Life is full of surprises isn’t it?
Some surprises are good, even welcomed. Other surprises, not so much. I like surprises that include friends and presents and cake. But the kind of surprises that include a trip to the tire store to fix a flat, or the kind that include draining the bank account due to an appliance failure, those kinds of problems I could do without.
Maybe you have heard this quote by John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans”.
That’s how it is for most of us. We make plans to go places and plans to do things. But if you’re like me, those plans never include flat tires and replacing expensive appliances.
I’m willing to bet that they also don’t include goat heads.
Some people (just not this girl) are horse enthusiasts. These people have a love for horses that rivals my love of coffee, and that’s saying a lot.
Horses are large animals that are expensive to feed and that require a lot of attention. There is sacrifice involved in caring for these oversized pets/family members. The hay they require to eat is quite pricey these days. And that’s where this story begins. With a problem.
My friend Erika owns a horse named Misty. In order to feed Misty, Erika makes an expensive monthly trip to the local feed store where she buys enough hay to feed Misty for the month. On this particular day as Erika began to spread out the fresh hay in Misty’s stall, she noticed pretty quickly that there was a problem, an unanticipated surprise within the bale of hay.
You guessed it. Goat heads.
Goat heads (also called devil’s thorn) in a horse stall can be a huge problem. For one thing, it’s not safe for any livestock to eat goat heads. They can cause great physical damage to the animal if they’re ingested! For another thing, they’re nearly impossible to thoroughly clear from the stall. Even after much raking and sifting, there will still be some goat heads lingering. Goat heads are pesky boogers that can seem to disappear from sight, making you think they’re gone. But in reality, they’re not ever COMPLETELY gone. One bad bale of hay can cause issues for weeks, months or even longer. (And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of stepping on one….. OUCH!)
So, on this day, as Erika realized the problem, she did her best to rake up and clear all the goat heads she could see. Raking and sifting, trying to gather them all. Then she took the remainder of the infected bale of hay and headed to the feed store to get a refund. When that was done, she decided to try a different feed store to buy some hay without the nasty goad heads.
Now during this same time, Erika’s family was also planning a vacation away, and she was having trouble finding just the right place to board the family dog. Erika had been praying and asking God for help finding just the right place for their beloved pup. She kept coming up empty, so she kept trusting God and praying for a solution.
Erika was learning firsthand that oftentimes, God will lead us down a path that we never expected to be on, to get us to the place where He can ultimately meet our deepest needs.
On what seemed like a whim to Erika, she asked the employee at the new feed store if she knew of a place where she might board her dog. Erika was trying everything she could to find a solution to her problem. And God was there, waiting to give her the answer she had been seeking! The employee knew of a place for the dog, and gave Erika the phone number.
Those darn goat heads drove Erika to a location that she never expected to be, and God was there waiting to answer her prayers. To give her the information and the answer she had been seeking from Him.
What I love so much about this story is that Erika was surprised by the goat heads. Unhappily surprised, as you can imagine. And yet, because of the unpleasant experience of dealing with goat heads in her hay, she ended up in a store where she didn’t expect to be (and wouldn’t have gone to otherwise). Because of those goat heads, she found a solution to the problem of boarding her dog!
Things like this unfortunate event, happen often to many of us. But experience has taught me that God uses unpleasant surprises in our lives to push us forward to where He wants to meet us! When I am praying and asking God for a solution to a problem I’m facing, I want the fastest, most direct solution. After all, I already have a problem. What I don’t want, is another problem on top of the first one. But that’s what happened to Erika, and I bet it has happened to you too.
It certainly happened in scripture.
In Genesis chapter thirty-seven, we begin the account of Joseph. Gen. 37:3-4 says “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”. This was a problem.
Joseph had many problems.
For one thing, he was the youngest child in his family. It would be quite some time before he would be old enough to take on a role of leadership within his family, and amongst his brothers. He was seen as the pesky little brother. And to make matters worse, he was also his father’s favorite, and his brothers all knew it. After all, his father had given him that ornate robe, or coat of many colors. Another problem. This made his brothers insanely jealous.
Joseph also had a big mouth. Another problem. He began having dreams that indicated that his family would bow down to him, and utilizing his big mouth, he told his brothers about the dreams. He bragged about it even. This did not sit well with the older brothers, as I’m sure you can imagine.
So, the brothers devised a plan to get rid of Joseph. Gen. 37:25 says “As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm, and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt”. Here they decide to sell Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites (human trafficking). Another problem.
Joseph thought he had enough problems even before his brothers turned on him. Verse 28 continues with “So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern (where they had trapped him) and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt”. Now Joseph finds himself walking through the desert behind a caravan of travelers who intended for him to be their slave. A huge problem.
Joseph was dealing with “goat heads”.
As the story picks up in chapter 39, we find Joseph in the house of Potiphar, and Egyptian official under the authority of the Pharoah.
Joseph deals with several more problems, or “goat heads” before things turn around.
He is accused of trying to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. (spurned by rejection, she accuses him).
He is thrown in prison because of the untrue accusations.
He helps some important men in prison by interpreting their dreams, but when released, they forget all about Joseph and leave him there.
Finally, Joseph is able to interpret a dream for Pharoah himself, and he is released from prison!
When we arrive in chapter 41 this is what happens; “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. Pharoah had Joseph ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus, he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt”.
This one of the most fascinating accounts in scripture!
Time after time, Joseph prays for deliverance, and all he gets are more and more “goat heads”. For thirteen years, from the time he is sold by his brothers until he is released from prison, Joseph receives what seems like nothing but goat heads.
But because of those “goat heads”, in Joseph’s life, God brought him to a place of honor and respect among his people, and within his family. He not only earned the highest honor of being exalted in Egypt, but he is credited with saving an entire nation from starvation by famine. Initially, Joseph just wanted out of that cistern and to go home. But after enduring SO MANY “goat heads”, he became one of the highest-ranking officials in all of Egypt!
Genesis 50:20 helps bring Joseph’s situation into perspective. Speaking to his jealous, hateful brothers, Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. Joseph understood that God had used all the unpleasant surprises in his life to bring about His ultimate plan and purpose.
If we will trust Him, He will do that for us too.
It is certainly difficult for us as we endure through trials and heartache in this life. Sometimes it seems like they never stop coming. Just like a bale of hay full of goat heads, our troubles keep spreading.
But hang on. God’s not finished yet!
If you are dealing with “goat heads” in your life right now, let me encourage you to keep raking. Keep sifting. Talk to God about your struggles and see how He leads you to an answer. Pray and trust the process that He is taking you through. When it seems like nothing is happening, remember that God is at work in ways we cannot always see. Just like He did for Joseph, God is working all things together for good in your life too.
God makes sense of all our “goat heads” by using them for our good and His glory!
Romans 8:28 brings this truth home for us. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”.
God’s uses all things for good, even cisterns and goat heads!