As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
Are we prepared to simplify our lives for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?
Imagine that you are sitting peacefully at home, a knock comes at the door and an important-looking person announces to you, “The President/Prime Minister/King/Queen (or whoever is the ruler of your country) is visiting your town/village today and wishes to speak to you immediately.
Please have a wash, put on your best clothes, and then I will take you to see him/her. He/she believes that you have something important to say, and you have five minutes in which to give your message.” What would you say in those five minutes?
This is what happened to one of the men of the Bible, Joseph – except that he was not sitting quietly at home, but was in a prison, where he had been for a number of years, falsely accused of adultery. You can read about this eventful day in his life in Genesis 41.
It began much as any other day in the prison; then, as he was going about his usual business, royal messengers appeared – certainly not an everyday sight in the prison! “Pharaoh wants to see you, and you need to come quickly,” they told him.
All he had time for was a shave and a change of clothes, so that he was in a presentable state for an audience with Pharaoh; and off he goes.
Within a few minutes he is transported from the despair and squalor of the prison to the splendour and majesty of Pharaoh’s court. There is Pharaoh in his royal robes on his throne, surrounded by opulence and by all his priests and royal counsellors, most of whom were highly sceptical that this young Hebrew could do what all of them together had been singularly unable to do, namely interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Would he freeze, as I might well have done? Would he be completely overawed? Not at all!
Joseph was short and to the point. His words to Pharaoh did not last even five minutes – if you read them out loud, they take only a minute and a half, though undoubtedly they are a summary of a longer speech. He had learnt a bit about royal protocol when he was a slave to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
Most of all, he had learnt in the prison to commune with his God, even though there was not one other person there who shared his faith. Therefore, when he came into the glory Pharaoh’s court, he was not overawed because he knew that the glory of God far outshone it.
Right from the beginning he puts God in the centre. For when Pharaoh says that he had heard that Joseph can interpret dreams, he replies, “Not me; but God can.” What a far cry this is from the arrogant teenager who delighted to tell his brothers and his parents all about his dreams which showed him in such an important light (Genesis 37)! Those years in the prison had profoundly changed him, and had prepared him to be the second ruler of Egypt without the power going to his head.
Having given to Pharaoh God’s interpretation of his dreams, it would have been easy for Joseph to step back and say no more. But as the court goes quiet, reflecting on the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine which the dreams are predicting, Joseph hears God’s prompting.
Speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with the same kind of boldness and humility as Peter was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), he is audacious enough to advise Pharaoh on how to deal with the next 14 years. And Pharaoh likes his advice so much that he decides to appoint Joseph to put into practice all that he is suggesting.
What if Joseph had not been aware of God’s prompting and not taken this opportunity? What if he had simply shrunk back?
Shakespeare puts it much better than I can: in his play Julius Caesar, Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.” Because Joseph recognised the prompting of God, he was ready to seize the opportunity – Carpe Diem!
How can we commune with God, so that we are open to hear his prompting when it comes? Let’s hear the advice of another ex-prisoner, Wang Min Dao, imprisoned by the Chinese government for his Christian faith for 20 years, much of it in solitary confinement.
He says, ‘You need to build yourself a cell. When I was put in jail, I was devastated. I was an evangelist. I wanted to hold crusades all over China. I was an author. I wanted to write books. I was a preacher. I wanted to study my Bible and write sermons. But I had no Bible, no pulpit, no audience, no pen and paper. I could do nothing. Nothing except get to know God.
And for 20 years, that was the greatest relationship I have ever known. I was pushed into a cell, but you will have to push yourself into one. Simplify your life, so you have time to know God.’
Are we prepared to simplify our lives for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8)? Let us take time to commune with our God, so that we are ready to seize the day – Carpe Diem