How God can surprise us when we are obedient even in the most trying of circumstanceswhat to do when God says one thing and your heart says another.
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Let God Surprise YouTrust God with Your Dreams
By Heather Whitestone McCallum
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSurprised by Big Dreams
The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, is one of my favorite Bible stories. Like me, Joseph was a dreamer. While some of his dreams of his future role came as memorable messages as he slept, my dreams of becoming a famous ballerina sprang from my heart's desires. Before I take you to Joseph's world in ancient Canaan and Egypt, I'd like to give you a glimpse of mine as a child and teenager full of big dreams.
It is difficult to remember much about my early years, but I do remember dreaming of being a ballerina. Because I was profoundly deaf, I spent much of my childhood in speech therapy, which I quickly learned to dread. Speech therapy was hard work, even for a five year old.
The summer before I entered kindergarten, God gave my mother the idea of enrolling me in a dance class. She had noticed that I enjoyed music in my listening therapy classes, so she thought that music might help me better understand the pitch and tone that are a part of natural speech.
Trouble was, not many dance classes were eager to accept a profoundly deaf student. Mother called two dance studios before she found one that would accept me. Patti Richards, a teacher at the Dothan School of Dance, was willing to take a chance, and I fell in love with her immediately. While ballet is a lot of hard work, I took to it like a duck to water. It was sheer fun, and soon I was twirling my way around our house. Even at that young age, I dreamed of dancing for God.
I didn't yet understand what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ, but I knew God made the world and I could sense his love for me. And somehow I felt that nothing could please him more than seeing me exercise the gift he had given me-a love for dance.
Becoming a ballerina was my dream, and as I grew older I became determined not to let anybody take it away. Young life is like a blank page, full of opportunity, but too many children listen to naysayers and do not have confidence in their own aspirations. When children are told they can't do something, they often stop trying. But we all have a right to dream-and to follow those dreams.
As I grew older, however, I began to realize that dreams have to exist alongside reality. I wanted to dance, but I needed an education. After graduating from high school, I would have given anything to forget about college and join a ballet company, but I knew my education was important. My parents kept pushing me toward college, but truly great ballerinas enter a ballet company in their mid-teens. I was told dancing could wait, but it couldn't, not really. A dancer's prime is a fleeting thing, and young dancers must begin early and train hard. How could I do both?
Even though I couldn't see how I could possibly complete my education and achieve my dream, I clung even more tightly to my vision of dancing before millions. And since God had given me the dream of dancing, I believed he would make a way for it to come true.
The Bible tells us about another young dreamer, Joseph. His dream must have seemed impossible when God first sent it to him, but our God delights in doing the impossible.
The book of Genesis goes into great detail telling Joseph's long story, from his nomadic childhood to his prominent post as Pharaoh's main man. As a boy he had a sense of God's great plans for him, revealed in dreams. He related these dreams to his brothers, who were already a bit envious of him because he was their father's favorite:
"Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it."
His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said (Gen. 37:6-8).
That was the first dream. Then there was a second:
"Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."
When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" (Gen. 37:9-10)
Poor Joseph! His envious brothers didn't respond well to his tales. I believe Joseph knew his vision had originated with the Spirit of God, but it's obvious his brothers didn't think so! Neither did Jacob, his father.
Still, Joseph carried his dream within him, like a seed, and waited to see how it would grow. I'm sure the memory of this dream gave Joseph courage and comfort during his dark days of testing and trial.
You may remember that Joseph's journey to greatness was long and arduous. His envious brothers sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt. Far from home, he must have been tempted to forget his father's God and everything he had ever learned about holiness. It would have been easy for him to become angry and blame God for the desperate straits he was in. He could have mentally divorced himself from his people, his past, and his purpose in life.
But Joseph did not give into those temptations. Observing his integrity and talents, and sensing that "the Lord was with [him]" (Gen. 39:2), his master, Potiphar, placed Joseph in charge of his household. But that was not the end of the story. That chapter ends with Joseph being sent to prison, falsely accused of attempted rape when he refused to sleep with Potiphar's wife. But even there, Joseph did not lose sight of his dream of leadership. The prison warden, seeing his potential and his heart for God, placed him in charge of other inmates. "The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did" (Gen. 39:23).
In that dark prison, God was working on his biggest surprise yet, connecting Joseph to a man who would eventually introduce him to Pharaoh. One thing led to another and in time God elevated Joseph to the second-highest position in Egypt. Through Joseph, God revealed that the current national prosperity would be followed by a great famine. Joseph presented a plan to stockpile grain that fed the Egyptians and most of the Middle East for seven years.
But even after being promoted to this prominent position, Joseph did not forget the God who had brought him to this place. Neither did he forget to do right.
One day Joseph's brothers arrived at the palace, asking Joseph for food. He not only fed them, but he also invited them all to Egypt to live. Years later, when their father died, they worried that he would strike out at them for the terrible things they had done to him. The brothers sent a message to Joseph that contained a request from their father: "I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly" (Gen. 50:17).
When the brothers came directly to Joseph, they couldn't imagine that he would show them mercy. Reminiscent of Joseph's childhood dreams, the brothers bowed down before him and offered themselves to his service:
"We are your slaves," they said.
But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Gen. 50:18-21). In Joseph's story I see a godly pattern for life. He had integrity, being honest in his business practices and resisting sexual temptation, and he did not repay evil for evil. Most important, he honored God above the praise of men. This is so clear in the great line "Am I in the place of God?" He never knew how God's plan for him would be fulfilled, but he could see that God could use any obstacle to further God's good plan-for Joseph himself and for the wider community.
Trust, Acknowledge, and Obey
Joseph did not have the written Scriptures at hand. But if he had, he was the kind of person who would have memorized Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
I have learned not to rely on my understanding alone. That's not to say I don't use my understanding, I just don't rely on it.
In high school, I encountered another bump in the road-my parents divorced. The house became very quiet when Dad moved out, and during those hours I began to want to know more about God. The more I learned about Jesus, the more I wanted to learn about him. So I began to study his word. I thought I could please God by being a good girl and doing good things. I thought if I was good enough, God would accept me. I tried to follow his commandments-and found that task a lot harder than I expected.
I remember praying a lot about my parents' break up. I actually went as far as to tell my mother that God doesn't like divorce, and she turned away, not pleased with the idea of her daughter preaching to her. That's when I realized that my dream of a reconciliation between my parents would not come true. But though I ached inside, God spoke to my heart and comforted me just like he comforts everyone who turns to him when a cherished dream vanishes like breath upon a mirror.
Yet God loves to bring good out of tragedy. Because my heart was hurting, I spent hours in God's Word, searching for wisdom in the Scripture. I read that God wants children to obey their parents-whether they're together or not. As I prepared for college, it was clear that my parents wanted me to go to Jacksonville State University-a school without a ballet class. Their decision left me feeling confused. How could I fulfill my God-given dream if I couldn't study dance or audition for a ballet company?
I spent a long time praying about my decision, and I knew I had to obey God's Word. So I chose to listen to my parents and see how God would work to fulfill the dream he had planted in my heart. I trusted him with my future. I trusted that he, like a good gardener, would take care of his flowers-in this case, me and the dream he had planted in my heart.
Jacksonville State University provided the help I needed for college, but my journey to Atlantic City really began the year before I arrived at JSU. While still a senior in high school, I visited the college and went to the recruiting office to meet someone who would show me around the campus. When I stepped into the office, I was struck by the pictures of four pretty young women on the walls. The receptionist saw my glance and told me that the women were JSU students who had gone on to win Miss Alabama. "That one," she said, pointing to a beautiful woman's portrait, "is Teresa Strickland, who you're waiting to meet. She not only won Miss Alabama, but went on to become first runner-up in the 1979 Miss America pageant."
Wow, she's so beautiful! I thought. This woman is really something. Teresa Cheatham Strickland looked like a model when she stepped out to meet me, and I couldn't believe she was willing to introduce me to JSU. I was immediately impressed by her humble attitude. Though beautiful and charming, she seemed so peaceful and kind.
As I look back on it, enrolling at Jacksonville was a little like Joseph going to Egypt, where he made connections God would later use for his purposes. Teresa Strickland's example and faith in God guided me as I participated in pageants. A few years later I found myself dancing as Miss Alabama on a national television show watched by more than forty million people.
My dream had come true-in a way I never would have predicted.
One of my favorite scriptural promises appears in Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
This reminds me that God has a wonderful and unique plan for each person on earth. Our plans become clear as we seek God, who implants dreams and then reveals his plans as we trust him with one step at a time.
God, Please Show Me ...
The life story of George Washington Carver inspires me to continue to trust God and acknowledge his role in my dreams-come-true. This African American man, born of slave parents in Missouri, became a confidant and advisor to leaders and scientists around the world: Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt. Like Joseph, he rose from obscurity to a position of tremendous influence. Who was Carver, and why did so many important men seek his advice?
As a boy Carver took a great interest in nature-plants and rocks. He learned their names, studied their characteristics, and earned a reputation for being a "plant doctor." After working his way through college, he used his knowledge and his concern for the southern states to revitalize its agricultural economy.
As an agricultural chemist, he found three hundred uses for the peanut, more than a hundred uses for sweet potatoes, and seventy-five for pecans. He discovered new ways to make face powder, lotion, shaving cream, vinegar, cold cream, printer's ink, salad oil, rubbing oil, instant coffee, leather stains, synthetic tapioca and egg yolk, flour, paints, and non-toxic colors. He developed a new type of cotton, known as Carver's hybrid.
The big surprise in Carver's story is that he never carried science textbooks or publications into his laboratory, only the Bible. He once told a church group,
God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.... Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets.
In the summer of 1920 Carver spoke at a meeting of the Young Men's Christian Association of Blue Ridge, North Carolina. His approach to science surprised many in his audience. He said,
Years ago I went into my laboratory and said, "Dear Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?"
The Great Creator answered, "You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size, little man."
Then I asked, "Please, Mr. Creator, tell me what man was made for?"
Again the Great Creator replied, "You are still thinking too much. Cut down on the extent and improve the intent."
So then I asked, "Please, Mr.
Excerpted from Let God Surprise You by Heather Whitestone McCallum Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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