By Charles Price
If you have got your Bible I am going to read to you from Isaiah Chapter 55. Isaiah 55. I am going to read from Verse 6 down to Verse 9. Isaiah falls pretty well in the middle of your Bible. It is one of the longer books of the Old Testament.
I am going to read these four verses which come in a context where God is speaking and He has invited people to come to Him, to seek after Him, to give ear to Him - these are all the challenges that come in this chapter.
And in Verse 6 He says,
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
"Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
That is as far as I am going to read.
Those of you who were here last week will recall that we began to talk about living in the will of God. Normally I take a book or section of Scripture and work through it for a number of weeks. That is the best and the safest way to teach the Word of God.
But once in a while it is good to look at a general theme and run about all over the Scriptures to see what the big picture is that Scripture presents of that theme. And that is what I am doing now for several weeks - this whole picture of living in the will of God. What does that mean?
I said last week that if we ask the wrong question, we normally get the wrong answer. And usually the first question people ask about this question is what is the will of God for my life? That is the wrong question.
The first question needs to be what is the will of God? Period. You see if we ask as our first question what is the will of God for my life? the focal point, the central point, is me. And we are looking for God to direct my paths and give me some understanding and explanation of why my life is what it is and how I can find the better or best life that might be available to me.
But if the question is what is the will of God? the starting point and the focal point is what is God doing that is bigger than me, of which I may be a part, and in fact of which I am called to be a part.
But what is the big picture of what God is doing? And I want to talk a bit more about that this morning. And in the passage we read together, one of the things that God says there is in Verse 8 where He says,
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways."
Now He talks about God's thoughts and our thoughts, God's ways and our ways, and He presents them not as a comparison that "My ways are better than yours, My thoughts are better than yours," but He presents them as a contrast.
He says that his thoughts are not our thoughts. In other words, there will be many, many times when your thinking has nothing to do with God's thinking and "your ways are not My ways, that your understanding of your ways in life will be on a different level and with a different understanding and it will not be My ways. They are altogether different."
Now you see we will save ourselves a lot of trouble if we believe that because often we try to measure what is going on from our own reference point, our own level of understanding and we inevitably, in the course of life, will become disappointed at some stage, and we will probably make it a disappointment with God.
But actually it is a disappointment of perspective. If we try to understand the workings of God by our own understanding, there are many times when we will be confused. In the book of Proverbs Chapter 3 Verses 5 and 6, the writer says this:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
Or I prefer an alternative reading there:
"He will direct your paths."
Now He is going to direct our paths and He is going to direct our paths if we fulfill that condition that we acknowledge Him in all our ways. That is, that we recognize that God is God. We are living in that humble spirit of submission to Him. And as we do so, He says, "Please do not lean on your own understanding."
Now of course we must use our own minds, we must use our own understanding, but don't lean on it for the simple reason it is fallible. And the alternative is: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding."
You see God has the right to operate in your life and my life without explaining Himself, and I am going to show you that in a few minutes. But if the contrast is between His ways and ours, the contrast is this - Verse 9:
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Now think about that statement. How in the world do you measure how much higher are the heavens than the earth? What kind of measurement is that?
Well, there are various levels on which you can think about that. If you stay within our solar system of which the sun is the hub and there are 9 orbiting planets, we are the third planet out from the sun.
And we are about 150 million kilometres away from our sun in lights years' times. Light travels at 300,000 kilometres a second - that is 7 *** times around the earth every second. We are 8 minutes and 18 seconds (depending on the exact position, because it does vary in the course of time), but about 8 minutes 18 seconds away from the sun. So every bit of sunlight you see is already 8 minutes 18 seconds old when it gets here.
If you go out to the ninth planet, which is Pluto, it is 49 times further out than the earth and it is about 7.4 billion kilometres away from the sun. Light takes 66 hours and 20 minutes and a few odd seconds to get to it, so that's quite a long way out. So if we stay within that level of our solar system and we say, "As the heavens are higher than the earth", we're talking at the most about 66 hours of light years away.
If you are talking about the Milky Way, which is the galaxy we are part of; the Milky Way is the shape of two dinner plates, put them on top of each other with the bulge on either side; that's roughly the shape of our galaxy. It is 100,000 light years across and at its thickest point in the middle, about 1000 light years deep. It is just a long thing spiral. It has been thrown into the universe like a Frisbee and we are at the moment, you know, frizzing around on the back of a Frisbee. That's roughly its shape.
But if you talk about that level, you are talking 100,000 light years. If you look outside of the Milky Way, which you can, the furthest you can see with the naked eye is the galaxy Andromeda. If you know where to look - it's a bit of a fuzz - but if you know where to look, that's 2.2 million light years away.
But if you go to the level of the known universe, the known universe is at least 156 billion light years across. We can't begin to fathom how big that is. And every new discovery they make, it's getting bigger.
So when He says, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways", it is deliberately ambiguous. Sometimes maybe if you talk in planetary sense (okay, it's so big), you talk in the galaxy sense, it's that higher, if you talk in the universal sense, it's much bigger than that. There are different levels in which God's ways are higher than our ways, as I am going to show you in just a few moments as well.
But the point is there is an immeasurable difference between God's ways and our ways. "My ways are not your ways", so don't be surprised when you don't understand what God is doing. Don't be surprised.
And the reason why God's ways are not our ways is because His wisdom is much bigger than our wisdom. 1 Corinthians 1:25 Paul writes this:
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."
If you will forgive me using this expression, if God were ever to play the fool and act the fool, He would be an awful lot smarter than the smartest, wisest human being on earth. His ways are higher; they are different from ours, because His wisdom is greater.
And therefore at the heart of living in the will of God must be trust, this attitude of trust.
Now that is a problem for many of us. We don't actually trust Him. We trust what we see, feel, touch and understand and can explain. But we don't trust beyond that. And we have to learn to trust.
Let me illustrate this. I am going to fly later today from Toronto to Frankfurt in Germany, change planes and then fly from Frankfurt to Chennai in South India.
Now supposing I get on the plane in Toronto Airport and I go to my seat and I say to myself, "you know, I have no idea who the captain of this aircraft is and who his co-pilot is. I don't know if I can trust him." So I go up to the flight deck (which I am sure I would not be able to do), and I tap the captain on the shoulder and I say, "Excuse me, I would like to meet you. I am a passenger on this plane. I understand you are the captain."
He would say, "Yes, that's right. I am the captain."
So I might say, you know, "I don't know you at all and therefore I don't know if I can trust you. Now I know myself and I think I can trust myself. So if you don't mind, I would like to fly this plane myself."
He would probably say, "Listen, you don't know the first thing about flying aircraft."
And I say, "Oh yes I do. I have been reading a book on it and I looked at something on Youtube. I say we take this aircraft out to the end of the runway. We'll open up the engines, we'll release the brakes, begin to speed along. And after about 40 seconds we should be doing about 180 miles an hour. That's the point of no return, so we will pull back the joystick or whatever you call it on these new planes and we'll lift up into the air.
And I have been looking at a map and Frankfurt is about east, northeast of here if you take into account the curvature of the earth. So we have got a compass here. We'll put it in an east northeasterly direction and I saw on the timetable that the flight takes about 8 hours to get to Frankfurt so we'll aim it for 8 hours. And then after 8 hours, I looked at a map earlier and I see that Frankfurt is just about where the Rhine intersects with the River Main and so that shouldn't be difficult find. So we'll find that intersection. There should be a city around - that'll be Frankfurt. We'll look for the airport and when we find the airport, we'll come down."
The captain would turn to me and say, "Listen, chum, as far as flying this aircraft is concerned, your wisdom at its very highest is to me utter stupidity, foolishness. But if you will go back into your seat and you sit down and you mind your own business, just relax, I'll get you to Frankfurt. You will be there for breakfast."
But you know that's exactly what God says about life. We come along to God in effect and say, "God, You know, I have got all kinds of things that I'd like to do with my life and I know the way I would like to do them and I have got all kinds of ideas of what is good. I understand You are good so it's all going to be good anyway. I know it's good. So I am expecting this, this, this and this."
And the moment it doesn't happen that way, you say, "God, do You really care?"
Of course He cares. He's just a lot smarter than you are. He just happens to have ways that are different to ours - different from ours. God has not promised to tell us what He is doing. And there is a great verse, and we sang it in one of the hymns this morning, but 2 Corinthians 7:5, which says, "We walk by faith, not by sight."
Now most of us would prefer to walk by sight. We would like to see what is going on. We would like to explain what is going on. We would like to know exactly what the reason for everything is. We would like to go to bed every night with a clear explanation for everything that happened during the day. But that is not a privilege that we are being given. We walk by faith, not by sight.
Now there are two dangers in what I have just said. One danger is that we can use this as an argument to just become passive. "Alright, I shouldn't do anything, don't even think about it, just drift and blow with the wind and trust that somehow, somewhere God is doing something.
No, that is not a response we should make to this. It is interesting that the whole context of this statement in Isaiah 55 ("My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways") is a context in which this chapter is inviting people to come all who are thirsty, come to the waters. "If you have got no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk" (that's in the early verse), "give ear and come to Me. Hear and listen to Me that your soul may live. Seek the Lord where He may be found," etc. This whole statement is in the middle of a chapter that's about seek, look, ask, listen, turn your ear.
And of course in the Christian life we don't sit back passively. We are to seek after God and we are to seek His will. Well how do we do that?
Well let me give you two verses. Psalm 119:133 says
"Direct my footsteps according to your word."
In other words, get your mind and your heart into the Word of God if you want to know the will of God.
You know, there has been a huge demise in people's reading, meditating and handling the Word of God. Maybe it is because life is so busy that we have got a million things to do that this is the last thing that we have time for. Which of course, is a tragedy if you are a Christian, because He directs our footsteps according to His Word.
It has become popular for some to disparage the Word of God because they have the idea that Scripture is old, it is dull, it is predictable, it is a bit boring, whereas direct guidance directly from God is exciting and living and fresh.
You know I talked to somebody this summer who told me that what he was doing was that he was teaching people to listen to God.
And I said, "Does that mean you are teaching them to read and meditate on Scripture?
And he said, "No, no, I am teaching people to listen to God directly." (In other words, close your Bible and listen to God.)
That is extremely dangerous. What you will listen to is your own ideas, your own mind, your own thinking, and you will attribute it to God.
You see another verse says - Psalm 119:105:
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
Not a searchlight down the road but a lamp to my feet, so I put my feet in the right place.
And don't ever forget that, because the place of the Word of God in the will of God is not that one serves the other but they are indistinguishable from one another.
I said last week we will never know the particular will of God for our lives until we are living in the general will of God for all His people. And that is why we must be people of this Book.
And as we live within the revelation God has given us in the Scriptures, then the particular will of God that is uniquely for you and uniquely for me will find its way.
You see the will of God must involve three things: trusting the ways of God (and the ways of God are higher than ours), seeking the wisdom of God (and the wisdom of God is greater than our wisdom), and relying on the Word of God (which is true).
So the will of God involves trusting the ways of God, seeking the wisdom of God and relying on the Word of God.
So it's not a passive, okay, well everything will just - God just has to make everything work out. No, we must be people who dig into the Word of God.
"Direct my footsteps according to your word."
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
And it means if you turn the lamp off your feet you won't know where you are. So what is the lamp? "Your Word is a lamp."
I hope if you don't, you will make time to spend time daily in the Scriptures and through it the Spirit of God who inspired it - this is not separate to the Holy Spirit; this is the Holy Spirit's inspired Word of God - it's God speaking.
But the second danger is that we can assume that the will of God is so different from ours that we can never really know it. But do you know something? We don't have to know the will of God; we have to be in the will of God.
You say, what do you mean, what is the difference?
Well that verse Proverbs 3:6 says,
"In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
In other words, our responsibility is to acknowledge Him in all our ways. And it's not your responsibility to get your paths directed - that is His responsibility, He has undertaken to do it. And so if you acknowledge Him in all your ways, you can say with confidence, "Thank You Father, You are directing my paths.
I spent a weekend once with a group of young people and I was to teach them over the weekend. I gave them a questionnaire on the first night and the questionnaire included these questions:
Are you in the will of God right now?
And they had an option of checking one of three boxes:
I don't know.
No, I am not in the will of God
If your answer is yes, how do you know you are in the will of God?
If your answer is I don't know, how would you expect to know you are in the will of God?
If your answer is No, why not?
Now most people - at least, of those who said yes, I am in the will of God (most people said I don't know, by the way), but of those who said, I am in the will of God, how do you know? They all gave circumstantial evidence that they were in the will of God.
For instance, one guy said, "I wasn't planning to come to this weekend because I couldn't afford it and then my grandmother sent me some money and so I know it's the will of God for me to be here.
Well that's fine and that's all good. But do you know how you can know you are in the will of God? Because you are acknowledging Him in all your ways. And as you acknowledge Him as your Lord, as your Master, and you live humbly in submission to Him, He has undertaken to direct your paths and you can say, "I know I am in the will of God, not because I can prove it circumstantially (because sometimes you can't), but because God is committed to directing my paths, whether I can see it or whether I can't, whether I understand it or whether I don't.
When I set out to fly to India later today, it is on this understanding: If I board the aircraft, sit down, put on my seat, and relax, go to sleep, do whatever you want to do, the airline will get you to Frankfurt and then to India.
I don't have to know how we are going to get there - that's their business. I have been on aircraft that have diverted, that have taken a different route (route we say in England; route is the corruption of the word route, but I am bilingual now so I'll say it) - the route has been changed.
I have been on a plane that has come down in the wrong place. I have been on planes that have been diverted; I have been on planes that have turned back. I was on one plane - we flew from Amsterdam halfway across Asia and we lost an engine (the engine gave up that means) and we turned back and we flew back to Amsterdam because we couldn't get it repaired in Moscow, the pilot told us. So we were already over up near the Himalayan mountains on our way to Hong Kong. We were nine hours leaving Amsterdam. We landed in the same airport nine hours later. But that was fine. We had to trust the airline to get us there. It eventually got me to my destination.
You see, you acknowledge God in all your ways; He'll direct your paths. I am going to talk next time about the difference between God's purposes and God's process.
You know when I get on that plane tonight, my purpose is to get to India. The process may involve unexpected things, but we will get there eventually.
And I want to talk about the sovereignty of God in a world described in Scripture as being under the control of the evil one. We are living in a fallen world under the control of the evil one. How does a sovereign God work out His purpose in a world that is being controlled by evil? We'll talk about that next time.
So why am I mentioning it now? Well, why I am mentioning it now is because this issue rises here that how do you know you are in the will of God - not because you can see it but because you acknowledge Him in all your ways, He is directing your paths. And we walk by faith; we are not walking by sight.
And very often in retrospect we may see what God has been doing. Sometimes we don't live long enough to see what God has been doing.
Let me illustrate those points to you. And the best way to illustrate it is just briefly to tell you a story from the Scriptures, the story of a man called Joseph. There are about 14 chapters given to Joseph in the book of Genesis and we learn a lot about this from him.
Just to set the story in context, Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons. That is a disadvantage because he is right on the bottom of the pile - or almost at the bottom of the pile.
But a bigger disadvantage is that he was his father's favourite son. The reason for that was that he had two wives. And the first wife was the mother of ten sons and then his second wife was the mother of the last two. And she was his favourite wife so her son became his favourite son.
And all the other boys had to go out and work and Joseph was allowed to stay home with his daddy who knitted him a pretty jacket, a coat of many colors. And it says his brothers hated him. They hated him for the preferential treatment he was being given.
Because he stayed at home, he had a lot of time to sleep. And one day when his brothers came home, he said, "I had a dream this afternoon during my afternoon nap. And in my dream we were all cutting sheaves of corn. (That's how we know it really was a dream because Joseph was cutting sheaves of corn as well.)
And he said, "Suddenly my sheaf of corn stood upright and your sheaves of corn, all eleven of you, came and bowed down around my sheaf of corn. So there's mine standing there upright and yours are all bowed down to me. Wasn't that an interesting dream, brothers?"
It says they hated him all the more. Another day they came home, "I had another dream during my nap today and this time there was the sun, the moon, eleven stars (that's all of you brothers) and there was another star, which was mine. And all eleven stars bowed down to my star and the moon bowed down and the sun bowed down."
Now how stars bow down I have no idea but all kinds of bizarre things happen in dreams. And he probably said, "You all bowed down to me. He, he, he, he..." (as young brothers do.)
And the whole family got angry this time including their father. And the brothers decided they would get rid of him. They wanted to kill him. That was their first suggestion. Reuben, the older brother restrained them and said, "Hey, let's not kill him. Let's make some money out of him."
And they decided that when he came to bring them some food one day, they would sell him, catch him, kidnap him and sell him to some slave traders.
And there were some Ishmaelites passing through. They sold him for twenty pieces of silver to these Ishmaelites who travelled across the Sinai Desert to Egypt. And they auctioned him on the slave market in Egypt where he was bought by the highest bidder, a man called Potiphar.
Meanwhile, having got rid of him, they took his coat of many colors. They tore it in a few places; they got a goat, killed the goat and drenched the coat in blood. They carried it home to their father and they said, "Father, we found this coat. It looks like Joseph's coat. It has been covered in blood, it has been ripped, it looks like Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.
And his father's heart was broken. He took the bloodied coat of many colors and held it and wept. And his brothers wept with him. They were remarkable actors. They probably had their hands in their pocket to stop the twenty pieces of silver jingling. Maybe put some onions in their top pocket to get the tears going.
And for decades Jacob mourned his dead son.
Meanwhile in Egypt Potiphar took him home, was impressed with him, put him in charge of his household. Mrs. Potiphar was impressed and she tried to seduce him. He came into her room, she said, "Come and sleep with me", grabbed his coat. He quickly extracted himself, leaving the coat in her hand and ran - smart thing for a 17-year-old boy to do (he was 17 at that stage).
When Potiphar came home, Mrs. Potiphar told him falsely that Joseph had attacked her and tried to rape her. So Potiphar, believing his wife, had Joseph thrown into prison.
And he stayed in prison for about 13 years until he was 30 years of age. For most of those years he was just a prisoner. After about 10 years he noticed one day two fellow prisoners who were looking downcast. One had been a butler in the palace of Pharaoh; one had been the baker in the palace of Pharaoh.
And Joseph said, "Why are you so downcast?"
They said, "We both had dreams and we don't know the interpretation of these dreams."
And Joseph said, "Well God will give interpretation of dreams. Tell me the dream and I will tell you the meaning of them."
And the butler said, "Well I dreamed that I saw a vine with three branches on it. And these branches budded and blossomed and ripened into grapes and I squeezed the grapes and the juice came into Pharaoh's cup and I gave it to Pharaoh. That was my dream."
And the baker said, "Well I dreamed I had three baskets of bread on my head. And this was for Pharaoh as well but the birds came and they were eating the bread out of the basket on the top of my head."
So Joseph said, "Let me tell you the meaning." He said, "Baker, those three baskets represent three days. In three days Pharaoh is going to hang you on a tree and the birds are going to come and eat your flesh."
That was a bit depressing for the baker.
But he said to the butler that he had better news for him. He said, "In three days Pharaoh will restore you to your position and you will serve him once again as his private cupbearer and you will serve him wine, the juice from the grapes of the vine. And when that happens, butler, remember me and ask Pharaoh to release me."
Well the butler was restored and the baker was hung, as Joseph had said. But when the butler got back into Pharaoh's palace, he totally forgot about Joseph. At least he forgot about him for two years.
And after two years the king was having dreams that nobody could interpret. One of the dreams was that there were seven lean cows that came up out of the River Nile. Pharaoh was sitting by the Nile - first seven fat cows came up out of the Nile and then seven lean cows came up out of the Nile and they ate the seven fat cows and they remained seven lean cows.
And Pharaoh woke up and said, "What in the world was that all about?"
Then he had another dream. This time there were seven heads of good grain on a stalk and then there were seven shrivelled head of grain on another stock. And those seven shrivelled heads ate the seven thick heads and remained seven shrivelled heads.
And Pharaoh woke up again. He called in his wise men. Nobody could interpret the dream. Everybody was getting tense. Pharaoh wasn't happy. And the butler remembered Joseph. And he said, "There is a man in prison who interpreted dreams accurately. Bring him out and tell him your dream."
And so he brought him out, gave him a shower, cleaned him up it says, put some new clothes on him and brought him to Pharaoh. And I love what Joseph said to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:16. He said,
" 'I cannot do it,' Joseph replied to Pharaoh, 'but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.'"
And then he explained what God had shown him. He said, "Both dreams are saying the same thing. There are going to be seven years of plenty, fat cows, thick ears - seven years of it. And then there are going to follow seven years of famine - the seven lean cows, the seven shrivelled ears. And Egypt will go into bankruptcy and disaster unless during the seven years of plenty you prepare for the seven years of famine." And he said, "What I advise you to do is to put somebody in charge to prepare for the years when the famine come."
And Genesis 41:37 says this:
"The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, 'Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?'"
You know Joseph was the first person in the Bible to be described as a man "in whom is the spirit of God".
Pharaoh recognizes something about this man that is not human. God is present.
"And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.'
"So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.'"
Then Pharaoh gave him a ring, he gave him a job, he gave him a house and he gave him a wife. And he is now thirty years of age. It's thirteen years since his brothers sold him so far.
Well the seven years of abundance followed and the land produced plenty and they built storehouses to store it all. And then they stopped keeping record because there was so much and they stored so much.
And in those seven years Joseph fathered two sons and he gave them interesting names, significant names. The first he called Manasseh which means "God has made me forget all my troubles." And the second one he called Ephraim, which means "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."
Now this is only half way through the story but he has named his two sons after the two defining things in Joseph's life - troubles and sufferings. These are the things that have defined him up until now. So he names his boys after that.
And then the seven years of famine hit after the seven years of plenty. But everything in Egypt was fine; it was hunky dory because they had all these barns filled with excess grain and so on.
But nearby in the land of Canaan, where the famine also hit and they had no advance warning, the food began to run out.
And two years into the famine, Joseph got a message: "There are some men from Canaan who have come to buy food. Would you see them?"
"Yes, I will see them," said Joseph.
And into his presence walked his brothers. He hadn't seen them now for 22 years. And they bowed down before him. And Joseph probably said, "Uh-oh, deja-vu. I saw this in my dream. And they are coming and bowing down, asking for my sheaves of corn."
He didn't tell them who he was at first. If you know the story, which I won't go into the details of, he teased them for a little while and then eventually sent them back home, didn't know who he was.
And they came back again, and eventually in Genesis 45, they were in front of him and he told all his servants to leave and closed the doors. And when they did, Joseph said to his brothers (Genesis 45:4),
" 'Come close to me.' And when they had done so, he said, 'I am your brother Joseph who 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.
" 'For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
" 'So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.'"
Up until now he has defined his life in the names he gave his two sons - troubles and suffering. But now as time goes on he begins to see in retrospect something else is going on. The troubles and sufferings of these past 25 years have been under the hand of God.
I love the way he says in Verse 5, "You sold me but God sent me."
As a young man is acknowledging God and God has directed his paths. Now in Egypt he is beginning to see a picture that has the fingerprints of God all over it. Through his troubles, through his suffering, "I can see now coming into focus a picture."
He sent his brothers back home to get their father and bring them back and all their families. And all 70 of them - that was the extent of the family with wives and children and grandchildren - they came back. Pharaoh was delighted because Joseph was the saviour of Egypt and gave them some beautiful land on the Nile Delta, a place called Goshen.
And they lived there fore 17 years until Jacob died, their father died. And after he died, he wanted to be buried back in Canaan; they took him back to Canaan to bury him.
And then when they came back after burying their father, the brothers started to get a bit nervous. And they began to say to themselves, "you know, maybe Joseph was kind to us while our father was alive, but now that our father has died, maybe he is going to start to get revenge.
Let me read you in Genesis 50:15, it says,
"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, 'What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?'
"So they sent word to Joseph,"
(This is very crafty.)
"They sent word to Joseph saying, 'Your father left these instructions before he died: He said, "This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they have committed in treating you so badly. Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father."
"He probably forgot to tell you, Joseph, but he told us to tell you; you are to forgive us."
I love what Joseph said in response in Verse 19:
"Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended 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.'"
Joseph is now 54 years old. It is 37 years since his brothers sold him as a slave. And he says, "Hey, don't be afraid. You intended to harm me. I know your hearts were wicked. You intended to harm me. But my life has been at the disposal of somebody bigger than you. God intended it for good."
It doesn't mean it was the will of God to sell him as a slave, that the brothers were having their quiet time, their devotions that morning and they said, "God, what is Your will for us today?" And they heard a voice saying, "Get hold of Joseph and sell him as a slave, make 20 pieces of silver on him."
"Okay, alright, what are we going to tell our father?"
"Kill a goat and cover his coat in blood and tell your father a big whopping lie that he has been killed by a wild animal."
"Oh, really, is that what You want us to do?"
"Yes, go and do it."
That isn't what happened. They were evil. And we will talk about this on another week. Scripture says even the wrath of men will praise Him.
Their intention was evil but Joseph now is seeing a picture - it was the saving of your lives. Well, actually that was true, that was good. But you know, as I said before, as the heavens are higher than the earth, depends where you look.
This is just the planetary look; this is the kind of - in light years, this is 66 hours only out to Pluto, this is the first picture. It's a good picture. It's the saving of your lives; you got some food, that's great.
But there was a bigger picture; there was galaxy picture as well. And that was - and Joseph didn't know this till years later, though he knew it was going to come - and that was that in Goshen they would incubate a nation in a foreign land, in the womb of Egypt itself, the nation that would become known as the nation of Israel. So far just a family - 70 people - and in the years they were there, they multiplied to a least 2 million.
I know of course that later generations did not remember Joseph and they turned the Israelites into slaves. But nevertheless God was incubating a nation to send that nation back under Moses and then Joshua to occupy the land.
That's the galaxy picture, but what's the universal picture? That the promise He made to Abraham would come to fulfillment, that the seed of Abraham would bless all the nations of the earth. And the seed of Abraham was to be the Messiah centuries later.
Now it is encouraging to get the planetary picture - oh yeah, this is so big - 66 hours in light years - it's to save your lives, give you food.
There is the galaxy picture - 100,000 light years across - wow, it's to incubate the nation (Joseph didn't see this yet) - to go back and be the people of God in the place God had promised them.
But there is a universal picture that is 156 billion light years across that says this is about the salvation of the world through the coming of the Messiah, the seed of Abraham.
You see all God wants of you is to be in the right place at the right time and let Him deal with the right purpose.
You know let me say this gently and with due respect, God is not tiptoeing around us to make life nice and comfortable for us as though we were the center, the whole object of the will of God is to give you a good life.
One of the reasons martyrs have a special place in heaven according to the book of Revelation is probably because they had such a rough time down here, it wasn't a good life for them.
But God's will is giving us the privilege of being caught up in His purpose, which is bigger than us, it's bigger than what's at the end of our noses; it's as the heavens are higher than the earth, it's planetary, it's galactic, it's universal. Because "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways than your ways."
Michael Selwyn Hughes - I was reading this, this week - gives a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher in the 19th Century. He was not a believer but he made a very wise statement I am going to quote to you. He said, "Believe what the years and the centuries say against what the hours and minutes say."
Isn't that a good statement? Believe what the years and the centuries say against what the minutes and the hours say.
And Selwyn Hughes adds this: "What do the hours say? They tell us that things are very uncertain. What do the years and the centuries say? They tell us that a sovereign God is working and that we belong to a kingdom that is unshakable."
When you and I are bothered by what the minutes and the hours say, we need to stand back and say, "God I want to thank You, You work in a big picture."
What are the years, what are the centuries saying?
And Selwyn Hughes goes on to say, "The more time we devote to God's Word, the more unshakable we will be in times of trouble and confusion because when you deal with this Book, you are not just dealing with the minutes and the hours, you are dealing with the years and the centuries."
And you say, "When I look at the big picture, the centuries tell me everything is fine as far the purposes of God are concerned, as far as the workings of God are concerned. But when I live in the minute and the hour, it can be like Joseph - troubles and suffering."
Believe what the years and the centuries say against the hours and the minutes.
Let me finish with this. Some years ago I was in Liberia in West Africa. I was there to speak at a conference of missionaries who work with SIM and they had a strong missionary force there at that stage. But in the 90's (and this was back in the early 90's) Liberia went through a tragic time of civil war and decimation and it's getting over that now but it was a very, very hard period.
But the church in Liberia has been numerically strong. I was taken to speak in churches that had a lot of people there. And one day at the conference one of the missionaries said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of why the church in Liberia is strong?"
I said, "Yes, tell me."
He said, "No, I won't tell you; I will show you. When have you got a couple of hours free? Are you free this afternoon?"
I said, "Yes."
He took me in his car and we drove into the city of Monrovia, the capital city (we were just outside of Monrovia for this conference). We drove into the downtown section and we pulled up outside an old church, built in stone, had been there for probably a couple of centuries.
We didn't go into the church; we went round the back of it where there was a cemetery, an old cemetery. We went up to a grave and a tombstone and he said, "Read that." And there were names. They were western names - a father, a mother, three children. They had all died within a few months of each other.
He said, "They were only here in Liberia for a matter of months. They came as missionaries in the 19th Century. Their bodies did not have the resistance to the diseases of West Africa, which they had never encountered before. They hadn't built resistance to that and so they succumbed. Notice it's the children that died first, then the mother and the father."
We went to the next. He moved me down. We saw another tombstone, another family. He said, "The whole family is buried there. They died within 18 months of arriving here in West Africa."
Went to another one, another family of missionaries and he showed me the gravestones of 19th Century missionaries who had died. He said, "They never stayed here long. They didn't see very much happen."
Back at home I can imagine grandparents were heartbroken. Their son, daughter had gone with a family to West Africa. The grandchildren had died. They probably said back home, "What a foolish thing to have done with their children."
But he said, "Do you know why the church is what it is in Liberia today? Because these people came and they allowed themselves to die prematurely to bring the Gospel to this land, that at that stage, the Gospel had never come."
Did they ever see the picture? Of course they didn't. But I will tell you this: the day is going to come when they will know the whole story. And they might say, like Joseph, to the elements and diseases of West Africa, "you meant evil against me, but God was doing something and it was good."
Don't believe what the hours say; believe what the centuries say, that God is working not to a timetable that is three score years and ten, the span of a human life. God is working to a timetable that is much, much bigger than that.
And by the way, what is God doing in your life? There is a very, very good chance you have no idea at all, except this: if you acknowledge Him in all your ways, you trust Him, you love Him, you pursue Him in His Word, you pursue Him in your fellowship and relationship with Him, you can be sure of this: though I cannot explain it to anybody else, I can go to bed at night, put my head on the pillow and say, "Lord, there is troubles, there is suffering perhaps, as Joseph said, but Father, thank You, You are working out purposes. They are not about me having a nice easy life, but about Your kingdom and Your sovereignty and Your agenda, that long, long after I have gone, will be blessing the world and blessing people in some way.
We are going to get down to talking about what about how do I discern what I need to know about this life? How do I seek guidance? But you will only understand that if we get the big picture first. And the big picture is not about the will of God for me; it's about the will of God for God. And that's where we find our significance and that's where we find our meaning and that's what gets us up in the morning with a spring in our step. God is doing something and my life is significant because of it.
Let's pray together. I don't know where you are this morning. I don't know whether you perhaps even know God and know Jesus Christ. And some of you perhaps are here today and you need to simply say, "Lord, I want to give my life to You because I find my meaning and my purpose in living a life that is surrendered to You as my Lord and my Saviour." You can do that this morning.
But there are others of us here and if you were to name children after your life's experience, you might name them what Joseph named his sons - they were about troubles and suffering.
You need to ask God to give you a bigger perspective and not measure by the years but measure by the centuries - not measure by the hours; measure by the centuries - and realize that God in His wonderful sovereign purposes is bringing about that which is good.
"You meant evil against me." You might apply that to all kinds of people - in your home, in your workplace, in your past - "you meant evil." But here is your security: God is working out that which is good. Will you trust Him and lean not on your own understanding?
Father, I pray for every person in this building this morning, everyone listening to my voice whether here or through television, wherever they are, that by the Holy Spirit You will minister the big picture comfort. Your ways are not our ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. But Your wisdom that determines Your ways is as much higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth. Help us to rest in this, we pray. In Jesus' Name, Amen.