READ : Genesis 37:5-11
It’s a classic line from the old musical, South Pacific: “You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have your dream come true?” I want to think with you today about your life dream, if you have one, and mine. Let’s look at those against the background of Joseph’s experience recorded in the book of Genesis. Listen: This is from chapter 37, verses 3-11:
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they only hated him the more. He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 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. Then he dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
What were these prophetic dreams Joseph had? The first had to do with his relationship with his brothers, that they would bow down to him. The second was along the same lines, in a cosmic setting. It spoke of Joseph’s relationship to his entire family. The whole clan was to do obeisance to him. These were evidently dreams of personal eminence for Joseph. He was quite excited about them, telling them first to his brothers and then to his father as well. We get the impression that he sensed what the dreams meant before he related them. They gave him a sense of high destiny about his future.
I was in a group of young adults recently when we talked about our life dreams. Have you gotten in touch with anything like that in your experience? Here’s how it went for me: When I was growing up, I had aspirations to play baseball for the then New York Giants. Or, failing that, I wanted to be a famous sports writer. My mother, who had been an actress, wanted me to be a star of stage and screen. My uncle wanted me to study law and go into politics. But then, in the summer before my senior year in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to Christ. I put my trust in Him. I received Him into my life.
My friend gave me a packet of scripture verse cards to study and memorize. One of them went like an arrow to my heart: “You have not chosen me but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). That became a kind of life verse for me. The Lord had chosen me. He had given me a mission. I was meant to bear fruit that would last.
These dreams, whether those of a great patriarch like Joseph or of everyday people like ourselves, are always two-sided. There’s obviously a divine initiative behind them: God giving a dream, the Holy Spirit speaking through a Scripture passage, a sense of the Lord’s call. He’s always “beforehand with our souls.” But there are inescapably human elements to it also, aren’t there?
I think of the role my mother played in my growing-up years. She always encouraged me to believe that my life could make a significant contribution. If she ever heard anything complimentary from someone else about my abilities or potential, she would always tell me about that at an opportune moment. She’d plant that seed. Maybe she told me things at times that no one had ever said, I don’t know!
Once in a quiet family gathering, she asked me to read a passage from the Bible. She told me afterwards how well I read it and said, “Maybe you’ll be a minister some day.” That was all. The matter dropped. I didn’t say anything. But another little seed had fallen. Then, when I heard the gospel and received Christ, everything fell into place. What would I do? I’d share Christ with people. How? The only way I could think of. I’d be that minister.
And I guess the fact that I liked to act, to speak in public, to be up front, to call the plays in football, had something to do with it too – human elements in a God-given dream.
Let’s focus again on Joseph. What were the human dynamics for this young dreamer? I think about his mother, Rachel. She was the wife Jacob loved best, for whom he had to work under her father for 14 years. She was the one who had difficulty bearing children and who complained to Jacob about it: “Give me [sons] or I shall die!” (Gen. 30:1). Day after day Rachel prayed for a son of her own. After long years, her prayer was heard. She conceived and bore Joseph.
Imagine what it was like for Joseph growing up among older brothers as Rachel’s son, the Rachel who was jealous of her sister Leah and all those children. Did Rachel tell young Joseph that he was the long-awaited son, the prayed-for one, son of the wife his father had loved most? Did she rage against some of the older boys who may have picked on young Joseph? Did she make him feel special? Singled out? Did she contribute ingredients to the dream?
And what about his father Jacob? He made no secret of the fact that Joseph was his favorite. Jacob had grown up in a home where there was parental favoritism: Isaac for Esau, Rebekah for Jacob. It had caused all kinds of trouble there, but Jacob repeated the pattern in his generation. We often do things like that, don’t we?
Jacob gave young Joseph a special robe. It was what we would call a dress coat, not the cloak-like wrap which a man on the street would ordinarily wear. It was distinguished from those by its length and by its sleeves. It was a luxury which only those who didn’t have to work could think about wearing. Jacob probably rationalized in all of this: “Rachel is my true wife, so Joseph is really my firstborn.” His father was setting Joseph apart, giving him special treatment, actually setting him up, wittingly or not, for the resentment of his brothers. What siblings can stand for this kind of blatant favoritism?
How did all of this affect Joseph’s view of himself and his relationship to his family? It had the potential, at least, to make him a spoiled, preferred young prince.
Could we say that in his dreams then there was something of personal ambition? Let’s not dismiss that too readily. There’s a distinct possibility that there are elements like that in all of our dreams.
Is that a bad thing, that something of our ambition and ego need enters into the dream? Does that negate its significance? I don’t think so. I have a hunch that God makes use of all kinds of things in our lives in bringing His purpose for us to fulfillment, even our weaknesses and failures, even our worst disappointments and deepest insecurities.
Joseph would learn a lot in his lifetime about what his dreams really meant. They weren’t about personal greatness for him but about great opportunities to do good, not about lording it over his family but about keeping them alive in famine. They didn’t mean superiority but stewardship and service. The dreams didn’t say, “Joseph, you’re going to be a tremendous success,” but, “Joseph, God’s going to do something remarkable through you for people you love.”
So the Lord may be saying to us: “Recognize, come to terms with, accept the two-sidedness of your dream.” It has God in it, no mistake about that, but it has lots of you too.
IT SHAPES OUR LIVES
Those dreams, however two-sided, however mixed, are enormously significant for our lives. For one thing, they give us a unifying sense of purpose. I used to tell my students in a preaching class in seminary: if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. A sermon needs to be not like buck shot, scattered everywhere, but like the sleek rifle bullet. Without a commanding vision, a life dream to give our experience a theme, we tend to be scattered people, wasting our energies. Paul, once he knew he had been apprehended by Christ, had a clear sense of direction. There was a “one thing” he was in the world to do. Everyone who senses the call of God upon him or her experiences something like that. A sense of mission brings concentration.
Second, those dreams sustain us in hard times. Joseph showed amazing endurance, invincible hope. He kept beginning again after repeated defeats and disappointments. The apostle Paul also showed awesome determination to run his race and finish his course. How many times in your experience has the sense of being called by the Lord, given a work to do, supported you through dark hours? That’s the “vision” of which the Scriptures speak, the power that can keep us all from “perishing.”
Then too, a life dream can do wonders for your character. A young son growing up in the emperor’s family was told again and again by his tutor, “Galba, one day you shall be king.” That prospect, in his case, had a way of keeping him from what was foolish and cheap. Remember how Joseph said when he was tempted to do evil, to betray his master and his God, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). I think Joseph remembered the dream, remembered that he had been raised up by God for a great and good purpose.
What life dream has God given to you? When and how did you begin to become aware that there was a “something” God had for you to do and be? And how has that dream affected you since?
Some people get in touch with the dream later on in life. I think of a man in my first congregation who was converted when he was almost 50. He went away to finish college. He made his way through seminary. He ably served three churches before he retired. Jack called himself an “eleventh-hour laborer.”
I’m not speaking only about ministers. I’m talking about every person who has made a commitment to the Lord. There’s a calling; there’s a destiny for every one of us. Let me tell you about Zaida, a young woman of Turkish background, with dark, radiant eyes. I met her in Tbilisi, capital city of what was then the Russian republic of Georgia. I preached one night on Romans 1:5, “Grace and Apostleship.” The next night she came again to the service, wanted to talk with me, wanted to share a secret, she said, that she had told to no one else.
Zaida was of Muslim background and had received Jesus as her Savior a year or two before. Sometime after that, she attended a service where Malkhaz, our Georgian language translator, was speaking about Moses and his mission. Zaida said that she had a vision then that she too was being sent on a mission. She shared this with no one at the time. She feared that, because she was a new Christian and a woman, her dream wouldn’t be accepted by others as authentic. But once she heard about a kind of apostleship given to all Christians, she took heart. God was sending her, she believed, to be a prophet and apostle to her people, the Muslims. She was hoping that her husband would share the dream and labor with her in this mission.
Martin Luther used to say, “Pity the person with no sense of divine destiny.” I think I know what he meant. Pity those with no life dream of contributing to God’s cause, of serving their generation. How a dream can pull the scattered strands of life together, how it can sustain us through tough times, how it can help to keep us morally straight and strong!
I know that there’s a dream, a mission, a destiny for you. The first step toward it will be a personal commitment of your life to Christ. Then follows a lifetime of listening to what He says in His word, communing with Him in your prayers and sharing in the worship and service of God’s people. As you trust Him, as you walk closely with Him, He will give you a sense of life purpose, and that will make all the difference in the world. Friends, “You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how are you gonna have your dream come true?”