Leonard Ravenhill in “The Last Days Newsletter” tells about a group of tourists who were visiting a picturesque village. As they walked by an old man sitting beside a fence, one tourist asked in a patronizing way, “Were any great men born in this village?” The old man replied, “Nope, only babies.” He is right. Leadership is developed. Not discovered. In today’s sermon, we are going to learn how God did just that with the man called Joseph and why it is still relevant to us.
Text Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1-23; 40:1-23; 41:1-57
1. Character Formation
Joseph was actually a spoiled brat, (Genesis 37:3). He was proud and egoistic, (Genesis 37:2; 37:5-7; 37:9-10). His character needed a transformation before God could actually promote him. Many people became instrumental in his character formation. God used Joseph’s brothers, and Potiphar’s wife to name a few.
None of us are born perfect. All of us have at least tiny flaws in our character. God cannot promote us to lead the way we are because these flaws in character have a direct impact on the way we lead. Not that God couldn’t appoint Joseph as the Governor of Egypt overnight, but had he done that, Joseph would have been a very bad leader and brought about a great disaster for everyone who trusted him.
Every leader whether they like it or not must walk through this period of character formation. Often this is not a pleasant experience. But this is an essential ingredient for successful leadership. Leaders who skip this step are nothing more than half-baked cakes. Jesus said, “I tell you the solemn truth unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24)
Likewise, unless a leader suffers and dies to himself he cannot produce God’s expected result. God has to change his leaders before he can use them as agents of change in the world. The late president of Africa Nelson Mandela serves as a great example here. John Battersby a former correspondent for The New York Times said this about him. “He was always mindful that his leadership role in the liberation of South Africa from apartheid might not have been possible if he had not been imprisoned.”
2. Sustention of Hope
Ernest Hemingway said, “It is silly not to hope; besides I believe it is a sin”. Joseph’s journey toward leadership was full of fluctuations. But his hope for God remained at the same level. Given below are the fluctuations we see in the life of Joseph.
(A) Secure and comfortable, (Genesis 37:3-4)
(B) Sold to slavery, (Genesis 37:26-27; 36)
(C) Received Potiphar’s favor, (Genesis 39:4)
(D) Falsely accused and imprisoned, (Genesis 39:20)
(E) Received the prison warden’s favor, (Genesis 39:21-22)
(F) Interpreted the dreams, (Genesis 40:1-20)
(G) Forgotten and left behind, (Genesis 40:23)
(H) Interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, (Genesis 41:1-40)
(I) Became the Governor of Egypt, (Genesis 41:40-46)
Fluctuations were God’s method of teaching Joseph to sustain hope. He uses the same method to teach us the same so that we shall know how to sustain hope even in the most hopeless situations. Some of the great leaders in the secular world actually were able to achieve greatness because they kept their hopes alive even when all of their hopes were gone. Great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Jawaharlal Nehru did not let circumstances kill their hopes for the future. They educated themselves and addressed their followers even from prison cells with the hopes of returning to their rightful places in leadership one day. They were leaders who did not know God and there’s no evidence to claim that God was with them in their times of suffering. But the Bible repeatedly says that God was with Joseph, (Genesis 39:2; 39:23). It is this awareness of God’s presence even in times of calamity that helps us not to lose hope.
Joseph, however, made a mistake that some leaders are prone to repeat. Joseph at least once in his life placed his hope in a man. He expected the Pharaoh’s chief butler to deliver him from prison. But the butler forgot Joseph soon after he received his freedom, (Genesis 40:21-23). After all, Hemingway, although he wrote about hope, followed by his heart brake, led a life of disappointment. The Christian leader cannot hope in his skills or that of another. God is his only hope because it was God who called him in the first place. Besides Isaiah said people who place their hope in God shall renew their strength, (Isaiah 40:31).
Opportunity is how God responds to leaders who place their hope in him. But hope without faithfulness is futile. God gave Joseph the opportunity of a lifetime because he remained faithful to both God and man even when he was placed under literally unbearable pressure, (Genesis 39:7-9; 22).
Jesus also emphasized the importance of faithfulness at great length, (Luke 12:41-48). God uses circumstances to test potential leaders for their faithfulness and continues the test until the leader proves his faithfulness. Remember, when under pressure being faithful is not as easy as it sounds. But God will reward us if we stand the test until the end.
Preparation is the price we pay to become great leaders. Joseph was only 16 years old when his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelite traders. The Pharaoh appointed him as the Governor of Egypt when he was thirty. God spent 14 years just preparing his chosen leader. Preparation takes time and lets us be patient and not lose heart during the most difficult stages of our preparation.
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