We’ve all been stuck in bad situations, yet some survive and thrive while others sink deeper into the dark. Joseph’s journey into slavery can teach us a few things about surviving hard times and coming out stronger.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor… Genesis 39:20-21
Look at the difficulty of Joseph’s situation. He didn’t deserve to be a slave, or later to be in prison. He had done nothing wrong except get on the bad side of his brothers. He was falsely imprisoned. He was a victim of human trafficking. He was oppressed. He was a stranger in a strange land. He could have given up and despaired. In fact, there probably were days when he felt like giving up and giving in to depression. But Joseph overcame his dark days and prospered. How?
The Bible says that the Lord was with him. Don’t brush this off as a spiritual platitude. It was the foundational truth of Joseph’s life, and it’s your truth as well if you have submitted to God as the Lord of your life. Knowing then, that God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)? It’s not that you won’t encounter hard times, but that God will empower you in the midst of your difficulties. This foundational faith in God’s care motivated Joseph to live well in whatever prison he found himself.
But Joseph didn’t just believe in God’s care, he behaved faithfully. He worked hard for his slave master, and like his father before him Joseph’s hard work made his boss successful and made the boss take notice. Joseph kept getting promoted because of his excellent performance. He may have started with nothing, but before the story ends he will end up with nearly the whole kingdom. It reminds me of Psalm 84 where those on pilgrimage to the temple, though walking through difficult terrain, turn it into a beautiful garden:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7
Joseph went from strength to strength. In other words, he built upon his successes. Even when he suffered setbacks he kept building, though sometimes it meant starting over.
Joseph realized under whose authority he lived. Ultimately, he served God. He could serve Potiphar because he accepted that for this time God had put him under Potiphar’s authority. When it came to the question of whether or not he would sleep with Potiphar’s wife, he did not frame it as a sin against Potiphar (which would have been a much weaker argument) but as a sin against God who held his eternal destiny in hand.
Struggles reveal our character as squeezing a sponge reveals what’s in the sponge. In the press of life, Joseph’s character remained strong, his faith grew, and he prospered in a prison.