Grow Pray Study for July

Joseph left home on a road trip filled with twists and turns that changed his life, and there are probably parallels between his long-ago journey and the one you are on today…so what can you learn from them?

Joseph and his Journey

Genesis 37:2-5, 17b-24, 28

Brothers sold Dad’s despised “favorite son”

Genesis 37 seemed to blend perhaps three different stories about Joseph, each giving a slightly different reason for why his brothers hated him. But the reasons weren’t mutually exclusive. Family therapists know that being a “chosen child” like Joseph often skews relationships and emotional growth. Oldest brother Reuben could only think of an idea that was hardly less than leaving Joseph to die in the empty cistern. Slavery in Egypt seemed like little more than a drawn-out death sentence.

  • Based on your growing-up years, is it easier for you to identify with young Joseph, enjoying his privileged status as dad’s favorite, or with his brothers, feeling undervalued and ignored? How have you found that God, the source of what the Bible called “steadfast love,” can be a “fixed point” helping you grow beyond the wounds flawed family dynamics can leave on any of us?
  • Reuben and Judah had just enough moral courage to stand up to their brothers and say, “No, don’t kill Joseph. We don’t want blood on our hands.” On the other hand, they didn’t have the courage to tell Jacob, “Dad, Joseph isn’t dead. We sold him to traders going to Egypt.” How morally courageous are you? In what areas do you want to become braver?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, people betrayed you, but you did not allow that to knock you off course. Help me find in your love the source of strength to move beyond any pain I experience from others. Amen.

Prayer: O God, free me from the desire for revenge on others. Instead, give me the moral courage to stand for what is right, especially on behalf of those who are powerless. Amen. 

Genesis 39:1-3, 6-20

Joseph was unfairly jailed due to a rich Egyptian’s scheming wife

Instead of nurturing depression and bitterness, Joseph showed such capable integrity that Potiphar, his Egyptian master, “put everything he had under Joseph’s supervision.” Yet Genesis didn’t say, “Joseph was amazing,” but “The LORD was with Joseph.” Alas, Joseph also greatly impressed Potiphar’s wife. He refused to betray his master’s trust and rebuffed her advances. Potiphar had no choice but to believe his wife (even if he didn’t believe her) and sent Joseph to prison.

  • Partly because it’s told in broad brushstrokes, this story makes Joseph’s rise in Potiphar’s esteem sound almost effortless. Do you think that was the case, or did Joseph need to work hard and wisely in order to make his Egyptian master’s household run smoothly? Does God’s blessing relieve you of the need for effort and wisdom, or does God tend to work through those qualities in your life?
  • Joseph, knowing how much Potiphar trusted him, might well have gotten some sensual pleasure and kept his position at the head of the household. But he refused to betray Potiphar’s trust, and it cost him—outwardly, at least. Have you ever chosen not to do something wrong, even though you could “get away with it”? As you look back, are you glad you preserved your integrity or not? For what reasons?

Prayer: O God, free me from the desire for revenge on others. Instead, give me the moral courage to stand for what is right, especially on behalf of those who are powerless. Amen. 

Genesis 39:21-23, 41:9-16, 37-41 

Vaulted from pit to prime minister, Joseph gave God the glory 

A Hebrew slave unfairly jailed by a rich Egyptian owner—how could Joseph escape that fix? God helped Joseph explain dreams for two fellow prisoners. After two years, Pharaoh’s restored steward finally remembered Joseph (still in jail) when the king had baffling dreams. Pharaoh, impressed by Joseph’s discernment, made an unexpected (no doubt shocking to ambitious Egyptian officers) choice.

He freed the Hebrew and made him his chief deputy, with power over all of Egypt! 

  • Egypt’s ruler said to Joseph, “I heard that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.” Joseph’s answer was prompt and clear: “It’s not me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable response” (41:16). Joseph could have easily taken the credit Pharaoh offered him, but his day-by-day choices before this moment had formed an honest character. What choices are you making each day to build the character God desires you to have?
  • Joseph used his power to save his family (and all of Egypt) from famine. Near his life’s end, he was sure Israel’s future was not in Egypt and made the Israelites promise he’d be part of the Exodus to come (cf. Genesis 50:24-26, Exodus 13:19). Pastor Hamilton wrote of life’s big hurts, “This kind of wound does not disappear after a day. I picture the boulder being chipped away, a little at a time.” * How did God guide Joseph to turn the pain of his brothers’ betrayal into lifesaving action?

Prayer: Merciful God, how powerfully Joseph exemplified the spirit of your kingdom as he saved his brothers and his Egyptian captors. Keep growing in me a capacity to embody and act out your mercy. Amen.

* Adam Hamilton; Rob Simbeck, ed. Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012, p. 95.

Psalm 105:16-22, 34:4-6

What Israel learned from Joseph

Psalm 105 poetically recounted Israel’s early history, including portions of Joseph’s story as Genesis told it. Psalm 34 probably grew from a time when David, though already anointed king, still had to use all his wiles to keep jealous King Saul from killing him. Its language harked back to Joseph. It’s “someone who has had to cry out, a different word, used elsewhere of the Israelites crying out in Egypt.” * Both Psalms praised, not human ingenuity, but God’s guiding providence.

  • In “Stone the Crows” in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph sings, “Anyone from anywhere can make it/If they get a lucky break.” ** Neither Genesis nor Psalms said Joseph got a “lucky break.” The Hebrew writers said the real story was that God’s people, like Joseph, needed patience to trust God’s work, which is sometimes done unseen in the background of life. Which perspective do you find more persuasive to guide your life?
  • Psalm 105 answered the question, “What do we have to be grateful for?” “It…doesn’t relate to what God has done for a particular generation….It reminds Israel to be grateful for the extraordinary sequence of events that lay at the foundation of every century in its life….The story will go on to tell shows how Yahweh is the one from whom Israel is to seek help.” *** How can Joseph’s story teach you to trust God, instead of asking, “What have you done for me lately”? Prayer: Lord Jesus, especially when things get tough, I find it hard to think beyond the current week or month. Teach me to trust in the long sweep of your work with and for your human servants, from Joseph all the way to now. Amen. 

* John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 107. ** From the 1999 film version of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ with Lyrics by Tim Rice & Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

*** John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 2: Psalms 73–150. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, p. 106.

Acts 7:9-18, 10:38

God was with Jesus even more than with Joseph 

Acts 7 told of an energetic early Christian named Stephen on trial for his life, charged with serious religious offenses (cf. Acts 6:13-14). His response was very much like Psalm 105 (which we read part of yesterday)—reciting the history of God and God’s people, including Joseph. “God was with him” echoed Genesis 39:2, 21, yet Joseph’s brothers rejected him (as the leaders rejected Jesus). In Acts 10, Peter shared Jesus with Roman soldiers, using that same phrase from Joseph’s story.

  • Stephen’s defense wasn’t a set of random Bible stories. “Joseph was rejected by his brothers, but God used him to become the ruler of all Pharaoh’s household….When his brothers needed food, the man they had to go to was the man they… rejected….he was gracious to them and gave them what they needed. Were there already some in Stephen’s audience who saw where this was going?” * How did Joseph’s story point to Jesus, who fully lived out God’s presence with us?
  • Acts 10 showed that “the first apostles went on telling and retelling the stories which Jesus himself had told, but they quickly found that they had another story to tell which was even better: the story about Jesus himself….it was the focal point of the true story of the creator God and his world…. Second, it was the story in which the name of Jesus himself was front and center.” ** How can you, like the apostles, share that the story of Jesus is in the end the most epic tale of all?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Daniel, David, now Joseph—all their stories were chapters of the story that led to and continues with you. Let me weave my life, too, into your great saving story. Amen.

* Wright, N.T., Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 110). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

** Wright, N.T., Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 166-167). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Timothy 6:11

Run away from evil at all costs, as Joseph did 

The apostle Paul used one aspect of Joseph’s story to shape his counsel to new Christians living in the rampantly immoral city of Corinth. “Avoid” in 1 Corinthians 6:18 was the Greek verb pheugō. With his extensive rabbinic Bible knowledge, Paul no doubt knew that Joseph’s story used that verb. “Genesis 39:12 [LXX or Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament] uses pheugō to describe Joseph’s successful escape from Potiphar’s wife: ‘He fled out of her house’” (cf. Gen. 39:13, 15, 18).” * The same Greek verb occurred twice in the letters to guide the young pastor Timothy in leading his churches. In 1 Timothy 6 it did not relate to specifically sexual morality at all, but to avoiding the trap of trusting in material wealth rather than God caring provision for our needs.

• Sometimes we feel as though Christian living is nothing but negative commands, a long series of “don’ts.” It’s important to recognize that the apostle’s guidance “contains both negative and positive aspects.” ** “Pursue” translates another strong but positive Greek verb, sometimes rendered as “strive for” or “try your best to.” As you reflect on Joseph’s story, how do you see his life reflecting the positive qualities in 1 Timothy 6:11, which grew from the same character that enabled him to flee from the temptation offered by his master’s wife? How can you keep your life open to pursue all the good qualities God wishes to build into you?

Prayer: King Jesus, I give myself to you. Use who I am to flee from evil, but more to positively bless my circle of influence. Fulfill your promise to keep growing me as I walk with you. Amen. 

* Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, comment on 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 in G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, ed., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 714.