(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Facing the Unexpected with Joseph
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The story of Joseph is one of the most readable, entertaining, and moving stories in the Bible. It began with Joseph as a young man, one who had big dreams (literally!) about his future. His father foolishly favored Joseph openly, stirring hatred in Joseph’s older brothers. When Jacob’s cluelessness gave them a chance, the brothers unexpectedly interrupted Joseph’s plans in an ugly way—they sold him to traders going to Egypt.
When he arrived in Egypt as a slave, Joseph distinguished himself. He did his work so well that Genesis said his Egyptian master Potiphar “handed over everything he had to Joseph and didn’t pay attention to anything except the food he ate.” But Potiphar’s wife became attracted to Joseph. He refused her sexual advances, and her lies got him unexpectedly imprisoned.
Joseph was a foreign slave, unjustly imprisoned by a member of Egypt’s power structure for something he didn’t do. How could he possibly escape that predicament? Then the Egyptian Pharaoh jailed two men who’d worked in trusted positions in his palace. When each man had a mysterious dream, God helped Joseph explain those dreams. As the dreams indicated, Pharaoh executed one of the men, and reinstated the other to his trusted position.
After two years, Egypt’s king himself had troubling dreams. The steward remembered Joseph (who was still in prison). God helped Joseph interpret the king’s dreams. Pharaoh, impressed by Joseph’s discernment and wisdom, unexpectedly announced that he was making the imprisoned slave his chief deputy, with power over all of Egypt!
Genesis 42:1-11, 44:18-45:15
The famine that came to Egypt also affected Palestine, and Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt unexpectedly to buy food. Joseph, Egypt’s powerful famine “czar,” was the man they had to see. They didn’t recognize him, understandably, but he certainly recognized them. He firmly tested them to see if they had changed. They had, and a poignant family reunion began.
Genesis 46:29-30, 50:1-26,
In Joseph’s day, Egypt was a superpower, and he had an inside view of that country’s power and wealth. Yet he and his father Jacob never forgot that, according to God’s promises, their people’s future lay beyond Egypt. They trusted God to keep those promises. Through all of life’s twists and turns, all the unexpected ups and downs, Joseph had kept God as a fixed point, the one source of certainty in an uncertain world. His last faith request was, “God will certainly bring you out of this land….you must bring up my bones out of here.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, keep growing hearts like Joseph’s in us; hearts that trust you and are consistently able to overcome evil with good. Help us to be people who see life as you see it, and use any power we receive to help others. Help us to live one day at a time and see beyond any passing troubles that might afflict us. Like Joseph, bless our households and all who are part of them. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
What do you consider the most unexpected event in the history of America? Was it a positive or a negative event? Was it a man-made event? Have you seen good come from unexpected negative events? In what ways can God use America for good?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Genesis 37:1-36. Have you ever felt like “the favorite” in your family, at work, or some other setting? Or have you ever felt like the “second banana,” overshadowed by someone else’s popularity? What have you learned as a result? How did it affect the way you act toward others, and in showing special attention? What are the interpersonal risks if you openly acknowledge that you are especially good at something? How can we avoid these risks of being or appearing to be superior to others?
Read Genesis 39:1-22. Have you ever done the right thing and still gotten in trouble for it? Has someone else done something wrong and you became the one who was blamed? How did you handle these situations? Don’t children often blame others for their own misdeeds? As you grew up, when did you start realizing the need to take responsibility for your own mistakes? When does personal integrity become important, and why? How do you overcome being treated unjustly?
Read Genesis 40:1-23. Do most of us tend to see first how we might help others or do we first see how others might help us? What governs this tendency? Does our position in life or our job play a role in this? Does our Christianity play a role? How does God play a role? How sensitive are you to how others seem to be feeling at any given moment? Do you try to hide how you are feeling from others? Why might we tend to do this? When others ask how we are, what is the typical response? Why?
Read Genesis 41:1-45. By giving God credit rather than taking credit for himself in interpreting the dreams, Joseph showed character. What is character? Why would we seek to gain character? How do we obtain it? What role does God play in character development? How do you know that God wants you to be of good character? Do we have any responsibility to help others develop character? How do we do that in a way that might be acceptable? Pharaoh gave Joseph great power. In what ways is power used wisely? In what ways is power abused? Are you comfortable with the idea that great power might be vested in you? Are we all capable of wielding great power? Why do you answer that question as you did?
Read Genesis 42:1-11, 44:18-45:15. Would most people have been as generous toward the brothers who sold him into slavery as Joseph was? Joseph saw beyond the trials he’d been through to the vastly larger truth that all was part of God’s plan for good. Have you ever looked back on a time of troubles and been able to see how those troubles led to a better end? Can God bend our hard times into blessings rather than curses? Under what conditions does God do that? Do you trust God to do that kind of “creation” work in your own life? Where does that kind of trust in God come from?
Read Genesis 46:29-30, 50:1-26, Hebrews 11:21-22. Joseph’s life and faith demonstrate the potential for God’s power to work in our own lives. With God’s help, Joseph overcame evil by doing good. How can we move past betrayal, revenge, disappointment and pain and enter into the freedom of God’s hope, harmony and life-giving power? How do we become more like Joseph, full of goodness and full of God’s Spirit?
From last week: Did you make a list of significant unexpected things that have happened in your life over the last year or two? Which ones were unexpectedly good? Which ones were unexpectedly bad? With what attitude have you tended to deal with the unexpected events? Do you want to continue facing the unexpected in the same way, or do you want to make any changes, with God’s help? Please share with the group whatever you learned from this exercise.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Ann William’s sermon, July 28, 2013:
Sometimes we have periods in our own lives when we don’t hear from God – days, months, years at a time. During those times we assess that God is hidden or silent, or otherwise disengaged from the daily happenings of our lives.
The prophets and psalmists often lamented God’s hiddenness, using the words, “How long, O Lord?!” This cry for relief expresses what Joseph must have been feeling as he fell from his position as the greatest son in the world to a falsely accused criminal sentenced to prison. “How long, Lord, will this go on?”
I wonder, do any of you know the words of Jeremiah 29:11? This is a verse we often look to for encouragement and comfort: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s a beautiful, encouraging verse. But how many of you know the verse preceding it, the lesser-known verse Jeremiah 29:10? To Israel God says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place….” THEN and ONLY THEN it reads on: “For I know the plans I have for you…” I think it’s important to notice that this great promise of hope comes with a preface: “when seventy years are completed.” No wonder we are frustrated when God seems silent or hidden. Most of us are not patient enough to wait seventy years to hear what our purpose in life is meant to be. We want to jump ahead to verse eleven and forget verse ten was ever there….
Joseph is faced with the opportunity to save his family. The question is, how will he respond? At first, Joseph sends them back and forth from Canaan to Egypt a couple times without the brothers knowing it was him, and then we come to today’s scripture passage which shows Joseph coming clean, announcing it has been him, their brother Joseph all along. It is here in this moment, when the same brothers who treated him as though he had no value or worth at all were begging him for mercy, that Joseph realizes God has had a larger purpose in mind for his entire life. He proclaims: “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:4-7).
Now this is not to be understood that God intended that Joseph would be rejected by his brothers, that God ordained he would be falsely accused and sent to prison unfairly, that God intended for him to visit the depths of despair. What we mean is that regardless of what human beings were doing, regardless of if they were choosing evil or good in word action and deed, that God’s ultimate purposes would be completed….Even when Joseph’s brothers had only evil, revenge, and hatred in mind, even when Joseph was acting with careless arrogance, God’s objective to save the people of Israel is not thwarted. This story clearly points to God’s work in, through and despite human brokenness and imperfection.
Perhaps we might think it doesn’t matter what any one of us does to respond to the unexpected in our lives since God’s objectives will be completed either way. We may be tempted to think our actions don’t have any power….
The problem with facing the unexpected is when life feels out of balance, when we feel like we are least prepared to do anything but survive, we feel powerless. We feel we are nothing but victims of our circumstances. We may be tempted to think we need to have things in order, and to get things on track before we have anything to contribute. But what if I told you God could use you just exactly where you are? Perhaps our task is not to try to understand. Perhaps our task is to join in God’s work just exactly where we are. That’s exactly what Joseph did. We don’t have any evidence that he ever moped around or wasted any time wondering why all of this was happening to him. He simply focused on how he could play a role in the story God was telling….
Scripture assures us that God’s good work will continue. The question is whether or not we will be a part of it. Will we use the unexpected situations in our lives to serve God’s mission and purposes? Are we joining in God’s work of saving all people? How are we stepping out with courage and boldness to make the world look a little more like the kingdom of heaven? Whether your life situation has brought you to the lowest rank or the highest power, there are opportunities before you to find God’s business in your corner of the world and make it your mission to participate.
You know, Joseph himself only plays a small role. He preserves the Israelite people, and serves a part in God maintaining God’s covenants of land, descendents, and blessing. But when Joseph dies, the Israelites are in bondage. Joseph’s role was not to save the whole world or play the role of Savior, but simply to do his part, exactly where he was, playing whatever hand he was dealt.
The call is clear. When life hands you an unexpected turn God asks for your hands and feet. When a great injustice has been done to you, God requires your loving and forgiving heart. When great power has been bestowed upon you, God calls you to use it for good. So that the whole world may see our God is working to save all people! So that the whole world may see our God is working through us, in us, and despite us to save all people!
What others have said about the unexpected
No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected. – Julius Caesar
Objects we ardently pursue bring little happiness when gained; most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources. – Herbert Spencer
You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. – Paulo Coelho
Many people pray to be kept out of unexpected problems. Some people pray to be able to confront and overcome them. – Toba Beta
Most people want to be circled by safety, not by the unexpected. The unexpected can take you out. But the unexpected can also take you over and change your life. – Ron Hall
Sometimes you’ve got to embrace the unexpected. The things we never saw coming often take us to the places we never imagined we could go. – Kemmy Nola
Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me. – Carl Sandburg
There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. – John Locke
A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Francis Bacon
The shortest period of time lies between the minute you put some money away for a rainy day and the unexpected arrival of rain. – Jane Bryant Quinn
I think my mother… made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to do the unexpected. – Caroline Kennedy
Some things are so unexpected that no one is prepared for them. – Leo Rosten
Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so. – Doris Lessing
The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations. – Eli Khamarov
In chess one cannot control everything. Sometimes a game takes an unexpected turn, in which beauty begins to emerge. Both players are always instrumental in this. – Vladimir Kramnik
All creative people want to do the unexpected. – Hedy Lamarr
Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man. – Leon Trotsky
The fear of burglars is not only the fear of being robbed, but also the fear of a sudden and unexpected clutch out of the darkness.
– Elias Canetti
Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience. – Masaru Ibuka
This week, carry a notepad and pen everywhere. Make notes on every unexpected thing that happens to you and whether it was pleasant or unpleasant, for good or for bad. At the end of the week, go over the list and see if you still think it was for good or for bad. Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered about the unexpected.