God Designs the Detours

Bob RoanePrison Ministry, Providence, Theology

Joseph (son of Jacob) told his brothers, “Listen, I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well, Jacob rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father wondered what the dreams meant….So we pray: Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth shine forth….Awaken Your might; come and save us. (Genesis 37:9-11: Psalm 80:1-2)

Note: This month we began a new class at Jester III Prison called “Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny” by Tony Evans. It’s not written for offenders, but for all Christians learning to navigate through trials in life. The Lord wants all Jesus’ followers to have hope in Christ, understanding that sudden and seemingly endless detours in life are God’s ways of moving us from where we are to where He wants us to be. Please pray for us who lead and for the men we serve. These husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers need the Lord’s transformation and so do we who teach. I have adapted and expanded comments from Tony Evans for this article.

We Are Trained by God’s Providence

The Joseph narrative takes place near 1900 BC and most of his older brothers were not God-honoring men. They envied and hated Joseph and plotted to kill him. They did what was right in their own eyes, with no thought of pleasing the Lord. But God raised up Joseph, planning to use him to save people and nations from literal starvation during a severe famine and to pave the way for God’s sending His Son (Jesus) to be the Savior of the world. Joseph didn’t know it, but he was a key worker in Christ’s timetable. Joseph was one of many Old Testament pointers to Jesus.

God had a glorious plan for Joseph, but Joseph could not fulfill his part in God’s agenda, until the Lord trained him. Some of that preparation was painful. The Holy Spirit molded and shaped Joseph over years for future service to God. All Christians are the Lord’s workmanship and masterpiece, created in Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.1 And we also learn perseverance, character, and hope through our suffering.

Joseph’s youthful confidence seemed like bragging. It was not Christ-like, not mixed with humility. Joseph provoked his brothers to jealousy and they sold him into slavery out of revenge. Later Joseph was thrown into an Egyptian prison unjustly because he refused to dishonor God by yielding to the seductions of Potiphar’s wife. This time, Joseph (like Jesus) suffered for doing right not wrong. For him prison was a God-given detour, not the consequence of his own bad choices. Sometimes similar hardships happen to us too when we’ve done nothing wrong.

While in prison, Joseph was treated harshly. Psalm 105 says that jailers bruised his feet with shackles and his neck was put in irons. Joseph suffered until the Lord’s promise for him came to fruition, then the Lord raised him up to be Prime Minister in Egypt!2 I love it that God was constantly present with Joseph, even in prison, supporting and upholding him. The Lord joined Joseph in the pit, and God joins all Christ’s followers in our hard times and places.3 Clement of Alexandria said that God the Holy Spirit is nearer to us than clothes to our skin. That’s true.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

We Are Called to Shine for Jesus

The Lord chooses and saves all Christ’s followers to represent Him, to bless others, and to break the downward trend of moral decline in families and cultures. God the Holy Spirit makes us shine for Him like Joseph did.

Listen to what the Bible says: Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him and He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, like the noonday sun….Make your face shine on me and teach me your decrees….Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever….Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven….Become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.4

When Christians are chosen, called, and redeemed by the Lord, the Spirit enables us to live more and more by His standards, reflecting Christ in everyday life. “In view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God….Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”5 By God’s grace, we are able to choose righteousness, holiness, integrity, and Christ-likeness. If we suffer for doing good, like Joseph, the Lord uses trials to refine us. In God’s hands, troubles can produce in us Christ-like character and Holy Spirit fruit.6

Lessons For Us

We never do everything right, beloved. At best, we are only sinners saved by grace, simultaneously saints and sinners. In spite of our flaws, sometimes God helps us get some things pretty right, as we trust and obey Him. But then things can still seem to turn out all wrong. That doesn’t mean that the Lord has rejected us or failed us. The Lord’s dealings with Joseph remind us that God is at work even when everything seems to be going badly. In His providence, the Lord completely preserves and governs every creature and every action, in His own holy, wise, and powerful way. His eye is on the sparrow, and we know He watches us too. Christ is always in control. His kingdom rules over all. But His ways are mysterious to us. God allows calamities to happen and works them for our good and His glory in His perfect, overarching plan for saving people and renewing His creation.

Jesus, our loving Lord, is in complete charge of circumstances we can’t control. He is King over our pain in personal relationships and over unforeseen occurrences in life. Learning from God’s goodness to Joseph helps us navigate detours that may take us through trials, injustice, and even betrayal.

Prayer: Father, let every trouble teach us more of Your love, grace, mercy, and peace. Send your Holy Spirit to continue Your good work in us until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus re-appears for us. Help us to trust and obey you, even when we don’t understand you. Help us walk through this life in humble, grateful, joyful dependence on you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope….May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.7

Notes (various translations): 1 Eph 2:10.     2 Psalm 105:17-22.     3 Gen 39:21-23.     4 Psalm 37:5-6; 119:135; Dan 12:3; Matt 5:16; Phil 2:15.     5 Rom 12:1-2.     6 Isaiah 48:10; Rom 5:3-5; Gal 5:19-26; 1 Peter 1:6-7.    7 Romans 15:4,13.