Scripture: Genesis 41:14-16; 25-40
14 Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. 30 After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. 31 The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Can you remember the very first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? My husband’s parents shared a story with me once of the very first thing Thomas said he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked Thomas to remind me of that story again, and with his permission, I want to share it with you. When Thomas was a young child, around 5 or 6 years-old, the church where his family worshipped was in a older section of Baton Rouge. The route they drove to church every week took them down streets that were full of pot-holes. He said some pot-holes were left unfilled, while others had been filled in a way that made the pavement rough and uneven. He remembers how bumpy the ride was and how the car would jostle him around; and he remembers the adults talking about what a problem it was. So one day, he told his parents that when he grew up, he wanted to become one of the people that fills the pot-holes so that he could make sure that all the holes were filled properly so that all the streets would be smooth and even to drive on. As a young child, Thomas saw a problem and had a dream that when he grew up, he would become the person to solve it.
Today we’re going to see how Joseph’s dreams and desires from when he was that bratty 17-year-old will come back into play as an adult who has had his share of hardships, twists and turns in life. So what about you? Can any of you think of the very first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? Or can you remember what dreams or desires you had for your future when you were younger? I’m going to give you a moment to reflect on this, and then I’ll lead us in prayer.
Gracious God, meet us here today and give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. So may our desires become your desires, our work become your work, and our community the place where you are sought and found. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
For a few weeks now, we’ve been following the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. The first week, we learned that Joseph was the youngest of Jacob’s adult sons, and was the first-born son of Jacob’s favorite wife, which made Joseph Jacob’s favorite son. And Jacob didn’t hide his favoritism – he gave Joseph a special coat, and even put him in charge of reporting back to Jacob what his older brothers were doing. If this weren’t enough to cause a little sibling rivalry, Joseph also had these dreams when he was younger, that seemed to indicate that one day he would be elevated to some position of importance over his brothers, and even over the rest of his family. So his brothers found an opportunity to get rid of him; instead of murdering him, which was their first plan, they sold him into slavery when he was 17 and convinced their father that he had been killed by wild animals.
Joseph became a household servant in Egypt for the Captain of the king’s guard, eventually becoming the head of Potiphar’s entire household; but that didn’t last long. After saying “no” repeatedly to the temptings of Potiphar’s wife, she used her power and influence to convince her husband that Joseph had assaulted her, and so he was thrown into prison, and mostly forgotten.
The scriptures tell us that God has been with Joseph in each of his predicaments and has worked through Joseph to help turn things around. When Joseph was sold into slavery, God worked through Joseph to make his work successful, which was noticed by those in higher up positions. That helped elevate Joseph from slave to head servant. Then, when Joseph was wrongly accused, instead of being executed he was imprisoned. In prison, God endeared Joseph to the chief jailer, who put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners. And God continued to show steadfast love to Joseph, no matter what happened.
Now Joseph ended up spending quite a few years in prison. Remember that last week we talked about how it is natural to ask ourselves, “Where is God when it all goes wrong?” And that we may not always be able to trust our own feelings that God is with us when we are experiencing the low points and the difficulties in our lives. So those are the times when we must cling to faith. Joseph’s faith was anchored in several things: 1- the promises that God made to his ancestor Abraham, that God would work through Abraham’s descendants to bring blessings to all people on earth; 2- the dreams of Joseph’s youth, that showed him that God had plans for his future, that he was part of God’s plan to bless others; 3- that through the difficulties he had already faced, that God had worked through those events and situations to bring Joseph through them to something better. Joseph can now trust that because of what he knows about God’s promises, because of his own dreams and desires, and because of the ways God has already acted in his life, that God will continue to work to bring about something better through him.
When we began this series, we talked about the fact that in the great hero stories, the hero usually discovers something about him- or herself in the process of overcoming obstacles and challenges on the way to solving the ultimate challenge or quest. That’s where we are in Joseph’s story today. Joseph now realizes that those dreams and desires he had in his youth were about more than just becoming greater than his brothers – they were about God’s plan to use him to accomplish something greater than himself. Have any of you seen the new TV commercial from Apple Watch? I was confused the first time I saw it, as it showed a guy in his house suddenly looking at another version of himself; then the two of them see another version of themselves on the street, so they go to investigate; then the three of them see another version walking by, so they follow; and this goes on a few more times. Each time the new version is being slightly more active than the previous version. And it ends with the line, “There’s a better you in you.”
“There’s a better you in you.” I asked you earlier, what were your desires and dreams for your future when you were young? It’s important to pay attention to our dreams and desires, because they help inform us of ways that we can find the “better you in you.” You’ve heard the saying, “there’s always room for improvement.” And we know that as human we’re not perfect. But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, who was the perfect representation of Love in the world, we have room to grow. And our dreams and desires are the parts of us that God can work with to help us write a better story, to help us become a better version of ourselves, and become the person God wants us to be.
All of us have deep desires within us. Think for a moment about curiosities you have about things, or little nudges you may feel from time to time about something you think you may want to do or try. Those come from deep within us – they’re one of the unique ways that you alone have been created. And our deep desires are those parts of ourselves that drive us forward – they are what define the plot of our story. These can either be desires that move us toward a future with hope, or they can be desires that lead us to the pit. Noticing and responding to our desires can actually give us the courage to write a new story, to try something new, or to make some change, so that you can become a better you.
Over the years, I’ve known many people who wanted to change their story because their desires were causing them to lose something. Some lost jobs, some lost friends or marriages or other important relationship, many of them lost some amount of freedom, and almost all of them lost hope. In order to change their story, they had to change their desires – their desires to drink, or to use food, drugs, people or pornography to try to fill some emptiness or cover up some defect of character. Once they had the desire to stop drinking or using, and admitted they were powerless over their behaviors, they were willing to take other steps to turn their will and their lives over to God, who they trusted with the power to change their desires and their lives. People who have worked the twelve steps of recovery consistently say that they learned something new about themselves on their journey that helped them to become a better version of themselves. By connecting with new desires, they found out that there was a better you in you.
I’ve also know people throughout the years in my work in church ministry who have connected with deep desires that changed their lives and others for the better. My friend Lauren came to our church when she and her husband were just starting their careers after college. She was working as a music teacher in an elementary school at the time. Her deep desires included teaching, nurturing, creative arts of music, dance & visual art, and making meaningful connections with other people. She and her husband joined the choir and began developing relationships with other choir members. Through those relationships, they found a spiritual support for the struggles and disappointments of trying to have children. Lauren also had a dream of connecting her desires for teaching and nurturing children with her passion for music and dancing, and helped to start a new show choir ministry at the church.
After successfully having twins, she was struggling with the demands of her job. And at the same time, she was having dreams about expanding her volunteer role with ministries involving children and youth at our church. A year ago, as we were ending another successful summer of show choir camp ministry, she and I had a conversation about her dreams and desires for ministry. I prayed with her, and then had a conversation with one of the pastors. And several months later, our church hired her to be the associate director of youth ministry! She now leads the mid-high youth program and two youth praise teams, in addition to the show choir ministry. What she found to be true for herself, she is now instilling in the youth, that when you connect your dreams and desires to God’s care, that God will reveal a better you in you!
Rev. Sarah Heath, the author of the book, What’s Your Story?, that we’ve been using in our small group study, encourages her readers not to ignore or discount those deep desires within you, no matter where you are in life. She says, “our life’s work isn’t to get rid of desires, but instead to become aware of them and bring them closer to the surface when they seem to be life giving, not just to you but to those around you.” (p. 81) In fact, she goes on to explain that when we take these desires that God placed within us and combine them with our own unique experiences and skills and talents, that we can then discover our own personal mission and purpose; we can discover who we’re meant to be – the best version of ourselves – to find the better you in you.
Joseph discovered a new identity beyond that of favorite son, or bratty brother, or slave, or head servant, or prisoner. After looking back over his life’s ups and downs, he could see how his own desires met with God’s faithfulness to bring him into a new role where he was able to do something truly extraordinary – and not just something that was great for himself, but something that would bless people all throughout Egypt and neighboring countries.
When Joseph finally has the opportunity to go before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, he had already come through many difficult situations. Each one of these other experiences could have left Joseph depressed & despondent, and could have squashed any desire to go on. But Joseph didn’t give up – he remembered his dreams and desires from his youth, plus the promises passed on to him about God, which helped move his story forward. He allowed his desires to join with God’s in order to become a better version of himself. Joseph discovered the truth of ‘there’s a better you in you.’ In slavery, instead of becoming resentful, he worked to do his best to make his master successful; in a position of power, he resisted the temptation to sin against God; in prison, he treated other prisoners with empathy, and helped them even though he remained forgotten. And now that he has this opportunity before him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, instead of using it as a way to negotiate his freedom or to tell Pharaoh what he wants to hear, he trusts in his understanding of God’s power to work in and through him for something greater than himself.
Joseph has discovered who he is meant to be. He understands the theme of his life to be that God is with him, no matter what happens, and that God will work through even the worst circumstances to bring healing and restoration. He gives God all the credit for the interpretation of the dreams, and takes no personal credit, which in turn gives Pharaoh the willingness to trust Joseph to become the manager of all the food in Egypt, throughout the seven years of abundance and the seven years of famine. Joseph had finally learned that his dreams and desires were not just about himself, but that when he embraced these desires and dreams in light of God’s promises and faithfulness, that his new identity was to become a better version of himself so that he could be a blessing to others.
Now, Joseph didn’t forget everything he went through to get to this point in his life. If you read on in Chapter 41, you’ll see that Joseph is given a wife and has two sons before the years of famine arrived. And his names for those sons indicate that he has reflected on and found some healing in terms of his past. Verses 51 & 52 tell us, “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’ The second he named Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.’
But this also isn’t the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph has found a new identity as a great leader in Egypt. But fully trusting in God’s promises means that he will have to face his identity as a son of Jacob. So, in order to fully come to terms with his past, present and future, there is another step on this hero’s journey which we’ll explore next week.
For this week, I want you to consider where you are in your own journey. What story is God waiting to write with you based on the deep desires within you? What story would the world miss out on if you didn’t act on those dreams and desires you have? Who is the better you in you waiting to emerge?
On the back of your connection card today, there is a Ministry Survey that lists some general areas of ministry. God wants to use your deep desires to connect with the world’s needs in order to bless others as part of the growth and expansion of Maple Grove. So take a minute or two right now to pray about the areas of ministries where your desires may useful. Check any of those that you feel nudged to do so and place them in the offering plates today as part of your offering – as a way of committing to God to let God help you write the next part of your story. After a moment, I’ll close with a prayer by Thomas Merton…
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.