We all struggle with disappointments in life. For me the biggest disappointments are when I have an expectation and have thought about things in a particular way and something happens completely differently. Or, when I have prayed for a long time and not seen a breakthrough, or when I have prayed and things apparently seemed to get worse. I have in the past protected myself from disappointment more than once.
Joseph could have been disappointed. His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt where there was no hope on the horizon for him. However, through hard work and by maintaining his integrity and with God with him, Joseph had risen to the top spot in Potiphar’s house. Things were looking up. Then, for refusing Potiphar’s wife’s advances, Joseph was unfairly thrown into prison. His hopes were dashed. There, as God’s hand on his life became evident, the jailer put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. His hopes rose again and Joseph prayed that God would get him out (Genesis 40).
We don’t know how much time had passed, but after a while, two new prisoners joined Joseph; Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker. These were important men in Pharaoh’s court. The cupbearer was more than just the man who tasted the wine before Pharaoh drank it to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. He was always with the king and was one of his advisors and confidants. The baker insured the quality of all the food served at Pharaoh’s table. These men had offended Pharaoh somehow and ended up with Joseph in the prison. Then, one night, both men had a dream. By God’s help Joseph interpreted their dreams. The cupbearer’s dream meant that in three days he would be restored to his position. The baker’s dream meant that in three days he would be executed. (What would you do? Only give the interpretation for the nice dream!)
Joseph appealed to the cupbearer
Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. Genesis 40:14
Three days later as Joseph’s predictions came true, you can picture the cupbearer giving Joseph the thumbs up as he headed out of the prison door, saying, “Don’t worry mate! You’ll be out in no time!” Joseph’s hopes were the highest since he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Finally, it looked like God was going to answer his prayers. Maybe he dreamt of what would happen when he got out of prison, made plans in his head, wrote lists. His heart was on the other side of the prison walls. But night came and there was no word from the jailer about his release. He maybe woke thinking, “possibly yesterday was a big day for the cupbearer, he had a lot to do, today he will mention my situation to Pharaoh.” Day leads to day and week leads to week and disappointment becomes heavy. (Disappointment can be a very heavy burden to carry), Joseph’s high hopes were dimmed and finally extinguished as he realises that he has been forgotten. So what can we learn from this?
God uses disappointments to bring His children to the place where their only hope is in Him. It’s a painful process, but often we put our hope in people and they let us down. Not even you nor I can be trusted perfectly as we are fallen, it takes that shift in our heart to learn that only God alone is to be trusted.
Disappointments begin when high hopes or answers to our problems are not met as we expect.
Most of us come to Christ with high hopes for answers to life’s problems. The gospel promises a lot; peace, joy, restored relationships, forgiveness for all our sins, emotional healing, meaning and purpose in life, and much more. We hear stories about other Christians and how God miraculously answers prayer. So we begin to pray that God would deal with the major problems in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. It’s not that God doesn’t deliver, but rather that we assume (or are led by other Christians to think) that these things come quickly, miraculously, and painlessly.
No doubt Joseph prayed daily that God would get him out of prison. He had high hopes that God would answer that prayer. After all, it was based on the dreams he had when he was a teenager, which he knew were from God. So when these two men were put in the prison and had these dreams and Joseph interpreted them, his hopes soared. This was the way God would get him out of prison! God’s ways are different.
Disappointments can move us either to despair or to continue to trust God. Our chapter does not indicate what happened in Joseph’s heart as he waited in vain day after day. It just ends with the bleak words.
Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Genesis 40:23
Now notice the place in your Bible between that verse and the next. It’s a white space, a chapter break but that little break represents two years in Joseph’s life, two years in a prison, two years of his twenties, the prime of his life. That white space in your Bible represents the maturing of Joseph where he learned to deal with his disappointments and where he moved, not into despair, but into hope in God alone. I can say this because of the product we see coming out at the other end. We don’t see a cynical, angry man, but rather a godly, mature man who is able to handle the heavy responsibilities thrust upon him. Psalm 105:19 says of this time that “the word of the Lord tested him.” Those two silent years in the prison after his disappointment with the cupbearer were a time of learning to hope in God and Joseph processed his disappointment so that it didn’t lead to crippling despair, but rather to hope in God alone.
Hoping in God alone is the key to overcoming disappointment and despair. Disappointments strip us of hope in ourselves and others thereby leading us to the only thing left which is to hope in God. Joseph, by faith, clung to God, who did prove Himself faithful in His time. You ask, “How do you know Joseph hoped in God? How can you tell when your hope is in God?” My experience has been that sometimes, even when to the best of your knowledge your hope is in God, He will test you to prove it. There were three signs in Joseph’s life that demonstrated that he was hoping in God, signs which can help us to check ourselves.
Firstly, Joseph was sensitive to the needs of others. If we had been in Joseph’s situation, most of us would have been so consumed with self‑pity that we wouldn’t have given any thought to the needs of others. But Joseph was sensitive to the needs of these two prisoners. He had observed the dejection on their faces the morning after they had their dreams and he was concerned enough to ask them about it (40:6-7). If he had been self-absorbed, he would not have noticed.
You can also see Joseph’s consideration for others in his plea to the cupbearer (40:14-15). In defending his innocence, Joseph could have run down his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, and Potiphar for the way they had mistreated him but, Joseph tactfully says that he was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews and that he had done nothing to deserve being thrown into prison. He wasn’t having a pity party, blaming everybody else for his trials, even though in this case everybody else really was to blame.
Secondly, Joseph could have become a total cynic by this point in his life. When these men mentioned their dreams, he could have sneered, “Yeah, I used to believe in dreams. Look where it got me!” But instead he had a positive, cheerful attitude, saying, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please” (40:9).
Having an open attitude means that you focus on the things you can do in a situation, not on the things you cannot do. Joseph could have thought, “What’s the use of telling these two characters the meaning of their dreams? That won’t get me anyplace.” But instead, he focused on what he could do for them, and did it cheerfully. During this time in prison, as he did in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was building a reputation by the little things he did.
The cupbearer finally did tell Pharaoh of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and his integrity in telling it like it was, not only to him, but also to the baker as well. The jailer would also have vouched for Joseph’s personal character and cheerful spirit.
You can’t control many of the things that happen to you, but you can control your attitude in response to those things. If your hope is in God, you will have a positive, cheerful, attitude.
Thirdly, as soon as these men mention their dreams, Joseph responds, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” He wasn’t being arrogant, but as Donald Grey Barnhouse puts it, his reply was rather “the simplicity of a child who knows just where his father is and how to reach him”. Joseph walked so closely with God that he automatically mentioned His name when these men told him their problems, and he had such a trust in God that his answer assumed that God would reveal to him the meaning of the dreams.
If our hope is in God, He will be the first person we think of in a crisis, not the last. So often we try everything else and then finally say, “well, we’ve tried everything else now all we can do is pray.” Often you can do more after you pray, but you should never do more until you pray. Calling on the Lord ought to be the first thing that comes to mind when a problem comes up. God has an answer, I will ask Him.