As Jennie Allen writes in the Restless study guide on page 118,
I’m not ready for that particular conversation. Are you?
This week, we read more of Joseph’s compelling drama. It’s astonishing to learn what God did in and through him, not just saving two entire nations from starvation, but especially in the people department.
In Genesis 41, we learn that two full years have gone by since Joseph interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s high ranking household men. But, when the Egyptian King had two dreams, the cupbearer (who, unlike the baker kept his head) remembered Joseph and on the same day, he found himself standing in front of Pharaoh telling him the interpretations God had given him.
All were amazed at his gifts and wisdom since he also gave excellent recommendations about what should be done. Can you imagine what kind of ruckus that would’ve caused?
Pharaoh, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Egypt prospered for seven years. The grain was eventually in too great of abundance to even measure. And, as told by the Lord to Pharaoh in his dreams, Egypt then floundered. People were hungry. When they came from surrounding nations asking for food, to whom did the King send them? Joseph!
Who dragged their raggedy selves in to buy grain? Joseph’s long-lost brothers (except Benjamin who is kept home because Israel is still playing favorites).
I can’t control my circumstances. But, what relationships are in my path that I can leverage for the glory of God?
One of the most humbling and Christ-like parts of Joseph’s story is that after the terrible offenses done to him by his brothers, he still showed them love. His longest-term, most unbelievably shattered relationships — God steered back in his path as promised and Joseph had to decide what to do about them. And, amazingly, he (after testing to see if they’d changed and repented) chose to forgive them. And then not just to forgive them, but to welcome them, to provide for them, to overwhelm them with homes and goods and food, and every fine thing they could ever need or want.
A question that has nagged me this week is:
The question alone makes me feel feverish and squirmy.
Suffering produces deep change. Especially long-term, past-the-point-of-bearing, feels-like-forever kind of suffering. Well, it can anyway if we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by God and for God. It’s God who replaces our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and He usually does so with crushing circumstances and a lot of pain and suffering.
I think that’s why Joseph tested his brothers. I think he needed to see what they would do about Benjamin — if they’d treat him the same cruel way. If they’d treat Israel with the same unfilial disdain. Had the ugly family dynamics changed? Had they softened with the passage of time? Had the dwindling of finances also diminished their pride and evil intent?
I do think Joseph would have provided the food his family needed either way. BUT, once he saw their brokenness, their repentance, once he heard Judah’s changed heart (Genesis 44:18-34), he couldn’t hold back the deluge of weeping any longer (Genesis 45:1-2, Genesis 45:15). I think it was the change he saw in them that inspired not just giving them enough food to survive, but also the desire for renewed relationship, the invitation to come be near him, to be taken care of by him, and because of Pharaoh’s generosity, “the best of all Egypt”! (Genesis 45:20)
It begs the questions: What do I want God to be able to do in and through me that’s huge and sacrificial and stuns those around me so that they see Jesus shining through me particularly in the people department? How lavish am I willing to be with my heart, my gifts, and my resources in order to bless those around me — even the ones who have hurt, betrayed, and crushed me the most?
These last few years, I’ve worked a lot on gathering people I can trust and rely on day in and day out. I’ve specifically chosen women who are crazy about Jesus, who are uplifting and Bible-centric, who are growing, repentant, and soft-hearted, who focus on the positive but acknowledge the pain of life while solidly moving ahead, and who are better women than I am. Truthfully, I assembled “my people” only after hitting crisis and realizing I didn’t have any friends of substance who would be there through thick and thin and who would let me be there for them, too.
I’ve also done a lot of people “weeding” which has been both painful and super important. If you’re going to move boldly forward serving God, you need your close people to be prayer warriors, supportive, loving, peaceful, fun — people with whom your soul says “ahhhhh, I am safe with you. I can relax now”.
People I Need: (Who has been Jesus to me?)
- My kids — the most important people in my life
- My parents — who have offered their home for over two years, filled my fridge when they realized we didn’t have milk, offered to let me borrow a car once I no longer had one.
- A lot of wonderful family members
- My precious, small band of beautiful girlfriends
People Who Need Me: (Who may I be Jesus to?)
- My kids — They are my first and best priority.
- My family
- People I pray for on a regular basis
- Single moms
- People who are in suffering or going through crisis
I know breakdown now. I know what it’s like to be shipwrecked and stunned by grief. I know lack now. I know what it’s like to have kids with hole-y shoes, no gas in the car, no milk or bread in the fridge, and nothing in your wallet. I know what it’s like to go to food banks and feel ashamed, small, and so confused about how on earth life went so pear-shaped.
I know that God is good. I know that He provides. And far more than just money (which comes and goes). He provides friends, and people who understand your story, who “get” you. He provides in crazy ways. And He gives you the privilege of sharing some of that provision once you realize nothing is actually “mine”. It’sall on loan from Him.
I’ll tell you a secret. This is my bold prayer to God — I want to be crazy-generous to the poor. Help those I can help beyond my wildest imagination.
Right now, I’m taking baby steps — a meal, a cup of coffee, a hug and prayer. But, someday, God, I want to be able to give hugely. Ridiculously hugely. I want to pay someone’s rent. Pay a struggling single mom’s bills when she can’t make ends meet. Buy an interview outfit for someone who can’t afford one. Buy a bridal gown for a low-income woman who should feel supremely gorgeous on her big day. Send a bus-load of kids to camp who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go. Sneak over to someone’s home in the middle of the night and leave a get-you-there car that I know they are desperate for in the driveway with the keys under the mat and a note that says,
Anonymously. (That’s the best part.) Wouldn’t that be the most fun thing?!
Abba, we love you. Thank You for the people You put in our paths. Even the ones who cause us so much pain and suffering. Even the ones who lie to us, throw us away, sell us out, betray us as friends, and break our hearts. Soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, so that bitterness cannot take hold. Help us to face our woundedness, process it with You, and then to see what good You can bring out of it. Help us to respond as Joseph did and forgive lavishly. Bring restoration to our broken relationships. Also, God, please show us those around us whom we can love. Open our eyes to see the hurting around us. Help us forge the relationships we need to grow and be more like You and also the relationships where we give without expecting or hoping for anything in return. We love You, God, and we want to honor You and give You all the glory. Amen.