What if you were stripped of all the props and scaffolding that make you feel good about yourself and your life? Would you become angry and miserable and stop trusting God or would you still serve him with all your heart?
My wife and I were faced with a situation like that. Early on in our ministry things were going great. I had just come off of an amazing experience with the Holy Spirit, complete with an incredible vision from God calling us to ministry in New York City. This all pointed to what seemed would be bigger and better things as part of a brand new and exciting movement of God called the Vineyard. My star was on the rise. Things were good for us. We were blessed. The future looked bright.
But suddenly, it was all gone! Not everyone was pleased with our career path. Word got out that we were joining some Southern Californian cult. Literally overnight we were outcasts. Most of our friends turned their backs on us. Our ministry, security, status, and our good name were gone! It was so unfair! Where was God? Why would he allow this to happen to us especially after raising our hopes and expectations?
I was crushed and angry. I went into a tailspin and couldn’t get out of bed. As I lay there feeling sorry for myself, the Lord spoke to me.
“Mike, if I take everything from you will you still serve me with the same gusto as when everything was going your way?” …
Now, the smart answer would have been, “Of course I would! Don’t be silly”, but I didn’t, I remained silent…
My silence spoke volumes. It was a moment of clarity. My eyes were suddenly open to the embarrassing truth that my relationship with God wasn‘t as terrific as I thought. It was conditional. There were strings attached. I had secondary reasons for my devotion – self-interest! I served him enthusiastically when things were going good but when they didn’t go my way I had reservations. I held back, acting as though God somehow owed me! This stung; I was ashamed of myself. I realized that I had to confess my self-serving reluctance and ask his forgiveness.
This incident changed my relationship with God. It opened the door to a deeper understanding of who God was in my life. He was the Lord Almighty and as such I was expected to trust and love God “for nothing” … For no other reason than that he’s God, my Creator, the giver of life.
This is the lesson of Job learned. Heis presented as a good and prosperous family man who, as a result of being caught in a cosmic drama, suffers catastrophic loss. His story opens with Satan arrogantly marching into a gathering of God’s angels. He’s just returned from traveling around the earth, and he says, in effect:
“Human beings only love you out of self-interest because you bless them. Take those blessings away and they’ll curse you to your face.”
So, God proposes a test.
“Very well let’s test out your theory and let’s let a righteous man named Job be the proving ground.”
God allows Satan to pull the props out of Job’s life, one by one. He loses his property, then his children and finally, his health. Even his wife turns against him. God allows Job to be attacked by Satan
with dreadful calamities that take away all that he holds near and dear. He’s left diseased, childless, in mourning and all alone. He struggles to understand why. Searching for answers, he gets none. His wife and friends are no help. They only make things worse. It all seems so senseless and unfair. Yet, though reeling from his suffering and losses, Job somehow holds on to God.
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. (Job 1:21-22)
In the end of what would have made a great Shakspearian play, Job faces God who takeshim on a tour of creation asking question after question Job can’t possibly answer because he’s not God. His eyes are opened and confesses he’s just a finite, fallible human. He realizes that by questioning God’s competency he’s foolishly stepping into an arena that’s way over his head and above his pay scale because running the world is a God-sized job.
The story ends with Job confessing that he has gained a whole new vision of God; an entirely new perspective on life:
4I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:5-6)
What was this profound eye opener? Simply the recognition that God is God and he wasn’t. Job will let him be God and will love and trust him “for nothing”.That is, for no other reason than because of who he is… Almighty God, his Creator.
Now there’s a lesson here for all of us. When we suffer without knowing why and hang in there with God anyway, without demanding that God explain himself, we’ll also see God in a whole new light as our Lord. We’ll view our relationship with him in a way totally different from any other relationship we may have. With no conditions, no obligations, no strings attached.
What we learn from Job is that we don’t have all the answers and God doesn’t seem to want us to have all the answers. Neither does God want us to reason with him. What he wants is our trust.
Ray Stedman writes in his book Let God Be God:
“Ultimately we must accept the fact that God does not exist for man but man exists for God. We are God’s instruments, and we exist to carry out his plans and purposes which transcend our limited understanding.”
In other words, when we find ourselves suffering unfairly or senselessly what God wants from us is simply our TRUST. We’re to hold on to our relationship with him and not give up on him.
You may be asking, “Where does such absolute trust come from?” Well it arises from a surprising, much misunderstood and overlooked source: The fear of God!
In my opinion this was the secret of Job’s faith and resiliency.
Rather than being an archaic and unhelpful concept, I believe the fear of God is indispensable to having an unshakable relationship with God in a world where things are always going wrong.
What is the fear of God? When it is mentioned, it’s usually down-played, using replacement words like “respect”, “reverence”, “honor”, in order to make it more palatable to our consumerist culture. But the original Hebrew word is pretty clear: “fear” actually means fear! The Bible tells me, the fear of God is foundational to having a good, well-lived life. It’s the beginning of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
How can the fear of God be a good thing? It sounds so negative.
Well, the very nature of God is both loving and dangerous because of his inherent “all-powerful-ness”. Dallas Willard once said that God is not mean but he is dangerous.
The Almighty is good and wonderful but when we carelessly ignore, mistreat, or misjudge him, the consequences can be terrible. With little or no fear of God I’m in danger of becoming arrogant, presumptuous and reckless with regard to my relationship with him and the way I live. This reminds me a line from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When asked if Aslan the lion was dangerous, Mr. Beaver replies:
“Safe?… who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Contrary to reason, the fear of God and the love of God go together. It’s the difference between unhealthy and healthy fear.
One is paralyzing and destructive and the other helpful and empowering. For example, it’s very healthy for a firefighter to fear fire when going into a burning building. Just as it’s very healthy to fear drinking before you drive.
A healthy fear of God perspective is good because it leads to God-centered living rather than me-centered living. But strangely, as in the case of Job, one of the main ways God develops this in our lives is through hardship and pain. Suffering and hardship opens our eyes. It strips away pretense. It shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency and exposes the folly of questioning God’s wisdom and goodness. It does away with our misguided belief that God owes us a happy life; that we’re entitled to his blessings.
It offers a new God-fearing perspective that obliges us to acknowledge God as God. Compellingus to let go of the reins and place ourselves entirely in his hands, letting him be Godand bringing us to the place of trust where we can say along with Job:
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him… (Job 13:15)
The storms of life hit us all. Adversity and suffering inevitably comes to everyone one way or another. As Eliphaz, one of Job’s comforters stated:
…people are born to trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upward.
As Eugene Peterson wrote, there’ll always be at least one situation that comes along that we can’t fix, control, explain, change or even make sense of. Eventually some person, crisis, failure or humiliation will enter your lives that’ll take you to the very edge of your ability to cope. We need to remember one of the great lessons from Job is: Even though it may not seem like it, God is in control and he cares. He’s there, present in our pain, mysteriously working out his good purpose. And while adversity and suffering don’t necessarily solve any problems, they are strangely necessary for our spiritual growth. Andone way of his main ways he accomplishes this is through developing a healthy fear so we can mature in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of God and not only suffer well but live well…
But just because we suffer doesn’t mean we’ll automatically acquire a healthy fear of God, it all depends on how we decide to respond.Will we let go of God’s hand or hold on even tighter?Will we choose to trust and love him for nothing… for no other reason than the fact that he’s Lord? The ball’s in our court; the choice is ours.