With the recent tragedy of the lives lost in the Virginia Tech situation, I was reflecting on how it is possible for us to manage the stress and anxiety in our lives and live a purposeful and joyful life despite the challenges we face. As I was doing so, I remembered a favorite character of mine who struggled with great adversity, yet overcame it all to lead a life of tremendous purpose and affect entire nations with his life.
One of my favorite Bible stories is of Joseph, narrated in the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50. It is a wonderful story of one young man's life filled with adversity and the specific circumstances he underwent over the course of more than 13 years. The story opens with Joseph as a young man of 17 years old. He was the favorite of his father's 12 sons, which had caused tremendous hatred toward him by his 11 brothers. Not only that, Joseph had great dreams and visions for his life. Two of his dreams, involving sheaves of grain and the sun, moon and eleven stars - actually revealed that those in his family would someday bow down to him.
You can imagine that when Joseph shared these dreams with his brothers that it was like pouring gasoline on the fire of their jealousy and envy toward him. Even Joseph's father, Jacob, rebuked Joseph for sharing his dreams with them all, but Gen. 37:11 reveals to us that Jacob kept this matter of Joseph's dreams in his mind.
By the time Joseph was 17, Joseph's brothers envy and jealousy had grown overwhelming - so much so that one day in the desert, they made the decision to kill him. His older brother, Reuben, persuaded them not to kill him, but rather to throw him into a cistern, as he intended to return to rescue him and take him back to his father. His brothers relented and threw Joseph into the empty cistern. Shortly thereafter, some Midianite merchants came by and Judah, one of the brothers, suggested that they sell Joseph to the merchants. They did so, and Joseph was later sold into slavery in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharoah's officials, the captain of the guard. The brothers returned home to frame a story to their father that Joseph had been killed by a ferocious animal, and Jacob mourned for many years following his perceived death of his precious son.
Meanwhile, Joseph spent the next 13 years serving in Egypt and undergoing many trials and tribulations. It is very interesting because throughout his time in Egypt, Scripture records that the Lord was with him, showing him kindness and granting him favor with those whom he served. At one point, Potiphar, the captain of the guard, had gained such confidence in Joseph that he placed him as second-in-command of his entire household. Yet Potiphar's wife had other things in mind - she pursued Joseph sexually and relentlessly in her husband's absence. Joseph, desiring to honor God and as a man of integrity, obstructed all her actions and one day, fled from her home, leaving his cloak behind. Potiphar's wife was so angry and humiliated by Joseph's lack of interest that she determined to frame him, accusing him of trying to rape her.
Potiphar believed her accusation and put him in prison, yet again Scripture records that the Lord was with Joseph, showing him kindness and granting him favor with all those whom he served. Once again, Joseph's character and God's blessing gained the confidence of the prison warden, so that he put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison. Along the way, Joseph met a cupbear and a baker in prison, each of whom had offended their master, the king of Egypt. They both had dreams, but were unable to interpret them. Joseph was able to interpret their dreams correctly with God's help, predicting accurately that one of the men, the baker, would be hanged in three days and the other, the cupbearer, would be reinstated to his position. Yet the cupbearer forgot Joseph and did not move in any way to help Joseph once he was back in the palace in Pharaoh's service.
Two years later, Pharaoh had two dreams and was greatly disturbed by them. None of Egypts' magicians were able to interpret his dreams. At this point, the cupbearer remembered his oversight of Joseph and the goodness Joseph had shown to him while in the prison. He told Pharaoh about Joseph, who immediately called for Joseph.
With God's help, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams correctly - there would be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to find a man to lead the effort to store up food for the nations over the 7 abundant years to plan for the 7 lean years. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph's discernment and wisdom that he placed him as second-in-command of all of Egypt and in charge of the administration of his government.
The seven years of abundance went by, just as Joseph had said and he stored up food for all the countries. Meanwhile, Joseph's family, who had sold him into slavery over 20 years earlier, is near starvation for lack of food. Jacob send his sons to Egypt to buy grain for the family. Although Joseph recognizes his brothers, they no longer recognize him. They bow down to him, begging him to help save their family by providing food for them during the severe famine. Through a series of events, they finally realize who he is and are terrified that they will now receive the consequences of their actions toward him over 20 years earlier.
Yet, Joseph reconciles with his brothers and reassures them. He states in Gen. 50:19-21, "Don't be afraid. You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children."
You see, his dreams as a young man had been correct after all and pointed to the great purpose that God had for Joseph's life amidst the tremendous struggles and difficulties of the prior two decades.
Keys to Victory along the Journey
Joseph presented a model example for us of how to overcome stress and anxiety, while still living a purposeful life. He had been rejected by his family, sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned, separated from his family for over 2 decades, and forgotten along the way by those who could have helped him if they had chosen to do so. Yet we never see him curse God, manipulate His circumstances, or do anything to dishonor God along the way.
How do we follow the example of Joseph and lead a purpose-filled life, despite the difficulties and challenges we face? What are our keys to victory along the journey? There are four, which if chosen consistently, will lead us to a victorious experience along our path.
- Stay Connected to God and Trust Him - Don't worry
God urges us to not worry but to go to Him with all of our concerns. Phil. 4:6-7 tells us, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." This tells us that if we refuse to give way to anxiety, but take everything to God in prayer, while thanking HIm, that we will have a supernatural peace. So keep talking to God and listening to Him in the midst of your stress.
- Stay Connected to Others
While Joseph was alienated from his family, it was obvious he was building relationships with others that helped sustain him, along with his relationship with God. It is important to have a support group in our lives of people who encourage us along the way. These could include our family, godly friends, and at times of great stress, we may need the additional insights of a life coach or a counselor. Don't be afraid to reach out for the resources you need to walk through your life challenge successfully. Ecc. 4:9-10 tells us that "two are better than one...if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Stay Connected to Ourselves - Nurture Ourselves
There are four ways to nurture ourselves, and it is especially important to be doing all of these four things when we are under tremendous stress:
Spiritually (Prayer, God's word, connection with others)
Physically (healthy diet, rest, exercise, leisure that soothes us)
Emotionally (positive work rests the emotions; focusing on Scripture and positive thoughts)
Relationally (resolving our conflicts with others allows us to stay connected to them and avoid draining our energy).
Joy and Strength has been a wonderful devotional and a source of inspiration and comfort to me for nearly 20 years. I pray this is an encouraging and strengthening passage for you as well.
Psalm 32:7 - Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.
It is the indwelling Presence of God, believed in, trusted, reverenced, recollected, which ought to become the support to meet every case of trouble. The soul finds rest from its perplexities, as it turns from what perplexes and disturbs it, to fix its gaxe and hope and purpose on Him. If there be a pressure of distress, or anxiety, or care, or perplexity of any kind, a heavy burden weighing down the spirits, then let the soul look off for a moment from itself, and from the trying object, to God. The recollection of His presence within, ever abiding, continually renewed by perpetual communion, would secure to the soul, if duly and constantly cherished, an habitual life of rest. (T.T. Carter)
And the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28 is always with us as it was with Joseph - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. If we follow these steps, we will learn to overcome stress and anxiety and live more purpose-filled lives!
If you would like to hear this talk on audio CD or perhaps purchase a copy for a friend, please contact Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org. The audio copies will be available via the shop in June.
May Coaching Special
With enrollment this month in either the Women's Garden Club or the Pastors' Forum, you’ll receive a complimentary 30-minute personal or church coaching consult. Just contact my office at email@example.com. I'd love to serve you.
Please let me know what issues you would like to hear about in the next newsletter. I'll do my best to address your concerns! I look forward to speaking with you all next month.
Many prayers and blessings to you all,
Relationship Tips is a monthly e-zine written and published by Suzanne Martinez, founder of SFM Consulting & Associates, LLC. Our purpose is to help leaders develop healthy leadership cultures and healthy relationships - cultures that promote growth and maximize personal and organizational performance.
You may copy, forward or distribute this e-zine if this copyright notice and contact information for Suzanne Martinez is included.
Would you forward this e-zine to others who would benefit from it? For a complimentary subscription, they can sign up at www.suzannemartinez.com. Please help us get the word out by forwarding this issue to others. Thank you!