Escaping a Painful Past (Joseph, part 1)

We all have a past. The Enemy tries to use the regrets and problems of the past as obstacles to our present lives. The Liar would have us believe that these things disqualify us from being true disciples – leaving us grasping at religious straws unable to be confident in the Father’s love. The truth is that nothing in your past can keep you from being used by God. No sin, no shortcoming, no habit, no family problem can crush the potential for the day that is before you now.

Contemplating the life of one of the heroes of the Old Testament, we might think that Joseph is such a great story because everything ended so beautifully. But Joseph didn’t know how  it was all going to end while he was living a life of struggle, loneliness, and imprisonment.

Have you ever thought about the family in which Joseph grew up? His deceitful grandmother Rebekah used a wicked scheme to get Jacob a blessing rather than the rightful recipient, his brother Esau. Likely due to her influence Joseph’s dad became a deceiver just like his mother. His name even meant that he was a trickster or a deceiver.

The dysfunction did not stop with Jacob. Jacob met his match in his father in law Laban and had to work twice as long as he intended to marry the woman of his dreams. He ended up married to Rachel and Lea. The two of them were on a baby making mission to out produce one another using whatever means they could. This story ended up with one husband, two wives, two concubines, four mothers, eleven sons and one daughter. And nobody called Jerry Springer! This family was torn apart by jealousy, strife, anger, lust, deceit, competition, and secrecy.

By the time we get to the story of Joseph, his mother has died giving birth to his younger brother. There were years of unresolved conflicts. If you were making a judgment about Joseph based on his family, you would not give him much of a chance.

For Joseph, though, it only went from bad to worse. He was his father’s favorite son, which made him a hated brother. The famous coat that his father gave him was one reason for his brothers to hate him. To add fuel to the fire, he kept having dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him, and he told them about these dreams.  Things go from bad to worse and his brothers sell him to slave traders headed to Egypt, and soak his coat in an animal’s blood and tell Jacob that his favorite son was dead.

How could someone with this kind of past be such a strong and heroic figure later in life? How can someone like you with your kind of past, your kind of mistakes, your kind of dysfunction really make a difference in the kingdom of God? Here are a few things that I’ve learned from looking at Joseph’s story.

In order to break free from a painful past, I must turn to God for His help and forgiveness. Joseph’s story is peppered with references to his relationship with God. We can’t make it into the future until we trust in someone who is already there.

Also, truly accept His grace. Don’t continue to hang on to old guilt and old problems when God has already moved those as far as the east is from the west. Yes, we sometimes face ongoing consequences, but the guilt of the past is removed in grace.

It’s so hard to do, but forgive those who have hurt you. Remember that forgiveness may be more of a journey than a moment. It takes time. Forgiveness does not mean allowing abusive behavior against you to continue without addressing it.

Leaving behind a painful past requires that we turn to God’s word for daily decisions. Take the time to purposefully grow in God’s Spirit.

Don’t give up. If you are having trouble escaping a troubled past, just keep your eyes on Jesus and keep following him.

I’ll have some more reflections from the life of Joseph in my next post.

John