Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

4 Joseph Serving in Prison

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Genesis 39:19-23

19 Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. 20 So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

Genesis 40:1-8

Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended their royal master. 2 Pharaoh became angry with these two officials, 3 and he put them in the prison where Joseph was, in the palace of the captain of the guard. 4 They remained in prison for quite some time, and the captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, who looked after them. 5 While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. 7 “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them. 8 And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.” “Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

God took Joseph on a special assignment to Egypt to serve others. When he arrived, he was dropped into the slave market, the favored son becoming a slave, thrown into a totally foreign culture. He was bought and made the servant of Potiphar yet Joseph rose to prominence from a lowly slave to manager of the man’s whole estate, because God was with him and Joseph served God. Potiphar’s wife laid eyes on Joseph and tried to seduce him. Over and over she spoke to him, and every single time, Joseph responded from rock-solid faithfulness. Without blinking, he declared that he would stay faithful to her husband and his God. His integrity never budged and He passed another character test. His character went through the fire and was displayed, not destroyed. God was building Joseph’s character, and with the building came testing. Joseph lost his cloak but kept his character only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. We don’t know precisely how long he was there but between the time Joseph arrived in Egypt at about 17, and the time he gets out of the prison was about 13 years. He was 30 before he came into Pharaoh’s court, with the character and maturity God’s task required, that’s a lot of schooling. When it comes to a work career we are ok with 4 years or more of higher education, so why is it that when it comes to working in God’s kingdom we want instant access with little to no difficult training. As Joseph goes through this training time he waits, contemplating what he believed to be God’s future and God’s desire for his life. God had revealed to him His plan for Joseph’s life in a dream, now God was training Joseph for that dream using the reality of serving.

God is as interested in what He wants to do in us, as he is about what He is going to do through us. The question that accompanies these periods of inward training is: “How will I respond?” Will He grow me through this, or will I look for an alternate route? Am I ok with God’s schooling?

Joseph could have responded in any of the following three that are common human responses to God’s training school.

  • Get Angry and bitter, when you read about Potiphar and his sleazy wife it makes you angry! How dare she? How dare Potiphar? Joseph is a good man, he‘s proved it. A man on whom God’s hand rested and because God was with him, Potiphar and his estate were blessed! Joseph never stole, he did nothing but good to and for Potiphar, and Potiphar did not for a moment even question his wife’s accusations. He simply took her word and threw this good man into prison. There’s no justice there, humanly those seem like justifiable reasons to get bitter and angry. It might have made Joseph feel good in that moment but what if we had met Joseph 70 years later and found a bitter old man. Understandable because of abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false accusations, and now rewarded with prison for being faithful. He could have easily been eaten up by his own anger and bitterness, but he wasn’t, because there is not room in a servant’s heart for anger and bitterness.
  • Manipulate the situation. God is with him in jail and because he’s faithful, he has a lot of responsibility even in prison. He could have used this situation to start talking to people about Potiphar and his wife, get your story out. But Joseph was waiting on God, he didn’t need to manipulate the situation. When we’re consigned to waiting, our human response is often to do something we think might affect the situation, look for another job, change our spouse, move. Joseph faithfully waited, sure he got busy, he wasn’t paralyzed, but instead of being busy trying to change his situation he was busy serving, trying to change other people’s situation. He didn’t leave his character behind at Potiphar’s house, he’s still a faithful servant and manager. He uses God’s waiting time to do what he knows is the right thing to do, serve.
  • Forsake God and the earlier dreams. It’s interesting to see how different people respond very differently to waiting on God and painful situations. The person who trusts God sees this as a growth time, because they have a deep confidence in God and what He’s doing.

People who don’t trust God view these times as simply an attack or a threat to their safety and security. Their response is to turn inward, to come up with their own resources, to trust in themselves. The result of a pattern of not trusting God is simply to turn your back on Him. Joseph could have walked away, he could have said I’ve had enough.  If he’d told his story to fellow prisoners, most of them would have said, “you need to get yourself a new god!”

He did very little wrong to get sold into slavery. He did nothing but good toward Potiphar and he lands here! Our human emotions and equations respond like this: “Wait a minute!! I’ve been a good boy, God should treat me fairly. If we are honest we love the “fairness doctrine” and we apply it often to God. Some preachers and teachers will even tell you “you do what’s right and God will automatically reward you”.  My God, the God of the Bible is not fair, He is good. If He were fair, there’s not a person on earth who’d have a hope of anything except an eternity of suffering outside of God’s Pure and Holy Presence. Thank God He’s not fair! But He is good and He wants to build goodness into us. Good character rarely grows in an atmosphere of privilege and prestige, it primarily develops in the dark rooms of difficulty and serving while we wait. So what did Joseph do?

  • Joseph trusted God’s character

Just like during the time in Potiphar’s house, and now in prison, the Lord was with Joseph and showed His faithful love to him. So what did Joseph do in response to God‘s good character? He responded with faithfulness. He’s not sitting in the corner pouting and whining, he doesn’t disengage, he’s doing good, just like he did as a slave. The warden had no more worries because Joseph took care of everything, almost identical to the words we read about Potiphar. We see a faithful performance of what was assigned him, more trust and more responsibility. Joseph responded by serving others, when Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker offend Pharaoh they land in the same prison Joseph is being held in. Verse 4 says, he took care of them, and they were in confinement for some time. He served them waited on and attended to them, he met the needs of fellow prisoners. Later, after their dreams, they’ve got sad depressed looks, and he notices because he is involved in their lives and he is paying attention. He makes it a point to ask them in verse 7, why are your faces so sad today. We need to grasp this Joseph isn’t consumed with himself asking “why me!?” He enters into it engaged with His God, he senses God’s presence and he responds accordingly. When you learn to trust in God’s character, yours will grow as well. Where are you at, are you serving, if not why? Joseph had, humanly, the perfect excuse to not serve, yet he didn’t take it. Whatever your reason for not serving, you just need to remember it’s not a reason it’s an excuse!

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