“. . . mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15).
Do you deserve the life you have right now? I can say without the slightest hesitation that I do not. I’ve done nothing to deserve what life has brought my way.
I’ve done nothing to deserve the parents I have: two people who took care of my every need; they put up with my foolishness and put me through college; they made sure I had a set of drums even when I couldn’t play them; they suffered with the noise in the house as I learned how.
I’ve not done a single thing to deserve the family I have under my roof: the two children who drive me to the limits of my patience when I’m driving them to school; the same two kids whom I delight to see at the end of every day. I don’t deserve my wife. My absent mindedness is poor exchange for her exuberant presence.
I don’t deserve my job: I make a living teaching the Bible from week to week and writing about it from day to day. I get to walk alongside people when they marry and stand by them when they die. I get to pray for them as they come to faith and when they struggle to hold on to faith.
Back to the question – do you deserve the life you have right now? Some of you, like me, have to say no. In the words of the Psalmist, your cup runneth over; the excess that you’ve done nothing to deserve is spilling all over your fingers and running down your arms.
But there are surely some of you who give the same answer for very different reasons. Do you deserve the life you have right now? No – no way.
You don’t deserve the cancerous cells that have invaded your body. You don’t deserve the raw deal you got from a business partner. You didn’t deserve to be abandoned by someone you loved; you didn’t deserve to lose a business that you nurtured from nothing.
Joseph knew that he didn’t deserve to be in a dungeon. That he is able to say so should be reassuring to us. A person whose life is being guided by the providence of a good God is not a person who passively accepts everything that life brings. Our sense of what is right and just is often violated, even when God’s hand is firmly upon us. We sense that we’re getting stuck with something we didn’t ask for, a life we don’t deserve.
But living with the expectation that we should get what we deserve is not a very good way to live life. The better alternative is to live by grace. What I deserve is defined by my goodness. Grace is about God and God’s goodness.
When you’ve received far more than you ever deserved, that’s grace.
When life has been cruel and you think you’re reaping what you’ve sown, getting what you deserve, grace insists that there is more to your story than you can imagine right now.
And when you’ve received far less or worse that you deserved, grace is what keeps you going until you discover the gift in what you never wanted to begin with.
What is it about your life today that you deserve? What can be explained only by grace?
We give you thanks, O God, for your grace. We are thankful that sometimes you give us far more than we deserve, and at other times you mercifully refuse to give us what we deserve. Help us to move beyond bargaining as a way of life with you. Instead, we will live every day by your abundant grace. Amen.