During any political campaign candidates make all kinds of noble sounding promises. We hear about lower taxes, more spend-able income, more affordable health care, a stronger defense, a renewal of character. And all these things sound good. They all sound too good. Every election we hear the same kinds of things. But the question I always ask is a simple one: “How? How do you plan to do these things. What is your strategy for making it happen?”
It’s an important question. Without a plan, the most noble words are virtually meaningless. You can dream all you want but if you don’t have any direction for making dreams come true you are just dreaming the impossible dream.
In the story of Joseph, Pharaoh is told by Joseph that seven years of prosperity are going to be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph tells Pharaoh that he needs to prepare for the coming famine during the years of abundance. Well, that’s good advice. In fact It is to state the obvious insight. But, how do you do this? Joseph has an answer. His proposal is simple. Have everyone give 20% of their harvest to the government in the prosperous years so a surplus can be ready for the lean years.
It was this kind of specific plan that let to Joseph being appointed as the second most powerful man in Egypt. As we look at this account this morning there are two things I’d like us to learn from this account. First, notice that Joseph had a plan for the future. And second, notice that God helped Joseph implement his plan by giving him peace with his past.
JOSEPH HAD A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Joseph had a plan for preparing for the coming famine. I think the plan was probably something that God revealed to him . . . but we aren’t told this. The wisdom of this plan is great. The government would appoint someone to collect 20% of the year’s produce. They needed someone in charge because human nature is such that in the times of prosperity we don’t save more . . . . we spend more!
We may resist planning because it doesn’t sound very exciting but,
- if you don’t plan your course schedule you will not graduate on time
- if you don’t save your money you will never be able to buy a home
- if you don’t put money away early you won’t be able to afford your child’s education
- if you don’t plan your route to a new location you may get lost
- if you don’t plan what you are going to say, or write for a paper or speech, you will ramble on incoherently.
- If you don’t set up a realistic budget you will not have the money to pay your bills
If you want to get ahead in life, you can’t live “by the seat of your pants”. You must plan. We understand this when it comes to money, education, and schooling. But we often fail to plan for things far more important.
It appears that we are beginning a time of spiritual famine in our country. How well have you planned for this coming time? We all know that there is coming a day (usually sooner than we think) when we will be called to the judgment seat of Christ. How well have you planned for that day? We know that there will be opportunities to share our faith with others. How well have planned for that time? We know that we will face endless temptations from Satan. Have you prepared for his assault?
Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25 about ten bridesmaids that were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Five of these women brought plenty of oil (they planned for a possible delay), the other five did not bring extra oil. When the bridegroom delayed they had to run to get oil. They missed out on the festivities because they were not prepared. We must ask ourselves how “prepared” we are for the coming of the bridegroom.
But before we can plan adequately we need to have a realistic view of the obstacles. Joseph knew that in seven years famine would strike. He knew what his deadline was. He knew the enemy. In a similar way, we need to identify the obstacles we face. And believe me, there are several,
- there is our own nature. We are naturally lazy when it comes to spiritual things. Therefore we need to plan with our own resistance in mind. As the comic strip POGO declared, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
- there is the devil. We know that Satan will use anything he can to turn us from any plan for spiritual development. We know he will use discouragement and will seek to overwhelm us with the task.
- there is our contemporary culture. Not only are we facing a time when Christianity (not religion in general) is resisted by our society, we also face a media that constantly seeks to marginalize faith.
- there is our contemporary lifestyle. This is one of the things that I find most difficult to battle. We are so busy. We spend our lives running on the treadmill of life and we begin to feel that any time spent in quiet reflection or fervent study is “Wasted time”.
So, we need to be clear on what the barriers to success are. But second, we need to develop specific strategies. And one of the best ways to do this is to use what is called the S.A.M. method. We should set goals that are specific, attainable, and measurable.
Let me define the terms:
- Specific. Joseph didn’t just say, “we need to store some grain.” Joseph had a specific plan: 20% each year for seven years.
- Attainable. It was a realistic plan. Joseph could have suggested 30, 40 or 50% put you have to be realistic. Joseph knew that 20% was an amount people would be willing to sacrifice. Any more than that may have been an unreasonable burden and led to a revolt among the people.
- Measurable. This was a plan that could be evaluated. Since it was specific and it was for a certain period of time . . . you could evaluate how the plan was going.
Goals that are specific, attainable, and measurable are valuable because they not only give us direction . . . they help to keep us on task.
So what does this mean for our spiritual lives? It means that we have to give more thought to the idea of spiritual growth. It’s not enough to say, “I want to grow spiritually”, we need to develop that into a plan that is specific, attainable and measurable. Let me give you an example.
Suppose you feel you need to get better acquainted with God’s Word. So you set a specific goal that you are going to read through the entire Bible in one year’s time. But is that attainable? It is for some people. But maybe you are just beginning. So you alter your goal. You are going to read the entire New Testament during the next year (or you will read through the Bible in three years). And how do you measure it? You keep track of what you have read. That way at the end of the year you can see if you have met your goal.
What other kinds of goals might you set? How nice of you to ask!
- Perhaps you might set a goal of making worship a priority. So you will work to be at worship somewhere 50 of the 52 weeks.
- Or maybe you want to grow even more in your knowledge of God. So your goal may be to join a Sunday School class before the summer. Or to be involved in, or seek to start a Bible Study before Easter. I like to set a goal of how many books I will read a year.
- You want to pray more effectively. You can make a goal that you will spend a specific time every day . . . in a specific place and you will record your prayers and the answers to those prayers. You measure that goal by whether or not you have kept your appointment with God.
- You may want to share your faith more effectively. So plan to take one class on witnessing during the year. Or plan to have three gatherings of non-Christian friends during the next six months. Or maybe you can plan to invite four couples you know to worship with you or to attend a special program at the church during the next four months.
- You might set a goal to give a specific percentage of your income to God.
- Perhaps you are a negative person. So, you set the goal that I am going to look for ten positive things to say to people during the course of every day. And keep a scorecard. Make note of each compliment (discretely, of course).
Do you get the idea? Many of you are good planners when it comes to your finances, or your health and exercise, or your education, or your vacations. But you give no thought to planning for your spiritual life. Don’t you think it is important enough to give some intentional thought to?
JOSEPH’S MADE PEACE WITH HIS PAST
But I want you to see something else this morning. It’s something you may have missed. One thing that hinders many people in their growth is the baggage of their past. So notice, secondly that Joseph not only had a focus for the future . . . he had made peace with his past. How do we know this? Look at a verse that we quickly skip over . . .verses 50-52.
Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (50-52)
Manasseh is from the Hebrew word “to forget” and Ephraim is from the Hebrew word meaning,”twice fruitful”. Joseph names his firstborn Manasseh because “God had made me forget all my trouble in my father’s household.” Joseph had made peace with his past. Every time he saw his son, every time he called his name, he was reminded that God had freed him from the hurts of the past.
Think about all Joseph had to forget,
- the hatred of his brothers
- the time stripped and thrown into a prison by those same brothers
- the memories of hearing his brothers sell him as a slave
- the years of serving as a slave to many
- the false charges of Potipher’s wife
- the years shackled in prison
The scars were deep but God’s healing was deeper. It’s amazing isn’t it? Did Joseph literally not remember the events anymore? Of course not! But what did happen was that God got him past the hurt. He was no longer haunted by the betrayal, rejection and sense of failure. These memories no longer haunted, controlled or possessed him. God had helped him to “move on”. I suggest today that many of you need to move one as well. The hurts have been severe and deep . . . . but God can and will help you “forget”.
Now, how do we get to this point? Let me make some suggestions that I think were key to Joseph,
First, Joseph trusted the Providence of God. In other words, He believed God was in control. He knew that God was involved in our daily lives and is directing us to His end. He believed that God loved Him and that God never makes a mistake. And since this is true, then even the hurts of the past must be purposeful and allowed for a good end.
So, here’s the question: Do you believe God? Do you trust that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.?” Are you willing to stop reliving the past hurts and start resting in the present grace of God? Are you willing to say to the Lord,
Father, I know you have been at work in my life from the moment I was born. I know that you have been using the circumstances of my life to bring me to where I am today. I thank you for loving me. I don’t know what the purpose was in the painful times . . . I don’t know why you allowed them or what you were doing through them . . . but I do know You. I know you are the God who is over all. I know you are good, loving, gracious. I know that you love me and are always working to draw me closer to you. So I am willing to let go of the questions and stand on what I DO know.”
Second, Joseph focused on the present instead of the past. Joseph made a decision (based in faith) that it was time to let go of the hurt so that He could focus on, and enjoy the present. Of course you wish things could have been different, of course you would like to go back and do things over.
But there is one thing true about life: you can’t change the past. Yes, sometimes you need to confront the past. Sometimes you need to try to understand what happened. But you can’t . . . . and you must not . . . live there. Remember the great words of the Apostle Paul, “This one thing I do, Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13,14).
Do you understand, that when we become anchored to the past, we lose our ability to function productively in the present. The past is one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of the Devil. He uses it to haunt us, to paralyze us, to make us fearful, and to rob us of His peace in the present. The Devil can use the past to make us distant to others, he can use it to drive a wedge into our relationships. He can use it to drive us from God.
But we must understand that the past can hurt us only if we give it permission to hurt us. Joseph let the past go free. He found that God helped him to forget the hurts of the past and he began to live in the fullness and joy of the present. He moved from one who was despised and rejected to one who was “twice blessed”.
You can move in that direction too.
- Acknowledge and identify the painful memories
- Commit them in prayer to the Lord . . . ask Him to help you to forget
- In faith, claim the promise that God was working even in those times which placed scars upon your soul.
- Then throw yourself into the present with the resolve that you are not going to dig up a past that you have buried in the grace of God.
- Every time Satan brings those memories back (and he will), remind yourself that you have been delivered, or forgiven, or healed (depending on the memories that haunt.)
So, as a result of our study today I hope you will become intentional in planning for your spiritual (and maybe even physical, financial and social) growth and development. On the back of your bulletin today jot down a few goals that you might have in this area. Put the bulletin in a prominent place and then look at it often. Revise your goals so that they are specific, attainable and measurable. And then, with a new focus . . . move forward. Take your spiritual life as seriously as you do other parts of your life.
- Perhaps you are diligent saver . . . are you just as diligent about pursuing your salvation?
- Maybe you are diligent in taking care of your body . . . are you as diligent in caring for your soul?
- Maybe you are diligent in investments . . .as you as diligent about investments in Heaven?
- Maybe you are diligent regarding your budget . . .are you as diligent about your time with the Lord?
- Maybe you are focused on your sport . . . are you as focused with Your Lord?
- Maybe you are diligent in keeping you home clean . . . are you as diligent in keeping your heart clean?
- And maybe you have no discipline at all . . . you need to start somewhere . . . why not here?
Friend, the best way to start may be to settle the issue of your eternal destiny. Have you been delaying this crucial work? Have you been putting it off because you have concluded that you will “always have time”? It is time to take action. You don’t know how much time you have. And even if you have lots of time . . . why waste it running from God?
Here’s the issue: Who is Jesus Christ to you? Today, it is time to take a good hard look at the Savior. Have you trusted Him for your salvation? Do you believe that His death on the cross is sufficient to pay for the wrong you have done in the past? Do you believe that He can and will forgive you . . . just as he said? Are you willing to place all your confidence in Him? Why not settle the issue today? In the quiet of your heart why not declare your desire to follow Christ and to trust Him alone for Salvation . . . to God? Once you have settled that essential issue you can begin to work on the other things.
I also hope you will be prompted this morning to take action against the past that haunts you. Some people seek to bury their past by denying it. Others relive it in their minds again and again. Still others analyze it to death. What I am suggesting is that you CONFESS your past (the hurts, the sin, the pain, the resentment) and then leave it in God’s hands. He will bring justice, healing, vindication. He has promised . . .and we must trust Him.
I have no doubt that the hurts are deep. Maybe you have been through more than anyone could ever understand. Friend, God understands. He knows what happened. He saw the injustice, the pain, the sin. And He can not only help you heal . . . . He can help you forget. Maybe you need to put up a sign on your mirror, or rename your pet, or start calling a favorite place, “Manasseh”. And then every time you see that sign, or call that animal, or visit that place, you will be reminded to turn from the past hurts to the one who would love to bless your present, and guide your future.