Blessing the Next Generation : Creating a Lasting Family Legacy with the Help of a Loving God
The mother and daughter team of Marilyn Hickey and Sarah Bowling explain the significance of generational curses and blessings and how readers have the power to have an impact on the spiritual heritage they hand to their children.
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January 08, 2008
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Excerpt from Blessing the Next Generation by Sarah Bowling
What's Roosting in Your Family Tree?
Many years ago a woman flew to Mexico to visit missionary friends working on the outskirts of Acapulco. As they left the airport and drove toward the missionary's home, they drove past a tree this woman described to us as "black." She assumed the tree either was an exotic tropical plant with an odd color, or the tree had died and the leaves had turned black but hadn't fallen from the tree--in fact, the leaves still fluttered in the light tropical breeze. The tree gave her a creepy feeling but she quickly turned her attention to other more colorful and interesting sights.
Very early the next morning the woman and her hosts drove past the tree again, and this time, the limbs of the tree were completely bare--there were no leaves in sight, either on the tree or at its base.
"What's with this tree?" the woman asked. "Yesterday it was filled with black leaves, and today it's bare."
"Oh, those weren't leaves," her host explained. "Those were feathers! That's the vulture tree. The vultures--which are very large, black birds--leave the branches of this dead tree every evening and don't come back until late in the morning. There are so many vultures that when they flock together on this tree, you can hardly see that they are individual birds."
Talk about creepy!
When this woman heard us speak about generational blessings and curses, she relayed this story to us and added, "It sorta makes you wonder, doesn't it, what might be roosting in a person's family tree?"
Does It Really Matter?
Does it really matter what is roosting in a person's family tree?
God says it does. From the opening pages of the Bible, God speaks about generations. In the book of Genesis the words generation and generations are mentioned twenty-one times in the King James Version. In fact, one way to study the Bible is to study it in terms of generations. The passing of faith from generation to generation is a central theme of the Bible. Even before we have the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we read: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" (Gen. 2:4 kjv). Then we read about the descendants of Adam: "This is the book of the generations of Adam" (Gen. 5:1 kjv). In the next chapter we read about Noah: "These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9 kjv).
Then the Bible narrows the field of families to focus on the family of Shem: "These are the generations of Shem" (Gen. 11:10 kjv). The name Shem means "name"--from Shem would come the name of all names: Jesus. There would be a line of people directly from Shem all the way to Jesus. Their identity, their name, would continue and be enlarged.
As part of that family tree descending from Shem, the Bible tells us about the "generations of Terah," which included Abraham (Gen. 11:27 kjv). It tells us about the "generations of Ishmael," Abraham's son who was born to Hagar the Egyptian (Gen. 25:12 kjv), and about the "generations of Isaac" in whom all of the promises made to Abraham were confirmed (Gen. 25:19 kjv). The Bible goes on to tell about the "generations of Esau" and the "generations of Jacob" (Gen. 36:1, 37:2 kjv).
Why make such a point about the word generations? Because throughout the Word of God we find repeated examples that God desires for families to change, come to completion, continue, and to experience an increase in blessing. What is true for Bible families could be very true for your family!
The Three Cs of God's Plan for the Generations
God's plan is that a family's pattern from generation to generation be this: change, completion, continuation. Let's take a brief look at each of these Cs:
God wants to change everything negative, unproductive, ineffective, or sinful into something positive, productive, effective, and good. (See Romans 8:28.) He wants to change our thinking, our feeling, our believing, and our behavior. He wants to transform us fully into the character likeness of Jesus Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18.)
Consider the apostle Paul, a Pharisee who followed the law precisely but brutally persecuted Christians. God had other plans for Paul, and through a divine encounter on the road to Damascus, God transformed Paul's heart. From that point on Paul's thoughts, emotions, and actions were conformed to Christ and God used Paul to write two-thirds of the New Testament.
God is always seeking to develop the potential He placed within us, to make us into all He initially designed us to be. With His help, we can do all we are capable of doing. And since most people only use a small fraction of their brain power and their faith and achieve only a fraction of their potential, there's always room for God to do more in our lives.
God doesn't want you to be barely productive or moderately blessed. God desires a fullness that produces an overflow of abundance. From the very beginning, God established a principle of multiplication. He commanded Adam and Eve to multiply. He commanded Noah to multiply after the Great Flood. He commands us to multiply. God doesn't do things in a mere additive manner. He multiplies. Multiplication produces abundance.
God wants to heal us where we are weak or diseased-- physically, emotionally, mentally, and physically. He wants to fill in the gaps of our lives and make us whole. Repeatedly as Jesus healed people physically, He spoke to them about being made whole.
Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. He had been ill for thirty-eight years and told Jesus he was unable to get into the pool unassisted. Yet Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk. When Jesus spoke, the man's thinking was changed and he stood up. His body was healed and he walked away-- whole. (See John 5:2-9.) That's what God desires for us today. He wants us to be fully functional and at the top of our game. He wants us to have everything we need to live and to extend the gospel.
God wants all the good He establishes in your life to remain or continue. He wants the love and blessings He pours into you to be poured through you to others. (See John 15:9.)
An Upward Spiral of Increasing Good.
The Bible pattern of change, completion, and continuation is expected to produce increasing good. From the very beginning, God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply. Even after they sinned, they were to multiply with the promise that one of their descendants would one day score a definitive victory over sin (Gen. 3:15).
Noah did not continue in the sinful pattern of his ancestors Adam and Eve but was a "just man and perfect" (Gen. 6:9 kjv). He is a superior example that God's forgiveness can be accepted and a family curse of sin can be fully reversed.
God's desire for change, completion, and continuation is that an upward spiral be established--one that goes from blessing to greater blessing, good to even greater good, abundance to increased abundance.
Families CAN Change for the Better!
Bloodline may be fixed from generation to generation, but a family can change in character and in the way it serves God.
What good news this is! You don't need to continue a negative family pattern. You don't need to pass on traits contrary to God's desire for you or your family.
One of the greatest examples of change in family nature is found in the story of Jacob. Jacob, one of twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah, was given the name Jacob because it means "trickster"--one who tries to lay hold of something that is not his. Jacob was given this name because his hand was grasping the heel of his brother as he came out of Rebekah's womb.
For much of his early life, Jacob exhibited character that was fully in keeping with his name. He tricked his brother, Esau, into giving him the birthright inheritance that should have been Esau's as the firstborn son. He later tricked his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing that should have been given to Esau. These two acts of deceit forced Jacob into exile. And where did he go? To the home of his uncle Laban, who was a master of deceit.
Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah when Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel. Ultimately, Laban tricked Jacob into fourteen years of hard labor. No doubt believing retaliation was fair, Jacob tricked Laban into giving him a large flock of sheep and goats and then left in a deceitful manner, not telling Laban of his plans. (See Genesis 29-31.)
As he made his way back home, Jacob divided his children and servants and flocks into two groups--sending one group with his wife Leah and the other with his wife Rachel while he stayed behind. That night, Jacob had a supernatural "encounter"; he struggled with God's messenger, and God did a most remarkable thing. He changed Jacob's name to Israel, which means "contender with God." God's Word tells us that the angel said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (Gen. 32:28 niv).
In changing Jacob's name, God was changing Jacob's identity--not only the way he saw himself, but the way he presented himself to others, and ultimately, the way his descendants regarded themselves. Jacob did not need to trick his way through life; he could cling to God and trust God to bless him--and in so doing, he would be a prince of God the Sovereign King. The descendants of Jacob are not known as Jacobites. They are known as Israelites. The identity of Jacob became their identity as a people--a people who would be called God's chosen ones.
God never blesses sin. He does forgive and then bless those who seek His forgiveness and who cling to Him. He gives the sinner a new identity--a new name, new character, a new future. If God could change a Jacob, He certainly can change you and me and our children into His likeness.
God's desire is to bless you, to bless your children, and to create a line of generations who both know His blessing and are determined to pass it on. This legacy of blessing is an integral part of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants. (See Genesis 12.)
What about you?
Consider your family tree. Is there a point where change was made? Is there something you see that needs changing? Might this change begin with you?
Insight from Marilyn
"You have an enlarged heart. There's nothing we can do about it." The physician's words were like a knife thrust deep into my faith. I was only twenty-three years old at the time. I thought immediately, My father had a heart attack, and now the same thing is going to happen to me!
If the devil can hold his breath, I feel certain he was holding it in that moment to see how I might respond. I had just recently become Spirit-filled and I knew enough of God's Word to believe Jesus desired me to have an abundant life, and such a life included health. I refused to believe for my father's fate and instead chose to believe in faith for Jesus' healing and health. Later that year I was miraculously healed of having an enlarged heart.
Just a few years ago, I had my annual physical checkup and the physician said to me, "Your heart is excellent!" I knew that to be true in my own spirit and mind, but it was good nonetheless to get a physician's agreement.
When my daughter, Sarah, was a sophomore in college, she called home one evening and said, "Mother, I'm having strange pains in my chest."
The thought came like an echo of the past, Well, this is it. Sarah has inherited the family trait of an enlarged heart. But also like an echo, my spirit rose up inside me and I heard myself saying to myself, Sarah does not have a heart condition. That family curse has not only been broken, but it has been reversed.
Sarah and I prayed together over the phone and stood in faith against anything the enemy might be trying to do in Sarah's life. The pains left, and Sarah has never had any heart problems.
Let me assure you, whatever it is the devil desires to dredge up from your family past, God desires to heal. What has been cursed, God desires to reverse into a blessing. What has been a point of defeat, God desires to turn into a testimony of victory.
What Can Be Passed Down . . . and Is
As genome theory has advanced in recent years, we are learning more and more about those things that can and are passed down to us genetically--primarily physical traits, including predisposition to certain ailments, physical weaknesses, or diseases.
We can also be predisposed to act in certain ways, both indirectly by the examples of family members' lives and directly by what they taught us verbally. Our parents' and grandparents' behavior, for better or for worse, has been imprinted upon our family tree and will continue to be passed down until something changes.
Insight from Sarah
Years ago my parents encountered a man who had been a burglar as a teenager--and he faced a number of legal problems as a result. He came to faith through my parents' ministry when he was about twenty-one years old, and a few years later, he was filled with God's Spirit and was totally set free from any desire to steal.
One day my mother asked this man about his family. He mentioned a son raised by his ex-wife. Mom asked, "Do you see your son? Is he a Christian?" The man replied, "No, he's in prison."
Mom asked, "What for?" You guessed it. Robbery.
This man had little contact with his son during his son's growing up years, but the devil was able to exploit a generational weakness that had not been dealt with spiritually.
How important it is that we live according to God's commandments and value God's commandments as important. It is equally important to realize generational curses can be broken.
One of Four . . . or One of a Thousand Generations?
The Bible tells us family sin can be imprinted on us and can be traced back four generations. (See Exodus 20:5.) God said this to His people as part of His ordinances that we know as the Ten Commandments:
Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape
of birds or animals or fish. You must never worship or
bow down to them, for I, the LORD your God, am a
jealous God who will not share your affection with any
other god! I do not leave unpunished the sins of those
who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of
their parents to the third and fourth generations. But
I lavish my love on those who love me and obey my
commands, even for a thousand generations. (Exodus
20:4-6, emphasis added)
Four or one thousand? God's plan for blessing is far greater than His judgment of sin on this earth. What an encouragement that should be to us!
We need to recognize, however, that sin can leave a deep stain on a family.
Our sin as human beings is directly related to what we worship--to what we give homage, and to what we serve. Anything we put as a top priority in our lives is something we worship. If we give our time to it more than we give our time to God . . . if we give our talent to it more than we give our talent to God . . . if we give our resources to it more than we make them available to God . . . if we give our interest or thoughts to it more than we give our thoughts and interests to God . . . we are in a state of worshiping something other than God.
And that's not all. What we serve is what we tend to become.
If we serve an addictive substance--giving in to every opportunity that comes our way to take that drug or have that drink--we can become addicts. If we are substance abusers, we will in turn be abused by those substances. If we obey and serve Almighty God, we become more and more like God in our character and in our behavior. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18.) If we worship someone other than God, we become more like that entity or person. Just look at all the young people today who want to become like the celebrities they idolize.
If we serve the lusts of our flesh, we reap lust-related sins.
If we serve our inner greed, we reap material-related sins.
If we serve our inner desire for power or fame, we reap relational sins.
The sins we willfully pursue can be imprinted on our lives and on our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and even our great-great-grandchildren.
The evidence is all around us. Those who worship at the altar of sexual promiscuity and "free love" are anything but free--they are subject to all sorts of sex-related diseases and broken relationships. Those who worship at the altar of making money are anything but rich emotionally and spiritually-- they are subject to all sorts of stress, anxiety, and fears related to today's fluctuating markets. Those who worship the positions they have achieved are always disappointed--there's always someone who comes along to snatch the limelight or the top rung of the ladder.
What we worship eventually comes to light, just as seedlings sprout from hidden seeds and eventually grow and produce fruit. The fruit of our sin may take years to become visible. Indeed, it may take decades--the fruit may not be fully visible until the next generation.
What a warning this should be to those who say, "It's my own private sin. It's nobody's business what I do behind closed doors." In truth, there are no "private" sins. All sin has consequences in your life, in the lives of those around you, or in the lives of your unborn heirs.
Part of the description the Lord gave of Himself to Moses included these words:
I am the LORD, I am the LORD, the merciful and gra-
cious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love
and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many
thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.
Even so I do not leave sin unpunished, but I punish the
children for the sins of their parents to the third and
fourth generations. (Exodus 34:6?7)
Here, in a few brief lines, is a picture of God's balanced justice. On the one hand, we have God's mercy, patience, and an abundance of goodness, truth, mercy, and forgiveness. On the other hand, God allows the iniquity of a person to be visited upon that person's heirs. The sins of the fathers are passed down because they have not been cleared.
This is a vitally important concept for you to understand. The way we are set free from the iniquity of the fathers is God's merciful and generous forgiveness.
That is the powerful promise of the New Testament!
We do not need to be trapped by the sins of those who have gone before us. We do not need to live out the predisposition for ungodly behavior placed within us. We can make a choice to seek God's forgiveness, and in so doing, we can reverse the curse of what has been planted in us.
The opportunity to seek God's forgiveness is given to every person. No person is denied this choice. Even those who do not grow up in a Christian environment have a basic understanding of God and of the void in their lives only God can fill. When a person seeks, he finds. When he asks, God answers.
The sin nature with us from birth can be cleansed. The curse of generational sin can be reversed.
Insight from Marilyn
Earlier, Sarah mentioned to you a man who told me about his son's being in prison. I encouraged this man to go to his son. I explained to him the power of forgiveness in breaking the bond of generational sin. I said, "The evil spirit who tempted you to be a thief has no hold on your life, but it does have hold on your son's life. You must go to your son. He is eighteen years old, so he has to make a decision himself. You, as his father, can pray powerfully that the enemy of deception will be revealed. You can and must go to your son and say to him, ?Son, I got into burglary when I was your age, and this is why I did it. The devil influenced me to steal, and what the devil encourages a person to do to others, he also does to us. The devil stole from my life. I thought I was stealing from others, but the devil was actually stealing from me. I was the one who was getting robbed the most. One of the things I was robbed of was a relationship with you. I know that, and I'm sorry for that. Now this evil spirit has come against you because you are my son. Satan knows this weakness was planted in you. Evil spirits have prompted you and tempted you to do what you have done. If you want to be free of this influence in your life, however, you can be free just as I was made free. You can choose to trust in Jesus as your Savior and you can choose to follow Jesus as your Lord."
And then, I told this father that he must pray.
"But what if my son doesn't want me to pray?" the man asked.
I said, "If your son is ready to make a decision about Jesus, you can lead him in a prayer, but if he says, 'I'm not ready,' then you can tell him, 'Someday, son, you may be ready so I want to tell you how to pray when that day comes.' Then, pray a simple prayer he can remember."
"What would you pray?" he asked.
I said, "I'd pray, 'Father, forgive me in particular for robbery and burglary. Satan has tempted me in this way and it's come against my life and deceived me. I am deeply sorry I listened to the devil's voice. I know I have done wrong and I ask You to forgive me and to put me in right relationship with You. I ask You to help me to live free of the devil's influence on my life from this day forward. I ask this on the basis of what Jesus did for me on the Cross. I believe Jesus died for my sins so I could come to this moment and be set free of them.'"
"Is there anything else I should do?" the man asked.
"Yes," I said. "Assure your son that when he asks for God's forgiveness, God will forgive?instantly and completely. The Bible says, 'If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong (1 John 1:9).' You might want to memorize that verse before you go to visit your son, or write it down and take it on a small card you can leave with your son. Assure your son that while he may have been a thief in the past, he never needs to be a thief again. There is a cleansing that breaks the pattern of generational sin. Your son can put an axe to the root of this sin, chopping it down so it cannot continue to grow or bear bad fruit in his life."
What Cannot Be Passed Down
One thing that cannot be passed down from one generation to the next is perhaps the most important thing of all: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God doesn't have any grandchildren. Every person is required to accept Jesus as Savior, as an act of his own will and faith. Every person must choose to follow Jesus as Lord, again as an act of his own will and faith.