I love roller coasters. At least I did before I got older and could only tolerate a maximum of three rides in succession before I needed to take a bit of a break. But my age is a different topic!
Anyhow, the great thing about roller coasters is that they start off slow and low, but then they click, click, click up to the top of a hill and then they fly through loops and corkscrews and dips and heights and falls! They’re exhilarating, they’re exciting, and most times they’re unexpected. In fact, the unexpected element of them is what makes them so great!
The same is true of life. Life is unexpected. Life doesn’t go the way we want it to. In fact, the unexpected element of life is what makes it so great!
So by now you may be shaking your head. You may be in silent disagreement. You may be in not-so-silent disagreement. You may even have stopped reading. But … please hang with me, because I want to encourage you to look at life as unexpected. I want to charge you to be comfortable with the unexpected. I want to motivate you to expect the unexpected!
There are numerous examples of the unexpected in the Bible. Perhaps none are as vivid as the story of Joseph. From Genesis 37:18-20, 26-28, we read a little of the lead-in to Joseph’s unexpected journey.
When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty piecesof silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
It’s probably not surprising that being nearly killed and instead sold into slavery was rather unexpected to Joseph. One day he’s out tending his father’s flocks in Shechem and the next … he’s a slave, being carted off to Egypt and sold. Admittedly, Joseph instigated his brothers with a haughty spirit and was the favorite of the father, Jacob, and flaunted it. This had very unexpected consequences. But that isn’t where the unexpected ended in Joseph’s life. It was just the beginning. Perhaps many of you already know the story, but Joseph becomes quite important in the house of Potiphar the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. Unexpected! He then is falsely accused of trying to rape Potiphar’s wife and is sentenced to imprisonment. Unexpected! He becomes the right-hand guy to the warden in the prison. Unexpected! Next, he has the good fortune to be used of God to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and chief baker. Unexpected! But he gets double-crossed by the cup-bearer and left in prison. Unexpected. Finally, he is asked to interpret Pharaoh’s own dreams, leading to Joseph predicting and helping prepare Egypt for an oncoming seven-year famine. Un … ex … pected!
And even that is not where the unexpected ends in Joseph’s life. As he ascends to the second-highest position of power in Egypt, the famine God foretold to Joseph began to spread to the land where Joseph’s family was. In order to save the family, Jacob’s other sons depart for Egypt to obtain food, in the process unwittingly encountering their brother Joseph, who recognized his brothers though they don’t recognize him. Unexpected!
No doubt for those of us who read the story of Joseph the first time, we would say his life was a reflection of all things unexpected. At various points of his life I suspect it is safe to say that Joseph lamented, pouted, cried, pitched a fit, yelled out to God. All of that. We’re probably accurate in that assessment (though scripture is silent as to those things) simply because Joseph, like you and me, was human. Those responses would be very appropriate for a human going through such unexpected times and struggles. Had that been you and me, I suspect we would have had all those responses. Heck, for me, I would likely have packed it up and given up long before we read the end of Joseph’s saga. But not Joseph. He leaned into the unexpected, prepared for it, expected it, and made the most of it. We see this when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and after all the bad they’d intended to do to him, when he has ALL the authority and power in Egypt to exact chilling revenge on them, we see something quite unexpected! (Genesis 50:19-20)
But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.
Did you catch that? Joseph, after all he’d been through, at the hands of his brothers in many ways, expresses probably one of the most important truths that you and I can grab from the unexpected. It’s pretty much captured in two words in the above … “God intended.” When we go through the unexpected, it’s pivotal for us to remember that it’s unexpected only to us. It is NOT unexpected to God. So, you say, God sure sounds mean and frivolous. Well, not so much. For that, it’s captured in the two words later in that same line, “for good.” God intended it all for good.
What was unexpected for Joseph, Jacob, and all of Jacob’s other sons, was fully expected by God. And it was fully expected by God to use it for good. Was it for Jacob’s good? Maybe. Was it for Joseph’s good? That’s debatable. Was it for Joseph’s brothers’ good. Perhaps. But it was for good. Why? So that he could, “save the lives of many people.”
You’re probably hoping I’ll get to the point as it pertains to you and me. Well, it’s just this.
I have gone through unbelievable “unexpecteds” in my life. I bet you have too. For me, being born in the Bronx in NY and living for the first part of my childhood in the projects, only to move to Huntington Beach, CA and to grow up in Surf City, USA. Unexpected! To be the beneficiary of enormous sacrifices of my parents who imbued me with a spirit of confidence to do things no one else had done previously in our family, like go to college. Unexpected! To have incredible work experiences that I never predicted or asked for, which richly prepared me for growth professionally and into a new season and new job and my wife and kids moving to Texas in realization of a long-time goal. Unexpected! To be diagnosed with diabetes at age 30 and a tumor at age 31, both of which were wakeup calls to physical health and spiritual salvation. Unexpected! To use an unexpected professional journey into cancer diagnostics to help guide the horrible diagnoses of beloved friends in ways I couldn’t have done otherwise. Unexpected! And yet, every one of those things was expected for God. Because, “God intended it all for good.”
Not every unexpected in my life, or likely your lives, feels good. No more than it felt good for Joseph to be sold into slavery. But like Joseph at the time of being sold off, he couldn’t see what had yet to happen. Even when he made his revelation to his brothers, God wasn’t done using the “unexpecteds” in Joseph’s life. In fact, it wasn’t for several hundred years before one of the benefits of the unexpected in Joseph’s life came to fruition in the freeing of the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. And even then, that wasn’t the true fulfillment of the unexpected in Joseph’s life. The freedom from the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt was a preview of the freedom Jesus would win for all mankind from the slavery of sin. And yet, Joseph, through all of his unexpected, would never have seen that. And yet it had to be. Why? Because, “God intended it all for good.”
None of this is meant to minimize any painful, heart-wrenching, challenging unexpected in your life. That is real, and the hurt is too. I guess my point is to encourage all of us to expect the unexpected. Life is hard. Life doesn’t go the way we want to. It can often be like a roller coaster, and frequently can be a super scary roller coaster for those of us who may not like roller coasters or worse yet, may be petrified of them. I hear you. Yes, the unexpected can be petrifying. There is no way around that at times. Joseph had to be horrified and terrorized as he was being transported away into slavery.
But the unexpected is preparatory … as I look back on my experiences, the unexpected has given me skills I would have never otherwise acquired and knowledge I could not otherwise have gained. It gave me the will to look at my situation and believe God was at work and would pull me through.
The unexpected is progressive … not in a political sense of course … but by that I mean that with every unexpected step in my life, it allowed for later steps that would not have been able to be reached. The unexpected would take me to a place which was the only place I could find the steps into the next season.
The unexpected is providential … these things don’t happen randomly through some cosmic mix of good luck and bad luck or through the balancing of blind forces. “God intended it all for good.” Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” God has an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent way of allowing our free will to work together for our good and His glory. Don’t ask me to explain how … I can’t. It’s a mystery, but it’s also a fact.
The unexpected is also praiseworthy … Joseph saw God’s hand in the circumstances he went through and praised God for the good He would bring … the salvation of many lives. In the desert where Jacob and his family lived? Yup. In Egypt 400 years later when Moses was sent by God to free the captive Israelites? Absolutely. Through Jesus’s sacrificial death on Calvary for you and me and the whole world? Yes, and amen! So too I can see in retrospect how God’s hand has been in every situation in my life, graciously blessing me through the unexpected.
And so is my hope that you will look and see it too. That even if your unexpected is horrifying presently that you will expect the unexpected blessing that God is yet to bestow through and perhaps on you as a result. God intended the unexpected for good! So let’s expect the unexpected!
Soli Deo gloria!