When we are young, it is tempting to get impatient with ourselves and our progress in life. Our dreams can feel distant, and the routine of life can make us feel like we are slowly hiking up a hill with no end in sight.
But, for most of us, there is usually a preparation period we go through – between when God gives us a dream, and when we see its fulfillment. One of my favorite stories in the Bible that illustrates this, is the story of Joseph.
“Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers.” – Genesis 37:2 (ESV)
At the age of seventeen, Joseph has two dreams: one of binding sheaves in a field, and the other about the sun, moon, and stars.
Joseph interprets these dreams as signs that one day he will be ruler over his brothers and household. Being the youngest of 10 brothers, this doesn’t go over too well with them (or their dad). Eventually, anger and jealousy overcome the brothers, and they sell Joseph to a band of traders from Gilead (modern day Jordan). Joseph will spend numerous years as a slave and a prisoner because of this.
13 years later, however, things drastically change for Joseph.
At the age of 30, Joseph becomes second in command over Egypt, The ‘CFO’ of Egypt, only behind Pharaoh in supremacy. Decision making and authority is given to him, just like his dreams foretold when he was 17 years old.
Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Genesis 41:46 (ESV)
After many years of struggle, tears, sweat & blood, preparation, and prayers, Joseph’s dreams come true.
The preparation period
It would have been easy for Joseph to write off His life and legacy during those thirteen years as a slave and prisoner, and just call it quits.
But those thirteen years were just preparation, and Joseph didn’t call it quits or lose his faith in God.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Joseph (Genesis 50:20 ESV)
I wonder what Joseph felt during those thirteen years of pain, struggle, imprisonment, abandonment, and false accusation. Did he feel like quitting? Did he want to throw in the towel and give up? Did he struggle to believe God was good and going to bring something positive from all his bad circumstance? It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. But, although Joseph’s preparation phase was hard, it prepared him for his future calling by growing his character, wisdom, and faith.
During our own preparation period in life, one of the biggest challenges we will face is to remain faithful to God and stay patient. We will be tempted to throw in the towel, give up, and pursue some other easier way of life that isn’t our true calling.
But it is essential that we stay disciplined, focused on and faithful to God, and that we continue to grow and become the person God designed us to be, so that we can walk in our calling.
At around age 17, my friend Dave felt a desire in his heart to start a church that would remove all barriers , so that people could easily come to know Jesus. However, this dream wouldn’t become a reality until Dave was in his 30s. So what did Dave’s preparation years look like?
Dave worked on staff as a youth pastor and associate pastor at different churches in Illinois and Washington. He got opportunities to lead, teach, and do a whole bunch of other stuff, all while the dream in his heart continued to stir and grow.
In August of 2008, while living in Washington, Dave’s brother Ricky was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. This was a turning point for Dave. He and a few friends decided to finally move from Washington to Kenosha, Wisconsin and start Great Lakes Church.
The church first met in homes (less than 20 people at the time), then moved to an elementary school (174 people showed up to the first ‘preview’ gathering at the school), before their first grand opening service at Tinseltown Movie Theater.
Now the church is growing and thriving. People are coming to know and follow Jesus Christ, getting baptized, growing in their faith and in relationships with each other, and serving the local community in powerful ways. There are two campuses with several services, and total attendance is 1,700+ and growing.
Looking back on the years as a youth pastor and associates pastor, Dave told me:
I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back on it those years were absolutely preparing me for now.”
Those years as a youth pastor and associate pastor prepared Dave to walk in his calling: to plant a church that removed all barriers, so that people could easily come to find and follow Jesus.
(You can read the full story here. Warning: It’s super inspiring, especially if
you have a desire to plant a church and pursue your dream.)
What has God placed in your heart to do?
Start a family? Open a childcare center in Guatemala? Become a travel photographer, capturing God’s beautiful creation around the globe and sharing it with the world? Mentor young men and foster kids in your neighborhood? _______________? (Fill in the blank with your answer.)
Excellent. Go through the process, prepare for the long-term, meet people & make friends, learn the skills you need to learn, and be ready for when the time comes to ‘launch’ into this dream.
What you’re doing now is preparing and equipping you for what you’re going to do then.
The ‘preparation period’ may be 13+ years, 3 years, 3 months, or some other time period.
My friend Jeff worked a day job for seven years before he was launched into his calling. In hindsight, he now sees how those seven years of preparaton were preparing him for what he does now:
For seven years, I worked a job at a nonprofit that in many ways felt like a distraction from my true calling. I wanted to be a writer but instead spent my days managing people.
I was learning new things like how to use social media and email marketing to tell compelling stories. And I learned how to work with people, motivating them to reach a common goal. I also had to manage a budget and learn how to look at a spreadsheet.
Now, as a full-time writer and business owner, not a day goes by that I don’t use a skill I learned during that seven-year apprenticeship. I wouldn’t have chosen this path, but I can see how everything I’ve done so far has prepared me for where I am today.
Now is preparing you for then
It can take long for a dream to be realized. Don’t let that discourage you. Whatever the dream is that the Lord has placed in your heart, remain patient. Persevere. Prepare. Pray, build your skills, and work diligently towards it, because one day you will see the dream’s fulfillment.
One day the vision in your heart will be a reality.
And now is preparing you for then.
Don’t worry about the time it will take to accomplish a goal – the time will pass anyways.” – Earl Nightingale