Lessons from the prison (or in our case, quarantine).
I don’t want to over dramatize what we are going through in our nation right now. My personal situation – quarantined in a home with more than enough food (and toilet paper phew), internet, a cell phone, etc. etc. – pales extremely in comparison to prison and the hardships that many people are facing around the world today.
I am fortunate and blessed. Daily learning to change my perspective to gratitude and humility.
That said, one thing I am so grateful for in this season is the extended time I have had to spend in God’s presence. I sure don’t like the difficult moments, but I love how God speaks in the midst of them. It’s amazing what we’ll hear when we actually slow down and listen to Holy Spirit. He loves to talk to us.
The last week or so, Holy Spirit reminded me of the story of Joseph, specifically when he was unjustly put in prison.
If you don’t know Joseph’s story, read it in Genesis 37-47. It’s honestly incredible. Hollywood couldn’t come up with something that wild, and it actually happened!
In Genesis 39, Joseph was, at this point in his life, in charge of the household of Pharaoh’s captain of the guard. He “prospered” and “the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Gen. 39:2-3). But, this quickly changes when he is falsely accused of raping the captain of the guard’s wife and he is immediately thrown in prison.
I can only imagine the frustration, confusion, and helplessness Joseph must have felt.
Joseph didn’t know how long he was going to be in prison. And the story doesn’t explicitly say how long he was there (it’s speculated that it was 10-11 years!)
But the story does give some insight into what God was doing in this “prison season.”
“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there” (39:20-22).
Even in prison, God was with him.
What can we take away from Joseph’s imprisonment in light of our current situation?
- Joseph had favor, and responsibilities/leadership over other prisoners.
Who/what are we responsible for in our own lives right now?
First of all, ourselves. How are we taking initiative in our relationship with God? What is our perspective and attitude?
Secondly, our neighbors and family members. There’s a lot we can’t do right now, but we can be praying for them, reaching out to them, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. (Galatians 5:22-23).
Also, as followers of Jesus, we have the burden of the nations. We can pray for a global redemption and revival as this crisis is impacting the world. (Psalm 2:8, Matthew 28:18-19, Revelation 7:9).
- Another lesson God’s been speaking to me through this story is patience.
Joseph didn’t know how long he was going to be in prison. This could have caused deep hopelessness and anxiety.
When he interpreted the dream of the cupbearer and the baker, he most likely thought he was going to be freed after the cupbearer was restored to his position. But the cupbearer forgot Joseph and his time in prison continued. (Gen. 40). Gosh I sure don’t like to hear this part of the story. I wonder what Joseph felt in that time. Disappointment? Abandonment?
I came across this quote I had written in my notes a while back, and it speaks about patience in a much more timely and eloquent way than I can,
“The singular mark of patience is not endurance or fortitude but hope. To be impatient…is to live without hope. Patience is grounded in the Resurrection. It is life oriented toward a future that is God’s doing, and its sign is longing, not so much to be released from the ills of the present, but in anticipation of the good to come.” – Robert Wilken.
If you are like me, your patience has been tested in this season. (And oh boy, we are only into day two of full quarantine…)
But there is so much hope. Praise God that the story is not finished. The Resurrection and the story of the entire Bible continually reveal that God always redeems. Death, despair, and imprisonment is never the end of the story for God’s children.
Let’s live in “anticipation of the good to come.”
- Lastly, something the Lord highlighted to me about Joseph’s time in prison is his humility.
Sometime after interpreting the cupbearers dream by the power of God, Joseph was called upon to interpret a dream that Pharaoh had.
Despite remaining in prison all those years, Joseph acted in humility, acknowledging that he could not interpret the dream by his own power, but only with the help of the Lord:
“’I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Genesis 40:16.
In our present situation, a microscopic germ is crippling the whole world. What an opportune time to bring a humility reality check to mankind. My prayer is that (starting with myself!) we would humble ourselves before God and recognize that there is nothing we can do without Him. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
At the end of Joseph’s imprisonment story, God’s power was what set Joseph free.
This is the happy part of the story we all like to hear. Pharaoh dresses Joseph in nice robes and a gold chain and parades him around the nation. How sweet that freedom must have felt to Joseph. And not simply freedom, but abundance and honor. (Gen. 41:44-46).
The story goes on to be one of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration.
From a human perspective, no one could have predicted this end of the story.
But from the perspective of the sovereign God of the universe…who sees and loves his children, who is not in a rush, and who is the greatest story teller of all time…the prison moment was essential to the bigger picture.
We may not know why we are in this current “prison” season or how long this will last. But God knows, and that has to be enough for us. I believe that this is a season of preparation for a greater redemption story than we could have imagined. And that this season of “prison” is going to usher in one of the greatest revivals this world has seen.
Let us not grow passive with ourselves, family, friends, and neighbors. Let us remain patient, and full of faith. And let us pray in humility, crying out to our loving and all-powerful Father who knows the end of the story.