Paul was well aware of what he could and couldn’t do. He knew his missionary work was far beyond his natural strength, so he relied heavily on the power of the Holy Spirit within him.
It’s the same with us. Only when we stop struggling and surrender to God can we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. When we become a conduit for the Spirit’s power, God helps us do impossible things, like give thanks even when we’re hurting.
Humanly speaking, you may not see anything you can be grateful for right now. Your circumstances are miserable, and you’re desperately praying they will change. God hears you. In a very real sense, though, you are focusing on the bigness of your circumstances and not on the bigness of God. God is all-powerful. He may allow your situation to continue, but know this: God is in control, not your circumstances.
I tell you this not by theory but by my own painful past. When I was unemployed for 18 months, it didn’t seem God was in control. When important relationships fell apart, I couldn’t understand. When my father died in 1995, I felt lost.
I had cancer in 1976. I was 25 years old and could not give thanks. In 2011 when I had cancer again, I was able to give thanks to God, not for the cancer, of course, but for his steady, loving hand through it all. The difference was that I was able to look back and see that no matter what happened to me in the past, God was with me and he brought me through it.
As you give yourself to God, he will help you through this hard time you are in now. One of God’s goals for you is to make you totally dependent on him. The more you depend on him and sense his support, the more you will want to give thanks.
If there’s one thing Satan hates, it’s when believers trust God. Satan encourages us to trust our emotions instead. He wants us to put our faith infear, worry, depression, and doubt.
Jesus Christ encountered this many times in his owndisciples. He told them not to be afraid but to believe. Negative emotions are so strong that they skew our judgment. We forget it is God who is reliable, not our feelings.
That’s why, when you’re hurting, it’s wise to read the Bible. You may not feel like it. It may be the last thing you want to do, and it’s the last thing Satan wants you to do, but again, there’s an important reason to. It brings your focus away from your emotions and back onto God.
When you’re going through trouble, Satan wants you to blame God. In the middle of Job’sworst trials, even his wife said to him, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, NIV) Later, Job showed extraordinary faith when he promised, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” (Job 13:15a, NIV)
Your hope is in God in this life and the next. Never forget that.
Doing What We Don’t Want to Do
Giving thanks when you’re hurting is another one of those tasks we don’t want to do, like dieting or going to the dentist, but it’s immensely more important because it brings you intoGod’s will for you. Obeying God is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.
We seldom grow more intimate with God during good times. Pain has a way of drawing us close to him, making God so real we feel we can reach out and touch him.
You don’t have to give thanks for the thing afflicting you, but you can be grateful for God’s faithful presence. When you approach it that way, you’ll find that thanking God when you’re hurting does make perfect sense.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack’s Bio Page.
Perhaps the hardest experience in the Christian life is to suffer and experience divine silence. It seems inconceivable. You lose a baby, you are shamefully victimized, or go through what feels like death itself, and you wonder, “Where is God? How could he be silent, distant or idly watching when this is happening?” If even bad fathers do something when their kids are being abused, why would the Good Father let us go through such turmoil without a peep?
This question—where was God?—is so hard and so important. There is not one correct answer. What is both true and helpful for one person might seem hollow to the next. But we all must reckon with the question. If we haven’t already asked it, we will. So how would you answer it? How have you answered it?
The most obvious answer is to ask God himself. The question to him is a fair one, but you might notice incipient unbelief in that you don’t believe that God hears you or is accessible. Unbelief prefers to talk about God rather than to him. Rule number one is to talk to the Lord, especially during hardships.
Your first words might be: Where were you? Later you might consult those who have said similar words (e.g., Ps. 22) and pattern your question with their entreaties in mind.
Let God ask you a few questions
This is the pattern in the book of Job. Job’s counselors say a lot that is good and some that is not, so it is hard to glean a response to our question from them. But God himself responds to Job—not priests, prophets, or friends but God himself speaks, and that is the kind of direct response we are looking for. He asks Job a series of rhetorical questions, beginning with:
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:2-3)
Then God continues this Father-son conversation through sixty-five or so questions. At the end, Job receives that most prized possession—the fear of the Lord. This brings with it humility and the knowledge that God is God, and we are not.
This would seem to put an end to our search, but that is not necessarily so. Scripture says more after the climactic event of the Christ’s death and resurrection. What was anticipated is now fully revealed. As such, we can ask the question again.
The Son suffers, the sons and daughters suffer
The answer Job received is expanded in the New Testament. God has determined that his Kingdom on earth will be moved forward by his suffering people. Yes, he uses everyone who turns to him in faith, but the real influencers in the Kingdom have been those who are familiar with hardships. We participate in and fill up the sufferings of Jesus (Rom. 8:17, Col. 1:24). This is another mystery and does not really answer the question of why, but it does show us that the church will not be spared the hardships of fallen human life. He certainly is not silent, and he has put us among fine company.
Wait and hope
You went through the darkest of times and you did not receive anything tangible from the Lord. You felt shut out, even reprimanded. But there is still more information up ahead, and it will change everything.
“For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Heb. 10:37). And the emphasis is on “a very little while.” A time is coming when we will tell parts of our stories differently. What is now: “wait,” will someday be: “for the briefest of moments.” What is now suffering will somehow be replaced with glory.
Read the book of Revelation and see the whirlwind of activity. Prayers are being brought up in bowls before the Lord and armies of angels are being dispatched. Heaven, the place of God’s throne, is buzzing with anticipation for the end of days, when the King returns and bring the fullness of shalom with him.
These are just some of the ways that God communicates to his suffering people.
CCEF: Since 1968, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (ccef.org) has set the pace in biblical counseling. We teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to the problems of daily living. Simply put our mission is to: Restore Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church. We offer conferences, courses, resources andcounseling. Follow us on twitter and facebook.
Oklahoma’s devastating tornado stirred up a theological debate that was set off from a series of deleted tweets referencing the Book of Job.
Popular evangelical author and speaker John Piper regularly tweets Bible verses, but two verses he tweeted after the tornado struck some as at best insensitive and at worst bad theology:
“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20
In the Book of Job, God allows Satan to afflict “blameless” Job, killing his 10 children, livestock and servants. While Piper’s tweets didn’t mention the tornado by name, critics said it was too close, and inappropriate.
Piper, who recently retired from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a leading theologian of the neo-Calvinist movement that’s sweeping many evangelical churches. In essence, Desiring God staffer Tony Reinke wrote, Piper was highlighting God’s sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy.
In response, popular evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans blasted Piper’s “abusive theology of ‘deserved’ tragedy,” and said Christians have to stop the idea of responding to tragedy by suggesting God is inflicting his judgment.
“The only thing we need to tell them is, ‘I don’t know why this happened but God is good and God loves us,’” she said in an interview.
However, she apologized in a follow-up post. “Piper’s tweet was vague enough that I don’t know that he was necessarily saying this point this time. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to call him out.”
Piper, who has nearly a half a million followers, was unavailable for comment but he tweeted a brief explanation, saying in part: “My hope and prayer for Oklahoma is that the raw realism of Job’s losses will point us all to his God ‘compassionate and merciful.’”
“John realized last night pretty quickly that what gives him comfort in the wake of tragedy is not what resonates with everyone,” David Mathis, executive director of Piper’s Desiring God ministry, wrote in an email on Tuesday (May 21).
Idaho pastor and blogger Doug Wilson came to Piper’s defense, saying that the theological issues are logically simple but emotionally complex.
“The Christian church has to return to a robust understanding of who God is,” Wilson said in an interview. “If we do, we won’t have to hash through this with every tragedy.”
Author Philip Yancey said that the worst thing Christians could do is to be like Job’s friends, who tried to explain why God allowed tragedy to strike Job’s family.
“God endorses the confusion and even outrage that we feel when mysterious things happen,” Yancey said. “When suffering happens, it forces us to confront life in a different way than we normally do.”
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted a few days after the tornado, “In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up.#Love.”
This is not the first time Piper has generated theological debate through Twitter. After blogger Justin Taylor suggested Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” book was universalist, Piper tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell” with a link to the post.
Piper also came under fire after suggesting in a blog post that a small tornado during a conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was a “gentle but firm warning” as it debated its position on homosexuality.
The author confessed, “My greatest books were never written because my greatest thoughts never became words.” We’ve all felt that way, haven’t we? We’ve all had those brilliant times when a passage, or a doctrine appeared so clear, so weighty, so organized. But by the time we found a notepad and pen, the thought had deflated like an old inner tube. As hard as we could, we tried to pump life back into that thought, but it never took the same shape. Like you, I have numerous files of countless scraps with the residue of former great thoughts.
That’s the same feeling Job experienced. His suffering, known even today, was legendary then, too. His many possessions were all gone. His ten children were all dead. His good health was all a memory. And along came his friends to ask, “Why? What was the glaring sin in Job’s life that cost him all this?” Job lacked understanding, but believed there was more to the story. He believed he would be vindicated by someone he called “my Redeemer.” So eager to document his argument he said, “Oh that my words were written. Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead they were engraved in the rock forever. And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:23-25) Thankfully for us, Job’s wish came true. His words were preserved. His faith was vindicated. His Redeemer does live.
What a great Easter message. Though it was preached 2,000 years before the event, it shouts the Resurrection story, “HOPE!” Even today it remains the greatest theme of all time. In this crazy, mixed-up, uncertain world, “I know my Redeemer lives.” The rains fall, and the flood waters rise, but “my Redeemer lives.” Right has become wrong and wrong has become right, but “I know my Redeemer lives.”
Easter is your day. Churches will be packed. Hundreds of thousands of people are coming to hear one thing. “My Redeemer lives.” And just as it was with Job, these words of hope will carry your congregation over their biggest hurdle, and through their darkest day. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in every church to see and hear you proclaim this Good News. I’ll be praying for you.
Where was God when Superstorm Sandy pounded the Eastern Seaboard, killing at least 50 and causing historic destruction? And where was God in 2011 when the tsunami and earthquake claimed more than 200,000 lives in Japan?
In the wake of such incredible loss and disaster, we struggle to understand how a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing can also be considered good and loving. Pastor and teacher Erwin Lutzer tackles this tough subject head-on in his book, Where Was God?
“The question of natural disasters is very important,” said Lutzer in a phone interview last year. “The Bible even records stories of natural disasters.” During our discussion, Lutzer answered a number of questions that are detailed in his book.
Q: Can you address something we hear many times, which is “Why would God allow natural disasters?”
Lutzer: One thing we have to remember is that the world is fallen. The Bible says that when man fell into sin, all of nature was cursed. In other words, it was impossible for a sinful man to live in a perfect environment of paradise, so all of nature is cursed.
But having said that, it doesn’t mean that God has a hands-off policy when it comes to natural disasters. Many people want to protect God from the clear teaching of the Bible, which shows He is involved in natural disasters. It is not that God causes them, but the very fact that He could prevent them shows that we need to face squarely the fact that natural disasters happen within God’s providence.
Let me give you a few examples. During the time of the plagues in Egypt, clearly God sent those plagues. Then you have the time of Noah; the flood obviously was sent by God. It says regarding Jonah, God hurled a storm into the sea. We must see God in natural disasters. The question, of course, is why does he allow them and what is there to be learned.
Q: What kinds of lessons can we learn from natural disasters?
Lutzer: Natural disasters are a megaphone from God and they teach us various lessons. First of all, natural disasters show us the uncertainty of life. Thousands of people wake up in the morning not knowing what is going to happen that day, such as the terrible devastation in Haiti and elsewhere. There was a couple that left California because they were afraid of earthquakes. Then when they came to Missouri, they were killed in a tornado. We can’t get away from the reality that life is very, very short and it’s possible for us to delude ourselves.
When we look at the news and see these disasters, it’s like a preview of the natural disasters that will someday come upon the earth. When you look at the second coming of Christ, you find many different natural disasters connected with it.
Q: What can Christians say to neighbors and friends who question whether God can be merciful and loving and allow disasters to happen?
Lutzer: One of the greatest challenges we have as Christians is to somehow continue to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of horrendous devastation. When you see children being separated from their fathers and mothers, when you see lives being torn and hundreds of people dead, it is very natural to ask the question, “Where is God?”
What we need to realize is that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have to point people to the fact that God has intervened in our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the love of God most clearly.
It was Martin Luther who said, “When you look around and wonder whether God cares, you must always hurry to the cross and you must see Him there.”
The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Sometimes we reverse that. The values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that earthquakes do not increase death. Everybody is going to die someday. It’s the way they die that causes us so much grief.
When we hear about a natural disaster we should grieve with those who grieve. And we should ask what we can do to alleviate their suffering.
Finally, I think this is the best illustration. All of Job’s 10 children died in a natural disaster. There was a wind storm that blew down the house. Job was confronted with the fact that because of a natural disaster, there are 10 fresh graves on the hilltop. So now what is he going to do?
His wife says to curse God and die. But Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job shows us it is possible to worship God even without explanations, even when we don’t know all the reasons. Those who worship God under those conditions are especially blessed.
Click here for original article on BillyGraham.org.
Job’s friends are an example of how not to treat a friend in need. What can we learn from them about how to pray for those we love?
Those of you who know the story of Job, the righteous man God bragged about to Satan, will remember that God gave Satan license to afflict Job. Job lost his possessions and his health. His seven sons and three daughters, for whom he had interceded daily, pleading their cases before God as a defense attorney might plead their cases in court, were killed in a freakish windstorm (see Job 1:18-19).
His wife lost her confidence in the Lord and any respect she had for her husband. She eventually encouraged him to forget his integrity, to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
But one of the greatest losses to Job was the loss of relationships. Job’s friends became a burden rather than a blessing. Those who should have been sensitive to his need and supportive in their actions during his time of trial only added to his burden. Interestingly, each of them represents a type of friend no one wants when going through trial.
Let’s look at Job’s friends. Perhaps in them we will learn the behaviors to avoid when our friends are suffering trials. We can develop an earnest desire to become effective prayer advocates when others have walked away.
Eliphaz, Job’s Religious Friend When Job needed loving, practical friends to assist and support him in his hour of need, his friend Eliphaz decided to be “superspiritual” instead. He took it upon himself to bring correction to Job:
“Job, I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, but I’d like to have a word with you. You’ve offered counsel and encouragement to lots of troubled people in the past. And you’ve been the first to support those who have stumbled.
“But now it’s obvious you’re discouraged regarding the trouble that has come to you. I know you think you’re a righteous man. But let me ask you a question: When have you ever heard of an innocent man being destroyed?” (adapted from Job 4:2-7).
Eliphaz was out of touch with the reality of Job’s intense suffering. The unsettling truth about friends who manifest the “I can hear God better than you” syndrome is that many of them have never personally experienced a genuine breaking from God. People with a religious spirit speak out of their soulishness and not from true brokenness.
Job didn’t need religion. He needed relationship. He needed a listening ear, not a sermon. Job needed an intercessor, not an instructor. Eliphaz thought he was serving God, when in fact he was an unknowing pawn of Satan. When called to the witness stand to defend Job, he became a star witness for the prosecution instead.
When we are suffering, may God deliver us from religious friends. Decide right now that when your friends are suffering, you will relate to them with compassion and empathy.
Bildad, Job’s Idealistic Friend An idealist is defined as “one who adheres to philosophical theories of perfection and excellence and concepts of flawless morality.” This may sound good, but real life isn’t quite this pristine.
When suffering life’s trials, we need neither religious, holier-than-thou friends to scold us nor idealistic friends to rebuke us. Hearing Job’s explanation, Bildad replied: “Job, what you are saying about your situation is nothing but ‘hot air.’
“God doesn’t pervert justice. You know your children died because of their sin. So, I think it’s high time that you plead with God for your own life. If you are the righteous man you think you are, He will restore your health and other losses. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that God won’t reject the righteous or bless the wicked” (adapted from Job 8:1-7).
Many Christians today have overlooked the powerful process of suffering and trials that God has designed to produce godliness in each of our lives. Let’s not forget that Timothy says, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12, KJV).
If we overlook that process, when suffering befalls our friends, we are apt to assume it is God’s judgment for sin. When trouble befalls us, we are apt to be totally confused (see 1 Pet. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 1:3-10; 2:9; James 1:2-4 for the purpose of suffering).
Sometimes God, for His own reasons, allows an idealistic friend to add to our test. At times we all need false and idealistic concepts to be broken. Perhaps through an idealistic friend we can see our blindness and resolve to fully surrender our hearts to God (see Ps. 51:17).
Zophar, Job’s Legalistic Friend A person who lives a life of legalism adheres to a literal and excessively religious moral code. The New Testament Pharisees were the legalists of their day. They monitored themselves and others by the Levitical law. Yet Jesus reprimanded them for neglecting “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23, NIV).
No doubt the whole spirit of their religion was summed up in self-righteousness, not in confession of sin or humility. This was the kind of friend Job had in Zophar, the legalist!
Zophar said: “How I wish God would tell you the truth about your situation, Job! He knows deceitful and evil men when He sees them. If you repent and put away your sin, then God will remove your shame” (adapted from Job 11:4-6,11,13-15).
With friends like these, who needs enemies? Apparently there was no one to plead the case for Job. His wife and friends all testified against him in court!
Let’s not allow ourselves to become “Job’s friends.” When our friends are going through trials, let’s not be a religious Eliphaz, an idealistic Bildad or a legalistic, know-it-all Zophar who is out of touch with his own pain. Let’s agree to be spiritual defense attorneys, those who come alongside to bring carefully prayed-over and gently presented godly counsel, loving support and encouragement.
Defendant Becomes Defender When God finished the work He was doing in Job, He promoted him from the role of suffering defendant to that of defense attorney once again. “After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has’” (Job 42:7). What a turnaround!
Job’s friends had failed to defend him in his trial. They had criticized, mocked and accused him. His friends had not understood the process of trial. Under Satan’s cross-examination in court they inadvertently served as witnesses for the prosecution. In so doing, they had even falsely accused God. Now the Court’s judgment weighed heavily upon them. Judge Jehovah was about to pass sentence on them.
Then our merciful Judge gave Job’s friends these surprising instructions: “So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has” (v. 8).
Wow! The Judge gave Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar a court-appointed attorney—Job! As their attorney, Job was to plead their cases in prayer. And Job was no novice! Having defended his children and stood trial himself, Job the intercessor would not be praying detached, unfeeling, lifeless, ineffective prayers.
He understood the pain and agony someone experiences when standing trial.
He knew the fear, loneliness and severity of facing trial without a godly support team.
He would represent his friends well before the Judge of heaven.
Friend, the trials you have suffered, when understood in the context of God’s overall purposes and properly applied, can be used to a kingdom advantage as you intercede for others who are standing trial today. For Job’s friends, the best part was that their victory was guaranteed before their case even came to trial!
That’s right…guaranteed! Judge Jehovah said to Job’s wayward friends, “I will accept his [Job’s] prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.”
Job Passes the Test
As long as Job remained the self-absorbed defendant, primarily concerned with his own need, he was a victim. It was only when he became a God-conscious, God-ordained, anointed defender of others that he experienced his own victory! “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends” (Job 42:10, KJV).
Yes, Job’s captivity was turned when he prayed for his friends. When Job focused on God and others, his own captivity was turned! This is what Jesus taught us to do when He gave us the two greatest commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31).
Are you currently enrolled in “the school of suffering?” Perhaps you have been experiencing some Job-like trials of your own. When will they end?
That’s really the wrong question. The question we should ask is, “What will they produce?” And that, friend, is largely up to you. If you are facing trial today, look for another person who needs a good defense attorney and become that person’s advocate before the throne of God in prayer.
It could be that your captivity, like Job’s, will be turned as you pray for your friends! Immerse yourself in their victory, and you will likely discover your own! “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). May this also be said of you!
Eddie Smith is co-founder and president of the U.S. Prayer Center, and his wife, Alice Smith, is executive director. They are both internationally known conference speakers and authors.
The key component to every masterpiece is found in the details. Unforgettable performances, exceptional meals, professional accomplishments all share the distinguishing factor of someone giving scrutiny to the details.