[So it seems God is still at work on a similar theme as seen last week and the week before. I’ve been having a lot of vivid dreams lately and awaken thinking of scripture, trying to discern what God was saying to me. It appears that Ann Voskamp has been hearing some similar things; two good posts to read if you have the chance.]
Nearing the end of my college career I had a few extra credits I needed to fit in my senior undergraduate year. My adviser suggested I take an independent study which culminated in an ENORMOUS paper (75 pages+). I spent months researching my topic, reading journal articles, examining studies, analyzing the research and preparing to assemble this all into my research paper. As I began the process of compiling the paper (and its many sections of material) I ran into a stumbling block: the abstract.
I remember (almost 13 years later) how ABSURD that seemed to me. Why? Because the ABSTRACT is the summary of the key points of the research. It is the SECOND page of the research paper, right after the TITLE page. It is typically less than one full page in length. With all my research, notes, outline, etc. why couldn’t I write the abstract?
The answer? No matter how thorough my notes, documentation, or outline I could not write the summary of my paper BEFORE it was compiled. I needed to have the feel of the whole document when finally assembled to understand what the key points and summary REALLY would be! For me, until the whole was complete and I could see how each section built upon and interacted with one another and the conclusion was reached, I COULD NOT know the true summary. So even though the Abstract comes first in the paper, I had to write it last.
And this is what I woke up thinking about today: how true this is in life, in my life.
I know the facts: what my history has been, the reality of what currently is, my hopes/dreams for the future, what scripture tells me about God… but until God puts all of that together, I cannot truly see where it is all going.
I’m very challenged by the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). God had given him an amazing vision through two dreams of his future. And it was a blessed future. But his brothers didn’t think so; they were jealous and plotted to get rid of Joseph. So they put a plan into action and sold him into slavery. There as a slave in Potiphar’s house God granted Joseph favor and he had success in all he did and was well liked… until Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and he then became a prisoner in jail. After several years in jail, God moved in Joseph’s situation to allow him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams when no one else could; thereby gaining the favor of Pharaoh, who then placed him in charge of Egypt. Years later, when famine had hit hard, his brothers came in need of food and God worked this situation to rescue Joseph’s family.
If Joseph had tried to write the “abstract” (summary) of his life before God has worked it all through, it would have been a pretty bleak picture, one that did not seem that the initial promise from God could possibly have been true. God’s true purpose and the meaning of the dreams he had given to Joseph at 17 could not be discerned for more than 20 years!
Joseph could have doubted his initial dream from God. He could have taken matters into his own hands and fought against his situation. Joseph could have given into despair. Scripture doesn’t give us much insight into Joseph’s thoughts during these difficult times he faced. What we do see is a clear picture of Joseph as a man of integrity wherever he was, whatever he endured. So that when the story comes to its climax, Joseph does not bear ill will towards his brothers who began this hard journey he endured because Joseph could see that God was at work. His initial dream was fulfilled through all the difficult circumstances he faced.
I’ve been thinking on it for weeks. Joseph had it. I know I need it. Where to find it?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
These verses are “easy” to quote; easier to say than to live. No doubt about that.
Stop trying to write the summary of life before it is complete. Recognize who is really the author. Trust Him with all your heart. Allow God to lead you in His purpose.
How do you put this into practice in your life? Next week I’ll share a few key reasons I think many of us have difficulty in these areas. Then I’ll share some ideas (a few from my life and some from others) on how to train your heart and mind to stay planted in the Lord. I would be happy to include your thoughts or experiences as well!