Part 1. (a long post)
“Lord, please heal my son.” “Lord, please bless my daughter today with a deep abiding knowledge of you.” “Lord, please bless my husband’s job and give him wisdom for leading our family.” “Lord, grow me in patience today and help me be the kind of mother you want me to be.” “Lord, help me to love and forgive the way you do. Make me your servant today and a light in a dark world.”
My, aren’t these lofty and godly prayers? I must admit, those are some of my better ones. Surely the language and intent are pleasing to God. Most certainly, my pleas line up with his will, right? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I am not altogether sure of His will for me. What I do know, is that God has challenged me on more than one occasion to stop treating him like a vending machine and to let Him be God in my life. Years ago, I was wrestling with God over a desire to have another child. We had four children already but my heart longed for one more. Didn’t God want his children to be fruitful and multiply? For four years I cried out asking God for another baby. For four years he answered me with this,
“You want something from me, but you don’t want me.”
Ouch. There it was. The cold hard truth. The majority of my prayers, including the desire for another child were earth centered. By that I mean, answered centered. The short of it? ME centered. “Do something for me. Give me something. Give me these godly results.” God was answering my prayer but with a question that I really didn’t want to hear. Maybe you’re being confronted with the same question.
“Will you still love God if He doesn’t come thru?”
What do we expect answered prayers to look like? Never having struggles? Our kids always doing and choosing the right thing? Our husbands getting bigger and better raises so we can get bigger and better houses? What if your husband gets laid off and you lose your house? What if your daughter gets pregnant in high school? What if your son flunks out of college his freshman year and loses his scholarship? What if your husband struggles with severe depression? What if a child walks away from faith? Has God failed you? Have you failed God? What can we really expect from God?
Please understand, I am not pretending to have the answers or trying to tell you how to pray. Much of my blog is fleshing out my own journey with words and hoping that the transparency of my struggles helps someone else. What I have seen and what I know to be true is that my life has not turned out the way I thought it would in many ways. Life has been harder than I thought it would be. The valleys have been deeper but the mountain tops have also been higher. God has stripped away much of what I thought life consisted of; big house, fancy cars, ease of living and financial security. He has also stripped away what I thought a relationship with him would look like; worry and fear-free days, a daily desire for Him, a limitless supply of ALL the fruits of the Spirit, and an ever abiding sense of his presence. These are expectations and not relationship. These ideas are manifestations of Him being made in my own image. I may not have crafted a golden calf, but I certainly turned God into some sort of vending machine. God is not a dispensary but rather a person. Hebrews 11:6 suggests that the basis of relationship is simply allowing God to be God.
…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
I am coming to see that seeking Him is not the same thing as seeking answers and outcomes from Him. There is a person to be known. The “Knowledge of the Holy” as Tozer puts it, is a pursuit unto itself. Can we still be specific in our prayers? Can I still ask for the salvation of my son or that my husband gets a job? Absolutely. But I find that knowing God and his character allows me to be free from expectation of the answer. I can be free to know him and enjoy that reward instead of being focused on a particular response. Again, please don’t think I have arrived or that I am a neat tidy packaged Christian. I am far from it and every new trial that God allows, frequently brings me back to square one.
I often wonder what Joseph’s prayers consisted of as he was led away in the slave trader’s caravan. Was he too much in shock to pray? Was he convinced that his brothers or father would come for him? Days and weeks passed and instead of being rescued he found himself a slave in the house of the captain of pharaoh’s guard. While we aren’t privy to Joseph’s prayer life, I know enough of humanity to imagine the agony of soul he experienced. What we are privy to, however, is God himself intersecting Joseph’s life.
The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And Joseph was a slave.
A slave? How in the world do you become successful as a slave? A new thought occured to me while I was writing this blog. Perhaps becoming a slave was not as offensive to Joseph as it would be to the average American. A slave in Ancient Egypt is, at the very least, proof of how the culture and society worked. Because people truly lived by the sweat of their brow and were so much more interdependent, a slave was more common cog in the gears of everyday life. In no way am I advocating slavery, but it wasn’t so foreign or repulsive as it is to our senses. Joseph was from a very large family where everone had to pull their weight for the clan to survive. Small independent units simply did not exist in this day. Families were not just mom, dad and siblings but aunts, uncles, cousins, and they all worked together for the common good. They all worked hard. Each member of the family had defined roles and were cross trained, if you will. Gardens had to be planted, tended and harvested. Daily and weekly baking had to be done. Flocks and herds had to be cared for. Meat was provided by the hunters in the family. Flax had to be processed and cloth woven and garments made. Again, they ALL worked hard. I have always heard it taught that the multi-colored tunic implied that Joseph perhaps wasn’t given some of the menial tasks that his brothers had to do. I don’t know about that. What I do see is that is was Jacob, the father, that made the coat!! The patriarch of the family was an accomplished weaver! My point is, I do think Joseph was very used to hard work. Slave or freeman, he understood that everyone had an integral role in the the perpetuation of daily life.
He also understood the structure of authority. His large family dynamic was chaotic enough, but respect for the father was essential. It was the father who made decisions for the clan about moving to pursue pastures and watering holes. It was the father who gave inheritances and blessings. It was the father who created the legacy and was responsible for it’s preservation. There was an undisputed family structure and chain of command. To be sure, Joseph understood authority.
But there was something more; the person of God was present. The person of God, not a vending machine god, was with Joseph. It is tempting to think Biblical characters had something we do not possess or cynically surmise that life always worked out for them. The life and story of Joseph tells us so much more and invites us to scrutinize devastating events in light of God’s presence. This narrative, along with countless others on display in the Scriptures, lets us journey with a person whose life did not turn out the way he imagined. I don’t know what he prayed for, but his life’s circumstances went from bad to worse. Joseph went from being a slave, to being falsely accused, to spending 11+ years in prison. Did Joseph let you down? Did you let him down? God, what are you up to? He was “up to” still being present in Joseph’s life.
The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.
Again, I ask you not to erase the painful reality that Joseph endured. He was separated from a beloved father, he had been betrayed by his brothers who seemingly never regretted their actions or tried to find him, he was forced into a foreign culture and society and language, and he was alone. Or was he? “The Lord was with Joseph.” What made the difference, is that he lived with a God who was living with Him. He lived with God. He lived.
to be continued…