The prosperity of Joseph began even as a slave boy. Genesis 39v2. In verse 23 of that same chapter the Bible describes Joseph as a successful man. That was when he was in prison. Does this make sense to you? A man was put in prison to rot away, yet the Bible describes him as successful.
But the prison by our calculation is a place of doom. It is a place of depression. It is the end of the road for some. Yet, the Bible says, Joseph was a successful man inside the prison. That is the verdict of God. We will come to that later.
Of a truth, nobody wants to have the prison experience. We want to have a smooth sail from cradle to grave. Pain is an anathema and meant for sons of perdition. The children of God are designed to go through bliss and enjoy all the good things of life. But that is not the reality. From stories in the Bible, from lives of saints in the past and from our daily experiences we know that the ways of God are not our ways.
He would rather have a Sarah go childlessness for years so she could give birth to Isaac. He would rather make the children of Israel go through the wilderness to get to Canaan. He would rather have his only begotten son go through the cross to save the entire human race. He would have Daniel and his friends live in Babylon to demonstrate His glory. He would have a Joseph experience prison to save a whole generation from famine. He would allow a Paul jailed to save the prison guards. We can go on and on.
The point is, there is value in hard places. There are valuable lessons to learn from difficult situations and circumstances. God allows certain circumstances in our lives so we can have better understanding of the kind of solution he wants us to provide for humanity. No pain no gain they say.
Unfortunately, many waste their pain and never get to learn useful lessons while going through pain. Immediately they are out of the pain they forget where they were coming from. That is the reason the nation is in a mess today. Many of our leaders have one time or the other had their share of pain. And it would have been wonderful if they brought the lessons they learnt during those trying times to bear on governance.
But that is not the case. What we have is that they soon forget where they were coming from. It is even more worrisome when believers can’t connect with their past for the benefit of the present and the future. If as a child of God you have gone through one form of pain or the other, or you are presently going through pain it is important you realise that there is something in the pain that you need to pick that would be useful when that pain is over.
In most cases God wants us to look back not in the sense of going back but with the purpose of reflection and keeping ourselves in check. It is not for nothing that Jesus had to come down, left his glory in heaven and mingled with humanity. He felt the pain we feel. He wept. He got tired. He was hungry. He trekked the streets of Jerusalem. He did not go through all that for fun. He did, so he could really appreciate the human condition. And that is why the Bible says we do not have a high priest who could not be touched with the feeling of our infirmity. He went through all the tragic circumstances for a purpose.
Joseph in the Bible provides a classic example of somebody who made good use of his pain. Imbued with a dream from heaven, Joseph did not stop sharing his dream until the dream put him into trouble. Yet, in that state he maintained an equanimity that was befuddling. He did not transfer anger unduly, neither did he wallow in self-pity. Rather, he moved on with some unparalleled confidence and faith that all will be well.
As a young man, he did not despair and at the same time was not carried away in the midst of the challenges. When the wife of his boss was to take advantage of him, he did not give in. He was falsely accused. And that landed him in jail.
The beauty about Joseph was that he maintained a countenance that is amazing. By the time God showed up on his behalf, he was rewarded with the palace.
But before the palace experience God had consistently described Joseph as a prosperous man. He was prosperous not because he had material things in his possession. He was prosperous because he had a good heart. He had a heart that cares. See Joseph in the prison, always wanting to solve a challenge. He went to his colleague that was sad and asked why is thy countenance sad?
What? Somebody in prison asking another prisoner why his countenance was sad? That is the kind of spirit that Joseph had. A spirit that cared. A spirit that was always thinking about his fellow man. So he was able to interpret the dream of this man. The man was released as Joseph said. Yet, the man forgot Joseph when he got out of prison. He did not mention his case to the king.
Joseph got out of prison anyway because another opportunity came for him to showcase his gift of dream interpretation. This time around it was the king who needed an interpreter for his dream. And Joseph was called to do the interpretation. That was the miracle that brought him out of the prison to the palace. In the palace, Joseph did not betray any form of arrogance. He saw his lifting as God’s design to save a generation. And he worked towards that purpose. He did not visit his brothers with their own sins rather he saw them as instruments that God used to make him what he became.
If they had not sold him to slavery he would not have been in Egypt. Is that not a wise way of thinking? If you had not been sacked you would not have become a successful business man. Rather than despise the man who sacked you, he should be celebrated. Think about it, for everything that happened to you positively or negatively, a divine hand is being orchestrated for your good if only you can see.
Joseph learnt valuable lessons from his prison experience. Unlike the man who forgot to mention his case when he was released from prison, Joseph did not forget his brothers. He embraced them. He wept and did not see them as evil even when it was clear his brothers were evil men. He gave them a choice accommodation and took good care of them in Egypt. They thought Joseph was doing all that because of their father. When their father died they were afraid. But he did not change his attitude. What a man!
A leader, just the way Joseph did, should remember where he is coming from. The leader comes from among the people and should be sympathetic to the cause of the people. It is tragic that we see people move from poverty to material prosperity only to turn around to despise the poor. God has not lifted you for the fun of being lifted. He blessed you so you can be a lifter of others. Joseph did not lose sight of this valuable lesson. He saw his promotion as opportunity to bless people around him. Apart from being a blessing to the whole of Egypt, he blessed his own people though they did not deserve it.
It is amazing that in our clime politicians only do well to those who voted for them. And that is even one in a thousand cases. We generally despise those who don’t like us and like those who like us. But that is not the mind of Christ. The Lord commanded us to do good to those who hate us and despitefully use us. This is hard saying. But that is the way of the cross. We don’t relate on “do me I do you basis” but on the basis of Jesus’ love.
So pain and prison experiences come with useful lessons. It comes with the lesson of humility. It comes with the lesson of God’s faithfulness. It comes with the hard lesson that the life of man is transient and could be lost anytime. It comes with the deep understanding that those who are going through pain are also lovers of God.
If we understand these lessons it will be difficult to despise anybody going through such. The experience of pain will change our perspective about man and make us begin to focus on the eternal goal. Indeed, our prison experiences are meant to make us better and not bitter.