As you know, pastors in the Methodist tradition are not hired by local congregations – they are appointed by the bishop. Instead of being “called,” as independent congregations do, United Methodist clergy are “sent”, assigned to their place of ministry.
That’s why you sometimes hear people say that ours is an “itinerant” ministry, because preachers move from place to place, or “intenerate.” That means that, while pastors have some control over when a change might be made, we have no control over where we are appointed to serve. We go where we are needed most. (Yesterday/This morning at the Annual Conference, I stood with the lay people from Sebastian UMC as the bishop “fixed” – or set – my appointment to that church.
There is a saying that is often passed around in United Methodist clergy circles –
“Bloom where you are planted.” We may not have control over where the seed of our ministry falls, but we can do our best to flourish wherever we take root.
It’s not just great advice for preachers. It’s great advice for every person if they want to have success in life.
Joseph understood this concept better than any person in scripture. He was able to succeed wherever the winds of circumstance placed him. With a positive attitude, he put down roots, and bloomed. And the more he bloomed, the more useful he became to God in carrying out God’s purposes.
After his brothers sold him into slavery, where did he end up? As a house-slave of an Egyptian military officer, named Potiphr. Did Joseph despair? No, he determined that if he was to be a servant, he would be the very best servant there could be.
And his efforts didn’t go unrewarded. Potiphar promoted him to his chief of staff,
overseeing his entire household and all his business dealings. Pretty impressive accomplishment for a slave!
After being framed by Potiphar’s wife and ending up in prison, did Joseph give up?
Not at all. His attitude and abilities were admired by the warden of the prison
– so much so, that even though Joseph was still an inmate, he was entrusted with oversight of all that went on among the prisoners. Even in prison, Joseph found a way to bloom.
After two years languishing in jail, Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams
got him an audience with Pharaoh, himself.
Pharaoh had dreamed two similar dreams that he couldn’t make any sense of – a dream about skinny cows eating fat cows, and one about thin stalks of wheat consuming plump stalks.
Joseph deciphered the dreams to forecast seven years of bumper crops,
followed by seven years of famine. He then advised Pharaoh to appoint someone
to administer a strategy of making wise preparations – someone who could lead the nation in storing up food reserves in the bountiful years, so that there would be enough to ration out during the lean years.
And did Pharaoh take Joseph’s advice? Absolutely! Not only did he believe Joseph’s dream-interpretation, he made Joseph his Vizier, his Prime Minister, if you will – the most powerful man in Egypt, answerable only to Pharaoh, himself!
That’s quite a promotion, don’t you think? What a “meteoric rise to power!” In the morning, Joseph was a prisoner languishing in the dungeon – by nightfall he is wearing the royal signet ring and ruling the most powerful empire on earth! Talk about blooming where you are planted!
Some of you can remember the time before milk was routinely homogenized. What happened to the cream? It automatically rose to the top! Well, Joseph was the cream of the crop – one of those rare people who always seemed to be elevated to greatness.
What was it about Joseph that made him so successful in such varied situations? What qualities did he possess that caused him to be promoted to positions of influence over and over again? What characteristics did God find in Joseph
that led God to place Joseph at the pinnacle of power so he could be used by God
for God’s glory and purposes?
I think we can see four outstanding characteristics that God is looking for in those he wishes to use for his kingdom; qualities we should nurture in our lives:
First, Joseph was faithful.
Joseph was a man in whom others put their trust. One of the main reasons people rise to greatness is because they are faithful and trustworthy. Proverbs 28:20 says, “A faithful man shall abound with blessings…” That was certainly true in Joseph’s case. No matter the circumstances of his life, Joseph remained loyal to others, winning their confidence and trust. And in the end, his faithfulness bore fruit in blessings.
This is because Joseph knew instinctively God’s principles of promotion.
Jesus expressed that principle this way (Luke 16), “Whoever can be trusted with very little
can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy
with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)
Or as Jesus says it in another place, “’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21)
Joseph proved his faithfulness to others by being trustworthy. And because of his fidelity and loyalty, his was given more and more authority and power.
While this principle is true for worldly relationships, it is also true for our relationship with God. God wants to promote us so that we have greater influence to promote his purposes in the world. But he will only do so if we prove we are faithful to him in small matters. Only then will he entrust us with Kingdom matters.
Are you always faithful in your dealing with others? Are you faithful in your relationship with God? If you’re not, don’t expect that God will give you a promotion in serving him.
Second, Joseph was Spirit-filled.
All throughout these chapters of Genesis as we read the story of Joseph,
we come across these words, “The LORD was with Joseph.”
I don’t believe that that means simply that God’s spirit was manipulating Joseph, causing him to do or say certain things. I think the text is telling us something about the quality of the relationship Joseph had with God. I think we see this in several ways:
For instance, it is clear that God was always foremost in Joseph’s mind – Joseph was always attuned to God’s leading, in his life and in the lives of others. He had a clear moral gyroscope that always kept him upright and a moral compass that kept him always moving in God’s direction. He never doubted God’s presence with him, even in his darkest days. And because he was so attuned to the Spirit of God in his life, he was able to divine the meaning of people’s dreams.
Paul described this constant connection with God’s spirit as “praying without ceasing.” That simply means, living all of life in the constant awareness of God’s presence. Joseph lived life that way.
Another glimpse into the quality of Joseph’s relationship with God can be seen in the way he always gave glory to God, not himself.
Joseph always makes it crystal clear that his ability to interpret dreams comes from God, not himself: When his fellow prisoners had dreams they didn’t understand, Joseph tells them, “interpreting dreams is God’s business,” – only then does he tell them the meaning.
Then, when Pharaoh needs his dreams interpreted, Joseph could have claimed special powers for himself. But instead, he says this, “It is beyond my power to do this, but God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”
You can always tell the quality of someone’s relationship with God by who gets the credit when things are going well. Often, we are quick to blame God for our troubles, and to pat ourselves on our back when we are succeeding. But a person close to God knows where his blessings and gifts come from, and is quick to give God credit and praise.
A final proof of the quality of Joseph’s relationship with God is that others, even non-believers, could recognize God’s Spirit active in Joseph’s life.
After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and advised him to appoint someone to prepare for the famine, did you notice what Pharaoh said? “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Even the Pharaoh of Egypt who worshiped a whole pantheon of pagan gods, could see there was something special about this Hebrew slave – one who was “so obviously filled with the spirit of God!”
There is a quality in the lives of people who walk with God. God’s Spirit dwells in them, and it shows.
When people look at you, would they likely say: He or She is “so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” If not, that should give us pause. Success in serving God’s kingdom depends on having such a close relationship with him that everyone around us can see God in us.
So Joseph was faithful and Spirit-filled. But he was also wise.
Joseph succeed where many other would have failed because he was wise – he demonstrated wisdom in two ways, both of which are required for success in life, and in the service of God:
One aspect of wisdom has to do with discernment. Can we analyze a situation, and clearly see right and wrong? This first part of wisdom involves being able to separate the good from the bad, and to therefore make good judgments in life. In this, Joseph proved to be very wise.
But there is more to wisdom than that. After correctly discerning a situation, a truly wise person will be able to then determine a godly course of action that will bring about a good solution to a bad situation. It’s taking the lemons we are given in life and making lemonade.
Over and over in the story of Joseph, we see how wise he was n the way he was able to take the tragic circumstances of his life and turn them into something positive. Joseph was able to both correctly analyze a situation and chart a positive course that was pleasing to God. He was very wise indeed.
But, most people fail on one or both counts: Some fail because they are unable to discern right from wrong, others because they can’t determine a God-honoring course of action that could transform bad into good. And so they are more foolish than wise.
Could you and I be described as “wise” in seeing right and wrong, and knowing the best course of action that honors God?
The final quality of Joseph that made him successful was that he was fearless.
It was because Joseph was faithful, Spirit-filled, and wise, that he was free to live his life without fear. Joseph could face the trials and tribulations of life with courage, and he could deal with worldly powers with confidence and boldness.
Why? – and this is the key to why Joseph is such a great role-model for the rest of us: Because he put his whole trust in God and God’s promises. He was confident in his relationship with God and that God was with him, no matter what he faced. And he knew that if he remained true to God, God would remain true to him.
That was the secret to his being able to be bold and fearless in the way he lived his life, and it is the reason he was always able to bloom wherever he was planted.
My friends, God wants you to bloom where you are planted so that you can be used by him for his glory and purposes. Are you blooming for him?
Maybe, because of the circumstances of your life, you don’t think you can be of any use to God. I don’t care what your circumstances are, they aren’t any more challenging than Joseph’s were! If God could use Joseph and raise him up from the dungeon to the palace, God can do the same for you!
But only if you exhibit the qualities that Joseph displayed: faithfulness to others and to God; walking close to God so that his Spirit lives in you; showing godly wisdom; and living fearlessly trusting God with every aspect of your life. If that describes you, God wants to promote you so God can use you for his glory and purposes.
A number of years ago, a little book came out that became something of a sensation. It focused on just a few obscure verses from the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles, verses containing the brief little prayer of a man named Jabez.
This is what that verses say: ” Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’ So God granted him what he requested” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).
Joseph could have prayed that prayer. Because he was faithful, spirit-filled, wise, and fearless, God enlarged his territory to include the mighty empire of Egypt.
What is the territory of your life that God wants to enlarge so that you can give him glory and advance his kingdom? What is it…?
My friends, God wants to promote us. He wants to expand our territory and influence for his Kingdom’s sake.
He did it for Joseph.
And he can do it for you, too.