At 17, Joseph had a dream. Being young and rather foolish, he made a point to share it with his brothers. Then he had another dream, with the same meaning as the first: that he, although nearly the youngest in his family, would rule over both brothers and parents. At 17, Joseph understood that dreams were from God, and spoke of future events. At 17, Joseph interpreted the dreams, looking for affirmation from his family. It backfired, and he was subsequently thrown in a ditch to die, then pulled out of the ditch and sold as a slave.
Joseph may have been foolish at 17, but he was smart and had an innate integrity to go along with his religious training. He earned the trust of his master and the responsibility of the household. He also garnered the unwanted attention of his master's wife, but when he rejected her advances, he found himself in prison. At this point he was 22-25 years old. He still worshiped and obeyed the God of his father, but somewhere in his psyche was some of the arrogance that made him hated by his brothers.
Joseph turned 28 in prison, having again earned favor by his work ethic and intelligence. And it is here that dreams again enter Joseph's life. This time the dreams weren't his, but the pattern of two dreams with similar meanings reasserted itself. This time the dreams were of fellow prisoners. Joseph told the men the dreams, this time giving God the credit for the interpretation, and then asking the one for whom the dream had a positive outcome for favor. Joseph had leaned in the 10 years of servitude that any gifts he had were from the Father, but he still hoped for some affirmation from men.
Fast forward two years. The hoped-for affirmation never came because the dreamer forgot about Joseph. Again, Joseph persevered in doing good, but still found himself neglected by God for some reason. He stayed faithful, in spite of how he must have felt on a regular basis, imprisoned unjustly and forgotten.
And then Pharaoh dreams. Like Joseph's, Pharaoh's two dreams were different, yet had the same message. No one in the kingdom could interpret the dreams until Joseph was remembered. Something happened to Joseph in prison those forgotten years. Instead of giving credit to God and then interpreting the dream and asking for favor, he simply told the king that God would give the answer. And Joseph relayed that answer with no expectation of affirmation, reward, or favor. He simply provided the interpretation.
At 30, Joseph understood something he could not have considered at 17: God, and God alone is the source of affirmation, favor, and reward. And God provided. Joseph was released from prison, given a title,a wife, and a mission. His own dreams were not yet fulfilled, but there is no indication that Joseph pursued them on his own. Instead, he did what he always did: his work with integrity and wholeheartedly. He put away the pain of his past and focused on the blessing of the present.
Not for another 7-10 years does Joseph see the fulfillment of his own dreams. His brothers, desperate for food, did indeed bow before him. But Joseph was a changed man. There was no arrogance left in him, only compassion.
From Joseph's first dream and his youthful arrogance to the fulfillment of that dream and his ultimate humility was at least 20 years. Twenty years of good work and loyalty to God. Twenty years of separation from his family and home. Twenty years of doing what was right and good without seeing the promise of God.
James wrote, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4) Joseph certainly faced more than his "fair share" of trials, and he endured the testing of his faith for more than TWENTY years. And at the end of those years he was not a bitter man, but rather one of compassion and integrity. His core values hadn't changed, but he matured into a man who trusted God even when circumstances looked impossible.
Westerners are quick to give up on God when circumstances get hard. We want to check off the lesson learned and move on to the reward. But God's will is not a matter of passing a test and earning a prize. God desires that we become more like Christ in all things. And He is patient. He will not allow us to settle for anything less than His best, no matter how long it takes.
For the entire story, read Genesis 37-45 http://www.biblegateway.com/