Seventeen-year old Joseph was the apple of his father’s eye. His brothers, though, weren’t happy about that, especially since Joseph was a bit of a dreamer who spent more time herding sheep than helping his brothers. Joseph soon found himself in crisis. 

Life as he’d always known it shifted radically when his brothers tricked him one day and sold him into slavery. He was taken from a homeland full of promise, whisked away into a foreign and troubled land and forced into manual labour. He had no idea what the future held.

Weather vane pivot

Time for a change of direction? PICTURE: John Ladikos/Unsplash

For Joseph, it was a sudden plunge into disruption, catastrophe and heartache all at the same time. (Sound familiar?) And had God not intervened in his life, he would have, well, remained a safe, dreaming shepherd.

The story of Joseph - found in Genesis 37-41 - reminds us that God has long been in the business of using unexpected, disruptive and even unjust crises to shape and form his people. Joseph’s response to these circumstances model to us how to pivot, to adjust and stay focused even when the way forward is not obvious. 

"For today’s Christian in a time of global pandemic, Joseph’s story provides a helpful lesson: that even when life’s changes seem to come in one big swoop, changing all that was familiar, such circumstances often transform us into the people God has always planned for us to become."

For today’s Christian in a time of global pandemic, Joseph’s story provides a helpful lesson: that even when life’s changes seem to come in one big swoop, changing all that was familiar, such circumstances often transform us into the people God has always planned for us to become. 

Yes, Joseph started as shepherd, became a slave and then served as a servant in Potiphar’s household, but he chose to be consistent and faithful in each new change and challenge. Eventually, he found favour. He didn’t immediately jump from a 17-year-old shepherd boy into the governor’s palace of Egypt; it took him from when he 17 until he was 30 to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

How’d he survive along the way? He pivoted with the circumstances. Pivoting is about changing your orientation or reorienting your strategy. It involves moving around the centre of something but never so far that you lose your bearings. In other words, it requires a series of accumulated small decisions whenever change comes, ones we make at different points with each challenge. The sum or accumulation of those decisions then equates to a pivot.

As a slave in Potiphar’s household, Joseph thought things were going well. He became the manager of his whole household, until he was wrongly accused and thrown into prison where he pivoted again. Joseph navigated the ugliness of imprisonment by being different from other prisoners; not only did he behave, he became a model prisoner. His integrity and character in the face of more disruption gained the trust of the warden, and he was given responsibility over the whole prison. 

He also waited his time, not because of ambition but because of his desire and consistent decisions to follow God. He was promoted to bearer and baker of the King and shared the meaning of King’s servants’ dreams. I find it interesting that there’s no record of Joseph being able to interpret dreams before this time, and yet out of the blue, two of the King’s servants shared with him their dreams. ‘Tell me your dreams,’ he challenged them, ‘cannot the God of Israel interrupt dreams’? 

His life, in other words, became a series of pivots, circumstances beyond his control but he trusted God as he tried to be faithful with each step. Eventually, Pharaoh called him to his court, where he became Pharaoh’s righthand man and the rest of the story literally becomes history, reflective of God’s redemptive ways. Joseph was in just the right place at just the right time to help his brothers and his people from their own catastrophe. 

In the midst of the changes that are happening in our lives, whether we’re not where we want to be, whether we’ve lost a job or someone close to us or whether we’re stuck at home for the first time with all our family in the same house 24/7, Joseph reminds us that we can see these challenges and disruptions as either a problem or an opportunity, as a slave or a steward of God’s gifts. Research shows that those who look at life in terms of opportunities are more able to change and to pivot. And those who are more likely to see life as a series of problems are less likely to change. If Joseph had looked at life in terms of problems, he would have remained a slave.

"When we become flexible, able to pivot and offer the Lord each small decision we make throughout each day, we’re likely to see what we could never have expected. Our faith - and our faithfulness - increases because God, not our situation, becomes our focus. We can trust God for our current challenges and also for our futures; we can trust God for the people he puts into our lives at just the right time to help us make the best use of our days."

Stewards instead ask God, ‘Lord, how do you want me to respond at this time?’ The pandemic has challenged each of us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated, working from home, straining relationships, watching church online. Each, though, also invites us to seek God about how best to steward each new experience, how best to care for the many gifts we do have.

When we become flexible, able to pivot and offer the Lord each small decision we make throughout each day, we’re likely to see what we could never have expected. Our faith - and our faithfulness - increases because God, not our situation, becomes our focus. We can trust God for our current challenges and also for our futures; we can trust God for the people he puts into our lives at just the right time to help us make the best use of our days. 

This pandemic gives Christians the opportunity to pivot away from that which enslaves us and into an adventure we could hardly have imagined with Him - if we’re just willing to loosen our grip. 

Jeannie Trudel

Dr Jeannie Trudel is president of Christian Heritage College (offering higher education degrees) in Brisbane, Australia. She is passionate about education that transforms lives; having lived and worked in America, Asia and Australia.