Focus on the future, not the troubles today
Stuck. Stymied. Stilted. Sour. These are not words we welcome in our lives, yet we find moments, days, weeks or even seasons where we grapple with difficulties, unfairness, jealousy, envy, family strife, health issues, and the like. These situations are not ours alone; we find these painful dynamics in every lectionary story found so far this summer in the Book of Genesis. What we can learn from Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, Leah and Rebekah is that these faithful yet flawed people present significant character faults and failures. Heart-stopping hardships come as a result of their actions. Rather than finding redemption in their character, which has been challenging to do, we can see again and again the character of God coming through not only in their lives but also in our own lives.
If one recurring theme in Genesis can be shared, it comes through Jacob and Rachel’s beloved son, Joseph. Preachers and biblical storytellers elaborate or enhance Joseph’s story to draw out his plight because Joseph is a poster child for things gone wrong—really, really wrong—yet careful examination of Genesis 37 and beyond reveals Joseph never laments his dire circumstances. Instead, he remains faithful to God, a feat difficult for any of us to do with half the adversities Joseph experienced.
How Joseph remains faithful is not his story alone. His story influences our own stories through this fact: Joseph was able to see past all that was in front of him in troublesome times because he literally did see beyond what was in front of him. Joseph dreamed. He didn’t just dream though, he dreamt tremendous dreams. His dreams of success in God’s abundant blessings were always crystal clear.
Consider our sacred text never shares that among his dreams of success he also dreamt of excessive hardship, disappointment, rejection, betrayal, familial abandonment, slavery, sexual harassment and imprisonment. He only dreamt of a glory-filled future, specifically, his glory-filled future. These dreams sustained him. Similarly, our dreams can sustain us.
In terms of personification, we may not receive from God dreams about bundles of grain bowing down to our own bundle in the field. Equally, suns, moons and stars may not bow to us either, but God’s promise of our glorious futures is just as clear and just as perfect as Joseph’s. We are Kingdom people who are Kingdom bound. I love the successful 2019 song by Christian artists Sanctus Real, Nothing can stop an unstoppable God. Consider the song’s title. Do not just imagine a God who takes down your barriers; trust this unstoppable God who removes your barriers. Nothing. Stops. God. Nothing. Ever.
Your barriers and blocks are problematic indeed. They cause us to groan and grumble (and this is on a good day). Rather than stay on the course of discomfort, there is a different way to be, a better way to go. We know we can go with God. Whatever hurts our hearts in the now can be given to God who promises us what He showed in dreams to Joseph.
My friend Rhonda, whom I met as an undergrad in our beloved Touring Choir at Grove City College, recently shared a post that we both find a bit too true and amazingly inspiring. It’s this. “God is still writing your story. Quit trying to steal the pen. Trust the author.”
Of course, we want our hardships to disappear. Joseph must have wished this, too. Rather than become bitter, Joseph models for us that we can become better. Joseph shows us that when we lean into God not lament in our circumstances, blessings do come.
Let me get back to penning our own story. We cannot choose our own blessings like we can a box of cereal in that long grocery store aisle. We can, however, accept the path we are on, and embrace the place where we are in the moment. And then, like Jesus, whom we follow, we can pick up our mats and walk. Specifically, we can walk forward. When we walk, or as we walk, we can certainly bless others, and this, with a huge return, blesses us. Truly, the last do become first.
I close with the midweek meditation I shared with my congregation on August 5th. The God who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the same God who must (or at LEAST from time to time) give you what he gave Joseph, which is the ability to dream and interpret dreams. Big dreams. Bold dreams. Blessed dreams. Your dreams still come, even if you ignore them. Don’t ignore them. Follow them.