The year was 1963, the centennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was truly a momentous year in American history and the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he gave the keynote address at the end of the March on Washington, D.C., for Civil Rights. Television cameras allowed the entire nation to hear and see him plead for justice and freedom…. [here is a brief excerpt from that impassioned appeal]
So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today![i]
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. He worked towards seeing that dream become a reality and was killed in the pursuit of that dream. What dream do you have today? Maybe your dream is buried beneath the heartache and heartbreak of life? Maybe the barriers and obstacles on the road to your God-given dream have robbed you of the joy of seeing it become a reality. Your strength may be waning. Oh, for an infusion of joy to sustain you on the journey. May you reclaim a joy that comes from the confidence that God has given the dream and seeing it become reality. How are we going to handle the challenges we will face on the road to God’s dream? It is a road filled with impediments and obstacles which are the very things that God uses to make us into the right kind of people who can fully appreciate what the dream is all about. It is an appreciation that realizes that God’s dream comes only through God’s grace.
The Bible tells the story of a young person with a dream from God who walked that road from promise to fulfillment. It is a road less traveled because it is not an easy road. It is a road filled with twists and turns that would baffle the heart of the wisest, and cause even the stoutest of heart to wane and faint. The young person was a seventeen-year-old by the name of Joseph. Joseph had a God-given dream. In the book of Genesis, we find the road to the dream’s fulfillment hidden from the eyes of youthful enthusiasm. Joseph had no idea how God would fulfill the dream. He had no idea how difficult the journey to the dream would be. The more glorious the dream, the greater the obstacles and difficulties we can expect. In Joseph’s case three scenes stand out that depict the challenges or obstacles on the road to God’s dream for us being fulfilled.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE ON THE ROAD TO FULFILLING GOD’S DREAM IS HOW WE HANDLE TESTS
In Joseph’s story we will see betrayal, mistreatment, jealousy, neglect, and false accusation. We quickly discover that Joseph’s brothers are jealous of his relationship with his father, his apparent insensitivity, and haughtiness. While checking on behalf of his father concerning the activities of his brothers, Joseph is mocked, thrown into a dried-out cistern and sold into slavery.
This scene represent the beginning of his difficulties and tests that he needed to endure in order to realize his God-given dream. How do we handle mistreatment, the pain of betrayal and rejection? It is an opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally. It is amazing how through the things we suffer, we not only learn to trust and obey God, but we become far more attuned to the hurt and heartache of others. The story begins in Genesis 37.
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.[ii]
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. Joseph did not have a great relationship with his brothers. One reason was that they saw that he was the favorite of their father and the dream he shared with them elevated himself over them. What galled them was Joseph’s incredible emotional insensitivity. Mark Batterson in his book, ‘Primal,’ explains:
Joseph wasn’t just emotionally immature, he was emotionally ignorant. …One day Joseph dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him, and he was so self-absorbed that he thought his brothers would actually appreciate his dream.[iii]
Then one day in the providence of God, which speaks of God’s guiding hand, Joseph is asked by his father to check in on his brothers and see what they are up too. So Joseph sets out to find his brothers in Shechem, but while there he discovers that they have moved on to Dothan. Notice the first step towards his dream being fulfilled. It was an unpleasant step, a bad thing.
Here comes that dreamer! they said to each other.
Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. Let’s not take his life, he said.
Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him. Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.[iv]
The pit incident with Joseph’s brothers is a moment when the ugly reality of the jealousy and parental partiality takes its toll. What a tragic and painful scene etched on the heart and mind of this young man, Joseph, as he pleaded with his brothers. They callously ignored him and began their meal without him. Upon seeing the Midianite merchants, they decided that rather than allow him to remain in the waterless pit where eventually some wild animal would find and destroy him, they would sell him into slavery. Joseph’s memories are filled with betrayal and rejection as he travels to Egypt. Alone with only God to turn to. What Joseph does not understand is that this is the first step into the dream becoming a reality. God is using a bad thing to accomplish a greater thing. How do we address the bitter issues of life? How do we respond to a lack of family support? Some of you have witnessed or experienced the betrayal and rejection of a spouse or friend. Some have been abused by a family member. Others have faced the bitter termination of a position. At the time, it seemed devastating. Does life continue as before? No! Nor does God intend for it. There are markers in all of our lives, where change has abruptly come and moved our lives in a new direction. At the time, it was painful; but God uses the broken places of our lives to make us better people in the long run if we will allow Him to.
One thing we can be sure of is God’s providence, His guiding hand in our lives. God has something in store. God never wastes the sorrows of our lives, but with each works out something of His design in our character and the development of service to others. It is in those moments that we discover something of the nature of God, Himself. He is the great comforter. Paul told the Corinthian believers regarding trials and tribulations that come into our lives as God’s children:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.[v]
There is a place of refuge, a place of comfort. That place is found in God, Himself. It is as we go to Him with our pain that we find healing and hope to continue into our tomorrow. He is the One that determines our days, and the places where we live. In the apostle’s message to the Athenians on Mars Hill, Paul points out that God determines the times and places of nations, but also our lives.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.[vi]
Where we are today is not by accident but by the design of an all-knowing God. Unbeknown to Joseph, God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham, to bring them to Egypt until the fullness of time, when God intended to address the wickedness of the Canaanites. God was about to use Joseph to help his own people, just like God used Martin Luther King Jr. to help people within his country. God uses our past to be a blessing to others in the days ahead.
While the brothers in their envy were endeavoring to defeat the dream of God in Joseph’s life, God was using that very thing to bring about good. Though they sold him, which is certainly true from the human perspective, God sent him. There is always another perspective to our lives. Too often we are consumed by the pain, the pressures of the human dilemma, and fail to understand the bigger picture. Only in hindsight can we clearly see the hand of God at work in our pain. God intervened in the plans of these sin-controlled men.
Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.[vii]
We must recognize that there will be opposition to God’s dream or plan for our lives. Not only will there come testing and pressures from without, but temptation will come from within.
THE SECOND CHALLENGE ON THE ROAD TO FULFILLING GOD’S DREAM IS HOW WE HANDLE TEMPTATION
We must understand that there will come temptation. One of the great tests of people experiencing success is the wider range of temptations that also occur. Joseph was successful because the hand of God was upon him.
The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.
When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.[viii]
But a major problem occurred for Joseph in Potiphar’s household. Potiphar’s wife also noticed Joseph.
So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome,
And after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care.”[ix]
It is one thing to say no once to temptation, but the problem did not vanish. Joseph was tempted over and over again. As a slave, Joseph could not just resign from his position, but he did do everything in his power to avoid her.
And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.[x]
What kept Joseph from being seduced and succumbing to the temptation? The answer is found in verse 9.
“No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”[xi]
Joseph identified this temptation for what it was: an act of disloyalty to his boss, a wicked thing, and a sin against God. Wisdom and strength come as Solomon pointed out in the book of Proverbs by our ‘fear of God.’
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.[xii]
Joseph was a God-fearing person. John Murray said, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.”[xiii] The fear of God is used in two distinct ways in the Bible. One is the concept of dread, the other is an awe, a reverence. It is this respect, this high regard for God that is lacking so much in our lives as believers today. This awe of God is the very thing that keeps us living a holy life. It helps us in overcoming temptation.
Biblical commentator, Griffen Thomas in addressing temptation writes:
Temptation is one of the great tests of life and character. It transforms innocence into virtue. Sin lies not in being tempted, but in yielding to it… Joseph refused. There was his power. He met the temptation by a definite act and attitude of will.[xiv]
There needs to be more moral courage today to do the right thing despite the pressure of others around us encouraging us to surrender to evil. Harvard professor Robert Coles was curious about what went into the making of courageous children.
‘There’s a lot of people who talk about doing good, and a lot of people who argue about what’s good and what’s not good, ‘but there are other folks who just put their lives on the line for what’s right.’[xv]
Joseph was one of those type of people. Out of a loving reverence for God, he marched by a different drummer. Griffen Thomas in writing about the character of Joseph states: “true independence is to act in the crowd as one thinks in solitude.”[xvi]
There is nothing more difficult to handle than to be punished for doing what’s right. But that’s exactly what happened to Joseph. He did the right thing and ended up in jail. Falsely accused! Is life fair? Absolutely not! Is God in control? Absolutely! Joseph didn’t know it at the time, but what seemed like the worst possible thing was the means that God was using to bring him to the fulfillment of his God-given dream. What was a bad thing would be the vehicle for a good thing.
THE THIRD CHALLENGE ON THE ROAD TO FULFILLING GOD’S DREAM IS HOW WE HANDLE LIFE’S DEVASTATING TWISTS
How do we handle the incredible delays and disappointments that come into our lives. How do we handle the tragedies in life? In the first scene we saw Joseph rejected and betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. In the second, we discover the temptation overcome only to be falsely accused of raping his boss’s wife and imprisoned for it. We find that even in prison, God was with Joseph and blessed him. God had not abandoned Joseph.
The LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.
The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.[xvii]
What was transpiring in Joseph’s life over those years from his homeland? Joseph was becoming a more sensitive person to others. He was maturing from the self-centered young man with ambitious dreams, to someone who looked beyond himself to others. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Joseph saw the hurts and disappointments in the lives of others. Two men eventually ended up in prison. The king’s butler and chief baker. Both men were suspects in a plot against the king, and both had a dream. It is here we find the turning point in Joseph’s story, though at the time, Joseph is unaware of it. What he is aware of is the needs of others.
When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected.
So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, ‘Why do you look so sad today?[xviii]
I love what Mark Batterson writes about this incident.
He noticed that they looked upset – so what? Well, it may not seem like much at first glance, but that one instance of emotional intelligence saved two nations from extinction.
Noticing a worried look speaks volumes about how much Joseph had matured emotionally. …Joseph had developed an acute emotional sensitivity to the people around him. It’s hard to believe that this is the same person who couldn’t read his brother’s body language when his life depended on it. But more than a decade later, he is so tuned in to the emotional state of those around him that he notices discreet facial expressions revealing an ounce of anxiety. Why? Because he’s on the far side of suffering and injustice and pain. And Joseph doesn’t just discern the subtle emotional clue; he experienced a sympathy breakthrough. He is compassionate enough to get involved.[xix]
The key to our dreams becoming reality is learning to see the pain in others. Compassion is the door to dreams becoming reality not only for us, but also for others.
“Never underestimate a single act of compassion, no matter how small. It can change the course of history in ways that only eternity will tell.[xx]
That’s what happened to Bob Pierce. In 1950, Bob was in Korea during the Korean conflict and saw a child die while waiting for food. It broke his heart and moved him to do something about it. That became the defining moment of his life. He had a sympathy breakthrough. He returned to the States to raise awareness and funds. Then on one of his trips he meet a little girl named White Jade who had been beaten and disowned because she had made a decision to follow Christ. All Bob had was $5 in his pocket, so he gave it to her, but pledged to send her money every month in order to feed and educate her. That Spirit-prompted act of compassion became the catalyst for what would become the World Vision children’s sponsorship program.
What injustice or need do you see that is speaking to you to do something about it? Or as Mark Batterson writes: What makes you glad or sad or mad? What puts a holy smile on your face? What causes your spirit to sob uncontrollably? What makes you pound your fist on the table out of righteous indignation? Somewhere in the mixture of that gladness, sadness, and madness is your God-ordained passion. Or maybe I should say compassion because you are feeling what God feels. And once you identify it, doing something about it isn’t optional.[xxi]
That’s your God-given dream. When Joseph interprets the butler’s dream in a favorable light, the baker desires to know the meaning of his dream. Whereas the butler is restored to office, the baker is hanged just like Joseph interpreted. All Joseph asked of the butler was to be remembered. “ The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him (Genesis 40:23).”
Forgotten. What a powerful word. To be forgotten in prison. To be forgotten in pain and difficulty. But the upside of the downside of life is something we don’t always appreciate. Writer Griffen Thomas states regarding the value of difficulties:
“It is the worst possible thing for a young life to be made easy, to have everything done for it, to have a ‘good time.’ Yokes borne in youth have at least three results; they prove personal integrity, they promote spiritual maturity, and they prepare for fuller opportunity. In nature and in human life the best things are not the easiest but the hardest to obtain.[xxii]
Prison was a place where Joseph was fitted for his life’s work…. God always sends His servants to school in order to fit them for future work, and it is necessary that they should have a thorough education. Training, whether physical or moral, must necessarily be attended with hardship; and those whom God uses most have to be trained in the hardest schools.[xxiii]
If you look in the Scriptures where God has selected his choice of leaders for great tasks, they have come from places of solitude, difficulty, and obscurity. Moses was on the back side of the desert for 40 years, and Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press, alone. David was called from tending sheep in the lonely hillsides near Bethlehem.
The places of training for the job is also a fascinating study. Moses in the wilderness, David fleeing Saul in the wilderness, Elijah was also trained in the wilderness eating the scraps from the ravens; here we have Joseph sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned.
What happens in us is more important to God than what happens to us. The development of Christ-like character is God’s first and foremost agenda for our lives. For that to happen, we sometimes go through difficult situations.[xxiv]
The most unlikely circumstances are part of our education. Joseph had spent thirteen years in Egypt, and most of those years had been spent under a cloud. What was there to show as the result of all this time? Apparently nothing, and yet really everything. All his experiences had been part of his training. Some dreams take a long time to fulfill.[xxv]
What dream has God given you? Don’t despair though the road is difficult. Let us pray that we don’t falter in tests, be overcome by temptation, and give up because of what we consider reversals in our lives.
[i] Martin Luther King Jr. I Have A Dream ed. James M. Washington, (San Francisco, CA.: Harper, 1986), 101-105.
[ii] Genesis 37:3-5, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iii] Mark Batterson, Primal, (Colorado Springs, Co., Multnomah Books, 2009), 24.
[iv] Genesis 37:19-22.
[v] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
[vi] Acts 17:26.
[vii] Genesis 37:20.
[viii] Genesis 39:2-4.
[ix] Genesis 39:6-8.
[x] Genesis 39:10.
[xi] Genesis 39:9.
[xii] Proverbs 1:7.
[xiii] John Murray, Principles of Conduct, quoted from Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness, 18.
[xiv] W. H. Griffen Thomas, Genesis, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), 371.
[xv] Robert Coles as quoted by Lewis Smedes, A Pretty Good Person, quoted from Leadership Magazine, Courage, Winter 1992, 48.
[xvi] Griffen Thomas, Genesis, 379.
[xvii] Genesis 39:21-23.
[xviii] Genesis 40:6-7.
[xix] Mark Batterson, Primal, 25.
[xx] Bob Moeller, Love in Action, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1994), 134.
[xxi] Mark Batterson, Primal, 25.
[xxii] W. H. Griffen Thomas, Genesis, 375.
[xxiii] Ibid, 384.
[xxv] Griffen Thomas, Genesis, 393.