Life is hard. It is much harder if you choose to do stupid things -- but it is hard none the less.
Life's hard knocks bring pain into our lives. Family issues can threaten to tear apart marriages. Sickness and disease can ravage us. Work (or the lack of it) can increase the pressure we face. You know from your own life and I know from mine that this list could go on and on and on.
So one has to ask -- Does pain serve any useful purpose? What good can come out of it? Is our suffering wasted?
Thankfully we have several promises in the scriptures that can lead us from places filled with pain to new places - - places where our joy and our strength are restored. Now THAT'S a path worth seeking out and walking down!
The Old Testament reading from the lectionary this past Sunday was the story of Job's testing.
You know the story. The accuser is present as the angels are reporting to God. This is before he was cast down from heaven by Christ's death and resurrection. God knows that Job is a blameless and upright man, and points out his holy life as an example of righteousness. But satan challenges God and accuses the motive of Job's heart, saying Job only loves God because of the blessings he receives. The enemy is allowed to test his challenge, and Job passes with flying colors.
Then satan returns and God points out Job's faithfulness, even under the attack of the enemy. The accuser continues to accuse Job, telling God that Job is just protecting himself. "But touch his bone and his flesh," satan says, "and he will curse you to your face." Job passes THIS test as well, even when his own wife tells him to curse God and die.
The dichotomy of this exchange is startling. On the one hand we have satan, a heavenly being who has SEEN the glory of God in all of His majesty, yet he rebels. On the other hand we have Job, a mere man. He has never seen the majesty of God with his eyes, and yet he chooses to trust Him.
Job's determined trust is constantly lifted up as an example for us. In fact, Job is named as one of the three greatest examples of faith by the prophet Ezekiel, along with Moses and David. That's some pretty good company!!
GOD KNEW HIS PLAN.
He intended that Job's faithfulness would teach us and encourage us.
GOD KNEW THE OUTCOME.
He knew that Job would end up doubly blessed. Not only in his children and his wealth, but also in his relationship with God.
GOD KNEW THE IMPACT.
He knew His church would all benefit from this process. You and I benefit from Job's decision to trust God. He is an example.
We do well to remember that GOD REIGNS.
Whether your life seems to be IN CONTROL or OUT OF CONTROL -
it is always UNDER CONTROL. HIS control.
THE CRISIS IS NOT THE CONCLUSION.
It is only the test that forms your character and prepares you for opportunities that are still unseen.
It is the tested faith that can be trusted to endure.
Faith untested is 97% imagination.
Suffering has an incredible capacity to focus us on that which is most significant.
Suffering is NOT WASTED when we pass through it in God's grace.
Suffering PRODUCES in us the very things we need most.
Suffering produces endurance.
Life is a marathon, and taking a long view of faithfulness is critical to our success and fruitfulness.
Endurance produces character.
Our inner being is impacted as we press on in the face of life's deepest challenges, determined to remain faithful.
We must keep our eyes on the prize, and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.
Character produces hope.
Hope - the confidence that God is at work.
Hope - the trust that God keeps His promises.
Hope - the ability to look forward with eager expectation at what God will do in spite of our present challenges.
Hope is the fertilizer of faith. We are made STRONGER as we face life's crises in the light of the promises of God.
The choice is not whether we will have suffering and sorrow.
The choice is will we face these battles alone, or with God's promises in our heart?
And, when we've made THAT choice well, we (like Job) will pass the test.
And joy will replace sorrow, faith will replace fear, peace will replace pain.
And He will restore unto us the JOY of our salvation.