Points Covered: A very encouraging article on how to overcome a difficult start. You can overcome a difficult childhood or a dysfunctional family.
Introduction: There is a saying that goes ‘A good start is half done.’ We all expect life to be smooth all the time. However, life does not unfold as we expect and many times we suffer from a difficult start.
Maybe you had a bad childhood, you struggled with your parent’s separation or divorce. Maybe you had very irresponsible parents and you are suffering the consequences of that. Maybe some of us have started something but we are finding difficulty moving forward. Maybe some of you wanted started off well and all of a sudden there is a break. A question people generally ask is, “Can I recover a bad start in my life? Or can I overcome a break up?”
I want you to take a journey with me starting today tracing the ups and downs of a man who was born to a very difficult, dysfunctional family. He had a tough start and had many breaks in-between, but came out as one of the most successful people in the Bible. His name is Joseph.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, though generally godly, embraced polygamy that was common in the day, which opened the door to jealousy, insecurity and almost constant conflict among his wives. As a result, Joseph had three stepmothers, ten step-brothers, one brother, and a step sister, all living together. Can you imagine the trauma of living in such a home?
There were three deaths in the family in Joseph’s childhood. First, Deborah, the nurse of Joseph’s grandmother, Rebekah died and was buried under an oak tree at Bethel. Second, Joseph’s own mother Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. This loss brought home the fragility of life.
The third blow to the family came shortly after this when Isaac, Joseph’s grandpa, died and was buried where Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah had been buried.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zipah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
There was tension in this home. But as it usually is in dysfunctional families, this little picture here is just the tip of the iceberg. Joseph’s brothers took turns being brutal, conniving, and openly immoral.
However, there were some significant spiritual markers in Joseph’s life growing up. Genesis 32 reports the time when Jacob returning from his father-in-law’s house, heard about Esau coming to take revenge on him with 400 soldiers. Jacob hastily divided his family and flocks and sent them on ahead. It must have been a scary time for Joseph, who was only a young boy. Dad was staying behind alone at the Jabbok River.
The next morning, Joseph saw his father limp into the camp. “Daddy, what’s wrong? Why are you limping, daddy?” he must have asked. And he heard of how his father wrestled with the angel of the Lord all night, and how when he finally submitted to God, he was blessed and got a new name from the Lord. Joseph’s father had been touched by the Lord Himself, and was changed for the remainder of his life. Joseph understood the lesson from his own father’s experience – God is real! He blesses those who realize their own brokenness and guilt and long for God more than anything else. Imagine the imprint this made on this young man!
Genesis 35 tells of another spiritual marker when Joseph was 13 years old. His father took the whole family to Bethel, where they came to the place where Jacob had his first personal encounter with God. Years before, running for his life from Esau, Jacob laid down and slept on the ground, where he dreamed about a great ladder which came down from heaven and touched earth, with angels ascending and descending. God was letting Jacob know that God was in control of his life.
Joseph heard his father speak of the covenant relationship that began then between God and himself. Then his dad called them to enter that covenant themselves. I believe Joseph and brothers gave their lives over to God with fresh surrender.
Though Joseph’s current family was a dysfunctional mess, the legacy of those who had gone before him was unmistakable. Joseph stood in the long shadow of the godly. These difficult moments combined with the lessons Joseph picked up in his early years, helped him break the cycle of a dysfunctional home, a bad start and become one of the heroes of the faith.
To start with I want to give you some reasons we go through difficulties in life.
1. God’s purpose in difficulties.
What is God’s purpose when we go through a tough time? What is God’ purpose behind a break? If you are going thought a tough time, difficult start or a bad childhood, it may be that:
a. God is trying to get your attention.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
1 Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Illustration: Last week I was speaking to Br. Samuel, our evangelism leader. He said he has been asked to move to Delhi which is nearly impossible for him with his family here. All of a sudden his job has become uncertain. As I was catching up with him, encouraging him he said, “Pastor, I can sense God like never before in my life. Every day I am able to experience him which I did not have before.” He said, “It is only when we go through difficulties can we taste and know him better.” Today if you are going through a difficulty, God is trying to get your attention.
b. God is assuring you of His love.
Hebrews 12:5-6 5 “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son
Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
c. Calling us to self-examination.
1 Corinthians 11:31-32 31But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
Proverbs 28:13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
d. Difficulties purify and strengthen our character.
Just as the metal used for precision parts on aircraft undergoes tremendous pressure and heat to purify and strengthen it, so you as a Christian will be subjected to the purifying pressure and the strengthening heat of trials.
1 Peter 4:12-13 12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
James 1:2-4 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
God has a definite purpose behind everything that is happening in your life. So don’t sit back, there are ways to overcome every setback and bounce back strong in the Lord.
So, how can we overcome a difficult beginning in our lives? And how can I as a parent stop replaying the same words and actions I saw in my home growing up? How can I overcome a bad start? How to overcome a bad break? Here’s a few suggestions from Joseph’s example:
How to overcome a difficult start?
1. God is sovereign.
No matter what has happened to you, who has been against you God is the supreme power and authority over your life.
Jeremiah 32:17 Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.
Psalm 103:19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
1 Corinthians 6:20 KJV For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
This means that we understand that He can do anything He chooses to do with us. We have no right to question Him. This is not resignation…or giving up; this is accepting that God has a plan for my life and He would never allow anything in my life that is not for His good.
Joseph believed in one simple truth: God is always in control of everything. He understood that every circumstance in his life happened by either the initiation or the permission of a loving God. Decades later, at the end of his story, Joseph acknowledged this conviction to his brothers when he said: Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. This conviction kept him going when nothing made sense.
2. Look for spiritual markers.
God is always up to more than you can track, but He leaves clues to help you along the way. God did not leave Joseph alone all through his life. He had different spiritual markers and principles from that which he could hold on to. He heard about the legacy of Abraham and Isaac. He saw his father after his encounter with the Lord limping. He went to Bethel where his father first encountered God.
God has put spiritual markers or people in our life to take vital lessons from. Joseph did not have any scripture. He just had these lessons and experiences from his forefathers. He held on to that.
Even today God has put people in our lives as spiritual markers. Identify those people. Learn valuable lessons, that will keep you sail in the storm.
The greatest spiritual marker we have today is God’s word. Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
The principles of God’s Word are miraculously able to help you navigate the paths of life, so take advantage of that treasure trove of wisdom. Saturate you mind with God’s very own thoughts. Allow His thoughts to become your thoughts. The principles of God’s Word will guide you in getting things back on track.
3. Take full responsibility.
Victor Frankl, who was humiliated, tortured, and dehumanized in Nazi prison camps, made this discovery: “The last of all great human freedom is to choose one’s response to any given set of circumstances.” The easier, more popular route is to use your circumstances as an excuse for personal sin, irresponsible and foolish behavior.
Most of us can say, “Bad things have been done to me, and the consequences have been hard: My parents are divorced. My father was an alcoholic. I was abused as a child. My career has not taken off well” I’m not nullifying anything that you’ve gone through. I’m simply saying that when we say, “You don’t know what I’ve been through” has become the launching pad for all kinds of bad behavior. Joseph didn’t let himself become a victim. He chose to break the cycle. He took responsibility for a new way of life.
Jabez is a another great example who had a very bad start and ended up blessed. 1 Chronicles 4:9-11 9Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
The name Jabez means “he causes pain,” so we can assume that something about his birth was exceptionally more painful than the usual birth – either physically or emotionally. In Bible times, a name was very important. A name often defined a person’s future – what they would become.
It seems as if Jabez defied his hopeless name and dysfunctional beginning to become a man who believed fervently in the power of God. He prayed with urgency and vulnerability. He cried out to the Lord with boldness! Jabez was honored because of his relationship with God. Take full responsibility of your life.
4. Make the most of your present situation.
Isaiah 43:18-20 18“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
It is true that you maybe going through that trouble because of your troubled past which was beyond your control. But remember, your future is in God’s hands. So, the course of action you choose today will determine your future.
This is especially important for parents to remember. The course of action you choose today may affect your children, your grandchildren. Jacob’s mistakes had tragic long-term effects on his family that played themselves out in Joseph’s life but Joseph took action to turn it for his advantage.
What did Joseph do? He didn’t sit around and mope all day long. Rather he sought to learn through this experience. He chose to be industrious, diligent, obedient, reliable, and conscientious. Every situation and every break, Joseph took it as a new challenge. As a result, he found success as a servant to Potiphar, as a prisoner incarcerated, and as Pharaoh’s prime minister.
Refuse to focus on the outward circumstances or your past. You can make the best of the situation you are in with Christ. We need to understand that God is at work in our lives.
Illustration: I heard about a Baptist believer, whose father lost his business and became a pauper, selling his house, resettling in a different state. He lost his mom at the young age of 9. He had only 18 months of formal education. Without anything he started a business which failed at the age of 22. That same year he ran for the legislature and was defeated. In 1833, he was a business failure once again. In 1836, he was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1838, he lost in an effort to become Speaker of the House in the State Legislature. Five years later, he ran for Congress — again it was in vain. In 1846, he ran for Congress and won — only to lose his re-election bid in 1848. He ran for the Senate in 1854, and lost. He ran for the Vice-presidential nomination in 1856, and lost that too. All the way he was criticized and mocked upon. He never gave up and in 1860, he became the 16th President of the United States, he is Abraham Lincoln, remembered as one of the greatest presidents of the United States.
Don’t quit when people criticize you and demoralize you. Continue to do what God has called you to do in spite of your circumstances. You can overcome every setback with the Lord Jesus Christ.