I first felt God nudging me into ministry when I was 13 years old. But at that point, I still dreamed of becoming a professional football player when I grew up, so I wasn’t ready to listen to what God was calling me to do. But a few years later, when I was 17, God stopped nudging and got straight to the point.
It happened about 24 years ago in the church I grew up in. The church was right in the middle of a spring revival, and each service was designed to focus on a particular group in the church. So there was one night that focused on the seniors, and a night for the women, and a night for the men. But on this particular night, the service was all about youth and young adults…but you never would’ve known it by looking at the crowd. In a sanctuary filled with more than a hundred people, there were exactly two of us that were under the age of eighteen — me and my sister.
But, since the guest speaker had been asked to preach on youth night at this revival, he decided to speak to the youth in attendance. And over the course of his 25-minute sermon, this minister directly asked me and my sister a handful of questions. But the truth is that I don’t remember any of them, to be completely honest, I don’t really remember that sermon at all. But in all fairness, this happened 24 years ago, so go ahead and try to remember what sermons you heard back in 1999 and you’ll understand why I don’t really remember it.
So if God didn’t speak to me through that sermon, then how did God speak to me that night? Was it through the hymns that we sang? Was it the special music that was performed? Was it a prayer that was offered, or a scripture that was read? No, no, no, and no.
God spoke to me that night after the service had come to an end. As the other folks in attendance were waiting for their chance to shake the guest speaker’s hand and thank him for his message, this man somehow managed to sneak over to talk with me.
He thanked me for participating in his sermon, but the casual conversation that I was used to having with other ministers soon turned into something more serious. And that’s because this guest speaker who openly admitted that he didn’t know me from Adam, as the expression goes, told me that he felt God was calling me into ministry.
Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I was completely stunned. Now, most people would’ve been stunned because they never would have dreamed of being a minister…but I had been struggling to understand what God was calling me to do for the better part of five years. And after 25 minutes, this guy — whose name I don’t even remember — made it crystal clear to me.
And from that point forward, I started preparing to become a minister. After finishing high school, I spent the next four years studying religion at Georgetown College. Along the way, I served as a youth minister in a small church on the outskirts of Scott County for two and a half years and I spent six months serving as their interim pastor. I got ordained and started applying for any open ministry positions I could find.
But the only job I was able to find after I graduated college was one working at a toy store making $8 an hour. That’s right, I had my bachelor’s degree and I was selling Barbie dolls, which was a far cry from where I thought I’d be when God called me into ministry.
I thought I’d spend most of my working life wearing suits and ties…but instead, I wore a company polo shirt and shorts every day, which to be honest is a little more my style. I thought I’d be having in-depth conversations about the letters of Paul…but instead, I spent a lot of my time talking with customers about the latest Polly Pocket toys. I thought I’d be working tirelessly to build the kingdom of God…but instead, I spent my days trying to build a profit for a company that went out of business a couple of years later.
When I first graduated college, I couldn’t wait to start working on Sunday mornings. But the only thing I found myself looking forward to when I was working at the toy store was having Sundays off. That way I could still find a church where I could worship, and use what I’d learned in college as a volunteer. The only problem was, I never did find that church.
I spent my first couple of years out of college visiting dozens of different congregations. I talked with different pastors and church members, trying to find a place where I could fit in. But I never really did. The truth is that I was an underemployed, 20-something-year-old, without a wife or kids. And not too many churches had a ministry for someone like me. So, most of the time when I visited a church for the first time, the people there looked at me funny and didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
But I still felt like God was calling me into ministry. So while I was working at the toy store, I was also going to seminary. I kept applying for any church position I could find, and I interviewed at a dozen different churches…but I never heard anything back from any of them.
So after three years of doing everything that I could to do the work that I knew God was calling me to do, I was ready to give up. And that’s essentially what I did. I stopped applying for church positions and started looking for a better-paying job any place I could find it. I kept going to seminary, but I stopped doing the work. So I have one semester on my transcript where I didn’t make A’s or B’s, I made I’s — as in incompletes — because I had lost all motivation. And, when that semester came to an end, I decided that I wasn’t going to return for the next one because it just seemed like I was wasting my time.
And we’ve all been there. We’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up.
We’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up.
You may have been ready to give up after your doctors spent months poking and prodding you but they still couldn’t figure out why you weren’t feeling well. You may have been ready to give up when the company that you worked at for decades decided to downsize and you had to try to find a new job. You may have been ready to give up when your marriage hit a rocky patch and your spouse threatened to walk out. You may have been ready to give up when someone you loved more than anything in this world was taken from this world far too soon.
We’ve all been there. And because we all have times when we’re ready to quit, we all have to figure out how we can keep going when we’re ready to give up. So how do we do that? How do you keep going when you’re ready to quit?
How do you keep going when you’re ready to quit?
That’s what we’re talking about right now at Melbourne Heights. Right now, we’re working our way through a series of sermons called “Before You Give Up.” Throughout this series, we’re talking about how you can keep going when you’re ready to quit.
And to help us figure out how we can keep going when we’re ready to quit, we’re taking a closer look at someone who had every reason to give up…but he never did. So who is this person? His name is Joseph and we find his story in the book of Genesis.
Now, the book of Genesis is going to tell us the story of how one nation came to have a special role in God’s plans for all of humanity. And it began when God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation so that Abraham and his descendants could bless all the people and all the nations of the earth. God would renew this covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob. But things start to get a little more complicated with Jacob’s sons.
Jacob has twelve sons. And when you have that many kids, there’s going to be some sibling rivalry. And Jacob doesn’t help matters here because he obviously has a favorite son…and that favorite son is Joseph. Jacob doted over Joseph. While Joseph’s brothers worked all day, Joseph got to play. While his brothers were wearing hand-me-downs, Jacob 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 stayed at home. So Joseph was clearly Jacob’s favorite son…and that didn’t sit well with his brothers.
In Genesis 37:4, we’re told:
4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him and couldn’t even talk nicely to him.
Genesis 37:4 (Common English Bible)
But I told you a minute ago that we were going to be looking at Joseph’s story because he had every reason to give up…but right now, it just sounds like Joseph’s a spoiled kid who has everything going for him. So why are we looking at this spoiled kid’s story to learn how we can keep going when we’re ready to quit?
Well, Joseph’s story takes a complete 180 one day when his dad sends him out to find his brothers and to check on the family’s flock of sheep. Joseph finds his brothers in a place called Dothan which was about sixty miles away from their homes. Now, sixty miles may not sound like a big deal to us today because we can hop on the interstate and travel sixty miles in less than an hour but, in Joseph’s time, it would’ve taken at least three days to travel sixty miles.
And that means Joseph was a long way from his father’s protection. So when Joseph finds his brothers, his brothers decide to do something to their spoiled brat of a brother when there’s no chance their dad will ever find out about it. So what do they do?
If you’ve got a Bible close by grab it and turn to Genesis 37, and I’ll show you what his brothers do. Genesis 37, I’ll start reading in verse 23. It says:
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)
So in the blink of an eye, Joseph goes from being his father’s favorite son to being sold as a slave. And, as hard as it may be to believe, Joseph’s story is going to get worse before it gets better. So he was betrayed by his brothers and then sold as a slave. But it doesn’t take long before he finds himself entrapped and imprisoned. He gets sold out and mistreated. And even when it seems like his story is starting to turn around the people who made promises to Joseph ended up breaking them.
So time and time again, life sucker punches Joseph and then it kicks him while he’s down. So he has every reason to quit…but he never does. No matter how many times Joseph got knocked down, he kept getting back up. And he didn’t just survive when he had every reason to quit, Joseph thrived.
Yes, he was sold as a slave…but he became the chief servant in his master’s house. Yes, he was thrown into prison…but the warden put him in charge of all of the prisoners. Yes, the people who promised to help him forgot about their promises for years…but ultimately they came through, and allowed Joseph to become the second most powerful person in the most powerful empire in the world at the time.
So how did Joseph do it? How did he flourish in the midst of so much adversity? How did he keep going when he had every reason to quit?
Well, Joseph is going to answer that question for us a little later in the book of Genesis. You see, about twenty years after Joseph’s brothers threw him into that cistern and sold him as a slave, their roles were reversed. Remember, I told you just a second ago that Joseph became the second most powerful person in the most powerful empire in the world. And Joseph’s brothers had to come to Joseph for help.
And when Joseph had the chance to settle the score with his brothers for how they had treated him twenty years earlier, he didn’t do it. And if you’ll turn to Genesis 50:20, Joseph explains why. And by explaining why he doesn’t settle the score with his brothers, he helps us start to see how we can keep going when we want to quit.
So let’s take a look at Genesis 50:20 together, it says:
20 You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today.
Genesis 50:20 (Common English Bible)
In life, we’re all going to find ourselves in situations that make us feel like giving up. We’re going to have issues with our health, or hit rough patches in our marriages, or struggle at school or work. But if you’re going to keep going when you want to give up, you have to learn that when you’re in a bad situation, God has good planned for your life.
When you’re in a bad situation, God has good planned for your life.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m telling you. So I want you to pay attention to what I’m about to say. I’m not telling you that God puts you in situations where you’ll feel like giving up. God doesn’t do that. God does not put you in bad situations. God doesn’t try to make you give up. What I’m telling you is that when you are in a bad situation, when you feel like giving up, God still has a good planned for your life.
It was true for Joseph. Because even though Joseph was sold as a slave and thrown into prison, God still planned for Joseph to become the second in command over all of Egypt. And in that position, Joseph would be able to save countless lives…including the lives of his own brothers.
It’s been true for me. Because even though I reached a point in my life where I honestly believed I would never be able to be a pastor, God still had good planned for me. I’ve now been a pastor for fifteen years. And, as hard as it is for me to wrap my head around, God has used my ministry to touch hundreds of thousands of people.
And it’s true for you too. You are a child of God, with infinite value and worth. And God has good planned for you because there is something in you that this world needs. And because of that, I want to end this sermon by telling you that if you’re in a bad situation right now and you want to quit, before you give up you need to know that you will get through this.
Before you give up you need to know that you will get through this.
It may not be quick or painless, but you will get through this. There is something in you that this world needs. So keep going and watch for the good that God has planned for you.