One summer I took a road trip by myself to Green Bay to see the sites of Packerland, USA. With my map in my lap, I left home and headed north on a highway that was nearly hidden in a deep fog. Road signs were covered with low clouds and were impossible to read. At that time, I hadn’t ever been to Green Bay, but I had a general idea where I was going. North. How hard could that be? So, in spite of the dense fog, I kept my eyes on what I could see of the road, maintained an even speed, and drove in the direction of my destination.
After several miles of driving in the misty blur, the fog lifted and the sun came out. Finally I could read the road signs and confirm that, indeed, I was going the right way. Not too far down the road the fog fell again, blanketing me in blindness. Confident that my map was good and my direction was correct, I again kept my eyes on the road and maintained an even speed. The rise and fall of fog continued for most of the two-hour journey.
When I made that trip, I was three days away from a career change. After nearly a full year of God’s tedious, but timely, leading, I knew I was going in the right direction. He had marked the road so clearly for me that I had no doubt about the future. However, confidence in His direction doesn’t necessarily pave a sunny street. The new position sent me into the fog on an unknown road.
God led me out of a job I did well and mostly enjoyed into a position I struggled to do and mostly didn’t enjoy. There were sunny patches along the road when I thought I was finally beginning to understand His plan, but no sooner would the sun warm me up than the fog would descend again. The rise and fall of fog continued for most of the two-year journey.
In the stretches of thickest fog, a dear friend traveled with me. He listened to me struggle with the blindness and describe “black cloud days,” those darkest of days when life just looms, situations are suffocating, and confusion is constant. He lovingly listened and tried to understand, but he wasn’t driving. The passenger seat is only a few feet away from the driver’s side, but the pressures of each place are often miles apart.
One of his favorite words at the time was “proactive.” It is the way he lives, attacking life with enthusiasm and purpose. It’s frustrating to him when people seem to live in neutral, lazily letting life happen to them. I think he sometimes listened to my fog reports with a little bit of frustration, wondering if I couldn’t do something to make the situation better. He asked if I should send out resumes or start considering other positions. All I could tell him was, “I know I’m in the right place. It doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t like a lot about it. But until God helps me see that I should be going a different direction, I don’t want to be anywhere else.” I knew that God was up to something, and I knew that in His perfect time the fog would lift.
Joseph’s story as recorded in Genesis reads like my trip to Green Bay and my career journeys. Sunshine, fog, sunshine, fog. His worst “black cloud day” came when he did a favor for the imprisoned cupbearer of Pharaoh, and then was forgotten by the released resident of the palace. He was left, instead, to etch another seven hundred thirty marks in the prison wall.
The Bible doesn’t track Joseph’s actions during those two years, but I imagine he did what he had learned to do well as he traveled from pit to palace to prison—wait on God to work through the adversity. In all of his travels, Joseph had learned lessons about life that his dad, Jacob, hadn’t: God doesn’t need help accomplishing His plans. In His time and in His way, He gets the job done without the painful ripples of rebellion.
There’s a huge difference between waiting and waiting on God. Waiting is passing the time, wondering and worrying about what might happen. It’s wishing upon a stationary star while the world keeps turning. Waiting on God is proactively living in the middle of His ordained circumstances, confident of purpose in the process. It’s running the race even when every muscle aches and every limb throbs.
The unpopular truth is that God often does His greatest work while we wait. It’s when He puts us in prison, when He traps us inside the cold, clammy walls of a stone cell, that He gives us the greatest opportunity to experience His deliverance.
Excerpted and adapted from my book Living Whole Without a Better Half (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2014).