At some point in our lives, we have to decide what we are really going to pursue—success or significance. Do we want the approval of others, or do we desire the approval of God? Do we chase after the temporal or the eternal?
Joseph was a man who chose significance over success and, as a result, experienced God's endless blessings on his life. His story receives more space in the book of Genesis than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
Joseph was not flawless; he made his share of mistakes. But perhaps that is why many of us find his story so encouraging. In fact, Joseph certainly had his flaws: he was arrogant, self-righteous, indiscreet, and a self-promoter. But in spite of these deficiencies, Joseph was a type, a picture, a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The similarities between Joseph and Jesus are striking. But Joseph is not only a type of Christ, but he serves as an example of every believer whom God uses in a significant way. Just as God had a unique plan for Joseph and for Jesus, He has a plan for your life.
But before God could use Joseph, He had to put Joseph through the fiery furnace of testing in order to shape Joseph into the kind of vessel He could use. Hebrews 5:8 tells us that God even did that with His own Son Jesus. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience by the things He suffered.” I admit I don't understand that verse. Jesus was the perfect Son of God. How could He learn anything? But the Bible said He did, and suffering was the tool God used to mold His own Son.
One thing I do understand about that verse is this: If God's plan for His own Son included suffering, why should I be surprised when God uses suffering in my life to shape me into the servant He wants me to be?
Although God custom designs trials for His children, there are some common characteristics about suffering in the life of Joseph that apply to all of us.
Suffering Involves . . .
Think how much easier it would have been if God had given Joseph advance notice of what his brothers were going to do so he could have wrapped up some loose ends, said a proper goodbye to his father, and put his beautiful coat in storage. It would have been much neater.
James 1:2 reminds us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”
Trials come without much warning. What makes them trials in the first place is that they come unexpectedly. In an instant the bottom falls out. That is why James said, “count it all joy my brethren when you encounter” literally, “when you are ambushed.”
Trials come unexpectedly and usually in groups. But what seems unexpected to us never takes God by surprise. Every detail of our life has been planned by a loving Father whose ways are higher than our ways.
God's trials never involve what is trivial to us, but what is treasure to us. For Abraham, it was his son Isaac. For Joseph, it was not only the loss of his coat, but the loss of what it symbolized—his special place of privilege within his family, his God-given dream of being a great ruler.
What is it that you value most in your life: your possessions, your reputation, your career, your special gifts, your relationships? Don't be surprised if God's plan for your life includes the loss of those things dearest to you.
Many times suffering includes becoming disillusioned with other people. Joseph knew his brothers weren't crazy about him, but he had no idea they were capable of murder. But part of our growth as a Christian involves seeing how wicked, deceitful, and untrustworthy other people are.
Psalm 118:8 says: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men.” The sooner we learn that lesson the better off we will be. God wants us to learn to depend only upon Him.
Many times God will bring us to a point of absolute despair where this no hope, nothing to do except to pray. And then out of nowhere comes a sign of encouragement. Maybe not complete deliverance out of our problem—that rarely happens—but some kind of relief that reminds us that God has not forgotten us. He is still working out His plan.
That is what happened to Joseph. While he was in that pit, he was sure that his life was over. But then out of nowhere came a group of traders who lifted him out of the pit. No, they did not set him free, but they took him to Egypt where God had an even greater test planned for his servant.
If there is one truth I want you to come away with it is this: Events in life that seem unexpected, unfair, or unbearable are not random acts, but they are part of God's plan to shape you into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Psalm 138:8 says, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O, LORD, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.”
The moment we trust in Christ as our Savior, God begins chipping away at anything that does not resemble His Son. And trials are the hammer and chisel He uses.
That's what God was doing in Joseph's life . . . and it is what He is doing in yours.