People think that because they’ve dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel, they should never experience times of confusion or doubt. We’re not very willing to say that out loud, but we think it. Knowing God’s Word from beginning to end gives tremendous hope and confidence. But what do you do when you’re confused or circumstances are confusing, even contradictory?
God purposely takes the men and women he’s developing for ministry through dark, often contradictory times. We have two well known examples in the Bible, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, where God clearly gave godly men a glimpse of their future roles in God’s plan, and then took them through times where it seemed like God had totally abandoned them. Joseph the son of Jacob is our Old Testament example, and John the Baptist is our New Testament example.
At the age of seventeen, God revealed His plans for Joseph significantly through two very symbolic, but detailed dreams. Not only did God give these dreams, but he gifted Joseph with the ability to understand the meaning of the dreams.
The dreams God gave Joseph as a teenager were highly symbolic, but clear. The gist of the dreams was that Joseph would one day rule over his brothers and even his father. Joseph was so confident in the meaning and origin of these dreams that he – thinking this was a good idea – shared the interpretations with the very people he would one day rule over. They were not amused. His father was insulted and his brothers were enraged. While Joseph was given the gift of interpreting dreams, it seems that he was not naturally gifted with tact, wisdom, or discernment. These would have to be developed the hard way: through the school of hard knocks.
Sharing these dreams with his brothers set off a very confusing chain of events that began with a plot to murder Joseph but was negotiated down to selling him into slavery.
Yet Joseph was a godly young man, filled with integrity, and God blessed him no matter what task he was given. Joseph performed his tasks well and his responsibilities grew. However, God’s blessing drew the wrong kind of attention. When Joseph was promoted from slave boy to house manager, his master’s wife became physically attracted to Joseph. When Joseph resisted her advances, out of revenge for rejecting her, she plotted against him and had Joseph sent to prison.
Why does God allow these kinds of circumstances to be introduced into our lives? It’s in these times of confusion that a spiritually maturing person seeks God. “Lord,” you pray, “I’m serving You with integrity and humility. I’m expressing your goodness to the world around me through the gifts You’ve given. Why isn’t this working?” You’re not full of yourself. You’re just being honest with God. It was in this confusing season of Joseph’s life where God arranged another set of circumstances. Joseph learned that his gift for interpreting dreams wasn’t only useful for understanding his own dreams. This gift became even more useful when used to interpret the dreams of others.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist knew he was the forerunner to Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist knew from the time he was young who his cousin was and what his own role would be. The scriptures his parents knew and taught so well described “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) John the Baptist knew his role in the ministry of Messiah was predicted hundreds of years ago.
John the Baptist never held back when preaching God’s Word. His allegiance to God’s principles made him bold. His words were strong no matter how confrontational or offensive they were to his audience. John had sharp words for King Herod concerning the adulterous nature of Herod’s relationship with new his wife (Herod’s wife was married to Herod’s brother first). That’s the sermon that landed John in Herod’s dungeon.
John thought he had been side-lined by God. He was so confused about the turn of events in his ministry that he sent Jesus this message: “are you the one we’re looking for or do we seek another?” (see Luke 7:19).
Jesus was performing miracles, but He did not intervene to secure John’s release from prison. He let John go through it. To add insult to injury, when John the Baptist sent questions to Jesus, Jesus sent back a glowing report of the ministry taking place: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22).
We don’t have insight into how John took this news. We do know what Jesus had to say about John the Baptist after his messengers were just out of earshot. Jesus said “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Matt 11:7-9). Why didn’t Jesus send these words back to John?
John had a race to finish running. It was important for John to finish strong. The shortcomings of Israel’s self-serving, political and religious leadership needed to be fully exposed. John had a major role to play in bringing flawed political Israel fully into the light.
Joseph needed to develop wisdom, discernment, and leadership skills. There was a world-wide famine in Joseph’s future and God had a plan to bless people through Joseph’s influence. But Joseph needed to be developed.
When circumstances in a leader’s life are confusing, be assured, God is not confused. There’s a plot twist coming and you have a major role to play in God’s story. While God has revealed His ultimate end-game to us in the pages of the Bible, He hasn’t revealed to you or me what’s to be written about your role or my part in the story, He’s preparing us to bless as many people as possible and cause us to finish well.