Navigating the Deeper Life
Chapter 10 - The Man Who Is Above All
One of the things in which I take great comfort is knowing that God can turn any bad situation around and make into a blessing, regardless of what others might do in order to cause harm. There are many examples of this throughout the Bible, but the story that is closest to my heart is the story of Joseph, in the book of Genesis.
I trust the reader is familiar with the story, so I will not recount it here in full. The point I want to bring out is not to illustrate how wicked Joseph’s brothers were, but that Joseph himself needed some changes in order to become the sort of man God could use to deliver His people. Even while Joseph’s brothers were plotting his demise, God had already purposed to change and equip Joseph by teaching him some very hard lessons.
Joseph is an exemplary character in the Bible, and in many ways is without peer with regard to his godly conduct. Yet, even Joseph was born a wretched sinner, and as such required the grace of God, even as we all do. In my opinion, Joseph’s number one spiritual issue was pride, with insensitivity towards others a close second. It is intimated in Genesis 37, that Joseph was a tattle-tail, and told on his brothers, getting them in trouble with their father. Keeping this in mind, imagine how Joseph’s brothers felt, sweating and dirty from manual labor out in the hot sun, when their little tattle-tail brother came along, wearing a clean colorful coat and said, "Guess what? I had a dream that you all bowed down to me!"
It is rather comical, isn’t it? To make matters worse, the Bible says that he said this sort of thing at least one more time, this time going way over the top with, "I dreamed that the sun moon and stars all bowed down to me!" There is no record of the conversations that ensued between Joseph’s brothers following this pronouncement, but typical family dynamics suggest that Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers for telling them about these dreams. In many ways, he deserved some, but definitely not all, of the grief he received from his brothers.
Never mind the fact that he had a prophetic dream, it is still an incredibly proud and insensitive thing for Joseph to have said this to people that already resented him. Indeed, in spite of the obvious flaws in his brothers, they seem to be at least partially justified in their resentment of him. In my opinion, Joseph appears to be a young, clueless, favorite son. He is an easy mark, and most of us would probably have counseled Jacob to knock this young man off of his high horse, and to teach him some humility by sending him out to work under his older brothers. Jacob, however, did no such thing. Instead, he indulged Joseph, by keeping him at home, while all of his other brothers were out working. Even worse, Jacob would send him out from time to time to "check up" on his brothers and bring back a report. This further re-enforced his reputation as a tattle-tail among his brothers. It is no wonder they wanted to get rid of him.
Very soon after, Joseph found himself a slave in Egypt, where he suffered unjustly. Soon after that, he found himself forgotten in prison. At this point he was seemingly very far away from having anyone bow down to him, let alone the sun, moon and stars.
God, however, knew very well that in only a few years Joseph’s brothers would indeed bow down to him, and his prophetic dreams would come to pass. As the story goes, Joseph was taken out of prison, and promoted by Pharaoh to administrate all of Egypt, the mightiest empire in the world. Joseph spent his adult life having people bow down to him every day, but now he had the maturity to handle it properly. This was necessary, because it was Joseph’s wisdom that saved his father and brothers from the severe famine that was threatening all life in the world. God needed a deliverer to save the Israelites from starvation, and He used Joseph.
This was all made possible in spite of the fact that Joseph was a proud, insensitive, somewhat conceited young man, and his brothers were jealous, murderous, liars. God took this dysfunctional family and used "evil," in order to bring good, even to deliver a whole nation from starvation. If the reader is not familiar with the story, or perhaps has never considered it in this light, I encourage them to read it afresh.
The point is that the best way to transform dysfunctional Jacob and twelve sibling rivals into God’s chosen nation was by selling Joseph into slavery and prison, and then promoting him to rule all of Egypt. Not only did He save a nation from starvation, but God also orchestrated it to work reconciliation in the family of Jacob, an impossible thing in itself. The Lord was high above all the skullduggery and deceit that was at work in Jacob’s family, and He was not at all hindered by the pagan culture of Egypt. He was above all this, and caused everything to work out exactly as planned.
Please understand that the author is not under any delusions of grandeur, thinking myself to be like Joseph, or a meek martyr of some sort. On the contrary, I am a very small person when compared to a great patriarch like Joseph. However, I definitely see some parallels, on a much smaller scale, between my experience and that of Joseph.
I heard the call of God in my life when I was young. I was a proud, insensitive person in many ways. In spite of this, I loved Jesus and really believed that someday I would do something great for Him. Even after needing deliverance from a sinful, godless lifestyle I still didn’t have the kind of humility necessary to be an effective witness. But God, who is rich in mercy, brought me into a legalistic church that had many problems and let me go through the experience of being puffed up, deflated, defamed, and finally delivered. Simply put, it was the shortest distance that I could have traveled to get from sinner to saint. Of course, many other people, who were far more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, and much less proud, would have needed only a fraction of the time being lost at sea in the Deeper Life compared to what I required. On the other hand, there are others I know who needed even more hard lessons than I did. He is the Great Physician, and the Captain of our salvation, and He knows just what each of us needs. He is far above all.
He never abandoned me. Even when I was getting increasingly distracted with scriptural minutia, He was always there, interceding for me, patiently waiting while I suffered in order that I could return to Him in true brokenness. Throughout my voyaging in the Deeper Life, I was preoccupied with a grand, romantic idea of being broken before God. I would, along with others, pray to God that He would "break me." Frequently, this request would be partially mixed with a desire to "show off," in a spiritual sense, not unlike the Pharisees, who prayed great prayers in order to be noticed by men. I would frequently act towards other believers in a manner much like Joseph did to his brothers in that I was condescending and judgmental. Nevertheless, in spite of my fallen motive, God was faithful to answer my prayer; He did in fact break me, although not at all when and where I thought He should have.
In all sincerity, I can say that I am a better man for it, although I am under no illusion that I have arrived at perfection or any other such nonsense. I also rejoice to report that as a result of this difficult period in my life, God has begun to use me to help many others who find they are suffering in similar ways. In the past, I viewed myself as really having something to offer, yet I never really helped anyone at all, I merely placed heavy burdens on people, which often discouraged them.
In contrast, since being delivered from this group, I often feel embarrassed when I encounter people who learn that I was a member of The Assembly. Today I find it very difficult to view myself as spiritually superior to anyone at all, when it is a plain fact that newborn babes in Christ have enough sense to avoid churches like the one I was involved in. No, I don’t feel intelligent at all, rather I feel many times like a fool. What is so amazing is that now, without my putting forth one ounce of effort, people say they are blessed by my family, or by some comment I made at a Bible study. They are especially blessed by my wife, who really shines like she never did before. Whereas in the past we labored for hours, trying to get people to visit the Assembly, now our friends and neighbors are all showing an interest in visiting our new church, a Calvary Chapel. Some of them have even begun to attend regularly. Never once did any of our friends or neighbors ever want to visit The Assembly. We are beginning to enjoy spiritual fruit, as opposed to the hard labor we put forth while living the Deeper Life.