There is a lie abroad nowadays in the church. It takes various forms, depending upon the context in which it is found. Sometimes it appears as a soft assertion; sometimes it is a bold declaration of principle, vigorously defended. More often, it is an unspoken assumption, which is all the more dangerous because it is unspoken. Like most of Satan’s lies, it contains just enough truth to dupe the gullible, and just enough falsehood to seriously compromise the church’s discharge of her mandate to glorify her Lord. That lie, that appealing assumption, is that God’s goodness and love, and our standing as his children, preclude affliction, difficulty and pain.

That this is a lie may be readily seen from Scripture passages such as the 37th and 39th chapters of Genesis and Jeremiah 27:1-15. Joseph, for one, certainly experienced many afflictions and trials, and in the days of Jeremiah it was God’s good purpose that Israel should be subject, for a time, to the oppressive, humiliating and difficult burden of Babylonian servitude. In Jeremiah’s time as in ours there were those who protested loudly that a loving God would never put his chosen people through such an ordeal. Jeremiah had a word for such protesters. He called them false prophets. This is a term seldom heard among the people of God today. Perhaps it’s because we have become too much the diplomats and too little the prophets or forthtellers of God’s truths.

And what of the New Testament example? What of Yeshua, who struggled, wept and agonized in Gethsemane that if possible his cup of suffering might pass him by? He knew what so many teachers (who really are false prophets) seem to miss: that the pain, humiliation and suffering of the cross were God’s perfect and loving will, and that glorifying him by obeying out of sheer love was more important than avoiding infinite pain.

Our Lord reminded us that his suffering was not to be an isolated case, nor was it to be the last word on the matter. He told us we could expect the same kind of hostile and painful reception he received, and that this mistreatment would be a validation of our authenticity.

The Apostle Paul said his life consisted of making up in his flesh what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. He wrote, unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29) and “all that will live godly in Christ…shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).

The good and perfect will of God can—indeed often does—include pain, suffering and affliction in the lives of those he loves. It is important to remember as well that those difficulties, struggles, afflictions and pains are not an end in themselves. Rather, they exist to be an arena, a context in which God might be glorified.

And in the arena of suffering and affliction, few have distinguished themselves as well as Joseph, whose attitudes and life rise as the sweetest aroma from the midst of very sour circumstances. If ever anyone had reason for resentment, self-pity and negativity, it was Joseph. Hated and sold as a slave by his own brothers, a stranger in a strange land, framed on a rape charge by the lascivious and vengeful wife of his master, Joseph, more than most, had a right to say “I deserve better than this.” Yet we find no evidence of resentment, self-pity and negativity in this man. What kept him good and pure amid a horrendous situation?

By studying the life of Joseph, we may derive lessons for ourselves as we seek to face our own trying situations as faithful servants of the Most High God. Whether our trials be in the area of relationships (as with Joseph and his brothers), of work (as with Joseph and his masters) or of affliction (as with Joseph in the pit and in prison), there is much to be learned here.

Principle 1: KEEP YOUR EYES ON A HEAVENLY HORIZON. Don’t define your person or your prospects by your circumstances, but by the promises and character of God.

Joseph knew that his horrid situation was not the whole story about his life. Because of his dreams as a youth, he knew God had something better in store for him. He just didn’t know how God would accomplish it.

Principle 2: REALIZE THAT FREEDOM AND FORGIVENESS WILL ARISE OUT OF THE ASHES OF YOUR GRUDGES AND RESENTMENTS. Don’t nurse grudges and resentments; they only drain your energies and contaminate your emotions, spiritual life, relationships and work. Instead, turn your energies toward the business at hand. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger and give the devil a foothold in your life.

Joseph did not fester with resentment and nurse a grudge against his brothers. When Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two imprisoned servants and asked the cupbearer to plead his case with Pharaoh after his release (Gen. 40:12 ff.), he related his plight with no reference to the role his brothers had played in his descent into Egypt, slavery and prison. Since the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart, we can surmise that Joseph was not nursing a grudge.

Principle 3: PARTICIPATE AND COOPERATE; DON’T VEGETATE. Don’t become immobilized or peripheral. Whatever situation you find yourself in, serve with all your heart, as serving Christ. Don’t withdraw from whatever situation God has placed you in, for to do so is to shrivel in authority, influence and opportunity. Instead, grow in these areas through giving yourself to the situation and God will make you a conduit of blessing (Gen. 39:2-7, 20-23; 41:37-45).

Joseph did not allow himself to become immobilized with resentment and self-pity, to become merely a bench-warmer, who by body language and choice makes himself a peripheral individual. Instead, he threw himself into his situation and his responsibilities, and as a result, God blessed him in all his labors, and blessed those who were associated with him. Joseph submitted to his situation and its inherent authority structure. He cooperated and committed himself to the situation, and as a result he grew in responsibility, opportunity and authority. If we serve God in our situations, he will see to it that our opportunities and influence grow. If we dig our heels in and resist the situation, our sphere of operation will diminish. No one will profit. We may derive some sort of vengeful satisfaction, but no person or project will thrive in such an atmosphere. To resist the situation is either to forget God’s sovereignty or to vaunt our own views, saying that we know better than he what is good, merciful and appropriate for us.

Principle 4: OUR TIMES ARE IN HIS HANDS. TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON, AND A TIME FOR EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN. GLORIFY GOD WHATEVER YOUR SITUATION, TRUSTING IN HIS SOVEREIGN PURPOSE AND POWER. Don’t lose perspective or courage by letting temporary feast or famine fill your entire horizon. Trust that God can and will turn even the most trying and evil circumstance to his holy, good and constructive ends. This too shall pass. What will endure is what we have done in our circumstances and how we have responded to our circumstances to glorify God.

Underlying the foregoing was Joseph’s confidence in the sovereign power and purpose of God. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” summarizes his marvelous confidence in the sovereignty of God. In other words, he trusted that a good God was in control. In fact and practice, he didn’t recognize free human agency at all. In revealing himself to his brothers, he said, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8). By this he seems to be stating, “What happened to me at your hand was God’s idea before it was yours, and you only managed to do it because he allowed you, or wanted you to.”

As Joseph looked back over the 22 years since his brothers had sold him into slavery, all that mattered was that the marvelous, good and unforseen purposes of God had been fulfilled. So shall it be in our lives. There will come a day when, looking back over our own lives, all that will matter to us is how God glorified himself and how we glorified him in the arena of our circumstances, whether that arena was illumined by the light of joy and comfort or darkened by grief and pain.

In Joseph’s life God allotted time for each phase. The famine was to last seven years, no more, no less. The time of plenty was to last seven years, no more, no less. His time of slavery as well was determined by the good hand of God. We can find both comfort and courage in knowing that our times also are in God’s hands.

Principle 5: TREATING YOUR BOSS LIKE AN ENEMY WILL ONLY MAKE HIM ONE; TREAT HIM LIKE A FRIEND, IN SUCH A WAY AS WILL ENCOURAGE HIM TO WANT TO SHARE HIS AUTHORITY WITH YOU.

Joseph treated his superiors. Potiphar and Pharaoh, with such respect that both of them were comfortable in sharing their authority with him. Joseph could have dismissed them merely as oppressive pagans, “the enemy.” We too need to be careful not to treat our bosses, even oppressive bosses, as “the enemy.” That will most certainly result in their treating us with hostility and suspicion, which will cause us deprivation rather than the opportunities God is seeking to bring our way (Gen. 39:2-7, 20-23; 41:37-45).

Principle 6: REALIZE THAT LIFE IS A STAGE. WHETHER OUR PART IS A COMEDY OR A TRAGEDY, WE LIVE TO PLEASE GOD WHO IS PLAYWRIGHT, DIRECTOR AND AUDIENCE. Live each moment trusting in his wisdom and walking in his ways.

Joseph lived his life with God as his primary reference point and audience. Our lives, like his, will have integrity, focus and stability if we live them as under the scrutiny and sovereign control of God, thus glorifying him through conformity to his ways and trust in his wisdom.

How well we have learned the lesson of Joseph’s life can be measured by how truly we can identify with these words from Dag Hammarskjold’s memoirs, Markings: For all that has been, Thanks; To all that shall be, Yes!

Think about that, and by God’s grace, live it.