“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18 AMP
Adversity is something we have all encountered at one point in our lives. For some, depending on their circumstances, adversity can be an everyday constant. Sadly, in war stricken and third world countries, adversity is a way of life. It’s how we all handle adversity that determines what happens to our character. Will we use it as an opportunity to build our character, or will we allow it to destroy what God is developing within us?
I have been dealing with an overbearing amount of adversity in 2017 both personally and professionally. Unfortunately it seems to be continuing as 2018 begins. Without being too detailed I will simply tell you that at first I tried focusing on just the facts, reiterating the truth and not being bothered by what was thrown at me. However, the more it continued at both levels, the more I allowed it to rattle me and I became consumed with bitterness and unforgiveness. I became reactive instead of responsive. I magnified the wrongs being done and I prayed some incredibly angry and irreverent prayers that even included a few swear words from time to time. I was so focused on my enemies’ toxic behaviors I couldn’t see that I too was becoming toxic. In fact, at one point I almost wrote a very prideful post about how to deal with toxic people. Although I had bible verses in mind I have to be honest, that post would have been written from an angry heart, definitely not words of wisdom from Abba.
Recently I’ve been surrendering these situations and my enemies to God. It’s a day to day, moment by moment effort because when you magnify something it can be challenging to let it go. Since doing that I have felt God reminding me of two men in His word who struggled with some serious adversity and how each one handled it. One chose to trust God no matter what and make the best of his circumstances. The other pouted, complained, hid from God and then secluded himself because God saved an entire city of toxic people. These two men were Joseph and Jonah.
Joseph had some very jealous brothers (Genesis 37:4) They were so jealous of his relationship with their father that they plotted to kill him. Instead they threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. He was sent away to another land completely cut off from his family and all that he knew. Those who bought Joseph then sold him to Potipher, an Egyptian officer. There’s nothing in Genesis 37 or 39 that show Joseph’s response or reaction. However, in chapter 39, verse 2 tells us this, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.” Clearly we can be sure that throughout this confusing and most likely frightening time for Joseph, he knew God was with him and he kept his eyes focused on the Lord.
Sometimes when I read the story of Joseph I imagine him being a methodical man who simply says, “Ok this is happening now-let’s see what God does with it.” Or perhaps his response was more like Ace Ventura’s “Alrighty then!” Who really knows. One thing is for certain, you won’t find any complaining from Joseph when you read his story.
If being sold by your brothers wasn’t bad enough, Joseph then gets put into prison because his boss’ wife accuses him of hitting on her. Again there’s nothing in scripture that shows Joseph defended himself, fought the accusations or reacted at all. We simply read “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him His faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.” (Gen 39:21 NLT) Chapter 39 closes with verse 23 which reads “The warden had no more worries because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.
Joseph’s story in Genesis ends when he is able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and is released from prison. God gifts him wisdom to not only interpret the dreams but also to develop a plan that saved all of them including his brothers and father from famine. In chapter 42, Joseph’s life comes full circle when he encounters his brothers again as they are in his land obtaining grain for his father and their families. That moment could have been Joseph’s perfect revenge but instead, Joseph chose grace and forgiveness. He not only fed his brothers he reunited with them and his father. Joseph does fool his brothers as a test to see if their hearts had changed and to find out information about his father and youngest brother. In the end however, Joseph says to them, “…I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me hear ahead of you to preserve your lives.” (Gen 45:4-5 NLT)
After Joseph’s father died, his brothers feared that’s when Joseph would execute revenge and they begged him for forgiveness. In chapter 50 verses 19 through 21, Joseph replies with this, “…Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good…don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” In that exact moment, Joseph demonstrated the same kind of forgiveness Jesus gave whilst hanging on a cross when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Then there’s Jonah. Anybody who’s ever attended Sunday School has most likely heard the story of Jonah and the whale. God told Jonah to go to Ninevah and announce His judgement on that city for all its evil acts. However, Jonah goes the opposite direction. If I didn’t know any better I would say perhaps Jonah was just directionally challenged but truth be told, Jonah deliberately disobeyed God’s order that landed him in the belly of a “great fish.” Jonah chapter 1 ends with telling us he was inside the fish for three days and three nights. Jonah was released once he prayed confessing his sins to God and professing God’s greatness over his situation.
Once God set Jonah free from the “whale”, He again tells Jonah to “get up and go the great city of Ninevah, and deliver the message I have given you.” (Jonah 2:2) Jonah obeys God this time and declares to Ninevah that God is going to destroy the city. The citizens of Ninevah believe what Jonah tells them and fast in a decree to show their sorrow for their actions. Even the king declared the fast and demanded everyone “pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.” (Jonah 3:8b NLT) The people of Ninevah hoped that their changes of heart would change God’s mind and it did exactly that. God did not carry through with the destruction He had planned.
God’s changed plans and redemption for Ninevah angered Jonah. I don’t mean it upset him I mean it enraged Jonah. Jonah was so filled with despair that he secluded himself waiting to see what the city would do. God provided shade, but also took the shade away by killing the plant. Jonah suffered through immense heat to the point he wished he was dead. God finally pointed out to Jonah that he was angry enough to die over a lost plant that had provided him temporary relief from the intense heat. He pointed out that Jonah did nothing to put bring life to the plant and it lived and died quickly. However, the people of Ninevah (people God created) had lived in spiritual darkness and then repented. How could God not feel sorry and give grace once they repented?
The story of Jonah ends with that question. I’m sure scholars could tell you what happened next but I haven’t studied outside of God’s word to be able to tell you what else happened to Jonah after that. I do know this-both men faced adversity. Joseph’s adversity came from nothing he did. Jonah brought adversity on to himself. Both had big decisions to make. Joseph chose to trust God and keep his focus on Who was really in control no matter the circumstances. Jonah chose to go his own way, defy God and even get angry with God. He ended up miserable and suffering because of his own choices. When we are faced with adversity we have choices to make also. In the face of adversity do we choose to be like Joseph or do we handle life’s curve balls like Jonah did? Each choice results in the consequence of God’s favor and blessing or living in the belly of a great fish (metaphorically speaking.)
The verse I opened with said, “if possible” be at peace with everyone. Let’s be realistic. Humanly speaking it’s simply NOT possible to live at peace with everyone, especially toxic people. But that’s why God also says, “Human speaking, this is impossible. But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26 NLT) I pray those dealing with adversity that is the bi-product of a toxic enemy, keeps their focus on God and allows Him to not only protect you but to avenge you as well. I also pray that those who are dealing with adversity because of your own disobedience that you will soften your hearts to God’s will and purpose, confess your sins and seek His way even if you don’t understand it. Please pray for me as well that I can be a Joseph during my own season of adversity and dealing with my toxic enemies.