Bible Study

Taking the Long View

"His way always is best." by Commissioner Robert E. Thomson

True Christians have confidence that God’s plans always will prevail, and that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). But in this day of instant gratification, it’s all too easy to expect that the ultimate good will be accomplished without discomfort and without delay. That this is not necessarily so is evident from the way the Almighty has dealt with His people throughout history.

Consider, for example, the experience of Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob. In his address to the Sanhedrin, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, sums up Joseph’s experience in two sentences: “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles” (Acts 7:9-10a).

It sounds like an easy fix. But the story of Joseph’s life, with all his struggles, covers fourteen chapters in the book of Genesis. It describes his sale to strangers by his jealous brothers; his servitude as a slave in the household of Potiphar, a captain of the Egyptian guard; the false accusations against him by Potiphar’s wife; his unjust imprisonment; his use of God-given insight to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams; his rise to power; and his eventual forgiveness of his brothers.

It is notable that in each phase of his life, Joseph knew the presence and the blessing of God. In Potiphar’s house, “the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered” (Genesis 39:2).  When Joseph was in prison, “the Lord was with Him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21). And when he was named the second-most-powerful man in Egypt (subservient only to the Pharaoh), God continued to bless him.

Joseph was seventeen years old when he was sold by his brothers. He was thirty years old when he was honored by the Pharaoh. God was utterly faithful, but Joseph waited thirteen years—thirteen years of pain prior to prosperity, thirteen years of suffering before finding satisfaction, thirteen years of hardship preceding honor—to finally arrive at the place God had selected for him. So, too, must even the most devout Christians sometimes wait to discover the mysterious ways in which is God is bringing to fruition His divine and perfect will in their lives.

In recent years, Christians often have quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to describe God’s faithfulness: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Like all of God’s promises, it can be depended upon. But those who quote this text often overlook the preceding verse, Jeremiah 29:10: “This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.’”

It was a promise for good, but a promise that would take seventy years to fulfill! In 2022 we must be aware that God is faithful, but not always is He in a hurry to answer our prayers and to make good on His promises. Some years ago, an American Salvation Army officer was assigned to teach at a boys’ school in Africa. The first year was extremely difficult. “Our boys seemed so indifferent and unreceptive to the gospel,” the Captain lamented. “Many of their parents had been won to Christ at this same school, yet these young intellectuals were unreachable.”

“One evening I was walking along the dusty road that follows the crown of our hill,” he continued. “The sunset, with its spectacular colors, painted the palm trees with glistening shades of red and gold. I was deeply lost in my thoughts and didn’t notice the sandaled feet walking beside me. It was Matthew, our corps sergeant-major (chief layman) and school handyman.”

“‘Captain,’ he said, pointing across the valley, ‘do you see those mango trees over there? They have been growing many, many years. They were planted by the first missionaries, but now you can see that at last they are beginning to bear fruit. 

“’Your boys,’ he continued, ‘are much like those trees. Don’t be discouraged. The fruit will be there.’

“I remembered his words on a Sunday morning,” the Captain said, “as I watched many of our boys in the fourth form make their way to the altar. I remembered his words as the boys, in the cool of the evening, began to come to my office to talk about spiritual things.”

We may not always be able to discern how God is working in our lives. But we have His promise, given to Moses (Deuteronomy 31:6): “He will never leave you nor forsake you,” and repeated in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

With such a promise, we can be content to follow God’s leading, knowing that even when answers seem a long time in coming, His way always is best. 

Commissioner Robert E. Thomson, whose articles appear periodically in the War Cry, lives in retirement in Clearwater, FL.