We are continuing in a sermon series on cultivating courage to live as God would have us live in a world that is increasingly more indifferent and even hostile toward the Christian faith. One thing I’ve discovered as I have tried to live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ is that life is hard. Life is often disappointing. Life doesn’t always go the way I planned for it to go. Things don’t always pan out the way I thought they would. Things go wrong. People disappoint. Plans fall apart. Even the things I pray for. My prayers haven’t always been answered, at least not in the way I wanted. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in drawing this conclusion about life.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people tend to pull back and withdraw into a shell after a major loss or failure or disappointment. The tend to isolate themselves and cut themselves off from others. Those plans they had, well, they just kind of give up on them. They stop living and just start existing.
On the other hand, there are people who have gone through much greater adversity and they somehow manage to keep going. They get knocked down but they get right up again. They have amazing resilience. The apostle Paul was a guy like that. He had an amazing ability to keep going and never give up. He wrote about his experience in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “We’re pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.” (2nd Corinthians 4:8-9)
It takes courage to get up and keep going when you’ve been knocked down. That’s the kind of courage I want to have and that’s the kind of courage I want you to have as you go through the difficulties of life. As you pastor, I don’t want to see you get so hurt that you build a wall around yourself and give up trying to make a difference in the world for Christ. The problem with building a wall around yourself is that it keeps your pain in and it keeps the love of others out. How do we develop the courage to keep from walling ourselves off and giving up?
The classic text in the Bible about all this is the story of Job. He has a whole book named after him and it’s the oldest book in the Bible. It pre-dates Moses. Job’s name literally means “persecuted one” and that he was. As the book begins we find a man who is on top of the world. He’s got great wealth. He’s got great health. He’s got great influence and prominence. He’s got a great family. He’s got a vast farm with a vast number of livestock. He had everything going for him. Then, in less than twenty-four hours, he had everything stripped from him. He lost it all! No one in recorded history has suffered more in a single day than Job. He could have easily walled himself off and given up, but he didn’t. And because he didn’t we learn from him some important steps to take when tragedy strikes and you suffer great loss. Job teaches us SIX THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP.
FIRST, you need to TELL GOD EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL. Talk to him and tell him exactly how you feel. Don’t hold back. Vent your frustration and anger to God. You’re not going to hurt his feelings and he’s not going to get angry with you. When you are honest with God about your real feelings, that actually makes you closer to God. It brings you closer into his presence. Here’s what Job did, “Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. [What’s Job doing by all that? He’s communicating to God how he felt. Tearing his robe and shaving his head was a way for Job to communicate to God his extreme anguish and grief.] Then he fell to the ground and worshiped.” (Job 1:20) He fell down and worshipped God. Being honest with God brought Job closer to God. He humbled himself before God in an act of worship, proclaiming who God is—the God who gives and takes away.
When bad things happen, we often react with a series of emotions. The first emotion is anger. We’re angry that it happened. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Then our anger gives way to grief. Grief is the emotion of realizing what we’ve lost. Next comes shock and disbelief. Some call this denial. These emotions give way to fear as we think about the future and try to imagine how we are going to go on in light of our loss. What do you do with these feelings? You take them to the Lord. You tell him exactly how you’re feeling. He can handle it. The right response to unexplained tragedy is not to grin and bear it. The right response is to take it to the Lord in prayer. Tell him exactly how you feel.
Through Jeremiah, the prophet we are told: “Cry out in the night… Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord.” (Lamentations 2:19) He had a very difficult job as a prophet. He’s called the weeping prophet for good reason. He told God how he felt. He said, “You have deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” (Jeremiah 20:7) Then there’s Naomi in the book of Ruth. When asked if her name was Naomi, she answered, “[Don’t call me Naomi.] Call me bitter because God has made my life bitter.” (Ruth 1:20) She was still grieving the death of her husband. She eventually came around but at that point that’s how she felt. The there’s David who told God, “I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, God, and I’m fed up. That’s it.” (Psalm 88:15) David spouted off to God, but he still remained God’s man. That’s how it was with Job. He questioned God, but he still remained God’s man.
The SECOND thing Job teaches us to do is ACCEPT HELP FROM OTHERS. God doesn’t intend for you to handle all the pain and disappointment of life by yourself. God created us for himself and he created us to be in community. He made us to need each other. The first thing God said in the Garden of Eden is, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were made to be in relationships. Here’s the problem: when we’re struggling with major disappointment and loss, we don’t want to tell anyone. We don’t want anyone to see us cry. We don’t want anyone to see us hurting. We don’t want others to see us vulnerable, so we wall ourselves off. We pull in and isolate ourselves from others. That’s a bad idea. In Job, 6:14, it says, “When desperate people give up on God Almighty, their friends, at least, should stick with them.” (Job 6:14) I love that verse. Even when someone is struggling so much that they turn away from God, their friends are to stay with them. We need each other’s help. The NIV says it this way, “Even a despairing man deserves the devotion of his friends, even if he forsakes Almighty God.”
God knows there will be times in your life when you are in so much pain, you’ll think God has given up on you. That’s when other believers really need to stay close to you and help you along until you work it through. When we find ourselves in such a place, we need to accept help from others. That will ensure that we continue to experience God’s love through the love of God’s people. God will speak to us through them. You need to have friends who will believe in God for you when you can’t. The Bible says, “Encourage each other and give each other strength.” (1st Thessalonians 5:11) That’s a command! God commands us to bear one another’s burdens. Implicit in that command is to accept the help of others. Keep in mind that when you do, you are helping others to obey Christ. The Bible says, “By helping each other with your troubles, you obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)
The THIRD thing Job teaches us to do is STOP ASKING WHY. That’s not going to help you get through it. I learned this from a friend of mine, Eric Scruggs. At age 31 he and his wife Jill, and two beautiful boys had everything going for them. Then Eric was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As Eric declined in heath, I would take him fresh bread because it was the only thing he could hold down. During one of my visits with Eric and Jill, I made a comment about how they must be asking, “Why me?” They both said, “We don’t ask that question because we know it won’t help us get through this.” Folks, it just won’t help you to keep asking, “Why?” This is something we all have to learn. Even Job had to learn it. Job didn’t get it right away. He was full of questions. He asked questions for thirty-seven chapters! Questions like, “Why didn't I die at birth as I came from the womb? Why did my mother let me live? Why did she nurse me at her breasts?”—Job 3:11-12 (NLT) He asked God, “Why let people go on living in misery? Why give light to those in grief.” (Job 3:20) (TEV)
It’s human nature to ask why. We think everything has to have a reason and we think if we could only understand the reason behind our suffering it will be easier to bear. But that’s just not true. It doesn’t make it any easier to have an explanation. What we need is reassurance that God is going to use what is happening for good—for our good and for his glory. What we need is strength to get through it. What we need is comfort and encouragement to keep going. We don’t get these things from an explanation. We get them from a Savior. We get them from God who promises to be with us at all times. He doesn’t promise to give us an explanation at all times. The Bible says, “It is God’s privilege to conceal things.” (Proverbs 25:2) In other words, he’s not obligated to give us an explanation.
There are things we will never understand until we get to heaven. The Bible says, “Right now, we only know a little… Right now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely.” (1st Cor. 13:9, 12) All the things that happen that we can’t understand—one day we will. Right now all we can understand is that we live in a broken and sinful world that is scared by sin at every level. Nothing works right. Bad things happen to good people. We can’t allow that to keep us from trusting God. We pray and we pray and we pray for something to happen or not happen. And when our prayers are not answered, we are tempted to give up on God. That’s what happened to Job. He asked, “Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him? What good will it do us if we pray?” (Job 21:15) (NLT)
What we need to do instead of asking “why?” is the FOURTH thing Job teaches us. He teaches us to TRUST GOD IN THINGS WE DON’T UNDERSTAND. If you want to be able to keep going and not give up on God, then you will need to learn to trust God in things you don’t understand. God always hears our prayers and he always answers our prayers, just not always the way we want him to. Sometimes God answers with a YES. Sometimes God answers with a “NO. Sometimes God answers with “NOT YET BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT READY.” Sometimes God answers “NOT YET BECAUSE OTHERS ARE NOT READY.” Sometimes God answers, “THAT’S NOT MY PLAN FOR YOU. I HAVE SOMETHING FAR BETTER IN MIND.”
I believe the reason why Job’s story is in the Bible is because he finally came to a place where he trusted that God was in control no matter what. He accepted that his mind was too limited, his perspective was too limited to understand what God was up to. Job finally came around to trusting God even though he didn’t understand. He said to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, 'Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?' It is I. I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me... I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:1-3, 6) (NLT) He admits that for thirty seven chapters he was talking about things he didn’t understand. And he told God he was sorry.
How did Job get to that place? Here’s how: he clung to the things he believed about God. He remembered what he knew about God. When we are overwhelmed with things we do not understand about God, the best thing to do is remember what we do know about him. In chapter 10 he remembers that it was God who shaped him and made him. It was God who molded him into a man. God clothed him with skin and flesh and knit him together with bones and sinews. In chapter 11 he acknowledges that to God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding. He causes droughts and he brings rain. He reveals the secrets of the earth and holds other truths out of sight. When bad things happen we need to remember the things we know are true about God, that he is good, and loving and all-powerful. After remembering all these things about God, Job comes to the place where he can say, “Though he slay me, I will trust in him.” (Job 13:15) (KJV)
The FIFTH thing Job teaches us is to REFUSE TO BECOME BITTER. That’s all a matter of perspective. “Job said, ’I came naked from my mother's womb and I shall have nothing when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!’ In all of this Job did not sin by blaming God.” (Job 1:21-22) (LB) If we can keep this perspective, we will never sink into bitterness. Bitterness will only prolong your pain and alienate you from God and others. It will make you ill, both physically and mentally.
Grief doesn’t have to end in bitterness. When you suffer extreme loss, you need to grieve that loss. It takes time to get through it. At some point, though, you’ve got to let it go. You will be deeper for having gone through it, but it doesn’t have to define you. You are not your divorce. You are not your bankruptcy. You are not your job loss. You are not your disability. Losses deepen us but they do not define us. They are part of our maturity, not part of our identity.
The good news is: God gives you the grace you need to get through it. He gives you just enough grace for today. Then tomorrow he will give you just enough grace for that day. One day at a time is how we get through it. Here’s the problem. He may give you the grace to keep the proper perspective, but there might be folks around you who don’t have the right perspective. That happened to Job. The Bible says, “Job’s wife said to him, ‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But Job replied, ‘You talk like a godless woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?' So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” (Job 2:9-10) (NLT) The Bible warns us, “Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you... it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives.” (Heb. 12:15b) (LB)
The SIXTH thing we learn from Job is to FACE THE FUTURE WITH COURAGE. One of Job’s friends tells him, “Put your heart right, Job. Reach out to God. Put away evil and wrong from your home. Then face the world again, firm and courageous. Then all your troubles will fade from your memory, like floods that are past and remembered no more. Your life will be brighter than sunshine at noon, and life's darkest hours will shine like the dawn. You will live secure and full of hope.” (Job 11:13-18) (TEV) First, we reach out to God for help and strength. Then we examine our lives to see if there is any sinful behavior that has contributed to our loss. If there is, we put it away—out of our lives. Get rid of it! Then we face the world again, firm and courageous.
As long as we’re still breathing, our lives can turn around. We can have brighter days. We can have hope of a brighter future. No matter what loss we’ve experienced, if we take these six steps that Job teaches us, we can have a brighter future.
Borrowing from the words of the apostle Paul, let me end with this: “[I] pray that you will be filled with his mighty, glorious strength so that you can keep going no matter what happens - always full of the joy of the Lord.” (Col. 1:11) (LB)