No matter our circumstances, our faith in God can allow us to develop attitudes that help us become change agents in the places of confinement and struggle.
It’s so good to see all of you. I’m up here on the third floor at the church building in the mission. If you don’t know who I am, and you’re new here for the first time, I’m Pastor Terry. I’m the lead pastor here at Cornerstone. It’s such a blessing to be able to have this time to share together this message. I’m looking forward to sharing this teaching and addressing, in some practical ways, how we can build resilience in our own lives.
Maybe some of us are going through a very difficult time. It seems like, in times like these, it’s easy for at least two things to happen. One, it’s easy to get discouraged. Maybe some of us are finding ourselves there right now if we were honest. Just feels like so much is going on, and there’s just so much tension. Maybe a part of us, just because of the relentlessness of things, just feels a bit overwhelmed, and it’s a little suffocating, or maybe we’re just tired. We’re just tired. There’s a part of us that just wants to run away. Two, maybe there’s another part of us, and I know this isn’t true for everyone, but some of us might be feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves right now. That part of us wants to give up, and just maybe even give in to the negative self-talk that wants to dominate us.
It’s with this in mind that we are going to return to the older Testament account of a remarkable man. A man named Joseph, who is such an example for all of us on how to prevail when we find ourselves in confining places. He is truly a model of resilience. Let’s pray together. Lord, I ask that you would just be with us right now. I pray that your words would come alive at this moment, that they would speak to us and meet us where we need it most. I don’t know where that is, but you do. Each one of us must choose to open up our heart and to have what you called when you were on this earth, the listening ear so that we might not just be open, but we would be willing to respond to the promptings that come our way. We welcome you, Holy Spirit. Anoint this word. Bless it. Send it out. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s begin with Genesis 39 verse 19. “As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, ‘This is the way your servant treated me’, his anger was kindled.” This was, of course, referring to the accusation that was made by Mrs. Potiphar, that Joseph, Mr. Potiphar’s right-hand man, to whom he had entrusted the entirety of his household, Mrs. Potiphar had suggested that he had attempted to assault her. She wanted him dealt with.
The anger, it seems, was genuine. Mr. Potiphar was angry. It seems that, as he reflected on things and perhaps even gathered information, that his anger calmed a bit. The reason is this. He could have had him killed on the spot. That would have been something that, if Joseph was guilty, then most people would have assumed that would have been the end result.
But Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, having all the power, instead chose to put Joseph in prison. Even the prison that he put him in appears to have been a low-security prison. Look at verse 20. It says, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the King’s prisoners were confined.” He was there in prison.
Now, I’m not trying to reduce it to something good, make it something good when it was bad. This was bad. No matter how you slice it, it was bad. It appeared that Joseph had no recourse and that his situation had no endpoint. Think about that. There was no assumption on his part that he would ever be released. As far as he knew, he would live out the rest of his days in prison. Now, that’s assuming that Potiphar didn’t change his mind on a whim and have him hung. But let’s get this right. For doing good, he is confined to an even worse place. For doing good, he is confined to an even worse place with no end in sight. Think about that. No hope.
Hope deferred can make a person sick in spirit. It is hard when we’re waiting on something to come through. Maybe some of us are there right now. But when you have no hope, where there is nothing to hope for. Wow, that changes things, doesn’t it? If I’m Joseph, I’m thinking, wow, so much for doing things God’s way. At least a part of me would’ve felt that way.
Look at verse 21. I love this phrase, it makes all the difference. It says, “But the Lord was with Joseph.” “But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”
Do we see a pattern here? Wherever Joseph goes, he just grows. He’s like that vine growing over the wall. Up and over. That’s Joseph. There can be no question that a part of this was God’s favor. We’re told as much. I think another underappreciated piece is Joseph’s attitude and ethic.
I remember reading an article about attitude. The writer of the article was talking about the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. The difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. I think you know what the difference is, right? A thermometer takes our temperature. It doesn’t change anything. It just reflects what is. It tells us what our temperature is. A lot of people are getting their temperatures taken today for obvious reasons, right? But a thermostat is different. It’s an instrument that is designed to change or affect an environment. It’s a change agent. When I shift the thermostat to a point where I want the room warmed for where it is, the heat kicks off, right? A thermostat is different.
Can you hear me when I say it this way? That’s what Joseph was. He was a change agent. He was a culture changer. He refused, and this is quite clear, he refused to be defined by his adversity, to be consumed in bitterness and negativity. I think what most impresses me about Joseph or at least one of the things that just stand out, is that his waters were not bitter. He had reason to be bitter. He did. He had reasons. He had reasons to justify just being angry and negative. Maybe some of us feel that some things have happened that have been very unfair or hard to bear. There’s a temptation in our hearts to become defined by those things.
However, I want to suggest that Joseph’s faith in God, the God of his father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that his faith in God gave Joseph access. Access to a power base that enabled him to become a change agent in the midst of his confinement. Listen to what I just said, a change agent in the midst of his confinement. This I believe is God’s will for many of us at this time. Rather than allowing our attitude to be defined by the negative climate, we’re invited to choose to affect the climate with our faith-driven attitude. It’s an invitation we were given by the Lord.
For those of us who, like Joseph, again, have been unfairly victimized, in his case, he was unfairly traumatized, victimized twice, in big ways. The challenge will be, when we find ourselves in those places, to resist a victim’s mentality. I know this is a sensitive place to go, but when we are unfairly treated or unfairly victimized, the real temptation will be to adopt a victim’s mentality. When I say that, with humility of spirit, I want to suggest that it does not imply denial. Rather, by God’s grace, we choose to refuse to allow the painful reality of our experience to infiltrate our spirit and define our attitude. It’s a choice we make, to trust the Lord.
There is a truth in what Carl Jung famously said when he wrote, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” Joseph may have been in prison, but he was free. He was free to love. He was free to serve. He was free to minister. He was free to be used by God. It’s true that, thus far, his had been a bitter cup. Because of the envy and the cruelty of his brothers, he had been separated from his home. His father, whom he loved, his aged father who didn’t even know if he was alive anymore … 10 years had passed. Then to have Potiphar turn on him after years of faithful service, to have so coldly repaid him, when all he had done was something that was attempting to honor him, honestly, it was enough to break a man. It would have been and could have been. But Joseph refused to become morose. He wouldn’t become brooding. He wouldn’t become distrustful.
Once again, I want to just make this really clear. Maybe the Lord wants us to hear it loud and clear, but he was not a man defined by offense. He was not a man defined by offense. The Lord wants to remind all of us, men and women, to be careful about being defined by offense. He seemed to possess a kind of internal peace, a centeredness, an optimistic equanimity, and an assurance that is the unique domain of those whose conscience is pure and whose trust is in the Lord, come what may. Indeed, Jesus would later say in the Sermon on the Mount, he would give us words that apply to Joseph, one of his beatitudes, when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” That’s Matthew 5:8. Joseph was a man with a pure heart, and he was not alone. God was with him. Yes, he was.
Verse 22, Genesis 39 says, “The keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him, and whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.” We may conclude that after a relatively short period of time, his skills were put to use, for he appears to have been given the administrative oversight of the entire prison population, which is really incredible. He seems to have been made responsible for scheduling and coordinating the jobs, duties, and various projects. He was recognized as someone who had managed a house of a very important man. The prison keeper saw the advantage of letting Joseph loose, and he did.
Look at verse one of chapter 40. “Sometime after this, the cupbearer …” Notice there’s a shift here, a space, a period of time. “Sometime after this, the cupbearer of the King of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their Lord, the King of Egypt.” Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer, and the chief baker. He put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, that’s Potiphar, in the prison where Joseph was confined. Look how these things intertwine. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he, Joseph, attended them. They continued for some time in custody.
Potiphar was seen as behind a lot of what is happening. He entrusts these two key prisoners to the oversight of Joseph. They were, in many ways, unusually important prisoners, primarily because they had worked intimately with Pharaoh in his courts. While their fates were being decided, there was an investigation going on, and Joseph, while this was happening, was asked to help these men. He was told that he should.
He, after all, had been well acquainted with men of their station. He had spent so much time with Potiphar, entertaining, setting up engagements. During that time that he had served Potiphar and managed everything. He had no doubt been introduced to people of rank and learning. If we may conjecture, Joseph had acquired an increased knowledge of science, of language, of culture and decorum, a knowledge that would later serve him in the role that he was destined for, but could no way, at this moment, conceive of.
Go back to verse four of that phrase. “And he attended them.” He attended to them. Another version says he served them. He served these two prisoners. I want to just suggest this. When we’re talking about a tonic for a discouraged spirit or for self-pity, there’s nothing better than a servant spirit. Some of us need to hear this. There is something about helping others that liberates. There’s something about helping others that heals. There’s something about helping others that frees us from getting fixated on our own hurt.
Again, Joseph wasn’t a brooding, angry, resentful man. Even after all that had happened, he had retained a servant’s heart. Instead of fixating on the wrongs done to him, he seemed to reduce his sorrows by reducing the sorrows of others. I think that’s worth saying again. Instead of fixating on the wrongs that were done to him, he seemed to reduce his sorrows by reducing the sorrows of others. I have found that one of the great temptations when we’re battling deep discouragement, dark thoughts, depression, self-pity, loneliness, low self-esteem, one of the real temptations, listen, loved ones, is to draw back into isolation. In these places where we feel very hurt on the inside, the temptation will be to shrink our world. It will.
But Joseph did just the opposite, and in so doing, he modeled for us the overcoming life, the resilient life. His method for battling self-pity and depression seems to be one of enlarging his world, that is, he pushed his world and his concern, the circle of his concern, beyond himself. How good is that for us? How good is that for us right now? Let’s be an inviter. Invite people to what we are doing and follow up. Let’s be an encourager. Let’s use this unique time in history, and in our country, where many of us are working from home, or not yet free to go to the places we have loved to go. Some of us, we’ve been hindered by our inability to travel and visit family. It’s taken a toll on us mentally.
I want to suggest that, in these times, one of the things we should be doing is making a positive initiative. Even things like inviting people to share in our service, and then to say, “Hey. Would you be open to talking about it?” Could be with someone who we care for deeply, or someone with whom we’ve just struck up an acquaintance with. It’s a way of connecting.
Then maybe being open to being an encourager, and sending a note or a prayer or a thought of affirmation. I can’t tell you. I’ve already been helped, even preparing for this message, just by prayers that were sent to me, prayers for protection, prayers for spiritual strength, prayers of hopefulness. Prayer and encouragement can go a long way. It’s not just a nice thought. It’s more than just a thank you card. It really is. When it’s given with sincerity, our prayers become dynamic change agents in and of themselves.
Prayer changes things. Prayer can move a mountain. Let’s not underestimate the power of prayer at an appropriate time, in an inappropriate way. It can do things that often what other people would say, “Oh, that’s a nice thing,” actually can change things in a far more profound way. This I’ve come to realize. There are times when we’re going to find ourselves bogged down in depression or discouragement. One of the keys to that breakout or liberation may be getting the focus off of ourselves and finding ways to bless others.
Sometimes in our prisons, they can be the prisons of our own making. I have made my own prisons at times. I have. No one to blame. My choice. I did it. Joseph, his prison wasn’t of his own making. But whether it’s a prison that we didn’t have any real power of in terms of what happened to us, or is it a prison of our own making, one thing I know is this, that our deliverance will always be connected to our willingness to do what Jesus, our great example, our mentor, our Lord, and savior, did.
What did he do? Even with the cross looming over him, he put on the apron, and he picked up the bowl with the water, and he did what none of them were willing to do, none of his disciples were willing to do. He washed their feet. What an example for us. What a powerful example and reminder for you and me.
One of the things that we’re going to see is that Joseph was genuinely interested in helping others. It wasn’t because he was forced to. It wasn’t because he was ordered to it. It wasn’t like Joseph was going, “I know that if I do this, I will get the blessing.” No. That is a true thing. I actually think, in Joseph’s case, he was just living out a principle that was deeply embedded into his spirit. God gave him the grace to do it. It’s true that Joseph really didn’t have a choice in his assignment. He was told to care for these two prisoners. But how he went about that assignment was up to him. Joseph did not shrug his shoulders with lifeless resignation and say, “Fine. Whatever. Yes, yes.” He could have said “Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” and then just did whatever. Instead, we see, Joseph, in his own pain, listen. He cares. He empathizes. Just an astonishing blessing. What a model for some of us.
There’s so much for us here. When things are tough, whether it’s at home, or on the job, or in our relationships, or like now in our quasi confinement with masked faces, we must own our attitudes. I’m going to say it this way. Is our attitude sour, or are we determined to soar? I’ll say that one more time. Is our attitude sour or souring, or are we determined to soar? Are we soaring? If you think about it, sour and soar, there’s really just one letter difference, an A and a U.
I guess another way of asking it would be are we a thermostat or a thermometer? Are we a thermometer or a thermostat? Which one? Are we focused on what we have been forced to bear or on being a blesser? This is the thing. We get to choose. I think you know that, in Jesus, all the days of our lives, and I pray by God’s grace, we will be able to do this, we were born to bless. We were born to bless. We were born to bless. Sometimes that blessing shows up most profoundly in the context of our brokenness, and this becomes our determination and our goal, to look like our father in heaven, and to do his good works.
I know it’s so much easier said than done. I’m not preaching at you. I’m walking with you. I’m right there with you. Nothing is easy right now. But when we determine to bless, regardless of our adversity, we get one more thing. Do you know what that is? We get a testimony. What is that but a story to tell on his behalf? What I mean by that is we get to tell of his wondrous works, and his capacity to make a difference in our lives.
I just want us to remember, just like Joseph, if we own our attitudes and choose to soar instead of being sour, then we can do wondrous things. I know we’re not going to get that way and be that way all the time. I understand that. We’re going to have our ups and downs. We’re going to have moments where we’re doing better than others. But if we can set the temperature in the right direction, if we can choose, instead of reflecting the circumstances that we don’t want, instead, choose to set a tone, an attitudinal tone that seeks to honor God, we will find that the Lord will show up for us in amazing ways. He will use you. He will use us to be conduits of his blessing. He will.
That attitude makes all the difference. It does. We just need to ask the Lord to help us. Help me, Lord. There are times where I say, “Lord, help me. Help me have the right attitude. I can feel the darkness seeking to enclose me. I can feel the evil one seeking to have his way in me. I can find myself getting distracted.”
The last thing I want to say about this piece as well is that we are not strong enough on our own, not at a spiritual level, we’re not. I suspect probably not at an emotional or mental health level as well. Of course, we know that emotions and our thoughts affect our bodies. Our physicality is connected. We’re the mind, the body, and the soul. We’re intertwined together. It’s all feeding on the other.
God wants us to keep our minds in a good place. I would even pray for the helmet of salvation, I know that’s using a term that Paul used, but to just rest over you right now, that the shield of faith would protect you from all the fiery darts of the evil one, that we would choose to open up our hearts to the Lord. Let’s not build a house in negativity. We may find ourselves having bouts of depression and discouragement, where it’s easy for us to become critical and resentful. But remember, if we let that settle in, we will become bitter. That is not God’s will. He instead wants us to be better. He wants us to be blessers.
Remember, focus on the right things. Let’s keep learning. We’re going to, in the weeks ahead. I’m so looking forward to sitting with the life of Joseph, and then watching how he models for us principles of resilience that I think we can directly apply into our lives, especially at this time. We’re going to make this journey together, all the transitions that are in front of us, all the tension points that lay ahead.
Right now, we’re going to shift. I want to remind everybody, again, those of you who’ve been so faithful in your tithes and your offerings under the Lord, and your support of this body, but even more, because you are a true son and daughter of the King, and you model it in the way in which you give. I applaud you. I commend you in the name of Jesus. Let’s stay with this. Let’s be faithful. We’re going to get through this together. You can give it through the app. You can give the traditional way, send it to the offices. Or you can just give directly online. But may you first give your heart to Jesus.
I’ve got a final blessing to share with you, a final thought to share. Some of you inspire me, your faith, your trust. One of the things, having the privilege of leading the church, that I get to be a part of is the many stories that are ongoing in our community. I’ve watched many of you live out your faith in Jesus in exceptional ways.
Some of you, you’re heroic. You have loved the Lord. You’ve retained your faith in Jesus. You’ve held onto your confidence in God. Come what may, the spirit of Joseph is in you. I’m so inspired by it. I really am. I’m inspired by those of you who have not allowed your wound to define you.
That is my prayer for everyone, that our wounds would not define us, but instead, by the grace of God, they would refine us. There’s a difference isn’t there? There really is. That our wounds would not define us, but instead by the grace of God, refine us.
Joseph determined to see himself, not as a victim, but as a victor. I know that in Christ, we can do that as well. Any area of our life where we need him to show up, he will. It’s a choice we get to make to trust the Lord, because he’s so good, and he’s so God. He wants us to so good. And he wants us to so God.
Don’t forget how greatly loved you are in Christ. My prayer this day for all of you for this week, all of us, yes, that he may keep you, spirit, soul, and body in Jesus’ name.