God in the Ups and Downs

Contributed by: Emily Paterson, Diocese of Auckland

When we are in the thick of difficult situations, it can be hard to see what God is doing. Often it’s not until later on that we are able to step back and see the bigger picture. Then we are able to recognise how God has been at work in us and through us. Take your youth deeper with Joseph’s Story with this exploration of how God was with Joseph through the ups and downs of his life – and how He journeys with us too.

Line Graph of Joseph’s Story

Using the key events from Joseph’s story, together draw a line graph to represent Joseph’s life on a whiteboard.

As you can see, Joseph’s life had some major ‘ups’ and some major ‘downs’… it really was a journey! Now, we know that Joseph was one of God’s people – that he knew God and God was with him. Yet, if you look at this graph, you can see that his life has some pretty major downs… Some awful stuff happened to him!

So what I want us to think about is this:  Where is God in Joseph’s story? What is he doing during the ‘downs’ of Joseph’s story?

It can be easy to see God in our lives during the ‘ups’ – when things are going well. It can be much harder to know where God is or what he is doing during the ‘downs’ – when we’re going through hard times. Yet God is still at work in our lives during those times too. In fact, often it’s in the hard times that God does the most work IN us.

God in the ‘down’ moments of Joseph’s life

In small groups, think about the following low points in Joseph’s life and discuss:  How was God at work in those moments? What did he do?

  1. His brother’s hated him and planned to kill him
    • Reuben suggests not killing him (and wants to rescue him)
    • Cistern is empty (not full of water)
    • Ishmaelite traders come by at that time & Judah suggests selling him rather than killing him
  2. Sold to the Ishmaelites as a slave
    • He is sold to Potiphar
    • He succeeds in everything he does is then made Potiphar’s personal attendant
    • The Lord blesses Potiphar’s household and Joseph is then given complete administrative responsibility over everything!
  3. Pressure from Potiphar’s wife & accused of rape
    • Strength to resist and not give in to her
    • Could have been killed for this! Instead he is thrown in jail
  4. In prison for something he didn’t do
    • Becomes the favourite of the prison warden
    • Put in charge of all the other prisoners
    • Caused everything Joseph did in prison to succeed
    • Has the opportunity to interpret the dreams of the cup-bearer and the baker
  5. Forgotten about by the cup-bearer (for two years!)
    • Cup bearer remembers two years later when Pharaoh has a dream
    • God gives Joseph the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (and warn and prepare Egypt for the coming famine)
    • Joseph put in charge of Pharaoh’s court
  6. Brothers come looking for food (wrestles with forgiveness)
    • Reminded of the dreams he had early on in the story
    • Gives him the ability to forgive his brothers
    • Able to provide food for his brothers (and others) in the famine!

Joseph may not have been aware of what God was doing, he may not have even felt close to God, but we can see that God was at work throughout the whole story.

Image Up Close

Ask for two volunteers and get them to step outside of your room. Set up a big black & white picture. Blindfold the volunteers. Position one volunteer directly  the front, as close to the picture as possible. Remove the blindfold and ask them to decipher what the picture is (describe what they see).Very slowly, have them move away from the picture – every inch asking if they have a better idea of what the picture is. Continue to do this until they recognise the image.

Repeat this with the second volunteer (measure how far each person is before they recognise the image)

When we are in the thick of our situations, it can be hard to see what God is doing. Often it’s not until later on that we are able to step back and see the bigger picture. Usually that’s when we are able to recognise what God has been up to in our lives!

I think that was true for Joseph. I’m sure that he spent a lot of time wondering what God was doing, while he was lying in the pit, or sitting about in jail for years, or even when his brothers came to Egypt and he had to wrestle with the idea of forgiving them.

But by the end of his story, despite all he has been through, Joseph is able to take a step back and say the following things:

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” Genesis 45:4-7

“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.” Genesis 50:19-20

Joseph is able to see that despite everything he had to go through, God was at work in it all and used it for his purposes and his glory!

God in the hard times

The story of Joseph teaches us a lot about who God is in the hard times.

  • God does allow bad stuff to happen to us. If we are Christians, it doesn’t mean we’re immune from bad stuff happening to us. Now, I don’t believe that God causes bad stuff to happen but unfortunately we live in a broken world that is not is not how God intended it to be. Sometimes that does mean that we face hard times in life. Romans 8:21-23 “Creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay….we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.”
    God can and does stop bad stuff happening to us – he can heal us and protect us. We don’t know why God lets some bad stuff happen and stops other stuff. But we need to be prepared for the fact that life isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes we will suffer, or face difficult times.
  • Although God’s presence might seem undetectable in hard times, he is nonetheless acting powerfully. I’m sure there were times that Joseph just didn’t know what was going on – or he felt like God had disappeared! But as we’ve seen today, God was in control of everything. Joseph is a great example of someone who continued to trust God in the hard times. We can do the same. No matter what is going on, we can trust that God is ultimately in control and knows what’s going on.
  • God never abandons us. God walks through the bad times with us. He might not immediately change our circumstances like we want him to, but he is always with us in the downs of life.
    Romans 8 (verses 35, 37-38a) says “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble of calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?… No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”
    Just because bad stuff happens to us, doesn’t mean that God has stopped caring for us. Nothing can separate us from his love! We are not forgotten or abandoned by God. He doesn’t enjoy seeing us go through hard times, in fact, he sympathises and is there to support us in those times.  It’s important to remember all that Jesus went through while he was on earth. Jesus knows what it is to suffer, and therefore, whatever is going on for us, he is able to sympathise with us too.
  • God can take what others intended for harm and use it for good. Joseph’s brothers intended to kill Joseph – God used that ultimately to save his people from famine. Don’t underestimate what God can do!!!
  • Hard times help us grow, to depend more on God and to become more like him. At the beginning of the story, Joseph was an arrogant young man whom his brothers hated! By the end of the story he was a powerful leader. Not only that, he had the strength of character to be able to forgive his brothers for what they did to him. I doubt that the Joseph at the beginning of the story would have been able to do that? The hard times in Joseph’s life really changed him and gave God the opportunity to work on his character. Through all the hard times, Joseph was able to see his need for God and God was able to shape him and make him more like him.

Hard times are often what God uses to help shape our character and to help us grow to be more like him. They can be an opportunity to grow and to learn more about God.

Small Group Questions

  • What do you think of Joseph’s line graph?
  • If you were to draw a line graph of your life so far, what would it look like? (Take some time to each draw your graph – share them if you are comfortable to do so)
  • In what ways does Joseph’s graph help you to look at the highs and lows on your graph?
  • How easy do you find it to remain faithful to God during the ‘lows’ in your life?
  • What lows did Jesus experience during his life on Earth? How does his experience shape your perspective on hard times?

Finish with prayer.