As Jennie Allen writes in the Restless study guide on page 118,
Imagine getting to heaven and God saying: Before I laid the foundations of the earth, I thought of you and of the days you would live on earth. I planned out the people and the places I would give you. I laid out your neighbors and your workplace, the places you would attend school, and your family; I laid out enough days to do all the good works that I purposed for you, and I equipped you with all you would need to accomplish those purposes here. I filled you with My Spirit to encourage and remind you and lead you. I gave you My Word so you would know Me and know what to do. I gave you people to run with and people who need Me.
Let’s talk about how all that went.
I’m not ready for that particular conversation. Are you?
This week, we read more of Joseph’s compelling drama. It’s astonishing to learn what God did in and through him, not just saving two entire nations from starvation, but especially in the people department.
In Genesis 41, we learn that two full years have gone by since Joseph interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s high ranking household men. But, when the Egyptian King had two dreams, the cupbearer (who, unlike the baker kept his head) remembered Joseph and on the same day, he found himself standing in front of Pharaoh telling him the interpretations God had given him.
All were amazed at his gifts and wisdom since he also gave excellent recommendations about what should be done. Can you imagine what kind of ruckus that would’ve caused?
Pharaoh, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
So, Joseph went from the prison to the palace, from owning nothing to being decked out in royal finery, from being powerless to being second in command of the whole nation.
Egypt prospered for seven years. The grain was eventually in too great of abundance to even measure. And, as told by the Lord to Pharaoh in his dreams, Egypt then floundered. People were hungry. When they came from surrounding nations asking for food, to whom did the King send them? Joseph!
It is the fire of suffering which will bring forth the gold of godliness. – Madame Jeanne Marie de La Mothe Guyon
Who dragged their raggedy selves in to buy grain? Joseph’s long-lost brothers (except Benjamin who is kept home because Israel is still playing favorites).
Joseph “could not control his circumstances but he intentionally leveraged every relationship in his path for the glory of God.” – Jennie Allen
I can’t control my circumstances. But, what relationships are in my path that I can leverage for the glory of God?
One of the most humbling and Christ-like parts of Joseph’s story is that after the terrible offenses done to him by his brothers, he still showed them love. His longest-term, most unbelievably shattered relationships — God steered back in his path as promised and Joseph had to decide what to do about them. And, amazingly, he (after testing to see if they’d changed and repented) chose to forgive them. And then not just to forgive them, but to welcome them, to provide for them, to overwhelm them with homes and goods and food, and every fine thing they could ever need or want.
A question that has nagged me this week is:
Would I have the strength, the generosity, the Christ-likeness, the chutzpah to lavish tears, love, forgiveness, mercy, gifts, feasts, piles of money, whatever I have at my disposal, upon those who hurt me the most?! Those who’ve thrown me away, tossed me in a pit, left me for dead, actually sold me for a profit, laughed and mocked me in my suffering?..
The question alone makes me feel feverish and squirmy.
Suffering produces deep change. Especially long-term, past-the-point-of-bearing, feels-like-forever kind of suffering. Well, it can anyway if we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by God and for God. It’s God who replaces our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and He usually does so with crushing circumstances and a lot of pain and suffering.
I think that’s why Joseph tested his brothers. I think he needed to see what they would do about Benjamin — if they’d treat him the same cruel way. If they’d treat Israel with the same unfilial disdain. Had the ugly family dynamics changed? Had they softened with the passage of time? Had the dwindling of finances also diminished their pride and evil intent?
I do think Joseph would have provided the food his family needed either way. BUT, once he saw their brokenness, their repentance, once he heard Judah’s changed heart (Genesis 44:18-34), he couldn’t hold back the deluge of weeping any longer (Genesis 45:1-2, Genesis 45:15). I think it was the change he saw in them that inspired not just giving them enough food to survive, but also the desire for renewed relationship, the invitation to come be near him, to be taken care of by him, and because of Pharaoh’s generosity, “the best of all Egypt”! (Genesis 45:20)
It begs the questions: What do I want God to be able to do in and through me that’s huge and sacrificial and stuns those around me so that they see Jesus shining through me particularly in the people department? How lavish am I willing to be with my heart, my gifts, and my resources in order to bless those around me — even the ones who have hurt, betrayed, and crushed me the most?
These last few years, I’ve worked a lot on gathering people I can trust and rely on day in and day out. I’ve specifically chosen women who are crazy about Jesus, who are uplifting and Bible-centric, who are growing, repentant, and soft-hearted, who focus on the positive but acknowledge the pain of life while solidly moving ahead, and who are better women than I am. Truthfully, I assembled “my people” only after hitting crisis and realizing I didn’t have any friends of substance who would be there through thick and thin and who would let me be there for them, too.
I’ve also done a lot of people “weeding” which has been both painful and super important. If you’re going to move boldly forward serving God, you need your close people to be prayer warriors, supportive, loving, peaceful, fun — people with whom your soul says “ahhhhh, I am safe with you. I can relax now”.
People I Need: (Who has been Jesus to me?)
- My kids — the most important people in my life
- My parents — who have offered their home for over two years, filled my fridge when they realized we didn’t have milk, offered to let me borrow a car once I no longer had one.
- A lot of wonderful family members
- My precious, small band of beautiful girlfriends
People Who Need Me: (Who may I be Jesus to?)
- My kids — They are my first and best priority.
- My family
- People I pray for on a regular basis
- Single moms
- People who are in suffering or going through crisis
I know breakdown now. I know what it’s like to be shipwrecked and stunned by grief. I know lack now. I know what it’s like to have kids with hole-y shoes, no gas in the car, no milk or bread in the fridge, and nothing in your wallet. I know what it’s like to go to food banks and feel ashamed, small, and so confused about how on earth life went so pear-shaped.
So, I look at single mamas desperate to make ends meet differently now. They’re my sisters.
I look at my friends, James and Troy, who are homeless, differently now. They’re my brothers.
I know that God is good. I know that He provides. And far more than just money (which comes and goes). He provides friends, and people who understand your story, who “get” you. He provides in crazy ways. And He gives you the privilege of sharing some of that provision once you realize nothing is actually “mine”. It’s all on loan from Him.
“When we run for God and for people, we forget for just a moment about ourselves, and it feels amazing. Nothing makes a soul sicker than too much time given to itself.” — Jennie Allen, Restless
I’ll tell you a secret. This is my bold prayer to God — I want to be crazy-generous to the poor. Help those I can help beyond my wildest imagination.
Right now, I’m taking baby steps — a meal, a cup of coffee, a hug and prayer. But, someday, God, I want to be able to give hugely. Ridiculously hugely. I want to pay someone’s rent. Pay a struggling single mom’s bills when she can’t make ends meet. Buy an interview outfit for someone who can’t afford one. Buy a bridal gown for a low-income woman who should feel supremely gorgeous on her big day. Send a bus-load of kids to camp who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go. Sneak over to someone’s home in the middle of the night and leave a get-you-there car that I know they are desperate for in the driveway with the keys under the mat and a note that says,
“I know how hard this is. I see you. I am so proud of your faithfulness. See how much I love you? – God”
Anonymously. (That’s the best part.) Wouldn’t that be the most fun thing?!
This Week: People (Chapter 5)
Read Chapter 5 of the Restless Study Guide (pages 117-138)
Write your responses in the Restless Study Guide
Watch Session 6 of this week’s Restless video either on DVD or on-demand at Vimeo ($2.99/session)
Remember: There are now 2 weekly online hangouts for Restless project!
Monday nights: Restless Book Club with Jennie Allen at 9:30 pm EST – starting March 3rd!
Grab the book (not the study guide) and join Jennie for this weekly hangout! Jennie talks more about this new weekly book club event here on her blog. All you need to access the weekly book club is this link:
Thursday nights: Restless Bible Study with Laurie and the Bible study group at 10 pm EST
Did you see our Week 5 live-chat on Places? If not, here’s the replay!
YOU can join us, too! Contact us if you’d like to be a live-chat guest for our chat this Thursday on People. Enter your information here if you’re willing to be on camera for the chat or you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Share Your Story
Who are your people? Who do you interact with every day whom you could reach for the glory of God? I am praying for you, friends, as you brainstorm this week. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to love on others and be Jesus to them! Leave your comments below and share with us! I would love to hear from you! ~ Laurie
Abba, we love you. Thank You for the people You put in our paths. Even the ones who cause us so much pain and suffering. Even the ones who lie to us, throw us away, sell us out, betray us as friends, and break our hearts. Soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, so that bitterness cannot take hold. Help us to face our woundedness, process it with You, and then to see what good You can bring out of it. Help us to respond as Joseph did and forgive lavishly. Bring restoration to our broken relationships. Also, God, please show us those around us whom we can love. Open our eyes to see the hurting around us. Help us forge the relationships we need to grow and be more like You and also the relationships where we give without expecting or hoping for anything in return. We love You, God, and we want to honor You and give You all the glory. Amen.
Have you missed any of our previous weeks’ posts or weekly Bible study hangout replays? Here are the links:
Author Chat Replay. Watch the 1-hour video with Jennie that kicked off our online Bible study!
Restless Study Week 1, What’s Holding You Back from Dreaming?
Restless Study Week 2, God’s Story
Restless Study Week 3, Gifts
Restless Study Week 4 Suffering
Restless Study Week 5 Places
You Can Still Jump In and Join Our Study!