*From my archives…December 2005
Another day had arrived. He could tell from the ray of light that stole through the crack up on the high wall of the prison, and lighted a strip on the cracked, damp floor. There were no windows and you could not look out; you could not see the sun rise in its majestic array, or watch it go down over the hills. For too many years he had missed the beauty of a sunrise and a sunset. Suddenly Joseph felt sad. And his sadness seemed to trigger it, as memories of the past began to unwind; memories of days when he walked the sheep out in the early hours of the morning, and sat upon the dew covered hills as the sheep grazed ahead; days when he ran and skipped through the woods, singing as merrily as the birds up on the trees, dressed in his coat of many colors; days when he sat around the fire together with his brothers and father as they told jokes and laughed. Those were good days; days he had thought would last forever; days that were better than these days.
He tried to be as happy as he could these days. There was really nothing to smile about, but he tried to wear a smile anyway. Life had been much easier as a slave; even though he was not used to the work, he had come to terms with it. At least then he had his freedom, he had his moments to himself, and Pothiphar had put him in a good position where he had some privileges. But it was slightly different now. Prison was not a very pleasant place. There weren’t the best of conditions; and carrying around the tint of a rapist wasn’t exactly a badge to be proud of. It did give him some clout among the fellow prisoners though; they thought he had guts to go after the Captains wife. She was a rather smashing lady, and she had a figure that could cause a stir in many a man’s loins. They had all wanted to hear the story, and no one seemed to believe him when he insisted it was otherwise. But they had accepted him heartily without the usual initiation they reserved for new inmates. For that Joseph was glad. He was one of the youngest around, being in his early twenties, a time of his prime when he could have done so much in life. He had always been a very virile and ambitious guy. He had big dreams, dreams that would take him places; dreams of ruling nations and calling shots. He was aiming for the tops.
But not any more. It was because of his dreams he was here; far away from familiar territory, from his family, friends, anybody that even shared his faith. He was all alone in a strange land serving a strange God whose face he hadn’t even seen; the same God who had given him all those dreams. It all seemed like mockery now. There was no way he could ever live those dreams now; rotting away in an Egyptian jail for an accusation no one had even bothered to investigate.
Yet the picture wouldn’t go; the dream wouldn’t leave him. Deep down on his inside, it seemed to get bigger, and at times like this when he just didn’t feel like facing another day, when he wished death that crept up on him in the night, when he wondered about the God father had told him about, the God whom he had come to love, the God who had given him big dreams and how that same God could allow him to be in this hell hole; when the sadness began to envelope him and despondency prepared for him a pity party; suddenly that dream leaped up on the inside of him, and the picture seemed to come alive in his eyes. He couldn’t explain it but somehow he knew, he just knew that his dream was not yet dead; that his dream was still very much in conception, and that a birthing was coming soon. He would get to the top. He would sit on a throne. It wasn’t over yet…
You know faith can be a drag. I don’t like to live by faith. No, I don’t like to live by faith. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. If you have ever lived by faith, or are living by faith, then you would feel me. So many people think they are living by faith just because they are Christians and they go to church and they read the bible and memorize scriptures and pray and do all the right Christian things. I’ve got news for you: take a back seat. You ain’t even started yet. I know what the bible says about the just living by faith and pleasing God by faith, and still I say I don’t like to live by faith. When you’ve been there you know what I am talking about. I have been there. It’s a schooling process you go through and if God would ask my opinion, I would most willingly pass up on it. That’s why I am glad he doesn’t ask for my opinion. Because now I am a Man of Faith and I am proud of it, but I cannot boast about it. And that’s what I am talking about; if you live by faith then you are a Man of Faith and though you are proud of what you have become you don’t blow a trumpet about it because you hated every step of the way. Because to live by faith is to smile with tears in your eyes; to laugh when there’s nothing to laugh about; to get bruised and worn and yet you keep on pushing through; to not see God, to reach out for God and all you find is empty space and yet you know he’s right there; to attend lectures and write tests when you haven’t even been screened yet; to feel the brutal thrust of the rapist as he steals your innocence and yet think of God’s everlasting love(Jer.31:3); to come back home and find your house broken into and all your money gone and you fall on your knees in worship; to find out that the clipper you had used for a haircut was infected and now you had the HIV virus and still believe that God has a future and a hope for you (Jer.29:11);to echo the words of Jesus when he said: now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But this is the reason I came down here; Father glorify your name(Jo.12:27). Have you ever been to that point? If you can smile about the scenes of your life than you aren’t even on the bus yet; you don’t even know what I am talking about. To live by faith is no piece of cake; it’s hard labor; it is to experience what James Duff said in his book Flashes of Truth about china wares: the colors that are painted on china are burned into the clay. Otherwise they would easily rub off. It is said that what is to become a golden color on the finished article is a dark liquid before the fire is applied. And the first two or three applications of heat obliterate all trace of color, which has to be renewed again and again; the pain that perfects. It perfects but it hurts, and that’s why I don’t like to live by faith.
And so Joseph stirred as dawn broke. His eyes stared into the semi-darkness awaiting the wake-up call, another day of drudgery. Oh God, when will all of this end? Will all of this ever end? He closed his eyes again. And that’s when he saw the picture: the sheaves in the field, and all of the others bowing down to his. And the sun and the moon and the eleven stars bowing down to him. This was no dream Joseph knew. You don’t dream dreams like this when you are in a place like this. You only dream dreams like this when you are your father’s favorite and you were in your home country where you could work your way to the top of the ladder. Here, he wasn’t even on the bottom ring. No, this wass no dream. This was hope, the hope that had kept him so far, the hope that must keep him from now on, this divine hope. If you have come to that point where your faith is swamped by the storms of life , then you need to renew your hope. For when faith is weary, hope floats.
There is a laughter in my spirit. And that’s funny because there is really nothing to laugh about. It’s five days to Christmas, but I am stuck babysitting my mum and she is stuck dealing with illness, and the home is stuck with the drudgery that comes with looking after the sick. And the little money that would have gone into baking cakes and cooking food have gone into paying hospital bills and buying drugs. So I think it’s crazy that I should feel like laughing. Because not only has life handed me a raw deal, I feel like giving up. I feel like just walking away from everything. I feel like throwing in the towel. And that’s not funny because I am the future of my family. If I walk away, I wouldn’t just be closing the door on me, I would be closing the door on my family. And that’s why I think it’s crazy that I should feel like laughing. And that should be scary, right? Maybe the trouble is getting to me?
I don’t think so. Because I know a story of somebody else. You know the story too. He was the Man About Town in his days; owner of the multi-billion conglomerate. President of about a dozen prestigious affiliates; honorary degree holder from half a dozen universities; “Most Prized Customer” of a good number of banks across the country, and a regular of the Who’s Who column in the society mag. And besides his career success, he was the ideal family man: a gorgeous wife and admirable kids. Then one day, someone made a bad deal and everything crashed. And before the next day a storm crashed into the kids resort and went off with all of them. From the top of the ladder to the bottom of the rung. You all have heard about the story of Job. And this is the crazy part. This is the part that stumped me the day the light shone on that scripture. “And Job fell down and worshipped.” (Job 1:20) It’s still there in my bible. I marked it out with just one word: Insane. I mean, talk about bad news. Talk about a bad day. And you fall down and worship. I don’t know about you spiritual folks out there, but I know that’s not what will be going through my head if I was in Job’s shoes. (Which is funny because that’s precisely what I did when I returned home one day and saw our house broken into. I held hands with my mum and my cousins and we worshipped. Don’t ask me how I could do that, because it beats me too.)
And somehow the pieces of the puzzle seem to be making a little sense. You see, there is something that God has put in us that just can’t stay down. It’s like that upturned glass you press down into water. As long as there is air inside the glass it rises up again. It never stays down. The moment you take away your hands, it floats back up. It’s bigger than faith. In fact, it’s the life source of faith, for without it faith cannot stand. Hope. The power to rise again to the top. The driving force when faith is beaten and bruised. The seed that pushes aside the hard earth and shoots out a young bud. It’s the same thing that saw Joseph through those days in slavery and prison. It’s the same thing that kept Jesus on the road to the cross. And I believe it’s the same thing that knocked Job down in worship. The same thing that caused laughter to bubble up from within me. Hope. Not that from the pep talk of folks. Not that from the pipedream of an exhausted soul. But hope that comes from the word of God. When Joseph stirred each morning, God’s word on his inside stirred too. When Jesus hung up naked on the cross, God’s word on his inside stirred too. And when Job heard his bad news, God’s word stirred too. When the tides crash in on you, let God’s word on your inside stir up hope . Because when faith begins to sink, hope floats.