If you’ve ever read the story of Joseph, found in Genesis 37 and 39-45, you know how wonderful it is — almost like a fairytale dream come true. An innocent young man is betrayed by his evil brothers, who sell him into slavery. He eventually ends up about as low as he could go, in a dungeon. And then, overnight, he is catapulted to be prime minister of a world super-power nation.
We so love those rags-to-riches stories, don’t we? How many preachers and teachers have expounded on Joseph’s happy ending, telling us all, “Hang on! Your destiny appointment is on the horizon. You are coming out of that prison, just like Joseph!” I’ve written a few devotionals on that theme myself. We need Joseph’s story to give us hope, to inspire us to press on.
But here’s what we don’t often talk about: how you live in the prison has a lot to do with whether you ever get out. If we don’t tell the whole story, we are not really helping each other.
In Luke 16:10, 12, Jesus commented, “He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. … If you have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Jesus was talking about money, but it’s an across-the-board principle: be faithful in the little things, because if you are not, God and man will see no point in entrusting you with bigger things. We learn to handle much responsibility by practicing with the little stuff.
This is where it is entirely possible to miss out on the promises God has given us. There are a whole lot of people who never come into what they were born for — not because God wasn’t faithful, but because they weren’t. So many people with big dreams (which were genuinely implanted in them by God) are looking for the “someday” when, overnight, they will be shot from God’s cannon into a magnificent destiny. They’ve even had those dreams confirmed multiple times through prophetic words from other people.
But they are forgetting a key point in the story: Joseph served with excellence in the middle of his prison. Yes, Genesis 39:21-23 tells us that God was with Joseph and gave him favor there, but if Joseph hadn’t used that favor to do his job well, how long do you think the keeper of the prison would have left him in charge?
There are people who have huge destiny promises from God, but they can’t be counted on for the simplest things, like being on time — or showing up at all, for that matter. You can’t depend on them to unlock the church door if the regular opener is out of town! For those with basic faithfulness issues, the happy, getting-out-of-prison ending to the tale may never come. Or if it does, those who gave them the promotion may sincerely regret the decision.
So, what did Joseph do, while he was in prison? First of all, he followed directions. That’s a good starting place. But I think he probably went beyond that. He no doubt kept his eyes open for what needed to happen so things could run smoothly. He served the prison keeper with excellence. It was the same thing he had done previously as Potiphar’s servant. Both Potiphar and the chief jailer came to the place where they knew Joseph wouldn’t drop the ball. He could be counted on. He had their best interests in mind.
Why? I don’t believe personal ambition was the whole story. Joseph was a God-pleaser more than a man-pleaser. That thread runs throughout his biography. And if we want to excel so that we can come out of our prison into our destiny, caring about what God wants more than what we want is a necessary component for our future success. Cherishing God’s heart first and foremost takes us a long way toward walking out the day-to-day faithfulness which is required in order to move onward in His plans for us.
Serving the keeper of the prison with excellence wasn’t all that Joseph did while in that place. I’ve got a few more ideas to share with you next time, which I hope will excite you as much as they did me.