Psalm 105:16-22 tells the story of Joseph who was promised a position of authority but experienced being “…put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him…” (Psalm 105:18).
Why Does the Experience Contradict the Promise?
What should I expect when it comes to me? What if the promises of God become the very area I must be tested in so that I can receive the fullness of what the word contained?
The Psalm tells about Joseph being carried in chains to a faraway country, which appears to be totally opposite the promise that he would rule. Did he need to be taken through the struggles that he encountered before the word was ready to come to fruition? Was he, like Jesus, a man who learned obedience through the things that he suffered?
Abraham received a word and tried to make it come true on his own effort, but this did not lead to the best outcome. Yet, I am more inclined to pursue his approach than to accept the process of death required for a seed to sprout and grow into the promise it contains.
Today I will be introducing a program I designed to a new audience of students. For me, it is a struggle to approach this later part of the process with the same kind of placid faith that accompanied its start. Now that I am invested, it is more difficult to release control of the outcome. Yet, this is the practice of faith that is being sharpened by this test. If I am going to be faithful with great things, I must be faithful with little things like this – not to overlook the challenges my situation presents but to address them from a framework of discovery and creativity rather than fear and control.
But as this and other key projects are coming to a head, the very practice of wisdom-based living begins to look unclear. Similarly, a friend spoke to me about the murky waters he entered when the sweetness of his own journey had reached its zenith.
It followed almost immediately that he was led into a test where his world was completely outside of his control and he could not do what it took to get it back into shape. The framework of wisdom seems wrong when everything is falling apart – almost like it only works as an add-on to a life that is running smoothly. If the latter case were true, then I wonder if it is really worth anything at all.
The proof, I told him, of its value must be seen through a different lens. The same metrics of success do not apply. But still, the longing remains inside of us to have the business projects pay off well, to see material success follow our efforts. If it does not, I must ask, was I really following the way of wisdom?
This is where I think Solomon got off track. The understanding of his mind was great and he could explain the world according to its function and design. His fame at one time was because of the name of the LORD (1 Kings 10:1), but I wonder if he began to think it came from his own intelligence. Did he start off in one way only to end up walking in another?
Ecclesiastes suggests he had lost the meaning and purpose to a life of wisdom (as he called it), but I think this is only because he abandoned the purity of his relationship with the one from whom it came. Is it possible that the wisdom of God so defies human expectations that material success makes it almost impossible to follow the lead of one whose definitions and outcomes are completely different?
The heroes of faith described in Hebrews did not even receive the thing that was promised (Hebrews 11:39). The outcome was totally different than what anyone expected, yet they were willing to follow through with their part in the story. Their lives laid the foundation for the better gift of God that I enjoy today (Hebrews 11:40). Am I ready to be like them and follow faithfully into obscurity and even infamy before His name and His glory can shine forth through my life even after I am no longer around?
The Real Question
If this is the kind of story I am going to be part of, I do not know the steps I need to take in order to get where I need to go. The only thing I seem to have is the promise of ability to follow as I am led by the Spirit of God within me. Thus, the question always comes back to one of trust.
Do I have a good Father?
Is He able to fulfill what His word has spoken?
If the answer is yes, then I am free to walk confidently forward on the road to anywhere. If I am unsure that He is good or that He is great, I will hesitate to take the risk of following an uncertain pathway; I will be more inclined to trust in my own understanding and try to bring the word to fulfillment on my own.
If I am to pursue a way of wisdom, it must grow out of the confidence that I have in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not even out of my own ability to act on faith. My primary pursuit must be one of intimacy and encounter. Otherwise, I cannot help but see the world through the eyes of my own understanding.
This is true even with regard to my relationship with God; it is easier for me to define what I think this should look like than it is to actively walk it out. I would rather turn my relationship into a religious practice than stay in a place of mystery and discovery. I want to see where my feet will fall before I let them step forward. However, His presence becomes more tangibly evident when I take a step into the darkness and find I do not stumble and fall. If I never tried, I would never know this. He would remain invisible in spite of my descriptions of what this invisible looked like.
It is not my words or my understanding but my practice of life and the story this writes which most fully communicate the unique expression and work of God in this world through me.