David Jeremiah - Joseph: Overcoming Disappointments
God takes our setbacks and he turns them into comebacks. He takes our disappointments and he turns them into his appointments. And he could even take our misfortunes and turn them into a ministry. Based on the life of Joseph, I want to give you six principles for overcoming in the midst of difficulty. And I'm gonna give you the principles that come from his life and then tell you the story that teaches those principles. First thing we have to learn if we're gonna be overcomers is that we have to be resourceful in our dreams. Did you know that I believe the Lord gives every child of God a dream, a set of gifts, a set of goals to follow. These unfold as we follow him step by step. And when we commit our lives to Jesus Christ, somewhere within us, a fire is kindled for what God wants us to do in life. I believe that with all my heart.
For Joseph, this happened when he was a teenager growing up in a dysfunctional home full of problems. The story begins in the 37th chapter in the 5th verse where we read these words: "Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them," now listen to this dream, "'Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. And behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.' And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?' So they hated him ever more for his dreams and for his words". Now, he should have left his dreams alone after that first one but he had another one. "And he dreamed still another dream and he told it to his brothers, and he said, 'Look, I have dreamed another dream.'" I'll bet that really made their day when he said that. "'And this time, the sun, the moon, and the 11 stars bowed down to me.' So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, 'Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?' And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind".
Now, I know theologically, a lot of people argue about the nature of these dreams and they say, "Joseph should never have dreamed those dreams. Those were not of God". But here's what I want you to remember. They all came true. They all came true. Joseph's dream was a picture of what would happen to him and his family at the very end of his life. Joseph's dreams may not seem like they're very nice dreams to us but they're the dream that God put in his heart and he saw it through to its fulfillment. Secondly, we learn from Joseph to be resilient in our difficulties. When we believe that God has a plan for your life, it helps you when you go through tough times.
I remember as a young man after God called me to preach, my father who was a pastor, he sat me down and he said, "David, make sure that you are called to this ministry". And I tried to quiz him about that. He said, "Because if you do not know for sure that this is what God has called you to do, when the difficult times come, you will want to quit and walk away". I had no idea how prophetic that was. There have been times in my life, early on in my journey in San Diego, when I literally stood outside one night and looked up into the heavens and said, "God, please get me out of here. I don't wanna be here". But he never allowed me to forget that he had called me to that place and called me to that ministry and called me to that task. And it was the resilience in my heart from the calling of God that helped me stay true to my cause when difficult things happened.
If you don't know for sure that you have a dream from God, when the difficulties come, you'll waffle, you'll walk. You won't do what God wants you to do. And so Joseph took off to go check on his brothers and we pick up the story in the 37th chapter and verse 18: "Now when his brothers saw him from afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. And they said to one another, 'Look, this dreamer is coming! Therefore, let's kill him and cast him into some pit; and we'll just tell our dad, "Some wild beast devoured him". And we'll see what becomes of his dreams then!'"
Joseph's brothers ended up stripping him of his coat of many colors, throwing him into a pit, finally selling him to a passing caravan of slave traders who took him to Egypt and sold him into slavery where he ended up in the house of Potiphar. So much for his dream. Can you keep your dream alive when the times of difficulty come? But there are two things written about Joseph in this particular moment in his life that we cannot miss because they're the key to our resiliency in times of difficulty. Two things are written about him. First, he was resilient. Listen to these words from the 39th chapter of Genesis: "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man". Keep reading. "And he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand".
It's the only place in all of the Bible where the words "successful" and "prosper" occur in the same text. Now, get this. Where is Joseph when this happens? He is a slave. He has been taken out of his normal routine. He's not living his dream. His dream is on hold. He had nothing to do with it but they came and they took him and they put him into slavery, and the Bible says that in the time of slavery, Joseph was a successful man and he was a prosperous man. Because, you see, your circumstances don't create who you are. Your circumstances don't define you as a person, because it wasn't about his circumstances, it was about his heart, it was about his walk with God, it was about his person, it was about his character, it was about who he was. We have to stop blaming our circumstances for everything that goes wrong in life. And then notice: did you notice what it said about Joseph when he was in this terrible situation? Twice it says that the Lord was with him. The Bible says that God was with Joseph.
How many of you know if you've got God with you, wherever you are, you're gonna be okay. You're gonna win. You're gonna be on the right side. And now we come to kind of the centerpiece of this story and the principle here is be resistant in your desires. There's a little phrase at the end of the 39th chapter, verse 6, that gives us an idea as to Joseph's physical appearance: "Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance," which being translated into vernacular of today is, "He was well built and good looking". Joseph was a man who made women turn their heads. And the Bible tells us that his master's wife, Potiphar's wife, took notice of him and tried to seduce him. And it's an illustration of the fact that there are some things the Bible tells us we are never to fight. Did you know that the Bible tells us that we're to flee immorality? We're to run away from it.
I've told kids ever since I've been teaching this passage to young people that the best equipment you can ever get for overcoming sexual temptation is the best pair of Adidas money will buy. Here was a woman physically infatuated with her husband's handsome strapping young slave and she did everything she could to lure him into immorality. But Joseph knew two things. He knew that if he slept with Potiphar's wife it would betray the man who had invested a great deal of confidence in him and, even greater, it would be a sin against his God. And he resisted and he refused and when she tried to physically force him into bed, he ran out of the house, leaving his coat in her hands, because Joseph knew that he was better off without his coat than without his character. And today, all these years later, men and women, which is evident by what we seem to see on television almost every day, we face the very intensity of temptation that Joseph faced.
But here's the promise we have in the New Testament: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it". If we're gonna be overcomers, we have to be resourceful in our dreams, resilient in our difficulties, resistant in our desires. Notice the fourth one: we have to be resolute in our disappointments. Here's the next chapter in Joseph's life. Watch this. When Joseph refused the seduction of his boss's wife, she went to her husband and accused Joseph of sexual assault. He hadn't done anything. He was innocent but he ended up in prison, and I can only imagine, friends, how Joseph felt when day after day passed. He had been in bondage from age 17 to now nearly 30. He must have felt like giving up and resigning himself to live out his days behind bars and die in prison. But Joseph didn't give up. He never lost hope. He never went back on his dream.
And you know the rest of the story but I can't leave you hanging. I gotta tell you the whole thing. The fifth principle is to be responsible in your duties. Watch what happens. One day, the king woke up and he'd had a set of dreams the night before that troubled him greatly, and Pharaoh brings Joseph in and he describes his dreams to Joseph and the Lord gave Joseph the insight to interpret them and, you know the story, it was a prediction of seven years of abundant crops followed by seven years of terrible famine, and Joseph told the king to make diligent plans to store vast amounts of grain for the next seven years to withstand the ensuing years of famine. And he suggested the king select a capable leader to oversee the program. Verse 37: "So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all of his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find such a one as this, I mean, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?' And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Inasmuch as God has shown you all of this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and over my people. You shall rule according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.'"
Once again, Joseph moved up the ladder and he got the top job. All the hardship, all the disappointment, all the delays, it was all preparing Joseph to literally overnight become the second most powerful man in the world, in effect, the prime minister and governor of Egypt. Is that a story or what? But it's still not over. We have to learn to be restrained in our determinations. This is the most meaningful epic in the life of Joseph. I have to honestly tell you I've read this story many times and preached on it two or three. I hardly ever get through it without tears. It is one of the most emotional stories in the Bible. While all this is going on with Joseph, a famine comes and it's a terrible famine. There's no food anywhere. But the word is out that there's some dude down in Egypt who'd been saving food for seven years.
So Jacob gets his boys together and he says, "Hey, I hear they got a lot of food down in Egypt and they've kind of saved it up and you need to go down and see if you can get some food or we're gonna starve". So Joseph's brothers come to Egypt and they have no idea that Joseph is there or who he is or what he's doing and they have no idea that they're gonna meet their long lost brother. And when they get there, I have to tell you, I love this because Joseph has gotta be my kind of man. He plays with his brothers. He plays with 'em. So Joseph's in this room. Now, you've gotta get this picture and get it right. These brothers are in this room and they have no idea that Joseph understands Hebrew. So they don't think Joseph understands what they're saying. So he's in the room and hears the conversation they have when Joseph is listening and they don't think he knows what they're saying. "Then they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.' And Reuben answered them, saying, 'I told you, don't sin against the boy and you wouldn't listen. Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.' But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept".
Here's the details of what happened, the most poignant part of the story. "Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, 'Make everyone go out from me!' So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am Joseph; does my father still live?' And his brothers couldn't answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, 'Please come near to me.' And they came near. And he said: 'I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves," listen to this, "because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve your life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years which will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all of his house, and a ruler throughout the land of Egypt. Hurry, go up to my father, and say to him, "Thus says your son Joseph: 'God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children's children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. And I will provide for you.' And he kissed all of his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him".
What a moment that must have been. Joseph over all the years of his suffering and difficulty had learned how to forgive, how to release the accumulated bitterness of the years, how to reconcile with those who had wronged him, how to treat his brothers with respect they didn't deserve. In the last chapter of Genesis Joseph made one of the greatest statements of compassion you will find anywhere in the Bible. Here's what he said: "'Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant all of this for evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order bring it about this day, to save many people alive. Therefore, don't be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.' And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them".
There cannot be a better short story in captivity. An incredible story. And Joseph saw what God wants us to see. That even while we often don't understand what God is up to, God is up to something. He's at work and sometimes the things that don't make sense to us, we look back later, even in this life, and we can see and sometimes we say, "Oh, so that's what you were up to". All through this time, God never lost control of the situation. He was moving people around like a chessboard, making sure everything was just right so that at the right time, in the right place, the resolution that we just read could happen. I read this story and I look out at all of you and I wonder, are there some people you need to forgive? I know a lot of abuse occurs in our world. We don't wanna excuse behavior of others and not let them bear responsibility for their actions. But we also don't wanna harbor bitterness in our hearts.
And there comes a time to let forgiveness, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, wash over us and our situations in life. Joseph forgave his brothers but Jesus forgives anyone who asks him. I wanna tell you, men and women, the example of Joseph fires me with the fuel of staying after what God's called me to do and being an overcomer no matter what happens. But someone greater than Joseph is available to us today. Joseph is an historic figure but sometimes we go through years of disappointment and delays and bitter setbacks and some of you are struggling with that right now.
Let me tell you that the Lord Jesus Christ is not a figure of history. He is the present Lord God in this world. He's as close to you as your next breath and he keeps us resilient in our calamities. And by his grace, we can be forgiven for whatever we have done and be restored to fellowship with him and therefore prepared to make other relationships that have gone bad in our lives right. It starts with Jesus. It starts with making life right with God, through his Son Jesus Christ. And when we do that, God gives us the power to forgive others who have hurt us. Forgiveness from God for your sin, forgiveness of others who have hurt you. Let Joseph's life speak into your life and be an overcomer from this moment on.