Our Sunday morning series of teachings are on “Unlikely Heros”. It has been wonderful teaching on some of the less known people tucked in the pages of God’s Word. Each person brought to light a new facet of life, a new challenge, and a new opportunity to see the hand of God move on the situation.
We knew it was going to be a special time yesterday because the unlikely hero was Job, and the guest speaker, Julio, spoke from deep in his heart about the work God has done in his life and that of his wife. He and his wife went through the sudden death of her mother, and shortly after that the still birth of their baby girl.
The book of Job is challenging to me. I remember the first time I read through it. I remember being both surprised and delighted to know that all things are in God’s control. When satan presented himself before God he was ready to accuse, to judge, and to see one of God’s servants to fall, cave, give up and curse God. God gave him permission to test Job, but he set boundaries on that permission. While I have always known that God is sovereign, i did not realize how powerfully in control he is until i came across that nugget in Job. It turned my “theology” upside down. It was the first time I understood the magnitude of the spiritual battle raging through time. And it was the first time that I could clearly see that God would even use deep trials to build character, and work the situations to point us to a deeper life in Christ. Trials do that. But it took many years to understand that the sovereign God would allow illness, natural disasters, and hard things to be his instrument to mold and shape our rough hewed characters into finely chisled works of his mighty hand.
I must tell you that when i read about Job’s loss…. his wealth, his family, his health, and his sense of purpose in life…. i wanted to run. Yes, just run from that kind of character building. I think i am not alone in saying that i want a life with minimal trial, predictable, constant. But I am reminded that I am not my own, I was bought with a price, and called to glorify God through this earthly life. And that life may mean loss, trial, struggle, and challenge which works as a tool to refine my focus and increase my dependence on God Almighty
As you may know from my blog, or possibly just knowing me in life we were a normal middle class working couple with a home in suburbia and 3 dogs. Life was predictable, constant and like Job, we lived to honor God with our daily life. We did not have Chaldean or Sabians run off with our wealth, but there was a series of events that brought us to our knees… Steve was diagnosed with Diabetes, then the loss of both of our jobs within 4 months of each other, financially we hit the rocks, spending most of our retirement savings to survive while finding the employment market impossible,and finally we were forced to declare bankruptcy. It was a series of grieving events… with the primary thing being the difficulty finding a new job and the lack of income to pay bills. Waves of emotion came from treading the unknown, and stumbling in the new path God was taking us through. Like Job, I just wanted to be quiet, and grieve through the time, come to some peace about the transition, and especially a sense. And yes, there were a ton of people with comments and advice and instruction and admonition… Judgement was out there but I am thankful that God put strong people with His wisdom around us. Unlike Job’s friends who offered all kinds of toxic advice, we found favor and grace with many. And little by little God is showing his power to rebuild our broken lives. But we know it is all in his time, with his favor, and for his purpose.
One of the biggest lessons i learned from Job, and our Job like experience is that control is nothing i have nor have i ever had it. Everything in life taught me differently… so the complete sense of loss of control was surprising, and eye opening. Job received messenger after messenger with news that was intense, difficult, beyond what seems humanly possible to bear. This was the case in my life too… yet that still small voice of God reminded me that he promised wonderful things for me… that i am called, chosen, special, a priest of royal blood, his friend. He even reminds us that he has a plan for us, to give us a future with hope. These snapshots of his character, and his truth about my life are what made it possible to go through this trial. Control is not mine to handle. That did not stop me from feeling as though i had jumped off a cliff into the raging torrent of water, and was being swept downstream unable to navigate the river. But each time it felt like i was going under somehow i did not, and there would be times when the rivers current became still, allowing for me to take my breath, and try to recover.
Mixed in the story of Job were so many lessons God was burnishing into my heart.
- Forgiveness – Forgiveness, someone once told me, is a thinking decision that requires us to train our heart to follow. I wrote in my journal on June 26, 2010 that I forgive my boss for her decision to lay off people, including myself. I wrote “I have no right or authority to hold this over her head because I am a follower of Jesus. I yield that right to judge to the Righteous Judge. He knows this decision, and the motivations and impact it will have. I yield to his authority, and wisdom. Now Lord train my heart to accept this decision and bring closure.” Three years later I continue to honor my decision to forgive her, and most of the time it is easy to accept. But there are those moments when the renegade thoughts of how unjust her decision was, or how that one decision sent rippling effects through my life changing it forever. It is at times like this that the only answer is prayer…. remaining in prayer until I no longer wish to think evil of anyone. Forgiveness is healing.
I have read some of Spurgeon’s work, and one particular excerpt from his commentary on Romans 7 is caught in my thoughts regarding forgiveness:
The body of death = the old sinful nature that lives in every man born in Adam and also still lurks in the dying physical body of all who are born again in Christ. Christ delivers both from the body of death. The body is the scene of this contest. Sin living in the members brings spiritual death to the body, and man becomes aware that he needs outside help. Paul cries out not for deliverance from the body characterized by this spiritual death or the doing of that which is evil in opposition to his desire to do that which is good.
Regarding the body of this death, C H Spurgeon writes that…
It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that every day he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.
A horrifying idea to have a corpse strapped to you, but in truth when we think of the impact of holding a grudge, or refusing to forgive, we are setting ourselves up for this very idea. Unforgiveness just drags us down, and it becomes difficult for us to live healthy lives.
- Accepting Loss / Grief – Job received message after message… loss of his family, his wealth, his health…. and he needed time to just sit and grieve the losses. I lost my career, my income, my ability to pay my bills, and the loss of a sense of purpose. For me it seemed like wave after wave of news and devastation that was as difficult as when my mom died. These were grievous times, my life was being turned upside down. I did not want to let go of the comfort and ease of predictable life, consistent job, and the simple ability to pay my bills. But change would happen with or without me and I needed to recognize that i was in grief, allow God to walk me through. I have learned to be a better listener, slow to speak when someone is grieving. When i buried my mother i know first hand that many of us speak and say things because we dont know what to say. They meant well, but some of the things they said were unsettling. Silence, sitting silently with someone is a gift. Part of accepting loss and grieving is knowing you are not alone, not abandoned. God reminds us he will never leave us, but sometimes there needs to be a warm hug, or a kind smile, a cup of tea and a listening ear. May I always be available, opened, and willing to be a good friend. Julio spoke of Job’s friends and how many things they said to him that implied Job was guilty sin, of doing wrong and that the loss in life was a result of something we have done. No, a thousand times no… And may i never speak like job’s friends did.
- My Ebeneezer – This is the part of the process that is still working out in my life. The idea of an Ebeneezer comes from 1 Samuel 7. This short passage gives a clear description:
After a long period of sadness and trouble, a consequence of Israel’s disobedience, Israel repented under the leadership of a new priest and judge, Samuel. God restored their political security, and the people, for their part, re-committed their hearts and minds to their Lord.
Samuel placed a large stone at the place where this restoration began. He publicly dedicated it as a monument to God’s help, God’s faithfulness, God’s eternal covenant. And as the people got on with their lives, the stone stood there, visible to all who passed that way, a reminder of judgment and repentance, mercy and restoration.
The Ebeneezer stone represented a fresh beginning, a reversal of course for God’s people. It also said something important about God: his mercies are everlasting; his covenant is forever.
So it is my hope that this new work God is doing in our lives, giving us work, a business and a breath of fresh wind is the Ebeneezer stone I must raise as a memorial to this new work. Steve and I have dedicated ourselves, our home, our marriage, our business and our lives to glorifying God. God has seen us through three years of turbulent life, financial loss, and he is rebuilding. I will trust him to our employment, finances, future
I was thinking about what i wanted to write in response to the sermon on Job, and last night i heard Joni Erickson Tada speaking about suffering, and grieving loss. She confirmed the need to raise an Ebeneezer stone, to set memorials so that we can remember the works God is doing in our lives. We hold the word of God and trust that the character of God is good, and his ways are not ours, but we can trust his goodness and steadfastness.
The story of Job is a difficult one, but the book ends with a full replacement of what was lost, and twice over. May this be the truth in our lives.