The following is a sermon that I preached at Toronto Chinese Baptist Church.
When I was a child, the thing that was most interesting to me was the army. I am not sure exactly where that came from. I didn’t have, at that time anyway, any close family that served in the military. It likely came from watching hours and hours of old war movies with my father. From then on it was all army. I collected toy guns and would arm the neighborhood children for our pretend battles. I collected war comic books (it actually took me a while to realize that there were superhero comics) and I drew army pictures. I even made my own medals with quarters, paper and safety pins. As much as I enjoyed thinking about the army, I never expected to join the army.
Fast forward approximately just over thirty years. At this time I did have family in the military. My cousin is in the air force and her husband is in the army. Both have served in Afghanistan. I was pastoring in a small town that also happened to have an army base. The chaplain of that base attended our ministerial and began to encourage me to join the Canadian Forces as a chaplain. At first I just laughed it off but he was pretty persistent. After talking it over with my wife, we decided that I could at least begin the application process. For those who get frustrated at the weeks you have to wait to get the job you applied for, it took me two years. Finally I was sworn in as an officer in the Canadian Forces. I didn’t have any knowledge, I didn’t even have a uniform, all I had was a service number.
The following week, I began basic training. I thought I was going for some chaplain training, to just build on what I knew from being a pastor. That was not the case. I was there, not to learn to be a chaplain but to learn to be an army officer. That training was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Every time we left our barracks I could see my car in the parking lot, just waiting for me to drive away. I felt like I was put in a position far above where I was really at. I did not feel that I had what it took to be a chaplain. But I made it through that training and I went to my unit. There was still much to learn about military culture and gaining the soldier’s trust, but I stayed with it. Now my career as a military chaplain is one of the most rewarding areas of my life.
Why do I bring this up? We are have been looking at the life of Joseph. We have seen that he has had pretty rough time. Now we get to this chapter. If I had to summarize this chapter in one sentence, it would be: Pharaoh pulls Joseph out of jail, sees he can interpret dreams and so puts him in charge of the entire country. Does that seem strange to you? Joseph gets the biggest job that was possible and his qualification is something that has nothing to do with his job. As it turns out, Joseph did very well in this position. I want to look at why Joseph did well and how we can apply that to our experience.
Let us go over what actually happened with Joseph. When last we left Joseph, he had rejected the advances of Potiphar’s wife. This resulted in Joseph’s imprisonment. As had happened in Potiphar’s household, Joseph prospered in prison. His gifts were recognized and he was given some authority by the warden to run things. But authority in prison is still prison and this was not the life that Joseph wanted, nor the life that he believed God had for him. Then an opportunity came his way. The cupbearer and the baker of the king were imprisoned as well. Not only that, they both had dreams that Joseph was able to interpret. While the baker was executed, the cupbearer was released and he promised to put in a good word for Joseph so that he too could be released. But the cupbearer, so excited to be out of prison and back to his influential job, quickly forgot Joseph. Joseph must have waited for some message from the cupbearer but it did not come. Days turned into weeks and months turned into years.
We are told that two years later the Pharaoh had a disturbing dream. He demanded an interpretation but his magicians and wise men had nothing. That is when the ever present cupbearer’s memory suddenly improved. Perhaps hoping to improve his own standing with the king, the cupbearer revealed Joseph’s dream interpreting skills. After being cleaned up, Joseph was presented to Pharaoh. I love how Joseph responds to the suggestion he has interpretation skills. He responds by stating, “It is not in me!” This is a strong exclamation, with these five English words translating one Hebrew word. I would love to have seen the cupbearer’s reaction to Joseph’s denial. Of course we know that Joseph was simply saying that interpretation comes from God and not from himself. He was being precise to a degree that the Egyptians were not concerned about. What mattered was that the dream got interpreted. Joseph interpreted the dream (by God’s power) and it was revealed that there was a famine coming and that the Egyptians had to get to work in preparation. There is where it gets weird. Pharaoh appoints Joseph as second in charge based on his ability to interpret dreams. Notice the reversal in details. In prison Joseph showed his administrative skills and then interpreted some dreams. Here he interprets first and then is given an opportunity to lead. Sure Joseph had demonstrated skills in Potiphar’s household and in prison, but as far as we know that did not enter the conversation. His experience helped him do the job but did not help him get the job. Even so, providing leadership in one household or a prison is not the same as leading an entire country. In many ways, Joseph was put in a position above his pay grade. And yet the rest of the story tells us that Joseph did quite well. There are some important principles here that can help us when we find ourselves in a new position that we may not feel qualified for.
Principles for Life
Each of you are in a different situation and will hear Joseph’s story in a different way. Some of you are about to start or have started a job unlike anything you have done before. You may be taking on a new level education. You may be approaching marriage or having children. One of the great but scary aspects of life is that these situations keep coming. Whatever your stage, the Bible challenges us on how we will live the other six days. Here are some principles for how we can deal the big job, whatever that may look like.
- You have more experience than you think.
Joseph had a difficult life. He was the unpopular brother in his father’s household. He was the slave that was accused of assaulting his master’s wife. He was the prisoner who was forgotten by the man he helped. None of us would want to experience what Joseph did. Yet when we look at those times, we can see the training that was taking place that would save not only the Egyptians but the Israelites as well. Nine hundred years after these events, David, a descendent of one of Joseph’s brothers, stood with only a slingshot before an extremely large warrior named Goliath. How did David do that? He did it with his faith in God. But what God used was David’s experience as a shepherd when he would defend his flock from bears.
One of the things you may or may not know about me is that I have two children with severe autism. I don’t like autism. But God has used that experience for ministry. What experience do you have? Instead of being overcome by the responsibilities you have been given, look back to the way that God has prepared you.
- Success takes time.
I do not like waiting. I have been tempted to pray to God and say I want patience and I want it now. And yet as I get older, I see how much of life is about waiting. Waiting for a job opportunity. Waiting for test results from the doctor. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Joseph had to wait. The story starts with Joseph at the age of seventeen. God was already giving Joseph hints of what his future held. But things were not fulfilled a year later. Not even a decade later. It was not until Joseph was thirty that he achieved that position that God was preparing him for. This was a comparable amount of time to what Joseph’s great grandfather Abraham had to wait between the promise and the fulfillment in the birth of Isaac. When you read the account of the promise to Abraham, it looks like God is going to do it right then or at least very soon. But God makes Abraham wait and wait.
Think about Jesus. We do not have any information about what happened between Jesus’ visit to the temple at age twelve and the beginning of his ministry at around age thirty. Could Jesus have performed miracles and preached to the crowds when he was twenty? Probably. But God’s timing was thirty, the same age as Joseph, and so Jesus had to wait.
Are you waiting? Do you know what you want to do? Do you feel as if you have a direction based on the gifts God has given you but it does not seem to be happening? Are you stuck in wait mode? It is not easy but when God says wait, it is always for a good reason. Remind yourself that wait is not the same thing as no.
- God has to be in it.
When it comes to the story of Joseph and his new role in charge of Egypt, it was much more than just the right experience and the right timing. God was in it every step of the way. Even Pharaoh was able to recognize that Joseph was being empowered by the Hebrew God. That seems to be the reason why he hired Joseph in the first place. You may find it difficult to believe that Pharaoh would acknowledge the Hebrew God. The Egyptians believed in the existence of many gods even if they may actively worship only a few. It would not be too much of stretch for Pharaoh to believe that another god was working in Joseph.
If I went through every person in the Bible who had to rely on God, we would be here a long time. But let me point to Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God. God the Son. Second person of the Trinity. What did Jesus do? Before each stage of his ministry, he would go off and spend long periods of time in prayer. Jesus relied on his Father.
True success happens when God is in it. I am not saying that God will make us rich or that success is wealth. But being where we are supposed to be is by relying on God. Does that mean that God has one particular career or one specific workplace for each of us? Here is my answer: it does not matter. Our job is to rely on God, through worship, prayer and obedience and then let God take care of the rest. How God works out the details is up to him. As long as we include God, we are doing our job. The point of this series is that God is not just interested in the church services you attend or the Bible studies you lead. God is to be present and active in the other six days.
From a dream interpreting prisoner to second-in-command to one of the most powerful nations at the time. Now that is a major promotion. Was Joseph nervous about this new job? We are not given the details. But what we do know is that this did not take place in a vacuum. Joseph had been receiving experiences that were honing his required skills for some time. Joseph had been waiting a long time from the moment that God had first started showing Joseph his destiny. And God had been involved. Never had been simply because Joseph had the right skill set. It would never have happened without God.
Not many of us will be hired for a position similar to Joseph. But most of us will be thrust into a position, whether in the work force or other area of life, where the job description looks bigger than we are. The same principles apply. Look to your experience. Be patient for God’s timing. Watch where God is at work. That is how you get through the other six days.