How does God prepare his leaders—those he especially uses to bless others?
There are common preparatory experiences that happen in the lives of those God fashions for great works. We see many of these in the life of Joseph. In Genesis 37, he had a vision of his parents and siblings bowing down to him—God was going to use him to lead. However, Joseph had no idea that God was preparing him to not only lead his family but a nation—Egypt. As second in command of Egypt, his leadership would not only bless Egyptians and his family but many nations during a widespread famine.
In Genesis 40, we find this unlikely leader in prison. Because of his brothers’ hatred for him, they sold him into slavery (Gen 37). While working in Egypt under the captain of the guard, Potiphar, Joseph was framed by Potiphar’s wife because he wouldn’t have an affair with her, which led to him being placed in prison. This seems like a strange pathway to leadership; however, that is how God often moves with us. His pathways are not typically linear—the direct path, as one might expect. They can be quite varied. From the outside looking in, the paths often don’t make sense. However, God is more focused on developing his people’s character than the chronological time it takes to get to a certain destination. Therefore, he paves various paths to develop godly character and competency for his peoples’ callings. We see this with Joseph’s path to leadership and many other saints God used in special ways.
In this narrative, we’ll learn principles about how God prepares leaders. He places them in various schools to equip them for future leadership and to be a blessing to many.
Big Question: What aspects of leadership preparation can we discern from Joseph’s experience in prison, right before his exaltation to leadership in Egypt?
To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Hardship
After these things happened, the cupbearer to the king of Egypt and the royal baker offended their master, the king of Egypt.
Interpretation Question: What does “after these things” refer to?
“After these things,” refers to the unfortunate events Joseph experienced in the previous chapter (Gen 39). As mentioned, Joseph was framed for not sleeping with his master’s wife and then sent to prison. However, while there, God was with him and prospered him. Though a prisoner, he was entrusted with caring for other prisoners. These difficult circumstances were part of God’s preparation process for Joseph’s future exaltation.
Often in times of suffering, we’re tempted to think God is angry with us or that we are suffering because of sin. Many times, suffering actually comes because of our faithfulness and is a necessary path for increased ministry. John 15:1-2 says: “‘I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.”
Pruning is cutting away from a branch so it can bear more fruit. Branches have a tendency to grow lots of foliage (and attract parasites) that can block sunlight and hinder growth. Gardeners, therefore, need to trim branches in order to create more productivity. If the branch was fruitless, the gardener would just get rid of it.
While in Potiphar’s house, Joseph had been fruitful. Genesis 39:2-3 says, “The Lord was with Joseph. He was successful and lived in the household of his Egyptian master. His master observed that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he was doing successful.” God blessed Joseph so much that Potiphar could discern the success was Divine in origin. Potiphar, who would have recognized many gods, was being introduced to Yahweh through Joseph. In fact, when Joseph was promoted over everything, God blessed everything in Potiphar’s house and fields for Joseph’s sake (39:6). Joseph, essentially, was participating in God’s promise to Abraham—that all nations would be blessed through his lineage (Gen 12:3).
Therefore, Joseph’s humbling circumstances were not because of God’s displeasure. Far from it! He was suffering for righteousness’ sake, and God was using this suffering to purify him, to take their relationship deeper, and to prepare Joseph for even more fruitfulness. Christ said it is to the Father’s glory that his disciples produce much fruit (John 15:8). Because of this, Christians will go through various seasons of exaltation (God using us mightily) and humbling (including seasons of little activity or influence), all meant to prepare us for greater fruitfulness.
With Abraham, after he left his father’s home in obedience to God’s command to go to the promised land, he encountered a country in the midst of a famine (Gen 12). No doubt, Abraham was shocked by the immediate hardship after obeying God. In another example, immediately after Elijah brings judgment on the prophets of Baal and ignites a revival in Israel, Jezebel promises to kill him (1 Kgs 18-19). Elijah then flees for his life and begins to struggle with depression and a desire to die.
Those unaware of this necessary leadership training often become disillusioned by the repeated trials they encounter. They commonly question God and ask, “Why?” Again, often it’s simply because they have been faithful, and God is preparing them for greater fruit and effectiveness.
Application Question: What is learned by believers during the school of hardship?
1. In the school of hardship, God teaches us humility.
When we are bearing much fruit, we are more prone to pride and self-sufficiency. Therefore, trials are a form of protection for us—keeping us from pride. This is what God did with Paul, who was very fruitful in his service to the Lord and had experienced many special revelations from God. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul said, “even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant.” For the one who is fruitful, trials are a necessary protection. If Satan could become prideful, without having a sin nature, while serving the Lord, how much more are we prone to this when we already have prideful inclinations in our flesh? God fights against the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jam 4:6). In one sense, reoccurring hardships keep God’s servants in a place of blessing—a place where God can give them grace in their weakness and use them more.
If we have exceptional advantages like Joseph—being good looking and having superior intellectual, spiritual, and leadership abilities—we may need more hardship than others to keep us from pride. With that said, we can trust that God will not allow us to be tried beyond what we are able to bear and is fitting to equip us for our calling (cf. 1 Cor 10:13).
2. In the school of hardship, God teaches us endurance.
James 1:2-3 says, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” “Endurance” is a word that simply means to “bear up under a heavy weight.” This is important because, like lifting weights at the gym, enduring trials builds greater strength in believers. This strength will allow them to not only stand in hard times but also to help others stand, which is important for leaders. It enables them to better carry others’ burdens and therefore fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Trials build this type of strength in leaders. Without it, we won’t be able to help others, as we will crumble under the weight of our own trials and difficulties. In this narrative, Joseph ministered to the baker and cupbearer, though he was in his own trial—carrying their burdens, even as Christ carries ours.
3. In the school of hardship, God teaches us greater obedience.
David said this about his trials, “Before I was afflicted I used to stray off, but now I keep your instructions” (Ps 119:67). When life was easy, David was more prone to neglect God and sin against him, but the experience of suffering made David cling to and obey God more. This is what God was developing in Joseph’s life—great humility, endurance, and obedience to prepare him for greater responsibility.
With that said, though trials are meant to train and equip us for greater fruit, it is possible to become angry at God because of them—leading to greater strongholds. Satan’s desire through the trials he brought against Job was for him to curse God. Certainly, many leave trials with less faith and more entangling sin. Instead of turning to God, they turn to unhealthy endeavors: relational codependency, alcohol and drug abuse, dishonesty, or other toxic, harmful behaviors. God’s intention is to nurture their spiritual growth; Satan’s intention is to bring their spiritual demise. Each trial brings an opportunity for both. We must turn to God in our trials so he can train us for his purposes.
Application Question: Recall a season where God put you in the school of hardship. What were the difficulties and rewards of that season? Why is it so easy to neglect and sin against God in seasons of ease? How has experiencing hardship created greater humility, endurance, and obedience in you?
To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Service
After these things happened, the cupbearer to the king of Egypt and the royal baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was enraged with his two officials, the cupbearer and the baker, so he imprisoned them in the house of the captain of the guard in the same facility where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be their attendant, and he served them. They spent some time in custody. Both of them, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream the same night. Each man’s dream had its own meaning. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were looking depressed. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” They told him, “We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.” Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me …
While in prison, Joseph was tasked with overseeing all the prisoners; and at some point, he was given responsibility for serving two special prisoners—Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. The cupbearer oversaw Pharaoh’s vineyards and tasted his drinks to make sure none of them were poisoned.1 The baker prepared and oversaw the quality of all the king’s food.2 These were high ranking officials in the government. Both of these men had the king’s ear and were in his confidential circle.
The narrator says that these officials “offended” Pharaoh, which led to their imprisonment (v. 1-3). We don’t know exactly what they did, but the fact that one of them ultimately received capital punishment implies they were suspected of a serious crime. Since both officials oversaw Pharaoh’s food and drink, most likely the suspected crime had to do with Pharaoh’s table—maybe some poison was intercepted. Also, the fact these two officials were not treated like common criminals but instead received favorable treatment in prison, probably meant that their guilt was not yet determined. Maybe both were guilty, or one of them, or neither of them. While they were imprisoned, Joseph served them and probably even befriended them.
God typically does this with people he is going to exalt. He first places them in the school of service—teaching them how to put others before themselves. With Christ, before taking the crown, he came down to the earth as a servant to serve people. Philippians 2:6-7 says:
who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.
Paul continues to describe Christ’s humiliation and exaltation this way: “As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (v. 9-10). Serving came before Christ’s exaltation.
Similarly, Christ taught his disciples that the person who wants to be great must become the servant of all (Matt 20:26). God trains those he will use greatly in the school of service. Joseph entered this school at his father’s house—shepherding sheep. He continued it in Potiphar’s house as a slave and while in prison.
Application Question: What aspects of service are learned in the school of service, as seen from Joseph’s serving the political prisoners?
1. In the school of service, we learn to be sensitive to others’ needs.
In Genesis 40:6-7, it says,
When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were looking depressed. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”
When Joseph approached the political prisoners one morning, it was apparent that they were depressed, and he inquired, “Why?” This is significant. In Genesis 37, when Joseph was a youth, he was very unaware of his brothers’ hatred of him. After Jacob exalts Joseph by giving him a special robe, Joseph shared with his brothers the dreams of him ruling over them. They were already angry at him and hurt by their father’s favoritism towards Joseph; Joseph’s sharing only made the situation worst. The brothers couldn’t even speak kind words to him (Gen 37:4). At that point in Joseph’s life, he had no comprehension of their emotions. He was too consumed with himself to discern his brothers’ murderous, emotional state. He didn’t seem to be sharing his dreams to antagonize them. He was simply totally oblivious to their pain.
However, after God allowed Joseph to experience the pain of betrayal, the pain of being a foreigner in Egypt, the pain of losing his freedom as a slave, the pain of suffering evil for doing good, God created a tremendous sensitivity in him—an ability to relate to others, feel their pain, and a desire to minister to them. How can we minister to somebody who is lonely if we’ve never experienced loneliness? How can we minister to somebody who has experienced loss if we haven’t? How can we minister to somebody who has experienced depression when we know nothing of it? It is through experiencing our own pain that God equips us with sympathy and compassion to better serve others. After experiencing various pains, we’ll often ache as we hear the stories of others. It will remind us of our own past pain and provoke us to help alleviate theirs.
In addition, not only did Joseph’s experience of hardship create sensitivity in him but specifically, it increased his capacity to care for hurting people. Serving others takes our mind off ourselves. It delivers us from being self-focused and makes us others-focused. As we vicariously experience the suffering and pain of others, God broadens our capacity for compassion and sympathy. Not only through hardship but also by serving others, God developed compassion and sensitivity in Joseph. God often does the same with us.
Certainly, this is, in part, why Christ became human. He became human to relate to us, so he could better serve us. Hebrews 2:17-18 says,
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
Are you developing a compassionate heart for others? This is something God develops in those he prepares to bless many. This is one of the reasons that going on mission trips can be so helpful to one’s spiritual life. Many times, on the mission field—serving others—God delivers people from immaturity and selfishness and develops a compassion in them to serve others with their lives.
Application Question: How has God used both pain and serving others to make you more compassionate?
2. In the school of service, we develop our faith in God.
After the officials shared the fact that they were disturbed because of dreams, Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me” (Gen 40:8). Again, Joseph was speaking to pagans who worshiped various gods—each having dominion over different spheres (the water, the moon, the sun, the stars, etc.). However, Joseph essentially says the one God is over everything. He points them to God as sovereign over dreams and the interpreter of them.
Joseph’s response to their dreams is pretty remarkable and telling of what had happened in Joseph’s heart. After having his own dreams, being sent into slavery and then prison, it would be understandable if Joseph wanted nothing more to do with dreams. However, his response of seeking interpretations from God for their dreams implies that he still believed his own. Throughout those eleven years of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph persevered in believing God’s word to him—spoken through his dreams. In fact, after Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams came true, it confirmed his belief even more. God would one day set Joseph free and exalt him. Joseph had faith in God and, therefore, could help others have faith. And while he served others, his faith in God continued to grow. This is the same thing God does with us. As we minister to others and see God’s power move in their lives bringing healing, encouragement, and restoration, it builds our faith.
Again, this is one of the reasons it’s so important for young believers to get into serving ministries early on in their faith journey, as it will transform their little faith into big faith. Not serving or getting involved in ministries only keeps their faith stagnant. In order to mature in Christ, we all need to continually experience God using us to bless others. As we do this, it will build our faith and prepare us to help more people.
Application Question: How has serving others increased your faith? How have you experienced a decline in your faith when not serving?
3. In the school of service, we learn to faithfully share God’s Word
To Egyptians, dreams were very important, and therefore, the skill of interpretation was prized. They believed that dreams put them in contact with the netherworld.3 Because the high officials were in prison, they didn’t have access to professional interpreters who used dream books and other methods to interpret. Since Joseph had experience with his own dreams, he trusted God to interpret theirs. With nothing to lose, the officials shared their dreams with Joseph. In the cupbearer’s dream, he saw a vine with three branches. On these branches were buds that quickly blossomed and turned into grapes. Then the cupbearer squeezed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. We don’t know for sure, but it is probably wise to assume, that Joseph sent a quick arrow prayer to God—asking for grace to interpret (like Nehemiah praying while talking to the Persian king in Nehemiah 2). Then Joseph shared that the three branches symbolized that God would restore the cupbearer to his position of serving the king in three days.
Being encouraged by the positive interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, the baker shared his dream. In it, he had three baskets on his head with baked goods for the king. However, there were birds eating from the top basket. This scenario was not uncommon: in those days, men and women both carried all sorts of items or heavy burdens on their heads. Also, in Egypt, birds were considered sacred and, therefore, were left unmolested. This made them a constant nuisance, especially when food was around.4 Birds swooping down to steal food was normal; however, the fact that the baker could not stop them would have been unacceptable. It was his job to ensure the safety and quality of the Pharaoh’s food—this would have been an utter failure on his part. Joseph interprets that in three days Pharaoh would have him decapitated. Perhaps this confirmed the fact that the baker had previously failed to protect the king’s food and would suffer the consequences. The cupbearer was the innocent party.
However, this is the point we must understand from this part of the narrative: in serving the officials, not only did Joseph have faith in God, but he also faithfully shared God’s word with them, which would encourage them to believe in the sovereign God. Indeed, it was easy to share the interpretation about the cupbearer’s release, but it must have been difficult to share the distressing message with the baker. It seems that Joseph didn’t hesitate—he simply spoke for God. This is where many Christians fail as servants, and therefore in their preparation for leadership: they won’t speak God’s Word at all, preferring to remain silent, or they speak only messages of encouragement and not messages of rebuke.
Every believer has the responsibility to speak for God. God has given us his complete revelation in Scripture, and we must share it with all. It has been given, according to Paul, for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness to equip God’s people for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). By sharing it with others, we equip them to be used by God, but we also equip ourselves by both our studying and sharing of it.
Consider what God said to Joshua as he began to lead Israel: “This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Josh 1:8). Not only was Joshua to memorize and obey Scripture, but he was also called to never let it depart from his lips in order to be a successful leader. Essentially, Joshua was called to teach God’s Word: to share it with his family, friends, co-workers, etc. If he did this, God would prosper his leadership over Israel. Likewise, one of the ways God prepares us for fruitful leadership is by our faithful sharing of God’s Word with others—speaking both encouragement and rebuke. If God can trust us with his Word, he can trust us with other duties.
Is God’s Word constantly on your lips? Are you talking about it with your friends, family, and co-workers? In Acts 20:26-27, Paul said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” We will be held accountable for not sharing all of God’s Word as well—both the good and the bad. This is one of the truths God teaches in the school of service—our need to be faithful stewards of God’s Word (1 Cor 4:1-2), which can only be done if we faithfully study God’s Word.
As seen with Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and many others, preparation for leadership starts with serving others. Great servants become great leaders. Again, even God made his own Son a servant before he made him King, and Christ taught that the pathway to greatness was becoming the servant of all (Matt 20:26).
Who is God calling you to serve? Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works.” We must consider others—thinking about how we may best serve and encourage them. For most, the school of service starts with our family, including a future spouse and children (cf. 1 Tim 5:8). If we don’t serve our families well, we won’t serve others well either. This is why potential elders must run their households well before even being put into church leadership (1 Tim 3:1-7). As we learn to excel in serving others (including our family), God by his grace, opens the door for greater responsibility.
Application Question: Recall a season where God put you in the school of service. What were the difficulties and rewards of that season? Why is serving others the best preparation for leadership? What lessons has God taught you while serving others? Who is God calling you to serve, as he prepares you for greater service?
To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Waiting
On the third day it was Pharaoh’s birthday, so he gave a feast for all his servants. He “lifted up” the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker in the midst of his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his former position so that he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, but the chief baker he impaled, just as Joseph had predicted. But the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph—he forgot him.
After interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him and speak to Pharaoh positively about him (Gen 40:14-15). He had done nothing to deserve imprisonment. No doubt, the cupbearer responded positively. In three days, the king, on his birthday, granted clemency to the cupbearer while putting the baker to death.
After the cupbearer was set free, one would imagine that Joseph was very excited. Not only did this confirm God was going to bring Joseph’s dream to fruition, but also that he might soon be set free. Possibly, he could be set free the same day or within the week. Every time someone visited the jail, Joseph’s heart probably pounded in his chest as he looked up to see who it was. However, after weeks, the excitement slowly decreased. He realized that the cupbearer forgot.
Why did the cupbearer forget? We are not told. Maybe he was so wrapped up in excitement about his own freedom that he simply forgot about Joseph. Maybe he was busy completing all the work that had been neglected in his absence. Maybe he was just afraid to remind Pharaoh of the past by bringing up Joseph’s name, so he remained quiet. Whatever the reason, Joseph remained in the prison. He was there for two more years (Gen 41:1). Altogether, he waited thirteen years for God to exalt him, and over twenty for his dreams to manifest of his family bowing down to him.
Joseph was in the school of waiting—the same school God placed others who received his great and precious promises. Abraham waited twenty-five years for a child from his wife, Sarah. Moses waited forty years in the desert before God called him to lead Israel into the promised land. David was anointed to be king as a young child, but spent years in Saul’s army and, later on, running from Saul’s army before God made him king of Israel. Jesus also waited a long time to begin his ministry—thirty years.
Application Question: Why does God place his leaders in the school of waiting?
1. In the school of waiting, we learn that God’s work cannot happen through our flesh—ours or anybody else’s.
Waiting weans us from dependence on self or others until we trust solely in God. Jeremiah 17:5 and 7 says:
The LORD says, “I will put a curse on people who trust in mere human beings, who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength, and whose hearts have turned away from the LORD…My blessing is on those people who trust in me, who put their confidence in me.
God has to teach his people through failure to not put their trust in their own hard work, wisdom, networking ability, good looks, family background, education, or resume. The blessing can only come through God. Therefore, God allows failure and disappointment to help us learn that the blessing must come through him and him alone
Certainly, we see this training process with Jacob. He was a deceiver. He had to fail at deceiving his brother Esau, his father Isaac, and even his uncle Laban—there was nothing he could do to receive God’s promises but trust in God and remain faithful to him. God buffeted Jacob’s flesh in the waiting season, and he does the same to us.
2. In the school of waiting, God rids us of many vices by developing many virtues in us.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.” James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.”
Are you waiting for some promise from God? Trust him. He is working on your heart, while at the same time working through circumstances to prepare you for his blessing. If Joseph would have been released from prison with the cupbearer, he just would have been free to return home. However, two years later was God’s perfect time. God was creating a leadership gap in Egypt that Joseph would fill to save nations including Egypt and Israel.
God is doing the same in your life through hardships, disappointments, and specifically waiting seasons. As you remain faithful, God is preparing you for more. Victor Edman, the former president of Wheaton College, said this, “Delay never thwarts God’s purposes; it only polishes his instrument.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says, “‘Be still, and know that I am God.” Hebrews 6:12 says, “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.”
What are you waiting on God for—healing in your family, wisdom for the future, open doors for further ministry? To receive the promises, you must faithfully persevere through waiting seasons and let God perfect you through them. Psalm 37:4-5 (ESV) says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.”
Application Question: Recall a season where God put you in the school of waiting. What were the difficulties and rewards of that season? What major promises has God answered that he made you initially wait for? Are there some promises or dreams that you’re still waiting on? What are some of the fruits developed in waiting seasons? Why are waiting seasons so difficult?
How does God prepare his leaders—those he uses to significantly bless others? We learn principles from Joseph’s time in prison right before his exaltation to governor over Egypt.
- To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Hardship
- To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Service
- To Prepare Leaders, God Trains Them in the School of Waiting
1 Is your life a channel of blessing?
Is the love of God flowing through you?
Are you telling the lost of the Savior?
Are you ready His service to do?
Make me a channel of blessing today,
Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
Make me a channel of blessing today.
2 Is your life a channel of blessing?
Are you burdened for those who are lost?
Have you urged upon those who are straying
The Savior who died on the cross?
3 Is your life a channel of blessing?
Is it daily telling for Him?
Have you spoken the word of salvation
To those who are dying in sin?
4 We cannot be channels of blessing
If our lives are not free from known sin;
We will barriers be and a hindrance
To those we are trying to win.