Do Your Circumstances Control Your Life?
DISTRESSING circumstances and problems are commonplace in these “critical times.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Some problems may be temporary and thus will eventually pass away. Others persist for months or even years. As a result, many feel as did the psalmist David, who cried out to Jehovah: “Distresses of my heart have multiplied; from the stresses upon me O bring me out.”—Psalm 25:17.
Are you grappling with overwhelming problems? If so, you can find help and encouragement in the Bible. Let us consider the lives of two faithful servants of Jehovah who successfully coped with difficulties: Joseph and David. By examining how they responded to adversity, we can learn practical lessons that will help us to meet similar challenges today.
Faced With Serious Challenges
By the time he reached the age of 17, Joseph had a serious problem within his own family. His older brothers saw that Jacob, their father, “loved [Joseph] more than all his brothers.” Consequently, “they began to hate him, and they were not able to speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:4) We can imagine the anxiety and stress that this situation caused Joseph. Eventually, the hatred of Joseph’s brothers became so intense that they sold him into slavery.—Genesis 37:26-33.
While a slave in Egypt, Joseph had to resist the immoral advances of his master’s wife. Angry at being rejected, she falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her. He was given “over to the prison house,” where “with fetters they afflicted his feet, into irons his soul came.” (Genesis 39:7-20; Psalm 105:17, 18) How trying this must have been! For about 13 years, Joseph was either a slave or a prisoner because of injustices brought on him by others, including members of his own family.—Genesis 37:2; 41:46.
David of ancient Israel too faced trials as a young man. For a number of years, he was forced to live as a fugitive, hunted like an animal by King Saul. David’s life was in constant danger. On one occasion, he went to Ahimelech the priest for provisions. (1 Samuel 21:1-7) Upon learning that Ahimelech had helped David, Saul ordered the execution not only of Ahimelech but also of all the priests and their families. (1 Samuel 22:12-19) Can you imagine the anguish David must have felt at having indirectly caused this tragedy?
Think of the years of adversity and mistreatment that Joseph and David endured. By examining how they handled their difficult situations, we can learn valuable lessons. Let us consider three ways in which these men are worthy of imitation.
Let Go of Resentment and Bitterness
First, these faithful men refused to become trapped in a web of bitterness and resentment. While Joseph was in prison, he could easily have dwelt negatively on his betrayal by his brothers, perhaps imagining the revenge he might take if he ever saw them again. How do we know that Joseph resisted such destructive thinking? Consider how he reacted when he did have an opportunity to take vengeance on his brothers who had come to Egypt to buy grain. The account says: “[Joseph] turned away from them and began to weep. . . . After that Joseph gave the command, and [his servants] went filling up [the brothers’] receptacles with grain. Also, they were to return the money of the men to each one’s individual sack and to give them provisions for the journey.” Later, when sending his brothers to bring their father to Egypt, Joseph encouraged them with the words: “Do not get exasperated at one another on the way.” In both word and deed, Joseph proved that he had not let bitterness and resentment poison his life.—Genesis 42:24, 25; 45:24.
Similarly, David did not nurture resentment toward King Saul. On two occasions David had opportunity to put Saul to death. Yet, when his men urged him to do so, David said: “It is unthinkable, on my part, from Jehovah’s standpoint, that I should do this thing to my lord, the anointed of Jehovah, by thrusting out my hand against him, for he is the anointed of Jehovah.” David left the matter with Jehovah, telling his men: “As Jehovah is living, Jehovah himself will deal him a blow; or his day will come and he will have to die, or down into battle he will go, and he will certainly be swept away.” Later, David even composed a dirge mourning the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan. Like Joseph, David did not allow himself to be consumed by resentment.—1 Samuel 24:3-6; 26:7-13; 2 Samuel 1:17-27.
Do we harbor feelings of resentment and bitterness when some injustice causes us pain? This can easily happen. If we allow our emotions to dominate us, the result may prove more damaging to us than the injustice itself. (Ephesians 4:26, 27) Even though we may have little or no control over what others do, we can control our reaction. It is easier to let go of resentment and bitterness when we have faith that Jehovah will care for matters in his due time.—Romans 12:17-19.
Make the Best of Your Situation
The second lesson we can learn is not to let our circumstances paralyze our life. We may become so preoccupied with what we cannot do that we lose sight of what we can do. Our circumstances, in effect, begin to control us. This could have happened to Joseph. Instead, he chose to make the best of his situation. While serving as a slave, Joseph “kept finding favor in [his master’s] eyes and waited upon him continually, so that he appointed him over his house.” Joseph took a similar approach while in prison. Because of Jehovah’s blessing and Joseph’s diligence, “the chief officer of the prison house gave over into Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison house; and everything that they were doing there he proved to be the one having it done.”—Genesis 39:4, 21-23.
During the years that David lived as a fugitive, he too made the best of his circumstances. While dwelling in the wilderness of Paran, he and his men protected the flocks of Nabal from marauding bands. “A wall was what they proved to be around us both by night and by day,” said one of Nabal’s shepherds. (1 Samuel 25:16) Later, during his stay at Ziklag, David raided towns held by Israel’s enemies to the south, thus securing Judah’s boundaries.—1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Chronicles 12:20-22.
Do we need to put forth more effort to make the best of our circumstances? While it may be challenging to do so, we can succeed. In reflecting on his life, the apostle Paul wrote: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. . . . In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want.” How did Paul come to develop this approach to life? By his continued reliance on Jehovah. He acknowledged: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Philippians 4:11-13.
Wait on Jehovah
The third lesson is that instead of using unscriptural means to change our circumstances, we should wait on Jehovah. The disciple James wrote: “Let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (James 1:4) Endurance should be allowed to have “its work complete” by our permitting a trial to run its full course without resorting to unscriptural means to bring it to a swift end. Then our faith will be tested and refined, and its sustaining power will be revealed. Joseph and David had this kind of endurance. They did not try to work out a solution that might incur Jehovah’s displeasure. Instead, they worked to make the best of their situations. They waited on Jehovah, and what blessings they received for doing so! Jehovah used both of them to deliver and to lead his people.—Genesis 41:39-41; 45:5; 2 Samuel 5:4, 5.
We too may face situations for which we could be tempted to seek unscriptural solutions. For example, are you discouraged because you have not yet found a suitable marriage mate? If so, avoid any temptation to disobey Jehovah’s command to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) Are you dealing with problems in your marriage? Rather than give in to the spirit of the world that promotes separation and divorce, work through the hard times together. (Malachi 2:16; Ephesians 5:21-33) Are you having difficulties caring for your family because of your economic situation? Waiting on Jehovah includes avoiding questionable or illegal activities to try to obtain money. (Psalm 37:25; Hebrews 13:18) Yes, all of us must work hard to make the best of our circumstances and put forth effort to give Jehovah something to bless. As we do so, let us be determined to wait on Jehovah for the perfect solution.—Micah 7:7.
Jehovah Will Sustain You
Meditating on how Bible characters like Joseph and David successfully dealt with disappointments and difficult situations can have a positive effect on us. Though their stories are described in just a few pages of the Bible, their trials lasted for many years. Ask yourself: ‘How did such servants of God come to terms with their circumstances? How did they maintain their joy? What qualities did they have to develop?’
We also do well to consider the endurance of modern-day servants of Jehovah. (1 Peter 5:9) The Watchtower and Awake! magazines contain many life stories each year. Do you read and meditate on the examples of these faithful Christians? Additionally, in our congregations are those who faithfully endure unpleasant circumstances. Do you regularly associate with them and learn from them at the congregation meetings?—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
When you are beset by challenging circumstances, be assured that Jehovah cares for you and will sustain you. (1 Peter 5:6-10) Work hard not to allow your circumstances to control your life. Follow the examples of Joseph, David, and others by letting go of resentment, by making the best of your situation, and by waiting on Jehovah for the perfect solution. Draw close to him through prayer and spiritual activities. In this way, you too will see that joy and happiness can be yours even during difficult times.—Psalm 34:8.
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Joseph worked to make the best of his circumstances
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David waited on Jehovah for the solution to his problems