It's easy to switch off when we see familiar stories in the Bible. It can feel a little stale and you start to wonder, what more could I learn?
The truth is, the significance is in the tiniest of details.
In less than a page of rereading Joseph’s life story and a small string of words I learned some key lessons that I'd once overlooked.
I learned that we make the most impact when we stop waiting for things to fall into place, and start stepping in where we can.
I learned that until we stop watching others so closely, our lives will always be a shadow of what they could be.
And all of this came from a small moment in Genesis 40.
At one of the lowest points in his life, Joseph is in jail with the King’s officials. On what seemed like a normal day he noticed that these two officials, the baker and the cupbearer (butler) were freaked out.
So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”
“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them."
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
You may have heard people call Joseph ‘The Dreamer’, because of how dreams played a significant part of his life story. But notice that at this point, Joseph wasn’t asked to interpret these two dreams, he volunteered himself. This might not seem like a big deal because we know how the story goes, but let’s pause for a second and really think about the progress (or lack thereof) that he'd made in his life at that point:
- At 17 he had two major dreams of ruling over his family. This made his older brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery
- By the time he's about 28, he's jailed for a crime he didn't commit and left with no prospects
- He was a non-Egyptian in Egypt with a track record of being a slave, a prisoner and isolated from his family
So far, this leadership vision is not going to plan.
To the people in jail, he was just an inmate, not someone known for being able to have and interpret significant dreams. He was no one.
Put yourself in his shoes, what if that was you?
Imagine if you'd had a clear vision that slipped further and further away for 10 years? It’s natural to feel demotivated and disheartened. You may think that you made it all up, and may begin to let your aspirations die a slow and painful death. At that point it may make sense to step back and wait for life to “get back on track” before you did anything worthwhile.
But Joseph didn't step back, he didn't retreat.
Instead he asks a bold, rhetorical question: Do not interpretations belong to God? (Just like everything “good and perfect” thing in life comes from and belongs to God?) Joseph didn’t let the fact he was ‘just an inmate’ get in the way.
He recognised that God could fill any of the gaps that he had in position, experience and status at that point.
He recognised that it’s not about being the person who looks perfect, it's all about being willing and available to act.
He recognised that in life, you are always perfectly positioned to start right where you are.
When you take the message you have and you take it seriously, extraordinary things start to happen - Robby Lewis (an amazing talk)
Joseph volunteered before he even knew what the dreams were about. That means that he probably didn't know that two years down the line, what he does would become the key to escaping prison and becoming the prime minister of Egypt. All he did was respond to a need that his fellow inmates had. He responded to it with the confidence and belief that God would help him solve this problem.
“But my righteous[a] one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back." - Hebrews 10:38
If you were Joseph, would you have done this?
When we look at the story of Joseph many of us see these downtimes as “character building”. While this is true, his character was not built by reclining and retreating. It was built by doing. So many of us wait too long to act. We step back unless the circumstance looks good or if the benefits are blatantly obvious.
But when we boldly give the little we have, just because it could help someone else, we open ourselves up to a world of unexpected opportunity.
I’ve definitely experienced this in personal life. I wonder if you have had times where you helped someone with something small, simply because you could. I wonder if further down that the line, someone you met or something you did at that time became incredibly helpful? It’s not a coincidence. It's a key part of this experience we call life.
If there’s something you’ve felt that you can help with or contribute to but you’ve stepped back, revisit it today. Don’t count yourself out because of where you are right now, or because it doesn’t ‘look’ right. We’ll see in the next section that looks can be deceiving anyway. Be bold and confident that God will use the most inconsequential things so surprise us all.
‘The cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.’ - Gen 40 [emphasis added]
Up until this point, the cupbearer (butler) and the baker had very similar experiences: they were both part of Pharaoh's inner circle, both thrown into jail on the same day and both had memorable dreams on the same night. They both struggled to understand these dreams, until they met Joseph. And Joseph had great news for one of them. His interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream meant that within 3 short days the baker would be freed and restored to his official position.
So naturally, “when the chief baker saw" what happened, he wanted to get in on the positive vibes too. What he saw looked good, and so far, he and the baker had similar experiences, so what's the worst that could happen?
Unfortunately, “each dream had a meaning of its own” and the baker's interpretation was a lot more grim. In the same 3 days he would be beheaded by Pharah, not freed.
Reading this highlighted a very real risk that we can all fall into. We may think that because we’ve had a similar experience to a friend, colleague or peer that our lives will continue to mirror each other. It might seem harmless at first, but this comparison builds up false expectation. We expect things to happen at the same time and in the same way as those around us, and when it doesn't? It stings. It can also work the other way, feeling like ‘we’re ahead’ of others creates a false sense of superiority and pride, which as we all know comes before a fall.
Eyes on the prize.
Misaligned expectations can be a huge source of frustration, and comparison does nothing but fuel that. It distorts our worldview and pushes us to make decisions that are out of sync with our personal life path. While the lessons we learn from the cupbearer are more sobering than Joseph’s, both are equally important tools that we can use to help us navigate life with the right mindset.
So shift your focus away from what you don't have. See your life through the context of what God can do with a willing heart and not in the context of what you can see in the lives of others. Remember, what you see or understand is only a fraction of the bigger picture. It's the only way you will get what you need to do on this earth done. It’s the only way to thrive.
Keep your eyes on your prize.
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment in the box below with your thoughts and feedback. I'll be back in about two weeks with some more thoughts straight from my journal to you. In the meantime, I'll be emailing everyone on my private mailing list a pick-me up of motivation and inspiration in between. Make sure you don't miss it, join the list here.