For the week of December 20, 2008 / 23 Kislev 5769
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 - 3:8

A Wonderful Plan

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. (Bereshit / Genesis 37:5; ESV)

Perhaps you have heard the adage "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." In a world of meaninglessness, this is a most profound statement. That there is a personal God, who desires to direct our lives is in sharp contrast to the popular view that we are simply cosmic accidents, products of matter and energy, plus chance. To learn that the events of life are not due to complete randomization, but are actually part of a grand story is wonderful in itself. But to realize that God cares about each and every one of us, inviting us to cooperate with him in fulfilling his good plans for the world, is even more wonderful.

But what does wonderful imply? I would guess that when many of us hear "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," we think we are being promised fun and excitement. Perhaps God will make us famous or at least successful in the way most of us understand success: health, wealth, ease of living, and at least some level of popularity.

I don't know what the person who first said the words "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," was trying to say exactly. This statement is not found in the Bible. Presummably it is an attempt to summarize the God of Israel's intentions for people. But how accurate a statement is it?

This week's Torah portion begins the story of Jacob's son Joseph. Joseph had two dreams that seemed to mean that his family would one day bow down to him. His brothers, who were already jealous of him, were incensed by this. Their hatred of him, which led to their selling him into slavery, is what led to the fulfillment of his dreams and his eventual exalted position over them. The process of bringing Joseph to his God-given place and position was a most difficult one. If you have never read the story of Joseph, I encourage you to do so.

Did God love Joseph and have a wonderful plan for his life? He certainly did. Not only did he love Joseph, but the wonderful plan that God had for him was not just an expression of God's love for him alone, but also for his family, the people of Egypt, and the whole region. God had chosen Joseph to help provide sustenance during an extreme famine, thus preserving many lives.

It is a truly wonderful thing to be so used by God. Even in the darkest of times, God was with Joseph, preparing him for the day when he would make such a difference in the world. I don't know if God has this kind of plan for each and every person, though he definitely loves us all. And once we come into right relationship with him through trusting in the Messiah, we have the opportunity to be part of his grand purpose, whatever that part may be.

In order for us to most truly embrace God's wonderful plan for our lives, we need to grasp the nature of what wonderful really means. If we assume that "wonderful" means fun and exciting or that it is a guaranty of personal benefit and convenience, then we are going to be put off by God's plan for us. His plan is indeed wonderful, but it is not necessarily easy and certainly not always fun and exciting. Meaningful, yes. Significant, surely, though that may not always be apparent. God's plans for us, as in the case of Joseph as well as many of the Bible's key characters, also includes great challenges and difficulties. I wonder how our resistance to such challenges and difficulties prevents us from fully participating in God's wonderful plans for our lives.

It seems that the real key to fully embracing both God's love and his wonderful plan for our lives is to allow him to have his way in our lives no matter what. Let's forget about our preconceived notions of what a life with God should include and let him fulfill his wonderful plan.

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