Monday, May 18, 2009

Lean Times

“Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them” (Genesis 41:29-30).

We moved back to Atlanta seven years ago, March 2002 to be exact. Seven years. A good biblical number. The day before closing on the house John and I came over and laid claim to our home unofficially by putting out a birdfeeder. It’s still hanging in the same place, weathered by seven years of seasons and all that they bring.

Last week my daughter turned ten. When we moved into this house she was still two, just weeks away from her third birthday, but still two.

Seven years. Where does it go?

That very question must have surely been on Joseph’s mind as he watched the land crusting, the earth turning to pottery and growing increasingly barren.

It wasn’t a surprise. He had seen this seven years earlier as God gave him insight into Pharaoh’s dreams. There would be seven years of abundance, but seven years of famine would follow. Joseph had provided leadership, designing a seven year preparation plan that would carry the nation through the lean times. An agricultural stimulus package, if you will. Those seven years were completed. The time of abundance had run its course. Seven years. Where does it go?

Not to take anything away from Joseph’s gift as an interpreter of dreams, but it seems he simply predicted what most of us know to be true of life. There is a rhythm of feasting and famine in the course of our days. Stretches of plenty are often followed by scarcity, blessings come with accompanying burdens, delight yields to despair and eventually our heartaches make room for hope again.

Seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. That doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us. It would be nice to tell the Joseph story in such a way that the coming famine is avoided. We would like for God to be in the business of stopping famines. As with so many elements of the Joseph story, that’s not what we see.

God does not stop the lean times. God does not give insight into famine avoidance. But God does give us what we need to get ready for the lean times. The famine will happen in Egypt, but God will bless Egypt through Joseph and they will be ready for what comes.

And there’s more. God doesn’t merely help us survive, steely-eyed and tight-jawed. God works redemption in the famine. The scarcity of food is a secondary plot line in Joseph’s story. The famine will force a family of brothers south in their quest for food. In the midst of this lean and barren season, God will work redemption. Relationships will be restored. Brokenness will be made whole and right.

Do not despise the lean times. Do not fear the famine. What we often dread as harmful, God designs for our good.

How do you get ready for the lean times? Has God ever surprised you in the midst of a difficult season?

Gracious God, both abundance and scarcity come to us from your hand – and you are at work in all things. In days of plenty teach us to look to you, so that in the lean times we will be alert and ready to see your redemptive work. Amen.

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