Success. It’s something our culture thrives off of and lives for. It consumes many of us as we struggle to achieve our vision of a successful life. It has become a necessity for earning the respect and attention of colleagues and friends.

What does success look like to you and how do you measure it? Is it reaching a goal or milestone, becoming financially stable, achieving power, or becoming well-known? Whatever it is, it always involves forward motion, personal growth, and some measure of independence or self-reliance. But what happens when we don’t see our version of success?

I struggled with feeling unsuccessful in my career when I took a part time job that had nothing to do with my field. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my work, or achieving anything in my career. I wondered what God was doing, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to find out. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and find something that would feel more fulfilling.

In church, I spent most Sundays sulking in my seat, thinking about all the great things people around me were doing while my life was at a standstill. Then one Sunday there was a message on Joseph and my entire perspective changed. God completely transformed my view of success through the life of Joseph (chronicled in Genesis 37-50), teaching me that His definition of success is much different than mine.

Work for the Lord

The first lesson that the life of Joseph taught me was to work for the Lord wherever I am, no matter where that might be, no matter what I am doing. Regardless of where Joseph was, he was constantly focused on honoring God and working for Him. He spent time in slavery and in prison—places far worse than a frustrating job—but didn’t let that detract him from the Lord’s work.

As followers of Jesus, the Bible calls us to work as though we’re working for Him, not for men, because we are ultimately serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). This sounds simple, but it should affect every aspect of what we do. This truth calls me to examine whether or not my work is honoring to the Lord. Am I diligently and thoroughly completing each task in a way that represents my love for Him? Or am I doing the minimum to simply get the job done? Joseph challenges me to do more and be more for the Lord.

Don’t get distracted by circumstances

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives cause us to question where God is and what He is doing. No doubt Joseph wondered this as he was being sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites by his brothers. Or when Potiphar’s wife lied about him attempting to rape her, which got him thrown into prison. Or when his fellow prisoner, the chief cupbearer, forgot about him when he was restored to his post by Pharaoh. But when we look at Joseph’s life as a whole, God allows us to see how He was working through each circumstance to bring about His divine plan.

In the midst of a challenging circumstance, it’s difficult or even impossible to see the big picture. At times God gives us a glimpse into what He is doing and how He is working, but even when He doesn’t, we can know for certain that He is working (Romans 8:28). Difficult circumstances are an exercise in trust and obedience as we make ourselves available for the Lord’s work and watch to see where He will move.

Don’t worry about direction

When I look at the life of Joseph, I see that God’s way of working doesn’t always make sense and sometimes feels backward. Instead of building from a slave to free man to a leader, Joseph went from being a slave to a prisoner and then to a leader. Going from a slave to a prisoner sounds like a backward move and I’m sure at the time it felt like things were going from bad to worse. Where’s the success in becoming a prisoner? But God used this as a critical step to get Joseph where He ultimately wanted him, in Pharaoh’s court.

When I went from having a great full-time job in my career field to that part time job, it absolutely felt like a backward move. The forward momentum of my career suddenly stopped and I felt like I lost all that I had gained. It was important for me to learn that a “backward” move didn’t really mean anything to the whole picture of my life because God was using it to put me where He wanted me. This was a step in a direction that only He knew and I needed to trust Him in it.

God is always with you

This is the greatest, most amazing truth for followers of Jesus: the God of the universe is with us (Matthew 28:20)! And God was with Joseph, as Genesis 39 states multiple times (verses 2, 21 and 23). We, like Joseph, never have to face the challenges of life alone. We have a constant source of strength, help and guidance throughout our lives. And this brings me to my next lesson from Joseph.

Success is from the Lord

Not only does the account of Joseph’s life make it clear that God was with him, but it also clearly states that the Lord gave him the success he experienced (Genesis 39:2, 23). This is a convicting reminder for my selfish pride; when I think I am successful, I’m not. Only the Lord can generate success and He grants it to whomever He wills whenever He wants.

This should cause us to question, the next time I am praised for a job well done, to whom do I credit my success? Do I build myself up or do I give credit to the only Reason for my achievement? It’s important to mentally make the shift from thinking of success as me-centric to God-centric as He is the one deserving of all glory and praise.

Learn God’s definition of success

Finally, and most importantly, we need to adopt God’s definition of success, which is extremely counter-cultural. He isn’t looking for His followers to get rich quick or achieve fame status, though at times He does grant those things and more. His definition of success results in the saving of lives.

In Joseph’s story, God used all the circumstances—good and bad—to bring about His ultimate plan to save His people from seven years of famine (Genesis 41-47). In our story, God wants to use us to save lives not just temporarily, but eternally. He moves us, through our circumstances, to lost and hurting people, in desperate need of salvation. Our job is to look for and take advantage of those opportunities, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

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