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The key to successful living

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Genesis 39:1-6

The inventor Thomas Edison was talking with two dejected assistants. They informed him, “We’ve just completed our seven hundredth experiment and we still don’t have an answer. We have failed.”

Edison replied, “No, my friends, you haven’t failed. We’re closer to finding the answer, because we now know seven hundred things not to do. Don’t call it a mistake. Call it an education.” And the light bulb was the result.

Cornell psychiatrist Ari Kiev:

In my practice as a psychiatrist, I have found that helping people to develop personal goals has proved to be the most effective way to help them cope with problems. Observing the lives of people who have mastered adversity, I have noted that they have established goals and sought with all their effort to achieve them. From the moment they decided to concentrate all their energies on a specific objective, they began to surmount the most difficult odds…The establishment of a goal is the key to successful living (emphasis mine).

Last week I told you that God has a dream for you. Today we’ll learn to seek it. In coming weeks we’ll learn how to persevere, to be ready when our chance comes, and to satisfy the one indispensable requirement for the dream God blesses.

Believe God has a dream for you

Let’s begin where we ended last week: believe that God has a dream for you. Joseph “had a dream” (Genesis 37:5): his brothers, and indeed the entire human race, would bow down to him. 20 years later, they did. Does God have a dream for you?

Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Does God still have a dream for us?

In Jeremiah’s letter God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even though they were enslaved in Babylon, with no hope and no future.

God dreamed that Noah would save the human race. He dreamed that the childless Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. He dreamed that the shepherd Moses would give his laws to the world. He dreamed that the young shepherd boy David would be king of his people.

He dreamed that the fishermen Peter, James, and John would lead his global church. He dreamed that the persecuting Saul of Tarsus would take his word across the Empire. He dreamed that the imprisoned John would write his Revelation. And so it was.

God has a dream for you. For every day there is a dream. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how healthy and prosperous you are or aren’t. If God had a dream of greatness for an arrogant teenage sheepherder, he has a dream for you.

And he wants you to know it. He is sovereign over history, while you are free. He knows your future, but permits you to help decide it. He created time, and transcends it now. He is not today peering into the future–there is no “future” with him. He is the Great I Am, not the I Was or the I Will Be. He observes all time as now.

So he observes all that we will choose to do. Observing is not deciding. He knows our future, while allowing us to decide it. Choose well.

Listen for his voice

So, how do we know God’s dream for us? In the same ways we know everything else in life. Sometimes God speaks to us intuitively. We have a sense of something we should do. Or his Spirit speaks to our spirit and we know what is right. We don’t need pragmatic or rational evidence–we just know it.

Such was Joseph’s experience. He “had” a dream, a vision which was given to him by God. He was not the last. Jacob had a vision of the ladder to heaven (Genesis 32:30). As he was being martyred, Stephen had a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Paul “had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10).

God wants to speak to our spirits more than we want to hear him. He promised, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28); this promise was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:17).

How is it fulfilled today? How do we see God’s vision and hear his voice?

We make a space to listen. God spoke to the young boy Samuel in a voice so quiet it did not waken anyone else in the house (1 Samuel 3). He spoke to Elijah in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). He spoke to Peter in a vision only Peter saw.

But Peter first made space to see and hear the Lord: “About noon the following day…Peter went up on the roof to pray” (Acts 10:9). This was the unshaded part of the house, in the heat of the day. He knew he would be there alone. And he was, until he was joined by the God of the universe.

Make space for God. Answer his invitation: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When last did you give God even 15 minutes to speak to you? When you weren’t doing all the talking to him? Open his word and ask him to speak to your heart from his revelation. Consider something in his creation, a leaf or sunset or cloudy sky, and ask him to speak to you from his creation. Worship him, and ask him to speak to you from the songs or words you sing or speak.

This week God spoke to my spirit in just such a way. I am an impatient person by nature. Most of us in this culture are results-oriented. We want to see our goals fulfilled, our work succeed.

As I was writing this message, I found myself drawn to the trees outside my study window. They are the same trees I’ve enjoyed for more than seven years now. The thought struck me that those trees are much larger than when I came to Dallas, much fuller and more beautiful. But I couldn’t detect their growth day by day. Their success is measured by years, not weeks.

So is yours and mine. That was a word I needed God to speak to me this week. More than 300 times the Bible records God speaking to us. When was the last time you gave him opportunity to speak his dream to you?

Watch for his hand

A second way we know all that we know is pragmatic–the way things work. Unless you’re an acoustical and electrical engineer, you don’t really know why the words I speak into my microphone are broadcast through our sound system to your ears. Unless you’re an automotive engineer, you don’t know why turning your key started your car this morning. You just know practically that it did.

We can find the hand and dream of God in practical ways each day.

Three times, Genesis provides pragmatic confirmation that God’s dream to Joseph is on track: “his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3); “The Lord was with him, and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (v. 21); “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (v. 23).

Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God says it well: find what God is doing and join him. Where is God blessing your life? Where does he seem to use your gifts and abilities? What open and closed doors reveal his direction to you? Ask him to reveal his dream through practical circumstances, and know that he will.

The third way we know what we know is rational. You don’t balance your checkbook by intuition, I hope. You’re using your rational facilities right now to evaluate these words for their truthfulness and relevance. God calls us to love him with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). He invites us, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18).

God’s dream for Joseph was fulfilled in rational ways.

When he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that seven years of plenty would be filled by seven of famine, Joseph then advised him, “now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine” (Genesis 41:33-36).

With this result: “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you'” (vs. 37-40).

A wise mentor once told me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” Seek God’s word and will for your decisions. Spend time each morning in his word, learning his truth for your life.

Learn your spiritual gifts. Determine the most reasonable and effective ways to use them. Make a strategic plan for the best investment of your time, talents, and money in fulfilling your ministry. Ask God to guide your thoughts as well as your circumstances and inner spirit. And he will.

Conclusion

Do you know God’s dream for you today? If you do, stay faithful to the last word you heard from God and open to the next.

If not, give him time to speak to you through his word and world. Pay attention to open and closed doors, ways he seems to bless what you are doing. Study his Scripture and your spiritual gifts, and be strategic about the investment of your life. And you’ll know his dream for each day as each day comes.

Here’s the bottom line: will you follow where he leads? Will you “present your body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”? (Romans 12:1). Only then can you know his “good, pleasing and perfect” will (v. 2). God has a dream for your life, not just your religious activity. For Monday, not just Sunday. For your school, not just your Sunday school. For the money you keep, not just the money you give. His dream cost Joseph everything. And gave him more in return.

One night, after the pianist Paderewski had given one of the greatest concerts of his brilliant career, he was greeted by a fan who exclaimed, “I’d give my life to be able to play like you do.” Paderewski quietly replied, “I did.”

Will you?