Our lead article focuses on leadership principles found in the life work of the Old Testament character Joseph. To me, Joseph has always been a complex and intriguing biblical figure. The mention of his name triggered in my mind a theme: how we deal with our past, present, and future.
To look at our past and second-guess our actions becomes an almost irresistible temptation. What could we have done? What should we have done? What if we had done something else? In fact, some focus so much on the past that they become immobilized in the present.
Others, on the other hand, ignore the past—their past or the past of others. I recall an individual once speaking before a large gathering for the first time in his new leadership role. The fundamental message was that in the past, things were not done well, but now that he pastored here, things would be different. In reality, he not only ignored the past; he was also ignorant of it.
Even if we have made terrible mistakes in the past, all is not lost. David, the psalmist, recognized that as he looked at his past actions. In Psalm 51, he realized the impossibility of a new life; only if God helps him with his past could he claim a new life. Joseph, as he was being sent away to an uncertain future in Egypt, must have wondered about his past actions. Could I have done something different and avoided this disaster? Though often the consequences of our past actions stay with us, by the grace of God we can go beyond the past mistakes.
Dealing with the present can be difficult. Joseph had to face a difficult present without the help of his family. In fact, it is easier to reflect on the past or anticipate the future than to face the responsibilities of the present moment.
When facing challenges in your particular church, have you ever been tempted to say “If I only had a different church . . .”? Likewise, members find it easy to say “If we only had a different pastor.” The reality? Neither of these wishes may prove to be the needed answer.
Jesus’ actions represented a good example of focusing on the needs of the present. In John 4, we find Him talking to a Samaritan—a woman, no less. Now He could have thought to Himself, What will others think about My conversation with her? In fact, we find in John 14:27 that the disciples were surprised that Jesus was talking with a woman, but He realized that at that moment, He had the opportunity of bringing hope and forgiveness into her life. He did not allow either her past or His concern for what others might think of His actions to prevent Him from doing what needed to be done at that moment.
Mark 10:13–16 tells us another story about how Jesus focused on the opportunity that the present gives. You will recall that people were bringing their little children to have Jesus bless them. The disciples, on the other hand, were very upset. Why? To them it was a waste of time for Jesus to spend so much time with the children. After all, why bother with little children if you’re on the way to becoming someone important? Certainly the children did not fit into the schemes of the disciples for a glorious future. Jesus, on the other hand, looked at the need of the moment, focused on the little ones, and took them in His arms. They needed a blessing at that moment and this He provided.
Joseph lived with an uncertain future. He was in a strange country, and he certainly worked with some strange associates and supervisors, but in the midst of all of these challenges, he was able to go forward because he trusted in God.
What will the future bring? We don’t know. Can we ignore the future? Not at all! We must not only anticipate the future, but we need to dream about it— dream about what we would like to see happen for our church and in the lives of individuals to whom we minister. Is there a church building project about which you are thinking? Individuals who are afraid of the future often give all kinds of explanations as to why a particular project will not be successful without giving those involved an opportunity to look at and realize the dream. They simply place roadblocks in the way of any plans for the future. But the Scriptures encourage us to dream of and anticipate a better future. John’s life gives us a wonderful example because he was in the midst of a depressing situation when he wrote the book of Revelation. It was not the present that gave him hope; rather, it was the promise that God gave him of a brighter future.
All too often, we dwell on the past, worry about the future, and ignore the present. I suggest a different perspective—that we learn from the past, dream of the future, and focus on present opportunities. It seems that Joseph had that balance in his life.