God Is With You
A couple of weeks ago, we started a new series of sermons called “Before You Give Up.” And we started this series because we all have times in our lives when we want to quit. And the statistics back that up. So I could tell you that 50.5 million Americans quit their jobs last year. Or I could tell you that 5% of high school students drop out every year, or that 1 out of every 3 students that start college will never finish their degree. I could tell you that 1% of cancer patients refuse to receive any type of conventional treatment…but as many as 1 out of every 5 refuse chemotherapy. And, of course, we’ve all heard that half of all marriages end in divorce…even though the real divorce rate is 39%.
But you don’t need to hear those statistics to know that we all have times in our lives when we want to quit. You know that we all have times when we want to quit because you have had times in your life when you’ve wanted to quit.
You may have been ready to quit when your doctor told you that the cancer had spread. You may have been ready to quit when the company that you worked at for decades decided to downsize and you couldn’t find a new job no matter how hard you tried. You may have been ready to quit when your marriage hit a rocky patch and your spouse threatened to walk out. You may have been ready to quit when someone you loved more than anything in this world was taken from this world far too soon.
And because we’ve all had times when we’re ready to quit, we all need to know how to keep going when we’re ready to give up. So how do you do that? How do you keep going when you’re ready to quit?
How do you keep going when you’re ready to quit?
Well, that’s what we’re talking about throughout this series. We’re talking about things that we all need to know so that we can keep going when we’re ready to quit.
And to help us learn these lessons, throughout this series, we’re going to be taking a closer look at someone who had every reason to give up. His name is Joseph, and we find his story in the Book of Genesis.
Now, we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks that Joseph’s life didn’t start out so bad. Joseph was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. But even though he has eleven brothers, Joseph was his dad’s favorite. His dad doted over Joseph. While his brothers worked all day, Joseph got to play. While his brothers were wearing hand-me-downs, his dad gave Joseph a hand-stitched, multi-colored coat with embroidered sleeves. While his brothers slept in the bunkhouse, Joseph had his own room. While his brothers took care of the family’s herd, Joseph got to lounge around the house all do. So Joseph was clearly Jacob’s favorite son…and that didn’t sit well with his brothers.
And one day when Jacob sent Joseph out to the fields to check on his brothers, their hatred boiled over. And according to Genesis 37, this is what they did:
23 When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s long robe, 24 took him, and threw him into the cistern, an empty cistern with no water in it. 25 When they sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with camels carrying sweet resin, medicinal resin, and fragrant resin on their way down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and hide his blood? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let’s not harm him because he’s our brother; he’s family.” His brothers agreed.
Genesis 37:23-27 (Common English Bible)
Now, I’ve got two older brothers myself. And we didn’t always get along real well when we were growing up. But we never reached the point where my brothers were ready to sell me to the highest bidder. But that’s what Joseph’s brothers do.
They beat him up. They throw him into a pit. And when the opportunity presents itself, they sell him as a slave. And that alone would’ve been enough for most of us to want to give up. But that’s not the end of Joseph’s story.
So I want to walk you through a little bit more of what happened to Joseph today. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Genesis 39. And, as you're finding Genesis 39, I just want to point out that the book of Genesis tells us the story of how one nation –the nation of Israel – came to have a special role in God’s plans for all of humanity.
But as we work our way through Joseph’s story, it’s going to look like God’s plans got majorly messed up. So let’s take a look at Genesis 39, and see what happens after Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave to a caravan headed to Egypt. We’ll start reading in verse 1, which says:
1 When Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief officer, the commander of the royal guard and an Egyptian, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household.
Genesis 39:1-2 (Common English Bible)
So two verses in it sounds like Joseph’s life has turned around. I mean, yes, he’s still a slave but he becomes successful and is ultimately put in charge of his master’s entire household. But it doesn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse.
And that happens when Joseph’s master’s wife takes a liking to him, and she wants their relationship to become more intimate – if you know what I mean. But Joseph refuses. He respects his master too much to sleep with his master’s wife. But his master’s wife realizes that she isn’t going to get what she wants, she accuses Joseph of sexually assaulting her.
And when we pick back up in Genesis 39, we’ll see what happens next. This time we’ll pick up in verse 19, which tells us:
19 When Joseph’s master heard the thing that his wife told him, “This is what your servant did to me,” he was incensed. 20 Joseph’s master took him and threw him in jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were held.
Genesis 39:19-20 (Common English Bible)
So first his brothers sell him out. And now his master has him thrown into jail. And that would’ve been enough for most of us to want to give up, but that’s not the end of Joseph’s story.
While he’s in prison, he once again becomes successful and he is put in charge of the whole prison. And that gives him the opportunity to help some other prisoners. And that’s exactly what Joseph does in Genesis 40. He finds out that two of the prisoners are having crazy dreams, and Joseph interprets their dreams for them.
After interpreting one of their dreams, and telling the man that he would soon be released from prison and able to serve in Pharaoh’s house again, Joseph tells him:
14 But please, remember me when you are doing well and be loyal to me. Put in a good word for me to Pharaoh, so he sets me free from this prison. 15 I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews, and here too I’ve done nothing to be thrown into this dungeon.”
Genesis 40:14-15 (Common English Bible)
And now let’s jump down to verse 23, which says:
23 But the chief wine steward didn’t remember Joseph; he forgot all about him.
Genesis 40:23 (Common English Bible)
So Joseph has been betrayed by his brothers, he’s been betrayed by his master, and he’s been betrayed by a fellow prisoner. So, as Joseph sat in his prison cell, he must’ve felt like everyone had given up on him. And you know what? When you feel like everyone has given up on you, you want to give up on yourself.
When you feel like everyone has given up on you, you want to give up on yourself.
That’s what happened to me when I was ready to walk away from ministry about 17 years ago. I talked about this last week, but back in 2006, I was ready to walk away from ministry before I even became a pastor. Now, I had served as a youth minister and interim pastor for a couple of years. But when I resigned from those positions, I could not find another church that wanted to hire me.
And it wasn’t from a lack of trying. I resigned from the first church I served in back in 2004. So I spent all of 2004, 2005, and 2006 trying to find another church job. And I applied for dozens of them. And I even had a few churches follow up with me.
I had a phone interview with a pastor in Boston – Massachusetts, not Kentucky – about a youth minister position. And I filled out a ten-page questionnaire they asked all of their candidates to complete…but I never heard back from them.
I interviewed for another youth ministry position over dinner with a pastor and his wife in Paris – Kentucky, not France – and I thought everything went well. I mean, we spent some time talking about my potential salary and everything. But after dinner was over, I never heard back from them.
I even made it far enough in the interview process with one church that they invited me to meet with their search committee and tour their facilities. And this wasn’t a church that was just down the road from where I was living. This church was on the other side of the state. It was so far into western Kentucky that I had to drive through Indiana to get there.
And I spent all day talking with this church. We had a great conversation. I was impressed with their church facilities – although I was thrilled that their parsonage was a double-wide trailer parked at the back of the church parking lot. But I thought for sure that when I left, I’d hear back from them in a few days about scheduling a trial weekend.
But a few days turned into a few weeks, and a few weeks turned into a few years, and a few years has now turned into 17 years. So I’m starting to feel like I’m never going to hear back from that church.
And I could keep going. Over the course of three years, I interviewed with at least a dozen churches for different positions. But I never heard back from any of them after the interviews were over. And when that happens time, after time, after time, after time it takes a toll on you.
And I can tell you that after going through that for three years, I felt like everyone had given up on me. So I was ready to give up on myself.
Now, obviously, I didn’t give up on becoming a minister…I wouldn’t be standing here right now if I did. So how did I keep going when it felt like everyone had given up on me? Did I have incredible willpower that kept me moving forward? Of course not, I already told you that I had made the decision to quit.
But even when I was ready to quit, God didn’t quit on me. God was still with me even though it felt like no one else was. And God was still working in my life even though I couldn’t see it. You see, while I was on the verge of officially dropping out of seminary and finding something else to do with my life, God was working behind the scenes. And just a few weeks before I was going to make it official and reach out to my seminary and tell them I wasn’t coming back for the Spring semester, God showed me what he was doing.
One afternoon, completely out of the blue, I received a phone call from a gentleman named Bob Markham. And Bob was calling on behalf of a church that I’d never heard of in a town I couldn’t find on a map.
But Bob was calling because this church wanted me to come and fill their pulpit one Sunday morning. And after preaching there a few times and interviewing with their search committee, I became the pastor of that church six months later. It’s been over sixteen years since I received that phone call, but I’ll never forget it. Because that was the day God showed me that even when it felt like everyone else had given up on me, God never did.
And God did the exact same thing for Joseph. Remember, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he had been thrown in prison by his master, and he had been forgotten by people who were supposed to help him. So Joseph had to feel like everyone had given up on him. But in Genesis 39:2, we were told:
2 The Lord was with Joseph.
So even if Joseph was ready to give up on himself, God had not given up on Joseph. God was with Joseph. And Joseph was able to succeed no matter what life threw at him because God was with him. After Joseph was sold as a slave, he was able to become the overseer of all his master owned because God was with him. When Joseph was thrown into jail he was able to become the warden’s most trusted prisoner because God was with him. And when the prisoner he helped eventually remembered his promise to Joseph, Joseph was able to rise through the ranks and become second in command in all of Egypt because God was with him.
And I want you to know that the same thing is true for you. No matter what you’re facing in life, you are not alone…God is with you. And this isn’t just something that we hear in Joseph’s story. This is a promise that God makes to us over and over again.
This is a promise that God made to Joseph’s father, Jacob, when God told him:
15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land.
Genesis 28: 15 (Common English Bible)
It’s the promise that the author of Psalm 139 clung to in the midst of troubling times when he wrote:
7 Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? 8 If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! 9 If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean — 10 even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
Psalm 139:7-10 (Common English Bible)
It’s the promise that God made the people of Israel through the prophet Zephaniah when he said:
17 The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory.
Zephaniah 3:17 (Common English Bible)
It’s a promise we find in one of my favorite passages, Hebrews 13:5, where God says:
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
Hebrews 13:5 (New International Version)
And I love this verse because in the original Greek, this passage has five negatives…which doesn’t work in English but makes perfect sense in Greek because the more times the negative is used the more it means it won’t happen. So it’s kind of like God telling us I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever leave you.
So when it feels like everyone has given up on you and you’re ready to give up too, before you quit remember that God hasn’t quit on you.
Before you quit remember that God hasn’t quit on you.
God is always with you. God is at work in your life. And God has big plans for you. So whatever you’re facing, God is with you and God will help you make it through.