All people encounter difficulties in life, this holds true for both believers and unbelievers. As believers we may at times find ourselves in difficulty because of our commitment to God; as we walk in obedience to Him it leads us into trouble. This should not surprise us, Jesus said that His followers would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). The apostle Paul wrote that all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). These verses, though addressed to people in the first century, have
When we encounter difficulties we can become very focused on them. This is true for at least two reasons, first because they are painful, and
In the Bible we find examples of people who could see beyond their immediate circumstances, they could see the bigger picture. Perhaps they saw it in retrospect, that is, “after the fact,” but at least they saw it. Some of us miss the bigger picture because we are too taken up with the circumstances of our own lives. In the remainder of this
One Old Testament character who was able to see the bigger picture was Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was the favored son in the family (Gen. 37:4). When he was young he brought his father a bad report about his brothers (Gen. 37:2). Because of these things his brothers could not stand him, the NIV translation of Genesis 37:4 says “they hated him.” In
The cumulative weight of all of these things turned the negative feelings of Joseph’s brothers toward him into action. They sold him to the Midianites (Gen. 37:28) who in turn took him to Egypt and there sold him to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh (Gen.37:36). Joseph went from being the favored son to being a servant; that was quite a comedown. However, wherever Joseph went he proved to be a quality person. He earned the favor of his master, Potiphar (Gen. 39:4). Later, when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of making sexual advances toward her he was put in prison (and it was not an overnight stay!). While he was in prison he found favor in the eyes of the warden of the prison (Gen. 39:21). The favor Joseph received was because God was with him (Gen. 39:2, 21).
However, while he was in prison he saw what he hoped would be an opportunity for him to get out. Joseph had accurately interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners (Gen.40:4-22). The one who survived, the chief cupbearer, was supposed to speak to Pharaoh about Joseph (Gen. 40:14), but he forgot to do it (Gen. 40:23). He did not remember until two years later (Gen. 41:1). The thing that jarred his memory was that Pharaoh had dreams he did not understand (Gen. 41:1-8). When the cupbearer mentioned to Pharaoh that Joseph had accurately interpreted his dream and the dream of the baker Joseph was called to appear before Pharaoh. Joseph, with the help of God, interpreted his
After some time, due to the famine, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to get food (Gen. 42:1-3). They appeared before Joseph and bowed down before him, just as he had seen in his dreams (Gen. 37:5-9). When his brothers appeared before him they do not recognize him (Gen. 42:8). They appeared before him a number of times. Eventually, Joseph made himself known to his brothers (Gen. 45:3-4). After he did this he tried to comfort them (Gen. 45:5). He told them not to be angry with themselves for what they had done to him (Gen. 45:5). He assured them more than once that God had sent him to Egypt so save lives (Gen. 45:5, 7). He could see the bigger picture. Whether he realized it in that moment, or it had occurred to him prior to that time, we cannot say for sure. But this was the big issue.
After their father Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared their lives were in danger. They thought that Joseph would take revenge on them. In view of this they threw themselves down before him (Gen. 50: 18). But here too he affirmed that God was the one who sent him to Egypt. He said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20 NIV).
Joseph was able to look beyond his own personal experience. He did not focus on the time he spent as a servant, his imprisonment, nor did he did seek revenge. He was able to do this, at least in part, because he saw the bigger picture; He saw what God had done in all that had transpired. His experiences, though difficult for him, benefited many others. God had used it all. We could say that it was easy for Joseph to be kind and gracious to his brothers because his circumstances had turned around, he was now in a place of comfort, position, and power. As the text of Genesis 45:5-9 makes clear Joseph was very God-centered. Like Joseph, we too, need to be very God-centered. If we are, we will more likely see the bigger picture and not just the challenging aspects of our own lives.
In the New Testament we also find an individual who could see the bigger picture. The apostle Paul spent most of his time traveling, preaching the gospel, and establishing churches. His goal was to finish what Jesus had given him to do (Acts 20:24). As he pursued this goal he was no stranger to trouble. If you read through Acts or 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 you will see he encountered a lot of difficulties. In most cases he was able to move on from the trouble. But then something happened. He was in Jerusalem and was falsely accused of a number of things including defiling the Temple. Some claimed he defiled the Temple by bringing a Gentile into it (Acts 21:28). This led to Paul appearing before a number of different “courts.” As a result of the pressures that were put on him, he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12) and was sent to Rome (Acts 27:1). Once in Rome he was held under house arrest (Acts 28:16).
Being in chains hindered his movements but not his ministry (see Acts 28:30-31). He spoke to all who came to him (Acts 28:30) but he could not go to others. This may have been a bit frustrating to him. But in spite of his less than ideal circumstances he could see some good that came from it. In addition to his own preaching (which was geographically limited) others were now speaking up for Christ (Phil. 1:14)! More people were actively talking about Jesus, there were multiple preachers on the scene. This also means that more people were hearing about Jesus. And, this came about because of Paul’s adverse circumstances. This was a good development, even though some of the preachers had less than pure motives (Phil. 1:15-17). But Paul rejoiced because Christ was being preached (Phil. 1:18)
At the time Paul observed this taking place his circumstances had not changed. Unlike Joseph who had risen to prominence Paul was still in custody. But he has a good perspective, he could see the bigger picture. It takes a special kind of awareness to see the positive in a negative situation. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, everything works together for good for those who love God. We need to look for the good that is happening in and around our personal circumstances, which may be less than ideal.
Jesus said that He and His Father are always working (John 5:17). Do we really believe that? Are we looking for the bigger picture? Are we looking beyond our own personal circumstances? Joseph did it and Paul did it so we know it can be done. It is a good quality to have, or if need be cultivate. Sometimes the bigger picture is easy to see, at other times it may take a bit of effort to discern. However, it is worth the effort. It helps us to know that some of the adversities (“setbacks”) we suffer are not in vain, it also helps us see some of the blessings of God that we might otherwise miss. May God help us to see the bigger picture!
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.