It’s Week 1 of Faith in the Valley. If you’re following along online, you could journal on each of the questions below after reading the chapters in Genesis about Joseph. If you are coming to the Tuesday meetings, we will only discuss a SMALL portion of what is below. Please read and print out this post to bring to the meeting. It will save me paper.
Someday, I’m gonna write a book and it is gonna be all about this poem, which asks one of the best questions that all of literature could ask.
A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I’ve had some dreams that were deferred and put on hold, and y’all, it felt like ALL OF THAT.
Sometimes it dried up.
And sometimes it exploded.
And sometimes it stank. Stank. STANK.
Because when you have a dream, especially when it seems to come from God, you expect it to come true, right?! And dreams should come true pretty quick because certainly God is on the same timetable that we are! Ahem.
When dreams are deferred, we just don’t always deal with it very well.
This week we are going to talk about one of the most famous dreamers in Scripture, and it was a guy who I bet would have appreciated Langston Hughes as much as I do.
Joseph, our character for this week, definitely had his dreams deferred for a LONG, LONG time. In fact, his descent into the valley and his residency therein would have most of us packing up our faith, our dreams, and settling into a nice cynically depressed stew.
Festering sore anyone?
Yet, Joseph’s resolved valley faith endured when his circumstances and experience indicated that his faith was misplaced, useless, or for naught. Frankly, his dreams seemed to be deferred to the point of being crushed, for a long time.
- Draw a timeline with peaks and valleys to match the experiences of Joseph’s life.
- Label some of the major events of his life, including his age where it can be determined.
- How did Joseph’s brothers feel about him and why? (37:3-11)
- What are some of Joseph’s strengths and weakness as a man?
- What do you think about 17 year old Joseph’s behavior in sharing his dreams with his brothers. The fact is, his dreams WERE from God. About how long did Joseph have to wait before his dreams came true? 41: 46, 41:53, 42:6, 45:6
- What is the meaning of Joseph’s son Ephraim’s name? 41:52
- Did Joseph know how his brothers felt about him and why? (37: 8&10)
- Do we have any indication of how Joseph responded to his brother’s feelings toward him? (37:9 & 23)
- What do you think was Joseph’s LOWEST point? Why? Is there something in your own story that connects you to that?
- Who would you list as “to blame” for the valleys in Joseph’s story?
- What I’m getting at above is . . . how much is his story HIS FAULT and how much is OTHERS’ FAULT and how much is BAD LUCK? (There is no right answer to this. I’m just trying to dig into this idea as we think about our valleys.)
- What do you make of the fact that, even after becoming Vice-Pharoah, in naming Ephraim, he refers to Egypt as “The Land of my Suffering”?
- On the surface, Joseph’s circumstances are very good at this point. What evidence is there that Joseph is still in the “valley?”
- Just for fun, which of the metaphors from the poem above seem to best describe Joseph’s “dream deferred”? Do you think he gave up on that dream?
- What is your reaction to the games and trickery that Joseph plays on his brothers? What emotion seems to motivate him? Does he seem vengeful? Or does he just want to get his father and brother there?
- Write out Genesis 45: 5 and 45:8.
- What do you note about Joseph’s instructions to his brothers? How does he want them to feel?
- The story of Joseph is one of the longest character studies in the Bible. Yet, it is not Joseph, but his two sons, who are named in the 12 tribes of Israel? How does this strike you?
It seems to me that in Joseph’s case, the process of emerging from the valley is two-fold: forgiveness and a recognition of God’s Sovereignty. Let’s do this just for the listy people.
PROCESS FOR EMERGING FROM THE VALLEY
2. Recognition of God’s Sovereignty
Even though Joseph could have easily dished out blame on his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, or the cupbearer for the “lost years,” he forgives them. He even wants his brothers to forgive themselves. Wow! (Personally I wonder if he only feels this after he made them squirm over the cup and the money and the back and forth to Canaan a few times. ) But anyway, in the end, he forgives them and wants the relationship restored.
Even years after all the brothers move to Egypt, after their father dies, they are still worried that Joseph will “pay them back” and that he hasn’t forgiven them. Again, he reiterates that he is out of the valley and is seeing the long view from the mountain. In his words, the whole picture looks like this:
“Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then don’t be afraid.”
See the second part? That’s where he acknowledges that God had design in all of it–even from the beginning.
This part with God is trickier in my life.
It is uncomfortable to believe that God allowed or even ordained others to sin against me in ways that really hurt and damaged me. It’s slightly easier for me to arrive at a place where I say that He redeemed their actions for good. But it takes some pretty deep valley faith to let my pain and suffering be the vehicle for God to achieve a greater purpose. (Cuz, obviously, when I say things like “Take my life and use me” I do not mean the bad stuff.)
That is truly a struggle that anyone who has found themselves in a valley or even having climbed out of a valley must address.
Was my suffering worth it to save someone else? Am I okay with a God who let that happen to me? Or a God who did that to me?
(I don’t even like typing this part.)
I’m not trying to irreverently imply that God’s okayness is in anyway dependent upon us. But let’s face it . . . not okay with God means that we are distrustful of Him. And if you distrust Him, you won’t go with Him anywhere else.
I wonder if I’ve stayed in some valleys just because I didn’t trust Him anymore.
For Joseph and for me, part of coming out of the valley is acknowledging that God is enabling my deferred dream to come true, however long it takes. I have to get a glimpse that His ways and methods and strategies are all sovereign over hateful brothers and manipulative bosses’ wives and prisons and blood drenched coats. I have to zoom out, way high above my valley, and try to get a long view, a bigger picture.
We don’t know how Joseph may have seen the work God was doing in his life through all those valley years. We don’t know if he saw glimpses of his dream coming true. But we do know that he acknowledged God as Sovereign in the end. His brothers did come bow down to him. His deferred dream came true.
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION:
- Have you ever had a dream deferred? What was it? Which of the metaphors sounds the closest to how you felt?
- Draw a timeline of your own life, noting peaks and valleys in your story.
- Who or what caused the low points?
- What changed that enabled you to get out of the valley?
- Can you identify what God intended when he allowed that valley season?
- If you are still in a valley season, can you identify if there is anyone you should forgive? (Maybe yourself?)
- Should you tell someone that has hurt you that you have forgiven them?
- If you are still in a valley, write about what you are learning about yourself and God during this time. Write a prayer. Jonah 2 is pretty good if you’re stuck for what to say.
- Can you trust that God is doing something with the valleys in your life? Why or why not?
- Is this verse true of you? Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Well, that is WAY more than we’ll ever be able to talk about in an hour, so I hope you’ll take some time on your own to think through the reflection and application on your own.
I can’t wait for Tuesday! If you’re joining online, please comment here or in the You Go Girl! FB group.