January 1, 2012

Trusting God's Master Plan

On a recent trip to the United States, my wife and I visited the city of Washington, D.C. Before we left our home in Norway, I read a little bit about its history. In the early 1800s, the authorities there felt the need for a city master plan. An urban designer, a Frenchman named Pierre Charles L’Enfant, was hired, and he came up with a beautiful plan. However, when the authorities looked at it, they decided against the plan because of costs and the objections of some wealthy property owners, which perhaps made it seem unfeasible. L’Enfant passed away without being paid for his work. About one hundred years later, the United States Senate formed a commission to update the Washington, D.C. plan. This team liked L’Enfant’s design and formed a master plan based on it.

Sometimes it takes awhile for people to see the grand scheme! This is even more true in a spiritual sense than it is in planning a city. God has great perspective. He has plans for our lives, but we cannot always see that. When He prods us in a certain direction, we might say, “It’s not feasible. I cannot do this; it is too much for me,” and we put it aside.

The Book of Genesis tells about Joseph, who was exceptional in that he seemed to have more understanding of the big picture. When he was about to die, he gave his descendants instructions regarding his bones. “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:24-26).

We might say that Joseph was spiritually visionary. He was willing to accept what God had revealed to him. The part of God’s grand scheme that he understood was the basis for his hope. The expectation that God would do what He had promised carried Joseph through all the difficulties he had to face.

How did it come about that Joseph was able to see the big picture? What was the success factor? We can point to two things. One is that he listened. The other is that throughout Joseph’s life experiences, he experienced his own connection to God, so he knew he was on the right track.

It is important to listen. We need to hear what others have experienced spiritually, and speak together about the things of God. Today we have so many gadgets—iphones, ipads, ipods, gameboys, etc.—that are thieves. They steal our time and sometimes take away our thoughts when perhaps we should have been together and talked as a family or with friends. For example, we do not want these gadgets to raise our children. We want to give our children the Gospel—give it to them live—and we can do that by talking together.

When our children were small, we always had a quiet time before they went to bed. We read Bible passages that they could understand, and they loved to hear stories about our experiences and their own lives. It was a good time, and we tried to plant something in their hearts that would be a basis for their faith as they grew older. Our youngest boy wanted a new story every time. That was quite a challenge for me—three-hundred-sixty-five times three or four. After a few years that is a lot of stories! Several times I tried to retell a story from a new perspective with a different slant, but a little way into the story, he would say, “I’ve heard that one before.” At least I knew he was listening! And he remembered! It was good for both of us. It kept me thinking and watching for what we could talk about.

Joseph must have heard much when he was a boy. No doubt he heard about his great-grandfather Abraham being called out of his country and from everything he knew to a foreign land. Joseph must have heard all the promises that were connected to this move. He knew that his great-grandfather Abraham lived in a tent, although he was a wealthy man and perhaps could have built a nice home. He lived in a tent so he would be ready to move if the Lord wanted him to. Abraham had set his sights higher; he was looking for the city where God was the Builder and Maker. When Joseph heard this, it must have been put into his heart that Abraham came to Canaan and wanted to stay there according to the will of God.

The stories of his grandfather Isaac were also probably rehearsed—his miraculous birth, how he moved when there was contention over the wells that Abraham had dug. When it was time for Isaac to have a wife, Joseph probably knew how Abraham wanted to be certain that his son’s wife did not come from Canaan, but from their kindred. However, Abraham was clear that Isaac was to stay in Canaan, and Rebekah was willing to move there.

Jacob, Joseph’s father, may have told him about how difficult life could be if you did something wrong that made you leave the country. He probably told him, “I missed my home, and you can see by the limp I have that it was a struggle to get back. I’m so happy to be here, and I don’t ever want to go away again.”

The account of Jacob’s sons in the Bible reveals that there was strife. There was hatred—Joseph’s brothers could not even speak a nice word to him; all that they said was foul and disheartening. Joseph was one of the youngest. He did not have the strength to resist the others, and when the older brothers had an opportunity, they decided to sell him into slavery. Can you imagine what it would be like to be sold, to lose your freedom? Nobody cares about what you need or want; you’re just a possession.

How did Joseph survive all this? He had a spirit of forgiveness. It was not just a one-time event, but an ongoing process. He had to forgive again and again. No doubt that helped him when he was trudging along, perhaps bound by chains, tired, thirsty, and hungry. He could have felt down-hearted and said, “How did I get into this mess?” But he did not. Joseph was able to lift his sights and see the promises of God. He remembered what had been told to him when he was a child.

In addition to listening, Joseph experienced his own connection to God. No doubt he realized that the dreams he reported to his brothers and father were not just something that he made up. He sensed they had come from God, and he knew that God was going to be with him day by day. This carried him through.

After Joseph got to Egypt, his life became a little bit better, but then it became worse again. He was accused of doing something that he would never do because he loved God. Sometimes we can be really low, but if we are able to lift our sights and get hold of the promises of God, they will carry us through.

God honored Joseph and his determination to be faithful. In time, Joseph was elevated to be the ruler, second only to Pharaoh, and later he was reunited with his family. His forgiving spirit showed when he told his brothers, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Joseph was still looking at the big picture.

Many years later, Joseph gave his family the instructions of the text in Genesis 50. Even as he approached death, he continued to be assured that the Israelites would go back to Canaan, and he indicated they were to take his remains with them when they went back. He did not say if they went back. He knew they would go back, because he knew it was in God’s big plan. He had been an important man in Egypt and he could have asked for an impressive grave or maybe even a pyramid to be built in his honor. But that was not in his mind. He wanted to leave; he wanted to go back. He wanted to be a part of God’s great scheme.

Joseph’s reliance on God’s plan took him through. We want to be among those who are able to see God’s work in our lives. We do not want to limit God. Rather, we want to be visionary and trust that God’s plan is perfect.

As an architect, I know from experience that many people can limit a planner or designer. They say, “We don’t want this,” because they cannot understand what it is all about. The men in the early days of Washington, D.C. had their ideas about Pierre L’Enfant’s plan. Maybe they were thinking about their own homes, or the width of a specific street, or a tree or two. They could not envision Washington as the beautiful city it has become.

Often what we see is just a tiny part of the big picture. However, God can help us lift our sights to His promises.

It could be the same with us. It can be difficult for us to understand what God has planned for our lives. But let us open up to God. We want to say, “Lord, You know what is best for me. You make the decisions in my life.” When we pray that way, God will bless us. Often what we see is just a tiny part of the big picture. However, God can help us lift our sights to His promises.

If you are wondering what will become of your life, give it to God. He has a plan, and He will take you through.

apostolic faith magazine