The other day I ran across a small book of “simple suggestions” titled, “High Hopes,” by Patrick Lindsay, “one of Australia’s leading broadcasters and nonfiction authors. He spent more than 25 years as a journalist and TV presenter before he began writing full-time in 2001” (quote source: inside back cover of the book). As of the publication of this book in 2014, he had written 19 best-selling books. The blurb for this book on Amazon.com states:
Most of us race through life, unable to enjoy the present because we’re weighed down by the past or worried about the future. “High Hopes” offers insights that will allow you to slow the daily rush and enjoy your life, moment by moment. Patrick Lindsay prompts us to lift our spirits by simplifying our lives, embracing our humanity, sparking our imaginations and inspiring ourselves and those around us (quote source here).
Each quote contains a title, a simple suggestion, and is supported by a quote of timeless wisdom. Here are three for consideration:
Listen to What’s Not being Said
Most of us hear people speaking.
What’s more important is what they’re
not saying. Look for the subtext.
Be aware of what has been left out.
Observe their revealing physical reactions.
Often the real message is in the omissions.
The art of being wise is the art of
knowing what to overlook.
William James (1842-1910)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p.24)
Look for the Pattern
Most situations develop to a pattern.
It may be camouflaged, or slow to reveal,
but it’s usually there, and usually decipherable.
Understanding the patterns gives you power
to anticipate the next steps, or to break
the pattern to find novel solutions.
Habit rules the unreflecting herd.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 36)
Lose the Self-Pity
If we stop being self-centered, we
change our viewpoint on everything.
We widen our horizons, we start thinking
about others instead of ourselves. We
break away from a strangling negativity.
We form a solid positive base.
Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we
yield to it, we can never do anything
wise in this world.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 51)
All of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the throes of a pity party. I’ve had my share over the past several years since losing a job that has left me unemployed on a rather permanent basis at this point in time. It is not uncommon for us to ask “Why me?” especially if what happened to us was caused by others and not necessarily an outcome from something we did. Or it could stem from a natural disaster (or other circumstance) that took away everything we held precious in it’s wake. And on a lesser scale, it could stem from not getting accepted to a college we had dreamed about attending, or getting a job promotion we expected but was given to someone else. The list of things that are capable of causing us discouragement and to lose hope is endless… and that’s the point. We can’t afford to lose hope. . . .
I’m reminded of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as a classic example of a young man who endured one trial and tragedy after another lasting for years. His story is found in Genesis 37-50. It’s a story is filled with rivalry, jealousy, and betrayal. As a teenager Joseph is sold by his jealous older brothers into slavery to Midianite traders, and they tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph is dead. The Midianite traders then traveled to Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard (Genesis 37:36). Joseph serves Potiphar well, and Potiphar was quite pleased and gave him complete administrative responsibility over everything that he owns. Joseph is also described as being well built and handsome, and Potiphar’s wife had taken note. She tried to get Joseph to sleep with her but he refuses; and in her anger she concocts a story telling her husband that he tried to rape her which lands Joseph in prison for several years (see Genesis 39).
At this point in the story I want to turn to something Max Lucado, Minister of Preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, for that past 25 years, wrote regarding Joseph in his book, “You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times“ (2013). In a chapter titled, “Oh, So This is Boot Camp” (pp. 45-48), he opens the chapter with the following story:
On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly place in the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the POW prisons in Hanoi. [At this point a two-paragraph description of the prison and his 6×6 cell and the horrible conditions it is in is given.]
Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.
- My email today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
- I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. he fees stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
- After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.
Each of these individuals wonders, “Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose” Joseph surely posed those questions.
If Mrs. Potiphar couldn’t flirt Joseph into her bed, she would force him. She grabbed for his robe, and he let her have it. He chose his character over his coat. When he ran, she concocted a story. When Potiphar came home, she was ready with her lie and Joseph’s coat as proof. Potiphar charged Joseph with sexual assault and locked him in jail. “And [Joseph] was there in prison. but the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:20-21).
Not a prison in the modern sense but a warren of underground, windowless rooms with damp floors, stale food, and better water. Guards shoved him into the dungeon and slammed the door. Joseph leaned back against the wall, slid to the floor. “I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:15).
Joseph had done his best in Potiphar’s house. He had made a fortune for his employer. He had kept his chores done and his room tidy. He had adapted to a new culture. He had resisted the sexual advances. But how was he rewarded? A prison sentence with no hope of parole. Since when does the high road lead over a cliff?
The answer? Ever since the events of Genesis 3, the chapter that documents the entry of evil into the world. Disaster came in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel. And as long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (I Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles [some while he was in prison]. The banished John saw heaven [read the Book of Revelation]. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of his greatest miracles.
Intended evil becomes ultimate good.
As I reread that promise, it sounds formulaic, catchy, as if destined for a bumper sticker. I don’t mean for it to. There is nothing trite about your wheelchair, empty pantry, or aching heart. These are uphill, into-the-wind challenges you are facing. They are not easy.
But neither are they random. God is not “sometimes” sovereign. He is not “occasionally” victorious. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind” (Jeremiah 30-24 AMP). This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for his purpose.
Cast in point: Joseph in prison. From an earthly viewpoint the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All plans to use Joseph ended with the slamming of the jail door. The devil had Joseph just where he wanted him.
So did God.
They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
(Psalm 105:18-19 NLT)
What Satan intended for evil, God used for testing. In the Bible a test is an external trial the purifies and prepares the heart. Just as a firs refines precious metal from dross and impurities, a trial purges the heart of the same. One of the psalmists wrote:
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
(Psalm 66:10-21 NIV)
Everyday God tests us through people, pain, or problems. Stop and consider your circumstances. Can you identify the tests of today? Snarling traffic? Threatening weather? Aching joints?
If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet if you see your troubles as tests used by God for his glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance. (Quote source: “You’ll Get Through This,” pp. 45-48).
The story of Joseph doesn’t end there. Early in his life God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and one day after he had been in prison for several years, Pharaoh had two very troubling dreams back-to-back. He called all the magicians and wise men in his kingdom, but no one could interpret the dreams. His cupbearer, who had been in prison two years earlier with Joseph, recalled a dream that Joseph interpreted for him, and the interpretation came true three day later. The cupbearer was released from prison and reinstalled as cupbearer (which was part of the dream that Joseph interpreted would happen to him), and Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him to the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph until two years later when Pharaoh has his troubling dreams. The cupbearer told Pharaoh about Joseph’s interpretation of his dream and how it came true.
At this point, Genesis 41:14-36 describes what happened next:
Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison. After he shaved and changed his clothes, he went in and stood before Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means. But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”
“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”
So Pharaoh told Joseph his dream. “In my dream,” he said, “I was standing on the bank of the Nile River, and I saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. But then I saw seven sick-looking cows, scrawny and thin, come up after them. I’ve never seen such sorry-looking animals in all the land of Egypt. These thin, scrawny cows ate the seven fat cows. But afterward you wouldn’t have known it, for they were still as thin and scrawny as before! Then I woke up.
“In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and beautiful, growing on a single stalk. Then seven more heads of grain appeared, but these were blighted, shriveled, and withered by the east wind. And the shriveled heads swallowed the seven healthy heads. I told these dreams to the magicians, but no one could tell me what they mean.”
Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. The seven thin, scrawny cows that came up later and the seven thin heads of grain, withered by the east wind, represent seven years of famine.
“This will happen just as I have described it, for God has revealed to Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land. This famine will be so severe that even the memory of the good years will be erased. As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen.
“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.”
At this point, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command (Genesis 41:37-44):
Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”
After the seven good years ended, the famine started for the next seven years, and it reached all the way to where Joseph’s family was living. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery years earlier had no idea what had happened to him, and they had told their father that he was dead. Long story short (it’s too long to go into the details in this blog post) the famine evenutally brings his family including his father to Egypt, and the end result is that they were saved from the famine and the family was reconciled.
Joseph was 17 at the time his brothers sold him into slavery and 30 at the time Pharaoh brought him out of prison and appointed him to be ruler over all of Egypt (only second to Pharaoh). He was most likely around 40 before he saw his family again.
Genesis 50 speaks of the reconciliation between Joseph and his father, Jacob, who died shortly after their reconciliation, and he requested to be buried in the land of Canaan. After the burial in Canaan and the period of mourning was over, Joseph speaks the following words to his brothers (Genesis 50:14-21):
After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father’s burial. But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.
So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.
But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in the land of Egypt, and Joseph lived to be 110 years old (50:22).
Most of us will not go through circumstances as severe as Joseph went through regarding his brothers’ betrayal which sent him into slavery, and then spending years in prison (under a false charge of rape) when he did nothing wrong. However, we all face situations and circumstances that come into our lives that at the very least cause us to say, “Why me?” But no matter what the situation happens to be, for those of us who truly believe in God, it is God who orchestras even those events we don’t understand that come into our lives, including those trying situations that can stick around for years.
I’ll end this post with one of my favorite parables that Jesus told which is found in Luke 18:1-8:
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
The persistent widow never gave up, and that’s a great lesson for us. No matter what we may be going through at any point in time, let’s remember the words of Jesus when he said:
Always pray . . .
And never give up . . .
And always have hope in God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Nothing Compares” by Third Day: