Genesis 37:24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it
I am a fan of ice hockey and I’ve been closely following a Canadian team since I was a child. They have a storied existence but it has been decades since they won the highest honour, that being to win the Stanley Cup. Recent years have shown constant improvements and this year has been particularly promising, until very recently. A position in the playoffs seemed an almost certainty until a recent losing streak which has made this very questionable.
One of the goaltenders, the one in net at this time, is a young Christian man who I and my family hold in high regard. He is unashamed to share his faith, and does so in honouring ways, yet he seems to most effectively be a witness to others in the way he conducts himself (1 Peter 2:12). I have felt a deep compassion for him and prayed for him in recent days as I am sure he has felt the weight of expectation on him, felt the sting of disappointment of not being able to perform at his best, and (while unfair) felt that he is letting down countless fans. While sports may seem insignificant to many, to this young man it is his job and passion, one which I know he wants to do to the best of his abilities.
As an athlete, you will one day find yourself in a similar situation. Perhaps you will never make it to the very public stage like this hockey player, but you will certainly find yourself in situations where despite all your efforts, despite diligent training, you are not getting the positive results you would have expected and desperately long for. It may be due to physical injury, it may be mental strain, or there may be no apparent reason, but in any case it can be hugely frustrating and can lead you to a dangerous downward spiral, especially if you feel you are letting others down. The obvious question is: “but why God?”
When I have gone through similar things I have often thought of Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob (his story is told in Genesis 37-48). Joseph was favoured and given a multi-coloured jacket by his father. Out of jealousy of Joseph’s special treatment, and anger over a dream Joseph shared, his brothers threw him into a pit in the desert and thereafter sold him into slavery. Joseph made his way to Egypt where, at the age of 17, he was sold to Potiphar (assistant to the Pharoah of Egypt). For 13 years Joseph worked diligently and led Potiphar’s house only to be unfairly thrown in prison after he resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife.
In prison, Joseph once again worked diligently and was put in charge of all the other prisoners. The Pharaoh`s cupbearer spent time in prison and Joseph helped him interpret a dream from God. The cupbearer was appreciative so Joseph asked him not to forget what he did. Unfortunately Joseph spent two more years in jail before the cupbearer remembered and mentioned him to the Pharoah.
We know how the story ends, with Joseph leading Egypt and ultimately saving his family (God’s people), but I have often tried to imagine how Joseph felt in the pit, both the physical pit and the pit of the jail. What had Joseph done to deserve this? Nothing, in fact he had continually honoured God by acting righteously. What I recognized is that unlike me, God is no wimp and recognizes that his leaders need to be trained, they need to be matured, and unfortunately that happens through trials in the fire as he tests our faith (James 1: 1-4). It is not difficult to see God’s hand at work when we are blessed, but can we likewise see it when we are in the pit? Can you “consider it pure joy…when you face trials of many kinds”? If not, then God likely still has sanctifying work to do in your life. Offer your praise to God in your trial and ask him to strengthen you to walk well through it and be a light for others. Your praises may be with tears flowing, but God has a special place in his heart for that sort of honesty and determined faithfulness. David’s Psalms are filled with such honesty and he was called a “man after God’s own heart”. May I be such a man and be considered worthy to be a leader in God’s kingdom.