Joseph named his second son Ephraim which meant ‘twice fruitful’ or ‘double fruitfulness’ because, he explained, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering’ (Genesis 41:52). God gave him a dream but the dream was frustrated. He suffered. Question – what made him still fruitful in suffering; in prison, in slavery. What can make us fruitful in this strange land of confinement, uncertainty, and isolation? There are many things about Joseph that we can learn from (e.g. see Gen.49:22 – he didn’t try to batter his obstacles down but rooted himself more deeply in God). But here we will look briefly at something that was a key factor in making Joseph fruitful in suffering. We find it in this little passage in Gen.40:1-8, when he is in prison.
We all have dreams, hopes and aspirations about our lives, how God might use us for some great purpose. These are not bad but our dreams will need refining and purifying and our character will be tested in the process, just as Joseph’s was:
Until the time came to fulfil his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.Ps.105:19
God has to be greater than the dream; we mustn’t let even the God-given dream become an idol. When we put God first, we get to see where our dream fits into God’s dream; where our fruitful plant fits into his garden.
The key to Joseph’s fruitfulness was not so much about what his dream was; it was how he related to others while waiting for his dream. We can learn from him to:
Serve others (v.4)
Joseph attended the cupbearer and baker in prison. He had dreamed of greatness and now he is assigned to serve. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). We love his presence among us but remember his words, ‘I am among you as one who serves’ (Luke 22:27). He is still among us in the same way, and not just in a meeting! Who has God called you to serve at this time? It is not just about what we do but about a posture of the soul to serve.
See others (v.6)
Joseph noticed that they were dejected. Notice others. Take an interest in people and where they are at. It is a wonderful thing to feel known by God. As Paul indicated to the Galatians, it was part of what it means to be brought into a relationship with God: “now that you know God – or rather are known by God” (Gal.4:9)
In our relationship with him, we feel seen, heard, noticed, known. There are few things worse than feeling overlooked. I am not talking about attention-seeking. We can’t demand attention but we all crave being noticed, feeling that we count; we have something to contribute. Let’s be like Jesus and walk through our world being attentive to the needs of others. Let’s grow a culture in our church family like that.
Seek to draw out the dreams of others (v.8)
Interpretations of dreams belong to God – he works out what they look like and how they are fulfilled. We end up in a wasteland if we try to work out our dreams ourselves. Let God interpret your dream! But notice Joseph’s words – ‘tell me your dreams.’ He is no longer focused on his dream; he is concerning himself with their dreams. I wonder if we find ourselves in the middle of our dreams not by pursuing our dream but by preferring others before ourselves. Let’s learn to say genuinely to others, ‘Tell me your dream.’
To be fruitful in this time, in the strange place we are in, let’s learn to serve others, to see others, and to seek to draw out the dreams of others.