Reading the Tea Leaves?
by Harry Reeder
Who among us has not been confused and overwhelmed at times when trying to understand the circumstances of life while simultaneously pursuing God’s will? Our hearts and minds get overwhelmed in this broken, sin-cursed world as we contemplate life’s challenges and disappointments while battling our ever-present doubts, confusion, and fears. We have fully embraced the sovereignty of God and acknowledge His providence. We even know the benevolent promises for us in Scripture. Yet, the disharmony of the broken world that impinges upon us easily produces confusion, doubts, chaos, fears, and paralysis. Is there a way to erase sin’s cacophony of confusion and despair and embrace the symphony of God’s grace and mercy so as to enable us to live confidently for Christ in a broken world?
Many believers attempt to solve the dilemma of doubts, confusion, and fear by “reading the tea leaves” of life’s circumstances. This endeavor is usually pursued in the name of discerning God’s guidance. In reality, it only furthers our dilemma by consigning us to the vagueness and instability of speculation, detouring us from the stability-giving embrace of the inerrant, sufficient gift of divine revelation — God’s Word — by which life’s circumstances can be accurately interpreted.
Simply put, “reading the tea leaves” of life’s circumstances will not dismiss doubts, confusion, or fears. Neither will it give us the knowledge of God’s will for us. On the contrary, to understand “the secret will of God” for our lives, we must know the “revealed will of God” — His Word. God’s Word revealing God’s will gives us the ability to understand life’s circumstances and make God-centered, kingdom-advancing decisions.
The patriarch Joseph is a marvelous example of a believer informed by God’s Word when interpreting and responding to life in a broken world. This man received dreams and visions revealing God’s promise and purpose to place him in a position of power and authority to benefit God’s people and others. Yet the very opposite seemed to be the reality in the circumstances of his life. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and treated unjustly as a slave by Potiphar, even though he was faithful in servitude and resisted the temptations of Potiphar’s wife. Adding to the confusion, he was forsaken by a fellow prisoner he had comforted. Yet, knowing God’s Word and God’s covenant promises, Joseph interpreted the circumstances of his life with clarity and confidence, not despair and discouragement. He not only avoided the despondency of self-pity, he decisively responded to life’s challenges and opportunities. In Potiphar’s house, Pharaoh’s prison, and Pharaoh’s palace, Joseph lived with God-centered consistency and a servant’s heart.
Amazingly, Joseph could even comfort his brothers in their fear as they found themselves at his mercy: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). The good was the salvation of God’s covenant people and God’s common grace overflowing to others in the midst of a divinely appointed famine. Knowing God’s promises, Joseph was liberated to embrace grace toward his brothers instead of personal revenge when they were vulnerable and needy. God’s Word positioned him to interpret life’s circumstances confidently as the hand of God’s providence. The result was an effective, God-honoring ministry of grace and wisdom. Knowing God’s Word and God’s faithfulness, Joseph interpreted enslavement, unjust treatment, and betrayal as God’s call to suffer so that through his suffering, the Lord would bless His covenant people and others.
More significantly, the story of Joseph’s life points to the greater narrative of Christ’s life. Our Redeemer, willingly submitted to God’s will, humbled Himself to die on the cross to give us life eternal instead of the divine judgment of a forever hell. In Jesus, the glorious, divine design in taking the “catastrophe of sin” of a fallen world and accomplishing the “eucatastrophe (incredible turn for good) of redemption” for the world to come is displayed.
God’s people are not victims in a broken world but victors walking in Christ’s triumph. Christ-followers are overcomers, not the overwhelmed. Informed by God’s inerrant Word, they see life in biblical perspective, making decisions with clarity, confidence, and courage.
Searching God’s Word and surrendering to God’s Spirit enables Christians to understand and respond to the circumstances of life in a broken world. Doubt is banished by confidence, confusion is replaced by clarity, and fear gives way to courage as we anticipate the expansion of God’s kingdom in this world and the glory of the King in the world to come.