In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the people. He became somewhat obsessed with this ratio, seeing it in everything.
The 80:20 ratio of cause-to-effect became known as the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle is a prediction that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Here are some examples of the 80/20 Rule in the business world:
- 80% of work is completed by 20% of your team
- 80% of sales come from 20% of your clients
- 80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers
Today I’d like to unpack another principle or rule found in Genesis Chapter 50. I call it the 50/20 rule. Unlike the 80/20 rule, the 50/20 rule has nothing to do with percentages. It has to do with Genesis 50:20. It captures the words of Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, spoken to his brothers who betrayed him: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” When life squeezes us, God is the master of turning it into something good.
Let’s briefly review what led up to Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:20:
- Joseph was his father Jacob’s favorite son, much to the annoyance of his older brothers.
- Joseph had dreams which didn’t help his brothers feel any better about him. Both dreams involved his brothers at some point bowing down to him, in other words, Joseph one day would rule over them. This angered his brothers so much they ended up throwing him in a pit, followed by selling him into slavery. His brothers topped off their bad behavior by telling their father Joseph was dead.
- Joseph landed in Egypt at Potiphar’s house. He excelled there and was put in charge of the entire operation. Life was good until his boss’ wife tried to seduce him. He resisted her advances, she falsely accused him of inappropriate behavior, and Joseph got railroaded into prison.
- While in prison, Joseph flourished and once more was put in charge of the entire place. Eventually he was released from jail, and rose to become second in command to Pharaoh
- While the VP of Egypt, God showed Joseph a long-term famine was on the way, and he made preparations to store enough grain to last throughout the food shortage. The famine hit, and eventually there was nothing left to eat in Israel, so Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. Their trip led to a tearful reunion with Joseph, and later in Genesis 50, we see the 50/20 rule come to the forefront when Joseph said to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Such a great story from history, but it begs the question: does the 50/20 Rule still work today? If so, how? Here it is: God can transform our brokenness and pain into something life-giving and good—if we cooperate with Him.
Let me give you a personal example of the 50/20 rule, God has taken the painful experience of major depression in my past and used it to make me a better, deeper, and more compassionate person. He’s used it to springboard Laura and I into a ministry we never thought possible. He’s using our brokenness to bring healing to others.
But understand this: God using our pain is not automatic. It requires cooperation on our part. We can count on God to do His part, so let’s focus for a bit on our part of the equation. It includes several action steps. Let me briefly share four with you:
1. Tell ourselves that God is with us when our circumstances suggest otherwise
In Genesis 39, the phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph” appears four times. Our pain is not evidence of God’s abandonment. Our Heavenly Father reassures us in Hebrews, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” No matter what’s happening to us, we can count on Jesus being with us if we belong to Him. So telling ourselves this consistently is an important step in the 50/20 rule.
2. Maintain integrity when it would be easy not to
Joseph refused the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife. He could have told himself as Mrs. Potiphar threw herself at him, “God I’ve had it rough. I’m entitled. You gave me two dreams and look what’s happened to me. What difference does it make if I resist this temptation or not?” Instead, Joseph ran in the opposite direction from her. For the 50/20 rule to work, we have to maintain integrity. To not cave into our disappointment, pain, or anger.
3. Believe our steps are ordered by God
In Genesis 45, when Joseph’s brothers came to him for food, they didn’t recognize him until revealed himself. He said to them, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Pretty sure Joseph didn’t feel that way the moment he was sold into slavery, but somehow by faith he latched onto God’s greater purpose. When I was in the darkest days of my depression, I felt cut off from God . . . but I wasn’t. I believed my life was over . . . but it wasn’t. I saw no possible good coming from it . . . but God had a grander plan.
4. Forgive those who’ve hurt you
Perhaps you’re tracking with me so far, but this is where you want to jump off the train. “Forgive? Forget it. You don’t know what they did to me.” You’re right—I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: Bitterness imprisons us in our pain. Forgiveness propels us toward healing. Joseph eventually forgave his brothers for throwing him into a pit and selling him into slavery. I’m sure it required time and process for him to get there, but he eventually got there. If you’ve been deeply wounded, it will likely take time and process to forgive. If you’re struggling to forgive, seek outside help.
So . . . before you move on with your day, if life is currently squeezing you, would you pause and invite God to do a 50/20 on your pain? Ask Him to take the difficulty you’re experiencing and transform it into something life-giving and good. Joseph’s brokenness was transformed into his legacy . . . the saving of many lives.
Whether you’re in a pit or in some sort of prison this morning—God is working His part of the 50/20 rule. He’s shaping your character, tempering your heart, and teaching you things you can’t learn any other way. He’s preparing you for the fulfillment of His grand purpose. Let Him do His work—and commit yourself to do yours.
Rooting and praying for you,