The story of Joseph from the book of Genesis has always gripped me. I’ve wondered as an older brother, how do I compare! I’ve tried to grasp the depth of hatred it would take for one sibling to sell another one, create a false narrative to explain his disappearance, and then live with this for decades.
I’m afraid that since the Joseph story only takes a few chapters – ones that could be read in one sitting – that we don’t always fully appreciate what he endured. Further, since we already know the end of the story, the “all things work out for good” happy ending – we can minimize the path it took to get there.
If anyone in Scripture can identify with shattered dreams, Joseph may be the patron saint. As a teen he boldly shares his dream with anyone who will listen. He is going to be an impactful leader. However, within a few years he’s not leading a nation – he’s living in a prison.
Joseph’s narrative reminds of us two key principles: 1) God is sovereign and He providentially works behind the scenes of our lives; and 2) We need to learn patience! In our instant-everything culture, it’s not always easy to wait. Waiting at a line in a California DMV has almost become the definition of purgatory for some. Waiting to enjoy intimate relationships until marriage has become less and less normal. Saving for purchases has been replaced with instant credit. This is the world we live in.
As I reflect upon Joseph’s life, three principles still ring true in my life for today.
Keep Dreaming Big for the Future
When you have enough dreams shattered, the temptation is to quit dreaming. Dream anyway! Sometimes dreaming for great things sets you up for ridicule. Some may view you as the source of their bitterness or jealousy – dream big anyway. Joseph’s brothers had no respect for his dreams; they even tried to sabotage them. Yet, God’s plans cannot be thwarted by human intervention.
As a child I dreamed of writing. I wrote pamphlets, booklets, poems…They weren’t good! Yet people encouraged me, they purchased from me, they promoted me – they created opportunities. Sure there were times when I second-guessed myself, but I’m glad to have a few published books and a small blog presence that encourages some people. The dream didn’t die.
I dreamed as a teen about teaching and preaching to thousands. Growing up in small country churches where Christian colleges weren’t even known about – that was an audacious dream. Yet, in God’s timing and by His providential guidance, I’ve watched Him do some amazing things! Don’t ever let the dream die.
We have five daughters, two married, one heading to college, and two more at home. As a parent, I dream big for their future. Sometimes they make decisions that frustrate me 🙂 – Yet, I refuse to give up my dreams for their future. In case you’re trying to understand the context – I’m not referring to dreams that come from too much pizza before bed! Rather, I’m talking about a vision of the future, rooted in scriptural principles, that create a biblical hope for God’s blessing upon and using of their lives.
Keep Trusting When it Looks Like All is Lost
Not only does Joseph encourage me to keep my hopes for the future alive, but also he reminds me to never stop trusting God – even when the circumstances may seem to dictate otherwise. Humanly speaking, Joseph is not a candidate for the next prime minister while sitting in prison.
The day Joseph’s life changed forever, it was a normal day in which he was found being obedient to his father. His dad had sent him to check on the others. As a good, obedient son, he complied. That day, not a day living selfishly or in open rebellion to God – just the opposite – that day, his life changed forever.
We all have moments like this eventually. I can still remember a day when I had just finished teaching a lesson against Open Theism. I was stressing that we have a God who knows the future and thus, He is never surprised and always equipped to help us. It was a great lesson (yes, I’m biased!). Less than one hour later, my life changed in ways I could never have anticipated. The crisis created a dilemma: Did I believe what I had just taught or not?
Remember that Joseph doesn’t know the end of the story. He hasn’t read Genesis 50. The decades in Egypt weren’t counted by a few page turns between chapters; they were counted day upon day, week by week, year by year, and then decade by decade. Perhaps he wondered about those dreams. Perhaps he had doubts at times concerning what God was doing. Nevertheless, God was providentially working and Joseph was learning to wait upon God.
In all honesty, I don’t know what you are facing at this moment or what you have faced in the past. I certainly don’t know what’s ahead for you. You may have had all your dreams shattered beyond recognition. Here’s what I do know: You can still trust the Lord.
Praise God When You See Him Work
I sometimes wonder how I would have treated my brothers when they arrived, but didn’t recognize me. I’ve wondered would I seek vengeance or offer forgiveness. I know what the right response is supposed to be; I can’t really say what I would do until I was in that position.
Joseph doesn’t seek revenge. He has the authority to enact it; he has human cause to justify it. However, he offers forgiveness. How could he respond this way? He lost 20 years that he would never get back. He was treated unfairly, imprisoned for something he didn’t do, and often forgotten. How did he not grow into a bitter old man? I think the answer is simple: He viewed the trial from a divine perspective.
Sure, the brothers were guilty. Yet, Joseph decided to see the circumstance as God’s way of moving him into a place of greater usefulness and significance. Joseph could say to them, “Look, we all know you meant this for my harm and destruction…we all know this came from a heart of jealousy, envy, and bitterness. However, I know that God meant this for good. Therefore, I’m going to praise Him in this storm.” He praised God.
Life will not always go like the fairy tale stories. There’s real pain, real suffering, real disappointments. Sometimes the dreams we have are shattered beyond recognition. We wonder what our purpose is supposed to be. When those hopes get dashed and shattered, remember these three principles: Keep dreaming; Keep trusting, Keep praising. God is in control.