and ever.
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

Sometimes it’s just tough

By From Nigel One Comment

Many years ago I went through a period of time when God was clearly dealing with me. It was painful, hard and frankly not nice. I knew God was speaking but the process of sanctification was not easy because I was having to deal with things about me that I did not want to deal with. I was not sleeping, it felt like I could not escape and God was revealing things to me about myself that I did not want to hear. I don’t believe I am alone in describing one of the ways God works to make us more like his son, necessary as it may be, but that feeling of being exposed and vulnerable does make for a far more real prayer life.

Jacob and his sons are being refined in the fire by God. The brothers return to Egypt with double the money and with Benjamin (Genesis 43:15). Joseph is delighted to see his younger brother and it is a sign that his brothers had learnt lessons from the past. It was also a sign that Jacob was trusting God. Joseph invited them to his ‘place’ for a meal but the brothers were nervous.

And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” Genesis 43:18

When God is working in our lives and all is stripped away we can easily feel that everything is working against us rather than for our good. How wrong they were, how wrong we can be. Joseph was wanting to bless and yet the brothers thinking was distorted and they read the complete opposite.

Their position and posture was to defend themselves and they tried to give good logical explanations as to why the money had been found in their sacks. They felt they must justify their actions but Joseph puts them at ease.

He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. Genesis 43:23

Again a prophecy is fulfilled as the brothers bow to Joseph (vs 26). Yet, despite this, he does not gloat or enjoy what God is doing. When someone is going through the refiner’s fire we can sometimes feel a wrong sense of, “they deserved that.” Not so with Joseph, he expressed care and concern for his brothers and for his father (vs 27). Although his brothers had treated him badly in the past he would choose to not be like that, he would not be vindictive.

Joseph gave the brothers a clue as to who he was by the seating arrangements at the meal (vs 33). He did not, and would not, treat them as their sins deserved. A lesson I need to learn and a wonderful description of how Christ has treated us.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12

Just for a moment look at how Joseph could have reacted. Consider for a moment how we “deal” with others. We can keep fresh in our minds their injustices toward us. We can nurture the memory of their faults and failings. We can never let them forget what they did and we often make sure others know about it as well! We may seek any, and every opportunity, often secretly and surreptitiously, to make them pay for their transgressions. We hold it in our hearts and over their heads and persuade ourselves that it’s only fair that they be treated this way.

Now consider again this description of God in his “dealings” with us.  “He does NOT deal with us according to our sins.” Our sins do NOT constitute the rule or standard or plumb line according to which God makes his decisions on how to treat us. He does not recall or bring to the fore or publicly announce our history of sin before he formulates his plan for our life or before responding to something we’ve just said or done.

Better still is the second statement in verse 10, that God does NOT “repay us according to our iniquities.” It’s certainly not because our iniquities do not deserve repayment. They are deep, there are many and they are horrible and are deserving of the most severe, indeed, eternal judgment. But those who “fear him” (vs11) need never fear that he will exact payment or demand suffering or insist, according to the strictness of his law and unyielding holiness, that we endure the  consequences of violating His will and ways.

In fact, so far is it from the realm of possibility that we might ever be dealt with “according to our sins” or repaid “according to our iniquities” that David compares it (in Psalm 103), to the distance between earth and the highest heavens and the distance between east and west, which is unmeasurable.

Why does God not deal with us according to our sins? Why does he not repay us according to our iniquities? On what grounds does he take such a generous and marvellous action? Does he simply wave the wand of mercy and dismiss our guilt? Does he merely shrug off our rebellion and unbelief and hostility as if they were nothing and of no consequence? Does he ignore his standard of holiness when he forgives us? Does he pretend that justice matters little or that love trumps righteousness?

No, no, no, no. The reason why God does not deal with us according to our sins is because he has dealt with Jesus in accordance with what they require! More than that, the payment for those sins has been fully and finally accepted. It is finished!

There is our example.

Laying down his life for his friends

By From Nigel One Comment

They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. Genesis 42:23-24

Joseph was hurt and saddened by what had previously passed and what was happening now between himself and his brothers and as a result the depth of emotion surfaced. Reconciliation is never a cold practical solution. The brothers were sent away with food, the money was unwittingly returned to them (vs 25) and so they left (vs 26). On their way home one of the brothers opened his sack and discovered the returned money that had been placed there (vs 27). They were utterly dismayed, their lives depended upon the food that they hoped to get from Joseph and they questioned what it was that God might be doing to them (vs 28).

On their return home, the brothers recount the whole story to Jacob (vs 29-34). What will he do? Will he continue to show favouritism towards Benjamin as he had towards Joseph? As they unpack their sacks they discover that all their money has been returned. (vs 35). They have the grain without paying for it! They now could be considered as nothing less than thieves without a defence. This leads to accusations and blame shifting.

And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” Genesis 42:36

A break though! Reuben made an offer to make a sacrifice for the sake of someone else (vs 37).

Genesis 43 begins by telling us of the famine’s severity and Judah’s selfless pledge prevented him from holding Benjamin back.

Judah steps forward as the leader of the brothers and refuses to go back to Egypt without his youngest brother. Twice he tells his father that they have been “warned” not to return without Benjamin, and so if all of the brothers do not go back into the land of the Nile, none of them can go (vs 4–5).

Judah is not the oldest son and yet he still holds some favour with Jacob and so becomes the logical choice to head up the expedition. The question of Judah’s age is not what qualifies him to lead the others but rather seeing that his father’s concern to preserve Benjamin alive must be satisfied, he steps forward and makes himself the guarantor of his brother’s safety (43:8–10).

This is a risky and brave move for Judah to make because he is putting his life on the line for his brother. It is model behaviour and a wonderful example. This features all the more prominently in the life of Jesus, (Judah’s greatest son through King David, Matthew 1) who laid down His life for His brothers (John 15:13). Judah’s actions show him to be a far different man from the one who rejected Tamar and sold Joseph into slavery. He now becomes a picture of Christ.

Our friendship with Jesus is only possible because of the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. Friendship is the fruit of atonement, and atonement is the expression of love (John 15:12-13).

This is what Jesus is saying in verses 12-13 but his statement provokes a question. What was it, about Jesus dying for his friends, that made it an expression of the greatest love imaginable? How can we know today that when Jesus died for us it was the highest expression of love?

The answer, obviously, depends on what he accomplished in dying for us. There are many today who have rejected the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ for sinners. The doctrine simply means that when he died on the cross he suffered the penalty of God’s judgment that we deserved and by doing so he satisfied the wrath of God against us. Now I think that is love!

I know many who argue against this, stating that he died for us primarily to set an example of what self-sacrifice for others really is. Yes, he did that, but what would that “sacrifice” be if not dying in our place, dying the death we deserved, dying as our substitute? Come on! Also we do not want to lower sacrifice (else it becomes trivial like “they didn’t give me the book back I leant them)

Some say, he died for us in the sense that he gave us an example of how we should love others and serve others, or that he died to motivate us to live godly lives, or that he died to defeat Satan and deliver us from the grip of our enemy, or that he died to restore us to the image of God that was defaced by Adam’s fall. But how would such a death be the “greatest love” imaginable?

What makes Christ’s death for us, the expression of a love beyond anything anyone could imagine is that in dying in your place he delivered you from eternal damnation. In dying in your place, as your substitute, he exhausted in himself the wrath of a holy God and secured your eternal forgiveness of sins.

Hallelujah.

Restoring Relationships

By From Nigel One Comment

When there has been tension or a breakdown in relationships, those first few steps towards restoring that relationship are never easy. It can often feel awkward and difficult. However, if we cannot overcome the barriers that exist and make tentative steps towards reconciliation we have not proved ourselves to be as Christlike as we might have first thought ourselves to be. These verses are a bit long for a blog but they do set the scene.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Joseph wondered if he would ever see his brothers again. His new life had caused him to forget his previous life (Genesis 41:51). Now our story takes a turn, it’s not a coincidental turn but part of God’s sovereign plan.

Jacob and his family are feeling the effects of the famine in Canaan, so Jacob sends his sons in search of grain to Egypt. (42:1-3) as we read this we can be governed by knowing the end of the story. If you read this not knowing the end of the story then you will begin to feel the emotion and tension of broken relationships. Jacob has behaved to type by not sending his now new favourite son on the journey (vs 4). So again we see the age old problem of not learning about our own weaknesses.

The ten brothers arrived in Egypt, and bowed before Joseph thus fulfilling the dream that Joseph had twenty years earlier (vs 5-6). It must have been deeply moving for Joseph when he recognised them (vs7). How should he treat them? When we have been hurt one of our potentially natural instincts is for revenge or pay back. Joseph had the power to throw his brothers into prison or even to have them executed. His hurt, if it had not been released many years before, could have grown and distorted his perception. He could have gloated or hated them but he did none of these things.

Joseph treated his brothers with restraint. He was measured, he was not in a rush to reveal who he was but he does however, speak roughly to them (vs 7). You can sense the tension, it’s hard and difficult, but what was he feeling on the inside? He is going to choose to move this in the right direction. His brothers do not recognise him, they had assumed he was dead (vs 8). He looked different, dressed in Egyptian clothes, even speaking to them through an interpreter and he had an Egyptian name. Despite everything, Joseph knew God had a purpose for his brothers. This is so important in that when we are hurt we still see that God has a plan and a purpose for the life of the one or ones who have hurt us.

Joseph knew that his accusation of his brothers being spies was false and wrong (vs 9). For those interested the phrase used, “the nakedness of the land” at first glance this seems to be a reference to the fact that his brothers are spies looking for Egypt’s weak points and yet it is a subtle play on words inferring and suggestive of the time when his brothers stripped him of his cloak and placed him, semi naked in a cistern.  It was a carrot dangled to cause his brothers to bite in that it partly revealed who he was but they didn’t see it. He wanted them to recognise him. It showed his true heart.

They deny they are spies and begin to tell their story, they have come for food (vs 10). It’s odd as they say that there are twelve brothers and yet it’s twenty years since they got rid of Joseph. Do they still have him on their minds? Is there regret? Guilt from previous sin can be a powerful emotion. The prophet Isaiah addresses this issue for us.

And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:7

The reason you and I struggle to enjoy God is because we can live in constant fear that He doesn’t enjoy us. How could He when our guilt and shame remains? Why do we experience this fear? It is because we don’t understand or embrace and enjoy the fact that God has forgiven all our sins! The reason we are so hesitant to draw near to God and bring our prayerful requests to him is that we live in fear that he’s angry with us. Why shouldn’t he be when our guilt and shame remain? So why do we experience this hesitation? Again, it is because we don’t understand or embrace, and enjoy the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins!

I remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Hebrews 10:17

Going back to the story the brothers mention Joseph and Benjamin (vs 12-14) but Benjamin is not with them so Joseph threatened them with imprisonment for three days until Benjamin was brought to him. He then made some suggestions which would test their attitude towards one another (vs 19 – 20). How would they feel if one of them suffered whilst the others were released? It was poignant and meant to stir memories regarding what they had done to him. He wanted them to recall and think of the impact of their previous ways and choices. Would they be glad to leave Benjamin in prison whilst they escaped? Would they have learnt the lesson or would history repeat itself?

Eventually they admitted their guilt. They admitted their lack of compassion. They admitted they had been wrong. Now a change can occur.

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Genesis 42:21

There had been a loss of years, many years.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. Joel 2:25

The immediate meaning of this promise is clear. God’s people had suffered the complete destruction of their entire harvest through swarms of locusts that marched like an insect army through the fields, destroying the crops, multiplying their number as they went. This wonderful promise for those people meant that years of abundant harvests would follow the years of desolation brought about by the locusts.

What do “lost years” look like for Joseph, for his brothers, for us? Lost years (or locust years) are years that you can’t get back. Take heart! There is hope, because God can restore to you your lost, locust years.

Hearing from God: Part two

By From Nigel One Comment

Let me share with you two situations out of the many that I have been involved with as a church leader. The negative first and then the positive. I had someone speak to me with regard to something that the Bible makes very clear. Without disclosing the details, what they were informing me was, that they had heard from God. Even though I tried to explain to them that what they were proposing to do was wrong because the Bible clearly stated otherwise, they announced that they were still going to pursue this course of action and in fact they did so. The evidence they cited as to why they should continue with this course of action was that their friends said it was ok! The Bible is God’s word over all situations and our feelings and decisions are subject to it, right?

Having said that, in another situation a church member came up to me during an open-air service and said he had heard from God about a person somewhere in the crowd. I, in fear and trepidation, gave out in detail what he said explaining that this was God speaking. A couple of minutes later a man I had never met before came and introduced himself to me and explained that “the message” was for him! In a short time we led him to the Lord and he became a treasured member of our church. He was reconciled to his family and gave me a power drill. (Don’t know why I put that in!) As you can see, hearing from God is not as simple and easy as we might think it is.

We are still in Genesis 41 and continuing to look at Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams God gave to Pharaoh. What we are looking at here is the second part of two blogs looking at hearing from God, so if you are  reading this for the first time can I suggest you read my previous blog first.

Here we see that God’s word was recognised. It’s wonderful when God speaks with indisputable power and authority. Pharaoh (a pagan ruler) recognised instantly that what Joseph was saying was from God. He recognised that God was speaking through Joseph.

This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Genesis 41:37-38

When God’s word comes in power it proves itself. It carries it’s own convicting power. When God speaks we shouldn’t have to ask is this right? We know God’s ways, we know God’s word, His words prove themselves. When Paul says in Thessalonians his gospel came with full conviction, who had the conviction? Paul or his hearers? The answer is both did. If we know the character of God, and we know his word, when God’s word comes the speaker and the hearer are fully convinced it is God.

Joseph’s gift was recognised by Pharaoh. When the Church is functioning as it should then gifting will be recognised. You don’t have to self-promote or push but rather gifting is seen. However, you do have to exercise your gift. Joseph was bold enough to interpret the dreams. You don’t need to manipulate but equally you should not sit back and wait. Without straining, Joseph, at the right time, was lifted into the position God had been training him for. Pharaoh recognised that God had revealed the future to Joseph, he recognised that Joseph had God’s hand upon him to be the administrator Egypt needed.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” Genesis 41:39-40

Once Joseph had tried to force his gift on his family but now he is doing it God’s way. Open to God’s voice he exercised obedience with humility. God gives us the authority in his time. God would reward him with more than he had before.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. Genesis 41:41-42

As Joseph rides in the second chariot the people call out “bow the knee”. He is acting under authority. Hearing from God does not mean you push and promote your gift to whomever will give you an ear. Too many times I have had people walk into meetings introducing their gift and imposing their ministry before they even said “hello”! Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and yet he is obedient to the will of his Father. Hearing from God is not a matter of promotion and position. Joseph ruled Egypt in order to be a blessing to the nation, in order to serve Pharaoh and to honour his God.

If you do hear from God then be subject to local church leaders and be accountable.

God’s word to Joseph was tangible and the fulfilment of it proved it was from God. Let’s put this another way, if there had not been seven years of plenty, then it was not from God. If there had not been seven years of famine, then it was not from God. God always keeps his word, if it appears that he does not, then it’s simple it’s not God, it’s the cheese, or good intentions, or feelings, or manipulation. This is simple and yet profound, God will do what he says. When weighing a prophetic word over time, look at the fruit.

Be faithful with your gift. Joseph had been utterly frank and straightforward with Pharaoh, he didn’t add anything to give what he said more weight. (I once knew someone who when they prophesied made their voice wobble to give it what they thought was more authenticity). Some add fifteen thus said the Lords! Give what God has given you, no more and no less.

The famine would affect a very wide area and soon put Joseph in contact with Canaan. Joseph had given up any expectation of seeing his father or his brothers again. His new life, including a wife and now children made him forget his father’s house (vs 51). What he didn’t know then, and what we don’t know as we hear from God and share it is, that what God has given us is part of God’s wider and deeper plan. It’s not about your gift and it’s not about the fact that someone has something to share from God with you. God has a much bigger plan than that. Here we find out that God has a plan for the line of Jacob. Joseph probably looked back wondering what his past life was all about? What were the dreams he shared with his family all about? Perhaps how foolish and unwise he had been in how he had shared those dreams, and yet God has a much bigger plan, and his plans will not be stopped. The story is moving towards a great climax when God’s word in every minute detail is about to take place.

You, may not know yet why God has spoken to you as he has but, he did speak as he did because he has higher, greater, wider and deeper plan that is beyond your shudder at what God has just revealed. A word from God is simply this….get ready!

 

 

Hearing from God 

By From Nigel 2 Comments

Something has puzzled me for a very long time.  Over the years I have been given prophesies both for me personally and for the churches that I have led. I believe the folk that gave them to me were convinced they were hearing from God and I believe that their motives were honourable. I have, and we have prayed about these prophesies, they have even featured in sermons and on publicity. However, the stark truth is that up to this point quite a few of them have never materialised. I know that you will tell me that they are possibly for another generation but, If we are being honest, could they have just been wrong? It’s a sensitive issue weighing the “I heard from God” prophesies and having to say, “sorry I believe on this occasion you were wrong.”

Let’s look at the subject of hearing from God. I am not sure I will cover this big subject in just one blog

Genesis 41 tells us that Pharaoh had received a revelation or a dream from God that troubled him because he could not understand or interpret it, neither could his wise men and magicians. It’s at this point that the cupbearer, who was in prison with Joseph, remembers Joseph and the fact that he had interpreted his dream.

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. Genesis 41:14

I love that Joseph shaved. I don’t know why but it made me laugh!

I think we can learn from what comes next about how to hear from God.

God is still using Joseph. His gifting was undeniable but he had changed, he had lost the abruptness of youth and the arrogance of the knowledge that he had a gift.

Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer.” Genesis 41:16

One cannot imagine the 17 year old Joseph having spoken this way. Before he had been boastful and proud. He would have shared what he believed God had given him without any concern for his hearers. Now all that is gone. Joseph had matured and he had learnt through years of trials that everything he had was subject to a sovereign God and in the hands of God. His motive now is not self promotion but the honour of God. He now speaks with care and humility. “It is not me, God will give.”

God may speak in stages. I can remember being in Hong Kong and being given a prophesy where the person admitted they only had part of what they believed God wanted to say to me. Then, a while later, whilst at a church leaders time of prayer and fasting a pastor came over and said, “does this mean anything to you? I was given the second part of the prophesy! I definitely knew God was speaking! It was that same way with Pharaoh. There was the dream part one and then there was the dream part two (vs 17-24). Even then he seeks the interpretation albeit wrongly at first but eventually through Joseph where God revealed the meaning.

The interpretation of the dream is clear and given with authority. When someone hears from God, it’s not fuzzy and vague, it’s not where the meaning could lead to several conclusions.

It’s also recognised as authoritative by the person receiving the gift. Pharaoh trusted Joseph because he had proved that with God’s revelation he could interpret dreams.

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. Genesis 41:25

Joseph tells Pharaoh that there will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine and the repetition of the dream meant that this was about to happen now (vs 32). Joseph stresses the urgency. The dream is easy to weigh, the plenty will be easily seen as will the famine. If we are trying to bend prophesies to make them fit our situations then they are wrong.

When God speaks there is a practical out working. Joseph doesn’t just interpret the dream he gives detailed instructions as to what should be done.

Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Genesis 41:33

Joseph knew that a gifted administrator should be appointed to identify the specific tasks that needed to be done in order to arrange for the needs of an entire nation to be met. This person would need to be able to cope with times of abundance and times of famine, someone whom Pharaoh could trust. We should treat God’s words to us in the same way as Joseph did. In the past I have been guilty of elevating the gift of a person and have put prophetic words on places like websites and social media platforms but have not made the changes that God required. God’s word is also practical. He tells us what to look out for and what to do. We will leave this part of the story there, but before I move on I just want to reinforce some things.

God is a speaking God. We have his word, but he also speaks to us individually for both our personal edification and so that we can share with his church what he is saying. God puts words, phrases, sentences, images and such like into our minds, stamped with the indelible print of his voice. Although undeniably subjective and occasionally odd, “impressions” are a valid means of getting our attention (cow’s and ears of corn!)

I believe we may justifiably expect that when God wants to tell us something, he will not use a cryptic crossword! His purpose isn’t to mislead or confuse but to guide us clearly and carefully. Whether through thoughts or perceptions that we intuitively recognise could only come from him, he makes his heart known. When God communicates he does so with specific information. He has a plan and He is trying to get our attention.

People in biblical times like Joseph were not left to wonder about “hunches” or “impulses” or “feelings”. If God’s voice is occasionally “vague” it is to awaken us to seek for more revelation and to challenge us to press into his heart ever more intensely. It is to be expected that if there is something He would have us know, He will be both able and willing and will in fact plainly communicate it to us if we are but open and prepared by our experience to hear and obey. That’s the point, hear and obey.

Even in the case of visions and dreams, there is verbal communication. God guides not as we might guide a child by the hand or a horse by the reins, but through revelation he gives clear instructions that we should hear and then act upon.  Part two next time.

A cupbearer and a baker

By From Nigel One Comment

We all struggle with disappointments in life. For me the biggest disappointments are when I have an expectation and have thought about things in a particular way and something happens completely differently. Or, when I have prayed for a long time and not seen a breakthrough, or when I have prayed and things apparently seemed to get worse. I have in the past protected myself from disappointment more than once.

Joseph could have been disappointed. His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt where there was no hope on the horizon for him. However, through hard work and by maintaining his integrity and with God with him, Joseph had risen to the top spot in Potiphar’s house. Things were looking up. Then, for refusing Potiphar’s wife’s advances, Joseph was unfairly thrown into prison. His hopes were dashed. There, as God’s hand on his life became evident, the jailer put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. His hopes rose again and Joseph prayed that God would get him out (Genesis 40).

We don’t know how much time had passed, but after a while, two new prisoners joined Joseph; Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker. These were important men in Pharaoh’s court. The cupbearer was more than just the man who tasted the wine before Pharaoh drank it to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. He was always with the king and was one of his advisors and confidants. The baker insured the quality of all the food served at Pharaoh’s table. These men had offended Pharaoh somehow and ended up with Joseph in the prison. Then, one night, both men had a dream. By God’s help Joseph interpreted their dreams. The cupbearer’s dream meant that in three days he would be restored to his position. The baker’s dream meant that in three days he would be executed. (What would you do? Only give the interpretation for the nice dream!)

Joseph appealed to the cupbearer

Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. Genesis 40:14

Three days later as Joseph’s predictions came true, you can picture the cupbearer giving Joseph the thumbs up as he headed out of the prison door, saying, “Don’t worry mate! You’ll be out in no time!” Joseph’s hopes were the highest since he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Finally, it looked like God was going to answer his prayers. Maybe he dreamt of what would happen when he got out of prison, made plans in his head, wrote lists. His heart was on the other side of the prison walls. But night came and there was no word from the jailer about his release. He maybe woke thinking, “possibly yesterday was a big day for the cupbearer, he had a lot to do, today he will mention my situation to Pharaoh.” Day leads to day and week leads to week and disappointment becomes heavy. (Disappointment can be a very heavy burden to carry), Joseph’s high hopes were dimmed and finally extinguished as he realises that he has been forgotten. So what can we learn from this?

God uses disappointments to bring His children to the place where their only hope is in Him. It’s a painful process, but often we put our hope in people and they let us down. Not even you nor I can be trusted perfectly as we are fallen, it takes that shift in our heart to learn that only God alone is to be trusted.

Disappointments begin when high hopes or answers to our problems are not met as we expect.

Most of us come to Christ with high hopes for answers to life’s problems. The gospel promises a lot; peace, joy, restored relationships, forgiveness for all our sins, emotional healing, meaning and purpose in life, and much more. We hear stories about other Christians and how God miraculously answers prayer. So we begin to pray that God would deal with the major problems in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. It’s not that God doesn’t deliver, but rather that we assume (or are led by other Christians to think) that these things come quickly, miraculously, and painlessly.

No doubt Joseph prayed daily that God would get him out of prison. He had high hopes that God would answer that prayer. After all, it was based on the dreams he had when he was a teenager, which he knew were from God. So when these two men were put in the prison and had these dreams and Joseph interpreted them, his hopes soared. This was the way God would get him out of prison! God’s ways are different.

Disappointments can move us either to despair or to continue to trust God. Our chapter does not indicate what happened in Joseph’s heart as he waited in vain day after day. It just ends with the bleak words.

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Genesis 40:23

Now notice the place in your Bible between that verse and the next. It’s a white space, a chapter break but that little break represents two years in Joseph’s life, two years in a prison, two years of his twenties, the prime of his life. That white space in your Bible represents the maturing of Joseph where he learned to deal with his disappointments and where he moved, not into despair, but into hope in God alone. I can say this because of the product we see coming out at the other end. We don’t see a cynical, angry man, but rather a godly, mature man who is able to handle the heavy responsibilities thrust upon him. Psalm 105:19 says of this time that “the word of the Lord tested him.” Those two silent years in the prison after his disappointment with the cupbearer were a time of learning to hope in God and Joseph processed his disappointment so that it didn’t lead to crippling despair, but rather to hope in God alone.

Hoping in God alone is the key to overcoming disappointment and despair. Disappointments strip us of hope in ourselves and others thereby leading us to the only thing left which is to hope in God. Joseph, by faith, clung to God, who did prove Himself faithful in His time. You ask, “How do you know Joseph hoped in God? How can you tell when your hope is in God?” My experience has been that sometimes, even when to the best of your knowledge your hope is in God, He will test you to prove it. There were three signs in Joseph’s life that demonstrated that he was hoping in God, signs which can help us to check ourselves.

Firstly, Joseph was sensitive to the needs of others. If we had been in Joseph’s situation, most of us would have been so consumed with self‑pity that we wouldn’t have given any thought to the needs of others. But Joseph was sensitive to the needs of these two prisoners. He had observed the dejection on their faces the morning after they had their dreams and he was concerned enough to ask them about it (40:6-7). If he had been self-absorbed, he would not have noticed.

You can also see Joseph’s consideration for others in his plea to the cupbearer (40:14-15). In defending his innocence, Joseph could have run down his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, and Potiphar for the way they had mistreated him but, Joseph tactfully says that he was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews and that he had done nothing to deserve being thrown into prison. He wasn’t having a pity party, blaming everybody else for his trials, even though in this case everybody else really was to blame.

Secondly, Joseph could have become a total cynic by this point in his life. When these men mentioned their dreams, he could have sneered, “Yeah, I used to believe in dreams. Look where it got me!” But instead he had a positive, cheerful attitude, saying, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please” (40:9).

Having an open attitude means that you focus on the things you can do in a situation, not on the things you cannot do. Joseph could have thought, “What’s the use of telling these two characters the meaning of their dreams? That won’t get me anyplace.” But instead, he focused on what he could do for them, and did it cheerfully. During this time in prison, as he did in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was building a reputation by the little things he did.

The cupbearer finally did tell Pharaoh of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and his integrity in telling it like it was, not only to him, but also to the baker as well. The jailer would also have vouched for Joseph’s personal character and cheerful spirit.

You can’t control many of the things that happen to you, but you can control your attitude in response to those things. If your hope is in God, you will have a positive, cheerful, attitude.

Thirdly, as soon as these men mention their dreams, Joseph responds, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” He wasn’t being arrogant, but as Donald Grey Barnhouse puts it, his reply was rather “the simplicity of a child who knows just where his father is and how to reach him”. Joseph walked so closely with God that he automatically mentioned His name when these men told him their problems, and he had such a trust in God that his answer assumed that God would reveal to him the meaning of the dreams.

If our hope is in God, He will be the first person we think of in a crisis, not the last. So often we try everything else and then finally say, “well, we’ve tried everything else now all we can do is pray.” Often you can do more after you pray, but you should never do more until you pray. Calling on the Lord ought to be the first thing that comes to mind when a problem comes up. God has an answer, I will ask Him.

!