Wait Upon the Lord
Back in 1968, the Doner Ad Agency was approached by the Tootsie Roll Company to produce a commercial for their newest product. This product was unlike anything the Tootsie Roll Company had produced before…so they needed a commercial unlike anything the world had seen before. So the Doner Ad Agency got to work and they created a commercial that is still airing over fifty years later.
Now, when the Doner Ad Agency originally created this ad, it was 60 seconds long. And it began with a boy walking up to a cow and asking the cow, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” But the cow admits that he doesn’t know because he always ends up biting it. So the cow sends the boy off to see Mr. Fox, an animal that is far more clever than a cow.
So the boy goes and asks Mr. Fox the same question. But Mr. Fox admits that he doesn’t know because he always ends up biting into his Tootsie Pops. So Mr. Fox sends the boy off to see Mr. Turtle, an animal that has been around a lot longer than him. So the boy asks Mr. Turtle, but Mr. Turtle tells him that you’d never make it without biting. So he sends the boy off to see Mr. Owl, the wisest animal of them all. So the boy goes to Mr. Owl and we all know what happens next.
Mr. Owl decides to conduct his own experiment and begins licking the Tootsie Pop but after three licks he does what all the other animals do. He bites into it. And then the commercial ends with the announcer asking the same question the boy did throughout the commercial and admitting that the world may never know.
And why is it possible that the world may never know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, that’s not a question that you need to ask a cow, a fox, a turtle, or an owl because it’s really easy to answer. We may never know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop because we don’t like waiting.
We don’t like waiting.
We don’t like waiting in a waiting room before we can see our doctor or dentist. We don’t like waiting in a drive-thru line to get our lunch. We don’t like waiting to check out at Target or Kroger. We don’t like waiting for the light to turn at a busy intersection. We don’t like waiting for our Amazon order to arrive at our front door. So we’re definitely not going to wait long enough to lick our way to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.
But what does all of this talk about Tootsie Pops have to do with us? Right now, at Melbourne Heights, we’re working our way through a series of sermons called “Before You Give Up.” And throughout this series, we’re talking about how you can keep going when you’re ready to quit.
And one reason why we reach the point where we’re ready to quit is that we get tired of waiting. We give up on the drive-thru line at McDonald’s when it hasn’t moved in a couple of minutes and we head off to find another place to eat. We look down in our shopping cart when we’re standing in line at Target and try to figure out if it’s worth waiting in line just to buy a pack of socks and a bottle of shampoo. We quit our diet when we get tired of waiting to see the scale move.
And we do the same thing with things that matter way more than where we’re going to eat lunch. We put in our two-week notice at work when we’re tired of waiting for a promotion that never seems to come. We stop putting money away in our retirement accounts because we’re tired of waiting for the stock market to turn around. We give up on doing the physical therapy our doctor has prescribed because we’re tired of waiting for the hard work to pay off.
If you want to be able to keep going when you’re ready to quit, you have to learn how to wait.
So If you want to be able to keep going when you’re ready to quit, you have to learn how to wait. And this is something that I’ve had to learn firsthand. Over the last few weeks, I’ve told you that back in 2006, I was ready to give up on ever becoming a minister. And I felt that way even though I knew that God was calling me into ministry since I was a teenager. But I reach a point after I graduated college – with a B.A. in Religion – where I was tired of waiting for a church to call me to become their pastor.
I graduated college in May of 2004, but I wasn’t called to pastor my first church until June of 2007. Now, it took me less than ten seconds to tell you how long I waited to become a pastor after I graduated college. So it can sound like it wasn’t that bad. But what it took me ten seconds to tell you took me three years to live out.
I spent three years of my life waiting for a church to call me to become their pastor. And those three years were anything but easy. I spent those three years wondering if I misunderstood what God was calling me to do with my life. I spent three years being rejected by one church after another as I applied for different ministry positions. I spent three years of my life working in a job I hated while trying to hold on to my dream of becoming a pastor.
And about two and a half years in, I was tired of waiting. So by the fall of 2006, I had stopped sending out resumes and even looking to see which churches were hiring. I was slogging through a semester at seminary where I had quit caring and quit trying, and I was ready to quit seminary altogether before the next semester began.
And because I came within a couple of weeks of quitting ministry altogether after I had been waiting for three years to catch a break, it makes the story I want us to take a closer look at today all the more amazing. Now, throughout this series, we’ve been exploring the story of Joseph – which we find in the book of Genesis. And we’ve been exploring Joseph’s story because he has every reason to quit…but he never does.
Somehow Joseph continues to keep going, even though Joseph spends most of his life waiting. Let’s dig a little deeper into Joseph’s story and I’ll show you what I mean. Now, Joseph’s story plays out over 13 chapters in the book of Genesis. And that means that you can read Joseph’s entire story in less than an hour. So that can give us the impression that Joseph was able to overcome all of his challenges in less time than it takes for someone to get voted off Survivor. But the reality is that even though Joseph’s story only takes up a couple of chapters in the book of Genesis, it actually played out over a couple of decades.
So when we read passages from Joseph’s story like this one in Genesis 37, where we’re told:
23 When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s long robe, 24 took him, and threw him into the cistern, an empty cistern with no water in it. 25 When they sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead…
It feels like it plays out in an instant. But Joseph sat down in the bottom of that cistern for hours wondering if his brothers would leave him there to die. Or, a few verses later, when we’re told:
28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
It feels like Joseph is immediately transported from Dothan to Egypt. But what we don’t realize is that Dothan was about 750 miles from Egypt. And that means that Joseph would’ve been stuck with the slave traders that bought him for at least a month.
When Joseph finally made it to Egypt, it may have taken weeks before he was put up on the auction block. And after Potiphar bought him, Joseph probably spent a decade working his way up from being the lowest slave on the ladder to becoming the supervisor of Potiphar’s entire household. And when Joseph was thrown into prison, it would’ve taken him years to earn the warden’s trust and be put in charge of the entire prison.
So Joseph has been waiting for years to catch a break. He’s been waiting for years to be freed from slavery and released from prison. He’s been waiting for years for God to do something in his life. And after spending years in prison it looks like all of his waiting is over.
So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Genesis 40, and I’ll show you what happened. And, as you’re finding Genesis 40, I just want to point out that the passage we’re going to be reading today takes place after Joseph spent hours in the cistern, months traveling to Egypt, decades as a slave in Potiphar’s house, and years after he was thrown into prison.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at Genesis 40 together. We’ll start reading in verse 1, which says:
1 Some time later, both the wine steward and the baker for Egypt’s king offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief wine steward and the chief baker, 3 and he put them under arrest with the commander of the royal guard in the same jail where Joseph was imprisoned. 4 The commander of the royal guard assigned Joseph to assist them. After they had been under arrest for some time, 5 both of them—the wine steward and the baker for Egypt’s king who were imprisoned in the jail—had dreams one night, and each man’s dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph met them in the morning, he saw that they were upset. 7 He asked the officers of Pharaoh who were under arrest with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so distressed today?”
8 They answered, “We’ve both had dreams, but there’s no one to interpret them.”
Joseph said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Describe your dreams to me.”
9 The chief wine steward described his dream to Joseph: “In my dream there was a vine right in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. When it budded, its blossoms appeared, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, so I took the grapes, crushed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and put the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
12 Joseph said to him, “This is the dream’s interpretation: The three branches are three days. 13 After three days, Pharaoh will give you an audience and return you to your position. You will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just the way things were before when you were his wine steward. 14 But please, remember me when you are doing well and be loyal to me. Put in a good word for me to Pharaoh, so he sets me free from this prison. 15 I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews, and here too I’ve done nothing to be thrown into this dungeon.”
Genesis 40:1-15 (Common English Bible)
So, in these verses, Joseph tells the king’s wine steward that he will be restored to his previous position in three days. And the only thing Joseph asks this man to do is to put in a good word with the Pharaoh when he’s released from jail.
And, lo and behold, three days later everything that Joseph said would happen happened. In Genesis 40:20, we’re told:
20 The third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a party for all of his servants. Before all of his servants, he gave an audience to the chief wine steward and the chief baker. 21 He returned the chief wine steward to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.
Genesis 40:20-21 (Common English Bible)
Now, when the king’s wine steward was released from prison, you have to believe that Joseph went right to his cell to start packing up all his things. I mean, he had spent years in prison already, so he wouldn’t have wanted to spend one extra second there once the king called for him. But as we keep reading in Genesis 40, we find out that Joseph’s wait wasn’t over. In Genesis 40:23, we’re told:
23 But the chief wine steward didn’t remember Joseph; he forgot all about him.
Genesis 40:22 (Common English Bible)
So just when Joseph finally has some hope that his nightmare was over, he ends up having to wait even longer. In Genesis 41, we find out that it took the king’s cupbearer two years to remember the promise he made Joseph. Two years! That’s twenty-four extra months Joseph had to spend in prison. That’s 140 weeks of waiting for the cupbearer to keep his promise. That’s 730 days of wondering if he would ever get out of prison. That’s 17,520 hours of waiting for God to do something – anything – to help Joseph out.
And if we don’t even have enough patience to lick our way to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, if we ever found ourselves in Joseph’s shoes, we would’ve quit. We would’ve lost hope that we would ever make it through. We would’ve thrown our hands up and given up, resigning ourselves to the situation we were stuck in.
But not Joseph. In spite of all of his waiting, Joseph never gave up. And, Joseph continued to believe that God would help him make it through. I mean, just think about the passage we just read. When two of the king’s servants were struggling to understand their dreams, what did Joseph tell them? He said, “Don’t interpretations belong to God?”
So even after being enslaved for at least a decade, after being in prison for years, Joseph continues to believe that God is at work. And that’s something that we need to remember if we want to be able to keep going when we’re ready to quit. So, before you give up, remember that while you’re waiting God is still working.
Before you give up, remember that while you’re waiting God is still working.
As I look back on the three years that I waited to begin serving as a minister, it’s not hard to see how God was working in my life. God was using my seminary professors and courses to teach me things I needed to know to become a better minister. God was opening up doors that let me preach all over the state to become more confident once I was called to pastor a church.
But my favorite example of how God was working while I was waiting involves my wife. While I was waiting to become a pastor, the pastor in the church I grew up in asked me to come fill the pulpit for him one Sunday while he was on vacation. Now, if I was already a pastor at that point, I never would’ve been able to do that. But since I wasn’t, I was available to fill in.
And who was sitting in the congregation that morning? My future wife. Now, it would take a couple more months, and some meddling from both of our mothers before Ashley and I actually met. But if I was called to become a pastor right after I graduated college, I never would’ve met my wife.
And no matter what situation you find yourself in right now, God is working in your life too. You may not be able to see it now, but someday you will. And although that may not make what you’re going through right now any easier, a time will come when you can say that it was worth the wait for God to do what God has done for you.