God in the Mirror
Dr. Jim Denison
Our church is finishing our annual staff evaluations. In that light, a friend recently sent me some actual quotes taken from Federal Government employee performance evaluations. These should make us all feel better:
•Since my last report, this employee has reached rock-bottom and has started to dig.
•I would not allow this employee to breed.
•Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.
•He’s got two brain cells–one is lost and the other is out looking for it.
•If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.
•This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
Evaluations are stressors for us all, because there is something innate to the human condition which wants to succeed, to advance, to be promoted and praised. But this all-too-human desire can have its down sides.
Perhaps you saw the recent Time cover story on ambition. The article surveys high school students more pressured to succeed than ever before, and the rising levels of stress and physical symptoms which result.
Heart attacks, ulcers, and depression are at epidemic levels in our country. Yet we praise ambition and self-driven motivation as the keys to success. Does God?
Be humble as Joseph
Remember the dream which started Joseph’s story: “We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it” (Genesis 37:7). If that wasn’t enough, “Listen, I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (v. 9).
I’m not sure why he even needed to share them with his family. And their jealous response doesn’t offer much evidence for humility on his part. Is it possible that he had to go to the pit and the prison before God could trust him in the palace?
Fortunately, the story of Joseph’s character development doesn’t end here. Being thrown in a cistern by your brothers and then sold to a wandering band of Ishmaelites and then to Pharaoh’s chief executioner can do much to promote humility.
So it is that he refused Potiphar’s wife with the statement, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
When Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker became Joseph’s fellow prisoners and he learned they had dreams they could not interpret. He knew something about dreams and their meaning. But rather than brag on his abilities, he responded, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Genesis 40:8). And they did, and he interpreted them correctly with God’s help.
Then Pharaoh had dreams he could not interpret, and Joseph was summoned to his palace. Now is his opportunity to show Pharaoh what he can do, fulfilling his personal dreams of honor and authority. Imagine that you’re a writer given a chance opportunity to pitch your best book idea to the chief editor of the largest publishing firm in the world.
Or you’re a singer with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win American Idol, today. Or you’re a software engineer who finds herself sitting at a dinner next to Bill Gates, or a law school graduate introduced to Chief Justice Roberts. What do you do?
Pharaoh says to Joseph, “I had a dream and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis. 41:15). Quiet on the set; a drum rolls in the background; the action stops. Then Joseph replies, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (v. 16). And he did.
Later Joseph revealed himself to his terrified brothers and said, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).
Finally Jacob died, and now the brothers are afraid for their lives again. Perhaps Joseph has been kind to them for his father’s sake, but now nothing stands in the way of his vengeance.
Once again they fulfill his dream: “We are your slaves” (Genesis 50:18). Who is your worst enemy, or fiercest competitor, or strongest antagonist? Imagine that person falling before you with the same admission. How do you respond?
Listen to Joseph: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (vs. 19-20). And so he did.
Seek God’s glory
Do you detect a pattern? Joseph gives God the glory for his ability to interpret dreams, and for the circumstances which have fulfilled his own. And God uses him far beyond anything Joseph or his brothers could have imagined 20 years earlier. Joseph will live for God’s glory, and God will use and bless Joseph. Here’s the sermon in a sentence: God uses most fully those who give the glory to him. Joseph is Exhibit A.
Here’s Exhibit B. Moses led God’s people out of Pharaoh’s Egypt and to the edge of the Promised Land. But not into it.
When the people who had passed through the Red Sea later complained that they needed water, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock so that water would come forth for the nation. But Moses said to the gathered nation, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he “raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank” (Numbers 20:10-11).
With this result: “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them'” (v. 12). His desire to get the glory for himself kept him from the glorious Promised Land of God.