An Audacious Promise
She had a tremble to her, the inner tremble you could feel with just a
hand on her shoulder. I saw her in a grocery store. Had not seen her in
some months. I asked about her kids and husband, and when I did, her
eyes watered, her chin quivered, and the God Will Use This for Good
story spilled out. He'd left her. After twenty years of marriage, three
kids, and a dozen moves, gone. Traded her in for a younger model. She
did her best to maintain her composure but couldn't. The grocery store
produce section became a sanctuary of sorts. Right there between the
tomatoes and the heads of lettuce, she wept. We prayed. Then I said,
"You'll get through this. It won't be painless. It won't be quick. But
God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don't be foolish or
naive. But don't despair either. With God's help you will get through
Two days later a friend called. He'd just been fired. The dismissal was
his fault. He'd made stupid, inappropriate remarks at work. Crude,
offensive statements. His boss kicked him out. Now he's a
fifty-seven-year-old unemployed manager in a rotten economy. He feels
terrible and sounds worse. Wife angry. Kids confused. He needed
assurance, so I gave it: "You'll get through this. It won't be painless.
It won't be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime
don't be foolish or naive. But don't despair either. With God's help you
will get through this."
Then there is the teenager I met at the café where she works. She's
fresh out of high school, hoping to get into college next month. Her
life, as it turns out, hasn't been easy. When she was six years old, her
parents divorced. When she was fifteen, they remarried, only to divorce
again a few months ago. Recently her parents told her to choose: live
with Mom or live with Dad. She got misty-eyed as she described their
announcement. I didn't have a chance to tell her this, but if I see her
again, you can bet your sweet September I am going to look her square in
the eyes and say, "You'll get through this. It won't be painless. It
won't be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime
don't be foolish or naive. But don't despair either. With God's help you
will get through this."
Audacious of me, right? How dare I say such words? Where did I get the
nerve to speak such a promise into tragedy? In a pit, actually. A deep,
dark pit. So steep the boy could not climb out. Had he been able to, his
brothers would have shoved him back down. They were the ones who had
thrown him in.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they
stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him.
Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there
was no water in it.
And they sat down to eat a meal. (Gen. 37:23–25)
It was an abandoned cistern. Jagged rocks and roots extended from its
sides. The seventeen-year-old boy lay at the bottom. Downy beard,
spindly arms and legs. His hands were bound, ankles tied. He lay on his
side, knees to chest, cramped in the small space. The sand was wet with
spittle, where he had drooled. His eyes were wide with fear. His voice
was hoarse from screaming. It wasn't that his brothers didn't hear him.
Twenty-two years later, when a famine had tamed their swagger and guilt
had dampened their pride, they would confess, "We saw the anguish of his
soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear" (42:21).
These are the great-grandsons of Abraham. The sons of Jacob. Couriers of
God's covenant to a galaxy of people. Tribes will bear their banners.
The name of Jesus Christ will appear on their family tree. They are the
Scriptures' equivalent of royalty. Yet on this day they were the Bronze
Age version of a dysfunctional family.
They could have had their own reality TV show. In the shadow of a
sycamore, in earshot of Joseph's appeals, they chewed on venison and
passed the wineskin. Cruel and oafish. Hearts as hard as the Canaanite
desert. Lunch mattered more than their brother. They despised the boy.
"They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him ... they hated him
even more ... they hated him ... his brothers envied him" (37:4–5,
Here's why. Their father pampered Joseph like a prized calf. Jacob had
two wives, Leah and Rachel, but one love, Rachel. When Rachel died,
Jacob kept her memory alive by fawning over their first son. The
brothers worked all day. Joseph played all day. They wore clothes from a
secondhand store. Jacob gave Joseph a hand-stitched, multicolored cloak
with embroidered sleeves. They slept in the bunkhouse. He had a
queen-sized bed in his own room. While they ran the family herd, Joseph,
Daddy's little darling, stayed home. Jacob treated the eleventh-born
like a firstborn. The brothers spat at the sight of Joseph.
To say the family was in crisis would be like saying a grass hut might
be unstable in a hurricane.
The brothers caught Joseph far from home, sixty miles away from Daddy's
protection, and went nuclear on him. "They stripped Joseph of his
tunic ... they took him and cast him into a pit" (vv.
23–24). Defiant verbs. They wanted not only to kill Joseph but
also hide his body. This was a murderous cover-up from the get-go. "We
shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him'" (v. 20).
Joseph didn't see this assault coming. He didn't climb out of bed that
morning and think, I'd better dress in padded clothing because this
is the day I get tossed into a hole. The attack caught him off
So did yours. Joseph's pit came in the form of a cistern. Maybe yours
came in the form of a diagnosis, a foster home, or a traumatic injury.
Joseph was thrown in a hole and despised. And you? Thrown in an
unemployment line and forgotten. Thrown into a divorce and abandoned,
into a bed and abused. The pit. A kind of death, waterless and austere.
Some people never recover. Life is reduced to one quest: get out and
never be hurt again. Not simply done. Pits have no easy exits.
Joseph's story got worse before it got better. Abandonment led to
enslavement, then entrapment, and finally imprisonment. He was sucker
Sold out. Mistreated. People made promises only to break them, offered
gifts only to take them back. If hurt were a swampland, then Joseph was
sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Everglades.
Yet he never gave up. Bitterness never staked its claim. Anger never
metastasized into hatred. His heart never hardened; his resolve never
vanished. He not only survived; he thrived. He ascended like a helium
balloon. An Egyptian official promoted him to chief servant. The prison
warden placed him over the inmates. And Pharaoh, the highest ruler on
the planet, shoulder-tapped Joseph to serve as his prime minister. By
the end of his life, Joseph was the second most powerful man of his
generation. It is not hyperbole to state that he saved the world from
starvation. How would that look on a résumé?
Joseph Son of Jacob Graduate with honors from the University of hard
Knocks Director of Global effort to Save humanity Succeeded
How? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy? We don't have to
speculate. Some twenty years later the roles were reversed, Joseph as
the strong one and his brothers the weak ones. They came to him in
dread. They feared he would settle the score and throw them into a pit
of his own making. But Joseph didn't. And in his explanation we find his
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in
order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
(Genesis 50:20 NASB)
In God's hands intended evil becomes eventual good. That's the message
of Genesis 50:20 and the heart of Joseph's story. He tied himself to the
pillar of this promise and held on for dear life. Nothing in his story
glosses over the presence of evil. Quite the contrary.
Bloodstains, tearstains are everywhere. Joseph's heart was rubbed raw
against the rocks of disloyalty and miscarried justice. Yet time and
time again God redeemed the pain. The torn robe became a royal one. The
pit became a palace. The broken family grew old together. The very acts
intended to destroy God's servant turned out to strengthen him.
"You meant evil against me," Joseph told his brothers, using a
Hebrew verb that traces its meaning to "weave" or "plait." "You
wove evil," he was saying, "but God rewove it together for
God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the
colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the
pleasures. Nothing escapes his reach. Every king, despot, weather
pattern, and molecule are at his command. He passes the shuttle back and
forth across the generations, and as he does, a design emerges. Satan
weaves; God reweaves.
And God, the Master Builder. This is the meaning behind Joseph's words
"God meant it for good in order to bring about ..." The Hebrew
word translated here as bring about is a construction term. It
describes a task or building project akin to the one I drive through
every morning. The state of Texas is rebuilding a highway overpass near
my house. Three lanes have been reduced to one, transforming a morning
commute into a daily stew. The interstate project, like human history,
has been in development since before time began. Cranes hover overhead
daily. Workers hold signs and shovels, and several million of us
grumble. Well, at least I do. How long is this going to last?
My next-door neighbors have a different attitude toward the project. The
husband and wife are highway engineers, consultants to the department of
transportation. They endure the same traffic jams and detours as the
rest of us but do so with a better attitude. Why? They know how these
projects develop. "It will take time," they respond to my grumbles, "but
it will get finished. It's doable." They've seen the plans.
By giving us stories like Joseph's, God allows us to study his plans.
Such disarray! Brothers dumping brother. Entitlements. Famines and
family feuds scattered about like nails and cement bags on a vacant lot.
Satan's logic was sinister and simple: destroy the family of Abraham and
thereby destroy his seed, Jesus Christ. All of hell, it seems, set its
target on Jacob's boys.
But watch the Master Builder at work. He cleared debris, stabilized the
structure, and bolted trusses until the chaos of Genesis 37:24 ("They
... cast him into a pit") became the triumph of Genesis 50:20 ("life for
God as Master Weaver, Master Builder. He redeemed the story of Joseph.
Can't he redeem your story as well?
You'll Get Through This
You'll get through this. You fear you won't. We all do. We fear
that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the
pain will never leave. Here in the pits, surrounded by steep walls and
angry brothers, we wonder, Will this gray sky ever brighten? This
load ever lighten? We feel stuck, trapped, locked in. Predestined
for failure. Will we ever exit this pit?
Yes! Deliverance is to the Bible what jazz music is to Mardi Gras: bold,
brassy, and everywhere.
Out of the lions' den for Daniel, the prison for Peter, the whale's
belly for Jonah, Goliath's shadow for David, the storm for the
disciples, disease for the lepers, doubt for Thomas, the grave for
Lazarus, and the shackles for Paul. God gets us through stuff.
Through the Red Sea onto dry ground (Ex. 14:22), through
the wilderness (Deut. 29:5), through the valley of the shadow of
death (Ps. 23:4), and through the deep sea (Ps. 77:19).
Through is a favorite word of God's:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And
through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk
through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame
scorch you. (Isa. 43:2)
It won't be painless. Have you wept your final tear or received
your last round of chemotherapy? Not necessarily. Will your unhappy
marriage become happy in a heartbeat? Not likely. Are you exempt from
any trip to the cemetery? Does God guarantee the absence of struggle and
the abundance of strength? Not in this life. But he does pledge to
reweave your pain for a higher purpose.
It won't be quick. Joseph was seventeen years old when his
brothers abandoned him. He was at least thirty-seven when he saw them
again. Another couple of years passed before he saw his father.
Sometimes God takes his time: One hundred twenty years to prepare Noah
for the flood, eighty years to prepare Moses for his work. God called
young David to be king but returned him to the sheep pasture. He called
Paul to be an apostle and then isolated him in Arabia for perhaps three
years. Jesus was on the earth for three decades before he built anything
more than a kitchen table. How long will God take with you? He may take
his time. His history is redeemed not in minutes but in lifetimes.
But God will use your mess for good. We see a perfect mess; God
sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach the future prime
minister. We see a prison; God sees a kiln. We see famine; God sees the
relocation of his chosen lineage. We call it Egypt; God calls it
protective custody, where the sons of Jacob can escape barbaric Canaan
and multiply abundantly in peace. We see Satan's tricks and ploys. God
sees Satan tripped and foiled.
Let me be clear. You are a version of Joseph in your generation. You
represent a challenge to Satan's plan. You carry something of God within
you, something noble and holy, something the world needs—wisdom,
kindness, mercy, skill. If Satan can neutralize you, he can mute your
The story of Joseph is in the Bible for this reason: to teach you to
trust God to trump evil. What Satan intends for evil, God, the Master
Weaver and Master Builder, redeems for good.
Joseph would be the first to tell you that life in the pit stinks. Yet
for all its rottenness doesn't the pit do this much? It forces you to
look upward. Someone from up there must come down here and
give you a hand. God did for Joseph. At the right time, in the right
way, he will do the same for you.
Keep Calm and Make a Plan
We can't always see what God is doing.
But can't we assume he is up to something good? Joseph faced a calamity
of a global scale. It had been two years since the last drop of rain. No
rain meant no farming. No farming meant no food.
Yet Joseph assumed God was in the crisis.
Then he faced the crisis with a plan. He collected grain during the good
years and redistributed it in the bad. When the people ran out of food,
he gave it to them in exchange for money, livestock, and property. After
he stabilized the economy, he gave the people a lesson in money
management. "Give one-fifth to Pharaoh, and use the rest for farming and
eating" (Gen. 47:24, author's paraphrase).
The plan could fit on an index card. "Save for seven years. Distribute
for seven years. Manage carefully." Could his response have been
Could it have been more boring?
Some flamboyance would have been nice. A little bit of the Red Sea
opening, Jericho's walls tumbling, or was-dead Lazarus walking. A
dramatic crisis requires a dramatic response, right? Not always.
We equate spirituality with high drama: Paul raising the dead, Peter
healing the sick. Yet for every Paul and Peter, there are a dozen
Josephs. Men and women blessed with skills of administration. Steady
hands through whom God saves people. Joseph never raised the dead, but
he kept people from dying. He never healed the sick, but he kept
sickness from spreading. He made a plan and stuck with it. And because
he did, the nation survived. He triumphed with a calm, methodical plan.
In the days leading up to the war with Germany, the British government
commissioned a series of posters. The idea was to capture encouraging
slogans on paper and distribute them about the country. Capital letters
in a distinct typeface were used, and a simple two-color format was
selected. The only graphic was the crown of King George VI.
The first poster was distributed in September of 1939:
YOUR COURAGE YOUR CHEERFULNESS YOUR RESOLUTION WILL BRING US VICTORY
Soon thereafter a second poster was produced:
FREEDOM IS IN PERIL DEFEND IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT
These two posters appeared up and down the British countryside. On
railroad platforms and in pubs, stores, and restaurants. They were
everywhere. A third poster was created yet never distributed. More than
2.5 million copies were printed yet never seen until nearly sixty years
later when a bookstore owner in northeast England discovered one in a
box of old books he had purchased at an auction. It read:
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
The poster bore the same crown and style of the first two posters. It
was never released to the public, however, but was held in reserve for
an extreme crisis, such as invasion by Germany. The bookstore owner
framed it and hung it on the wall. It became so popular that the
bookstore began producing identical images of the original design on
coffee mugs, postcards, and posters. Everyone, it seems, appreciated the
reminder from another generation to keep calm and carry on.
Excerpted from "God Will Use This for Good: Surviving the Mess of Life" by Max Lucado. Copyright © 2013 by Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.