When you say “dream” all kinds of images float to your consciousness. My mother used to say, and I believed it, if you have a dream during the night and you tell it before breakfast, it will happen. I had dreams I didn’t ever tell before breakfast, because I didn’t want them to happen. Those are the kind of dreams that take place while we are sleeping.
There are those fairly standard dreams that indicate a lack of preparedness, and they are frightening. When I was a child I had a recurring dream that I was at school, and looked down to discover I had forgotten to put on my trousers. It is a horrible feeling of not being acceptable. Now my dream is that I’m being introduced at a great convention, and I don’t have anything to say. That is the ministerial equivalent of snowing up at school without the proper attire.
There are dreams that are pretty obviously tied to what’s going on in our lives. I remember I was in the Crippled Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City when I was a teenager. I developed a little minor problem to the medical staff, but it was major to me. I had an infection in an ingrown toenail, and needed surgery. I had never been in a hospital before. I was frightened of the whole prospect. A fellow next to me had something wrong with his knee. They did surgery on him, and he came back in a cast all the way to his waist. That night I dreamed they had done surgery on me and covered me totally with only a little hole for breathing and eating through a straw. I knew when I dreamed it, it was nothing in the world but my anxiety about having surgery on my toe.
There are dreams we call “daydreams.” We are awake, and we are off somewhere else, but you can’t tell from looking at us where we are. I used to sit in math class, stare straight at the math teacher, and wander off into the South Pacific in a sailboat, diving for oysters that might have a great pearl that I could sell and retire on; you know, fourth grade daydreaming.
I have done that in church. I don’t need to tell you that you do that all the time. Here’s a fellow sitting over here looking like he ought to be ordained a deacon, but he’s not listening to me. He’s fishing for bass down at Lake Barkley right now. Or, there may be some woman who’s got company coming and she’s sitting there working on her shopping list, and she is just sort of off someplace else. We are familiar with those kinds of dreams.
Lots of time we use “dream” when what we are talking about is a vision for something. We talk about the goal we have in a relationship. A young couple says, “Our dream for our marriage is …,” or a young woman takes a new job and she says, “Let me tell you my dream for this job.” We are familiar with dreams of the night and dreams of the day, dreams that are visions of excellence.
Yet, within the context of all of these associations, I want us to use the word “dream” to describe the over-arching purpose for your life. It gathers up your vocation, it gathers up your relationships, it gathers up all of your responsibilities, but it is not just the work of your subconscious when you are asleep. It is not just the work of your imagination while you are awake, and it’s not just adding up the parts of your life.
It’s that consciousness that God who created you, and God who comes to you in Jesus Christ to save you, has a larger purpose for your life, and that in the life where you know Him as Lord and Savior, and where you obey Him as your master and worship Him as your Lord, you come to have a different kind of a life and a different kind of a mission. Do you have a dream for your life?
I am especially conscious about how important it is for a child to have a dream for her or his life. That’s why I’ve chosen the story of Joseph. Joseph’s dream for the night became his dream for the day time. It was a dream that God gave him, and it was a dream of how God could use his one life to save his family. It’s a dream we participate in, because out of the family he saved came our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You remember the dreams. One had to do with harvest time. There was no combine to mechanize the harvest of grain. They took a sickle and cut the grain, then tied it, not with the binder twine you might have used as a child, but probably with a long piece of the very grain they were cutting. They called that bundle a sheaf. Joseph had a dream that all of his brother’s sheaves bowed to his. Then he went to sleep another night and dreamed that the stars, which were his brothers, and the sun and moon, which were his mother and father, also bowed to him. It was the dream that dominated and gave meaning to his life. Out of Joseph’s dream I would like for us to find insight for God’s dream for our lives.
We learn lots of things about dreams from Joseph. One of the first things we learn is you have to learn not to let others discourage you about your dream. You just don’t have a dream and then it’s fulfilled.
In Joseph’s situation we are talking about a period of probably twenty years. We’ve gotten so accustomed to instant this and to fast service that, that we can’t imagine someone hanging onto a dream for two decades. I’m talking about hanging onto a dream for life.
God bless the memory of those who encourage us in our dreams. There are many of you who know you would not be where you are now had not there been individuals sprinkled along the way who God used to encourage you about your dream. Unfortunately, Joseph lived in a family that killed dreams. There was a kind of a natural rivalry between his brothers. They had the same father but different mothers, and that never works as well as having one father and one mother.
It was fueled by an unwise parent who made Joseph a favorite child, and showed it with presents. The coat he was given, we think of it as a many-colored coat, but it was probably a long-sleeved coat indicating love and indicating authority. Joseph didn’t help anything by coming in from the field and tattling on them and getting them in trouble. They were offended by the implication of his dream, that this younger brother one day would lord it over them, and it was made worse by the fact that they didn’t have any dreams of their own.
There is nothing in the world worse than being around a dreamer, someone who is excited about his or her life, and you don’t have any dream for your life. Their solution was to kill the dreamer. That’s where the text comes from: “Here comes that dreamer.”
They hatched the plot to kill him. They did it in two stages. First they captured him and put him in a dry well. Then they came back later and felt it would be just as good to sell him to some slavers. Then they wouldn’t have his blood on their hands. What the brothers didn’t know is that dreams can be killed without killing the dreamer. There are lots of dreamers who stay alive and just let their dreams die. Sometimes all it takes is a little discouragement when the dream is young, fragile and tender.
As a preacher I am often invited into homes for meals. I’ve always tried to pay a special attention to the children and young people in those homes. Sometimes they are uncomfortable when company comes, because their parents are uncomfortable. When mothers and dads get upset, we upset the kids. So I always try to relax them around me and let them know preachers don’t bite.
I remember one experience involving Jeff. He was a great big, tall kid, pimples all over his face, just terribly uncomfortable. The table was set differently. There is the good table cloth, napkins, and he has been warned not to do anything stupid and not to bring up anything wild. So, he’s just sitting wondering when I’m going to do something bad to him. I asked him, “Jeff, are you in college,” and he is thrilled because he’s just a junior in high school, and no one has ever thought of him as being a college student. I asked him, “What’s fun among your studies?” He said, “Math, I love math. I hope they have math in heaven. I just love math.”
I asked him, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” He said, “Someday, I’d like to be a math teacher in high school.” “Where are you going to college?” About that time his dad said, “He’s not going to college. He’s not smart enough to go to college.” You just feel that dream withering right there at the table. It doesn’t take much.
Our society basically wants you to perform and will reward you if you don’t rock the boat. If you go along with that you won’t have any dreams, because dreamers always think a little differently from other people. You see, this society would like to make us self-centered people, and self-centered people don’t dream.
That’s why I think a lot of people create temporary artificial dreams by drinking alcohol or taking other drugs. These are not real dreams, they are destructive dreams. They destroy your mind, and they destroy your health. Dreams need to be nourished, and they need to be updated, and they need to be refined, and they need to be defended, and they need to be prized. One of the first things you need to learn is to hang onto your dreams, even in discouraging times and circumstances.
One of the other things I learned from Joseph is that dreams require discipline. Now, dreamers who aren’t disciplined give dreaming a bad name. How many of you have said of someone at work, “He’s just a dreamer.” It is an expression of contempt. It means he’s always thinking, he’s never going to do anything. I remember in college a man who was a senior when I was a sophomore. I looked to him, partly because he was taller than I, and partly because he was smarter than I. I had never been around anyone who had a more creative mind. He had more ideas in a day than I would have in a month.
I commented to someone, “Don’t you think Herman has some of the most marvelous dreams?” They said, “He’s never going to do anything. He’s lazy and he lacks discipline.” If you are going to dream you need to know how to say “no” to some things and “yes” to some things.
All of the rationale for saying “yes” was there. He was young and physically healthy. He was seventeen when the dreams began, probably about nineteen by now. He was away from home. Most kids think that what you were taught by your Sunday School teacher and your mother doesn’t count when you are not at home. His daddy thought he was dead. What better excuse could he have for whooping it up! He was a slave, and they weren’t intended to have any morals. He would probably get a promotion if he gave in to her request, and to refuse would probably get him in trouble.
I want you to look at his reasons for saying “no.” It is very, very interesting, because what it basically means is that his dreams had settled into his life and had given ethical and moral dimensions to his life. When a dream is put into you, if it doesn’t give moral and ethical dimensions, it didn’t come from God.
Joseph gave three amazing reasons. He said his first reason was, “Your husband trusts me.” He reminded her of her relationship and her vows to her husband, and that everything in the household had been turned over to him except her. The second reason, “My father’s house.” Here was a kid whose brothers had abused him, beaten him up, sold him into slavery, and yet he had such a sense of pride about the home in which he was reared he could not possibly bring shame upon that home. The third reason, “My God.”
He said no, and it got him in trouble. Mrs. Potiphar grabbed him one day and was going to have her way; he let her keep the clothes she had hold of and ran naked out of the house. She lied about the relationship and used the garment as proof that he had tried to rape her.
Another thing I’ve learned about Joseph is that even dreamers go through some bad times, some down periods in their lives. When you study the lives of people whom God used in significant ways, each of them had periods when they were low, discouraged and frustrated. You and I will too.
Joseph was no exception. Potiphar sent him to prison. My own feeling is that if Mr. Potiphar really believed Joseph did what his wife said he did, he would have killed him. Do you think Joseph was the first person she had propositioned? I don’t think so. I just think he was the first one who said, “No.” I think Mr. Potiphar knew all about his wife’s problems. So, his solution to the dilemma was to put Joseph in jail. Can’t you imagine his prayers that first night, “I did what was right, and look what it got me.” A lot of the Psalms go like that, “I’ve served you, and people who don’t serve you are doing better than I am.”
In prison Joseph learned some things. He learned the God who gives dreams can also interpret them, and he interpreted the baker’s dream, he interpreted the butler’s dream. Because the butler was set free, he asked him, “Remember me when Pharaoh restores you.” He didn’t. Joseph also learned that all the people you help won’t remember and keep their promises. If you’ve lived very long you know that helping people sometimes, instead of nourishing a friendship, creates an enemy. The baker forgot. Joseph also learned God uses all kinds of people, and all kinds of experiences, and all kinds of circumstances to work out His plan. Nothing in life is wasted.
Also, we learn from Joseph that one of the biggest dangers in our dreams is success. When Pharaoh had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret, the butler remembered, and they called Joseph up to interpret the dream. The seven fat cows meant seven years with big crops. The seven lean cows meant seven years of drought. What should they do? During the first seven years gather grain from the people and during the lean years sell the grain back to the people. It was such a simple and good plan that Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of it.
All of a sudden, twenty years after his brothers put him in that cistern and then sold him into slavery, here he is the Prime Minister of Egypt with enormous power. What we need to remember is that dreams that survive hardships very often do not survive plenty. There are people for whom praying to God and trusting God was easier when they had nothing than when they had much, but Joseph held onto his dream and never forgot that somehow God was going to use his life to save his family.
People with dreams learn to forgive. Don’t you imagine sitting in that cistern he said, “If I ever get out of here alive, this is what I’m going to do to my brothers,” and he named them one by one and chose some special vengeance. But when his brothers came for grain, he laid aside revenge and replaced it with forgiveness. He saw a larger purpose for his dream. He said to them when they could not understand, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (
God’s dreams are forever. Some of our dreams are like the crocus. They pop up and they are gone all of a sudden. Some of our dreams last for a lifetime and give orientation and direction for our lives. But the dreams that God gives us, the dreams that come in Jesus Christ and in His Spirit as we know Him as Lord and Savior and serve Him as master, those are the dreams that last forever.
On Pentecost when Peter stood up to preach, he quoted