They wanted me dead.
Twenty years had passed but it had really happened. My brothers had sold me as a slave. It was the reason I was here, in Egypt, instead of in the tents of my father in Canaan. If it had been up to my brothers, I would have been dead. I had suffered terrible things over the years, but none of those had killed me. God was the reason I’d lived.
In case you didn’t recognize the story of Joseph in there somewhere, those are a few lines loosely-based off a book I wrote in first-person about his life. You all probably know the outline of the story: hated for his dreams, Joseph is sold into slavery by jealous brothers and God raises him up to save Egypt and Israel from famine. In the excerpt above, Joseph thinks back over his life to the one moment that changed everything for him…the moment he realized his brothers were actually selling him into slavery. From his vantage point in the palace of Egypt, second-in-command to Pharaoh, it would have been easier for Joseph to see the “bigger picture”, but the day he was sold into slavery, I guarantee you he wasn’t seeing God’s Hand at work. In that moment, he was only seeing his life being snatched away from him, dramatically altered forever.
I have recently been enjoying (and challenged by) the book Life Interrupted, which explores the reality that within what we would label our greatest setbacks, God has hidden meaning, purpose, and restoration. Each one of our lives is part of a much bigger picture. In this book, Bible teacher and inspirational speaker Priscilla Shirer (star of the movie War Room) points out that those who are able to embrace God as Author and Finisher of their Faith, recognizing His Right to write their stories, end up starring in the greatest stories ever told. And what’s more…they end up inspiring others to pursue a life with God. As Shirer puts it: “Your life is God’s Story being told, and His Character being displayed….It’s quite possibly the best story that some people will ever read” (43).
The story of Joseph is one of those for me.
I cannot fully explain the lifelong fascination that I’ve had for this story. From playacting as a child to finally writing a novel (which I’m still editing), the biblical account of Joseph has always been a part of my life. Over the years, God has taken it from the level of a child’s understanding and has been drawing out the life lessons one by one, bringing new levels of understanding and meaning to them as they apply to my life in different ways.
From a writer’s standpoint, every story has to have an inciting moment, a break from the everyday life of the character that draws that character into the circumstances that will form the main part of their story. As a writer, an author, I have the power to set a particular scene, establish a status quo, and then take the main character out into the unknown for purposes that I can see, even though the character can’t. What’s great about writing from the perspective of a biblical hero is that I have the whole story outlined from start to finish in Scripture and I get to flesh it out. However, what’s profound about this particular style of writing is that I get to live through the moments when it didn’t make sense for the character. The in-between years when Joseph struggled through slavery or sat in prison or pondered his options…all of that is the meat that fills the novel.
I get to come face to face with what we sometimes gloss over in the biblical accounts. And it continues to change my life.
For a long time, Joseph would probably have said that the moment he was sold into slavery was the worst moment in his life. However, because we see the end of the story in Scripture, it’s easier for us to look at it as the turning point that would ultimately position him for what God wanted him to become. A painful road…but one that God redeemed and worked for good, changing the whole world as a result.
It’s easy to see that in Joseph’s story, once you’ve read it.
But what about yours? What about mine? Thank God, I don’t have anything in my life that compares to what Joseph went through, but I can’t write through the details of his story without pondering the implications God has for my own. Priscilla Shirer condenses this thought into a piercing question: “What if your most compelling story could only be written with the ink of your latest interruption?” (36)
Like Joseph, we all want to be used by God, but we want to be the ones who decide how He uses us. We want the story of our future to be based very closely on our past and what we are comfortable with and used to. Joseph was pretty sure his dreams were from God and he was pretty confident that he knew how they would play out. His doting father would promote him to head of the family, and his brothers would have to pay homage to him. Simple. A human plan. Small and select. Inward-focused. Predictable. But God’s Plan for Joseph involved more than just Joseph.
This is not to say that God won’t ever build on the backdrop of our past. But just as Joseph had to learn to depend on God outside the safety and security of his father’s attention, we all have to lay down what we hid behind in the past and allow God to write our stories. Actually, it’s His Story, written through us.
Shirer says: “Neither our legacy nor the lack thereof determines our…significance. It is God’s calling and our willingness to obey. That’s it” (41).
When I think about how much I have personally gleaned from the story of Joseph, and how widespread the story is, it’s amazing to think there were probably moments in his life when he resented the way things were going. Times when he felt like his life was being wasted. But the greater reality of Joseph’s story makes me rejoice and marvel. He was not just a forgotten, rejected brother living out the consequences of his broken family.
He was “a child of God in the center of a divine intervention. And a whole people group was about to feel the power of what that meant” (Shirer 43). If that was true for Joseph, it’s true for me! I serve His God…the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Authors don’t start a story and throw in a little conflict just to leave it that way. There is always an ending…a finishing point. God has invested His Own Glory and Name in those of us who are His Children by virtue of Jesus Christ. God is not going to give up on our stories, because they’re His. Just like we are His. We have free will though. We get to choose whether we will partner with Him in this or not. I am sure there were times when Joseph resisted or questioned God. I’m positive.
But I’m also certain that there had to be a time when he decided to go with God. To take the only step that would save him, and surrender. And the rest of his life unfolded into a brilliant story that included the fulfillment of his dreams, the salvation of the known world from famine, and reconciliation with his brothers–a story only God could have written.
And it’s been told and retold so many times. It has been an exciting adventure and privilege to tell this story yet again, because it’s more than a story. It showcases the unmatched Greatness and Goodness of God even against the backdrops of undesirable circumstances. It represents the choice I’ve made, and still make, to let my life reflect the Honor and Glory of the greatest Author of all time.
(If you are interested in the book I referenced, Life Interrupted by Priscilla Shirer, check it out! It’s amazing!)