In a few short hours, Joseph had gone from the favored son of his very wealthy father to a slave being forced to march across the hot desert to Egypt. Fifteen years later he was released from his bondage and instantly made ruler of all Egypt simply because the Lord explained the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams to him. But those intervening years never left him.
Joseph was given all the wealth and power of Egypt and even a wife of noble birth, but none of it erased the horrible memory of what happened to him. Think about what Joseph named his two children born to him in his greatest time of honor, wealth and dignity:
50Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
Joseph struggled to ever get over his years in prison and slavery. Even when the Lord blessed him, and caused all his earlier dreams to come true, the pain of how that came about lingered. But Joseph eventually realized that it was all part of God’s plan.
5And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
Joseph understood why God had led him along the painful path He did, but it never softened the blow of fifteen years of emotional turmoil.
And that’s okay.
The Fellowship of His Sufferings
Unlike the gospel so many people believe in today, Jesus never promised us lives free of pain. In fact, He told us that if we follow Him we will be persecuted (Matthew 5). We will have pain. But God wants people who will count all this life as loss for the eternal purposes of His plan.
Paul said it best:
7But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Experiencing God’s Grace
Joseph knew that he could never have orchestrated the fulfillment to the dreams God had given him as a boy. The fact that his brothers did come and bow down to him as their ruler was accomplished only through the grace of God. Everything Joseph lost in those fifteen years was but garbage compared to what he gained as a result.
That never lessened the pain—real pain—that Joseph experienced before becoming ruler of Egypt, and it will never lessen the pain we feel. But neither should we reject pain when it comes our way.
Too many people today try everything they can to keep pain out of their lives, only to throw away the fellowship with Jesus that lies in waiting on the other side for them. The surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus is accomplished by pain that all too often we choose to sidestep.
It can look to us that Joseph had no choice but to endure his hardships, but that isn’t true just like it isn’t true for us. He could have chosen bitterness to dull his pain, but he never did. There are probably a thousand different ways Joseph could have subverted his suffering, but he accepted it. It didn’t make it less painful, but it gave him the knowledge of God’s grace on the other side of it.
What about you? Will you subvert the fellowship of God’s suffering that comes your way, or will you choose to accept it so that you may know the surpassing greatness of Jesus’ love and His resurrection?
Because it is worth it.