Last time we looked at the issues of following God’s will in contrast to the disasters of following our own understanding. Today, let’s talk about the mix up we get into when we try to follow God’s will using human methods. A quick illustration of this would be inviting people to church. We know that God wants us to bring people to hear about Him, we would be using the wrong method if we put a gun to their heads and forced them to attend. While usually our blunders are not this dramatic, let’s look at the life of Abraham’s grand children to see where we can improve our actions.

What if I know God’s will and get tired of waiting?

Isaac (son of Abraham and Sarah) and his wife Rebecca were expecting. Before she gave birth, she asked God why she was having so many complications. The Lord told her she was going to have two sons who would found nations. He informed her that the younger one would take authority over the older one. In ancient culture, as in many today, the older son became the family leader after the father passed on. Yet God told her of a reversal here with these two boys (Genesis 25:23-27).

They named the younger boy “Heel Grabber” (Jacob) because he was hanging onto his brother’s heel when they were born. Jacob grew up knowing that he would lead the family. Esau, the older twin, did not like this idea and found himself at odds with his kid brother many times. Esau liked to live outdoors and do rough, manly things. Jacob preferred to read Taste of Home magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. One day, after Esau had come home from an unsuccessful hunting trip, he found Jacob cooking up a new recipe. Esau told him he was about to die from not eating and needed some of that food. Jacob saw this as an opportunity to get ahead in life. He offered to give him the stew if Esau would surrender the right of inheritance to Jacob. After a struggle, Esau conceded, and Jacob won.

Now, Jacob just did what too many people do. He thought he knew God’s will. His mother had already told him he would rule over his brother. However, Jacob set out to fulfill his purpose by a wrong method: manipulation. Jacob, the heel grabber, tripped his brother so he could get ahead in life. God wants to bless you, but you should not use backstreet methods to get your blessing. You believe God wants you to get a promotion at work, so do you talk bad about the other contenders for the job so they will not get your spot? That would be God’s will by man’s methods.

When Isaac lay dying, he called for Esau and told him he wanted to give him the blessing of Grandpa Abraham. First, he wanted Esau to go kill him a deer and bring home venison stew, and then he would bless his oldest son. Rebecca overheard the dying wish of Isaac and got Jacob in the kitchen to cook up some goat stew (which takes a lot like venison). She wrapped Jacob’s arms with goatskins so his arms would feel like Esau’s hairy arms. Jacob put on Esau’s clothes and brought the stew to his father. Jacob was doing all this to get the blessing God had promised him. Yet he lied to his father about his identity and took advantage of the old man’s failing sight. Isaac blessed Jacob by mistake, and told him he would be ruler over his brother. You would think Jacob would be happy now—he’s got the inheritance and the blessing of father Abraham. So why do we see him packing up quickly and running for his life?

Jacob goes to serve a man named Laban. Here, Jacob gets paybacks for all his deceit and manipulation. Laban tricks him into marrying both of his daughters, and during the 20 years Jacob worked for him, Laban changed his wages 10 times. Finally, Jacob hears from God and follows Him back to his homeland.

This time, Jacob has changed his ways. He comes home to enter life through the front door, not sneak in the back door, so to speak. Yet on the way, he hears that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob gets desperate and gets a hold of God one night (Genesis 32:9-12). When an angel appears to speak with him, Jacob grabs him and wrestles him until he is blessed (32:24-28). Through clenched teeth, you can almost hear Jacob groaning, “I don’t know how to do this, but I want God’s blessing on my life.” Injured from that fight, Jacob becomes a broken man. He resolves to face his brother like a man and not set a trap or trick him in any way. Jacob gives his brother a generous gift and approaches him not knowing the outcome of this encounter. Jacob, unarmed, approaches his big, mad brother who has a 400-man escort. Esau runs and hugs Jacob and weeps on his shoulder (Genesis 33:1-4).

Jacob’s name had changed during the night. The Lord changed the name of the “Heel Grabber” to Israel, “God’s Prince.” God also has a new name for a person who learns to stop using human reasoning and chooses to live by God’s methods. The Name we want to wear is Jesus—the only man who ever lived a life totally by divine means.

God may promise a person to give them a happy home and good marriage, but hanging out at the bar to find the right someone seems a lot like Jacob’s way of doing business. An Israel kind of person seeks God and His kingdom first, while looking for a future spouse who does the same. Old Jacob may have lied to get a loan or filed bankruptcy to avoid a difficult situation. The Israel nature, however, follows God’s principles of hard work, saving, and wise spending.

Does Christianity really make a difference?

After Jacob’s encounter with God, he limped for the rest of his life. Once a person has a life-changing experience with God, others should see the difference in how they walk. Many people who call themselves Christians have only had an experience with a church. A strong believer has come “face-to-face” with God at some point. You can easily follow God’s plan if you know Him.

What if people make it hard for me to live for God?

One of Jacob’s twelve sons came to him one day and said he had dreamed about the whole family bowing down to him. His father rejected that notion and told him to smarten up. This young man Joseph had another dream about his brothers all bowing to him and he told them about it, making them angry. Jacob’s first reaction was to think that the kid was being cocky. Then he thought he situation over. Perhaps Jacob remembered himself being a small boy, growing up knowing that God had a plan for his life (Genesis 37:6-11)

Most likely Jacob warned his son not to try to make God’s will happen by selfish means. Joseph grew up to be a good worker who loved to help his dad. The other brothers hated him because of his dreams and because their dad favored Joseph over the others. One day they threw him in a pit and later sold him as a slave.

The typical thing for a person to do in this situation is say, “Forget those stupid dreams! If God really loved me He wouldn’t have let this happen to me.” Instead, Joseph took the challenge like a man. When his new master handed him a mop, he scrubbed until every hall squeaked. When they handed him the bottle of Windex, he made every window streak-free clean. Joseph did so well at this job he never wanted, God promoted him to head of the whole house (Genesis 39:1-4).

Just when Joseph started adjusting to this new life, the boss’s wife got the hots for him. He tried to discourage her advances, but one day she had schemed too well. With her husband out of town and all the guys working outside, she pulled him into her bedroom. He could have easily given in to doing things by man’s plan at this point. After all, where was God? And how would his father or brothers ever know what he had done to condemn his behavior? Yet Joseph knew that life only makes sense when we live by God’s methods even when no one is looking.

Joseph resisted this desperate housewife, and she smeared his name so bad he got sent to jail for trying to rape her. Now at this point, you would expect young Joe to give up. He has lost his family and now everyone thinks he is a thug. Sitting in a jail cell, it would have been perfectly natural for him to give up on life. Instead of giving up, he picked up the broom and went to work. He chose to be the best man in whatever situation he found himself. He did not whine and complain for fair treatment. He just kept living who he was regardless of what others thought. Soon, he became head trustee of the jail (Genesis 39:21-23).

One day, two men showed up from the king’s court, being tried for a conspiracy. They both had dreams their first night there and Joseph heard them talking. It would have been normal for a person to say, “Dreams? You think your dreams mean something? Forget it! I had some great dreams, but now I’ve had my wake up call.” Instead, he asked them their dreams, and God gave Joseph understanding to explain these visions.

A couple years later, the king of Egypt had a dream and could not find anyone to explain it to him. One of those men, who had been cleared of his charges, remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him. Joseph told the king that his dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows was a prophecy that the land would have seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. The king hired Joseph to manage the grain silos of the country so that they would have enough food to survive the coming shortage. Joseph became second in command to Pharaoh, head over all the country.

Our humble little Joseph got to this point by living out godly character in little things. Because he chose God’s ways instead of man’s plans, Joseph went to the head of the class. What promotion does God want to bring to your life? What might you do to be more on par with His expectations?

Why does God forget His promises?

God never promised to make Joseph head of Egypt. He said Joseph would be head over his brothers, and they would bow to him. After leading the country for nine years, Joseph stays busy full time making sure everyone gets a sufficient ration of grain. One day, the crier announces travelers from Canaan at Joseph’s throne room. Joseph steps out to meet these men and there stand his brothers. They do not recognize him now. They bow down to him, since he has the authority of Pharaoh (and they did not know any different). At that moment, Joseph “remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them” (Genesis 42:9).

When it seemed like God had forgotten His own will for Joseph, He had been slowly working out the plan day by day, year by year. What looked like a mixed-up life turned out to be the perfect will of God. What did Joseph do to make God’s will happen? Did he deceive? Did he manipulate? No, he just pursued excellent character—doing God’s will in the little things. And God brought His big plan to pass unassisted by anyone.

When do I need to know the will of God?

Usually, we seek God’s will in the big stuff: marriage, jobs, home. When we seek Him in the little stuff like kind words, faithful giving, patient parenting, and compassion for others, He will fulfill our destinies. Life is not something we have to force; it comes by God’s grace when we put Him first in every word, every action, and every thought. This enduring life follows the principles of this passage:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:7-9)

What have you been sowing in the hour-by-hour processes of life? If we waste our employer’s time and resources, we are sowing to destruction. If we let children raise themselves without giving them creative leadership and instruction in godliness, we are sowing a world of hurt. If we lie on the tax return, God will not mock Himself by blessing us with more money. We must not grow weary in doing good, it took many years before Joseph saw that God really did notice his strong character. When we take care of the little things, God will take care of the big—if we do not quit in the process.

Next time…

We will talk about how to live God’s plan toward people who have intentionally wronged you. How does Joseph cope with these cruel brothers who treated him wrong but now come asking for his help to feed themselves?