Over the years I’ve thought about the life of Joseph. We can all take some comfort from his tests and trials, because they were not the end of Joseph’s story, but rather the beginning.
Joseph certainly had some spectacularly amazing opportunities to abandon or to reject what God had shown him about his future. I wonder if Joseph recognised that the trials and tests that came were not detours away from what God had shown him—but rather stepping-stones toward it?
Not long ago I was driving somewhere when I decided to stop at a local cafe to get a bite to eat. When I arrived, there were no available car parks anywhere in the street—not one! As I drove to the top of the crowded street and turned around to make my way back down the street again, a single car pulled out of a spot, just as I was approaching. Immediately I heard these words:
“Sometimes you need to go around the block before your place is ready”.
Joseph went around the block a few times (Gen. 37-41). As I am writing this, I can almost see some of you—faceless and nameless—yet I see you. For some of you it has been a long and difficult road and you are wondering why. The plans and purposes of God are not thwarted just because it feels like you’re in a holding pattern, waiting to land! You’ve not been forgotten. These are the times to draw near to Him and feel His heart for you and hear His voice!
Before Saul ever knew God had prepared a place for him as the first King of Israel, he found himself on a journey that he did not expect he’d have to take. (Here’s where the asses in the title of this message take centre stage!)
Saul’s father (Kish) owned some donkeys that went missing one day. Kish sent his son Saul out with a servant to find the donkeys. They travelled for 3 days from town to town and through the hill country of Ephraim. At each place they arrived (hopeful they would find the lost donkeys), “they found them not”. Was Saul getting weary of this journey? Yes! Did it appear to be a fruitless, failed effort? Yes! So much so that on the third day Saul said to the servant: “Come, let’s go back (home), or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” (1 Sam.9:5)
I’m sure Saul would have looked at the situation very differently had he realised that this was to be the most important journey of his life! You see, it was not a detour—it was a stepping-stone.
But here’s the irony of it all: it was those few lost donkeys that God used to bring Saul face to face with the prophet Samuel for the first time. A detour that was not a detour after all! There was purpose in the inconvenience.
(Note: King Saul did eventually mess things up, quite royally (pardon the pun), but that doesn’t take away from the truths found in his story.)
Just when Saul was about to give up and return home to his father, he ran into the prophet Samuel (quite literally) at the gates of the very last town he entered on his search for those annoying donkeys.
Saul enquires of Samuel about the lost donkeys. Saul was focused and preoccupied with getting back what had been lost (or stolen). But I love Samuel’s response: “As for the donkeys… do not worry about them; they have been found” (1 Sam. 9:20). There was a greater purpose to Saul’s 3 lost days chasing donkeys. Trust God to bring about His purposes for your life—in, through and despite those inconvenient places and difficult seasons.
Worrying about what we can’t control (or what is not ours to control) can distract from what God has put right in front of us.
Saul did not recognise that he was not in that town because of some missing donkeys—he was there to step into his place as the first King of Israel.
The day before Saul had even arrived in town, God had set up a meeting with him and Samuel:
About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines…1 Samuel 9:15-16 (NIV)
Sometimes we can go through difficult times where we feel like God doesn’t even know we are in town. Yes He does! Don’t whine about the lost donkeys—they really might be far more necessary than you think.
God Himself had set something aside for Saul—He had reserved Saul’s portion ahead of time. Thank God for a few lost donkeys!
“…Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Set it apart.‘ ” So the cook took up the thigh with its upper part and set it before Saul. And said, “Here it is, what was kept back. It was set apart for you. Eat; for until this time it has been kept for you…” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.1 Samuel 9:23-24 (NIV)
What amazing things your Heavenly Father has prepared for you to walk in and reserved for you ahead of time. Remain faithful where you are, and let God move you, at the right time, into those good things. So don’t despise the lost asses—they might just be leading you to God’s prepared place.