Patient Endurance

Genesis 40:1-23

28 July 2002

Greyfriars Church


Do you ever burn with a passion to do something great for God? I really hope that you do. Reading christian biographies always makes me daydream about being used by God to do great things for him. I've just finished reading again the story of Keith Green, a Christian singer and preacher, and a man used by God to speak powerfully and prophetically to a generation of american youth. Biographies are great faith-builders, and I found myself longing to be able to speak God's word to this generation.

A couple of weeks ago you may have attended the event called The Call. Thousands of Christians from all over the country gathered in Reading to plead with God for the moral and spiritual revival of this country. Perhaps that event provoked in you a passion to do something about it for God.

It's my sincere hope and prayer that as each one of us looks at the desperate moral state of our nation and our town, our church and our world, we will burn with a desire to make a difference; a desire to do something great for God.

I pray that our churches might not just be full of Christian spectators, couch-potatoes slumped at the sidelines like spectators at the Commonwealth games on television. I pray that we will rather be participants: athletes striving and straining to do better, to go further, to achieve more.

We are the ones God has chosen to do His mighty work in this world. But how are we going to do it? How does one do something mighty for God?

Joseph was a man destined to be used powerfully by God to rescue not only his family, but an entire nation of people, the Egyptians. Furthermore, through his work the embryonic nation of Israel was nurtured and grew itself into a mighty people. At this stage, of course, Joseph didn't have a clue about any of this; he just knows from the dreams that God gave him that he has a destiny and a path to fulfill.

I believe that the story of Joseph in this chapter gives us an insight—a case study, if you like—into how God goes about accomplishing his will through us. What can we expect as we seek to do great things for God?

We pick up the story in Genesis chapter 40. Joseph has been thrown into jail in Egypt having been falsely accused of trying to sleep with his master's wife. It's a bleak time for Joseph, yet in this chapter we learn something about God's Methods, God's Moment and God's Man.

God's Methods

When Joseph had dreamt all those years before of his brothers bowing down to him, could he really have expected that the fulfilment of this dream would involve him being not only sold into slavery in a foreign country, but thrown into jail for a crime he didn't commit?

He couldn't possibly have even begun to imagine it, could he? Joseph is learning that God's ways of doing things are very different from our ways of getting things done.

As we seek to do great things for God, we tend to rely on our strengths, don't we, but God likes to use our weaknesses. We try to gain power, but God uses the humble. We respect the famous, but God uses unknowns. God's methods are so different from our methods.

In this case Joseph has suffered two incredible injustices: first sold into slavery by his own family; and second jailed for a crime he didn't commit. Where is God? Surely Joseph's situation belies that fact that God is with him. Could there be a surer sign that God has abandoned him?

Well, some years later Joseph was able to say, with the benefit of hindsight, it was God who sent me hereref. It wasn't simply his brothers who had sold him; it had been God at work, all along.

Suffering unjustly is not an uncommon theme amongst those who are called to do God's work.

Perhaps you know the story of Corrie ten Boom in a Nazi death camp. The gravest of injustices had put her there. But that's where the seeds of her international ministry that has blessed the world were planted.

It's ever been thus. For the Apostles in the Bible, being imprisoned, tortured, flogged and martyrd were a way of life. But, boy, did God use their ministry!

And you only have to open a magazine like the latest Open Doors magazine to find that for much of the church worldwide it goes on today. In this month's issue we read about believers from northern Nigeria thrown out of their Muslim families for converting to Christianity. We read about Christians in Pakistan jailed for allegedly blaspheming Islam. We read about a Christian couple who have fled their home in India because of persecution from Hindu activists.

It looks like defeat, yet God has a habit of working mightily through these situations. And why should it be any different for us? We follow a Lord who was falsely imprisoned, falsely punished, falsely tried and falsely killed. Yet through this horrific injustice God work out his plan to save us.

If, therefore, we are in Christ, why should we expect it to be any different as we devote ourselves to accomplishing God's will? In fact, here is the clue as to why God works like this. It is as we go through pain in our ministries that we can learn true Christ-likeness. The Apostle Paul puts it like this, we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hoperef.

The point is that God does not need us in order to do His will, He's quite capable of doing that by himself. He is not so much interested in what we do for Him, but who we are for him. And often it is pain and suffering that produces the Christlike character in us, just as the athlete puts his body through pain as he strives to be the fittest.

If, then, we are truly called to serve God, there's a good chance that we will also be called to suffer for Him in some way or other. Many christians seem to think that they should only suffer if they do wrong. But that's not suffering for Christ; that's suffering for sin! The believer who suffers for doing what is right is the one who is sharing in Christ's sufferings.

And that's the place where Joseph found himself on his journey to being used by God. He's learning to understand God's Methods.

I've barely begun to do justice to this subject, but I hope that's whetted your appetite, or perhaps even provoked or outraged you enough to come back for a fuller discussion in a few weeks time when we get to Chapter 45 and the resolution of Joseph's story. If you want some more then I'm afraid you will have to be patient, and that brings me to the second heading, God's Moment.

God's Moment

So, God's called you. He's ignited that passion in your heart to do something great for Him. You understand the cost involved—God's Method—and yet you are still keen to get on with it. What do you do next? What's the next step?

You write a business plan of course. You crank up Microsoft Project; you produce some delightfully sophisticated Gant charts; you prepare a minutely detailed budget—obviously you need a committee—and then you are ready to launch your venture for the glory of God.

I exaggerate to make a point, but we love to project-manage God don't we? So, nine times out of ten it's us who takes the initiative: we plan our church services; we plan our missionary activities; we plan our outreach events and Alpha courses; we plan our revival meetings and conferences. All very worthy matters, but so often done solely on our own initiative, and in doing so we so quickly forget the old joke: How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans. Or as Proverbs puts it, a man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his stepsref.

In Joseph's story it is clearly God who takes the initiative in fulfilling Joseph's calling. In verse one of the chapter we read that it was some time laterref that the events of this chapter took place. Maybe it was a few months later, maybe a few years. Long enough in any case for Joseph to have been given charge of the day-to-day running of the prison.

Even when Joseph tries to take the initiative himself by asking the cupbearer in verse 14 to represent him to Pharoah, it's still God's timing that prevails. The last verse of this chapter tells us that the cupbearer forgot to do this, and the first verse of the next tells us that it was another two years before God's moment came.

Joseph's experience of having to wait for God's moment is far from unique in the Bible. We don't have to look far for other examples.

Joseph's great-grandfather, Abraham, had been given a promise and call by God: of a son and eventually a dynasty of more heirs than there are stars in the sky. But year after year there was no sign of this promise being fulfilled. At one point Abraham tried to take the initiative himself, and had a child by his wife's maidservant. But that turned out to be a big mistake. No, it was more than fourteen years later still that God took the initiative and gave Abraham the son and heir he had promised.

Again, Joseph took the Israelites into Egypt, but the man who brought them out again a few generations later, Moses, also faced having to wait for God to take the initiative. He also tried to take matters into his own hands when he killed an Egyptian and had to flee from Egypt for a considerable time. God's plan was to liberate Israel, but in His own time and in his own way. In fact, as the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years Moses again and again learned the lesson of waiting for God's moment, and letting him take the initiative.

Unless we wait for God's Moment to come we are simply in danger of offering Him something that He doesn't want.

In the 1980's the Coca-Cola company decided that it was time to relaunch Coca-Cola, and replace it with a modified recipe called New Cola. They initially interviewed 2000 people about this, who were less than enthusiastic, but they pressed ahead anyway. Eventually they spent two years and four million dollars interviewing 191,000 people, until they got the answer they wanted. New Cola was to be launched and Original Cola withdrawn.

New Cola was launched in April 1985 in the presence of over 700 journalists and film crews. Within 24 hours a staggering 81 percent of the population of America knew about the change. However, in the first few weeks the Coca-Cola company received forty-thousand letters of protest. By the beginning of June telephone complaints were up to eight-thousand a day. Coca-Cola delivery men were assaulted as they went about their business, and Coke commercials were booed at sporting events.

On July 11, less than three months later, the decision was taken to reinstate Classic Coca-Cola, and the board of Coca-Cola apologised to the public for making a terrible mistake. They had tried to give the public something the public didn't want.

In the same way, we with all our best laid plans, if we try to take the initiative away from God, are simply in danger of offering to God something He doesn't want or need.

As in the first part section of this sermon, the point is that God does not need us in order to do His will, He's quite capable of doing that by himself. Again, He is not so much interested in what we do for Him, but who we are for him. In this case it is in waiting for God to take the initiative that we learn to understand what He wants, and he creates in us a godly character.

This is how we learn that we are not merely to go about our own work and somehow get it blessed by God. Rather, we should be doing His work, which has been initiated by Him. It's striking in the book of Acts, which I've been reading recently, that the Apostles very quickly learn to let God take the initiative, to act only at God's Moment, and we know now how powerful their ministry was.

Perhaps you have a burning passion and call to serve God in some way, but again and again you are facing obstacles and hinderances; however hard you work, however many doors you are pushing on nothing is happening. Well, take encouragement from Joseph. God has not abandoned you; he is refining you, he is maturing you, he is building godly character in you. Things will happen, but in God's own time, when His moment comes.

So, I've said a couple of times that God is not so much interested in what we do for him, but who we are. What does that mean? Who should we be? Once again, Joseph's story gives us an insight, because Joseph was God's Man. That's my third heading.

God's Man

Whilst Joseph learnt God's Methods and waited for God's Moment, he spent his time learning to be God's Man.

Joseph could have spent his time being resentful and wallowing in self-pity: why is this happening to me? He could have simply given up on God completely. Many do when their time of trial comes. But no. Joseph remained God's faithful servant throughout the whole story.

In the previous chapter we saw how he remained faithful to God in his sexual integrity: fleeing from Potiphar's wife when she tried to seduce him. We also see that he was faithful to God in the way he conducted himself in prison, and the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he didref.

And in this chapter we learn something of Joseph's faithfulness to God. When he comes across the cupbearer and the baker after their dreams, he doesn't masquerade as one of the professional dream-interpreters so prevalent in that day and try to use his gift for his own profit or advantage. No, instead he is very ready to point them to God.

It's a truly remarkable thing he says isn't it? Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.ref Joseph must have had great confidence in his closeness to God to say something like that. I wonder which of us would have the boldness to say it. In our better moments we might manage something like "Do not interpretations belong to God. Why don't you pray about it" , mightn't we. But Joseph was so confident in his relationship with God he could instead say tell me your dreams.

Again we see Joseph's integrity as he delivers the interpretations of the dreams. It must have been easy to deliver the good news to the cupbearer, but which of us would not have flinched from delivering the bad news to the baker? What harm would it have done for Joseph to have made up something a little more positive to tell him?

But I believe in all these matters: the incident with Potiphar's wife, his conduct in the prison, and his integrity in interpreting the dreams, God was both refining Joseph and testing Joseph. He was making Joseph useable.

It does seem that God has used the injustices that befell Joseph, and the time he spent waiting in prison, to build in him a godly character, as I suggested in the first two parts of this sermon. It interesting to observe that the first time Joseph has a dream, in chapter 37, he doesn't acknowledge God at all. He seems then to be motivated more by pride and lording it over his brothers than godliness. This second time he is happy to give God some credit. And the third time, in the next chapter, Joseph is emphatic I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer that he desiresref.

So God was refining Joseph's godly character through what he suffered, but God was also testing Joseph's progress as he waited.

In the various situations Joseph faced it is as he proved his godliness in these relatively small matters that God found that he could trust him with the big things as well, as we find out in the next chapter of the story.

This seems to be the normal way God works. It is those people He finds to be trustworthy in the smaller matters to whom he entrusts the really great things.

There are some remarkable similarities with the story of Daniel, aren't there? In each case a young man finds himself exiled into a foreign country. In each case the men prove their integrity to the local administration and rise through its ranks. One ends up in prison for his faithfulness, another in a lions den. Yet God uses them both at opportune moments to interpret dreams for the respective rulers of their lands. Both Daniel and Joseph proved themselves faithful in all the small things they did, and God eventually gave them huge jobs to do for Him.

Just one another example from my daily reading last week. In Acts chapter 10 we come across a Roman centurion called Cornelius. We're told that He and his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularlyref. Not a thrilling lifestyle, perhaps: they simply devoted themselves to being faithful in the small things. But that's why God chose to use Cornelius and his family in perhaps the greatest revolution the world has seen. God sends an angel to Cornelius who says your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before Godref. This incident leads to the baptism of Cornelius and his household and the breakout of the gospel from being applied only to the Jewish people into the whole of the big wide world: that's you and me.

The message for us as you we sit in our pews, burning to get out there and do something great for God is simply this: prove yourself faithful in the small things, and God will give you the big.

It's obvious that you wouldn't ask a child learning the piano to play Beethoven if she had never practised her scales, isn't it? It's only when we have mastered the scales and the arpeggios that we can begin to tackle Beethoven.

Similarly, as you seek to do the great things for God, occupy yourself with being faithful in the small things: give to the poor; be faithful in your workplaces; be diligent in your prayers; practise the highest standards of sexual integrity; forgive those who sin against you; get to know God in His word; love, serve and give your life for your neighbours.

The people God will call to do His great works are exactly those people who are faithful in doing these apparently little things.


Over the course of this sermon I've tried to prod you and provoke you a little into thinking about committing yourselves to doing great things for God, just as Joseph was to do great things for God. And it's still my hope and prayer that your hearts are burning to be used by God in his work.

But I hope that looking at this part of the story of Joseph has given us some insight into the fact that God's ways of doing things are often rather different from our ways of doing things.

First of all God's methods are not often the methods that we would choose. How much are you prepared to suffer for Christ as you seek to do God's will?

Second, God's moment, God's timing, is often different from our timing. So often we want to take the initiative, but we must let God be God, and do only what He is calling us to.

Third, it's as we wrestle with God's method and God's moment that He will make us His men and women. It is as we are utterly faithful in the small, and perhaps mundane, matters of life that we will prove to God that He can entrust us with the big things. How is God making you useable?

I'll leave you with a provocative thought and a resolution: The reason revival is slow in coming to our nation is not because of a lack of people of vision, or a lack of people burning to do great things for God. The attendance at the Call two weeks ago showed that. The reason revival is slow in coming is because we are simply not being faithful in the small things God gives us to do.

Let's resolve to devote ourselves again to prayer, and to giving, to integrity and all the small things. Then God will give us the big things. Then revival might come!