Hope Under Pressure
May 17, 2020 – Rev. Donnell Wyche
I’m continuing in our Under Pressure sermon series. In this sermon series, we want to draw strength and encouragement from the Bible as we live daily under all kinds of pressure. Today, I want to offer encouragement from the story of Joseph to help us to cling to hope when we think all hope is gone.
Let’s turn to the story of Joseph and see what happens when we keep hope alive. We will start in Genesis 37:
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. (Genesis 37:2b-5)
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20)
I’m struck by how Joseph, the second youngest and much beloved son of Jacob, responds when his brothers, filled with hatred and jealousy, who plot to kill him, but realize that there is nothing to be gained from killing him so decide to sell him into slavery instead.
Sold to a master in the ruling class, Joseph arrived in Egypt, not yet a grown man. He was seventeen when his brothers sold him. He arrived all alone in Egypt, a foreigner, without a guide. He had to learn the language, customs, and traditions. You can imagine with me what it would have felt like to be all alone, full of fear, and regret, ,what this did to his identity. Many of us know what it means to be rejected, to be cast out. Not many of us know what it means to trapped, denied our freedom, choice, and self-determination.
What did Joseph have when he arrived in Egypt other than sorrow and regret? He had his knowledge of the God of his father and his dreams, which together established hope for him.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
We might except to find someone who has given up and surrendered, who has lost all hope. Instead, we find Joseph thriving in the most surprising ways in an unplanned and difficult situation. We know for sure that God was with Joseph.
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. …
The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. (Genesis 39:2-4; 5b)
I think Joseph was aware of God’s presence, which created a living hope in the midst of a pretty hopeless situation.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
What would it look like if, no matter the situation we find ourselves in, we had this hope living within us: that God is present and we are not alone?
When hope is alive within us others notice.
I love how Bryan Stevenson puts it,
“Hope is your superpower. It takes courage to be hopeful.”
Joseph’s master recognized that there was something different about Joseph; he noticed that God was with him. He realized that God favored him, and he became the beneficiary of that favor.
What if the hope that is alive within us even in the midst of our worst situations produced hope, blessing, and prosperity in others?
Hope is the bridge from the future into the present and it produces faith and love.
Joseph’s story continues: Falsely accused by his master’s wife for a crime he did not commit and imprisoned, Joseph doesn’t lose hope. Despite his tragedies, despite his hardship, despite his situation, Joseph clings to hope that God is still present with him. This hope is realized when the chief jailer puts Joseph in charge, and he interprets the dreams of the servants of Pharaoh. All he asks for is that they don’t forget him.
After a long while, Joseph was suddenly brought out of prison to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh – with such success that Pharaoh put him in charge of his major project to alleviate the effects of the coming famine. In his new role, he found himself selling corn to the very brothers who sold him into slavery, doing this without their knowledge. Seeking reconciliation, but reluctant to trust his brothers, he devises a plan to allow him to test the state of their hearts, and after they pass his test, he finally reveals who he is. The story ends happily, with the whole family surviving the famine and settling in Egypt.
However, after their father Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers worry that he will now take revenge on them for abandoning him, discarding him and selling him into slavery. So they come and tell him that Jacob had told them to seek his forgiveness. Joseph’s reply is one of the memorable statements of faith anywhere in the Bible.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Genesis 50:19-21)
Only the fruit of hope allows us to forgive and love like this.
Fear, anger, and injustice are the enemies of hope
When we are being assailed on every side, when we are overwhelmed, when worry has wrecked our lives, disrupted our sleep, robbed us of our peace, when all we have to sustain ourselves is fear, mixed with anxiety it’s easy to lose sight of hope.
In the midst of all that disappoints us, it can be difficult to figure out what to do. Our natural, emotional responses include fear, anger, lust, lying, scheming and can satisfy for a season, but the problem is they cannot give us something lasting.
Life that is abundant and overflowing, life that is rich and full, life that is free and generous.This kind of life comes from above, it comes from someone who overcame the world and defeated the powers.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)
When we activate hope, it helps us cast off fear, anger, lust, lying, scheming–all of the work we do to help motivate ourselves when life is difficult.
As the writer in Hebrews 6:19 says,
Hope is “the steadfast anchor of our souls” (Hebrews 6:19)
Hope gives us what we need to endure the hardships, disappointments, distractions, pain and suffering that we all face everyday.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
Where does our hope come from?
In order to have hope in this life, we need to have the mind of Christ, knowing that God is always near. We are never alone and never need to be afraid. When you are able to live within this reality and allow it to do its job, it will transform your thinking and comfort your heart, prevent anger from getting a grip on you and destroy the fear that tries to rule you.
Because Hope is rooted in the past but believes in the future.
Let’s be encouraged by Paul from Romans 12: 9b-14:
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12: 9b- 14)