“For I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! His work is perfect, for ALL His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” ~Deuteronomy 32:4
Earlier this year while going through Genesis at our church, we were studying the life of Joseph, and what God was not only teaching him but also teaching us through Joseph’s life. At first, I was struck by the contrast between Joseph’s heart for God and the condition he regularly found himself in.
We had just finished learning about Judah, a man who seemed to escape quite a bit of trouble, even though he was selfish and self-righteous, sinning against God by having a great disregard for God’s Word and law as well as consistently exhibiting a lack of trust in God. When learning about Joseph next, the dissimilarity between Judah’s circumstances and Joseph’s could not be greater. Joseph, unlike Judah, was a man intent on yielding himself to God, to doing His will, and to purposing to worship God with his whole life. Yet again and again, he found himself in discouraging and what seemed very unjust circumstances.
Thinking about Joseph’s life reminded me a lot of Chris’s. I reflected on how Chris lived with a passion for Christ. He loved to share the gospel; he loved to serve the body of Christ through his work at HSLDA; he laid down his life regularly for me and our children, choosing to die to self to show his love for us.
Looking at both Joseph’s and Chris’s circumstances and how God chose to place them both in prison has been hard for me to swallow at times (Joseph was in a literal prison for 13 years; Chris was in a bodily prison for 15 years). God’s ways are so much higher than ours, and I’ve met with little success in trying to understand Him. Some things must wait for heaven to receive an explanation that here on earth we’re incapable of comprehending.
Yet, in God’s mercy I did come away with an understanding which has been a balm to my soul repeatedly. Between Judah and Joseph, who was really in prison? It is true that Joseph was ill-treated again and again and put in jail, but God was with him. He was shown the Lord’s kindness and he experienced the nearness of God that Judah, in all his selfish “free” pursuits never experienced.
Judah was the one who was really in prison! Joseph was free in God. And, like Joseph, even though Chris was in the prison of his own body (he never, ever had a break from the MS, even in his sleep), God was very much with him. The Lord’s consolations were his delight. His Word empowered him. Chris’s future was secure and his worst problem, his sin, had been nailed to the cross.
Genesis 39:21a says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.”
I think I can safely say that to Chris, God’s nearness and love were worth more than having a healthy body without His Lord’s very near presence. Who can place a greater value on anything else? Oh, to have the steadfast love of our God! It is our greatest reward! Even in affliction, persecution, famine or death, we can be rich in the love of God for us in Christ Jesus.
God is merciful and mindful, however, that we are but dust, and promises to never give us more than we can bear. All His ways are just, for He is righteous and upright. And even in the loss of health, work, home, close relationships (were any or all of these ever to happen to us), we can still be fruitful for the Lord. “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” ~Genesis 41:52
Two Christian sisters, both very dear to me, are in the “land of affliction” right now. One is preparing to leave this life and join her beloved Savior. One is pressing on in the bodily “prison” God has allowed her to inhabit for many, many years and is now facing yet another adversity. Yet both are examples to me of Genesis 41:52—being fruitful; fruitful in hope and trust in God, fruitful in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, fruitful in rejoicing in the reward of Christ, their Savior.
Sono Harris is a beautiful, godly wife, mother and grandmother who has exhibited a deep, genuine love for Christ to her whole family for many years, yet who now also speaks joyfully about seeing Jesus soon. She is shortly to gain her greatest reward—“at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” ~Psalm 16:11
Joni Eareckson Tada was a personal friend of Chris’s but is also a true godly hero to us both. The Lord used her gentle, gracious testimony to spur Chris on to continued trust in God when, the last years of his life, the MS made everything more and more difficult. By her example, she challenged him to speak loudly and boldly in proclaiming the gospel—through pain, through falls and through increasing inability to do even basic things with his body.
And now Joni is facing a new battle with breast cancer. Even still, her testimony, like Sono’s, is an unwavering acknowledgement of God’s gracious, sovereign love. She even sees the cancer as an opportunity to encourage others as her and Ken’s faith are strengthened by the Lord through this.
My heart is heavy and I am praying for them both, but I do so with the full assurance that God’s work is perfect and all His ways are just. How faithful is He whom we have entrusted ourselves and the lives of those we care for so deeply. To You, Lord, I ascribe greatness—
“The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name.” ~Psalm 111:7-9