Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.—Genesis 39:19-23, NLT
Sometimes immigrants spend time detained by the authorities because the have been arrested or convicted for crimes and other times for questions of migratory status. The story of Joseph reminds us that not only bad people go to jail, but also good people.
Joseph went to prison because of a false accusation, something that still happens, but not as frequently as inmates allege. In whatever case, the definition of the life of prisoners doesn’t consist in what they did outside the prision, but rather what they do on the inside.
In English, we say that prisoners “serve time.” What a cruel master! Time gives thanks to no one, uselessly accepting our service without giving us anything but age. Nevertheless, if time renders no good thing, we can strip something away from it—wisdom—and we can take that treasure when, instead of serving time, we dedicate ourselves to serve God and others. Once again, what prisoners do on the inside will define them.
Deep inside, Joseph called out to God. Inside the prison, he deepened his habit of seeking God’s presence. For the third and fourth times in a single chapter, the Bible says God fulfilled the divine name and nature—he remained with Joseph—and made Joseph fulfill his name and nature—Joseph prospered and succeeded.
We find good people and bad both inside and outside of prisons. Within our own selves we also find two kinds of person. We have a sinful nature and another one that reflects the image of God. One of them will set our true identity free; the other will take us captive to sin. The truly free person will surrender to the service of God.
If you find yourself in prison, don’t serve time. Serve God and others. Joseph served the other detainees in the prison and they became the keys that, in time, would set him loose. If you find yourself in freedom, take care not to “serve time” in the world. You have to serve somebody. Choose God.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.