Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lessons from the Prison of Disillusionment

He came from good stock, this Joseph, son of Jacob. While just a lad, he had unwittingly been given a stunning dream about his role in his nation’s future. But blind jealousy, unchecked rage, damning lust and blatant misunderstanding trampled his innocent exuberance and landed him in a prison where dreams died and men existed as mere shadows of their once-promising potential.

While we’ll never know what Joseph of Genesis fame pondered while in his prison of disillusionment, we have indications from scripture that what he experienced was for him (and us) a lesson in character development.

Lessons from the Life of Joseph

Lesson #1: Fine Breeding does not necessarily guarantee success. Joseph’s origin emerged from the bedrock of God’s faithfulness (Gen. 37: 1). Abraham, the mighty man of faith, was his progenitor, while Isaac, his granddad, sired Israel, his father-mentor. If anyone ever had a chance of “making it” in life, Joseph did. But impressive heritage alone does not guarantee a life of favour.

Lesson #2: God calls people to serve and gives them a dream to confirm it. Joseph had a vision-focusing dream that played out like a Hollywood drama: leadership, wealth, influence, success and subservience (Genesis 37: 5-7, 9-11). To authenticate its veracity, God unfolded a second dream to seal its meaning to his memory forever.

With innocent delight, young Joseph romped through the tents of his jealous siblings, regaling them with royal visions of an august future. Already stinging from their little brother’s enviable place in their father’s heart, they reacted with anger and would smell only “royal” blood being spilt over his heady revelation.

Lesson #3: Not everyone will buy into God’s dream for your life. Joseph experienced misunderstanding as a result of his dream (Gen. 37: 8, 10, 11, 19). It wasn’t Joseph’s fault that he was a “dreamer” – it was God’s! As he unearthed his inspired treasure for others to enjoy, he found a certain encouragement and strength in its hopeful promise. He could only envision good arising from the conclusive plan of a caring God.

But what Joseph didn’t discern was that people with lesser dreams were missing what God was doing and mistakenly viewed his benign verbosity as unbridled arrogance. This brought unjust criticism and harsh devaluation of the dream and its owner.

Lesson #4: Dreamers must be careful not to get sidetracked by life’s disappointments. Joseph bore the brunt of his brother’s anger and was cast away as unreliable and unredeemable. It is therefore no surprise that Joseph became blind to God’s activity in his life (Gen. 39: 2-6; 40: 12-13).

The Psalmist recorded an interesting line about Joseph’s prison experience: “He (God) sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron” (Ps. 105: 17-18 KJV). A translator’s footnote captures the impact Joseph’s imprisonment had on his cherished dream: “his soul came into iron.” (Heb.)

The fire of his desire was snuffed out by the cruel chill of sibling hatred. The vengeance of an adulteress’s unrequited lust proved yet again that integrity is not always honoured. And the hurtful rejection he endured at the hands of his cellmates chipped away at his trust in God and others. Truly, the iron chains that removed his freedom were now having a deleterious effect upon his soul and blinding him to the work God in his life. Would this be the end of a once-cherished hope?

Lesson #5: Finally, Joseph’s experience teaches us that one cannot allow difficult places to thwart the plan of God. Joseph remained in his prison two full years after his interaction with the forgetful cupbearer and baker. That’s 730 humid days and frigid nights to consider his plight. But we have indication that Joseph did not allow his incarceration to completely arrest the developing plan of God for his life.

On one of those dark nights of the soul, the Lord must have whispered to his disappointed heart, “My son, the dream has not died. I have plans and purposes for you that you know nothing about. What others intended for evil, I intend for good to accomplish what must be done for the saving of many lives“ (Genesis 50: 20 NIV).

“Maybe God has not forgotten me after all,” he thought. “Maybe there is a plan in place that only pit and prison could unveil to me.”

A freshened understanding would be enough for Joseph now. With faith restored, he took new pleasure in his duties as under-warden in Pharaoh’s prison. He earned the trust of his superiors and the respect of his fellow inmates. And most important of all, the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Even in the prison of disillusionment, God was able to prepare a person for critical service in the kingdom.

Can You Relate?
As you read these words today, can you in some small way relate to Joseph? Has your heritage failed to deliver for you the “breaks” that you long for?

Has God placed within your heart a dream that is being betrayed by personal circumstances and impertinent companions? Do others hear your mouth speak but read your heart as arrogant for daring to utter what they, themselves, could never have seen?

Has the indifferent coolness of your present ministry oozed into your soul and left you feeling nonplussed about God’s preferred future? Are you allowing all this to blind you to the reality that God, who gives you your dreams, will one day bring them to pass in His own way and time?

What Joseph saw from the prison of his unfortunate circumstances forced him to let go of his tightly held dream and trust a God who understood that what seemed like perplexing inactivity was really preparation in the preservation of an entire race of people.

The next time you are tempted to view your ministry as a chamber of inexplicable imprisonment, remember a dreamer named Joseph. What you and others may view as evil, God will one day reveal to be truly good.