Life has a way of serving up a variety of situations. Some are good. Some are bad. And some are bitter. The difference between a successful person living out his or her destiny and a person aimlessly checking off each day can often be found in how that person views his or her life experiences. A successful person will view his or her life experiences—the good, the bad, and the bitter—through the lens of purpose. Even the detours. Because what we consider to be “detours” in our lives aren’t always detours in God’s overarching plan.
How you manage, or mismanage, these detours, though, will have everything to do with your future. Whatever path you have trod, God can and will use it for good if you will let Him—if you will learn how to move past your past.
No story in the Bible better illustrates how God can use detours in life to get you to your purpose than the story of Joseph.
Joseph was born into a dysfunctional family. His father, Jacob, was a trickster from birth. Some of his brothers were murderers and one had an affair with his father’s wife. Another had an affair with his daughter-in-law. If a reality show was made about Joseph’s family, it probably couldn’t air during prime time. It would be too dicey for today’s viewers.
Joseph was the eleventh son of twelve boys. His problems began when it became known that his father loved him the most. In the book of Genesis we read, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph’s father didn’t hide his favoritism at all. In fact, he broadcasted it by giving Joseph a lavish coat of many colors.
As you might expect, this made Joseph’s brothers very jealous. Not only that, but Joseph had a dream that he shared with his brothers where they would one day bow down to him. Rather than sit around and wait for this dream to come about, the brothers decided to kill Joseph instead.
One brother, Reuben, stood up for Joseph and intervened. He asked his brothers to fake Joseph’s death instead, by throwing him in a pit. The brothers later sold Joseph to a traveling caravan as a slave.
If anyone knows what it is like to be treated unfairly, it is Joseph. First, he was left for dead by his brothers, lied about to his father, and then sold as a slave to some Midianite traders. Joseph may have dragged a grudge along with his ball and chains on his way to his new destination.
In Egypt, though, things only get worse. As a slave to a high official named Potiphar, God began to bless Joseph. We read, “the Lord was with him” and “the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.” (Genesis 39:3) Because of this, Joseph began to receive favor from his overseer, which should have seemed like a good thing. That is until he also caught the favor and attention of his overseer’s wife. Because Joseph was “handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6b), it didn’t take long for Potiphar’s wife to find a few things for Joseph to do as well, involving her.
Yet Joseph could not go through with the request, or sexual advances, of Potiphar’s wife because he knew he could not commit that sin against God. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Potiphar’s wife was no exception. She quickly accused Joseph of rape and had him imprisoned.
Being imprisoned for doing the right thing rather than doing the wrong thing must have been a very bitter, ugly situation. Joseph went to jail on a lie. It’s bad enough that his family messed him over, but to do an excellent job only to be lied about and sent to prison and lose everything he had worked for could have put a bitter taste in Joseph’s mouth.
Yet even in jail, “the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor” (Genesis 39:21). Because of this, Joseph was promoted to a position of responsibility within the jail. Joseph didn’t sit, soak, and sour. Rather, he got busy doing the best he could with what he had where he was.
When things get bitter and we feel we are on a detour, the question that shouldn’t be asked is: Why am I going through this? The question that should be asked is: Lord, how do You want to use this for my destiny?
Joseph didn’t dwell on the detours. Rather, he was responsible with what he had been given to do. While in the prison, a couple of his fellow inmates had dreams. As an interpreter of dreams, Joseph told them each the meaning of what they had seen. And he asked one, the chief cupbearer, who had dreamed of a positive outcome, to remember him when he finally got out of jail.
We read, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). At the point when Joseph thought he might see a change coming, his life got even worse. The chief cupbearer was set free. He was reinstated to his position, just as Joseph had said he would be. Yet he also forgot all about Joseph. That is until Pharaoh also had a dream that needed to be interpreted.
At that point the cupbearer remembered Joseph and called on him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph that he said, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you” (Genesis 41:39-40).
Joseph went from behind bars to the boardroom. And in so doing, God positioned him in a place of power over his brothers. The same brothers who had once betrayed him selling him to slavery later wound up standing before him asking for food during the time of famine. Through a series of events, his brothers ended up alone with Joseph in a room when he decided to reveal himself to them. Then Joseph attempted to comfort them with his wisdom. “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).
A few chapters later, Joseph delivered the greatest statement on destiny that has ever been made when he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Genesis 50:20). The ugly and bitter scenario that others intended for Joseph and that Joseph experienced unfairly was transformed into good when God brought about His perfect purpose.
Friend, if you have bitter things in your life—things that look like they have diverted you onto a detour from your destiny, they do not have the final say. They are not the defining factors in who you are. Your detours are simply God’s perfect plan to get you exactly where He wants you to be. Trust Him, He knows the way to your destiny.