When looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis 40-41, I noticed some striking aspects about the timeline of Joseph’s journey.
Joseph was sold into slavery at 17 years of age according to Genesis 37:2. By the end of Genesis 41, Joseph is 30 years old (41:46). Two years pass between the end of chapter 40 and 41 (41:1), so roughly 10-11 years of Joseph’s life were spent in Potiphar’s house or in prison. It is likely that the majority of that time was spent in prison. Many of us grow tired waiting a day or two, or a week, or a month for God to show tangible answers to prayer. We wait for a response but grow tired when our waiting stretches for months or even years. If you are in that place take comfort from Joseph’s life. His descent into suffering left him in a holding pattern for nearly thirteen years. I’d like to share five elements of waiting on God that we can see from the life of Joseph and throughout Scripture. While his list is not exhaustive, I do believe that these elements are critical to us actively waiting on God.
- Waiting on God means believing God is still our God. Joseph’s words to the chief cupbearer and the chief baker help us see that even though he suffered he did not give up his faith that YHWH God is still God. This theme is echoed in the psalms: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV). In seasons of suffering we are tempted to put ourselves or other people or things into the place only God deserves. Certainly we need trusted friends and other resources during these times but we must hold onto the reality that God is still the King even in our suffering.
- Waiting on God means actively calling out to God. We cannot take for granted the power and vitality found by pouring our hearts out to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). When we call out to God, He draws near to us, even in the times of long waiting or extended suffering.
- Waiting on God means drawing strength from the Lord. Like a seed planted in the soil whose roots extend deep before any green breaks the soil’s surface, or like a dormant fruit tree draws nutrients before any fruit graves the limbs, so in our spiritual lives we must draw upon the strength that God gives. This is perhaps even more true in the extended times of suffering or waiting. We cannot make it without God’s strength. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
- Waiting on God means moving forward by faith even when we cannot see. We must move in obedience to what we already know and not do nothing. Joseph did not sulk in some hidden hallway or back room of Potiphar’s house or the prison when he suffered. Instead, we see that he stepped forward, eventually rising to responsible positions in both places. Wallowing in self-pity does not lead you there. Rather we must live out what the Apostle Paul wrote to an early church: “for we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
- Waiting on God means letting God build perseverance and maturity into us. An athlete who wants to become stronger must work to the very edge of their ability in order to move beyond that. The same is true with a pianist or an engineer or a businessperson. It is a life principle that growth comes through stretching ourselves. That same principle applies to life with God. We will not grow spiritual muscles or produce greater fruit for God in our lives without being stretched in our discipleship. The Apostle James writes about that truth this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Joseph experiences a transformation of perseverance and maturity that arises because he has actively walked with God in the midst of his suffering and waiting.
Joseph waits on the Lord and we see God do a new work in Joseph’s life. So, too, in our lives God will do new things in our lives as we wait upon Him in the midst of our seasons of suffering.