Reflections on Success: Part 7 – Stewarding the Success You Didn’t Want

July 31, 2018 • Life for Leaders

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

Genesis 39:21-23


In our recent devotions, we focused our attention on the first part of Genesis 39. We saw that the Lord was with Joseph so that he “became a successful man” (39:2). In light of this passage, we reflected on success, what it means, and how we handle it. (You can read past Life for Leaders devotions here.)

Today, I want to add a further reflection on success based on the ongoing story of Joseph. The biblical text leads us to consider how we might steward success that we didn’t seek or want.

An older man at work at a desk amidst many shelves.Joseph, as you recall, achieved considerable success as the manager of the household of an Egyptian official named Potiphar. But, just when all seemed to be going well for Joseph, his life took a sudden, unwelcome turn. Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce Joseph. When he resisted, she accused him of making sexual advances. Potiphar, believing his wife and being understandably enraged, threw Joseph in prison. Yet, even in prison, the Lord was with Joseph, showing him “steadfast love” and giving him “favor in the sight of the chief jailer” (39:21). Thus, the chief entrusted everything to Joseph, including oversight of the prisoners. With Joseph in charge, the chief “paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with him” (39:23). As it was in Potiphar’s household, once again, whatever Joseph did, “the LORD made it prosper” (39:23).

So, once again Joseph was a success. Yet I can imagine that Joseph might have had mixed feelings about this. After all, who would aspire to be the most successful prisoner in a jail? Joseph prospered, yes, as a slave in a foreign country where he was unjustly imprisoned. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like success I’d like to achieve.

Yet it’s clear from the text that Joseph was faithful in stewarding what had been entrusted to him in prison. The Lord was with him in his efforts to manage the jail. He took care of all of the details and did so with excellence. Joseph did not sit around and sulk. He did not act in a passive-aggressive manner, accepting his jailer’s orders but doing them poorly. Rather, Joseph gave himself fully to the lowly, unwanted job of running the jail as the top prisoner.

You and I will probably never be in a situation exactly like that of Joseph. At least I hope not. But it sometimes happens in life and work that we are successful in things we did not seek or even desire. We are given opportunity and authority in an area that we’d never have chosen for ourselves. The boss says to you, “I’m giving you this crucial project” without caring that it’s not a project you’d like to take on.

How do we respond in a situation like this? The example of Joseph encourages us to be faithful stewards of all that has been entrusted to us, even that which we’d rather not have in our care. Genesis 39 reminds us that God is with us at all times and will bless our faithfulness. Moreover, as we continue on in the story of Joseph, we’ll see how God will use Joseph’s success in prison for God’s own purposes as well as for Joseph’s good.

Something to Think About:

Have you ever been successful in something at work that you didn’t seek?

Have you ever been given responsibility for something you’d rather not do?

What helps you to be a faithful steward of all that has been entrusted to your care?

Have you seen how God uses for good things in your life that seemed to be not so good?


Gracious God, thank you for the example of Joseph, who was successful even in jail, and who faithfully managed all that had been entrusted to him.

Help us, Lord, to be like Joseph, to seek in all things to be faithful. In our work, help us to do all that has been given to us with excellence, serving you and trusting you with the results. Amen.

This post was originally published on January 25, 2016.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Joseph’s Interpretation of Dreams in Prison (Genesis 39:20-40:23)



2 thoughts on “Reflections on Success: Part 7 – Stewarding the Success You Didn’t Want

  1. Deborah Dickerson says:

    I suspect Potiphar did not believe his wife. If he did, he could have had Joseph executed. He chose not to publicly shame his wife by believing the best of his steward over her word. Potiphar trusted Joseph and knew he was a man of integrity (he entrusted everything in his house to him). I suspect Potiphar knew the truth and needed to move Joseph out of his house. Jail for Joseph would satisfy his wife’s charges without him having an innocent man executed. Either way, God was with Joseph and used this time in prison to prepare him for what was ahead— the salvation of God’s people (and all the peoples of the region).

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Deborah, you may well be right about Potiphar. Near as I can tell, the Genesis text says that Potiphar “burned with anger” but it doesn’t explicitly say his anger was directed at Joseph. Maybe it was at his wife. Thanks for your suggestion.

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