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Whose Plan is it Anyway?

The preface: More often than not, my head is stuffed full of all kinds of different

thoughts all jumbled up and bumping into each other. So at the same time that I was thinking about this story (which is about how we can live more free of frustrations, bitterness, worry and all that by staying flexible, remembering that our lives don't have to proceed according to our own plan because it's really God's plan and He will make it work) some other thoughts were there too worries and frustrations related to yet another change in plans imposed upon me. And when I noticed, I thought oops, I did it again! So I reminded myself to give over all the worries and stuff connected with the change of plans to God. I remembered I could trust Him to take care of it all. And you know what it worked! Just like that! I felt better. But then a day later, there I was again feeling nervous about presenting the story in front of a group of women. Then I realized what nervousness is anyway it is nothing more than trying to take back the plan and make it about me again. But actually, if it's all about God, then what difference does it make if I mess up and feel stupid? If I don't look good, but people receive the message God has for them, isn't that the important part? And I thought Wow! If we threw out nervousness, just think how brave we would become and how much more we could accomplish for God? Awesome! So anyway, the point (of the preface) is: changing one's attitude takes practice, but it CAN be done, one step at a time. We just have to keep reminding ourselves at first. And eventually it gets easier!

The story: It had been a frustrating weekend so far, a frustrating couple of weeks, maybe even a frustrating life. At least that's how it seemed that moment as I sat there that Sunday morning listening to the pastor saying something about possibly having the children stay upstairs to hear the missionary instead of going downstairs for children's church. Well, that sort of thing happened sometimes. And of course I believed the pastor should be free to respond to what he felt God wanted him to do, free to make changes in the plan for the schedule of the service. But it was my team's turn to lead the children's church that morning and I felt some mild annoyance, which was my typical first reaction to these kinds of sudden changes in plans. Too many things in my life the past few days just didn't seem to be going according to plan MY plan that is. And I had allowed myself to become upset and anxious at various times. There was a relationship thing, and a money thing, and then that train ride Wow! The plan was that I would be riding back home from Omaha on the train, arriving at 5:05 am that Saturday. I had packed light, thinking I would walk home from the train station. (I didn't want anyone to have to come out at that hour to pick me up. Ah, it won't really be 5 am, my friend who offered me a ride had said,

those trains are always late.) Upon arriving at the train station in Omaha late that Friday night, I discovered the train had been rerouted due to a freight train derailment somewhere. It was expected to be hours behind schedule and wouldn't be stopping in my home town at all. The new plan was for me to get off the train in Denver instead. My daughter who lives in Denver would give me a ride home. But the hour the train might actually arrive in Denver was anyone's guess. And guess they did some time between 11 am and 4 pm. Wow! A 5 hour margin of error what kind of plan is that? The Omaha passengers got on the train about 11:30 pm, though we were told the train would not leave until after 1:00 am. I sat down where I was told to sit. Most of the people already on the train seemed to be sleeping, although it was not particularly quiet, with the obviously cranky Amtrak employees telling the boarding passengers where to go and what to do. I noticed that the sleeping people were wearing jackets and still looked cold. Uh-oh not a good sign. In my packing light, I had not brought a jacket or even a sweatshirt, assuming they would be unneeded in 100 degree heat and forgetting about the possibility of overactive air conditioners. Ah, where are those darn hot flashes when you need them? Just not something that can be scheduled or planned, unfortunately.

I pulled out all my summer clothes from my backpack, did the best I could to cover up, and got as comfortable as possible in the uncomfortable train seat. I somehow managed to catch a few moments of sleep during the rest of the night. And soon enough it was 7 am and the sun was coming up. I sat there for about an hour wondering if maybe I was going to just stay right there in the seat doing nothing for the rest of the trip. But then I got busy sending text messages, making phone calls, canceling appointments for the day, changing plans, updating people on the revised ETA. And after another hour had passed, I finally felt motivated enough to move from the seat. I decided to change clothes, put in my contact lenses, and put on make-up. I made a separate trip to the bathroom several cars down for each chore. I did this for the purpose of not hogging the bathroom for extended periods of time and also for the purpose of getting exercise. I found a better place to sit while engaging in my back and forth to the bathroom travels. There was a car with tables, very roomy and comfortable, with large windows and people who were awake. I found some coffee and corn flakes and settled in. I chatted a bit with a woman who told me interesting stories and I worked on my latest drawing. I remembered that I had actually WANTED to make

a day time train trip anyway and now I was getting to have that experience. And I studied my lesson for children's church, which fortunately, was not something I had left behind in my efforts to pack light. The message for the children was about forgiveness. We were to study the story of Joseph from the Old Testament. We were to read from Genesis chapter 37 about how Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and from chapter 45 about how Joseph forgave them and treated them well even though he had all sorts of power by that time and could most definitely have had his revenge. And I remembered some things from the chapters in between about how Joseph had several other people to forgive for major offenses besides just his brothers. I decided to read over the whole story for some more indepth insights. And in case you don't know or remember the story, it goes something like this: Joseph, having grown up as the blatantly favorite son of his father, by age 17, had developed a bit of an arrogant attitude or at least he hadn't yet developed the skills to express himself with some discretion. So when he described some dreams he had had, which the family read as indicative of his attitude of superiority, even his doting father was irritated. And his jealous brothers were so enraged they wanted to kill him. In fact they were actually working on that plan, when God sent some

foreign traders at just the right time for Joseph's brothers to change their plan and sell him instead. He was purchased by an important Egyptian official named Potiphar. I don't know if Potiphar started Joseph out working in the fields or whatever the usual slave work might have been. But Joseph had been given a number of gifts that would be used for the purposes of carrying out God's plan. And one of those gifts was some kind of managerial skill so amazing that everywhere he went, he got put in charge. So he was put in charge of everything at Potiphar's house. And things seemed to be going smoothly until Potiphar's wife took an inappropriate interest in Joseph. Apparently she was used to getting whatever she wanted, so she became extremely angry when Joseph did the right thing and turned her down. So she told her husband about what happened, but the way she told it, it was Joseph who tried to initiate some fooling around and all she did was scream for help. Joseph ended up in prison, where the jailer recognized Joseph's skills also and he was appointed some kind of lead prisoner and put in charge. Still, in charge or not, prison was not where Joseph wanted to be, of course. But the years drug on until one day when a couple of the other prisoners (the baker and cupbearer who had served Pharaoh, as the king of Egypt was called) told Joseph about their dreams. Another of those gifts that Joseph had was that he could

interpret prophetic dreams. (Although he was always careful to remind everyone that it was God working through him doing the interpreting, not something he could do on his own. And so it looks to me like Joseph must have developed some humility through his years of suffering that maybe he didn't have at age 17. I think this is an important point to notice. People can change; we can cultivate an attitude that is less self-absorbed, more in tune with how we fit into the big picture.) Joseph explained to the baker that his dream indicated that he would be hanged in three days and to the cupbearer that his dream indicated he would be restored to his position. And when Joseph's interpretations came true, he asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh. But the cupbearer forgot. Wow! That doesn't seem like the kind of thing a person would just forget. But the timing was not right yet for God's plan. So Joseph spent another two years in prison. Seems like the perfect incubator for some kind of extreme bitterness, wouldn't it be? Yet, somehow it didn't happen that way with Joseph. And when the timing WAS right, that cupbearer overheard Pharaoh talking about some disturbing dreams he was having and how none of the people he usually counted on the shed some light on these kinds of subjects had any clue about what those dreams might mean. Then the cupbearer suddenly remembered Joseph.

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph to be released from prison to meet with him concerning the dreams. Joseph explained to Pharaoh that his dreams meant there would be 7 years of bountiful harvest followed by 7 years of extreme famine. Joseph suggested it would be a good idea to store up food during the good years in preparation for the bad years. And, of course, Joseph was immediately put in charge of that operation and soon found himself once again in the position of second in command, this time of all of Egypt. The famine extended far beyond Egypt and that was how it ended up that Joseph's brothers showed up in Egypt two years into the 7 year famine, having heard the rumor that there was food in Egypt. Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, but they did not recognize him. I'm guessing Joseph was watching for them. Maybe he had been anticipating and planning for this moment, rehearsing it over and over and over in his mind, calculating what he should say, what he should do that would be most likely to bring success in reuniting him with his father and other family members. (We all do have to make our own plans, of course. But those plans need to have flexibility, room for change in response to God's leading.) Joseph had a number of character qualities and personality traits, which, although they were strengths and positive qualities, they were also traits that would have had the side effect of causing him to be the kind of person who would experience frustration and anger over

the difficult and painful circumstances of his life in an even more intense and overwhelming way than many other people would. As a natural born leader, a shrewd businessman, someone who understood the value of careful planning, someone who was accustomed to being in charge, how would he have felt to experience, not just once, but twice, having his whole world turned upside down by circumstances beyond his control? As a man who loved his family deeply (We see this clearly in chapter 45.), how would he have felt to be so suddenly torn from them, having no contact, no way of even knowing if they were alive or dead for 22 years? How would he have felt to have been betrayed by his own brothers in such a horrendous manner? As a man of strong moral character and integrity, how would he have felt to be put in a position where a woman he would have had difficulty avoiding since he was supposed to serve and obey her was relentlessly pressuring him to commit adultery? How would he have felt when, after managing to do the right thing in a very difficult situation, he ended up being falsely accused and severely punished for something he didn't do? How would he have felt, after doing a favor for the cupbearer, to have been forgotten by him and left to rot in prison for another two years? And as a man of action, how would Joseph have felt to have experienced that period of time when for years he could do nothing

but wait on God's timing? How would he have felt to wait and wait and wait with no indication that things would get better and nothing to cling to except his faith and the peace and presence of God, which he must have had to diligently seek out daily in order to keep from drowning in discouragement and hopelessness. It would seem to me that one important message in this story for us would be something like this: if Joseph could forgive, if he could live a life free from bitterness, fully trusting God, then I can do it, you can do it, anyone can. Because it isn't even about what we humans can or can't do. It's about fully understanding and knowing we can do ALL things with God's strength, like the Bible tells us in Philippians 4:13. An interesting side note and something that might also be helpful to persons struggling to forgive can be found as we notice the conversation among Joseph's brothers after they have come to talk with Joseph about food and, not realizing who he is, they become confused over some of his questions and things he asks them to do. They become fearful that something bad is going to happen to them. They talk about what they did to Joseph, revealing that all these years they have been living with guilt and fear, wondering when the what goes around comes around principle will take effect and they will be punished. What a very sad way to have to go through life! I believe the message we can receive from this part of the story is this: people who have done great harm to us are not likely getting

off with no consequences. So much of the time, when people intentionally harm others, that sin carries with it its own punishment. No one needs us to try to punish them by hanging onto anger and letting it become bitterness. They will punish themselves somehow. And when Joseph does finally reveal his identity to his brothers, they are terrified. They understand that, in the natural world, severe retaliation would be the expected and only normal response to a situation such as this. But Joseph isn't operating in the natural world so his response is NOT what would be expected. He shows compassion toward them. He tells them not to be upset or angry at themselves for what they did. He explains how God used the situation to get him to Egypt. He explains that the unpleasant circumstances and bad things were all used by God to save lives and bring good for all. (If you are someone who is still pretty angry, someone finding delight in the thought of your enemies suffering in their own guilt and fear, well then you might not connect with this next point. But you can file it away for later. To me it seems like what would be infinitely MORE delightful would be to have an opportunity like Joseph had to help someone find freedom from guilt and fear. I wonder if there might actually be someone to whom you or I or any of us could say something like this: God brought something good out of what you did to me and I forgive you. I forgive you and God forgives you. Just

ask Him! Just ask Him and He will give you the power to forgive yourself and be free!!) The exact details of how we should respond to our circumstances are not clearly spelled out in the Bible. Sometimes we might be called to make good use of our anger to motivate us to fight against an injustice, before ultimately reaching that point of peace and complete forgiveness. Sometimes we are called to pray for a CHANGE in circumstances rather than to accept and prepare as Joseph was directed to do. There are different stories in different parts of the Bible that show us examples of these other responses. But not having all the answers, not knowing instantly what we are supposed to do is not a bad thing, because it is something that requires us to stay in close communication with God. But there are some things we can ALWAYS be sure of. We can always be sure that God wants us to submit our will to His plan, and we can know that God always wants us to forgive others and be free from bitterness. Not just because that's what He wants, but because it really is the path to the best and most joyful way of life possible! I wonder what would happen to our anger, our worry, our irritation and annoyance over the small stuff. I wonder what would happen to our lifelong bitterness over the really big stuff. What would happen to all that if we truly recognized what Joseph recognized that WE

are not in charge; it's not OUR plan. And the people who cause us harm, and all the random unfair unpleasant inconvenient circumstances they aren't in charge either. God is in charge and we can trust Him with the plan!! Sitting in the church service that Sunday of that very frustrating weekend, I noticed that my mild annoyance melted away pretty quickly. I realized that if I did not get to share the story of Joseph with those particular children on that particular Sunday, studying the lesson was NOT wasted effort. The study and preparation was worthwhile even if it was only me who was meant to benefit. But, as is often the case with God's plan, it ended up bigger rather than smaller than what I had planned. And I got to share the story after all -- with the children that Sunday, with our church's women's group later that month, and now with YOU, whoever you may be, reading this right now! RoseDQ (Brenda C.) August 2012