When All Your Plans Seem to Fall Apart

“The Anxiety of St. Joseph” by James Tissot

He’s a good man, a righteous man, a man who seeks to do God’s will. But his plans have all fallen apart. He’s just found out that Mary, his wife-to-be, is with child. And he knows it cannot be his! The only logical conclusion is that she has been unfaithful.

Now, he’s struggling with what to do. Joseph has the legal right to serve his betrothed with divorce papers. He could make the matter public, running the risk that Mary might be punished as an adulteress, possibly stoned to death. But Joseph doesn’t want to hurt Mary or cause further scandal, so he seeks to find a way to arrange a quiet divorce.

But while Joseph reevaluates his plans, the Lord intervenes. He sends an angel to Joseph in a dream, who tells Joseph to not fear taking Mary as his wife, that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Mary will give birth to a son, and Joseph as legal father is to name the child Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

What an astounding revelation the angel’s has for Joseph! His doubts about Mary’s faithfulness are eliminated. In their place Joseph receives the amazing, good news that he will have the privilege of caring for God’s Son, the promised Messiah, the Redeemer of the world! By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph believes the angel and obeys His commands. He takes Mary home without delay. Joseph’s simple acceptance of the angel’s words is an act of faith like those of the great heroes of the Old Testament, to believe the Lord absolutely, despite all the contrary evidence.

Nevertheless, it is not Joseph who is the central figure of this story: God is; God always is. God is working out a much bigger story than Joseph could ever imagine. Eugene Peterson suggests this is how it is for the people of God: “When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”

The challenge (for Joseph, and for us) is we tend to think of it the other way around. We generally imagine ourselves as the central figure in our lives. This is a result of our limitations. We can only see through our own two eyes, which happen to be laser-focused on our own concerns, our own responsibilities, and our own capabilities. This leads us to think and act in ways which are remarkably narrow and usually selfish.

God opens Joseph’s eyes to see something much bigger. Mary’s extramarital pregnancy is, in fact, the work of the Holy Spirit. As Isaiah had prophesied eight centuries earlier, God is coming to be with His people in the flesh. This child will be God’s instrument for saving people from their sin. This promise broadens Joseph’s perspective. It changes his mind and determines his course of action. Certainly, still afraid (and in need of several other divine dreams for further guidance), Joseph fulfills his small part in God’s much bigger story.

As you go about your life, you may also find things not going according to your plan. Take heart! Ask the Lord to help you see your life as a small part of His bigger story. Even when you can’t see how this will end for good, trust God’s promise that it will and joyfully serve others in His name as He gives you opportunity.

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