Perhaps you haven’t noticed the same thing that I have. It seems to me that there are many people who are really struggling right now. Each week the list of prayer requests seems to grow with needs that stagger us. I know that I sometimes come into worship feeling that I am a soldier who has been in the battle all week long. And in times like this it is easy to become so focused on the problems that we lose perspective. I’ve been thinking about this during the last week because of the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 43.
The brothers of Joseph have returned to the Prime Minister of Egypt. They are dreading the meeting because the last time they were together things didn’t seem to go very well. Their brother Simeon was taken into custody and they were told not to return unless they came with their youngest brother Benjamin. On their way home from the first meeting they found their money in their sacks. It must have been a horrible mistake that they just knew they would be blamed for.
When they arrived at the court of the Prime Minister, Joseph saw his brothers with Benjamin and had his steward take them to his house for lunch. But, instead of being delightfully pleased, they were frightened. They were sure they were in deep trouble. So when they had the chance, they got the steward aside and told their story. They told him about the money and pleaded their own innocence. The steward listened and then replied,
“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” (Genesis 43:23)
The brothers were frightened and could only think about what might happen. The steward challenged them to open their eyes and see the blessings God was giving them. Consider what happened,
- when they arrived their feet were washed
- their animals were fed and cared for
- their brother Simeon was returned to them looking none the worse for wear
- they were seated (according to their age) as guests of the Prime Minister and served an incredible feast
- their order for food was filled and they were sent on their way
They were being blessed, but didn’t see it. And as I thought about this during the week I began to wonder if the same thing might be happening to you and me. As I read the steward’s words, “Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure . . . ” God led me to ask a very simple question: What treasures might I be overlooking?
The Bible lists many treasures such as the blessings of family, enjoyment of our work, contentment, peace and others. But this morning I focus on four spiritual blessings that we can easily take for granted. And I focus on them because they are the very things that will change our perspective in the times when things seem overwhelming.
THE TREASURE OF GOD’S GRACE
One of the most spectacular gifts God has given to us is the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. Listen to how Paul states it,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.[Ephesians 2:8,9]
You and I have a tendency to view salvation as something we have to earn. We spend our lives working hard so that we can “maybe” make it to Heaven. We try to be nice, good, and kind, and hope that God is pleased with our efforts.
But even as we do these things, we are well aware of our failings. For all the good things we do there are several stupid and even sinful things we do. There are compromises, hurtful words, blatant sin, and times when we don’t care what God wants. So we are on a treadmill that seems to get steeper and steeper. Consequently in the times of trials we want to give up. We don’t have anything left. In our frustration we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do it”!
But notice Paul is saying that our salvation is not based on what we do. . . it is anchored in God’s gift to us. It is by GRACE that we are saved, and NOT BECAUSE OF WHAT WE DO. We are saved by grace, through faith . . . but even the faith is not something that we have produced . . . it is something that God produces in us.
Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a man in India who brought a number of live quail to market with him. He kept control of them by tying a string around one leg of each bird. The string was then tied to a ring that was attached loosely to a peg in the ground. The man had trained the birds to walk around and around in a circle.
Well, a Hindu who saw this was horrified at the indignity of the birds and told the man that he would purchase them all. The merchant was of course ecstatic. The buyer had one condition. . . the birds had to be set free. The man thought it was odd to pay for birds and then set them free but . . . they were his birds.
He cut the string off the birds and guess what happened? They continued to walk in circles! The man finally had to shoo them away. But they flew only a short distance and then began walking in the familiar circle again.
That’s what happens to you and me. God extends grace through Christ and we act like nothing has changed. Do you know when I am most likely to find myself walking in the same old circles again? When life gets tough. When I face struggles I find myself resorting to the same old methods. I try working harder. At times, I work frantically and hope that I can solve the problems or lift the burdens. . . . in other words, I start walking in circles again.
Strength for the journey comes when we trust Him rather than our own efforts. It comes when we realize that God is not “out to get us” . . . He wants to love us. Our salvation is not gained through our own efforts . . . and our ability to extend grace and peace to others cannot come from our efforts either. God’s grace is sufficient for what we need. Yes, we should do what we can . . . but all the time we must remember that healing, strength and victory is not found in us . . . but in Him.
THE TREASURE OF GOD’S WORD
The longest chapter in the entire Bible is Psalm 119. It is a Psalm of 176 verses that exalts the precious nature of God’s law (the Bible). Listen to some of David’s words,
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
92-93 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.
97-98 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.
The whole Psalm is like this! David says He loves God law (remember he only had a small portion of the Bible). He loved God’s law because it helped him know God! Can you imagine how excited David would been if he had had the New Testament??
When was the last time you picked up your Bible and viewed is as a treasured possession? Wait! I don’t mean that it is treasured because it is leather or was expensive or given to you by someone who loves you . . . I mean, when was the last time you saw your Bible as a treasure because it gave you the Words of God?
The Bible is a treasure because it is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16, 17] Do you get that? In this world of topsy turvey values the Bible is a treasure because it
- is from God (an authoritative source)
- teaches us the right way to live
- it tells us the truth about the things that are wrong in our lives
- it equips us with the information we will need to serve God productively
- it gives us promises that will get us through tough times
- it gives us assurance of the future that gives us something to hope for
- it gives us certain testimony of life after death so we don’t have to fear
- it gives us ammunition to fight the temptations of the Devil
- it tells us how to find forgiveness and a new beginning
Just this last week I was told about a man who went to a motel to commit suicide. In the morning he came running out of the room with a Gideon Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. He ran to the front desk “terrifying everyone” and said, “I have to have this book!” The motel manager told him that since he had the gun . . . he could have anything he wanted.
The man went on to explain that he came to end his life. When he began to read the book he found in the drawer he couldn’t put it down. When he read about Jesus and what He did for sinful humanity new life was born in him . . . He had to have this book that told such an incredible story . .He wanted to follow the God this book pointed to.
Here’s the baffling question? Since the Bible is so magnificent, why are our Bibles dusty? Why do we cherish them as mantle pieces rather than opening the book and devouring it’s contents? Why do we watch television rather than read God’s decree? Why do we consult opinion polls rather than God’s direction? Why do we build our hopes on mystics, experts, and personalities rather than on God’s written directions?
We have forgotten what a rich treasure this book is. Think about the people in countries who don’t have Bibles. They are willing to give most anything to have just a page of this sacred text? Think of what saints of old have sacrificed rather than deny these truths?
We don’t have to “figure things out” on our own. God has given us written instructions. He has given us promises to depend on. He has given us a glimpse of the future that we can focus on. He’s given us models to learn from. In the trials of life we are not left without guidance . . . we just need to read the directions and do what it says!
THE TREASURE OF GOD’S SPIRIT
In Acts 1:4,5 we read, “On one occasion, while he [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
This is a gift we regularly take for granted because we don’t this piece of God that lives within us trust Christ for salvation. The Bible tells us several things about the Holy Spirit.
Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; . . . But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. [John 16:7-15]
The Holy Spirit is a gift from God that is an incredible treasure.
- It is God’s Spirit that draws us to faith. (Jn. 6:44)
- It’s God’s Spirit that makes us realize that we need a Savior.
- It’s the Holy Spirit that shows us who we really are rather than who we pretend to be
- It’s God’s Spirit that points us to Christ
- It’s the Holy Spirit that comforts and encourages us
- The Spirit guides us into the truth
- It’s the Spirit who gives us direction and guidance
- Paul says God’s Spirit prays on our behalf when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26)
- It is God’s Spirit that gives us assurance that we are His children (Romans 8:16)
- It’s God’s Spirit who equips us for ministry (1 Corinthians 12:7)
- It’s God’s Spirit that keeps us secure in our salvation (Ephesians 1:13,14)
Because we don’t see the Holy Spirit we take Him for granted. God has placed a part of Himself in us! This is a gift that we cannot put a value on.
Do you know what this means practically? It means when we feel that we are alone . . . we aren’t. God lives within us. He will guide us. He will encourage us. He will give us the strength we need to carry on. He will make sure we make it home. We may feel that our strength is at an end . . . but His strength (that lives in us) is inexhaustible!
THE TREASURE OF MEANINGFUL SERVICE IN GOD’S KINGDOM
If you read through Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, Ephesians 4 or 1 Peter 4, you will learn that God has given every believer a certain gift or ability that will enable them to minister for the Lord. In other words, God gives us the wonderful privilege of meaningful service in God’s kingdom. Let’s face it . . . God does not need us. He could do what needs to be done on His own. But God has chosen to allow us to share in the joy of serving Him.
I think this is what spiritual gifts is all about. It’s not that God has given us “jobs to do” (like chores we have to complete) . . .God has given us the opportunity to share in the work of His Kingdom. It is a deep privilege to share the message of salvation with others. It is an indescribable thing to be used by God to meaningfully touch another’s life. It is an awesome privilege to be allowed into the service of the King.
Did you notice something in this passage? Do you remember who it was that told the brothers to recognize the treasures that God had given them? It was Joseph’s steward. This man was not a Hebrew. He had not been raised under the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Where did he get such insight?
I think he got it from Joseph. I think Joseph shared his faith with everyone he came in contact with. And I think the steward watched as Joseph lived his life. He saw a quality there that told him that Joseph’s God was the one He wanted to follow. The same attitude of faith and trust, that constant dwelling on God’s treasures, that sustained Joseph in the times of trial was evident in the other areas of his life as well.
God has given us that same opportunity. We are granted the privilege and joy to be a part of extending God’s Kingdom on earth. Norman Wright tells the story of one woman,
The day started out rotten. I overslept and was late for work. Everything that happened at the office contributed to my nervous frenzy. By the time I reached the bus stop for my homeward trip, my stomach was one big knot.
As usual, the bus was late, and jammed. I had to stand in the aisle. As the lurching vehicle pulled me in all direction, my gloom deepened.
Then I heard a deep voice from up front boom, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Because of the crowd I could not see that man, but I could hear him as he continued to comment on the spring scenery, calling attention to each approaching landmark. This church. That park. This cemetery. That firehouse. Soon all the passengers were gazing out the windows. The man’s enthusiasm was so contagious I found myself smiling for the first time in the day.
We reached my stop. Maneuvering toward the door, I got a look at our “guide”: a plump figure with a black beard, wearing dark glasses and carrying a thin white cane. Incredible! He was blind!
I stepped off the bus and, suddenly, all my built-up tensions drained away. God in His wisdom had sent a blind man to help me see– to see that though there are times when things go wrong, when all seems dark and dreary, it is still a beautiful world. Humming a tune, I raced up the steps to my apartment. I couldn’t wait to greet my husband with “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” [WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME? p. 163,164]
Let me ask you a simple but penetrating question: if people drew their attitude from yours would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Let me go a step further. If people drew their conclusions of the Savior from watching your life, would it draw them close or would it push them away? God has given us the chance to tell others of His treasures. It’s a privilege we should not take lightly.
I hope you see that the treasures that the brothers of Joseph received were both undeserved and unexpected. They were gifts of grace. You and I both know that we don’t deserve and could never demand that God give us anything. Yet, He offers us salvation and new life through Jesus Christ.
God calls us to an act of simple faith. He has told us that Jesus went to the cross as the Son of God to give His life in exchange for ours. Our sin is not ignored . . . it is paid for with His blood. God has promised that if we receive the gift He extends, He will make us new people. What He asks us to do is take Him at His word.
It may be that you feel that God may indeed give treasures to others . . . but He would never do so for you. You feel that after what you have done He could never love you. Friend, how is your situation different from the brothers of Joseph? Have you read the Book? If you have, you know that God specializes in taking lives that were in shambles and making them into something incredible. God is willing to do that for you. He is willing to provide a feast in your honor. He is willing to give you the treasures that the world cannot purchase. And in order to receive these things, you must only open your hands in simple faith. Why not do that today?
It’s time to open your eyes and appreciate the incredible privilege that has been given us in Jesus Christ. It is time to stop looking for problems and start enjoying the blessings. It’s time to stop complaining and start worshipping. It is time to stop walking in circles and to fly.