Recently I was reflecting on the life of Joseph, and just how long he had to wait to see God working in his life. We live in an instant fix generation. We want the top 10 tips for success, wealth and parenting. We love websites like lifehacker and books on how to win friends and influence people. But this all grows out of a deep-seated cultural value that life is all about… ME.
So when we come to think about ‘Glorifying God’, it doesn’t seem practical, or fast, enough. This peacemaking principle is of prime importance, but is possibly the most neglected. We often reach out for help with conflict when it’s become so bad that we can’t fix it ourselves. By this stage we are probably focussing on our own pain, or the other’s faults. We want to know the quick fix to get us out of this mess.
But there is no quick fix…
Joseph learns the hard way
Which reminds me about Joseph’s life. He had to learn, the hard way, that life is not about him, but about God’s glory and purposes. Joseph’s life was far from easy. His brothers treated him terribly. They threw him down a well, sold him to some Midianites, and then lied to his father that he was killed. He was then sold as a slave in Egypt where he prospered, but had to endure sexual temptation day after day. Eventually he was put in prison for something he didn’t do. God was with him, but he didn’t rescue him straight away. Just when a chance came for him to get out of prison, the one person who could have helped him forgot all about him. It then says, ‘when two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream.’ (Gen. 41:1). It literally says, ‘when two years of days passed.’ Joseph would have counted every single day that he was in prison. Joseph finally got out of prison and was made the second most powerful man in Egypt. But by this time he had already been in Egypt for thirteen years (cf. Gen 37:2 and 41:46). It then took another fourteen years for God to accomplish his plan through Joseph.
How can I please and honour God?
What does all this have to do with conflict? I think Joseph’s trials taught him to rely on God and see the bigger picture. Instead of taking revenge and refusing to forgive, Joseph realised he was an instrument of salvation and grace to his family. Sometimes we have to wait a long time for God to work in us and through us in conflict, but that’s how Joseph was able to deal with conflict with his brothers in such a godly way. When they finally realised that the ruler of Egypt was their brother Joseph, they were terrified. But he said,
“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you... As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Gen 45:4-7; 50:20
Joseph’s response to his hard trials was to rely on God and seek God’s glory, not his own comfort. But what happens when we don’t do this? Or when we choose to glorify him, but things still don’t seem to ‘work out right’?
Whilst the peacemaking principle of, ‘Glorifying God’ helps us navigate through and respond to conflict well, God isn’t actually limited by our right responses. God in his sovereignty and providence orchestrates and uses all our life experiences (and responses). Through them he helps us see that life is not just about us, but is ultimately about him: his glory and his purposes. This includes the pain and difficulty that we suffer in conflict. Experiencing the pain of conflict can actually drive us back to God.
By looking at the bigger picture, Joseph gained the perspective to love and forgive his brothers despite their actions of hate and hostility towards him. Centuries later Joseph’s trust in God was exemplified in the person of Jesus. God demonstrated his love for us by sending his son, Jesus to endure being misunderstood, hated, tortured and killed in our place and for our salvation. In this central event of history, we see Jesus trusting and glorifying his Father, even to the point of death. At the cross we see, just like Joseph’s story, that people meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Through it he achieved the salvation of the world.
Conflict is God’s tool to grow us to be more like Christ and serve and bless others. But we won’t see these opportunities unless we realise the first opportunity of conflict is to glorify God. Where is your conflict leading you?
Article by Clive Buultjens – Clive is married to Sarah and has 3 young children. He is also the assistant minister at Merrylands Anglican church and former Office Manager at PeaceWise.