“23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. 28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt….36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”
Joseph was a highly talented guy who became the Governor of Egypt. He had the rare combination of excellent leadership and management abilities coupled with a humility and submission to God. But before Joseph could be entrusted with leading an entire country, he first needed to undergo God’s preparation.
God’s preparation started by cutting Joseph off from all his resources and sending him to a place where there was no turning back to his past. Joseph was forced to move forward. God’s preparation started suddenly, without notice and it involved being humiliated and sold into slavery. I would imagine that Joseph wasn’t just upset – he was probably in the depths of despair as the caravan moved away from his brothers. He was probably furious, scared, depressed, anxious – all at the same time. In the span of a few hours, Joseph went from being the favored rich kid of Jacob to being a slave. A sudden, dramatic change that could not be reversed. His life would never be the same.
God also focused first on that which Joseph loved the most: his coat of many colors. The first thing God took away from Joseph was the material artifact which he loved the most. His brothers took his coat and sold him into slavery. And, showing the extent of their hatred and disdain for Joseph, they sold their own flesh and blood into slavery, knowing full well that he would be mistreated – perhaps killed – and they would never see him again. Joseph got to see the full extent of his brother’s wickedness.
God’s preparation of Joseph started suddenly, focused first on his “sore spot”, opened his eyes to the wickedness of others and took him to a place of despair and no return.
In American business, we don’t use these methods to prepare people for leadership. Instead, we prepare our future leaders by sending them to a prestigious school where they will learn the latest thinking and research in the principles of leadership. We say “Sue, you look like you could be a great manager – perhaps CEO someday – so let’s start your fast-track-to-success by sending you to school.” We also give them opportunities to lead – hopefully with a good coach – and give them opportunities to develop their leadership abilities so they can assume more and more responsibility and authority. However, in our a-moral society, we don’t focus too much on the crafting of character as a core developmental focus. Somehow, we give ourselves permission to disconnect (perhaps not entirely, but certainly at some levels) what one does with who one is.
When God prepares a man, He prepares his character first and his skills second. Whatever skills and abilities we might have were given to us by God in the first place, so He’s not short on skills. He is short on a people with Godly character. God wants leaders who are congruent in every aspect of their lives. So God’s schooling is entirely different than mans’ schooling. God says “Sue, I want you to lead a nation through a famine, so let’s start your fast-track-to-success by sending you to Haiti to clean toilets and work in the kitchen.”
And if Sue follows God, she learns that leadership is much more about who you are than what you tell other people to do or about the vision you might cast.
If you show people that the path to great leadership starts with dying to yourself and submitting to another who will test the mettle of your character, the number of applicants will be quite few. People don’t want to sign up for suffering and submission, they want to sign up for success. They want the admiration of men. They want the money and perks that comes with corporate success.
I believe it is the same with small business owners. Nearly all of us at one time or another have dreamed about building an impressive, large, influential business. Entrepreneurs can’t help themselves in this dream. But God throttles by taking us through suffering because he knows we’re not ready for that kind of responsibility. He knows we wouldn’t be able to steward that much money and power well. It would go to our head. It would corrupt us.
So God calls us to His school of preparation. He calls us to greatness by asking us to die to ourselves. And when we agree, our lives usually get worse, not better. DL Moody heard a man preach that “the world has yet to see what God can do through one man who is completely sold out to Him.” Moody purposed in his heart that he would be that man. Within days, both his church and his house had burned to the ground.
If you’re a Christian business owner and you have just experienced a set of events which has damaged your business or yourself, then consider that, perhaps, God is admitting you into His school of preparation. Perhaps you’ve lost a major customer and need to downsize. Maybe you’re being wrongly sued and you don’t have the money to defend yourself. Perhaps one of your trusted employees has just betrayed you. Or maybe your marriage is falling apart and you don’t know what to do next. If events like these have taken you to a place of no return and perhaps personal despair, then look to God and ask Him what He’s doing in your life. God may be preparing you for a much more important ministry in the future by refining your character and your walk with Him.
Joseph was sent to Egypt. God may not send you to another country, but He may very well take you through very deep waters. Are you willing to give it all up for Christ?