God Does Not Abandoned His Own

bible in spotlight

God Does Not Abandoned His Own

Article notes from the writings of Pastor Erik Raymond in Boston, Massachusetts
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Hardship comes to everyone. The question is not if but when we will find ourselves in one of the painful pits of life.

At the same time, trials come with uncertainty. How intense will it be? How long will it last? This is why we wonder if the counsel of well-meaning friends is reliable.

After his brothers beat him and sold him to human traffickers, Joseph watched as another painful deal was made. The Ishmaelites sold him to an Egyptian (Genesis 37:36). Separated from his family and his homeland, Joseph felt alone.

What could God be doing with his life? This is a surprising place for a man born into a family enveloped in promises, most notably of the closeness of God.

There in a foreign land, cut off from his family, it would seem — he was drifting away from the shoreline of God’s blessings. Joseph found himself in a pit, and he felt very much alone. The writer of Genesis wants us to see and feel the bleakness, if only to show us God’s purpose in it.

God’s Purpose in the Pits

We might be tempted to conclude from his circumstances that God was either angry with Joseph or had abandoned him altogether. Likewise, when we encounter difficulty, we may think that God has disappeared, or that he is displeased with us.
But indeed these trials of life reveal something else. God means to show us the preciousness of his love, while strengthening our faith.

Later in the story, we read these words: “The Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2). God had not abandoned him in the pit. Far from it. God was actually with him.

This pit was purposeful, not pointless. We are instructed throughout the Bible not to dismiss personal hardship as something bad. Instead, with eyes of faith, we are to see beneath the surface, where God is making us more like himself. James instructs believers to joyfully embrace these trials because they are providentially used to strengthen our faith and make us mature (James 1:2–4).

God Gives Humility

The psalmist reminds us that God used affliction as a tool to make him obedient (Psalm 119:67).

In Joseph’s life, we see God working this type of change. Reading through the Joseph narrative, we are struck by the absolute moral uprightness of this man. But where did he receive his training? How did God work in him the humility that trembles before God and clings to his promises? Let’s remember that it was the younger Joseph who lacked tact and humility, when talking to his brothers about his dreams (Genesis 37:1–11).

God humbled him through these trials. But not only did God humble Joseph, he also showed him the preciousness of divine love and faithfulness in real time (Genesis 39:21–23).

Far from being abandoned by God in a pointless pit, Joseph was actually right where God wanted him. It was here in this surprising station that God worked to change Joseph, even as he cheered him with his nearness.

God Is with Those Who Love Him

When we read through and consider the life of a man like Joseph, we’re not watching a Biblical Archaeology documentary. Sure, there are facts and details to observe about that time and culture, but there is information to apply to our own lives. As believers, we are clinging to the same God who speaks to us through his word and promises to work through our circumstances for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

Consider the power of this truth. There is nothing random about your life. Every hand is dealt by divine providence. Every circumstance you find ourselves in — whether good or bad — is actually working together for your everlasting good. The difficulties are not pointless but purposeful. God is making you more like himself by these difficulties and teaching you as you work through them keeping your faith in him. At bottom you must teach yourself to trust him completely for everything. Relinquish your control. Hand the reins of the horses to him and he will drive the wagon and calm the horses.

God is changing and is with you through this. He enters into your struggles. He cheers you with his presence, shows you kindness, sympathizes with your weakness, and refreshes you with his word. You cannot sink lower than Christ can descend. You can never outrun his loving sovereignty. He joins you in the pits of your life experience, and there gives you more of himself.

Do you suppose that I am sin free, or any pastor or doctor or priest is sin free? It never happened!

Whatever and Wherever the Pit is, God is There For You.

What can help the one who cannot cry another tear? What consoles you when there are no other medical options? How can you be comforted when relationships are shattered? Who can you turn to when many falsely accuse you? How can you be strengthened to stand when tragedy has buckled your knees?

When the trials of life feel like they have you rushing uncontrollably down the river rapids of despair, cling to the presence and purposefulness of God. This is not an accident, and you are not alone. You were never abandoned. God is with you in this pit, for his glory and your good.

When the times grow worse, refuse to release God’s robe from your hands. Sink your fingers deeper in the weave of the robe and pray all the more. Never give in to the enemy. Never give up. Because in this war, failure is not an option and surrender is for losers, and YOU are one of God’s children and therefore cannot be a loser.

Every Painful Past Will Reveal Beauty

I hadn’t opened the old shoebox in a decade, but lifting the frayed lid, I laughed in delight at the faces of dear friends and family staring back at me. For hours afterward, I sat on my closet floor, poring over stacks of these pictures that held constant vigil for happy college years, newlywed days, long-ago ministry events, and first days home with babies.
My heart filled with wonder at being able to see so clearly in the present as I peered into the past. A friendship that began in college through a chance meeting has, in time, grown into one of deep joy and importance. The man who’d become my husband, pictured still very much as a boy, whom I’ve seen grow more and more into who God’s made him to be. The little baby, the object of several lifetimes of my worry, who’s now matured and overcome.

Looking at time past, I marveled at how the pictures gave me the gift of sight, and how this sight affirmed the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Even in what I could never have imagined becoming beautiful, God had proven himself good.

You Can’t See the Whole Picture Now

But then I turned back to my present moment, the very day I was going through old pictures, and I tried to wrap my mind around that day’s gifts: the already teenager and the almost teenagers, taking up more space in my home and heart, eating their way through life. I tried to squeeze every ounce of thankfulness from my heart regarding my husband and the state of our union, and I ticked through the accomplishments we had made, friends, extended family, our health, the opportunities and influence God has given.

I couldn’t enjoy today’s moments like I could the past, because the present was so difficult to see without fear creeping in. What if my beloved is taken from me? What if this boy of mine never learns from his mistakes? What if God asks us to say a gospel goodbye to the church we love? It’s as if my heart wanted to protect itself, belying the deeper question at the core of my fear: What if God isn’t actually at work, bringing all things to the beautiful end he’s promised?

{What if your fears have never allowed you to love God so much you can give yourself to him? Perhaps you should think about that a long while.}

We’re told by our culture, repeatedly to live in the moment, to be present, to live for our own happiness. I know there is good in this charge, but living in the present and especially grasping what God is doing in the current moment is like looking through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We cannot fully see nor can we comprehend the shape of what God is making and the tools he’s using to bring all things to the beautiful end of redemption. We “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and on a smaller scale, we cannot grab hold of a present moment with joy unadulterated by sin and darkness. We must not chide ourselves over missing the moments if we can’t grab hold of their fullness as they pass.

Jesus told us to live for the present and let tomorrow worry about itself. Mathew 6: (NIV) 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

There is a better way, It is to live in the present.

What We See in Old Pictures and Memories

Why are we often more moved by old memories? One reason is that, if we are wise enough to seek God, when we look back, those memories are informed by a longer and wider perspective. We’re able to view them through the filter of God’s goodness, without the fear or uncertainty we might have experienced back then.

We see this same phenomenon in Scripture. In the Old Testament, God repetitiously required his people to build altars, recall stories of his acts to their children, and celebrate feasts that marked the miracles he’d done on their behalf. Over and over, he said to them, “Remember.” They were to remember how God made freedom from slavery and provision from lack so they’d trust him in their present darkness.
That is the first thrust of His teaching. Learn to Love Him with your whole heart, or at very least FEAR him and then in time come to recognize the wisdom of his requirements and then develop from fear, a Love for him and his law. Then along the way learn to trust him completely because you have given yourself to Him!

And then, through the prophets, God’s refrain became, “Look forward.” They were to look forward to a perfect deliverer and forever rescue, when God would make beauty from their ashes — so that they might trust him with those ashes in their present state.

The Goal for Our Present

We also see this in the New Testament. In the moment of Christ’s crucifixion, everything appeared horribly bleak. Dream were crushed. The savior who would chase the Romans back to Rome and free Israel from Herod and the yoke of oppression died on that cross, or so it seemed. Strangers ridiculed Jesus. “IF he is so great why won’t he just release himself from that cross and come down, heal himself and prove his superiority?”

Now we’re able to look back on his death and resurrection and see unparalleled beauty, the kind that fills us with joy. It appeared he has been tortured to death, and had lost the battle. But in truth he had given himself to rescue YOU from your sins and when he did this he vanquished Satan, the ultimate enemy. Satan realized he had lost the battle and was now more inclined than ever to fight to his last days. This perspective fuels our hope as we look forward to seeing the promise of Jesus returning to bring this battle to its final thrilling conclusion.

Looking back at the past and forward to the future helps you walk by faith in a promise-keeping God through the spiritual darkness. For many both the past and the present are marked with pain. Your hope and mine is set on God’s ever-present help, and on the reality awaiting us when Jesus sets all things right and all our pain is transformed into glory. Beauty awaits everyone in Christ.

The goal for our present, then, is not grasping the moment as it passes or trying to see clearly now what God is doing at every turn. The goal for our present moment, though seen dimly for what it is, is faith — believing that the God who was and will be is also the God who is with us, helping us, working in us, and hurtling us toward a beautiful end.
What You Can’t See Today

God has designed us to comprehend and value the true beauty of his work most significantly over time. As an artist pulls the cover off a portrait in dramatic reveal, as the hiker’s perspective of where she’s traveled comes into view as she steps onto the mountain peak, one day we will see the scope and beauty of our redemption in full.
More importantly, we’ll see God, and in our first awestruck glimpse we’ll see beauty that John, in his Revelation vision, struggled to compare with anything we currently call beautiful. As we take him in, and as we take in a broader horizon of time and God’s work in time, our understanding of his beauty will come into far greater focus.

Perhaps then too we will follow the pattern Scripture gives: looking back with eternal eyes, seeing God’s goodness in every point of history. A heaven touched library of memories and of joy waits for our unending discovery.

What will we look forward to in the future? In heaven, the future is one of joy’s eternal increase, every discovery of God’s handiwork a new facet of his beauty. He will remake us into his own image as he raises us, as his children To Be Like Him!

We do not need to see or understand all that God is doing through our hardest days. We just need to trust The Lord, and know that God is behind this, and in this, and that he will make it beautiful in His own good time.

Drawn from the writings of Christine Hoover at her website.