Two boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid friend. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.” “That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye and his big teeth. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?” You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face adversity in your life. Sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the adversity confronting us.
In Genesis 37-50, Joseph was able to see how God planned years of adversity in his life to ultimately bring about a good result. God encourages us to “consider it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). God promises that He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Still, we wonder, “What if we consider adversity a joy and it comes back to bite us?” In the end, it all comes down to trust. God’s Word assures us that we can trust Him to fulfill His promises as we demonstrate our faith in Him through all the adversities of life.
As Joseph looked back over the course of his life to see God’s loving control through his personal adversity (betrayal, false accusations, unjust imprisonment, abandonment), he could also look ahead to God’s fulfilled promise to his family by faith.
20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.
21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
22 Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph. 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt. Genesis 50:20–26
Joseph lived to see God’s blessing on his children’s children. He died 54 years after his father’s death when he was 110 years old. He found God to be absolutely trustworthy – through all things.
As believers in our promise-keeping God, we know that He will surely come to our aid, in spite of death and discouragement. The nature of our adversity alone does not determine its spiritual value in our lives. It is our reaction to adversity, the way we deal with it, the way we respond to God, that makes it valuable. God is extremely interested in how we respond to adversity because our response determines whether or not it is going to bring about its intended result.
Joseph shows us how to respond to God by faith through all things – especially through adversity.
1. Accept God’s perspective of adversity. When tragedy strikes or difficult times overtake us, our worldview, and our view of God, comes under attack. Questions of fear reach the surface of our consciousness. We begin to worry and doubt.
If we are only marginally interested in maturing as followers of Jesus Christ will have a difficult time with adversity. Our tendency will be to blame God or blame others, and become bitter. Instead of seeing adversity as something God is trying to do for us, we will see it only as something He is doing to us. If our perspective of life is comfort, convenience, and pleasure, we will have very little tolerance for adversity. We will see difficulty as a road block rather than a part of God’s plan for us. But when we truly embrace God’s perspective by faith, adversity takes on a whole new meaning. We see pain as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. Like Joseph, we begin to understand that adversity is a means to God’s greater good.
The person who has God’s perspective in this life and the life to come will always emerge victorious. Like Joseph, however, we are often forced to deal with the prolonged silence of God in the midst of grave adversity. When God is silent, you have only one reasonable option – trust Him. Hang in there, wait on Him. Yet, often He remains silent. God’s silence is always amplified by the anguish of adversity. Then more than ever we need a word from God. Joseph was able, by faith, to trust God’s perspective and plan to bring about something good through the painful years of difficulty – “the survival of many people.”
We learn from Joseph’s perspective that God’s silence is in no way indicative of His activity or involvement in our lives. God may seem far away, but He hasn’t forgotten. He may be quiet, but He hasn’t quit on you. He may be silent, but He’s not still. Trust Him.
2. Rely on God’s promises through adversity. The book of Genesis ends with the Promise yet unfulfilled, but with the expectancy of God’s deliverance. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they died, Joseph’s greatest concern was the fulfillment of God’s promise (cf. Genesis 24:1–7; 28:1–4; 47:29–31). Like his father before him, Joseph requested that his bones be taken out of the land of Egypt when God returns them to the Promised Land. His repeated expression “God will certainly come to your aid” guarantees that the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in the future (as Exodus 3:16–17 affirms). The Hebrew verb pāqad, “come to your aid” also translated, “visitation,” usually carries the connotation that destinies would be changed because God is faithful to His promises. Joseph expressed his complete belief that God would keep His promise to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (vs. 24). Hundreds of years later, Moses would keep the Israelites’ oath by taking Joseph’s bones with the people into the wilderness (Exodus 13:19). Finally, Joshua would bury the bones of Joseph at Shechem after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32). The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). What’s amazing to me is that God, through writer of Hebrews, approves Joseph for believing the wagging tail of His promises. Joseph is praised, not for his faith through adversity, but specifically for his faith in God’s promise that was not yet visible (Hebrews 11:22).
Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of teaching our oldest son, Michael, how to drive. Recently, while driving at night on two-lane road, I reminded him of what you have to do to keep from crashing into the oncoming vehicle – avert your eyes from the blinding light of the oncoming traffic to, instead, focus on the road ahead and the white line on the right that leads the way. In the same way, the oncoming difficulties of adversity can often blind us, but when we avert our eyes away from it and focus, instead, on the promises of God, we find He’ll lead us through the darkest nights. God keeps His promises. Trust Him.
3. Embrace God’s purposes for adversity. God planned all of Joseph’s suffering for His good purposes. Perhaps the reason so many of us struggle so intensely with adversity is that we have yet to embrace God’s purposes for it. Adversity is not just a tool that God uses. It’s God’s most effective tool for the growth and development of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as roadblocks are oftentimes the very building blocks that lead us down roads of intense spiritual growth. God uses all things, especially adversity, even the evil of others, to bring about His ultimate purpose in our lives.
Joseph embraced God’s specific purpose for the adversity in his life: the survival of many people. In the same way, Jesus embraced the Father’s will to suffer and die to bring about the salvation of all those who trust in Him.
So what is God’s purpose for adversity? Paul makes it clear:
28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:28–29
God’s ultimate, goal is that we be conformed to the image of His Son – in other words, Christ-likeness. His aim for us as followers of Jesus is not to make us happy, materially prosperous, or famous, but to make us Christlike. He now uses “all things,” the sad as well as the glad, the painful as well as the pleasant, the things that perplex and disappoint as well as the things they eagerly strive and pray for, to further His eternal purpose for us. In His infinite wisdom He knows what is needed to bring about that transformation.
God’s goal for us in not that we merely imitate the behavior of Christ. His ultimate desire is that the life of Christ be lived through us.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20).
Christ-likeness is not “self” camouflaged in Christian activities. It is a lifestyle that flows from the very life of Christ Himself and His sufferings as He indwells the believer.
What does all this have to do with adversity? God is not satisfied with well-mannered, respectable “self” on the throne of our lives. He wants to remove all traces of “self” so that we can be presented to Christ holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-4). One way God accomplishes that is by sending adversity into our lives. Adversity stirs us up and causes us to look at life differently. We are force to deal with things on a deeper level. Nothing causes “self” to cave in like suffering. And once our religious façade begins to wear thin, God moves in and begins to teach us what real Christ-likeness is all about. “Self” is concerned with preservation. God wants the “self” life crucified. He does not want it dressed up, patched up, under control, renovated, decorated, or ordained. He wants it crucified.
Christ-likeness is not about behavior modification or self-improvement. Christ-likeness is not simply the imitation of a life – it is the impartation of new life – His life. Adversity is God’s most effective tool to make us live, think, and love like Jesus Christ.
Debbie, my wife’s sister, has had more adversity over the last year than anyone should have to endure. One year ago, she and her husband, Jeff, were working through some difficult issues in their marriage. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, they had an argument. Jeff angrily reacted by getting on his motorcycle and driving at an excessive speed on a two-lane road in rural Mississippi. He lost control and crashed. Care Flight transported him to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg where their daughter, Kaelyn, goes to college at the University of Southern Miss. At first, it seemed that God had spared Jeff’s life and that he would, over much time, recover. Our thoughts and prayers began to turn toward how his choices and the crash would impact their marriage and family. Debbie had many unanswerable questions. “Why would God allow this when their marriage seemed to be getting better?” “Why would Jeff put our family through this pain?”
Over Thanksgiving, Jeff’s health began to decline and his body began to shut down. He died just a short time later on December 1. Debbie and Kaelyn’s grief and pain was, and continues to be, beyond measure. More questions rose to the surface. As they began putting the pieces of their lives back together, even more adversity came their way. Over Spring Break, a tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and the USM campus where Kaelyn goes to school. This summer, they discovered that someone had stolen Jeff’s identity and filed a US Tax Return under his Social Security number. The resulting financial mess, personal headaches, and continuing heartaches are very real. Yet, with all the pain and all of the adversity, something incredible, something amazing, is happening in Debbie’s life. She has responded by faith that “God is good, all the time.”
She is demonstrating heroic faith in the LORD God to fulfill His promises by conforming her to live like Christ through all these things. God’s ultimate purpose is being accomplished through her blinding adversities. There are still many questions left unanswered, but she is trusting that “God planned it for good to bring about the present result” (Gen. 50:20). Those watching Debbie and Kaelyn live and grieve can clearly see God’s ultimate good – Jesus living through them. God has been good, thru so much that has been bad, to make both of them more alive through His Son.
Whatever you’re facing today, you can choose to avert your eyes to see beyond the growling teeth of adversity confronting you to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises to transform you. Whatever your difficulty, God planned it for good. Trust Him.