We tend to define our life based on our perception of our progress. Am I where I thought I would be at this age? Have I achieved what I thought I would? Are my dreams more or less real today? Am I happy in my marriage, my family, my position at work? Is my life successful?
In reality, life is never defined by our performance or circumstances. What really makes any life worth living today is the presence and protection and pleasure of the almighty, all-satisfying God.
“God always writes a better story for you than you would write for yourself.”
After being sold into slavery by his own brothers, Joseph surprisingly rose to power in perhaps the most powerful empire in the world.
The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. (Genesis 39:2–4)
Potiphar put Joseph in charge of everything. But Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph and tried to seduce him. When he faithfully refused her advances, she framed him, claiming he had come to her. Her lies ripped him from all his power and responsibility and landed him in prison (Genesis 39:20). He committed no sin (at least not with Potiphar’s wife), neither was deceit found in his mouth, and yet he was treated as worse than a slave, locked away without hope of release.
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. . . . And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. (Genesis 39:21–23)
Whether in power or in prison, Joseph’s life was hope-filled, meaningful, and successful, not because he worked so hard or received what he deserved, but because God was with him. The Lord was with him in success — and the Lord was with him in prison.
How Good Is Your Life?
Is the life you’re currently living the one you always wanted for yourself?
Did you think you’d be married by now? Or that you’d still be married? If you are married, did you marry when you thought you would, or whom you thought you would?
What about your job? Not what you hoped for? Do you feel like your gifts are being wasted? Do you dream about doing something different with your life?
Maybe you wish you were living somewhere else? You long to be closer to home (or farther away)?
“Everything you experience — expected or unexpected, pleasing or painful — is God’s good plan to make you his own.”
The reality is that all of us can imagine something better for ourselves than our circumstances today. The greater reality is that, if you love and follow Jesus, God always writes a better story for you than you would write for yourself. The “better” is based on this: God himself is the best, most satisfying thing you could ever have or experience, and, therefore, fullness of life is ultimately found not in any earthly success or relationship or accomplishment, but in your proximity to God through faith.
The dark side of this good news is that you may have to walk through pain, disappointment, rejection, and suffering for seventy or eighty years. The brighter (and prevailing) side says God never makes a mistake in choosing good for you. Everything you experience — expected or unexpected, wanted or unwanted, pleasing or painful — is God’s good plan to make you his own (John 10:27–29), to give you himself forever (Psalm 16:11), and to use your life to reveal himself and his glory to the world around you (Isaiah 43:25; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
The Secret of Contentment
A couple thousand years after Joseph ruled and was then left to rot in prison, Paul lived and wrote the same things about life.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
What is the secret of joy and contentment in the face of whatever life brings? It’s centering and anchoring our joy and contentment in Christ, rather than in life. John Piper says, “When we have little and have lost much, Christ comes and reveals himself as more valuable than what we have lost. And when we have much and are overflowing in abundance, Christ comes and he shows that he is far superior to everything we have.”
“Stop trying to write your own story, and learn to love the life you never wanted.”
Therefore, we can pray with Solomon in his wisdom, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8–9). Through the eyes of the American dream, the prayer seems small, even self-defeating. God, deny me wealth and prosperity in order to keep and satisfy my soul. To the one surrendered to and satisfied in Jesus, it’s a supreme dream worth enduring anything for (Romans 8:22).
A Greater Treasure and Ambition
Is the life you’re currently living the one you always wanted?
- Are you content — more than content: delighted and exhilarated — to have God at your side (Joshua 1:9)?
- Have you put some earthly standard or accomplishment ahead of knowing him and being his (2 Corinthians 6:16)?
- Are you willing to entrust your soul, your cause, and your vindication to the one who always judges justly, the one who has promised to work all things in every circumstance — including every setback, every disappointment, and even every sin against you — for you (1 Peter 2:23; Romans 8:28)?
God means for all of us after the wrongly convicted Joseph, and the brutally beaten Paul, to have their faith, hope, and joy. Make him your greatest treasure and ambition, and see everything else that happens to you in the light of that infinite pleasure and security. Learn to love the life you have with God, even if it is the life you never wanted.