Do you ever wake up in the morning with a song stuck in your head? Some people call this an earworm. I’ve always hated that word, but at least the songs that get stuck in my head are often fairly pleasant. The most recent earworm I’ve had was, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” from Disney’s Cinderella.
As a child, I loved this song, and since I was quite the daydreamer, this was often a little anthem of mine. I believed wholeheartedly in the whimsical lyrics which assured me, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”
I did not have a traumatic childhood by any stretch. However, I had a terrible habit of setting notoriously high hopes for literally everything I experienced. This resulted in often finding myself greatly disappointed and in my own childish way, “grieving.” I would cheer myself up with this song.
Those childish ideas of dreams and wishes have, for the most part, been replaced with the more realistic substance of goals, intentions, and clear set paths of how to work toward things. But even now, as a fairly no-nonsense adult, I find myself struggling with dreams.
Do you ever find yourself asking, “Is this dream realistic? Is this dream part of God’s will for my life? Why are people discouraging my dreams? Am I wasting my time on this dream?” Do you ever wonder if God even cares about our dreams or is that just something humans have laid significance on?
The Bible does have much to say about dreams, and one man in particular, Joseph, has much to teach us about the importance of dreams.
What Are Dreams?
When we talk about dreams, we can be talking about one of two things. Dreams can be visions we have during sleep. This is a neurological phenomenon that most people experience. God does, on occasion, use these visions during sleep to relay messages. We see this often in the Bible, including in Joseph’s story in the Old Testament as we will look into soon.
Although God can choose to use our natural, neurological dreams to convey messages, the majority of our natural dreams are just a result of brain activity during sleep. Even scientists do not completely understand the nature of natural dreams.
The other type of dreams are the dreams of our heart. These are aspirations we have. These are things we hope for but which are not a reality yet. These can be things we are passionate about, things we feel called to. In the story of Joseph, which we will study today, we will see that Joseph’s natural dreams and his heart dreams were intertwined.
Let’s take a moment, as we are defining dreams, to discuss dreams vs. fantasies. The human mind, as it often does, has taken the idea of dreams and distorted it to often also include fantasies. Fantasies are very different from the heart dreams we will discuss in this study.
The word fantasy isn’t used in the Bible, but the word imaginations is. The word imaginations is only used six times in the KJV Bible and five of those six times it is used in a negative context. In 2 Corinthians it is described as something to be “cast down.”
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;2 Corinthians 10:5
If this verse encourages us “to bring every thought to the obedience of Christ,” then it is logical to say that “imaginations” as used here, is the opposite of that. So, let’s define fantasies, as imaginations that have not been brought to the obedience of Christ.
Having a fantasy is not the same as having a dream in your heart. Many people use the distorted definition of dreams to justify their fantasies. They have a fantasy of being famous, or rich, or even of having a partner they should not have. Fantasies are what happen when the human mind contemplates the future based entirely on desire alone. Do not confuse fantasies for godly dreams which God may put in your heart.
How can you know the difference? A Christian would certainly want to know the difference between godly dreams and self-centered fantasies.
We can tell the difference between godly dreams and self-centered fantasies by evaluating if it is the result of prayer. Is this something you pray about? Is this something you communicate with God about? Also, you can evaluate whether or not the “dream” in any way contradicts the Word of God. God will never, ever put a dream in your heart that contradicts His own commandments.
Unfortunately, people will often tag God onto their fantasies and try to justify them by claiming something is, “God’s will,” for them when in reality it is impossible for God’s will to contradict God’s commandments. So, if the “dream” is in contradiction of God’s word and God’s revealed commandments to us, you can mark that as a self-centered fantasy, not a godly dream.
If it is not in contradiction of God’s word and God’s commandments, then it is vital to take these dreams to God in prayer. Do you get a sense of peace and approval? Remember, this is why it is important to have an established habit of time alone with God. This time alone with God is when you will evaluate these important aspects of your life. Without that habit of time alone with God, you are at the mercy of your own weak human understanding and wisdom.
Joseph and His Dreams
Although God often used dreams in the Bible, Joseph was most definitely the most famous dreamer of the Bible. God used Joseph’s dreams as a way of directly communicating to him the path that his life would take. God also allowed Joseph the wisdom to understand what other people’s dreams meant as well.
Remember, in the story of Joseph dreams are used to refer to both a godly plan or path to be on, as well as the natural dreams of our sleep. God does not use natural dreams this way for most people. For most of us God reveals our “dreams” to us in our heart and mind, not in our sleep.
Joseph’s dreams began at a fairly young age. Most agree that the following passage would have taken place when Joseph was a teenager.
5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. 6 And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: 7 For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. 8 And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. 9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. 10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? 11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.Genesis 37:5-11
God had a big plan for Joseph’s life. This plan was bigger than anything Joseph could have thought up for himself.
In our society when we think of “our dreams” we are often referring to our goals for our self. These are things that we want, that we thought up, that we have planned out. People will go to extreme lengths to make their dreams a reality.
But what about dreams that God has for us? Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps our dreams for our self, and God’s dreams for us may not be one in the same? The Bible never tells us that Joseph had a dream for himself to rule over his family. This was a dream which God delivered to Joseph.
Our your dreams in alignment with God’s will? It is a beautiful thing when we are on the same page as God, but how often does this happen? I can think of a few times when God had to reveal to me that a dream I had for myself was not the dream He had for me.
The first thing that Joseph can teach us about dreams is to always make sure that your dream for yourself and God’s dream for you are one in the same.
How Others React to Our Dreams
It would be lovely to think that if you and God got on the same page then everyone else in your life would be on that same page too. Unfortunately, things rarely happen that way. This is what Joseph discovered as well.
And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.Genesis 37:5
18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. 19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.Genesis 37:18-19
Can you hear the sarcasm in their voices? In Joseph’s story the animosity goes much deeper than sarcasm, though. These men had fallen into downright malice toward their brother, and they plotted to kill him.
This is an extreme reaction, but it is not hard for many of us to remember times when others despised our dreams. If you have never experienced that intense of a reaction, perhaps you have experienced the more common reaction of discouragement of your dreams.
Others discouraging our dreams is very common. We have probably all felt that. But why is this? Why would others want to discourage a dream, especially if it is a godly dream?
There are many reasons for this. The most obvious reason is seen right here in Joseph’s story.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. 4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.Genesis 37:3-4
Jealousy! These brothers were jealous, plain and simple. Often others will discourage your dreams out of jealousy. They have no dreams of their own so they focus their energy on discouraging yours.
What can you do about this? Do nothing. One of the best lessons we can learn from the story of Joseph is to let God handle those who are against us. Never once in Joseph’s story do we see him defend himself or retaliate. No matter how much wrong is done to him, he waits for God to act on his behalf.
This is a hard, yet important thing to learn in life.
For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.1 Peter 2:20
This perfectly sums up Joseph’s experiences with his brothers in Genesis 37. It also applies to other instances where Joseph was done wrong.
Joseph is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attacking her. He is thrown into prison.Genesis 39:1-20
Joseph is forgotten by the king’s butler and left to stay longer in prison.Genesis 40:6-23
On both of these other occasions, we see no indication of Joseph defending himself. These people did not understand Joseph. They did not care about him, and in fact grossly mistreated him.
If God has put dreams in your heart, everyone will not understand. Everyone will not encourage you. That is not your concern, though. God will take care of them. When we focus too much on everyone else’s opinions of our dreams, some bad stuff can happen.
The Approval Game
The scriptures never reveal Joseph getting down about his circumstances. Is it possible that Joseph got down? Sure. This would have especially been possible if Joseph had begun focusing on what others were doing to him and not focusing on what God was doing for him.
This is when we begin to lose sight of dreams. When we focus on what others are doing to us and not focusing on what God is doing for us.
The approval game is a dangerous, losing game. You can’t win it. Why can’t you win the approval of everyone? Because everyone has a different set of criteria they are judging you by. There will never be a time when everyone is on the same page.
If you get caught up in the approval game you will first notice that others discourage you, and then that discouragement will progress into pressure to change. Most people will not be satisfied with simply telling you their opinion about your dreams. They want to change your mind. This is dangerous ground, especially if you are following the dreams God has for you.
If you get sucked into the approval game with others, you will soon find yourself being pressured to give up your dreams all together.
This is what Potipher’s wife wanted to do to Joseph in Genesis 39:12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
She wanted Joseph to trade God’s will for something else. God’s path for Joseph right then was to serve in Potipher’s house. Joseph honored this plan God had for him, which is why Genesis 39: 8-9 says:
“But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; 9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”Genesis 39: 8-9
Joseph had a firm grip on God’s dreams for his life, which is why he did not give him to the substitute she was offering. The world will offer you a substitute for the dreams God has placed your heart. Do not accept less than God’s best.
Now, did Joseph still wind up in prison? Yes, but he wound up in prison as a result of God’s plan for his life. Had he given into Potiphar’s wife he would have wound up worse. Even if our circumstances do not look ideal to others, obviously prison is not an ideal place to be, if you are in God’s will then nothing could be more ideal than that.
Other’s will try to discourage you from following your dreams. Other’s will pressure you to give up. Other’s will offer you a substitute for God’s will.
What can you do? The only thing you can do is make sure that you are on the same page as God. You will never get on the same page as everyone else all at the same time. Impossible.
If you and God are on the same page concerning your dreams, then all will be fine. God will take care of everyone else.
Other people are not the only thing which will attack our dreams. In some cases other people never need to get involved, because our own minds provide plenty of discouragement.
I’ve always been intrigued by Joseph’s story because the Bible never shows any indication of Joseph getting depressed. He certainly had many opportunities to give into hopelessness or anxiety, but he didn’t. Depression and anxiety are two of the most powerful dream killers. Let’s look at how these two adversaries affect us and our dreams.
Let’s start with anxiety, because in most cases anxiety comes before depression. Anxiety is a popular word in our society today. Many people suffer from anxiety disorders which can really hinder their everyday life. However, even people who do not suffer from an anxiety disorder will often feel the effects of anxiety as it pertains to dreams and goals in their life.
What is anxiety? Anxiety is defined as, “a feeling or worry or unease, typically about an imminent event of something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety is the result of not knowing how things will turn out. Anxiety is the result of speculating over all of the negative possibilities, and we certainly know there are millions of possible negative outcomes.
When we talk about our dreams there are many opportunities for anxiety to creep in. If your dream involves large amounts of invested time and money you can worry that you are wasting your resources. If your dreams include other people you can worry about whether or not these people will do right by you. Dreams are always an investment of our heart, time and attention. None of us want all of that to be wasted. None of us want to fail.
Anxiety over failure can be so strong that people simply give up. It is so much easier to take a path of least resistance and risk. The problem is the path of least resistance and risk is also the path that produces nothing in the long run.
Anxiety can lead us to give up our dreams out of fear of failure. When we start giving up our dreams, that is when depression swoops in to put the nails in the coffin. In a state of depression it can feel impossible to take the necessary steps to work toward our dreams. Our minds begin to tell us that none of our efforts matter anyway, so why try.
This is why anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Anxiety makes us doubt and hesitate, and then the more we doubt and hesitate the less we believe that our efforts will produce the desired outcome. The less of an effort we put forth, the worse we feel about ourselves and the farther away our dreams seem. This leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and ultimately depression.
When Joseph was in prison he met the king’s butler and baker. If Joseph had given into anxiety and depression then this passage of scripture would have never taken place.
“3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. 4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward. 5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison. 6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. 7 And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? 8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.”Genesis 40: 3-8
Here we see Joseph in the perfect circumstances to be anxious and depressed. If he had given into these feelings then he never would have asked the butler and the baker why they were sad. The thing about depression is that it gets you firmly focused on yourself and your problems. You do not have the desire to care about others.
That’s not what happened to Joseph, though. Joseph was not depressed. In fact he was so not depressed that he was wondering why anyone else around him should even be looking sad. This interaction with the butler and the baker is the entire reason he was released from prison later on.
How easy would it have been for Joseph to walk right past these two men that day? If Joseph had been depressed himself about being in prison it would have made perfect sense to him to see two other prisoners depressed also. He would have seen them and thought nothing of it. But Joseph was not depressed. He was concerned about others. He wanted to help, and that proved to be exactly the next step he needed to take on his path.
So, how do we avoid anxiety and depression? We remember that our God is sovereign. Our God is in control. Every single moment is ordained by God. He is sending it to you as a gift. All he wants of you is to accept the gift of this moment, without judging it as good or bad, and then serve the moment in the way He shows you. Don’t worry about the future. What is happening in this moment? God sent this moment to you and each moment has a task for you to accomplish for the glory of God. See that task, serve that moment. All of these moments are the beautiful stones making up the path God has in mind for you.
And we know that all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
So if anxiety and depression are dream killers are there any dream builders we can look for? Absolutely!
Dream builders are the actions that we take. First they are the actions we take toward the dreams. God has promised to help us, but God has not promised to do everything for us. If God has placed a dream in your heart he will also place a to do list to go along with it. You may have a godly dream of improving your health. That is wonderful.
Is God simply going to bring down your blood pressure for you? Will God magically take 30 pounds off ? Will God miraculously let you wake up with better muscle tone and cardiovascular endurance? No, on all points. God expects you to take the steps.
The incredible things about taking your steps toward your dream is that every time you take a step you receive more power, energy and excitement from God to take the next step. This is the main way God helps us accomplish our dreams. He gives us the grace to take the steps.
Another dream builder is serving others.
The beautiful thing about the interaction we see in Genesis 40:3-19 is that Joseph was not helping out of any selfish motive. A trap that we humans often fall into when we are pursuing a dream is to forget about the needs of others in pursuit of what we are trying to accomplish. God will often use very selfless acts to bring about exactly what it is you are wanting or dreaming of.
The entire reason Joseph was released from prison was because he showed compassion on two other prisoners who looked sad one day. That’s it. He paused for one moment to ask someone if they were okay, and that is how he wound up getting released from prison.
In Genesis 41:1-13 Pharaoh is troubled by a dream and the butler finally remembers Joseph and recommends that the King call for him.
In 41:37-44 we see God’s beautiful dream for Joseph coming to pass.
37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. 41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. 42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; 43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. 44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.Genesis 41:37-44
All of this because he asked two sad looking men why they were sad! All of this for one act of kindness. All of this for one moment of putting his own troubles aside to check on the well being of another.
If you think that the only way to achieve your dreams is by ignoring others and focusing solely on your own goals and aspiration, you will never experience the supernatural power of God working on your behalf to bring your dreams to life.
Here, Joseph teaches us the most important lesson of all concerning our dreams; keep an attitude of service for others and God will always take care of you.
Our dreams are powerful things. When we are on the same page with God concerning our dreams and do not get sucked into the approval game with others, we will see progress. When we watch out for the dream killers of anxiety and depression we can tap into the power and energy of God to keep taking our steps toward our dreams.
Most importantly, when we keep an attitude of service for others first and foremost in our life plans, God will make sure that the godly dreams He has placed in our hearts will become a reality.