Where is the best place to serve God? Is it my home? Is it my neighborhood? Is it my workplace? Is it my group of friends? Is it my golf league; my rec center; my gym? Is it my church? Or is it some far away land? The answer, of course, is…yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
But is it prison? And not just prison, but in prison. Is the best place to serve God in prison? And not just in prison, but in prison…twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Is this the best place to serve God? And not just in prison twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year, but with other prisoners…twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Is this the best place to serve God? The answer, of course, is…
Wherever He Sets You Down
I am just wondering. I am just wondering if I really believe it. I have been thinking about it for two years. It changed my thinking. It changed my perspective and I have held on to it ever since. It is John 15:16. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” Pause there. There is much more to the verse, but this is the part that opened my eyes. Notice the words chose (choose) and appointed. The two words go together, and one reason is that Jesus uses the word and to connect the two words. Jesus first says, “You did not choose me.” The word choose is used in the sense of picking up. So, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You did not pick me up.” And then he gives that hinge on which great truths swing. “But I chose you.” The word chose is used in the sense of picking up. So, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You did not pick me up, but I picked you up.” Now watch how this then fits with the word appointed. It means to set down. “You did not pick me up, but I picked you up and set you down.” And we want to ask, where? Where does he set you and me and down? It is wherever. He sets you down wherever, this is really important, according to his purpose. Notice the rest of this sentence. He sets us down that we should go, and we must ask, where are we to go? It is wherever. We are to go wherever he sets us down and bear fruit, long-lasting fruit. The best place then to serve God is wherever he has set you down.
But do I really believe it? Do I really believe it when a disappointment happens? Disappointments are those unexpected and unpleasant happenings that mess up how I think things should be going.
Not unlike Genesis 37 or Genesis 39 or Genesis 41 to come, Genesis 40 is about Joseph. Joseph is in prison. Then comes a disappointment followed by another disappointment.
And so here comes the big idea of Genesis 40. The best place to serve God is wherever he has set you down. But what do I do when it no longer feels like the best place? And what about the places that sure do not look like the best places, like prison? Then what do I do whether it does not look like the best place nor feel like the best place and a disappointment comes? What about when a disappointment becomes disappointments and those disappointments just loom large over all else? What do I do?
Remember Joseph. His testimony begins with two dreams. He was seventeen years old. And what do we know about two dreams? This is not, what are the two dreams about? The two dreams are about Joseph and his family. What do we know about two dreams? Listen to Joseph. “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32). Meaning, God is at work and God is in control and God will do it. This is all very important.
Joseph is then tattered, battered and thrown into a pit left for dead. Until at just the right time a caravan of human traffickers come his way. His brothers, his own flesh and blood, sell Joseph into slavery. Sold into slavery, Joseph is sold again to a man named Potiphar. And who is Potiphar? He is an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian. Joseph is placed in Potiphar’s house and things go well for him. He does all things well and with diligence and integrity and care. So much so, God blesses Potiphar and his house because of Joseph and for Joseph’s sake.
But then Joseph is put in prison. Why? It is because he refused to sin. Listen as a reminder to Genesis 39:9. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And who put him in prison? It was his master Potiphar. And things go well for Joseph in prison. He is pretty much in charge and succeeding, although staying, in prison. We need this reminder. Oh, and the Lord, Yahweh is with him. Catch that, the Lord, Yahweh is with him…in prison (cf. 39:21; 23).
A Servant to Prisoners
But then one day comes. This is not too profound, but true for all of us. One day will come. Two officials, two high officials of Pharaoh, quality control men are put in prison. Their names are cupbearer and baker. Why are these two men in prison? They “committed an offense [sin] against their lord the king of Egypt” (Genesis 40:1). Notice the parallel to Joseph. He refused to commit an offense, a sin, against the Lord the King of all kings. He was put in prison.
Genesis 40:3-4 are really interesting. Pharaoh puts the cupbearer and the baker in custody of the captain of the guard. This captain of the guard just so happens to oversee the prison where Joseph is confined. And what does the captain of the guard do? The captain of the guard appoints Joseph to these two men. Who is the captain of the guard? His name is Potiphar. Who is really at work here? Who is really in control here? in prison? And who is keeping the big picture in view?
The word attended (v. 4) is critical. It means to serve. Joseph was called upon, and it is not like he had a choice, to serve these two prisoners. What is going through Joseph’s mind? He is a prisoner! But for a while the best of a bad situation was being enjoyed by Joseph. As a prisoner, he was running the whole place and now is brought low, humbled. He is now a servant to prisoners. And what does he do? He serves.
Two Prisoners, Two Dreams, One Night
And it just so happens that these two prisoners dream a dream, that is two dreams, on the same night. The cupbearer is in his own dream and the baker is in his own dream and the number three is in both dreams. When morning dawns Joseph rises to his duty and serves. And the two men he serves are awake, but miserable. They look sick! “Why are your faces downcast today?” Listen to their reasoning. It is about the dreams, but not so much about the dreams. “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (40:5-8b).
In Egypt, dreams were a big deal. A whole economy was built around dreams. Books were written, jobs were created to interpret dreams. Dreams were seen as gifts from the gods, but mysterious. And these men have each had a dream, “a gift from the gods,” full of mystery but surely meaning something for them. And no one can tell them what each dream means! It just so happens that Joseph has experience with dreams. It is interesting that when Joseph had his two dreams he knew the interpretation immediately, as did his brothers and his dad. But here in Egypt, interpreters are needed. So here is Joseph in prison serving two men with two dreams. Listen to what he does. He draws their attention to the Most High God, for all interpretations belong to Him. “Please tell them to me.” Joseph puts on display his faith in God.
And then Joseph gives the meanings. The cupbearer in three days will be released from prison and restored to his high position. This is good and great news not just for the cupbearer, but for Joseph too. He just helped a man who was sick to his stomach about his future. And Joseph pleads, “Only remember me.” He asks that when the cupbearer is before Pharaoh again and in his good graces again, bring up Joseph’s name. He has been falsely accused and is in prison, another “pit” (40:9-15).
But the baker. In three days he too will be released from prison and into a high position (40:16-19). His death! Three men are now counting down the days and only two men are happy about it!
The interpretation of each dream was true. Why? Because it was fixed by God and God shortly brought it about. But what about Joseph? This is the worst part. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23).
When Disappointments Loom Large
When do you think Joseph realized that the cupbearer forgot about Joseph? Genesis 41 will tell us that two years go by before the cupbearer will remember Joseph. Two years is seven hundred thirty days. Except if there was a leap year, then it is seven hundred thirty-one days. After how many days did Joseph realize he was forgotten? And not by the cupbearer, but after how many days would it take to think that God has forgotten? This is when disappointments loom large.
It will be thirteen years before Joseph is released from slavery and from prison and has his two dreams realized, dreams fixed by God and dreams God will shortly bring about. From Joseph’s perspective, three days seems short, not thirteen years. But in thirteen years, each place Joseph had been was the best place to serve God. How? How is that even possible, in prison too? God is at work. God is in control. God will do it. This is called providence. It is the almighty and everywhere present power of God where by God’s hand, no matter what and no matter where, he still upholds heaven and earth and even you. There is nothing called chance. Three days or thirteen years, nothing is called chance. It cannot be called chance when whether in the pit, in prison or in the palace God has never left you and by his fatherly hand has sustained you. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).
So, how do I get through it? Because it is real. John 15:16 is real. But Joseph is real. The pit and the prison and the disappointments are all real. How do I get through it? Right where you are…preach; pray and plug away. God has a better plan. God has a better purpose. And God has a better timing. And wait. Get frustrated (for a little bit). Get perplexed (for a little bit). And get patience because with God all things are better.
 Reworked from The Westminster Shorter Catechism