As we have studied the book of Genesis we have had many occasions to talk about God’s work for good in the difficult times of life. We have been reminded again and again to trust God, even when times are difficult. And it is a good thing we have done so . . . because we need to be reminded often that we should trust God in every circumstance.
The problem with such study is that we may come to find it uncomfortable to admit that times are good. We begin to feel guilty and embarrassed when life is going well for us. We begin to feel that some crisis must be just around the corner so we live tentatively.
Times of blessing do come to the life of a believer. Sometimes God prospers us materially. Sometimes he puts us in positions of power and influence. We should not feel guilty in these times . . . we should be grateful. This morning we are going to see Joseph as he begins to live the “good life”. Joseph moves from the prison to the throne room . . . from the outhouse to the penthouse. And in this story we will learn some valuable principles for living faithfully when times are good.
Joseph had been in jail for two years since the cup bearer promised to “put in a good word for him”. One night Pharaoh had a dream and the dream troubled him. He told the dream to the wise men of his cabinet and inner circle. They had no idea what the dream meant. This troubled Pharaoh and I imagine that he was talking about it to everyone. Well, the cup bearer heard Pharaoh talking and all of a sudden he remembered Joseph.
With remorse, the cup bearer tells Pharaoh about his own dream. He urges Pharaoh to consult with Joseph. Pharaoh, so anxious to find an answer to the dream that haunted him, he sent for the prisoner named Joseph. And after cleaning Joseph up (you don’t rush into the presence of royalty without dressing for the occasion), he is brought before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh told his story to Joseph. Seven fat, seven healthy cows are gobbled up by seven ugly, sickly cows and seven full heads of grain are gobbled up by seven thin heads of grain. Joseph explains that the message is that seven years of plenty are coming . . .and they will be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph proposes a plan to store up food for the coming famine and suddenly he is the second most powerful man in the country. In 24 hours he goes from the pit to the pinnacle. But I want you to notice three things in this account.
HE GAVE GOD THE CREDIT
The first thing I want you to see here is that as Joseph faces great blessing he puts the focus, not on himself, but on God. He does not present himself as the great “Interpreter of Dreams”. He is humble. He recognizes that any interpretation comes from God. He draws attention to the Lord’s goodness and not his ability. Look at these verses.
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
Alistair Begg writes,
In Joseph’s simple, straightforward answer to Pharaoh is the nature of all genuine Christian service and, indeed, the nature of all spiritual life.
We do not find coming from the lips of Joseph any proud assertions about what he is going to do and how he is going to do it. He lived in the awareness that God is sovereign, that it is He who orders our steps and marks them out before us.” (THE HAND OF GOD p. 118)
Steve Brown tells of a conversation with a new Christian. They had lunch and the young believer pointed to a nearby mountain and said, “Let me tell you what I did on that mountain.”
he told me that a few months before he had stood on that mountain with the enthusiasm of a new believer. His enthusiasm wasn’t shared by everyone, though, so as he stood there, he said to God, “Lord, I’m the only one left who wants to do Your will.”
I asked him, “What did God say to you?”
He laughed and replied, “God said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!'”
Arrogance and pride have no place among the people of God. No matter how good or bad, how committed or uncommitted, how enthusiastic or unenthusiastic, we come to the cross with nothing. Anything we receive after that we get from Him. That’s quite humbling, as well it should be. (JUMPING HURDLES p. 134)
Do you see how different this attitude is from the attitude of many living in the good times. Many are quick to point to the sufficiency of their efforts, the diligence of their work, the quality of their faith. But the truth is, that there are others who work just as hard, and just as well, and are as faithful or more . . . and yet struggle. How arrogant we can be when God allows us a measure of pleasure and success! The truth is, that the only thing that separates us from the faithful person who struggles, is the good pleasure of God. We need to learn from Joseph. Joseph pointed to God in all the achievements of His life because He saw God as the source of everything He had.
Imagine how different life would be if we would adopt an attitude of humility in the good times of life?
- We would bless God, not promote ourselves
- We would look for ways to honor God and help others with what we have been given rather than seeking to find ways to trumpet our own “success”
- We would be soft and not arrogant
- We would be grateful and not boastful
- We would live every day aware of the fact that ”the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21)
- Our faith, our joy, our hope would be in the Lord . . . not in His blessings.
In his book IMPROVING YOUR SERVE, Chuck Swindoll writes,
When people follow image conscious leaders, the leader is exalted. He is placed on a pedestal and ultimately takes the place of the Head of the church. When people follow leaders with servant hearts, the Lord God is exalted. Those people speak of God’s person, God’s power, God’s work, God’s name, God’s Word. . .all for God’s glory.
What I am getting at is this: Joseph understood something that we have a hard time understanding. The greatest blessing is not being listed on Fortune 500, or driving the newest car, or living in the nicest home, or even having a healthy body. The greatest blessing is to know the Lord. The Psalmist Asaph understood this, listen to his words in Psalm 73
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Can you say that? Is he your one desire and your greatest joy?
HE REFUSED TO MANIPULATE BUT WAITED ON GOD
Don’t you think that it was tempting to respond to Pharaoh’s request by saying, “What’s in it for me?” But Joseph didn’t do that. He trusted God. He didn’t try to anticipate the will of God. He didn’t try to “make anything happen.” He trusted that God’s timing was perfect.
Even after Joseph tells Pharaoh his plan in verses 33-36, Joseph does not suggest or imply that Pharaoh should give him the job. He waits on God’s timing. Joseph did get the job. But there is a very important lesson for you and me. Joseph was willing to let God lead and he was content to follow. How different this is from modern life.
We live in a world that is fueled by manipulation. The goal of advertising is to manipulate the consumer: create a need in the mind of the people, and then show that your product is the one to meet the need. I wish manipulation was confined to advertising. But it’s not,
- we see it in the school: parents jockey to get their kids playing time in sports, to get better grades from teachers, or to exert greater influence in the schools.
- we see it in politics: few bills are passed based on merit anymore. Most bills are passed with a whole host of “pork barrel” attachments. In other words, “I will vote your important measure, if you will allow me to attach my personal pet project to the bill.” Important things are held hostage to the manipulators.
- We see it in relationships. We choose friends based on what we think a person can “do” for us. We seek to manipulate them with intimidation, charm, and flattery.
- we even see it in the church. We use quiet music and emotional appeals to try to manipulate people to walk an aisle. We play on guilt to get someone to give money to our project. We manipulate the truth to support our personal lifestyle. We tear down other churches so we can get more people in our own church. We even use God to advance our personal political agenda. We use our checkbook (or withhold it) to get our way in the church.
Let me be straight: This kind of activity is not faith in God. . . it is trusting in our schemes and manipulations. Yes, there are always people to call, or strings to pull, or strong arm tactics we can use. He doesn’t need our help . . . . in fact, often our help only slows the process down. God knew what He was doing in Joseph’s life . . . He knows what He is doing in yours. The faithful person refuses to manipulate a situation . . . even if they have the power to do so.
HE USED HIS GOOD FORTUNE TO HELP OTHERS
Joseph understood that God gives the good times for a reason. They are given so that we can use these gifts to help others and to glorify God.
You remember Jesus’s parable of the talents? The owner gave each of his servants an amount of money. When he returned he asked what kind of return he had gotten on his investments. Two of the servants had used the money to make more money for the master. One did nothing. Jesus commended the two and condemned the one. The point is that it doesn’t matter how much God has given us . . . what matters is that we use what He has given us.
Do you realize that God is going to ask Americans how they used the freedoms and abundance that God has given us? God gives us material blessings so that we can use those gifts to reach, to help, and to enrich others. In Joseph’s case, he was able to use his position and influence to save the family of Jacob in addition to many many others..
The thing we must remember is that our goal should not be to gain greater things. Our goal should be to use our “things” in a greater way.
Has God blessed you? Most of us are materially blessed. We have one or more vehicles, watch cable, wander the Internet, wear designer clothes, and have more to eat than is healthy for us. So, let’s not shrug these words off. We are among those who should be looking for ways to bless and enrich others. How can use what you have to honor God?
- Perhaps there is a ministry you can support
- A need you can meet
- A bequest you can leave
- A talent you can share
- A ministry you can begin
- A resource you can donate
- A change you can bring because of your position of influence
Joseph was considered an influential and successful person not because of his position . . . but because of what He did in his position!
So, there are several applications I draw today,
First, we must never judge a person, or their worth, by their present circumstances. Early in the day Joseph came before Pharaoh, many would have thought that Joseph was useless and worthless. He was a common prisoner who had been convicted of rape. What could he offer the world? Yet, later in that same day, they considered him highly esteemed and everyone wanted him as their friend. But Joseph hadn’t changed . . . . only his circumstances had.
We must not only refrain from judging others by their circumstances . . . we must make sure that we don’t evaluate ourselves based on our circumstances. These things are not important. Character, integrity, faithfulness . . . these are the things that are important. If you are looking for someone to model your life after . . . don’t look for someone with a title. Look for someone who has a heart for God that spills over into the way they live. That person may be poor or rich, ignored or exalted, in a position of power or may be a grandparent in a rocking chair. Value and significance have nothing to do with external things.
Second, we must remind ourselves that the preeminent blessing is a right relationship with God. Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul. Or, what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
I know that it is possible that there are people here today who are caught up in the mad dash for the material. You believe you will find joy, purpose and meaning when you can get that new home, or the promotion you covet, or the nest egg you are seeking to establish. You may feel that happiness is found in a relationship, or a position, or a possession. But you’re wrong. And that’s why every new achievement leaves you empty . . .looking for the next promise of happiness.
The Bible tells us that God created us for fellowship with Him. We ran away. We spurned Him, ignored Him and despised Him. And consequently, there is a God-sized hole in our heart. But God has done something about that. He took on human form to express His love and then to demonstrate it by dying for all those stupid, foolish, and sinful things we have done that erect a barrier between us and the Lord. Only God can give us purpose and meaning in life. Only God can address the issues of the soul (as well as our body).
So, if you are on this treadmill racing to nowhere, stop right now. Change your thinking, move in a different direction. Run to the arms that are open to receive you. Take care of first things first. Get your heart right with God . . . and everything else will fall into place.
Third, we must define “blessing” carefully. The problem with the church today is that we define prosperity using the world’s definition rather than God’s definition. The world tells us that you are prosperous if you have lots of things. God says prosperity is a state of mind that comes from being whole in Him.
When I think of being blessed do you know who I think of?
- the couple that has been married for over 50 years who radiate a love that is deep and undaunted by the restrictions of age and the decline of health.
- the person who always has a song on their heart
- the one who is content. They don’t long for anything but are satisfied with what they have.
- the person who is the same in the spotlight our out of the spotlight.
- the person who has a strong family relationship.
- the person who delights to give of themselves to others
These are the blessings I crave. This is the success I want. And the thing I notice is that in each case, the blessing has nothing to do with “stuff”. And I bet if you made a list you would find the same thing.
My point is this: true riches is not about net worth, or titles, the names on your clothing, the size of your home, or the value of your vehicle. It is knowing the incredible joy that comes from walking with God. And if you walk with God then everyday will be received as a gift, every material blessing will be viewed as a tool, and you will be able to enjoy life, and serve God, whether you are in the outhouse, or the penthouse.