Learning About Success from the Life of Joseph

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).

10 Little- or No-Prep Youth Group Games

Often times, games and activities fall by the wayside during a youth group night. We get swamped during the week, we spend much of our time planning the lesson, we focus on counseling students, or we have just gotten back from a retreat and games are the last thing on our minds as we prepare for the evening.

But the reality is that we can only default to dodge ball so often due to the amount of bloody noses. Sharks and minnows will become old soon. Students will no longer want to participate in ultimate. And let’s be honest: floor hockey has left too many dents in the wall to be a valid option.

And therein lies the problem: what do you do when you need a game now? After living in climates where you can only be outside for a few months of the year, we learned to have group games that are applicable to both indoor and outdoor environments, and can be done with any size youth program. These games all require little or no prep and can be an easy go-to for anyone crunched on time, or looking for a little change to what they currently have.

Pull Up

Requirements: A sound system and music.

Rules of play: Have your group sit on the floor in a circle facing inward. Then choose an odd number of boys and girls to be in the middle. When the music starts the students in the middle must go to a member of the opposite gender, extend a hand, and “pull them up”. They then sit in the open spot and that new student in the middle continues by pulling up a member of the opposite gender. This continues until the music stops and the gender with the most people in the middle loses. Play for as long or short as you would like.

Drip, Drip, Drop

Requirements: Paper cups and water… maybe some towels. (May get carpets a little wet, so be on good terms with your janitor.)

Rules: Players sit in a circle facing each other much like Duck, Duck, Goose. Pick on player to be it. They stand outside of the circle and are given a cup with a small hole in the bottom. Have them place their finger over the hole. When they start they go around the circle saying “drip” and dripping a small amount of water on the students’ heads. When they yell “drop” they turn the cup upside down on the person and have to run around the circle while being chased by the person they dropped on. If they make it to said person’s spot they are safe. If they are tagged they are it again. Feel free to use as little or as much water as you want!

Egg, Chicken, Dinosaur

Requirements: An emcee.

Rules: This is a great alternative to Rock, Paper, Scissors and is really easy to pull off. Explain how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors to the group. Then explain that in this game you can only play with people who are the same as you: i.e. an egg, chicken, or dinosaur. Eggs can only play eggs, chickens can only play against chickens, and dinosaurs against a dinosaur. The kicker is they must walk or waddle in a manner that is befitting of an egg, chicken, or dinosaur. Participants all start as eggs. They must find another egg and play a best 2 out of 3 round of rock, paper, scissors, and if they win they become a chicken. When a chicken wins they become a dinosaur. If they lose a round they go back one level.

Lightsaber Duels

Requirements: A sound system, music (epic music or Star Wars music is great here) and an emcee.

Rules: Participants must all place one hand behind their back. They will then join in a battle with another person by locking their one hand with the other person’s hand. They will then extend their pointer finger as their lightsaber. When the music starts they attempt to touch their “lightsaber” to the other person. They can “zap” them anywhere. If they are zapped they are out. The winner keep advancing until only one remains. **Note: this can go on for a while depending on your students. Some battle for long periods others for a matter of seconds.**


Requirements: Buckets, cones, pinnies/colored shirts, and balls.

Rules: Prior to dividing students place bucket in the middle of a ring of cones (we usually make it about a three feet in each direction from bucket to cone). Divide your students into groups (we usually just do two but having more groups makes it interesting) and assign each group colored pinnies. The game is played in the same manner as ultimate Frisbee where the students must pass the ball down the field and are only allowed three steps with the ball. We have a rule where if playing co-ed, ladies must have two touches on the ball before a point can be scored. Points are scored by players throwing the ball (after three or more passes) to their goal keeper. The goal keeper will hold the bucket within the ring of cones and attempt to catch a ball in the bucket. Only balls that stay in the bucket count. The goal keeper may not go outside of the cone ring and the defense and offense may not go inside the cone ring. Feel free to add as many balls to the game as you would like.

Hot Seat

Requirements: One chair, people, emcee (can also be played in small groups).

Rules: Chose a person to come up and sit in the “hot seat” for 30-60 seconds. During that time the audience can ask questions of the person and they will need to answer. This can be as surface, deep, or bizarre as your group would like. However, make sure you have a good emcee to filter some of the more awkward questions because we all know that will happen. At the end give the person in the chair a candy bar for being a good sport.

Seated Basketball/Soccer

Requirements: Chairs, pinnies, balls, and extra leaders/students to collect stray balls.

Rules: Explain that the game you are playing will be played like soccer or basketball in that the goals are the same: obtain points how you would normally (kicking a goal, making a basket). Divide your students into two teams and give them their pinnies. If you are playing soccer have the students remove their shoes to prevent potential injuries from kicking one another. Have your students then grab a chair and give them 15-30 seconds to place their chair. Explain that this is the only place they may sit for the first half/quarter. Once they sit they may not move from that spot. When everyone has sat down introduce the balls for the game and explain that students must remain seated all the time, and failure to do so will put them in a penalty box. Explain that if no one can reach a ball it will be placed back into play by a leader. Assign times for your halves/quarters and then when a new one begins allow students to find a new spot to sit.

Cat and Mouse Tag

Requirements: A large room.

Rules: Have students pair up and link arms at the elbows. I would recommend not allowing them to hold hands or wrists as it can lead to injuries. Ask for two volunteers (or four depending on your group size) and explain that one will be the cat and one will be the mouse. The cat will be it and will need to chase the mouse. At any point during the chase the mouse can link up via their arm with a group and the person who is now on the outside is the new mouse. If the mouse is tagged then the roles are flipped and they are now the cat, and the cat is the mouse. There is no winner to this game, it is more just an active game to engage students with.


Requirements: 8 rectangular tables and a ball that bounces. (We have used an indoor/outdoor volleyball and it worked very well.)

Rules: Set up the tables in an octagon shape by placing them one their sides and extending the legs to help keep them upright. You can interconnect the tables however you would like depending on size you would like your court to be. Students then can enter the octagon (make sure to keep the number of students proportional to the size of the octagon) and begin play. A player serves by allowing the ball to bounce three times while everyone chants “ga-ga-ball” in time to the bounces. The ball is then live and players may go for it. Players may hit the ball with their hands in an attempt to elimination other players by having the ball hit them below their knees. Doing so eliminates the player who was hit. If someone hits the ball out of the court they are out. If they hit the ball in the air and it is caught the player who hit it is out. If it is caught out of play that player is now in. There is no double-hitting allowed and a player can only hit the ball again if it hits someone else or a wall. When two people are remaining they are allowed to have double hits on the ball. Various other rules can include: no ball carrying, no punching the ball, no shielding of one’s self, no teams, etc. Last person standing wins the game.

Death Sticks

Requirements: Pool noodles cut in half, music, and chairs.

Rules: Place an odd number of pool noodles on an equal number of chairs in the middle of a large circle of chairs. Have each student pick a chair and remove any chairs that do not have a student. Then chose an odd number of students to stand in the middle that is equal to the number of chairs with noodles. Explain that this is a guy versus girl game (or however you would like it to be) where when the music starts the guys must take the noodle and bop a lady on her legs, and ladies must do the same to guys. Once someone is bopped the person with the noodle must return the noodle to the chair they took it from (no throwing it must be placed) while being chased by the person they bopped. If the person who was bopped manages to retrieve the noodle when it placed down and bop the person who bopped them before they sit down in the vacant chair that person returns to the middle. If they cannot they are now in the middle and can bop someone. Winning team is the team with the least of their gender in the middle. And remember that bop = soft hit, not smacking someone in the head with the noodle.

BONUS GAME: Mingle Mingle

Requirements: Pre-scripted, get-to-know-you style questions and an emcee.

Rules: This is a get to know you game. Explain that on “go” students are to walk around the room mumbling “mingle, mingle” until you yell out a number. Once you yell a number students must get into a group and share “their name, their grade/school, and your get to know you question.” Give them 30-60 seconds and then repeat the game.

These are some of the best go-to games out there, and I hope that these can be used to help you in reaching and serving students! A few things to help make any game time even better:
  • Music (keep it fun and upbeat)
  • Prizes (candy bars or cheap gift cards are great, or leftover holiday candy if you are in a pinch)
  • Have a good emcee – someone who knows your audience and can keep the energy and fun levels high
  • Relational leaders – games are great but having an environment where students feel loved, welcomed, and valued will make these games a true success
 Have a blast with these, and feel free to share your own favorite no-prep game in the comments!