A couple of days ago my Saturday afternoon turned into a tough test. Denalyn and I had a disagreement. We had agreed to sell our house, but we couldn’t agree on a Realtor. I had my opinion, and she had hers. Back and forth we went, neither able to convince the other. A pleasant day turned sour. She retreated into her corner and I into mine.
We have Saturday worship services at our church. When the time came for me to leave and preach, I gave Denalyn a perfunctory good-bye and walked out the door to do God’s work. “We’ll deal with this later,” I told her.
But God wanted to deal with me immediately. The distance between my house and the church building is only a five-minute drive. But that is all it took for God to prick my conscience with the truth. Shouldn’t you be at peace with your wife before you preach to my church?
It was a test. Would I pout or apologize? Would I ignore the tension or deal with it? I can’t say I always pass the tests, but that day I did with flying colors. Before the service began, I called Denalyn, apologized for my stubbornness, and asked for her forgiveness. Later that night we reached a decision on a Realtor, prayed together, and put the matter to rest.
Each day has a pop quiz. And some seasons are final exams. Brutal, sudden pitfalls of stress, sickness, or sadness. Like Joseph, you did your best. Like Joseph, your best was rewarded with incarceration. What is the purpose of the test? Why didn’t God keep Joseph out of prison? Might this be the answer? “For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything” (James 1:3–4 NLT).
As a boy Joseph was prone to softness. Jacob indulged him, spoiled him. Joseph talked about his dreams and grand ambitions. A bit too full of himself, perhaps. Even in Potiphar’s house Joseph was the darling of the estate. Quickly promoted, often noticed. Success came easily. Perhaps pride did as well. If so, a prison term would purge that. God knew the challenges that lay ahead, and he used Joseph’s time in prison to strengthen his servant.
“And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing” (Gen. 39:22). Talk about a crash course in leadership! Joseph managed willing servants for Potiphar. But in prison he was assigned unruly, disrespectful, and ungrateful men. Joseph could have cloistered himself in a corner and mumbled, “I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not running anything for anybody.” But he didn’t complain, didn’t criticize. He displayed a willing spirit with the prisoners.
He was especially kind to a butler and a baker. The butler and the baker, both officers of Pharaoh, were placed in Joseph’s care. One morning he noticed deep frowns on their faces. He could have dismissed their expressions. What concern was their sorrow to him? Who cared if they were sullen or bitter? Joseph, however, took an interest in them. In fact, the first recorded words of Joseph in the prison were kind ones: “Why do you look so sad?” (40:7). Abandoned by his brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly imprisoned, Joseph was still tender toward others. Wouldn’t compassion be a suitable quality for the soon-to-be director of a worldwide hunger-relief program?
God wasn’t finished. Both the baker and the butler were troubled by dreams. In his dream the butler saw a vine with three grape-bearing branches. He pressed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to the king. The baker dreamed about bread. Three baskets were on his head, and birds ate the bread in the top basket. Both men sought the counsel of Joseph. And Joseph received an interpretation from God. Would he share it? The last time Joseph spoke of dreams, he ended up in a dry cistern. Besides, only 50 percent of his revelation was good news. Could Joseph be trusted to share God’s news? If called to stand before Pharaoh, would Joseph accurately convey God’s word? This was a test. Joseph passed it. He gave the butler good news (“You’ll be out in three days”) and the baker bad news (“You’ll be dead in three days”). One would get a new start; the other, a noose around the neck.
Test, test, test. The dungeon looked like a prison, smelled like a prison, sounded like a prison, but had you asked the angels of heaven about Joseph’s location, they would have replied, “Oh, he is in boot camp.”
Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).