Daring to Dream
Excerpt taken from Life Lessons for Leaders from the Old Testament
The story of Joseph is a sad one, but also one of great victory after tremendous perseverance. There is hardly a better type of Christ found in the Scriptures. Hated by his brethren for doing what was right, and suffering for sins he did not commit, Joseph stands out as an excellent example of a man whose sole purpose was to live a life of integrity and usefulness.
One of the younger sons of Jacob, Joseph was overshadowed in many ways by his older siblings and had grown up with formidable challenges. Yet we read that his father loved him in some sort of special way. Jacob was older and much wiser when his wife, Rachel, presented this son to him. No longer the young upstart that conspired to wrest the birthright of Isaac away from his brother Esau, Jacob had mellowed and learned humility by the hand and grace of God. And so Joseph, the son of Jacob’s old age, found a special place in his father’s heart.
It was in this special bond with Jacob that Joseph’s problems began. Surrounded by older brothers who were jealous of his paternal relationship, Joseph was shunned by them. Rather than mentoring the young lad, they spurned his very presence. The special and colorful coat prepared for him by his father was precious to Joseph. But to his brothers it was a symbol of their father’s unjust affection to the young teenager. From the very onset, the stage was set to produce either a young and bitter son who would complain endlessly about his mistreatment, blaming his woes on all around him, or a young man humbled by life’s events, yet empowered and anointed by his Lord. Joseph would live to choose the latter.
Not Even A Kind Word
The animosity that emanated from his brothers was like a dark cloud that constantly hung over Joseph’s humble head. It was so deep and so real that Genesis 37:4 tells us that his brothers could not even “speak peaceably” unto him. This probably means that they would not even bother to greet him with the common salutation of the era, “Peace unto you.” In fact, Judah and the others wished exactly the opposite for their younger brother. If only something, some disaster, some sickness, some unforeseen tragedy could overtake their young sibling, the elder brothers would secretly rejoice. And yet we see nothing written in the account of Genesis regarding any kind of bad or retaliating spirit in the young man. How could this be?
The profoundly beautiful passage of 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 describes for us the spiritual dynamic that had changed Paul and made him so unlike so many others.
“For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Paul had somehow learned to see all the way through life’s challenges and glimpse the other side of the mountains he had to cross. He had come to grips with this: the reality that God’s grace truly is enough for us. That which God chooses for us is exactly what is necessary for not only our own personal salvation, but it is sufficient to empower us to true usefulness in His divine purpose as well. And even greater was Paul’s realization that the infirmities and obstacles were in fact part of the process that would, in the end, “make the man.”
Joseph, though of such a young age and with so little experience on life’s journey, must have sensed the same thing. Though saddled with his brothers’ jealousies and constant snubs, Joseph seemed determined to make his way forward and learn, grow, and ultimately thrive as God intended. And this lesson is one of the most important for leaders everywhere to learn. The connection that exists between the sufferings and false accusations we experience with the humility necessary for real spiritual success is inescapable for today’s leadership. And it would literally “keep” Joseph in the darkest of times.
There is no question that Joseph stands out in both Jewish and Christian history as one of the greatest examples of a man infused with God and his power. His life proved to be one that was divinely planned and perfectly carried out in simple obedience. But just as important as the blessings in Joseph’s life were the trials and tests he would pass through on the way to significant and anointed usefulness.
A real leader learns this. Sometimes despised simply for doing what is right and proper seems the only reward we receive. Like Jesus’ thorns, our crown may sometimes cut to our very souls and cause us to bleed from the cruel wounds made by our brothers and sisters. No one ever declared that Christian leadership would prove an easy path to take. It is a sacrifice that we gladly make, however, when we fix our gaze like Paul or Joseph on the will of God and the eternal rest that awaits each of us.
Just A Simple Dream
That’s all it really was. It was just a dream. Somehow, though, Joseph sensed its profound implication. Without fully understanding its meaning, Joseph still recognized that it was a special and divine intervention. Something special had taken place and he would hold on to this dream until he could see its full meaning. And herein is a key for leaders to use in their ministries.
As leaders who are dedicated to God and the ministerial talents he grants us, we should expect these interventions in our lives. We should remain on the lookout and be sensitive to God’s guiding hand as He molds and shapes us through life’s experiences. Why wouldn’t He? Paul had his “knocked from the horse” experience on his way to Damascus, but he also listened constantly for the still small voice of God that guided him steadily through his journey as an apostle. Before his conversion, Paul had once been deeply moved as he watched the stoning of Stephen, and yet made no move toward repentance. Instead he determined to persecute the Church even more than before in a vain attempt to rid himself of the conviction he felt. He was a man torn between two forces—that of his world and flesh, urging him on to personal greatness as a Pharisee among Pharisees; but also the urging of God’s Spirit toward a life devoted to the gentle Jesus. Once struck down on that Damascus highway, however, Paul determined to never miss another opportunity to grab on to God’s promises for his life. And Joseph saw his opportunity in a simple dream.
Leaders need to learn that our loyalty, our faithfulness, our submission, and our dedication to truth set us apart from the rest and position us to see the God-given dream. While others spend their days gazing at the mundane, Christian leaders look upward and glimpse the divine. Joseph had dreamed a simple dream, but it changed everything for this young man that simply sensed “more.”
The result could not have been what young Joseph expected. Surely, with such a soul-stirring dream, every family member would somehow celebrate with him. But it was not to be. In fact, the Bible tells us “they hated him yet the more.”
In reality, this first of two dreams had distanced Joseph even farther away from his brothers. Jealous of his relationship with Jacob, they were not interested in his dreams of folly, and certainly would hear nothing about their sheaves bowing to Joseph’s! Who did he think he was? And that’s the question for leaders: who do they think they are? Are they just one of the brethren, just another insignificant part of the family? Or, can they see themselves as set apart—not in any sense of superiority, but as someone who is specifically called to a specific task?
Just as important for leaders, though, is the way that Joseph held on to this dream in spite of the way that his brothers discounted it. It is one thing to be given a dream, and quite another to hold on to it in the face of overwhelming resistance. To the brothers it was pure rubbish, the fanciful nocturnal ramblings of a junior member of the family. To Joseph, it was special. He would not know just how extraordinary it was until much later. But he sensed its importance from the beginning. In fact, it was a dream that would end in the salvation of a race of people, in the start of a long journey for the Jewish nation, and for the establishment of a heavenly Kingdom. It was a simple dream, but a dream of great victory.
A second dream arrived and confirmed the first. But still, the brothers would have no part of it. They were senior, they were in charge, they were, in fact, the leaders of the day. But they were spiritually bankrupt. They had nothing to offer, they had no understanding of the dream’s implications, and they had no vision beyond the fields and the flocks. They were locked into the here and now. Dreaming for them consisted of the hope of a peaceful old age, while their daily obligations slowly but surely consumed their passion and purpose.
Real leaders may indeed hold positions in the work place. They have homes and families. They have bills to pay and deadlines to meet. But these never drain their spiritual life’s blood. Leaders do not allow the mundane to overtake the sacred. Every day in the field for Joseph meant the same chores, but performed while he carefully held and contemplated his dream. The brothers saw the dreams as threats to their positions of leadership. Instead of helping their younger brother to nurture and pursue the dream, they conspired against him to steal the dream and ultimately lay it to rest in a pit dug in the earth. They would harbor no such dream, and they would accommodate no such brother.
It is a terrible tragedy when those in leadership despise the dream. Worse yet, some bankrupt leaders will kill not only the dream, but also the dreamer. But in the end, with a spirit like Joseph’s, the dreamer will find his place in the plan. Godly leaders should expect this. While we may not have nation-forming, world-changing dreams like Joseph had, we can expect the Lord to share with us His plans that we can cherish and nurture. We can also, from time to time, expect resistance from those above us in the authority structure. At those times we must learn to be patient and allow God to work His special strategies. Given a time and a chance, God never fails in our lives nor in our ministries. It is not about our age, our education, our wealth, or our status in society. It is about what God can do in the life of a willing servant/leader. It is not about impressive speeches regarding what God has done through our “special anointing.” It is about humble men and women at the right hand of God and understanding His grace. It is about simple abandon to revealed principles that God works in His true disciples.
From Evil To Good
It would be a very long time until Joseph’s brothers would come to grips with the reality of all of this. The brothers regularly mocked Joseph, calling him “the dreamer.” They did what they could to compromise his faith and his self-perception, but they failed in every attempt. They sold him as a slave, seemingly ridding themselves of this young brother whose dedicated life made them feel so different. But in the end, they would go from simple older brothers to heads of tribes that would change everything—and all thanks to young Joseph and his resolve to allow God room to work. Never complaining even in the worst of straits, Joseph leaned heavily on an unseen hand in which he had placed his total trust. Many years later, Joseph took time to explain it all to his brethren in one simple sentence in Genesis 50:20,
“But as for you, ye thought it evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
It had all started with a simple dream to a young dreamer. While others mocked and cruelly tried there best to dilute its significance, Joseph held on tenaciously to what he knew was from God. While not fully understanding, somehow Joseph knew enough to hang on and never let go. The dreamer would have to endure the accusations, the mocking, and the suffering, but given the opportunity in a true believer’s heart, the dream would live on and become reality.
To read all chapters from Ted Grosbach’s book Life Lessons for Leaders from the Old Testament, you may download the PDF below or navigate to the Download Resources menu link above.
by Ted Grosbach