Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope or plan. Sometimes our circumstances don’t make sense, and we wonder if God really knows what He’s doing.
I wonder if that’s how Joseph felt at times. His story, found in Genesis, says he was only 17 years old when his jealous older brothers sold him into slavery. Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh’s staff, bought him and put him in charge of his household affairs. Trouble was, Potiphar’s wife wanted an affair of her own – with Joseph. He rejected her advances, she accused him of rape, and he was thrown into prison.
The jail cell became Joseph’s classroom where he majored in a 13-year-long course called “Character Development.” Psalm 105:18 and 19 say, “There in prison, they bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his word, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.”
Joseph was 30 years old when he was finally released and suddenly appointed second-in-command in Egypt – a prominent, powerful position. Just as he’d predicted, seven years of prosperity gave way to famine. One day his brothers came in search of food for their families. Scripture tells us that Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t know him. He waited until they returned a second time before he revealed his identity.
Imagine the emotion of that moment! And imagine Joseph’s expression when suddenly his circumstances over the past 20 years made sense:
“You sold me into slavery,” Joseph told his brothers, “but don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. Yes, it was God who sent me here, not you!”
My husband and I lived in Nepal in the 80s. He was a civil engineer working on a hydro-electric project, and I taught basic health care. We lived in a mud and rock hut with a thatch roof, no electricity, no running water, and no indoor plumbing. I wrestled with culture shock, language learning, and loneliness. Two years passed before I began settling into village life. That’s when we committed our lives to ministry there. One week after our interview with a career mission agency, our second child was born with major medical issues. We had to return to North America within days. Then I encountered reverse culture shock.
Over the years, I often wondered what role that experience played in our lives. In 2007, we were asked to launch International Messengers Canada. One of our tasks is to provide member care for our missionaries. I shared my testimony with our women at the first IM conference we attended, and as I concluded, these words came from my mouth, “When you struggle with language learning, I can empathize. When you struggle with loneliness, I understand. When you struggle with reverse culture shock, I get it!” Suddenly everything made sense. God had used our time in Nepal to prepare us for a ministry that would come 25 years later.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan or hope. Sometimes our circumstances are difficult to understand. But God knows what He’s doing. Our role is to trust His wisdom and His ways.
One day – if not here, then in heaven – everything will make sense. We’ll see God’s hand in our circumstances. We’ll be amazed, humbled, and awestruck. But until then, let’s allow Him to be God, to fulfill His plan His way and in His time even when we don’t understand.