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I was speaking to a group of kids in Chicago from Lydia Home, which is an organization that takes care of kids when their families are not safe. These kids either had deceased parents, incarcerated parents, incapable parents, or unsafe parents. I told them the story of Joseph from Genesis 39. Right away, I made sure that they knew that having faith is not easy. Christianity is not for cowards. You have to be tough to believe in Jesus Christ. Joseph had been rejected by his family, his brothers had faked his death and sold him to foreigners, he was bought and turned into a slave, he was falsely accused, thrown in prison, tempted, and seduced. Those who think that Christianity is for the weak, don’t know Joseph. Here are the ten lessons that I shared with them.
1. God allows bad things to happen to us.
In Genesis 39:1, we learn that Joseph was “bought” from the Ishmaelites. Can you imagine being “bought” like a piece of property? This was the second time that he was sold and bought. But it was all part of God’s plan. I know that this is a tough lesson—remember, Christianity is not for cowards—but God allows bad things to happen to us. God is not the source of evil, but God uses evil to accomplish his purposes. Just think of any character in the Bible; in every case, God allows bad things to happen to them. This is the “norm.” If life is hard for you, then your life is “normal.” But take heart, nothing can separate God’s people from his love and everything that he allows is designed to move us one step closer to him.
2. The Lord is with us, even when it seems like he is not.
Over and over again, we’re told in Genesis 39 that the “Lord was with Joseph” (2, 3, 21, 23). God might cause us to go through hard times, but he goes with us through them. He does not stand back, but plunges into our trials with us. That’s a beautiful preposition: with. Notice that it doesn’t say that God was “against” Joseph. Most of the time, when we go through trials, we think that God is “against” us. When I told the kids from Lydia home this, I asked them about these two prepositions, “Think about a trial that you’ve gone through; did it seem like God was ‘with’ you or ‘against’ you?” Right away, some hands shot up in the air. I called on one of the little girls, who was about eight years old. She said, “when I was being raped, it felt like God was against me.” The room was silent. I validated her response, then called on the next kid. He said, “When I was being beat, it didn’t seem like God was with me.” I validated his response, and then called on the next hand, and the next. Every time, the kids made a statement just like the first two.
As a speaker, I was tempted just to melt into tears, backing off of the point I was trying to make. But I knew better. These were tough kids and they needed a strong answer. Staring down at the text of Genesis 39, seeing the life of Joseph and countless others throughout the Bible who endured brutal circumstances, I was able to say, “The Lord was not against you, but with you.” I know that’s hard to believe, but Christianity is not for cowards. God is with us, even when it seems like he is not.
3. God can cause you to prosper, wherever you’re at and no matter how bad the circumstances.
Because the Lord was with Joseph and Joseph maintained his belief, God caused him to succeed. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (2, 3). Even when Joseph was in prison after being falsely charged with rape, we read, “The Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.” (23). God’s economy is bold, isn’t it? God puts his children into the most dismal circumstances in order to show his power. God is not afraid of suffering. When he puts you into a trial, he knows that you have what it takes to succeed.
Think of a flower seed. We expect seeds only to grow in ideal circumstance, with sufficient water, light, and soil. But God’s seeds are different; his flowers will grow anywhere and he likes to prove it. God can plant his seeds on concrete, and they will still grow into flowers. He can dump acid on them, and his seeds will still grow and succeed. He is not afraid to plant his seeds—you and I—in difficult circumstances, because he knows that we still can grow.
We are tempted to think that our circumstances need to get better before we grow, but that’s not how God’s economy works. God’s economy says: my people will get better before their circumstances do. God’s work in us is the source of hope, not his work in our circumstances.
We often say, “When X,Y, and Z start going well for me, then I can thrive.” But God says, “My flowers can grow and thrive anywhere.”
4. Don’t get bitter, get better!
Related to the last point, wherever God has planted you, work with the best of your ability. That’s what Joseph did (3-6; 22-23). Wherever he was placed, he did his best. He didn’t get bitter, but he got better. This is what God created us to do, did you know that? It’s our original God-given purpose, to bring order out of chaos, rooted in God’s command to us in Genesis 2:15. God puts us into situations that are wild and unkempt gardens, saying to us, “Get to work!” Bring order from this mess. Do what you were created to do. Leave it better than you found it. Do you wonder why God keeps putting you into out-of-control situations? It’s because he has made you to be a gardener, a farmer who sows and reaps seeds of hope.
I told the kids at Lydia home, “You all have great reasons to be bitter. You all have great reasons for giving up. But that is not what God is calling you to do. He knows how tough life has been for you, but he is with you and he can cause you to succeed. Maybe some of you, because of what you’ve been through, never thought that you could succeed. Listen to me and hear me say to you, ‘You can!’” Christians are called to face the odds, never to give up, and persevere in the promises of God.
5. You will be tempted.
Just because God was with Joseph did not mean that Joseph would not be tempted. He was. In verses 6-7, we learn that his master’s wife was trying to seduce him, saying to him day after day, “Lie with me.” Being tempted is not a sign that God has left you. And it’s not an excuse to surrender, but a catalyst to fight.
6. The best way to fight temptation is to refuse and run, not to negotiate or reason.
Joseph simply “refused” every time he was tempted (8). And, eventually, he ran away (12). This is the best strategy when dealing with temptation. We’re not called to negotiate with a temptation, to debate with it, or to try to reason our way out. We’re not strong enough to negotiate; the temptation will overcome us. The best strategy is to run away, for we cannot outwrestle our temptations. Don’t try to wrestle a bear, but flee away from it as soon as possible.
7. All sin is really against God.
When his master’s wife said to him, “Lie with me!” Joseph responded by saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (9). Notice that Joseph did not say, “How then can I sin against my master?” Rather, he said, “against God.” He knew that all sin is ultimately against God. Did you know that your sins are not just against other people, but against the living God? Even when we’re going through hardships, our sins are still against God.
8. Temptation increases in power.
To be a Christian, you must be strong. The longer you fight against a temptation, the stronger you need to be, because the heavier the temptation will get. Giving into a temptation when it first presents itself is for the weak. But what if you resist? The next time you are tempted, you will need to be stronger. Imagine bar with weights on it. The more you resist, the more weights that are placed on the bar and the stronger you need to be. Some might think that Christians are weak; but, actually, they are the strongest, for God exercises their souls in the gym of temptation.
9. It’s never too late to pull out of temptation.
I make this observation from verses 11-12, when the woman has his garments in her seducing hands. Even then, Joseph does not capitulate, but fights. It’s never too late to pull away from temptation. Joseph could have said, “Well, since she’s right here and has my robe in her hands, I might as well give in.” He doesn’t. Even on the brink, he refuses. You might be there now. Know that it’s never too late to pull out.
10 The Lord is with us and shows us his steadfast love.
There’s a special kind of love mentioned in verse 21, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor.” This “steadfast love” is God’s covenant love. It’s loyal, enduring love. It’s stabilizing love, for when your feet are slipping. Nothing will separate us from God’s steadfast love, even at cost to himself. He will make sure that we have his love, no matter our circumstances.
Think about a person who is stuck on the train tracks, in the face of an oncoming train. What is the best way to show that person love? The best way to show him love is not to give him a winning lottery ticket, to speak nice things about him, or to fill his stomach with food. The best way to show him love would be to pull him off the tracks. God’s covenantal love always keeps in mind the oncoming train and always does what’s best for us. It has in mind the bigger picture, the things we cannot see. God’s steadfast love ensures that we will be with him in Paradise for eternity.
It’s goal is not to keep us out of trials, but to keep us in a relationship with him. Ask yourself, “Is my trial keeping me from God, or is it pushing me toward him?”
Sam Kee is a husband, father, pastor, and author.