Downwardly Mobile


As we Canadians might say, “Success, eh?” From favoured son, blessed with all the wealth and privileges of a nomadic prince, Joseph is now head slave in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the king’s guard. The Scripture says: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered…the Lord gave him success in everything he did…” (Genesis 39:2, 3, NIV).  Somehow that doesn’t seem all that significant in terms of success to us. In addition, the position of head slave didn’t last all that long. Thanks to the evil intent of Potiphar’s wife, Joseph ends up being thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The Scriptures tell us: “…while Joseph was there is prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:20, 21, NIV). So now he has gone from head slave to head prisoner. Is that a lateral move in the corporate ladder of success or would Joseph be considered to be “upwardly mobile” at this point?
For most of the world, the answer would be “neither.” Most people would hardly call this “success.” Scoffers would say that if this was a sign of God’s favour, then they’d much rather God not mettle in their affairs.
The truth is very few people see suffering, or economic reverses, or disappointment, as essential parts of the divine plan. We measure success or “favour” from God in astonishingly human terms.
We never hear of Joseph complaining about his lot in life. Even Job defended his right to challenge God’s actions in his life. Joseph, on the other hand, seems remarkably passive about everything that happened to him.
There are several basic truths in this story, but perhaps the principle one is wrapped up in this verse: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you” (Psalm 84:11, 12, NIV). Long before these words were written, Joseph believed them. These words are easy to believe for us when, like Joseph, our lives resemble that of a pampered nomadic prince. Real faith is what we believe when shut up in the dark, damp, and despairing solitude of whatever Joseph’s prison cell might look like in our lives.
Success is what we do with those prison experiences.

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