Unchartered waters. This is where I would suggest America is as a nation and people, as we continue to sail onward into the stormy waters ahead. While our world has previously faced pandemics and world wars, which took many times more lives, never before have we found ourselves facing such an overwhelming set of problems, with such a lack of wise leadership to solve them.
Regardless of your belief about the cause or response to COVID-19, the reality is that we are facing dramatic challenges, involving public health, rising deaths, political dissension, racial unrest, economic crisis, overbearing debt, collapsing businesses, and so much more. Voices are competing to describe the varying explanations for these challenges. But with each viewpoint comes armies of opinions who line up against those with alternative perspectives. The further we navigate into these murky waters, the deeper the lines are drawn that separate us from our fellow citizens, neighbors, church members, and even our families.
So who is right? What is true? How can we know? Who has the answers?
As I’ve considered all this, I was reminded of a story from ancient times where an answer was being sought by a once great king. This king had a dream that greatly troubled him, but for which he had no explanation. All of his advisors and political allies could not interpret the dreams. Yet there was one man, held unjustly in the king’s prison, who possessed supernatural abilities, enabling him to interpret the dreams of others. This man we know to be Joseph. And the king was Pharaoh.
The time that the dreams predicted would be unprecedented: a season of great prosperity, followed by another season of even greater famine. But without Joseph, the king would never have understood the warnings that were mercifully offered by God Himself to the pagan ruler.
In the years before the sovereign appointment between Pharaoh and Joseph, God had taken Joseph through his own season of trouble and turmoil. This season took him from being the favored son of his father, to being sold into slavery and ultimately ending up in prison, stemming from a false accusation. But all these personal trials were in fact preparing and refining Joseph for what would be his time on center stage.
Joseph responded with humility and trust to the God who allowed, or caused, his dire circumstances. As a result, God elevated Joseph to a position that was second only to the king himself, and blessed Joseph beyond measure. But the blessing Joseph received was not only for his own good. Rather, because of Joseph’s response, his humility, in the midst of great injustice, brought blessings to literally millions of men and women and their families, as the famine descended on the land.
Now fast forward several thousand years to the present. Consider that our nation is facing challenges and struggles that are not only existential to our nation as we know it, but to date they have resulted in the tragic deaths of 100,000+ of our citizens. While we search for answers to the COVID-19 virus, there are no answers for all the other societal ailments that COVID continues to expose.
So the question I am led to ask is “Where is America’s Joseph?” Is God preparing someone to come to the aid of our nation or to our community? Is God still in the business of humbling men and women so that, as we come to the end of ourselves, God can use us as instruments to bless others?
While we as Americans love to focus our attention at the highest levels, beginning in Washington DC, I believe we may be casting our focus in the wrong place. We tend to prefer big solutions to big problems. Thus we start with a top-down approach.
But while Jesus walked this earth, He did not prioritize his efforts in reforming from the top-down. Rather, Jesus’ approach was generally one person at a time. He called his twelve disciples, one person at a time. Jesus healed the sick, one person at a time. He raised the dead, one person at a time. And so on. Yes, he did teach to multitudes, even 5,000 or more at a time. But that was not in the hopes of seeking to bring political reform for Rome, or even Israel. Jesus was always focused on an inside-out solution. He focused on the hearts of people, one at a time.
So is God preparing you to serve Him in a manner that will bring blessing and the message of salvation to others? If so, it may include struggles, even monumental unjust ones. It may require refining that can only happen in the crucible of life’s fiery trials. But if you respond as Joseph did, maintaining your trust in the One who stands with you in the midst of those trials, you can be certain that God has greater works ahead for you. And who knows but that He may be preparing you “for such a time as this.”
Recently I was watching a video where Pastor Tony Walliser recounted his own testimony of personal struggles and doubt that he had growing up. They continued on as an adult, even as he became pastor of Silverdale Baptist Church here in Chattanooga. Because of these struggles, Tony would regularly default to a feeling of inferiority and doubt about his ability to serve God. Yet, God used the story of Moses to teach Tony that it wasn’t about him and his limited abilities, but rather it is about God, and His infinite abilities. The following verse was the one that God used to confirm this truth to Tony:
“The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord —the awesome power I will display for you.” Exodus 34:10
I cannot answer the question “Where is America’s Joseph?” I hope God is preparing him for us today. But whether God is or isn’t, you and I can still learn from the story of Joseph, and how he responded as God used difficulties and trials to prepare the shepherd boy for one of the most powerful positions in the world at that time.
So whether God is preparing you to “save America” or simply to stand ready to serve your family or community, we can know this about our God: “Little is much when offered to the Lord.”