In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote:
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:19 NIV)
It is a powerful verse when we understand that we are God’s handiwork, literally God’s work of art. But the kicker here is that there are things, good works, that God has prepared and called you to do.
The tense of the Greek word prepared (proetoimasen) means that the decision about what God wants you to do was made long before (well in advance of) your salvation. God has a long-term plan for your life.
When you look in the Old Testament, you see examples of this. The prophet Isaiah understood that God had called him to a prophetic ministry while Isaiah was still in the womb:
Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver. (Isaiah 49:1-2 NIV)
But notice that in addition to the calling God had also made his mouth like a “sharpened sword.” He was gifted with the natural ability to speak. So we see the spiritual prophetic gifting working in hand with the natural.
Joseph received a dream that one day his brothers would be bowing before him:
5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” (Genesis 37:5-8 NASV)
God gave Joseph a natural ability to lead men. But Joseph’s calling was well in advance of its fulfillment. At this point, Joseph was clearly not able to lead his brothers, who threw him in a dry well and sold him to passing slave traders.
But God had a job for Joseph to do and this natural leadership ability began to express itself and eventually Joseph became second in charge in Egypt. He brought his family to Egypt where the nation of Israel was birthed.
So what does it mean to be prepared?
I think it means two things. God has not only prepared a job for you to do, but will prepare you to do it. God will equip us for the job we are called to do (Hebrews 13:20-21).
You have been created with certain interests and natural abilities. It is not enough that you have an interest, you must also have the ability to do it.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3 NASV)
Notice how the psalmist says that we are to play skillfully. I remember years ago, a young woman had an interest in singing, but clearly did not have a natural ability to do it. She wanted lead worship and had pull with her father who was also the pastor.
It was frustrating particularly for those who listened to her. Her worship services invariably fell flat. She was not gifted or called to lead worship. She was a talented young woman, but it wasn’t musical and wanting it does not make it so.
We have to be honest about our natural abilities, because God takes these abilities and anoints them. King David was a natural leader. God then anointed David to use this natural leadership ability for the Kingdom of God:
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. (I Samuel 16:13 NASV)
We read how God anointed Israel’s craftsmen Bezaliel and Oholiab to work on the Tabernacle of Moses. They not only had natural artistic ability, but God filled Bezaliel with the “spirit of God” enhancing his natural abilities to fulfill God’s purpose:
3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of [a]craftsmanship, (Exodus 31:3 NASV).
He along with Oholiab were anointed and appointed for the job:
6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: (Exodus 31:6 NASV)
But God will not only prepare you, He will also prepare good works for you to do. The Greek word translated “to do” is “peripateo” which means literally to “walk in,” and “walk up and down.”
God will give you opportunities to express your calling and gifting. Here is the key, we need to walk in them. We need to grab these opportunities when they show up. Sometimes they are just small steps in the general direction God wants you to go, but not the end destination.
We can become frustrated but it is part of the process. Joseph was called to lead his family, but ended up in jail after being falsely accused of sexual assault. But Joseph did what came naturally for him and organized and ran the prison on behalf of the jailer:
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s [w]charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was [x]responsible for it. (Genesis 39:21-21 NASV)
This was clearly not what Joseph had in mind when it came to ruling his brothers and Bible says that the prophetic word God gave Joseph “tested him” (Psalm 105:19). Despite his circumstances would Joseph continue to believe the word God gave him about his future calling?
This is all part of the preparation process. It was an important part of Joseph’s journey to what God had prepared for him to do.