Struggling to Make Sense of God’s Will

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

As best I can recall (and I’m doing this by memory), the phrase “will of God” does not appear in the Joseph stories of Genesis 37-50. What’s more, if anyone ever had reason to despair of being in God’s will, if anyone had reason to question and doubt whether God had a will and whether it was good, it would have been Joseph.

Joseph was a young man with a dream. He had a vision of who he would become and where his life was headed. Awkwardly, his vision involved his brothers, and even his parents, bowing down to him (Genesis 37:6-7). Having seen this in a dream, Joseph shared this vision of his stellar future with his brothers and with his Dad. His Dad rebuked him. His brothers hated him.

The story goes downhill from here .

The Will We Don’t Expect

When we pray “thy will be done,” we tend to assume that whatever it is that God wills is good and pleasant. But we know from our own life experience, and from biblical stories like that of Joseph, that this isn’t always the case. Often, we struggle to make sense of God’s will.    

We don’t imagine that God would have willed the animosity of Joseph’s brothers and their ambush of him as they tended the flocks near Dothan.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed that Joseph, the young man with a bright and promising future, be sold into slavery and carried far from home.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed the lies that broke a Father’s heart and sent him into inconsolable grief.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed Joseph’s imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit.

None of that sounds like the will of God. And we struggle to make sense of it.

But when we get to the end of the story that’s exactly what Joseph says it was. He looks back over the story of his life and draws this conclusion: The things that had happened to him and the things that had been done to him with evil intent were all meant by God for good purposes. “What you meant for evil,” Joseph says to his brothers, “God meant for good.” 

Indeed, when Joseph spoke those words to his brothers, they were bowing down before him (Genesis 50:18-20). The dream had become reality, but not in a way we would have expected.

Nothing Wasted

There are probably plenty of people who have prayed for and sought the will of God at some point in their lives, but as the story of life unfolded they concluded that they had missed it. Maybe they concluded that there never really was such a thing as “God’s will.” Life had been up to them all along, or perhaps just a series of random events, and the dream they had died a slow death.

Sometimes people blame themselves: a bad decision, a bad investment, a poorly forged marriage or plain bad luck. Sometimes people blame others: someone abused them or lied to them or cheated them or sought to harm them. All of us will live through something that we cannot reconcile with our understanding of “God’s will.” The only conclusion we see is that we somehow missed it, or it never existed to begin with.

But your story is not over yet. That might be worth remembering today.

Beware conclusions quickly arrived at. The will of God is often worked our slowly, in ways we can’t imagine and sometimes in ways we do not like.

God wills your good. And nothing, absolutely nothing, will be wasted.


Thy will be done, O God, in every circumstance of my life. Grant me the kind of patience that refuses to draw conclusions before the story has been fully told. Grant me the kind of faith that knows you are working for my good in all things. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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