Do we really believe that God has our good in mind—all of the time? Do we really trust Him even when the night is long? I’m learning to tell my own soul what is true about Him, especially when I don’t understand His ways.
A couple stories from the Old Testament are helping me find perspective of His ways. The story of Joseph and the story of Elisha, which both took place in a town called Dothan.
These men were in need of deliverance from their present circumstances. The first, Joseph, found himself surrounded by his angry brothers. And the second, Elisha, found himself surrounded by an angry army. I can imagine their cries as they prayed for rescue; they were in desperate situations!!! And God heard their cries— but He responded to their same prayers, in the same place, entirely differently. For Elisha God answered immediately with chariots and fire but for Joseph there was silence and then captivity.
This is where the tension comes. It is normal to desire the Elisha-type rescue when we pray but there are times that the Lord chooses to deliver us like Joseph. Similar to how Joseph likely felt when he cried from that pit, we might feel like God is not responding when we cry out to Him. But in the seeming stillness, God was moving on his behalf. We know Joseph’s story well. It is evident that God was with him, orchestrating the events that took place with precision though it looked like He was silent. God’s watchful eye followed Joseph into the pit, into captivity, into prison and then eventually (years and years later) into deliverance.
Joseph’s deliverance was long and mostly painful but his heart was transformed in the process. By the time his brothers were on the scene again, Joseph had tears of love toward them. (I’m guessing this was a slightly different response than what Joseph had when he was bragging about his coat, sharing his dreams, or being sold into slavery) The pit and prison were key agents in Joseph’s full deliverance. The Lord knew the exact means necessary to deliver him not only physically but also from pride and independence.
There are times when God uses the sudden visible and at other times He uses the silent hiddenness. The key is remembering, He chooses the way that He delivers. We can rest knowing that He will deliver us because He loves to set us free, completely. When we pray for rescue from our circumstances we must remind our souls of His watchful eye, whether we go into prison or walk through a miraculous deliverance. It is the Lord who delivers. In the night—when we can’t see clearly what is happening—we must speak to our hearts reminding ourselves of who He is and His great love for us, believing He is working all things for our ultimate good.
Tim Keller (one of my favorite preachers) has a quote that sums this up so well:
The Joseph story tells us that very often God does not give us exactly what we ask for. Instead He gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything He knows. We must never assume that we know enough to mistrust God’s way or be bitter against what He has allowed. We must assume that behind everything that happens is the goodness and love of God. —Tim Keller