Matt Hagee - Living Through the Long Years
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Genesis 37:2 says, "And Joseph was seventeen". At this point in his life, he's known very little hardship. Up until his 17th birthday, he was not only his father's favorite, but he was his brothers' arch enemy. They hated the fact that dad liked him more than the rest. They hated the fact that Joseph got a nice coat of many colors and they got hand-me-downs. They hated the fact that whenever it was time to sit down and eat, Joseph always got to sit close to dad, while the others had to get shoved off to the other side of the table. The Bible says, "Joseph was 17". And Jacob made a decision. Let's send Joseph out with his brothers so that he can learn the family business. And there's Reuben and Issachar. And there's Judah, and there's gad. And they sit there and they hear this plan. We're going to send Joseph out to learn something from you boys. And they said, yeah, we'll teach him something.
Joseph was 17, and he refused to behave like his brothers did. Joseph was 17, and he made a decision that set him apart from the rest. He wasn't going to be the hot-tempered son of Jacob. He wasn't going to be the one that gave into every temptation. He wasn't going to be the one that acted like everyone else. And because it distinguished him, his brothers despised him, but God saw in him someone who could be used. You see, Joseph decided that he was going to live of a different character than those he was around. And when he did, God said, this one can change the world. So God gave him a dream. And in Genesis 37:19, you would think that his brothers would go, "Wow, Joseph's got a dream". But they see him coming towards them. And in Genesis 37:19, they said, "Here comes this dreamer. Let's kill him and see what becomes of his dream".
Now I don't know about you. Maybe you're struggling with some family dysfunction today. But I assure you, when the family sees you coming, and they say, "Let's kill him", y'all probably need to take a break and figure some things out. Joseph was 17, and his brothers decided that they were going to end his dream. They throw him in a pit. They sell him to slave traders. He's headed for Egypt. He's auctioned off. And for 13 years, Joseph endured. For 13 years, Joseph went through the unthinkable. For 13 years, Joseph didn't feel like he was anyone's son: he was forgotten. For 13 years, Joseph didn't feel like he was favored, because he was enduring. For 13 years, Joseph had to do what he was told to do in places where he didn't want to do it, and accomplish things that he never thought he'd have to do. Because for 13 years, he was living through the long years.
And I believe that there are many of you here and thousands of you who are watching, who know exactly what I mean when I say, "Living through the long years," living through a season of struggle that doesn't seem like it's ever going to end, walking through a trial that you have to endure, and it causes you to wonder if you can take the next small step of faith. The long years are a season in your life when it seems like no one knows and no one cares. It's a year where you've struggled in your business. It's a year where maybe you've struggled in your home or your marriage. It's a year in which the things that you thought you would never see happen, not only did they happen, but they keep happening over and over and over again.
When this year started, you thought it was going to be a great year of provision, but the provision didn't come. When this year began, you didn't think it would be a season of sickness. And now all you're doing is praying for healing. When this year started, you were filled with hope and enthusiasm, but all you've known is torment and anguish. And in the midst of it all, you sit in church today, and you say, "It has been a long year". So it's one thing to know that the long year will end. But the thing that you have to ask yourself is "Why"? Why do we even have to go through the long year? Why couldn't we just go from good to good, to great to great, to better to better, to best to best? Why these seasons of struggle?
And one of the things that people want to do in the church world today is they want to believe that if you are a child of God, you'll never struggle. If they told you that, they lied! Because the Bible teaches the exact contrary. Job said, "As surely as sparks fly upward, men are born to trouble". Everyone that God used, everyone that God had a plan for, everyone who did something great for the King of kings and the Lord of lords, they went through a struggle. They all graduated from the same university of adversity. And God has a seat saved for you. James said to the New Testament church, "Think it not strange when you fall into various trials". Peter said it this way, "Rejoice, knowing that the same suffering is being shared by you all". Put that on a greeting card and send it to a friend.
Come join my church. Rejoice: we're all suffering. But what was it about their mindset that would allow them to look at a season of struggle and say, "Think it not strange," or they would look at a season of struggle and then they would shout for joy? This was not some made-up outcome that they were striving for. It was something that they truly enjoyed. Why? Because they recognized that whenever they were in a season of struggle, God was growing them. Whenever they were in a season of struggle, God was preparing them. Whenever they were in a season of struggle, he was getting ready to open up the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon them. They didn't know how big the blessing would be. They didn't know how the outpouring would come. They didn't know all of the details, but they knew that God's hand was upon them: and that he was taking them somewhere that was greater than what they could ask, think, or imagine.
So when the problem came, they just started praising God, and saying, thank you, Jesus, you've still got a plan for me. When the struggle came, they said, you know I'm going to be stronger when this is over. I'm going to be able to endure more. I'm going to be able to do more. I'm going to be able to receive more. I'm going to be able to accomplish more. And I assure you, child of God: if he did that for them, he's doing it for you. The question is: can you see the joy in enduring the long year? People want to know: why do we have to endure this? People ask God, "What's your plan"?
Oftentimes, people take the self-centered approach: "Why me"? There's two reasons. The first is that God wants to use adversity to conform you, to transform you, to change you. That's right: there are some of you that need to make a change. Maybe it's not you. Maybe it's somebody to your right or left. She just whispered in his ear, "He's talking about you". If heaven had an H.R. Department, there is an action plan and your name is on it. And you can find this action plan in Romans 8:28. Oh, we love that verse. But the thing about that verse is that you don't really understand what it means that all things work together for the good of those that love him and are called according to his purposes until you connect it to the next verse, which verse 29 says that you would be conformed into the image of his son.
So God has a plan for you. He wants to conform you into the image of his son. He wants you to think like Jesus thinks. He wants you to talk like Jesus talks. He wants you to act like Jesus acts. He wants you to do what Jesus did. And until you think that way, talk that way, act that way, and live that way: you've got some changes to make. The second reason that we walk through seasons of adversity is because the Bible says, "We are in this world: we are not of it". Jesus said it this way: he said, "The world hates me: the world will hate you". What's going on right now in this church? We're demonstrating that we are in this world: we're not of it. We are a group of people that are walking through the same pandemic as everyone else. How are we choosing to live? Not on our fears, but on our faith.
Any time you distinguish yourself from the group, you're going to walk through adversity. But you need to know that everyone that God uses for his purpose, he separates for a season. God separated everyone that he used, so that he could have the opportunity to teach them how to hear his voice. And sometimes, adversity is the only place that you can be isolated enough to start to listen to what God has to say to you. Joseph was 17 years old, and suddenly he's enrolled in the university of adversity. And the Bible says in Genesis 41 that he was 30. Thirteen years, he walked through a long season. When you read the rest of his life, he died at an old age. And he served in Egypt for 80 years.
You see, it's easy to see God's goodness from the backside of the trouble. It's easy to see how faithful he's been when you look over your shoulder at yesterday. But how do you get through those long years? I want to share with you five things that you have to do in order to get through the long years. First, you cannot give up. When you enter into your long season, you've got to give it all you've got. When people go into a season of struggle, the first thing that they want to do is take a sabbatical. But whenever trouble comes, the only way that you can get through trouble is work your way through it. Don't quit. How did Joseph survive in what others drowned in? Effort. That's something that this young generation desperately needs to hear. Effort comes before excellence.
When Joseph was on his knees, scrubbing Potiphar's floors, God was standing over him. And he says, I know this didn't look like much, Joseph, but I promise you: you're closer to the breakthrough than you've ever been before. As Joseph continued to pour out his effort, as Joseph continued to distinguish himself, Joseph did good work. This is what Jesus said in Matthew 5: he said, "Let me see your good work". Notice how those two words go together, "Good work". Why? Because some people think it's just good to work. But there's a difference between work and good work. How many of you've ever been frustrate because you paid for good work, but all you got was work? As a child of God, be a person of excellence.
Too many people walk through the long years, and they do not survive them. Why? Because rather than give it all they've got, they give up. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul. He said, "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all of your might", why? "As unto the Lord and not unto men". God is watching. God is the one who will reward you. When that time comes, let your life be lived in such a way that what you get to hear is, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant". Don't give up. When you're walking through the long years, not only do you not give up, but you can't give in. It's going to be in the hardest seasons of your life that the greatest temptations are going to come, not just the temptation to quit, but the temptation to walk away from your faith, the temptation to do what you thought you'd never do.
You see Joseph, in being an individual who was going to put in the effort and give excellent work to Potiphar, not only did he earn the respect of Potiphar, but he caught the eye of Potiphar's wife. She couldn't handle herself. The Bible says that she tempted him. Now here is the thing: James says that each one of us is tempted when we're drawn into our own desires. So if Joseph is being tempted, guess what? He wanted the woman. Seventeen-year-old, young man in a foreign country, there's all kinds of natural reasons why. She tempted him. And as subtle or as overt as it was, finally all of the stars aligned. And she just put on a full-on assault. The house is empty. She looks right at Joseph, and she says, "Lie with me".
Joseph spoke the truth to his temptation. And you would think, right here, God would go, "Angels, just go down there and catch him and carry him off". But no. He did the right thing, and he wound up in the wrong place. Don't ever think that your good behavior qualifies you to skip out on the next step in the long year. Joseph says, "I cannot endure this temptation and sin against God". He's falsely accused of rape, and he goes to prison. Now there's a couple of things you need to know about the circumstances surrounding this issue. Joseph was a slave. His life was only based on the value that he could be bought or sold for. So if a slave in Egypt would have raped a general's wife, he would have had his head cut off. But because Potiphar didn't believe the accusation, and Potiphar wanted this thing covered up, Joseph was not only spared, he didn't die. But he was put in the darkest dungeon.
The Bible says "He was put in dungeon that was below the surface of the earth". Why? Because Potiphar didn't want to be publicly humiliated by this individual. So there he sits in the prison. And the third thing that Joseph had to learn to do in the long years was be patient. Everyone has to wait. Everyone has to endure. You don't get to choose where you wait. It would be wonderful if we got to endure our season of struggle in the penthouse at J.W. Marriott. But that's not how it works. But here's what God says will happen for you when you do wait. In Isaiah, he said, "They that wait upon the Lord (those who are patient), he will renew their strength. They'll mount up like wings of eagles. They'll run and not grow weary. They'll walk and not faint". Because when you have patience to wait upon the Lord, you begin to recognize that his promises are what gives you strength. It's not the outcome that gives you strength. It's the promise that gives you strength.
Joseph waited patiently. And the fourth thing that you have to do in the long years that we learn from Joseph is you can't quit caring for others. Oftentimes, when we endure seasons of struggle, we immediately think about ourselves, and we tell our friends, "I'm just not going to be able to help you anymore, because I'm walking through this". You need to know something. If you want to get through your season of struggle, the best way to do it is help somebody else out of theirs. But here we are. Joseph is in the prison. In Potiphar's house, he did good work. And because of his good work, Potiphar put him in charge.
In the prison, what does Joseph do? He does good work. And the warden places him as the trustee over all of the inmates. This guy can't help but get promoted. And here he is walking through the dungeon one day. He's not sitting in his cell sulking in his sorrow, talking about how unfair life has been to him. He's not sitting in his cell, saying, everything was going right and then this COVID thing happened. He's walking up and down the cell block, talking to people. Hey, how are you doing today? I'm in prison, Joseph. And one day, he walks by a cell, and he sees a butler and he sees a cupbearer. And he looks in the cell and he sees that they're sad. And he says, "Why are you so sad"?
Think about that. Thirteen years, Joseph has been walking through a living hell. And he still wants to know: how's your day going? The butler and the cupbearer say, "We've had this dream and we don't know what to think about it. We're trying to figure it out". And Joseph looks at them. And you know what he says? "I can interpret dreams". Really? You dreamt that you would rule. You told your brothers that you would be on a throne over them. Dude, you are below the surface of the earth. I don't know if you call that successful interpretation, but I think you need to go back to class. But Joseph interprets the dream. Why? Because he cares for others. Joseph tells the cupbearer: he says, "Here's what's going to happen. You're not going to get your job back".
As a matter of fact... pft. But then he tells the butler: he says, "In a few days time, they're going to have all this sorted out up there, and you're going to get back to your old self". And in caring for others, Joseph finally makes a request. He says, "Mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house". Finally, we get to see how much this season of struggle has affected Joseph. He says, "Get me out of this house". I don't belong here. I haven't done anything to deserve this. If you do see Pharaoh, would you say something to him for me? And in this, Joseph has to put all of his lessons together. He can't give up. He can't give in. He has to be patient. He has to care for others.
But the fifth lesson that he has to learn is that you cannot hope in others: you can only hope in God, because others will fail you. They don't have the plan for you. They don't know where you are and what you're going through. And they don't know how to get you where you're at to where you need to be, but God does. I hear Joseph make this plea to the butler in my head. I see it in the theater of my mind. He says, "When you see Pharaoh, tell him about me, and get me out of this house". And then he goes back to his cell and he's pacing, and he says, it'll just be a matter of time. The butler's going to be up there with Pharaoh. He's going to say something to him. They're coming down to get me. I'm going to pack. I don't have anything to pack. I'll just keep pacing. He hears a key coming through the door. They're coming for me. That's them. They're coming for me. The door closes. Nobody comes down. He spends the rest of his day, waiting, thinking: it's just a matter of time. But that day turns into a week. That week turns into a month. That month turns into years.
Joseph was forgotten. And in that period of time, he recognized that he could not depend on anyone but God alone. Why? Because had the butler gotten out of prison on that day, and gone to Pharaoh right away, and said, "Hey, Pharaoh, there's a guy in the prison that was with me and you need to get him out of there," well, Pharaoh might have pardoned Joseph, but he wouldn't have promoted Joseph. Pharaoh might have given him his freedom, but he wouldn't have given him his future. Pharaoh might have given him the opportunity to get back at Potiphar, but Pharaoh would not have made Potiphar kneel when Joseph came riding by.
You see, you can only hope in God, because while you're waiting, it's God who's working everything out. It's God who's moving mountains in your future. It's God who's making a way where there seems to be no way. It's God who's taking the time to make sure that everything is set up, so that when you arrive right where he wants you to be, there's a table in the presence of your enemies. And his goodness and his mercy is upon it. And his grace is overflowing in it. And all of the things that he's promised you are prepared for you, so that whenever you sit down, it's his angels to your right, and it's his angels to your left that are sitting there showing the world how good God can be in the land of the living.
I know you're walking through a long season. I know you feel like giving up. I know you feel like giving in. I know that you don't want to be patient. But what I'm telling you, child of God, is hold on! Hold on! Don't give up! Don't give in! God is with you! He'll make you the head and not the tail. He'll make you above only and not beneath. He'll give you houses you didn't build. He'll give you wells you didn't dig. He'll give you vineyards you didn't plant. If you do it on your own, you're not going to get there. But if today you say, "God, with you, I can do all things," he'll show you the grace, the mercy, the strength, the kindness, the joy like you've never known before! Child of God, he's got a plan for you! He's got a promise for you! He's got something for you greater than you could ask, think, or imagine! Don't give up! Stay strong, because God is on your side! Give the Lord a handclap of praise!
If Jesus came back today, would you be ready to meet him? If the trump of God were to sound, and you were to stand before him this evening to give an account of your life, would you be able to say that you've been washed by his blood? Because while he, through his love, is with you: you, through your submission to him, are able to receive his blessings in your life. So here's what I want to do. Everyone in this room and those of you who are watching, repeat this prayer with me.
Lord Jesus Christ, today, in faith, I receive your grace, your forgiveness, your mercy, because you are my Savior. Lord, as I walk through a season of struggle, give me the strength through your word to overcome every temptation, the desire to quit, the impatience to want my way instead of your will, because today, Lord God, my hope is in you and you alone. Thank you, Jesus, for all that you've done. Thank you, Father, for sending your son. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for filling me with strength and power, in Jesus' name. Amen.