How to Respond to an Impossible Situation

3 Principles from Joseph’s Response to an Impossible Situation

I’ll never forget hearing Dr. Tom Malone say, “When God wants to do something great, He starts with the difficult. But when He wants to do something miraculous, He starts with the impossible.”

To me, as a twenty-four-year-old pastor, just getting started at a struggling church, that statement challenged me to press forward by faith. I’ve gone back to it many times over the years, and it has always encouraged me to remember that God is able!

So often, what appears to be hopeless to us is the very atmosphere in which God is about to do something miraculous and restore true hope. During times like these, we can learn from Joseph—the earthly stepfather of Jesus.

When we look at the Christmas story, we often consider the uncertainty and difficult that Mary endured. But Joseph also faced an extreme dilemma. How could he believe what Mary had told him? What was he to do with the impossible situation he faced?

I love the response Joseph chose. And I want to encourage you—whatever you might be facing this Christmas season—to learn from his example to have…

Patience to Listen

The first clue we get that Joseph was not a reactionary man is in Matthew 1:20 as the Bible tells us that he “thought on these things.”

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:20)

Joseph could have immediately responded to Mary, and verse 19 indicates that if he had, he would have ended their relationship. But he was patient to think things through and to wait on the Lord.

Because Joseph waited, he received direction from God in the form of divine revelation.

Over the years—and particularly since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic—I’ve watched so many men respond to difficulty by reflexively removing themselves from the worst of the situation. It might be a job change or a cross-country move or an angry outburst. Impulsive, frustrated decisions rarely lead to peaceful and spiritually-fruitful destinations.

When we have patience to hear God’s Word, seek counsel, and pray for direction, God does provide that direction—even in impossible situations.

Trust to Follow

The direction God gives is always best for us, but it isn’t always easy. And that was the case for Joseph.

God told Joseph words that are so familiar to us today, but they must have felt surprising to Joseph: “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”

Make no mistake: this was different than the life Joseph had planned. Was it better? Infinitely so! But it wasn’t without challenges or mystery. And Joseph could only find the strength to do it by simply taking God at His word.

And that’s exactly what Joseph did.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: (Matthew 1:24)

The only way forward in an impossible situation is faith in God’s Word.

That’s not to say that the only possible movement in an impossible situation is faith. As I mentioned a moment ago, we’re often tempted to make decisions out of frustration and impatience. But the rash decisions we make in those times never lead to spiritual prosperity.

The times when we cannot see how God could bring good out of impossibility are the times when we most need to trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)

Every impossible situation I have found myself our our church in has required trust in the Lord before we have seen His miraculous provision.

Humility to Marvel

Have you ever noticed that pride and wonder cannot coexist?

So often, even after we have had the patience to listen for God’s direction and the trust to follow it, we unexplainably congratulate ourselves on the success of what God does. Invariably, this pride pulls our heart away from worship. We lose our awe of God’s greatness and sink into a shallow, narrow world of which we are the star.

It was not so with Joseph.

Several months after he made the faith-filled decision to follow God’s plan, Jesus was born. And eight days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary went to the Temple to dedicate Jesus. While they were there, they met Simeon and Anna who both praised God for the fulfillment of His messianic prophecies in the person of Jesus.

And how did Joseph and Mary respond? They didn’t pat themselves on the back. They didn’t step forward and offer a seminar for anyone going through tough times to learn how they, too, could follow God. Joseph and Mary just marveled.

And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. (Luke 2:33)

They couldn’t have possibly understood all that God was doing in that moment. But they had the humility to step back, take it all in, and marvel.

This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:23)

I don’t know in what impossible situation this Christmas may find you. But I know a God who delights in impossibilities. You can trust Him.

Meanwhile, have patience to listen, trust to follow, and humility to marvel.

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