The problems we face in life are opportunities for growth and preparation. If we submit them to Christ, they can become catalysts for authenticity.
It is a blessing to be able to share this time together with you. My desire is that all of us would be encouraged and strengthened. Maybe, just in light of the way things have been and how we’ve been affected by them, we need to have this message more than ever. The idea of building resilience may mean even more to us now than it has ever had. I know a lot of us have been affected by things at a visceral, emotional, and maybe even at a physical level. We need to build our resilience. Our bounce-back capacity is needed now more than ever. My prayer is, even now Lord I ask this, that we would be strengthened by the word we’re about to share. Even as we look back in time at the life of a remarkable man named Joseph, who you have given to us as an example of how to grow up and over things that are not easy. We asked for your blessing over this word, in Jesus’ name.
Let’s talk about the value problems and about how God wants us to give him our best, and what happens when we do that. Reconnecting back to the account of Joseph’s life, that we’ve been using as a template, as a kind of model for understanding what it means to be a resilient person who lives for God, and how those two things are interrelated. I want to pick it back up in the 41st chapter of the book of Genesis. In Genesis 41, Joseph is 30 years old. That’s a very significant moment in someone’s life. It’s been two years since the chief cupbearer had been restored. What that means is that Joseph, in total, had been away from his home for 13 years since he was a teenager. All through his twenties, he had been confined in captivity, enslaved, and a prisoner.
Although he had been given, because of his unique gifts, privileges in each of the places that he had found himself, in Potiphar’s house and the prison, none of that equated to his freedom. Freedom is what he yearned for. That was one of the reasons why he had asked the cupbearer to remember him after he had interpreted his dream. Joseph told him, “When you’re restored, don’t forget me. Please remember me.” However, we are told at the end of Genesis 40, that he was forgotten. Remember we talked about how hard it is to be forgotten and unremembered.
Let’s pick back up with Genesis 41. Pharaoh was the most powerful man in the kingdom of Egypt at the time. It was one of the more advanced cultures in the world. Pharaoh, a man of unparalleled power. Very few people in the history of the world could say that they had as much power. Yet, Pharaoh felt powerless to understand a dream that he had. The dream had been so vivid and real. Let’s look at it together.
Genesis 41. “After two whole years, Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, dreamed that he was standing by the Nile. Behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows. They were attractive and they were plump, as they were healthy and full. They fed in the reed grass.” That would have been a very comforting and familiar sight for Pharaoh. But then, “behold, there were seven other cows. They were ugly and thin, emaciated, sickly.” Again, that wouldn’t have necessarily been an issue, but what happened next disturbed Pharaoh, as he was dreaming.
“They came up, out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly, thin, cows ate up the seven attractive plump cows. The healthy ones were devoured by the sickly ones. Then Pharaoh awoke. He was startled and disturbed, but he fell asleep again. He dreamed a second time. Behold, there were seven ears of grain. They were pumping good and healthy, and they were growing on one stock. Behold after them, sprouted seven other ears, thin and blighted, clearly not good at all. Bad, devastated, sickly, crop. They were blinded by the East wind.”
“The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump-full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and he realized he was dreaming, but he couldn’t forget the dreams. In the morning, his spirit was so troubled that he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one, none, who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” We all would have understood this. If you were in the court of Pharaoh, that an unhappy troubled Pharaoh was not good for anyone. In fact, an unhappy Pharaoh was a dangerous thing. Everybody wanted this problem solved. Pharaoh wanted to know the meaning of these dreams, and no one seemed to have the answer.
Then something happened, we’re told in verse nine, “then the chief cupbearer,” remember him, the one whom Joseph had helped, whose dream Joseph had interpreted, and that dream that had come to pass, he said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh, I need to share something. I need to begin by saying that I remember my offenses today. I have been reminded of something that I didn’t do right. I would like to share something with you that I think could be helpful.”
One of the things we know here is the incident of Pharaoh’s dreams stirred the memory of the cupbearer to his own dream. That profound and vivid dream he had when he had been imprisoned and under investigation. With the memory of that dream came the memory of a man named Joseph. He is a good, kind, and empathetic man, who had, as the bearer remembered, the gift of understanding far beyond his years. As the cupbearer sat with the memory of that season in his life and the dream that Joseph had interpreted, it says that he was struck with the pain of remorse for his forgetfulness and his ingratitude for he said, “I remember my wrongdoing. I remember my offenses.” Perhaps he had intended to get back to Joseph, but as time had gone on, he lost his motivation and decided maybe to let things be. Maybe I’ll come back later when it’s a better time. That never happened. He forgot Joseph.
If he did kind of remember, he just felt like, “I just need to move on with my life.” I think we understand that. Have we ever done that? I have. There are some things that we should have finished. We should have returned the good. We should have finished the circle, but we left it undone. I’m not talking about those things in our lives that are wrongs done, but rather the good things that are undone. I know that’s a nuance. The good things that are undone, whether it is because of discomfort or distraction, maybe for some of us, there were good words that needed to be said. Thank yous that needed to be shared. We intended to, we meant to, but we didn’t do it.
Maybe some of us, if we can right now, maybe that’s what we should do. Maybe one of the purposes of this message is just to remind us to go back and say thank you. Or to send a note that God wanted us to send. Do you know what I’m saying? In the cupbearers’ case, maybe he initially felt guilty about not mentioning Joseph, because Joseph had asked him to. The one thing Joseph had asked him to do is, “Please, remember me when you are restored. Don’t forget me. That’s the one thing. If you don’t do anything else for me, could you please mention that I actually am an innocent man and I’ve been very unjustly treated? If you could put in some good words for me, that would be such a blessing.”
Perhaps, the cupbearer had rationalized. “What good could I do? I just need to lay low. I know Joseph’s a great man, and he was a blessing and all. But he was imprisoned by Potiphar and I don’t want to get on Potiphar’s bad side. He’s the captain of the guard. I just don’t need the trouble. Not right now, maybe later.” That good intention died as he chose to forget the good man that had helped him.
Now, as he listened to Pharaoh, he felt regret. His conscience was pricked. The cupbearer shared about the remarkable man that he had met in prison, who interpreted dreams. In verse 10, it says, “I remember something. It was during the time when I had been in prison because of the things that had happened, that you were not happy with.” Also, in verse 10, he says, “When Pharaoh was angry with his service and put me and the chief baker in the custody of the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night. He and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. There was this young Hebrew, who was there with us, a servant, yes, of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams, giving an interpretation, each man, according to his dream. As he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the Baker, he was hanged.”
It has been said that in God’s economy, the delay is not denial. I’m not talking about a river in Egypt. Please forgive me for that joke. No, the delay is not denial. It’s usually just a different kind of yes. The key is timing. But as you know, if the scriptures teach us anything it’s that, God’s timing is usually different than ours. Joseph was about to see God’s hand move on his behalf. Remember, when God opens the door, no man can shut it. When God opens a door, no man can shut it, no demon from hell can close it. It’s going to open up. For Joseph, this path or open door is a critical truth. For Joseph, the path to the palace was guarded by problems. Can you hear me when I say that the vast majority of our spiritual breakthrough and growth will be guarded by problems as well? Absolutely.
That is why as much as we despise the difficult place, as much as we despise the times that we don’t want the hard seasons in our life that many of us find ourselves in right now, as much as we would renounce them, throw them off, kick them out of the room and tell them, “Get lost.” As much as we would, we should not fear them. No, don’t fear them. We need not be afraid. We may not be like Joseph, who almost seems to be able to embrace his problems and setbacks with a kind of resolute equanimity, a steady assurance. He just kept climbing and climbing every time he was hit with a problem, like a fruitful boat going over that wall. Remember, Joseph is the picture of resilience and adaptability. His faith held him. Even in the midst of his confinement, it held. His trust in God held even in the place of bitter disappointment.
I’m just amazed and inspired. Because of that, Joseph managed his attitude. He managed his attitude. He did excellent work and he exercised deep empathy. Think about the three things he did. Maybe God wants us to hear this because they are keys to resilience. He managed his attitude. He watched it. He stayed, for the most part, an optimistic person. A person who didn’t quit on life, who wasn’t bitter, cynical, and angry. Joseph retained something of a belief in the goodness of God. He allowed that to help him do his work. Whatever framework he found himself in, Joseph did excellent work.
That excellent work became part of what propelled him into places of, I guess, greater trust. On top of that, he exercised deep empathy. When you combine those three things, the attitude that he chose, the excellent work that he did, and the exceptional empathy that he demonstrated to others who were hurting or injured. Because of those things that were built out of faith in God and a true embracement of the Lord’s ways, everything he touched blossomed. It just blossomed.
Lord, I really do ask that you would help us. Help us, men and women, to be like this man. Let your spirit rest upon us and remind us of what it means to live a life that pleases you, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves in. For some of you, how to be young again, in your twenties, thirties, and forties. Do not underestimate what God can do through your life and the contribution that you can make for him and in the lives of others. That the Lord has his way. You will be sal, light, and a difference-maker. Imperfect, but someone who affects an environment for the Lord. Boy, do we need that now more than ever.
If I could say something to those of you in these places of life? Now is the time to give God your best. Not tomorrow. Give him your best in your years of strength, in the now. Not after you make the money you want to make, or after you make your mark, or kind of that career spot. Not after you find a companion, as much as I want you to have that in the Lord. It’s more than okay to pray for one. That’s absolutely true. Not after the kids are raised, though I know you’re tired, many of you. I do. I remember. But you know what? Don’t say, “After these things pass, I’ll give God my best.”
Now is the time, loved ones. Now is the time. Joseph shows us the way. Now is the time to give God your best. Maybe you need to remember. Joseph was only 30 years old and he has suffered greatly. Yet he determined to give God his best despite the situation he found himself in. That is the path that we are to follow as well. Those are the steps we are to follow because they look a whole lot like Jesus, don’t they?
Others of us who are older, maybe in our fifties, sixties, and seventies, wherever you are in life. Maybe well past our prime, and we sense that there were more years behind us than ahead of us. Let us claim the promise of Psalm 92. A promise that I’d been sitting with. I actually want to put this up there for all of us to see it and read it together. Verse 12 of Psalm 92, “the righteous shall flourish like a Palm tree. He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of God.” Look at this promise. “They shall bear fruit in old age. Yes, they shall be fresh and flourishing to declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
I remember my grandfather, I know I talk about him a lot. He was the best man in my life. Not a perfect man. A flawed man. Yet he loved God sincerely. He loved to pray. Oh, he would pray. I would hear him pray. I remember how he would be in a room and he put himself on his knees by his chair and he would just start praying out loud. He could pray for a long time. There were some times when I saw him pray for hours on that chair, praying out to God. Praising God. It sits in my memory still.
I remember him telling me because I was just a young man. I was in my teens and early twenties. He said, “In the kingdom of Jesus, there’s no retirement.” My grandfather didn’t mean he would never stop pastoring, although he did in the final stretch of his life. That was a time of transition. But what he meant was, when he said there is no retirement in the kingdom of Jesus, was there’s never a time he stopped living for Jesus. Never. Our roles may change, our capacities may change, our strength may wane, but our call to represent Him remains the same.
The truth is, and Joseph will later declare it with his own lips, that his problems were allowed by God to refine and prepare him to train and shape him for a season of deliverance and unique contribution. That’s true. We see that the value of problems, and I know I need to say this, is that they can actually prepare and grow us. Not only that, but they also reveal us. One of the values of problems is that they reveal where we’re at with God. A lot of times we don’t really know where we’re at in terms of what our faith really is until we find ourselves forced to endure a wilderness season, or a season of distinct deprivation, or a season of unusual loss, or undesired suffering and pain, or a question that is not being answered the way that we needed answered, or a prayer that seems to be unheard.
You see in these places of sustained disappointment, it’s sometimes there that we really see ourselves as we are. Sometimes it’s not until we find ourselves in that place of great pain or confinement. Not that I want them, because I don’t. I don’t want that. I don’t. I’m just being honest with you. I know people can say to me, “Oh, well, that’s how you grow.” And I would say, “Okay.” But I still don’t want it, just being honest. But if it comes my way, I need to see this as actually an opportunity.
Maybe we feel like we’re like Joseph with a shackle on his feet and a collar on his neck after being sold by his brethren, sitting in a prison cell, a pit with no hope inside. Maybe it’s there, so to speak, that we discover the depth of our faith. I was reminded of something the apostle Peter wrote to believers. Peter was a much older man after Jesus had left this world and ascended on high after the resurrection. He was a changed man after the day of Pentecost. Filled with the spirit, everything about him kept growing and changing for the better and perfect. Being improved.
I was reminded of something that Peter wrote to the believers who were suffering. In 1 Peter 1:6, it says, “In this, you rejoice though now for a little while. If necessary, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness,” look at that phrase, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found a result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Again, some things to remember that can help build resilience. Some problems in life cannot be avoided. And yet, we need to strengthen ourselves by reminding ourselves that this too, shall pass.
“No pain, suffering, or disappointment,” Peter says, and so, the Lord speaking to us, “lasts forever.” According to the scripture, problems at worst, relatively speaking, are only for a little while compared to the breadth of what is coming. They are but a passing wave, a flicker in the sky, a shooting star. If we look at it through the lens of eternity and what is ahead of us, even the worst problems are just something that is going to pass us by. But here’s a great truth. I know that that may or may not always help us, but it’s also true that the problems and disappointments of life if they are submitted to Jesus, can actually become mechanisms. I hope you see this. This is the phrase that really stood out to me. They become mechanisms of authenticity. That is, the problems and things that we don’t want can actually become the catalyst for authentic, genuine faith.
How much has that needed? How much has that needed in an age of duplicity, backbiting, false speaking, and yes, hypocrisy? The Lord invites us into authenticity. He invites us to be real deal people like Joseph was. When you’re a real deal person, you have built-in resilience because the Lord can work with an honest heart. What’s more, we are told here that problems can actually do another thing. They can increase our love for Jesus now, and our anticipation of a glorious, joy-filled future. It can. But look what it says. Then in verse eight, “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” That is fantastic.
Though you do not now see him, you believe in him, and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. What a verse. I’ve read it many times, but there is something about it that just leaped out at me this time. God’s Word is a treasure chest of things, new and old. It’s a vibrant living thing. Sometimes I read a portion of scripture and I’ve read it many, many times, and then, this particular time, it hits me because of either where I’m at or how the Lord is moving at the moment. It’s just the Word, new and old comes alive in different ways. That’s why we are to invest in the best. Spend time in His Word. We will be wise people. We will be better people. We will be able to interpret God and we will be able to live in a way that pleases Him.
Your words keep me, Lord. They are spirit and they are life. I love this though. God’s word is a vibrant living thing. But look at the statement that is made by the apostle. It’s so good. “But though I have never seen him, I love him.” I do. Though I have never seen him, I believe. I rejoice with joy, unspeakable and full of glory. In verse eight again, just reading it one more time because it’s so good. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
I think that speaks of the now and the not yet. The now and what is yet to be of a promise of a future more glorious than we can now envision. It also speaks of a peace of mind, body, and spirit that is found in Him. When I think of the salvation of our souls, it’s both speaking of that which is going to be fulfilled when I leave this world, but also something that I can have as I embrace the kingdom in the now. That is the invitation to a life of peace in my body, mind, and spirit.
Do you understand what we’re talking about? We are talking about comprehensive salvation that allows us when we do this right to embrace anything. To overcome anything. Remember loved ones, when we walk with the shepherd, we do not need to be afraid. We do not need to be afraid. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my guide, I shall lack for nothing. Think of Psalm 23. It starts with the reminder of God’s faithfulness. The center reminds us to fear no evil and then concludes with a reminder of a joy-filled life and a promise of his presence. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
One more thing. Remember a genuine faith is not to be confused with perfect faith. Peter is not suggesting that we will always get it right. He of all people understood failure. Yes, even shame. He also understood that if the Lord has his way, we can live a life. How can I say this? If the Lord has his way, you and I can live a life of compounding authenticity, joy, and peace. I love compounding interest. A life of compounding authentic joy and peace. Especially if we allow God to work with us through the grieving in the confining places like Joseph had to do. He had places of a loss. He had a place where he felt trapped. Those were the two places that stand out to me. Places of loss and places where we feel trapped. We will have them. We all will, in different seasons. Remember, if we have to go through it, and you might as well, grow through it.
Remember what God can do. He can break us out into wide spaces. Let’s fix our trust and sing our songs of hope, faith with joy, and declare our confidence in him. In Joseph’s case, he was unwilling to surrender in his confinements, his confidence in God’s faithfulness. I’ll say that one more time. In Joseph’s case, he was unwilling to surrender, in his confinement, his confidence in God’s faithfulness. He chose not to acquiesce to his problems, but rather to honor God with his attitude. That’s what I want to do too at these times. I don’t want to acquiesce to the problems. I want to honor God with my attitude. I want you to do that too.
There are many things for us here. Let’s remember what the Lord can do, the breakthrough he can bring, and how faithful He is when things are hard. I always remind us all how faithful you have been to give, as we can under the Lord. You can give to Him your tithes and your offerings. You can do it the traditional way by sending it to the offices or on the app online. But even more than that, before we ever give God anything, we want to give Him our heart.
Above all, there is God. Let’s fix our trust in Him. Just like Joseph did. Darkness can’t deny it. Death can’t define it. What we have is greater than any of those things. Let’s not let go. Don’t let go. Hold on. May God help us to be a people who honor him with our attitudes. A people who are harnessed for His purposes. Let us be a people who are released for his goodness because you know why? He’s so good and he’s still God and he wants us to sow good. He wants us to sow God. May the Lord keep you, oh, greatly loved one. May he keep you in your spirit, your body, and your mind. That’s my prayer and blessing to you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.