As I sat at a breakfast table with a group of about ten women on my first day in Kenya, I waited anxiously to talk with Pamela. I knew this pastor’s wife only from a book I read about her family. Bernard’s Vision told the story of a man who left his wife Pamela and their four small children in the care of other local pastors in Kenya to further his Bible education in the United States. Only things didn’t turn out as expected. Pamela didn’t get the expected help and was turned out on the street by her landlord. God cared for them even as they squatted in a room in a slum searching for daily food. When word reached her husband of his family’s plight, he told the school his story and was able to get a job cleaning the library. This provided enough money for her to begin renting a small piece of land to grow things to sell. She also sewed dresses and sold them to feed her family.
Not only did this young family’s faith and determination strike me, but also their ability to forgive. For decades later they would work with these same pastors who had promised to help but didn’t follow through. The book mentioned that her husband had a harder time forgiving than she did. I wanted to know how. How did she ever get over it? I put myself in her shoes and wonder if I ever would.
So I asked her. I looked into her eyes shining with the joy of Jesus and told her I had read her story. I asked her simply, “Pamela, how did you forgive the people responsible for you and your children ending up on the street?” She answered with humility as well as boldness. She said God had forgiven all of her sin on the cross, and that He commanded her to forgive. Her own humble dependence on God coupled with her strong belief that anything is possible with God helped her forgive those whose decisions had drastic consequences in her family’s life.
Like Joseph, Pamela had experienced real hunger and heartache at the expense of others. No Joseph gets an opportunity for a “Get out of Jail Free” card. He is standing before Pharoah whose dreams have been keeping him up at night. He hears from his wine tester that this guy in prison has a good track record with dream interpretation.
After a quick shave – Joseph is brought up from the dungeon to stand before the most powerful man in Egypt. Pharaoh explains his dreams of fat and skinny cows and plump and thin wheat. Joseph’s response is this in 41:16: “It is beyond my power to do this.” “It is not often that men and women in high places admit that they are not capable of coping and that they need genuine spirituality to enable them to lead and guide their fellow men in God’s world.” (P. 321 Briscoe)
Pharaoh faced a puzzling circumstance. Egypt’s highest ruler was typically protected from bad news, “but the dream penetrates royal isolation.” (Bruggeman 326) He can’t sleep because of these dreams that make no sense to him. His magicians and wise men can’t seem to help him out. After the cupbearer tells him about Joseph, he hopes that this young Hebrew will be able to provide some clarity.
Like Pharaoh, we also look for answers. While it may not be dreams about cows and grain interrupting our sleep, many of us lay awake with all sorts of puzzling thoughts. We wonder –
- How we will pay our bills at the end of the month?
- What to do about a project at work that we don’t feel qualified to execute?
- Where to turn in a marriage that lost its spark years ago and now feels like a trap?
- Will we ever be able to forgive the friend that wounded us so deeply with her words and actions?
- Can my child ever recover from this physical and emotional struggle?
For you it may not be one of these, but chances are some situation crosses your mind continually before you lay your head on the pillow at night. No matter what is going on in your life, the answer remains the same. It is beyond our power to make it all right. Joseph understood the truth of John 15 long before it was penned. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
We need to stop trying to fix our own problems or those of others around us. Like Joseph we start by admitting that we can’t do it on our own. We need God’s help. The posture of humility displayed in this passage echoes into so many facets of life.
We see Joseph forgive his brothers. Perhaps he employed this same concept in his quest for forgiveness. He didn’t attempt to process his pain and forgive his brothers in his own strength. Instead, he relied on God’s power for everything from dream interpretation to giving up the right to revenge.
God doesn’t leave us in a state of helplessness when we realize we can’t solve our problems on our own. He wants to provide insight and set our minds at ease. He doesn’t want us to continue in sleepless agony over things we can’t understand, much less change.
Joseph credited the God of heaven as the interpreter of dreams. He spoke confidently that God would answer his question about Pharaoh’s dream. “The explanation is not exceptional. But the theocentric casting of the narrative is remarkable.” (brugg 330) Joseph’s faith seems as sure as his new clothes and freshly shaven face. Joseph saw firsthand that while his dreams had been a long time in the making, they would not be denied forever. God was working out His plan on His own timetable. For Joseph, this meant that his prison term was coming to an end. For you too, the time of waiting will not last forever.
Pamela eventually got out of the slums and got her family back into a home with her husband. They eventually began an orphan home, a medical center, and worked with their church in reaching people for Christ. They especially have a heart for children on the street who are in danger of getting addicted to huffing glue. When Pamela came out of her difficult time, she had to make a decision about forgiveness. She realized it was more than she could do on our own.
Talk with God
As you feel overwhelmed with the need to forgive or some other big situation keeping you awake at night, remember Joseph’s example. He humbly admitted that the situation of dream interpretation was beyond him. Take a minute write now and make a similar statement to your God:
“Jesus, I can’t figure out __________________ on my own any more. It is not in my power to do it.”
Now coupled with Joseph’s humility was his boldness. He believed His God could do anything. Finish your prayer in this way:
“God, I boldly proclaim that you have got this situation. Please put my mind at ease and show me what you are calling me to do next.” .
You might be tempted to take back what you just released to God. I have a feeling that Joseph practiced. It wasn’t just a one-time thing. So next time sleep won’t come, remember to practice the humility and boldness of Joseph and you just might find some directions for the future take shape in your life as we will see happen for Joseph in tomorrow’s passage.