Moreover He called for a famine in the land;
He destroyed all the provision of bread.
He sent a man before them—
Joseph—who was sold as a slave. Psalm 105.16, 17
One aspect of the grace of God which is frequently overlooked or taken for granted is its prevenience. Grace, that is, goes before us. This is what Jesus had in mind when He said He was going away to prepare a place for us, so that He might come again and take us unto Himself (Jn. 14.1-3). By the grace of God, Jesus is at work even now, making ready a great banquet for His Bride, and preparing a new heavens and new earth for her – our – eternal dwelling.
Closer to home, the grace of God goes before even in the work of salvation. Consider first the question of who will be saved. Whosoever may come and believe in Jesus (Jn. 3.16). But who will do that? Those whom God has chosen from before the foundation of the world, whose names and everything about them were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the world began (cf. Eph. 1.4; Rom. 9.6-16; Ps. 139.13-16; Rev. 21.27). Grace was at work for our salvation even before we were born. Grace works at the moment of salvation as well. As Paul explains, when it pleases God to save, He sends His Spirit into our hearts, engendering faith and empowering us to confess God as our Father and Jesus as Lord (Gal. 4.6; Rom. 10.6-13). Paul’s own life is an example of the power of prevenient grace to overcome even the hardest of hearts and make a disciple of a destroyer (cf. Acts 9.1-20; 1 Tim. 1.12-16).
The grace of God is always running ahead of us, always clearing paths, opening doors, and readying resources so that our work of restoring all things can go forward according to His plan and for His glory. Joseph provides an excellent example of how prevenient grace works to bring restoration to God’s people and the world. Let’s take a closer look.
Prevenient grace in Joseph’s life
Already in his youth, Joseph was being readied by God for his great work of restoration. He was the object of his father’s special love (Gen. 37.3), because he was born to Jacob in his old age. He was showered with affection and gifts, and while these must certainly have pleased Joseph, and given him a measure of assurance and confidence, they caused his brothers to hate him (Gen. 37.4).
While he was still a youth, God spoke to Joseph in a dream, which he did not understand at the time, and which, by sharing it, enraged his brothers even more (Gen. 37.5-28). They sold Joseph into slavery, then lied to Jacob, saying his beloved son had been devoured by a wild beast (v. 33). Joseph, meanwhile, was sold again in Egypt. But, as the psalmist seems to indicate, the dream stayed with him, and gave him a sense of God’s Presence and purpose for his life (Ps. 105.18, 19; cf. Gen. 39.8, 9). He did not know what God was planning, but he resolved to be ready for it, whenever it came. He worked hard, learned all he could, helped where he was able, and kept himself pure from sin and deceit.
And for his troubles, he ended up in prison. Grace works that way sometimes. But Joseph held on to the Lord, Who continued showing him mercy (Gen. 39.21) and using him as a source of blessing to the lowest of the low in Egyptian society.
We know the rest of the story. Joseph interprets dreams in prison, and this becomes the means of his release. He interprets dreams for Pharaoh, and this becomes the occasion of his exaltation to the highest office in the land. By trusting in the Lord and seeking to discern His will, Joseph led the people of Egypt to make extraordinary preparations for seven years of famine, which Joseph was given to understand were shortly to begin.
Joseph’s diligence and genius as a servant, communicator, organizer, and leader saved the entire nation of Egypt. God used him to maintain and restore wellbeing through a time of terrible disaster. The work he did in preparing for the famine was by the prevenient grace of God, and not merely – or even primarily – for the people of Egypt. As Joseph testified, God meant this whole situation – from his being sold into slavery to his saving the nation of Egypt – as a means for keeping alive a people unto Himself (cf. Gen. 50.15-21).
By faith, Joseph knew he was a chosen child of Abraham, and thus an heir of the promises of God. By faith, he waited on the Lord to make clear the deep meaning of His revelation. By faith, he worked diligently, and with a view to the coming days, when God’s Word would be realized. Then a people would be saved, if only temporally, together with their culture and society. But more important, the people of God would be restored to Him, and to one another; and they would enter together the next stage of God’s great plan of redemption, in which they would, from a family of seventy, become a nation of millions as vehicles of God’s grace and salvation.
Prevenient grace in your life?
God is at work within you even now, willing and doing according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2.12). That power is greater than you could ever ask or think (Eph. 3.20). Some of what He is doing is for your good today, as, by His grace, He assures you of His love, clothes you increasingly in the many-colored coat of Christ, communicates His good and perfect will, and empowers you for obedience. He is sending you out into your own Personal Mission Field, like Joseph, to do good works of restoration, and to look forward to greater works even than these.
The grace of God is going ahead of you, preparing opportunities, equipping you with experiences and gifts and skills, and disposing your soul – heart, mind, and conscience – for whatever work of restoration He may set before you in the days to come. Our attitude must be like that of Joseph: Doing whatever is at hand today, and doing it as unto the Lord, and for His goodness and glory (Col. 3.23, 24; 1 Cor. 10.31); peering into and poring over the revelation of God in His Word, seeking to discover what He may intend for us in the day or years ahead (Ps. 90.12, 16, 17); making the most of every opportunity to make all things new (Eph. 5.15-17); doing good works that glorify God (Matt. 5.13-16); and pressing ever more earnestly and deeply into His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit (Matt. 6.33; 11.12; Lk. 16.16; Rom. 14.17, 18).
Knowing that the grace of God is running ahead of us, making ways for us, and fitting us with every good work in our particular calling to restoration, let us be always preparing, always laboring, always looking to the Lord in faith, always open to wherever the Lord might lead through whatever open door pleases Him, and confident in Him – and in His prevenient grace – to go forward with joy and boldness into whatever work of restoration lies ahead. And if we’ll do so, we will be always rejoicing in the present and prevenient grace of our all-restoring God.
1. What are some ways you have seen the prevenient grace of God at work in your life?
2. How should knowing that God’s grace is always running ahead of us help us to prepare for each day?
3. What are the main lessons from the story of Joseph that you take away for your own work of restoration?
Next Steps – Transformation: Take the lessons you mentioned in question 3, and begin working to incorporate those into your work of restoring the reconciled world of your Personal Mission Field.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- T.M. Moore
- June 12, 2020
God's grace goes before us for restoration.
Moreover He called for a famine in the land;