“One night Joseph had a dream and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever” [Gen. 37:5]
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriett Tubman
To dream is to live. Dreams can be literal experiences during our sleep and also a metaphor for aspirations, the hope or ambition of achieving something. Every great dream begins with God and is imparted to a dreamer. Joseph had two God-inspired literal dreams recorded in Genesis 37. The symbols revealed to Joseph and others that he would exercise authority over his older brothers and even his parents. In effect they were God-inspired dreams of greatness. Joseph’s brothers hated him even more because of those dreams. They already despised the fact that their father had a special fondness for Joseph, and now their little brother was intimating that God was going to give him prominence in the family. Perhaps they were offended by the way Joseph communicated the dream(s) with a proud and disrespectful tone. Yet regardless of Joseph’s tone, or yours, dreamers provoke others.
The provocative nature of dreams: a God-inspired dream (aspiration) is the essence of vision. All truly effective leaders are visionaries. In the kingdom we distinguish man’s good ideas that may be beneficial and provide a basis for positive change from a God-inspired idea or vision that provides hope in an attractive future that will glorify God. God-inspired dreams or vision will provoke other people to change the status quo to reach for something good and better. This is the hallmark of leadership – the ability to mobilize people to change the status quo. Managers tend to focus on maintaining or improving the status quo, but leaders seek to change it. That provocative aspect of dreams and leadership is often very attractive to some who will likely follow. And often provokes others to oppose. Because leaders with dreams seek to change the status quo they can threaten those who have been successful (exalted) in a prior season. So dreamers should be prepared to provoke and expect that the reactions will be both positive and negative.
The testing nature of dreams: God-inspired dreams often take time to become God-inspired realities. During that season the dream and the leader are tested. The psalmist observes, “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” [Ps. 105:19] [NLT]. Joseph was being prepared by God and tested until the dreams were fulfilled (more than twenty years later). Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery and was later falsely accused and imprisoned. While in prison, the people who could free Joseph neglected him, but God had not neglected him. Leaders and dreamers generally discover sooner rather than later that they need God’s strength patience and passion in order to experience the fulfillment of the dream. Joseph ultimately connects the struggles and hardships he experienced and the fulfillment of the dream as God’s divine plan, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” [Gen. 50:20]. Nevertheless I assume that during those difficult years while Joseph’s character was being forged and tested he likely wondered on more than one occasion whether the dream was in fact God inspired.
Joseph had a dream that revealed he would be exalted, and his brothers would bow down before him. The purpose of the fulfillment was not to make Joseph great, but to reveal the greatness of God, His glory, and to save many lives through Joseph’s God inspired leadership. The more that a leader has dreams of personal greatness and seeks to attain personal glory the more the leader will have to wrestle with the issue of whether God inspired the dream in the first place. On the other hand, the more the leader is pursuing the dream for God’s glory and greatness and to serve others the more likely the leader will have confidence in the source of the dream. Dreams test (and forge) our character. So dreamers should be prepared to be tested, but don’t let a God-inspired dream die prematurely because dreams give life.
The life giving nature of dreams: Joseph found the fulfillment of his dream as God used Joseph to administer a fourteen-year plan to save countless lives during a seven-year famine. Dreams can give life in another way. When people stop having dreams and aspirations they start to slowly die in the sense that they no longer have anything to live for or to motivate them or others they influence. Dreams can expire in a few ways. First, they become impossible. I’ve finally come to grips with the notion that the Dodgers are not going to offer me a tryout. At this stage in my life it simply isn’t going to happen. Second, dreams expire when they become fulfilled. For example my dream to be married to a godly woman is my reality. The dream is fulfilled (I’m living the dream). Third, dreams expire when you sacrifice your dream so that another person’s dream can be fulfilled. Imagine a couple that lives in a suburban area. He has dreamed of living in the suburbs and she aspires to live in the big city. They never sensed God truly direct them to the suburbs nor have they sensed Him direct them from the suburb to the city. Nevertheless, he is willing to let his dream die so that hers can be their reality.
When a dream expires it must be replaced by other dreams or you start to die (metaphorically speaking). Typically, people can identify their dreams in the following spheres: marriage, family, career, calling, and personal. Try to consider your dreams in this season of your life both short-term and long term. Some of those dreams or desires will have a sense that they are God-inspired and others perhaps not as much. Regardless of whether you feel they are likely of God or your not sure record them, because dreams give life and inspire.
The inspiring nature of dreams: those who receive God’s imparted vision and are moved to lead are undoubtedly inspired, as are those who follow these dreamers. In addition, these visionary leaders also inspire others that their dreams or aspirations might also be from God. Remember that Joseph not only received dreams from God, but God had blessed him to interpret the dreams that God had given to Pharaoh (and those who served him). God had given the Egyptian leader two dreams with the same message but neither the Pharaoh nor his advisors were able to interpret the message. Joseph understood that the dreams were from God and that the message was that there would be seven abundant years in Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Joseph encouraged the Pharaoh to appreciate that his dreams were inspired or imparted by the true and living God [Gen. 41]. And God inspired dreams should motivate us to communicate and implement a vision to see the dream come to pass.
The communication and implementation of the vision to fulfill the dream: God inspired Joseph with a vision or plan to spare lives during the famine [Gen. 41:33-41]. During the seven abundant years twenty percent of the harvest would be gathered in reserve for the famine. During the famine people would be able to buy grain from the Pharaoh’s reserves. Pharaoh recognized the wisdom of the plan and also recognized that the God of Israel had inspired the vision. So Joseph was promoted to second in command in Egypt. Now Joseph had to communicate and implement the plan. His plan would not be fully realized for fourteen years. Furthermore it would be over twenty years from the time Joseph dreamed of his brothers bowing down before him before it would actually be fulfilled. Once the vision is received there is generally much work to do to make the dream a reality.
Receiving the vision is the first step. Every year I seek God’s direction as I start to “dream out loud.” I think about my desires and aspirations in my marriage, our family, my calling (for me my calling and career have converged as I’m presently involved in full-time vocational ministry), and for me personally. I generally carve out as much time as possible to seek God’s direction through prayer and His word to discern what he wants to do differently in my life and the ministries where I have oversight or influence. I make notes and try to continue to wrestle with God until I have a sense that I have received His vision. In our local church every ministry leader is responsible to seek God’s vision for that ministry on an annual basis.
Communicating the vision is the second step. Those who will follow the dream need to know what the vision is. The dreamer needs to show others where they are going. The leader needs to describe the desired destination and help others to not only understand this attractive future but to perceive how to get there. The vision can be communicated through a variety of mediums, and it needs to be communicated repeatedly. Help people to understand the benefits they will likely experience by implementing the plan, and that the benefits outweigh any burdens.
In our local church each ministry leader prepares a vision statement for their ministry describing their objective(s) (where they are going) and the methods (how they plan to get there). Similarly, I share with my wife and sons the aspirations that I have for our marriage and family, and encourage them to share their dreams with me. Once you share a dream in the marriage, family, career, or calling sphere other people will generally respond in one of three ways. They will either want to engage in the vision with you, or offer to support you but not personally participate, or express opposition. Leaders are seeking buy-in (participation) as an ideal rather than merely permission (passive support) and sometimes participation results from better as well as repeated communication. In regard to opposition continue to communicate to help opponents better understand however don’t focus your efforts on the opponents. Instead develop a coalition of the willing who will positively influence the opposition.
Implementing the vision is the third step. The steps or methods to move from where you are to where God is leading should be described in such a way that they are SMART [specific, measurable, accountable, reasonable, and time specific]. Consider your current situation and the resources available to you, and the obstacles to the desired destination. Then begin to develop the plan to get from here to there laying out SMART steps; and frequently review the status of the implementation of the plan. What progress has been made, what adjustments need to be made and how will we keep moving forward to God’s desired destination?
Finally, be a dreamer because the kingdom needs dreamers and to dream is to live.
- What are some of your dreams (aspirations) in the marriage, family, career and personal realms?
- What are some of your dreams (aspirations) in the calling realm? Why do you believe the dreams are from God?
- Take time to communicate the dream(s) regarding your calling. Consider how to communicate your dreams more effectively.
- How will you implement the dream(s)?