When I was a kid, I wanted to be a famous singer when I grew up. Later I imagined being First Lady. Once I realized how little control I’d have over that, I changed my dream to being President.
When I was 21, a friend of mine got a group of us together and challenged us to write a list of 25 things we wanted to do in our lifetime. I’ve been dreaming about the future for a long time. Oddly, now that the “future” is here, I can barely remember most of what was on that list.
A few things still come to mind though: Take a hot air balloon ride, buy and refurbish an old house, start my own business, and write a book. It’s clear a lot of the things on my list were what I wished for at the time, not what I really thought I could or should do. But not everything fell into that category. That last one — write a book — stuck with me. It was something I really wanted to do or at least be able to say that I did. I’m not sure I believed then that I had what it takes to actually write a whole book — I lacked the persistence, the know-how and most importantly, the idea. What did I have to say that warranted 200 pages? But the concept intrigued me.
I think a lot of people make lists like that. There’s even a web site — mydream.tv — that catalogs people’s dreams. Things like “tour Europe by car, invent something to improve the world, climb a major mountain, open my own restaurant, adopt a child, live a healthy life” and so on.
What are your dreams? Have you ever been in a classroom, a church service, a walk in the woods, or your quiet time and had a strong sense of His leading to pursue something bold? Have you had that distinct impression that tells you “this is what I was created to do”?
Dreams are powerful motivators. They inspire us to take risks, to push beyond our limits and to keep trying when we fail. And failure is no small part of the process of achieving dreams. But you have to be willing to let it shape you.
Like Joseph, the famous Old Testament dreamer, I had a lot of lessons to learn before any of my dreams could start coming true.
Joseph the Faithful Dreamer
“Listen to this dream I had,” Joseph said to his brothers and then proceeded to tell them abut his dream that implied he would rule over them one day. Needless to say, they didn’t rally around his dream. Hardly. They tried to kill him. Only a sudden opportunity to sell him into slavery stayed their hand. Joseph wound up a servant in Potiphar’s house.
When you already know how the story ends, it’s easy to miss this point: Joseph was the favorite son of a rich and set-apart patriarch. No doubt he’d heard Jacob tell how God had singled their family out to become a great nation. I imagine Jacob lavished praise on Joseph, indulging his own dreams, “My favorite son, you will be the father of this great nation.” And now Joseph was in bondage, far from his adoring father, forced to do work in a pagan land. He had every right and plenty of opportunity to be sullen, bitter and vengeful. He didn’t know if he’d ever get out of Potiphar’s house. He probably thought he’d never see his friends or family again. As far as he could tell, his life was over. Yet he was faithful.
Genesis 39:2-4 says:
The LORD was with Joseph and 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.
Through his faithfulness, Joseph gained a trusted position in Potiphar’s house. But this wasn’t his dream. And it didn’t last long anyway, because Potiphar’s wife — failing to tempt Joseph into bed — falsely accused him, causing him to end up prison.
Even though Joseph did the right thing, prison was a step backwards. But he was still faithful. Picking up again at the end of chapter 39, we read:
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 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 (Genesis 39:20-23).
Of course, being the go-to guy in a prison wasn’t Joseph’s dream, but it was the assignment at hand in which to be faithful. While in prison, Joseph interpreted a dream for the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, foretelling his imminent release and return to high service. The cupbearer promised he would remember Joseph. But he didn’t. That happens. You can be faithful and still have peers and supervisors fail to do their part.
Two years passed while Joseph faithfully served in the prison. Eventually, the Pharaoh had a dream no one could interpret — and the cupbearer remembered Joseph.
God gave Joseph the interpretation, and his insight on the years of famine ahead prompted the Pharaoh to elevate him all the way to second place in the kingdom. This was an unbelievable reversal of fortune for someone who had been languishing in prison. But this wasn’t Joseph’s dream. Even though he had a great title, wealth and public honor, that wasn’t God’s ultimate plan.
This is key to remember because titles, wealth and public honor can be a major distraction as we follow the dreams God gives us. Keeping in mind how much one richly ornamented jacket went to Joseph’s head back when he was a kid, it’s not hard to imagine him squandering such riches had he not endured the breaking and refining of his life in captivity. Without the daily tests of his character he’d endured, Joseph probably wouldn’t have been much use to Pharaoh, the nation of Israel or the future Messiah.
Faithful in Little
Where are you in the process of achieving your dreams? It would be nice if we could know in the moment that this painful rejection, that embarrassing failure, this boring and tedious assignment, that overlooked accomplishment, are all part of God’s grand plan. But we can’t. At the time those things happen, it doesn’t feel at all like preparation for something big. It just feels awful. What we can do is follow the modeling of Joseph: keep dreaming and be faithful in little.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus praises the man who received two talents and the one with five. Both took efforts to multiply what they had been given, and about them their master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Faithfulness today with whatever you currently have to work with is the path God calls you to take. How you do with a little responsibility will affect how much more responsibility you’ll get. That goes for the job you’re in right now, as well as for any internship, missions trip, volunteer work or freelance assignment you might take on. If you’ll handle each responsibility by faithfully meeting needs and doing your work as unto God, He will faithfully guide you to the next step along the way to realizing the dream He placed in you.
There were times when I was still learning how to write professionally that rejection was almost more than I could bear. I’d get another “no” or “not yet” from a potential publisher and walk away from the keyboard with thoughts of not returning.
Writing is hard work. To hear that what you’ve written isn’t good enough is deeply personal. It’s in those moments that I had to decide: give it up for something easier or press on. But every time I went back to the computer, hit the delete key and started over, the results were better than before. It was always worth the extra work.
The lesson: Be faithful in the little things and bigger things will follow. The hard work of writing has been well worth the process. That dream I had of writing a book? It finally came true, 16 years later.
And now for that hot air balloon ride.
Copyright 2007 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.