When I was in my twenties, I longed to hear someone say, “I see the hand of God on your life.” Somehow for an outsider to look into my life and tell me God was at work felt like it validated my whole reason for existence.
And really, experiencing the hand of God is central to our earthly lives. Is there anything more important than knowing God, being known by Him, and being an instrument in His hands for the fulfillment of His purposes?
But there were two problems with my yearning to hear those words:
First, I expected another human being to fill the role of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to confirm to me that I am God’s child and His heir, and
He is the best Source for affirmation, too. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs . . .” (Romans 8:16−17.)
Second,I expected my life would have a certain look if God was working in me, that His hand was quantifiable. But future glory is coupled with present suffering: Romans 8:17 concludes, “. . . heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him.”
It’s nice when outside observers can see God’s work in me, but God is no less at work when He shapes me in the darkness where no one can see. It is pleasant to think that following God leads us down paths of prosperity, but it is still God’s trail when He leads through the valley overshadowed by death and hardship and trouble.
Joseph’s life provides a shocking study on the hand of God. That God’s hand was on Him is unmistakable: The text itself tells us repeatedly, “The Lord was with Joseph.” The Lord was with Joseph when he served in the house of Potiphar in Egypt. So successful was Joseph that Potiphar left everything in his charge.
But Joseph’s success didn’t alter his slavery. And it paved the way for false accusations that sent him to prison. Would Potiphar’s wife have been determined to capture a man less successful, less handsome, less pure? These blessings of God, evidences that God was with Joseph, landed him in the clink.
And there, surrounded by political prisoners, God was with Joseph while he suffered. Psalm 105:18 tells us that they hurt Joseph’s feet with fetters and they put an iron collar on his neck. Joseph went through pain beneath the pressure of God’s hand.
That isn’t the only thing that happened to Joseph there in prison. God’s hand also elevated him to the position of being right-hand man to the keeper of the prison. But the opportunity didn’t alleviate the pain or set him free or give him a family. Joseph still wanted out of “the pit”—as he testified to the chief cupbearer whose dream he interpreted in that lonely place.
We like to think of God’s hand directing a life when His blessings are unmistakable. We can see God’s hand raising Joseph from prison to the palace. We can understand God’s hand giving us a much needed raise or restoring us from a violent sickness or providing the house of our dreams. We can believe that God’s hand is on us in our summertime, when the living is easy and hard times are far away.
But what about the prison experiences of life? What about the times when our servitude to a difficult employer is difficult to bear? What about when our friends are gone or sickness sets in or our children are rebellious or our job is given to another or we struggle to make ends meet? What about life’s winter—when the curtains are drawn and the coals on our grate scarcely warm the room?
Can we say that God’s hand was on King David only until he was old? Had God left Him when he huddled under the blankets and could not get warm? Did God leave Elisha, raiser of the dead, when he developed the sickness that would lead to his own death? Was God with John the Baptist in prison when the executioner came for his head?
I recently read an article asking the question, “Should all Christians be prosperous?”—and proceeding to suggest that all believers should have enough money. If we follow God’s ways, God will be with us, and we will be blessed, and we will have no lack.
Musing on that question and answer, I realized there is something worse than no hope—and that is false hope.
Where there is no vision, no promise for the future, no hope—the people perish. But where there is false hope, embittered people become disillusioned with God and die a terrible, tortured death while they are still living.
Those cherishing a false hope don’t know there is danger until they plunge over the cliff. They don’t know they need answers because they think they already have them. And when they pick up the broken pieces of their dead dreams, sometimes they are too angry or disconcerted or resentful to look to the Only Source of real hope, the only One who gives life to the dead. After all, it was in the name of this God that they were led to the graveyard—“I want nothing to do with Him.”
Does God bless those who follow Him? Absolutely. But His hand may look different than we expect.
To suggest that all Christians who follow God’s ways will be financially prosperous opens the door to doubting God—because that is neither His promise nor the testimony of His Word.
It is God’s plan for some Christians to be rich in faith—but poor in this world’s goods.
“. . . has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5).
Yes, all Christians will be prosperous, but maybe not now. We are heirs to the kingdom, and we look forward in faith built on a hope that is unshakeable—our eyes fastened on the Invisible God, not His tangible gifts.
“Have we come to the place where God can withdraw His blessings and it does not affect our trust in Him? When once we see God at work, we will never bother our heads about things that happen, because we are actually trusting in our Father in heaven whom the world cannot see.”
© Robert G. Robbins