Five Elements of Waiting on God: insights from the life of Joseph

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

A Prayer on the Transcendent Gift of Adoption in Christ

Blue sky sunshine

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

Thank You, Father, for the gift of Your Holy Spirit which we have received through faith in Jesus Christ. We could not buy or earn this favor but have received it from You as a generous gift. We don’t take it lightly. Thank You that the Holy Spirit makes us children, not slaves, and brings us boldly and lovingly into Your family. Thank You that we can call out, “Abba, Father!”, by the Spirit and know that we belong and will be heard.

What dramatic sort of gift is this, Lord? How could it be that any who come by faith through Christ might receive the immeasurable gifts of belonging, adoption, and being able to call on You? All these gifts are beyond value. Many things that we pursue with our lives for and strive endlessly after still outpace our wild grasping or earning. Yet here with You we find all we most need given as sheer received gift! What else can we say but “thank You”? Thank You for the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit who speaks of our adoption, confirming within our spirits what the Scriptures tell us is true and our new reality.Thank You that we are heirs of Your full kingdom as we become children—even co-heirs with Christ. Thank You that we are privileged to share in both the suffering and the glory of discipleship with Christ Jesus. As Peter writes, this is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade…kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Thank You!

And so, Father, with abounding praise and gratitude we step into this day as children of God, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and recipients of the Holy Spirit. We choose to yield and surrender ourselves to You again. Let us enter into the fellowship of Your suffering that we might also enter into the fellowship of Your glory. Strengthen us to deny ourselves that we might also find the abundant life in You. Give us power each step of this journey that we might live a long obedience in the same direction. Again, today, Lord, we declare that we are Yours.

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 February 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles


pastor trauma

“I’ve Reached My Breaking Point as a Pastor” – Peter Chin in CT Pastors: “A new Barna study discovered that 38 percent of pastors have given real, serious consideration to quitting the ministry in the past year. I am one of that 38 percent. Even in the best of times, pastoral ministry has always felt like a broad and heavy calling. But the events of the past few years have made it a crushing one. The presidential election. Unrest around racial injustice. A global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 800,000 Americans. Never before had I considered health protocols in the context of the church. But today, being too strict with health guidelines might damage the well-being of the church, while being too lax might take the life of a congregant. Pastors like me have to deal with the never-ending conversation about in-person versus online services—and how to serve churchgoers without leaving behind the immunocompromised or disabled. All of this has injected a paralyzing degree of complexity and controversy into every single situation I face, every decision I make. And to make things worse, it feels as if everyone is on a hair trigger, ready to walk away at the merest hint that the church does not line up with their political or personal perspectives. Normally, pastors might rely on their personal relationships to navigate such fraught dynamics. But COVID-19 has taken that away as well, forcing us to rely on phone calls and video screens—which are no substitutes for physical presence.”


Tim Keller“Scraps of Thoughts on Daily Prayer” – Tim Keller at his blog: “There are three kinds of prayer I try to find time for every day – meditation (or contemplation), petition, and repentance. I concentrate on the first two every morning and do the last one in the evening. Meditation is actually a middle ground or blend of Bible reading and prayer. I like to use Luther’s contemplative method that he outlines in his famous letter on prayer that he wrote to his barber. The basic method is this – to take a Scriptural truth and ask three questions of it. How does this show me something about God to praise? How does this show me something about myself to confess? How does this show me something I need to ask God for? Adoration, confession, and supplication. Luther proposes that we keep meditating like this until our hearts begin to warm and melt under a sense of the reality of God. Often that doesn’t happen. Fine. We aren’t ultimately praying in order to get good feelings or answers, but in order to honor God for who he is in himself.”


126914“Learning to Love Your Limits” – An interview with Kelly M. Kapic by Erin Straza for Christianity Today: “Being human can be very frustrating. We’re always long on demands but short on time and energy. And so we redouble our efforts, searching for the magical time-management hack that will allow us to cram more life into our waking hours so that we can live the most efficient and productive life possible. Yet even as we strain against our natural limits, ultimately they cannot (and should not) be overcome, because God designed them for our good. That’s the premise underlying Covenant College theologian Kelly M. Kapic’s latest book, You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News. Persuasion podcast cohost Erin Straza spoke with Kapic about the beauty of our human limits and the freedom that comes when we learn to embrace God’s design for a meaningful life.”


roots“Can You Go Home Again?” – Bill Kauffman reviews Grace Olmstead’s Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind in Modern Age: “Uprooted is the young, Idaho-bred, D.C.-area journalist Grace Olmstead’s book-length grappling with the question ‘Will I move back?’ It’s a good and thoughtful and searching book, comprising equal parts family memoir, meditation on the cause and cost and consequences of uprooting, and reportage on her native ground’s besiegement by ‘economic consolidation, suburban development, and brain drain.’ The only member of her clan who departed the Mountain Time Zone, Olmstead is acutely aware of the place she left behind, in that self-conscious way of the expatriate. Lord Acton said that exile is the nursery of nationalism, but in Uprooted Olmstead is a clear-eyed and analytical guide to her home state, oozing neither treacle nor bile.”


post-traumatic“When Jesus Doubted God: Perspectives from Calvin on Post-Traumatic Faith” – Preston Hill in The Other Journal: “The willingness to witness trauma is often autobiographical. This is true of me in my role as a professor of theology who is active in our university’s Institute of Trauma and Recovery. During my postgraduate education, I tried to stay in one lane and focus solely on Reformation theology and history. That would have been clean and tidy—theology in the academy, and trauma in the real world. But trauma and recovery has pursued me and refused to let go. No one starts from nowhere. We all carry stories that frame our daily professions and relationships. So how did I end up teaching integration of theology and psychology to trauma therapists after completing postgraduate research in John Calvin? I am still not sure. But I do know that these thought worlds, separate as they might seem, are deeply integrated in me, the person; that we cannot help but be who we are; and that there is a clear reward to integrating our professional lives with our lived experiences. A person-centered, holistic approach to life may just be what the world, divided as it is today by endless abstract classifications, is hungry for. What we may need is to encounter reality fresh and face-to-face, whether that reality is violent or beautiful.  As a professor of theology and pastoral counselor, I have had the privilege of witnessing countless students and friends share stories of surviving violence. I have also had the privilege of sharing my story with them. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I live daily with the symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) that affect every aspect of my life. Recovery has been slow and steady. The journey is long, but the friends on the road are more numerous than I had assumed, even in the academy. Indeed, it has been a privilege to research trauma with fellow survivors and witnesses who are keen to explore how theology can be reimagined in our ‘east of Eden’ world.”


The Russell Moore Show 0 David Brooks“David Brooks Wants to Save Evangelicalism” – Russell Moore interviews New York Times columnist David Brooks on The Russell Moore Show: “‘Are the times we’re living in really as crazy as they seem?’ This is the first question that Russell Moore has for David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, author, and commentator. Brooks’s recent column “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism From Itself” details some of the unsettling, disheartening events within evangelicalism over the past few years and highlights several individuals who are trying to forge a different path. On this episode of The Russell Moore Show, Brooks and Moore discuss many types of people that ‘evangelical’ can describe. They talk about the difficulties of resisting the climate of the times. And they talk about what politics are meant to do and be.”


Music: Jon Foreman, “The House of God Forever,” from Spring and Summer

Metaphors for Ministry: Hitting ‘The Road’ with Cormac McCarthy

An article I wrote during the past year was published this week at Preaching Today. It draws from one of my favorite novels of all time, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. If you know McCarthy’s writing, you may know it is very rough around the edges. While The Road is also rough around the edges there is also a tenderness and grace sprinkled amidst the troubles. Because of this, it has been such a balm for my soul in these past few years. I wrote about that, and here is the first section of “Metaphors for Ministry: Hitting The Road with Cormac McCarthy” (you can read the rest here).

When a friend felt forced to resign from his church, he and I met up to talk, pray, shoulder burdens together, and cry out to God. I arrived a little early, so before I met him for brunch, I did what I always do when I have extra time. I stopped at a used bookstore. In the dollar discards was a dog-eared and stained mass paperback copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road. I picked it up with a few other treasures and headed to the restaurant where we were meeting. We talked about deep pain and fiery hope, works of love and moments of failure. Our conversation roamed the whole range of pastoring within the local church.

After our time of conversation and prayer, as we headed to our cars, I knew it would be a long time until I would see him. I gave him a hug and then handed him the roughed up copy of The Road. I hoped, somehow, this worn out copy of the book might breathe life into his worn out life and broken down ministry.

My friend isn’t the only casualty of ministry in these divided and confusing days. Many pastors I have met are struggling with what it means to be a pastor now, wondering where we should turn for guidance in these times. Scripture and the great pastoral tradition provide the best and first resources, but in times when ministry is unclear, we need other voices to help us gain perspective and see rich metaphors for ministry.

While I am wary of misusing a literary work, I cannot think of any novel more appropriate as a parable for pastors in this present moment than The Road.[1]Against the background of an ashen, decayed world, burned out by an unnamed disaster, a father and son (referred to only as “the man” and “the boy”) walk a road littered with danger and goodness toward a hoped-for, yet unclear, destination.

As pastors today, our situation is similar. Everything we understood as normal is a faint memory in this post-pandemic secular age. Still, we are on a journey through dangerous lands, holding onto hope and goodness amid the perils we face. The Road offers us metaphors for ministry as we seek to shepherd our people with love even in desperate times.

Cormac McCarthy may seem like a strange author to turn to in such times. His spare yet powerful writing is often dark and grotesque. Still, McCarthy’s novels are haunted by some divine presence, even if his views are far from orthodox Christianity. In an interview McCarthy once said, “I don’t think you have to have a clear idea of who or what God is in order to pray.”[2] Throughout The Road, the father invokes God, sometimes in angst and other times in hope. This tension with the divine offers fertile ground for exploring echoes of pastoral work in the novel.

Wrestling Lessons with Job: encountering God in our suffering

In Shakespeare’s powerful drama King Lear there is a moving scene where King Lear, bereft of the daughter he loves most, Cordelia, and being controlled by his two other self-serving daughters, Goneril and Regan, rushes out into a tempestuous storm.[1]

As the dark storm rages about him, Lear rages about his own suffering and loss. He calls upon the wild thunder and lightning to destroy him and the grief-filled world as he wanders wildly through the darkness. Eventually, King Lear goes mad with grief and confusion in this episode. He calls out for justice, meaning, and resolution, but finds none in the isolation of the storm. In some ways, King Lear’s struggle parallels that of Job. They are both looking for meaning in their suffering.

I’m sure that we’ve all either experienced dark times or been around others who have.  It is one thing to experience a brief adversity or set-back, but another thing to endure ongoing suffering for weeks, months, or years.

“We Have Much Yet to Learn…”
Remember that Job suffered great loss. He loses all of his children—7 sons, 3 daughters—and all of his belongings—7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys. All he owned and love is gone in one stunning afternoon.

Still, Job could make an amazing declaration:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)

Job was able to make a great declaration of faith in the moment suffering struck. Now, however, we find Job is in a place of ongoing suffering. The initial dramatic declaration of faith is followed by a period of wrestling with that suffering. “Why, God?” is the question which resonates within Job’s mind.

In great fairy tale style, we all might like for God to immediately restore the fortunes of Job. We want to skip from the end of chapter 2 right on to the end of chapter 42 and have things put right.

Why do we need the rest of this book? As one biblical scholar writes, it is because we “have much yet to learn about suffering and about God.”

What Friends Are These?!
When Job’s friends arrive the best thing that they do is to sit silently with him in his loss and suffering. When they begin to open their mouths, things immediately go south. Their understanding of suffering and God’s role in suffering could be summarized most succinctly in the following ideas:

  • God corrects or disciplines those who need it
  • Sin in one’s life leads to adversity and God’s punishment
  • Lack of generosity leads to God’s punishment
  • If you confess and repent of your hidden sins, then restoration comes

Job, in their eyes, is encountering suffering, adversity, and dark times as a result of sin in his life which God wants to correct. If only Job were to confess his sins and turn back to God, then he would be restored. But there is something about the theological truth his friends offer to Job which doesn’t ring true.

Here is why Job’s friends’ statements don’t ring true:

  • Job’s standing and righteousness wasn’t a joke: Two times God described Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8 ; 2:3). Yet Job’s friends doubted his standing before God. Their statements about wrong ways leading to God’s punishment may have been true in general, but not specifically in regards to Job
  • Suffering is not necessarily doled out in proportion to one’s goodness or evil: Job rightly understood that “the wicked are spared from the day of calamity” (21:30) and that all too often the righteous are “a laughingstock” to those around them (12:4). The view of life that those who are good will avoid suffering and those who are bad will endure suffering just doesn’t prove true in life’s realities. It is not that clear cut in real life.
  • Sometimes God allows things we do not understand: Job was part of something bigger than him—a cosmic drama behind the scenes—and, as we see later in the book, he never really receives a full explanation for that. Neither Job nor his friends know the fullness of God’s ways behind the scenes. We are reminded that God’s ways are bigger than us and our understanding.

Job’s Growth through Suffering
While the ensuing speeches don’t reveal much further about Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, they do show us something about Job. He begins in despair, cursing the day of his birth and his continued existence. He complains of the absence of God’s justice. He laments his suffering and longs for the finality of death without a future.

But as the rounds of speeches continue, while not letting go of his call for God’s justice, Job’s perspective begins to change. The pinnacle of this is found in chapter 19:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (19:25-27)

And then in chapter 23:

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (23:10)

Job may not understand all that is happening to him —his part in it, God’s part in it, Satan’s part in it—but he does experience a transformation that is extremely significant. Job trusts in God’s ultimate salvation even as he wrestles with not understanding his suffering.

And For Us…
Now, what can we gather from Job’s experience of suffering and wrestling with God before our eyes in this book? If we do have much to learn about God and suffering, then what do we need to glean from Job today?

Perhaps we need to learn something about getting honest with God as a form of wrestling with our suffering. Maybe it is time to allow God to grow our faith through that wrestling. Or perhaps we need to develop as a friend in the midst of others’ wrestling with suffering and God.

Hopefully, like Job, we too will trust in God’s ultimate salvation even as we wrestle with our suffering.


[1] William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, scene ii.