FROM NIGHTMARE TO A DREAM OF GRACE
JOSEPH THE DREAMER. This week, I found myself absorbing the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers with fresh perspective. For whatever else happens in the book of Genesis after Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden of Eden, the epic concludes with Joseph pointing us in the direction of redeeming grace.
INTO A LIVING NIGHTMARE. Joseph's story (Genesis 37-50) begins with a gifted dreamer incurring the wrath of his older brothers. His life becomes a living nightmare--thrown into a cistern by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, placed in prison for years under false accusations, believed by his father to be dead, far from home. On the other hand, Joseph's life becomes a testimony to trajedy-transcending grace.
Digesting Joseph's story afresh, I come away with four lingering impressions:
1. WHEN THE NIGHTMARE COMES, GOD IS STILL HOLDING ON TO YOU. Genesis 37:18-28, 36; 39:1-4
When the nightmare comes; not if it comes. None of us are exempt from heartbreak, unexpected tragedy, unwelcome conflict, unavoidable crisis, the unjustifiable injustice. When these occur, we are not abandoned. God honored Joseph in Potipher's household and, later, in the prison in which he became the chief steward. As God was still holding on to Joseph, God holds on to us. God's care for Joseph amid his terrible circumstances is consistent with the kind of faithfulness reflected in the Word of God, in such powerful passages as Isaiah 43, Romans 8, and Psalm 46. The challenge and promise is clear: "Do not be afraid. I am with you."
2. LET THE DREAM OF GRACE SHAPE YOUR FUTURE, NOT MISERY AND RESENTMENT. Genesis 41:39-43
Joseph had every legitimate reason to wallow in misery, every right to carry resentment before him all his days. But instead of nursing his wounds and vowing vengeance, Joseph let his life be drawn forward by grace. Perhaps he was enough of a dreamer to believe that there was something to life beyond the present confines, the dark nights, the overwhelming heartache. Perhaps it was a "hope against hope" that displaced resentment and kept his heart and vision clear. We may not be able to choose what happens to us, but we can choose our response to our life circumstances. Don't let resentment poison your future; let grace draw you forward.
3. THE DREAM IS NOT SUCCESS; IT IS GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE. Genesis 45:4-11
After incredible humiliation and imprisonment, Joseph achieved or received everything that can be described as “success” in life. As second in command of all Egypt, he is the epitome of achievement. But for Joseph, success is not an end in itself, is not the point. For Joseph, success is granted for a redemptive purpose. In his case, he believed it was to save his family, to be reconciled to his brothers, and to preserve the people of Israel amid famine. There are critical purposes for our lives beyond mere success. Have you explored God's purposes in your life?
4. GOD'S INTENTION FOR YOUR LIFE IS GREATER THAN ANY HUMAN PURPOSE OR SINFUL SABOTAGE. Genesis 50:15-21
After his father Israel dies, Joseph's brothers are worried that he might, at long last, exact vengeance on them for their mistreatment of him. In Joseph's words to his brothers at that moment, we see into the very heart of divine grace: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Human manipulation yields only temporary results. Sabotage of God's intention in yours or another's life is a costly detour to be sure, but still just a detour. How can your understanding of God’s purpose and intention for you shape your response to difficulties, temptation, and even sabotage of your dreams?