It's Not a Dream World

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 39: 19-20

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words.

Genesis 37:8, rsv

We thought last time about the importance of a God-given dream and the difference it can make in the way we live. The theme then was, “You Gotta Have a Dream.” Today we remember that it’s not a dream world.

I remember a friend of mine reminding me of that a long time ago. What he said still stays with me: “We dream in the world in which we live, but the world in which we live is not a dream world.” Let’s think for a few moments now about what can threaten a God-given life dream, the things that tend to block its fulfillment. Listen to these words of Joseph’s brothers right after he told them about his dream. I’m reading from Genesis 37:8.

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words.

OPPOSITION FROM SIGNIFICANT OTHERS

The first threat to a God-given dream may be rejection and opposition from people close to us. Think of Joseph’s brothers. In the dream he had, they were paying him homage, bowing before him. But in the real world, things seemed dramatically different. Jealous of him already for being his father’s favorite, they hated Joseph all the more when he had shared his dream. They were filled with jealousy. They had only harsh words for him. Later, out in the fields, they saw him coming from afar and plotted to kill him. “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; . . . then we shall see what will become of his dreams!” (vv. 19-20). They stripped him of his dress coat and threw him into a cistern. Through the mercy of his brother Reuben and later of Judah, they didn’t kill Joseph but they sold their young brother for a slave. They treated him like a thing, a commodity. Joseph, what’s becoming of your dream?

Think about Saul, the Pharisee, who became Paul the apostle. Once the Lord had given him a vision of what his ministry was to be, Saul’s old friends rejected him. His countrymen plotted to kill him several times. Those with whom he had served on the Sanhedrin wanted to see him executed. When Paul tried to obey the heavenly vision, he was hated and opposed at every point.

With most of us, perhaps, it hasn’t been that dramatic or extreme. But maybe we’ve had a taste of something like it. I remember a girl I liked in high school who seemed at first to like me but lost interest when she realized that I was serious about becoming a Christian minister. She wanted no part of that dream.

What about you? Has someone close to you made pursuing the dream difficult?

STRONG TEMPTATION

Here’s a second threat: strong temptation, attempts of the evil one to undermine character. After being taken down to Egypt, Joseph was bought by a captain of the Egyptian guards, Potiphar. Joseph became his household servant, a post he occupied with great faithfulness. Potiphar’s wife, however, made repeated attempts to seduce the young man. Many things would have seemed to make that temptation very difficult to resist. Joseph was young, handsome, single, vulnerable. Also, the tempter was a woman in authority over him. It was his duty to obey her; it was in his interest to oblige her. She could doubtless have contributed to his advancement. And it would surely be dangerous to slight or antagonize a woman with such power.

Opportunity also favored the temptation. They were together in the house. No one else was around. There was no danger of detection and she would certainly have protected him if they became involved. Her persistence also made resistance difficult. She kept after him day by day, even took hold of his clothes to entrap him.

What helped Joseph to withstand those pressures? The key, it seems to me, was respect. There was respect for his master. Joseph said, “He leaves the management of his whole house to me. He has trusted me with all that he has. How can I do this?” (see Gen. 39:8-9). In other words, “How can I betray a trust? How can I wrong so deeply those who have treated me well?” Caring about and esteeming other people is a great defense against wrong.

There was also self-respect. Fidelity goes right to the heart of who we are. To break our promises, to violate a trust, is to sacrifice integrity, to lose our true selves. “How can I do this?” Joseph asked.

Most of all, there’s respect and fear of God. “How can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (v. 9) Joseph says. He names it as a great wrong. He calls it what God calls it. Perhaps adultery is not so serious in the eyes of many people. In John Grisham’s best-selling novel The Firm, the hero justifies yielding to the lures of a prostitute with this thought: “everyone does things like this,” and “no one will ever know.”

Joseph couldn’t look at it that way. He knew that God knew. The worst thing about sin, what most gives it enormity and ugliness, is its thrust against God, His covenant, His command, His grace, His holiness. Joseph fled, got himself out of harm’s way, didn’t stay to argue.

The surest way for the devil and his agents to block the dream in our lives is to undermine our character, to destroy our integrity. We all get attacked along that line, don’t we? Some of the temptations are blatant and obvious, some quite subtle. What would have become of the great dream, we wonder, if Joseph had carried on an affair with his master’s wife? Yes, and what will happen to yours and mine if we violate our conscience?

UNDESERVED REPROACH

Here’s a third threat: undeserved reproach. Potiphar’s wife, we read, accused Joseph of trying to rape her and then fleeing when she screamed. Potiphar, hearing this, was enraged and had Joseph thrown into the guard house with the king’s prisoners. Joseph resisted temptation – and look what happened!

This seems to be one of the real risks in seeking to fulfill the life dream God gives us. Think of what various enemies called our Lord Jesus Christ Himself: an impostor, an agitator, a madman, an enemy of the people, an agent of the devil. Think of what they called His servant Paul: a charlatan, a perverter of crowds, a hater of the law, defiler of the temple, a scoundrel, someone not fit to live.

We sometimes feel that if we obey God and keep our noses clean, our good name won’t be sullied. But, as they say, “it ain’t necessarily so.” We see in Joseph’s case that being innocent of a wrong doesn’t always preserve one’s reputation. Not everyone who keeps a good conscience can also keep a good name, at least in the eyes of some.

God let this happen, didn’t He? But it didn’t frustrate the dream. And no false accusations against us will ever finally defeat us, even though they can make life extremely painful at times. Are you facing something like that?

DELAY AND DISAPPOINTMENT

Here’s another threat of a different kind: delay and disappointment. As we read Joseph’s story, we see him bouncing back again and again. After the bitter trauma of being sold into slavery by his brothers, he makes good in Potiphar’s house, works his way up, has success. Then after he’s thrown in prison, he wins the favor of the chief jailor and again is favored. After he becomes the attendant of the king’s cupbearer and baker, God’s dreamer becomes an interpreter of their dreams. Joseph asks the cupbearer when he’s restored to remember him and bring his case to Pharaoh’s notice so that Joseph also can be released.

But the cupbearer forgets all about Joseph. He neglects to mention him to the king. Another two years go by. Maybe those were the hardest two years in Joseph’s life. He has survived a terrible injustice, a strong temptation, unjust accusation. He’s kept on being faithful where he is in spite of all his difficulties. But he’s counted on that cupbearer to return the favor and intercede for him. Surely this will be God’s way, he thinks, to rescue him from distress so that he can get on with his life.

But no, it doesn’t happen. The months drag by. What’s becoming of your dream, Joseph? Disappointment and delay can sometimes be harder to deal with than heavy adversities. Nothing happens. Time passes.

I wonder how the apostle Paul felt about all the months he spent in prison when he wanted to be out evangelizing the world. He had hoped to go to Spain, but that wasn’t possible. He wanted to visit the young churches he had founded but was hindered from doing that. Disappointment, delay. Delay, disappointment. Are You listening, Lord? Can’t You see that I want to finish my course, get my work done, fulfill Your dream?

Can you identify with that mood? You’ve been waiting a long time, putting up with a lot of disappointments. For what? So much for your hopes and dreams! Time is slipping by and here you sit, frustrated.

There’s a fascinating word about all this in Psalm 105, verses 17-19. Listen:

He [that is, God] had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said [in the dreams, that is] came to pass the word of the Lord tested him.

So that’s what it was. In the persecution, the temptation, the reproach, the long waiting, the word of the Lord kept testing Joseph until the dream was fulfilled. None of this was announced, of course. There was no vision from heaven about it, no word of explanation. These things simply kept happening to Joseph or to Paul, just like they keep happening to you and me. They severely challenge the dream. They call it in question. More than that, they test the dreamer. We have to be able to take it. The big test of character is often this: endurance. Can we bear hardship without breaking down, without giving up?

THE TURNAROUND

Then comes the dramatic turn of events. Amazing things happen and they happen fast. Pharaoh has his dreams and no one can interpret them. The cupbearer remembers his experience with Joseph and tells Pharaoh. Pharaoh sends for Joseph and tells him the dreams. Joseph gives glory to God as the only One who can fathom these mysteries. Then he teaches Pharaoh about the seven fat and seven lean years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph prime minister to establish a food reserve. At the age of 30, this man Joseph has authority under Pharaoh over all Egypt. He marries the daughter of an Egyptian priest and has two children. One he calls Manasseh (God has made me forget all my troubles) and the other Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my hardships). Joseph is passing the test, isn’t he? He’s acting like God’s man. Now in an amazing way, the dream is about to be fulfilled.

There’s a famine in the land of Canaan and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain. A lot of intrigue follows. They come to Joseph. He knows who they are but they don’t recognize him. Joseph decides to put them to the test. He gives them food and sends them back to bring his younger brother Benjamin with them next time they come. When they return with their younger brother, they’re tested again. Finally, Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to his brothers. The entire family of Jacob then comes to Egypt and settles in the land of Goshen.

Later on, as the patriarch Jacob is about to die, he gives a parting blessing to his sons. The brothers are fearful now that Joseph may finally take revenge. Then as the saga of Genesis concludes, we see these brothers bowing to the ground before Joseph saying, “We are your slaves. We are the servants of your father’s God.”

In a way beyond all imagination Joseph’s impossible dream comes true. It’s not a dream world. In fact, it’s a world where God-given dreams are bitterly contested. But right here, in this real world, God fulfilled the life dream of His servant Joseph, of His servant Paul. Yes, beyond their wildest dreams. Apparently, the fulfilling of a dream often involves the long and sometimes painful molding of the person. God has to deal with the dreamer before the dream can come true.

Where does all of this find you? If you are a believer in Christ, you’ve been given some kind of dream. What has been happening to it? What kind of opposition have you faced from people? What sort of temptation? What kind of reproach have you had to bear? What disappointments and delays have been discouraging you? Maybe in your case too, the word of the Lord will keep testing you until the time is right and you’re ready. Then perhaps in ways you don’t expect or can’t imagine, the impossible dream can be fulfilled.