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 an ice hockey fan and have faithfully followed the Toronto Maple Leafs, since I was a child. They have a storied existence but have not won the Stanley Cup in my lifetime (pretty sad as I’m pretty old). Recent years have shown constant improvements and a few years ago were particularly promising. A position in the playoffs seemed an almost certainty until a losing streak near seasons end, made it very questionable.
One of the goaltenders at the time, James Reimer, was a young Christian man who our family holds in high regard. He is unashamed to share his faith, and does so in honoring ways, yet he seems to most effectively be a witness in the way he conducts himself (1 Peter 2:12). I felt a deep compassion for him and prayed for him in those days as I am sure he 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 was 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 likely 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 may find yourself in situations where despite all your efforts, despite diligent training, you are not getting the results you would have expected and desire. It may be due to physical injury, mental strain, or no apparent reason, but in any case, it can be frustrating and can lead you on 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 (Genesis 37-48). Joseph was favored 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 then 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 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 honored 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 do 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” (1 Samuel 13:14). May I be such a man and be considered worthy to be a leader in God’s kingdom.