Have you ever been tempted to say, “God, this isn’t fair!”? I have.
I know better, of course. But still, when you find yourself in the middle of negative or frustrating circumstances that don’t make sense, it’s easy to start thinking you’re being treated unfairly.
I went through a time like that a while back. (Yes, preachers experience challenges and hard times just like everybody else. Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t.) In the middle of that time, the Lord ministered some things to me that encouraged me and helped me get on top of the situation. I want to share them with you, now.
At one point during this difficult season of time, I went into my study to spend some time with the Lord and found myself saying, “Lord, I need ministry here.” In response, I felt strongly prompted by the Spirit of God to go to Genesis and reexamine the life of Joseph.
The Lord said, I want you to go back and look at Joseph as My example of a man that never stayed “under” his circumstances.
As I obeyed the Lord’s instruction, it hit home to me in a fresh way that Joseph was a person who experienced tremendous adversity. Yet, he lived his life by some principles that caused him to rise above trouble every time. Those same principles will bring about the same result in your life and mine.
Life Isn’t Fair but God is Faithful
If you’re ever tempted to think you have it bad, a brief glance at the life of Joseph will tend to put things in perspective. It will also point out how remarkably resilient this man was.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. But almost immediately, he rose to the top of the ladder in his new boss’s household. (Genesis 37:28; 39:6)
Then he was framed by his boss’s wife and sent to prison unjustly. But before too long, Joseph again had risen to the highest level possible. He ended up living in the warden’s house instead of a prison cell. (Genesis 39:20-23)
Joseph just seemed to bloom wherever he was planted, didn’t he? In the face of unfair adversity, he had great favor and everything he put his hand to prospered.
The same can be true of you. God was able to bless Joseph because of a few character qualities that were present in him. As you develop these qualities, you’ll find yourself rising to the top in adversity, too!
1. A Lifestyle of Service
In the opening verses of Genesis, chapter 39, we find Joseph prospering and finding favor in his new circumstances in Egypt:
And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither. And the lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the lord was with him, and that the lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. (Genesis 39:1-3)
In the very next verse, we find a key to Joseph’s prosperity in what could have been a very negative situation.
And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. (Genesis 39:4)
Joseph didn’t allow himself to become bitter against his new master. He didn’t rebel against him. “He served him.” We all need to learn the lesson of service to others. In fact, you will never be truly happy in life until you develop a lifestyle of serving the interests of others.
Of course, this is a truth that is completely alien to our human flesh. It also runs counter to the dominant way of thinking in this country today. We’re living in the age of “self-interest.” Everything is “me, myself and I.”
The powerful tendency of the natural man is to crown self-interest king. Yet God says that until we learn the lesson of service to others, we will never know true happiness. This is the paradox Joseph understood so well. It’s a truth we find repeated throughout scripture and exemplified in the life of Jesus.
Look, for example, at Philippians, chapter 2:
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)
Jesus lived a life of service. He died a death of service. Even now in His resurrection, he lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Certainly, the ultimate form of service you can render to any other person is to share Jesus with them. He is the only one who can change eternal destinies and bring peace and purpose in this life. When you introduce an unbeliever to Jesus, you’re serving them in the most meaningful way possible.
Joseph proved himself to be a loyal and diligent servant. Wherever he found himself, he served with excellence. Put the needs of others above your own, and you’ll soon find yourself rising above adversity, too.
2. Personal Integrity
Another powerful lesson we learn from the life of Joseph is the importance of integrity.
When Potiphar’s wife set her sights upon Joseph, he could have indulged his flesh and bowed to the pressure. But he chose the path of honor instead.
God can promote people of honor and integrity. But nothing cuts you off from the anointing and blessing of God as quickly as will sin. Unconfessed sin separates you from the power and presence of God.
To rise above adversity you must, like Joseph, make the choice to flee sin. You must cultivate the strength of character that causes you to maintain your personal integrity when the pressure is on.
Now, we tend to define “integrity” pretty narrowly. We usually think it means “keeping your word.” In other words, being honest.
It certainly carries that meaning but there is much more. When I use the word “integrity,” I’m talking about adherence to the standard of the Bible. Whatever the Bible has to say on a given subject, that is the standard against which we must measure our thoughts, motives, and actions.
I can assure you, in good times and bad, you’re going to get plenty of opportunities to compromise your character. Joseph could have told himself: “You know, I do most of the things the Lord wants me to do. If I refuse the boss’s wife she could really make things hard for me. This one little breach of integrity won’t hurt anything.”
If Joseph had been the kind of person who employed those types of self-serving rationalizations, he never would have risen out of slavery. God would not have been able to elevate him above adversity.
3. Forget the Past
What’s in a name? A lot, particularly in the Bible. People in Joseph’s day attached great significance to the names they gave their children. That’s why it’s so enlightening to observe the names Joseph chose when ultimately, two sons were born to him:
And unto Joseph were born two sons … And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. (Genesis 41:50-52)
The two names Joseph chose for his boys are interesting. Manasseh means “forgetting” and Ephraim means “fruitful.”
There is a clear message here. “Forgetting” comes before “fruitful.” Before you can bear fruit in the kingdom of God, you’re going to have to put the past behind you.
Notice what Joseph said about Ephraim’s name. He said he gave the boy that name, “for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” If you want to be fruitful in a difficult time—if you want to rise above adversity and prosper—you’re going to have to put the past behind you.
As we’ve seen, Joseph had plenty about which to be bitter, resentful, and unforgiving. Hated and rejected by his brothers, framed and imprisoned after doing the right thing, and betrayed by a fellow prisoner he had helped—Joseph had ample cause to dwell on the hurts of the past. Yet he chose “forgetting.” What did he choose to forget? Two things. According to the verses we just read, Joseph said he was forgetting, (1) “all my toil,” and (2) “all my father’s household.”
This describes two distinct areas in which it is necessary to put the past behind us.
The phrase “all my toil” refers to the hardships Joseph suffered. Life had delivered some pretty hard knocks to Joseph. He chose to put the injustices of the past out of mind instead of dwelling on them. We must do the same.
If you don’t put the hard places you’ve experienced out of mind, they can become an excuse for a mediocre life. They will become your excuse for never rising any higher than the status quo. I’ve seen far too many believers who have convinced themselves they cannot increase or prosper because life has simply been too hard for them.
Where our past hardships are concerned, we need to take the words of Philippians 3:13,14 to heart:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
You have a high calling in Christ Jesus. A wonderful destiny too great to be imagined. Don’t let memories of past hardships rob you of that destiny.
The second type of thing Joseph chose to forget was “all his father’s household.” This is a clear reference to his brothers and the rejection he experienced at their hands.
We all have relational hurts in our backgrounds. So, the second thing you must deal with in putting the past behind you is forgiving those who have hurt you. You must deal with any residual bitterness, resentment, or hate because these are spiritual cancers that will keep you from rising above difficult circumstances.
Joseph certainly manifested an extraordinary ability to forgive:
And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them. (Genesis 50:18-20)
Get Ready to Rise
The life of Joseph brings us some powerful lessons in rising above adversity. Cultivate service, integrity and the ability to put the past behind you and you’ll find yourself coming out on top in even the most trying of situations.
The next time you’re tempted to say, “God, this isn’t fair!” do a quick check of your life to make sure these attributes are yours. Then get ready to rise.