Epic Fail? – Career Failure by John Burke

We began a new series called “Epic Fail?” at Gateway Church in Austin.

This week, John Burke shared on Career Failure.

Discuss ways to apply the message here:

Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.

Watch John’s message here:

Notes from John’s message are here:

What is an Epic Fail?

Failure happens in life, and we may feel like it’s irredeemable, unrecoverable, epic—but our word, or the world’s word, is not the last word. God’s word is the last word on failure.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at some stories from the Bible that would appear as Epic Failures to see how God can turn our failures into His success story.

What I love about the Bible is there are no sugar-coated heroes. It is all about real people who made real mistakes. Only hero is Jesus! The stories from the Bible show God is still at work redeeming our worst failures if we let him.

Today we’re talking about Career Failures. Ever feel like your career/worklife is a mess, or you’ve blown it, you’re stuck, a victim of injustice, or you just screwed up and feel you’ll never recover? What do you do? How do you view those failures?

Perspective matters

We need God’s perspective in our failures, so they don’t become Epic Fails.

The only Epic Fail from God’s perspective is when we let our failures drive us away from God, the One who can make good out of anything

We are going to look at the life of Joseph from Genesis 37-50. See if you can’t relate and learn from how God redeemed and restored Joseph’s seeming Epic Fails.

As I walk you through the different Acts of Joseph’s story, see if it doesn’t match some of your Career struggles, and give you insight into how God wants to redeem it. You know, when it comes to our work, or what we do—I find that how we feel about it often relates back to a dream that was brewing in us from way back.

God Gives You a Dream

Most of us, early in life, have a dream or a sense of calling—of purpose, some sense of destiny or good work we feel called to. Maybe to teach, a love for technology, a passion for the underprivileged.We realize God’s put something in us, gifts, desires, dreams. But often times, the world or others try to kill that dream.

What was that dream or desire from way back for you?

This is where Joseph’s story begins.

In Genesis 37 we find out Joseph was 17, second to the youngest of 12 brothers. Joseph was his father Jacob’s favored son which caused intense jealousy among his brothers. They hated him. One night, Joseph has this dream and tells it to his brothers:

“Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more. Gen 37:6-8

So he has another dream and told his brothers again, “This time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” – Genesis 37:9

So he’s not a very bright young man. He seems to have a death wish, but he believes God has a plan and purpose for his life.

Which is true of you as well, yet often we first face Dream Killers.

So one day Jacob sends Joseph to check up on his brothers to make sure they’re not goofing off from their work, and they plot to kill him and say a lion got him. Reuben, his oldest brother, talked them out of killing him, so they decide to sell him into slavery to merchants headed to Egypt.

The first lesson on Career Failure we learn from Joseph:

Your Dream Dies, But God is with You.

Often we think God wanted something for us, yet that dream now seems dead, gone, impossible.

Imagine Joseph’s questions: “God, why would you give this dream that I’m going to rule then sell me into slavery?”

Ever had similar thoughts? Why God?

But there’s a recurring phrase through the apparent failures of his life, “The Lord was with Joseph…”

Though he was affected by his brother’s evil choices, God was still with him and still had a plan for his life and career.

God has a purpose for you, but He doesn’t always stop people from going against His will and ways, and it hurts us, yet He is still with you, even though people do things that seem to crush your dreams, or crush what you thought God wanted you to do, He’s with you

Your failure is NOT failure unless God says so. God has the last word on failureand He can use all failures as stepping stones to His purpose.

Even in this, God was working. So the Egyptian merchants just happen to sell Joseph to Potipher, one of Pharoah’s top officials.

Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master…so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. – Genesis 39:1-5

This is the next lesson of failure from Joseph:

Do Your Best and Honor God Wherever You’re Planted.

Joseph is a slave. He could have sunk into despair, or been rebellious and indignant and acted entitled, but he didn’t do the entitled thing. He buckled down and worked to do his best, even as a slave, as a servant.

God honors that, and before you know it, Potiphar recognized Joseph’s hard-working-do-your-best to honor God attitude, and made him his personal assistant and then he sees how well he does with that and makes him in charge of everything he owns. As a result, Potiphar’s investments grow and he sees it as God’s favor.

What do you do when you get less than you deserve?

What’s your attitude when you get moved laterally or demoted or passed over or you’re forced to take a job clearly “beneath you?”

Some people tank—they shut down, they sulk, they moan, they whine, they don’t work hard because they deserve more.

That’s not God’s path through failure.

Paul understood God’s path through Failure or a bad job or anything you do.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. – Colossians 3:23-24

This was clearly Joseph’s attitude as we will see. He was going to bring his best to honor God, doesn’t matter what it is.

Is that your attitude? Do you believe this is true?

It’s really important to realize that it’s not who sees and rewards you now, but God sees everything and will one day reward the motives of your work, and it will be a far bigger, better reward than all the money, power, prestige or PTO days off you could earn serving an earthly boss.

Do your best and honor God wherever you’re planted, and He will honor that. But not always right away.

Sometimes You May Be Wronged for Doing Right

Sometimes you’ll do right, work hard, honor God, and still get blindsided. So it says this funny little line in Genesis about Joseph’s looks:

Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.
– Genesis 39:6-7

Potipher’s wife gets the hots for Joseph, and she won’t stop trying to seduce him. Joseph keeps doing the God-honoring thing saying,

“How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” – Gen 39:9

He gives her the heisman, but she keeps stalking him, until one day, she tries to seduce him. He tries to run, but she rips his cloak off him. She gets so angry at being rejected that she screams that he tried to rape her. Joseph gets framed, Potiphar is furious and throws him in prison without a trial. For years that’s where Joseph is left to rot.

What do you do when people hurt you or wrong you for doing right?

Do you become the victim when you’re victimized? Some people do. We end up taking on that identity

  • “Nothing ever goes right for me—that’s who I am.”
  • “I’m always held down—it’s because of_____fill in the blank.”

This world is full of evil and injustice. Joseph was wronged for doing right, but don’t let that become your identity. God is still with you. You are His, and He has the final word on failure and even injustice. He can use it all for your ultimate good.

The only real failure is failure to be faithful to God.

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:21-23

Now I’m sure Joseph went through feeling wronged, distraught, angry—all that. But at the end of the day, He remembered God is with Him still, and Joe leaned into God’s faithful love. When you’re wronged—lean into God’s faithful love—that’s where all wrongs will ultimately be righted, all injustices will meet justice. And God promised we would get wronged for doing right—did you know it’s a promise?

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
– 2 Timothy 3:12

It’s a promise—you won’t find that one in the little God’s Promises book-it’s not a popular promise. But an important one. We live in a world that opposes God and His ways. When you get wronged for doing the right thing to honor God—celebrate! That’s actually what Jesus said. Did you know that?

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” – Matthew 5:11-12

Even if you get wronged for doing right—do right. Why? Because God’s reward for eternity will blow away whatever reward you can imagine doing the wrong thing might get you.

So once again, Joseph honors God and does his best as a prisoner, and God is with him and makes him succeed. Now, notice we’re redefining “success”—right!? This is downward mobility success. It’s the kind of success no one wants. So why would God allow this?

  • First because God’s working his purpose despite a world that mostly goes against His will and ways—so don’t be an accomplice to evil, let God raise you up in His time. And He will.
  • Second, God used all these evils and Failures to make and mold Joseph into the ruler He could use to save the then known world.

When things are hardest, when it’s the darkest, is often when God’s preparing you to raise you up into a humble, compassionate, other-centered person HE can use to change the world around you. Why? Because it’s not about you anymore—you’ve seen your character shaped, grown, persevere, not grow hardened, but able to love and serve and do good—no matter what—you’re fully free because no one can imprison you or control you or keep you from doing what God purposed you to do. That’s what God’s doing—using Failures to grow you up into a world changer if you’re faithful to Him through it all.

God Will Lift You Up in His Timing.

Part of what we need to realize is that God doesn’t need us to DO anything. We get frustrated about what we do or can’t do, but God’s more concerned about who we become. Who we become, our character, determines most when we’re ready to handle that dream God put in us. Without the right character, we use the success or power for our selfish purposes and we do more damage—so God is first interested in Who we are, not What we can do for others or him.

So Joseph had one more setback to go through shaping his character. One that you’ll eventually face in the workplace or even with friends. People will let you down severely. IT’s been over 10 years since Joseph got sold into slavery, but now Joseph had honored God and was now overseeing all the prisoners, they fall under his care.

One night they both have dreams that trouble two of his fellow prisoners.

“Why do you look so worried today?” [Joseph] asked them. And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.” “Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”
– Gen 40:7-8

They both explain 3 things in each dream.

To the cupbearer Joseph says, 

“This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place.
– Genesis 40:12-14

That sounded good, so the baker asked, “What about my dream?” In 3 days you’re gonna be impaled and die—Pharoah blamed his hair loss on your baking instead of the wine. Not so good. But it all happened just as Joseph said it would.

Now, you’d think that cupbearer who got restored with Pharoah would be so grateful, he’d want to do a favor for Joseph, who he found out had also been treated unjustly—but he doesn’t! He forgets, gets wrapped up in his own affairs, and Joseph sits in jail 2 more years! Maybe it was God’s plan to spring Joseph sooner, maybe not, but through it all Joseph stayed humble and faithful to God. Two years later, Pharoah has two vivid dreams, about 7 fat cows that get eaten by 7 emaciated starving cows…and 7 healthy grains of wheat that get swallowed by 7 shriveling grains of wheat. No one can interpret the dream, so Heads are about to roll, when the cupbearer remembers Joseph.

Joseph is summoned to Pharoah who demands he interpret the dream. Again, Joseph points to God “God alone can interpret dreams, but tell me and I’ll see if he shows me.” Joseph realizes God’s warning Pharoah that 7 years of prosperity are coming followed by 7 years of horrible famine. Pharoah sees that God’s hand is on Joseph and appoints him to oversee collecting 20% of all grain to store up. So at age 30, Joseph’s Dream happens in God’s timing—Joseph becomes the second most powerful person in the known world. God uses him to save 1000s of lives all across the known world.

And this is often the reason God doesn’t just make us wildly rich or powerful—we wouldn’t have the character to handle it. We’d use it for selfish ends rather than to serve God and others. So when God does bless you—with money, with power, with position or authority—do you have the character to use it to serve God and people? That’s why He blesses you—yes to be grateful and experience his blessing but also to be a blessing. I think this is the hardest lesson of failure to learn—that the greatest failure is often when we wildly succeed, yet we don’t have the character to succeed in the purpose God gave it for in the first place.

At first, Joseph almost doesn’t have the character to handle it. Now in his 40s, the whole world is coming to Egypt to buy grain in the last years of the famine, and who comes and has to bow down before him—the most powerful ruler besides Pharoah? His brothers who betrayed him. AT first, Joseph toys with him—he doesn’t let them know his identity and he starts to use his power to scare them to death. But then when the second dream comes true, and his father and mother and 11 brothers all bow before him—he realizes something we need to realize too when God does bless us: 

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. – Genesis 50:19-20

When God lifts you up in His timing, when He turns your failures into His success, the most important test of all is whether you give God credit and use it to serve God and others. That’s how God turns Epic Failures into His Epic Success stories. So what do you most relate to? What struggles or failures are you facing with work, purpose, dreams? God alone has the last word on failure—and he will be with you in it, and as you work to honor him, he will lift you up in His timing, and He WILL reward you eternally.


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