“We have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9)
I grew up hearing the old church mothers exhorting that the Lord desires a ‘yes’ from his people. Although I thought I knew what that meant, it has not been until now, many years later in my walk with God, that I understand it. What has become most clear to me along the way is all that it does not necessarily mean. It cannot always suggest that I have turned away from God to seek worldly pleasures. It doesn’t imply that I have refused God’s commands. If it pertains to my willingness to engage in ministry, I cannot be considered slothful.
I have learned that the ‘yes’ God wants from me and us all is the readiness to submit to his plan for our lives and by the path he has chosen. Simply, it is to follow God’s plan God’s way.
The Necessity of Conditioning
We often wrestle with God’s purpose for us despite our sincere desire for it. God may have given us a glimpse of his intent for our lives, but his plan for our possessing that goal may not be as convenient as we expect it to be. In our hearts, we sometimes rebel against the chosen path and, more notably, against it being our Father’s choice for us. We rebel because the way God leads is designed to elicit a faith-filled response from us, and never did we imagine that the way of faith could be so difficult. We will be tested and kept relying on God’s grace.
God promises us, however, that the process will never destroy us and that he has a plan and the power to restore anything lost during that time. But a process it is. The blessedness of the path, however, is that we will be made more efficient in God’s plan.
Among the greatest stories in Scripture are the lessons we discover in the life of Joseph. At a young age, God showed Joseph his life’s purpose, but it was 13 years before it became reality. God knew that Joseph had to be trained and conditioned to carry the vision of God. It is the same for us. There is never lack in the vision. The work of God within us is in perfect condition, like a seed awaiting prime soil conditions. The vision, however, has to be sheltered from the very ones who possess it.
Lurking in the saintliest hearts are all the vices that, under a different kind of circumstance, may halt the purpose of God in our lives. So God must perform a work on the heart that makes the two—his vision and the bearer—compatible. This work is also necessary because without the bearer being conditioned, the weight and demand of God’s vision would simply be unbearable.
Is God Unfair?
Joseph would never have become rescuer for his people had he resisted Egypt. Now a little common sense offers some explanation here. There is no one who being kidnapped to live in bondage to another person wouldn’t utterly detest his circumstance. There are unfortunate people today—the ones we see on milk cartons or in the news—somewhere living lives that have been forced on them. Joseph’s situation was similar. Our common humanity with Joseph assures us that there were tough days when he cried and became hysterical and longed for his parents and festered with hateful feelings at everyone, including God. There must have also come the day when the tragic reality seized him that he was never leaving Egypt.
It is in times when our situation is formidably colossal and sealed with finality that maturity and faith must be relied on to teach us how to cope with the hand we’ve been dealt. Although Joseph could have never factored Egypt into God’s plan for his life, he would never have survived it without looking beyond the hopelessness of his dilemma. He must have fought himself not to doubt in his darkness what he had once seen in the light.
Is God unfair? Does he want to punish us without cause? Surely he would not contradict his own character to bring about his purpose. No, but the process to God-given greatness, which God carefully controls, is necessary for the promotion he wishes to bring us. The promotion God gives is different from what we see in the world. God’s promotion comes with a righteous objective. He doesn’t raise people just to live in self-absorbed privilege of any kind. Instead, promotion comes as a precursor to righteous judgment that will institute good and halt evil (Prov. 11:10).
Gaining Clearer Insight
After a person has come through the process that God has designed for them, God may bestow a certain abundance or success upon him or her, just as he did for Joseph; only now it is abundance to one for whom it no longer matters. This is because God’s process brings clarity of priority and insight and excises all attachment to things and invention and the frivolous so that what remains is a heart fixed upon the purpose of God.
Thus, those who resist the process resist their own deliverances and those of others in the future who depend on their faithfulness to the process. There is a host of people that only God can see that depend on the process of extraction—the fire—that God desires to lead us through; not only that we may be their teachers, but rather that we might open to them the way into God’s righteous cause.
The point is poignant: Our suffering is redemptive and reaps a harvest we cannot yet see. The vision of God for Joseph, as it is for us, was all-encompassing. Joseph did not merely become prime minister or the architect of a survival plan for Egypt’s devastating famine. He was a spiritual deliverer of God’s people into promise, an intercessor between God and man.
“God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7)
God’s plan for us is immense and pervasive, but he requires that we be in the place he designates for us. This is what our life is about, calling. The call of God is not a vocation or anything we may presume it to be. Contrarily, it is what we learn by spiritual intuition, as Joseph received dreams from God, and it is the righteous purpose that lures us into position. Our position, the place of purpose, is where God ultimately wishes for us to land. It is unimpeded, Spirit-empowered ministry that was always God’s intent, the life force deeply implanted in the seed. For Joseph, it was as ruler in Egypt.
It is crucial to understand here. The promotion God gives is not the same as the position. Promotion is never a sigh of relief but only a sign that we should proceed to the highest purpose God has chosen for us. What good was Prime Minister or any leadership position to Joseph if, let’s say, he were still micromanaged by a suspicious Pharaoh or caught up in the thicket of political skirmish? The scenarios are endless, although there is no indication of this type of circumstance in the story.
The point is that the fortuity of being taken from prison to the palace within itself could not signal the most important thing God wanted to give Joseph. God’s blessings—true blessings—don’t lend us further grief. It should also be clarified that God’s plan for us is not simply a pain-to-promotion scheme. Why would God punish us just to reward us with plenty? Could he not have given us the plenty without the pain? This is how we know that there must be some redemptive purpose in our suffering. God’s own character safeguards us.
The promotion God gives us guarantees all the authority and comfort with which we may execute his plan that we now understand is no longer about us. This promotion catalyzes, or initiates, the full intent of God in one’s life. So it wasn’t merely a leadership post for Joseph; God made him to rule, to be the chief executor. He was granted unlimited power to act as he saw fit on behalf of all Egypt. Pharaoh took the signet ring from his own finger and placed it on Joseph’s hand telling him, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt” (Gen. 41:44).
It was a staggering turn of events that must have sent shockwaves throughout the region, amazing Joseph just as well. But God was still getting his way with Joseph. As prime minister (the promotion) God gave Joseph the means and clout to rule (the position and purpose) and not just a reward for his suffering. This led to him engineering a rations strategy for the famine whereby he saved and sustained Egypt and God’s chosen people and, thereby, God’s plan for them. Ultimately, he delivered the Hebrew people into God’s promise and helped pave the way for Christ. How important was Joseph in the plan of God—and his suffering.