February 1, 2016 • Life for Leaders
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
As one who works in a center belonging to a theological seminary, I talk about God all the time, like in this devotion, for example. Talking about God is both welcome and, indeed, expected of me. Yet, it has not always been this way in my work life. I have been employed in secular contexts where mentioning God was uncommon. Plus, I have friends and colleagues who work in settings where speaking of God is not only unusual, but also unwelcome.
Joseph’s ability to speak of God in a simple, straightforward way, without becoming too preachy or pushy, is something that inspires us today.”
Whether and how we speak of God in such workplaces is not a puzzle to be solved in a single devotion, or even three devotions (which is the number I will devote to this subject this week). Yet, Scripture gives us guidance as we think through this issue. In particular, we have the example of Joseph before Pharaoh.
As you may remember, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, brought to Egypt against his will, and unjustly thrown in jail. While he was imprisoned, God enabled him to interpret a dream of Pharaoh’s head cupbearer. Two years later, when Pharaoh had a couple of disturbing dreams that none of his advisers could figure out, the cupbearer told the king about Joseph, who was promptly presented to Pharaoh. Pharaoh explained his situation and said he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams. Joseph answered: “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16).
The first thing that impresses me about Joseph’s mention of God is how simple and straightforward it is. He didn’t explain anything about the God he served. He didn’t go on about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He simply said, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” He did this in a way that seemed natural, honest, and modest. He said what he believed without undue elaboration or defensiveness.
I know Christians who believe it is never appropriate to mention God at work. They may have good reasons for this conviction. But the example of Joseph suggests another possibility. As Al Erisman writes in The Accidental Executive: Lessons on Business, Faith, and Calling from the Life of Joseph, “Some might want to keep God out of any conversation in the workplace, arguing for a strict separation of business and faith. But notice what Joseph did and did not do. He was not proselytizing, telling others that they too must believe in God. He simply identified his own position. Even this can be threatening, however, and needs to be done with care. We should acknowledge God in our work, but again we need to be careful in the way we do it.”
Of course Joseph’s context was different from that of the contemporary workplace in dozens of ways. In particular, he was not in a secular environment, but rather in one populated by various Egyptian gods. Some in ancient Egypt even believed that Pharaoh was divine (or possessed divine powers, at any rate). So, talk of gods (plural) would not be strange in the court of Pharaoh. Talk of a singular God would be unusual if not risky.
So, I am not saying that the example of Joseph is something you must slavishly imitate wherever you work. But I do believe Joseph’s ability to speak of God in a simple, straightforward way, without becoming too preachy or pushy, is something that might inspire us today, even those of us who work in secular workplaces.
I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What about Joseph’s answer to Pharaoh strikes you?
Do you find it natural to speak of God among people who don’t share your faith? Why or why not?
Can you imagine times in your work life when you might be able to speak of God in a way that is appropriate and respectful?
Gracious God, thank you for the simple boldness and clarity of Joseph. Thank you for his example of speaking of you in a work context where mentioning you was unusual if not unwelcome.
Help us, Lord, to be wise in the way we speak of you. May we be honest, clear, and straightforward. May we also be sensitive to those around us and faithful to what our work expects of us.
May all we do in our work today honor you. Amen.