There used to be a show on TV that my husband and I would frequently watch together. We could watch often for the 8 years it ran because during those years we were often at home on a Friday night managing toddlers, preschoolers and nursing babies (my four kids were all born during the show’s run). The show was called Trading Spaces and it is currently getting a reboot, which I’m not sure that I’ll be able to watch after finding new and more sophisticated favourite home shows.
The premise of the show, in case you don’t know, was that two couples would trade rooms in their homes for a weekend charged with the purpose of giving each place a makeover. Each team was appointed a designer and a carpenter and $1000.00 to redo a space in their friends’ home, knowing the same would be done in their own. The results were often more cosmetic than functional and while the friends could provide input and feedback regarding the plans, the designers had ultimate control of the situation. It was something at which my husband and I would gawk, sometimes cringing when homeowners returned to find that relinquishing control had not been a satisfying experience now that they were going to have to live in a space they couldn’t stand. Not always though, as sometimes people appeared to love the final result – unless of course they were acting for the sake of the gawkers.
Call me a control freak, I could never do it. Even if I trusted my friends’ taste and ability, I could never relinquish control to an unknown designer (Joanna Gaines not included) calling all the shots and changing up my spaces for the sake of personal promotion or ratings while others gawk and judge my response to the situation. Will she bawl once the cameras leave? Will she disown her friend? Will she have it professionally “repaired” once she saves up enough money?
I’m chuckling to myself as I consider these things in light of life. While I have choices to make, I often have less control than I think. And while I believe in a Designer who loves me and has my best in mind in all circumstances, even when I can’t see it, I choose to trust Him, even when I “don’t”.
Where should I live? Which job should I take? In which program should I enroll? Whom shall I marry? Should I stay or should I go? Questions we all have to answer at some point and not only for ourselves but also for our families. Sometimes we may even be thoughtful enough about eternity that we look beyond the self focused answers and actually consider the answer to the question: “where will I be most useful to God for kingdom purposes?” Sometimes we feel like we have control over these situations and sometimes we don’t. Often we want to trade our place for something better, if not more glamorous, at least more comfortable and definitely more useful.
We can get so caught up in determining the perfect answers that we actually become paralyzed into inaction, using the concept of “waiting on the Lord” as an excuse for apathy and idleness. Maybe we think that because we’re in some sort of waiting place, we can wallow or that nothing is required or expected of us because we are not yet where we’re intended to be. Maybe we’re waiting for a change or a chance or a break or a deliverance or a healing or a rescue or a hope, all the while forgetting that presently, Jesus has given us all this in himself and more.
I’ve been studying the life of Joseph recently and considering his places this past week. Despite his enslavement in Potiphar’s house and subsequent imprisonment (Genesis 39 & 40), the Lord was with Joseph and made him successful and gave him favour in all that he did. I don’t imagine it was because Joseph was sitting in a corner waiting for his rescue, but rather because he likely embraced his place and served wholeheartedly where he was, determining to work as unto the Lord for His purposes whether Joseph understood them or not. Even when an opportunity presented itself to take advantage of the position and power given to him by the Lord, Joseph chose to honour God and chose His way, rather than the world’s or his own. Given his situation, and the wrongful accusation that follows his obedience, I would imagine Joseph to question God saying, “BUT, I obeyed you, now what are you allowing to happen in my life?! My reputation is in ruins, which tarnishes Yours and I’m moving from a life of slavery to prison?! Is this your plan?! When I wanted to trade places, I was hoping for a trade up not a trade down!”
While I don’t know how long Joseph was in prison before he was put in charge of the other prisoners or how much time passed before he was given an opportunity to show his usefulness in dream interpretation, it seems he did not remain idle. “Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” Genesis 39:22b-23 ESV. Joseph demonstrated a serving heart even in a “waiting” and unchosen and confining place. He also took humble initiative while being charged with attending to two of Pharaoh’s officers, to care about them, not just meet their basic needs (Genesis 40:6-7). He offered a listening ear while acknowledging God’s power and ability to work in and through him to interpret their troubling dreams. Joseph asked at this point that the cupbearer would remember him to Pharaoh that he might be delivered from his confinement, but once the cupbearer had been reinstated, Joseph was forgotten, despite his helpfulness.
Forgotten for TWO more years in prison (Genesis 41) before Pharaoh has his dream triggering the cupbearer’s memory to mention him to Pharaoh. Joseph interprets the dream and gives God the glory and Pharaoh gives him a position of power second to himself. God’s plan for Joseph included purposes in unlikely places, captivity, enslavement, imprisonment and power. By the time he was placed in a position of power, Joseph had already spent much time being confined, humiliated, falsely accused, scorned, forgotten and betrayed. He proved himself faithful during these times and continued working and honouring the Lord who raised him up at just the right time. A foreshadowing of Christ. Like me, can you relate to living in some of these places? Can we choose to trust that our Father can still use us in them? And more than ‘can’, He might actually have a very specific plan and purpose for us and others in some of these places!
Rather than remaining inactive and hopeless and purposeless in our waiting places (which truly, isn’t this world one big waiting place until we arrive at our eternal place of glory?), can we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not depend on our own understanding, seeking His will in all we do? He will show us which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT). Regardless of our place in life, He remains our hope and while our place might direct our platform, our purpose remains to glorify Him in all that we do, loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Here is the core of our activity wherever we are.
Missionary, Jim Elliot who was martyred by the people with whom he had come to share the gospel, said, “wherever you are – be all there”. I think he had a right to say it, he certainly lived it. May we too, until the day we’re done trading places because we’ve realized our eternal one.