There’s purpose in the pain. There’s a plan behind every problem, and though it might be a mystery to us now, the unwavering witness in the Scripture is that one day it will all be worth it.
God is telling a story in our lives that intersects with the grander narrative that he is revealing throughout history; a story that culminates in his glory and our complete redemption. tweet
Persevering through trials is possible because God gives us a preview of what’s to come–a glimpse at the coming attraction. When we embrace God’s redemptive plan, which has been at work since before time began, we gain perspective needed to overcome our trials. One of the most vivid accounts of cultivating this perspective is found in the life of Joseph, the dreamer in the book of Genesis.
Joseph is born the youngest of ten brothers. His father, Jacob, favors him over his brothers giving Joseph an air of self-importance and arrogance. He tattles on his older brothers, and curries his fathers’ favor against them. At one point, he even brags about how God reveals in a dream that his brothers would bow down to him. His brothers finally decide to take action after Joseph flaunts the new, expensive coat with which his father lavishes upon him. They decide to send him far away by selling him as a slave. To cover up the crime, they report to their father Jacob that wild animals mauled Joseph to death.
After life as a slave, Joseph finds himself in prison when he’s wrongly accused of a crime. Years later, through God’s sovereign plan he would interpret one of Pharaoh’s dreams. Because of his admiration for Joseph, Pharaoh elevates him to rule over the famine relief efforts of the kingdom. Joseph rescues the entire region, including his brothers, from starvation. When Joseph’s family reunites after decades have passed since his brothers’ sin against him, they fear the only thing keeping them safe from Joseph’s revenge is his respect for their father. So when their father dies, a key test of Joseph’s forgiveness and perspective from his trials emerges:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
Joseph wept when their message came to him. His brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people (Genesis 50:15,18-20).
From a human perspective, Joseph has clear justification for punishing his brothers’ cruelty toward him. He lost years of his life away from his family as a slave, then as a prisoner languishing in a dungeon. With his newfound authority, he could easily imprison or execute them for their crimes. But he sees God telling a bigger, better story, and chooses to respond in a way that reflects that truth.
Yet, Joseph still weeps. He feels the wounds of yesterday, even as he trusts God for a better tomorrow. His brothers bow and throw themselves at his feet as he said they would decades earlier (Genesis 37:5-8), but they are not met with scorn or derision. Joseph, who would have bragged in years past, now reveals his grasp of an eternal perspective. In a brief, but profound statement, Joseph recognizes the existence of evil and the greater reality of God in the midst of our lives: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good . . .”
Joseph identifies the sin that corrupts relationships and contributes to the damage we see in the world around us. While he sees his brothers’ sins against him, Joseph also sees God’s good plan. God promised Joseph’s great-grandfather (Abraham), his grandfather (Isaac), and his father (Jacob), that the nations of the world would be blessed through their offspring. That plan would have been damaged significantly had Joseph sought vengeance on most of Jacob’s children. But because he trusted God, he saw the bigger picture. Developing the habit of trusting God’s plan empowers us to persevere through trials.
God’s plan continues to unfold beyond Joseph, to Moses, David, and ultimately to Jesus about whom the Apostle Paul writes: When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law. (Galatians 4:4). Jesus embraces God’s plan when confronted with a challenge similar to Joseph’s: betrayal from the brothers and sisters he came to save. Jesus rescues us from spiritual famine, then forgives us though we are the family who betrayed him. Jesus accomplishes all of this by embracing the better story of God’s redemption above revenge, bitterness, or despair. The life of Jesus shows us that our trials are doorways into much greater blessing. As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus we can declare: We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
When we keep our hearts and minds set on the big picture we can respond to the harshest of trials like the Apostle Paul who told of his suffering in detail:
Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
Paul suffers greatly in his obedience to God. His comments about trials reveal how he perseveres in the midst of adversity. In spite of the tortuous experiences Paul faces, he writes: For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). He refers to the stonings, beatings, imprisonments, and other dangers as “momentary and light” in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory.” Paul doesn’t mean that to belittle or demean his burdens or ours. He’s not saying these experiences are worthless, but that they’re worth less than the glory we’ll receive. When compared to the beauty of the entire story, our current trials are light. We can find strength to overcome if we remember several things:
- Trials are seasonal. They don’t define who we are or all of what we’ll be.
- Trials are opportunities for our growth. They strengthen our faith, chisel our character, and can leave us more dependent on Jesus.
- Trials are purposeful. Even when we can’t see it, we can rest assured that God has a plan.
Finally, we can persevere, because we know how the greater, grander story ends. The conclusion of the story in Revelation reveals a glorious picture meant to inspire us to overcome today’s trials. God will wipe away every tear, and with them, all suffering and tests will find resolution as we find our rest in him.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)
- How can we persevere by practicing an awareness that trials are part of a bigger story?
- What is a situation in your life where, like Joseph, you need to see, not only the evil attempted, but the good that God intended?
- How does the gospel form the base for our confidence in God’s plan?
- Meditate on Revelation 21:3-5. What is one cause of tears you await for God to wipe away? How can the anticipation of that moment motivate you today?
Suggested worship meditation:
I can only imagine when that day comes
When I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine when all I would do is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine
- MercyMe, I Can Only Imagine
Written by Rasool Berry
Edited by Christina Utley