May He grant you according to your heart’s desire. And fulfil all your purpose.
Psalms 20:4 (NKJV)
New Year is a time when many of us think about making changes in our lives. Some of us make New Year resolutions, hoping that we will continue with them to see our goals fulfilled. However, as we all know, most New Year resolutions are broken after just a few weeks, or even a few days. The goals begin to seem impossible and interest in keeping the resolution wanes quickly. This may be true of our own goals but when a goal or vision or dream is given by God and fills our hearts, we are able to overcome the discouragements and difficulties to continue our pursuits and run our race with faith, hope and love.
We can learn a great deal about persistence in the face of discouragement from studying the life of Joseph and looking at the process and the difficulties he went through to fulfil his God given goals and how he saved not only his own family but the whole nation of Egypt and the world he lived in.
The first principle we see in the life of Joseph is desire. He wanted to fulfil the purpose of his life so strongly and he thought about it so much that he had dreams about it. His brothers became angry with him not because he was having dreams but because they knew that he desired to fulfil these dreams and that meant he wanted to rule over them.
All significant achievements begin with a dream. A dream is something that sounds and looks impossible when you measure it against your past achievements or your current stage or status in life. Joseph, as a 17 year old Hebrew shepherd, was dreaming that one day he would be a king. Like Joseph, we need to decide that the past does not equal our future and we need to be prepared to take on and accomplish something that we have never done before. Like children learning to walk, we have to decide to give it a go, to not be put off by the falling down or the feeling of instability but to continue trying step by step until what seems impossible becomes a reality.
Be careful who you share your dreams with. Sharing your dreams, goals and inspirations with those who don’t understand where you are going causes jealousy and distrust. You need to surround yourself with people who will encourage you. Joseph caused his brothers to increasingly hate him by sharing his dreams with them. Perhaps they felt that if and when Joseph reached his goal it would be at their expense and they would be inferior to him. Even in the Christian world, people feel insignificant and inferior when confronted with the dreams and the successes of others; pastors feel threatened when a new church comes to town. Joseph’s father, Jacob, on the other hand, waiting for the fulfilment of the dreams, encouraged his son but nevertheless reprimanded him for sharing them with his brothers. He knew, not only from his relationship with his own brother, Esau, but also from the story of Cain and Abel that brotherly jealousy can lead to appalling destruction and even murder. This first murder happened when there were still only a few people on the earth and yet God’s recognition of Abel caused Cain to feel threatened and convinced that something would be taken away from him. It was this jealousy and fear that led him to kill his own brother. Dreams need to be protected!
Joseph kept on repeating his dreams in great detail in his mind. They were already a certainty in his mental world before they came forth in the physical world. We also need to keep visualizing our dreams and our goals. We need to believe that success is assured and then we will make the maximum effort towards achieving our goals. When we are assured of success, distractions and discouragements become small hinderances and annoyances rather than road blocks.
Having a plan, even though you may only know the first step, is important, but we also need to be flexible and allow God to change how the plan looks. Sometimes we find ourselves in impossible situations – Joseph was thrown into a pit and sold as a slave. That was not part of his plan, but it got him to the right country. Later he was thrown into prison. That was not part of his plan either but it led him to the right opportunity to interpret Pharoah’s dream. We need to work diligently towards our goal but at the same time recognise that obstacles can open up opportunities. When Joseph came before Pharoah to interpret his dream, he didn’t stop with the interpretation but also gave a detailed plan of action on how to achieve the goal of saving the entire nation. Without this plan, Joseph would have missed the opportunity of fulfilling his dream. Pharoah was more impressed with Joseph’s precise plan than with the interpretation of the dream and therefore decided, right there and then, to appoint Joseph as second to the king only. With instructions to all the officials that they must obey his command, Joseph was thus given the power and the responsibility to actually implement the plan of action he had proposed.
Although Joseph had big dreams, which incensed his brothers, he knew that life was not all about him. He was already helping his father as a shepherd. When he was put in the pit by his brothers, his goal of being a ruler must have seemed a cruel illusion. When he was sold as a slave, he could have been in great despair. Many would have given up on their dreams. Not Joseph, he did everything he could to be the very best servant he could be and with his determination and commitment recognised by his master, Joseph was soon in charge of his entire household. In modern language, he quickly climbed the corporate ladder to senior management. We need to help others achieve their goals with our determined commitment to serving them and this will lay the foundation to us achieving our own goals.
Being in charge of Potiphar’s household though did not cause Joseph to forsake his own dream, nor cause him to lower his moral standards and beliefs. At times we all face situations where our belief system collides with our goals. We have to be clear which is more important. Are we prepared to bad mouth someone or even tell a small lie to get what we want or, like Joseph, do we run from any hint of immorality? Joseph faced pressure from Potiphar’s wife to compromise his godly principles on an ongoing basis, day by day, but he stuck firmly to his morals and his belief even though he risked losing his life’s ambition.
By keeping his moral integrity intact, Joseph ended up in prison. Being in an Egyptian gaol was no easy thing and Joseph had every right to feel aggrieved. He could have given up on his dreams but instead he told himself that if this is God’s plan there must be a purpose and a mission to accomplish. Joseph threw himself into the task of seeking what he could do to improve the lives of the other prisoners. Instead of focussing on what he himself needed, he focussed on what he was needed for. He was soon recognised by the warden of the prison as someone different, someone who wanted to make a difference by whatever means he could, so the warden appointed him to the task of looking after the prisoners’ needs. Joseph controlled the environment he was in; rather than seeing himself as the victim, he saw himself as someone who could make a difference in whatever situation he found himself in.
Putting his personal needs to one side, Joseph applied himself completely to the task that had been entrusted to him. He did this job, as he had done every job before, with total dedication, giving it his full attention. One morning, Joseph walked into the cell of two famous prisoners, the royal baker and the royal butler. He noticed they were not looking well and something was bothering them. Looking unwell in an Egyptian prison was probably not that unusual but Joseph, without regard for himself but rather a heightened sense of feelings for others, was aware that there was something deeper bothering them. Desiring to help them he asked why they had sad faces. He took the time to listen to them and to interpret their dreams. It was this action that resulted in him later being recommended to pharaoh as an interpreter of dreams and led to him fulfilling his own dream as the king of Egypt’s second in command and saviour of his family, his nation and his known world.