Endurance For The Long Haul
1. The Trials of Job
When we speak of trials, sooner or later the story of Job is thrown into the mix. The trials of Job are renowned and as old as the Scriptures themselves.
There is no way that we could ever talk about trials and troubles without giving honorable mention to Job.
It is an amazing story that starts out with a very sunny, happy beginning:
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4 His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.” Job 1:1-5
Quite the guy and quite the life! Some would call it charmed, sheltered and protected.
Obviously, he was well off but notice, more importantly, his deep spirituality: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job 1:1
That above all was his claim to fame and he would be sorely tested!
He was so spiritually attuned that he would regularly intercede for his kids for concern that they might have sinned somewhere along the way.
A man like this will live forever, right? Never face struggles and trials. The cup is always half full as he breezes through life.
Yet in this perfect little world of his the bottom falls out:
“13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.”
As you read on in the next chapter it only gets worse as even his health is taken away from him; and almost overnight goes from this charmed life to a life of misery beyond words.
With this he becomes the classic case study of the meaning of suffering.
2. Tests versus Temptations
The first thing I want you to notice is that trials and struggles do not just randomly happen. This is not just misfortune or random back luck but behind every trial lies a greater reality and trigger point than what you see with the naked eye.
Believe it or not, trials on earth are influenced by what goes on in heaven. Listen to this:
“6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” Job 1:6-12
This is an incredible scene that played itself out in heaven! There is so much in this story that we could take hours unwrapping it all.
The only thing I want to notice this morning is that whatever happened to Job on earth was the result of the conversation in heaven between Satan and God. The same conversation, which is repeated a second time, is in the next chapter.
Lest you think that it’s only with poor Job that this sort of thing happened, Peter makes it clear that this sort of thing happens all the time:
“8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
I Pet. 5:8-9
Even today and even with you, this sort of thing is happening!
You have an accuser who not only accuses you but also, more importantly, accuses God through you by suggesting that the only reason you are serving God is because he has blessed you and made your life easy.
“The Accuser insinuates that Job’s allegiance is hypocritical. If only God would remove the protective hedge he has placed around Job, this devout servant would certainly curse God to his face. The attack is on God through Job, and the only way the Accuser can be proven false is through Job.” Elmer Smick
So Satan’s purpose is to use the trial as a means to get you to sin by how you react to it (as Job’s wife so bluntly put it: “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job 2:9). Lovely, isn’t it?
So if you react to trials in a sinful manner you will have played into Satan’s hand!
On the other hand, God has a higher purpose in that same trial that has come upon you.
Not to tempt you nor to harm you but to show you off in the heavenlies as an example of someone who, though tested and tried, still serves God and lives out their Christian faith!
“The primary purpose of Job’s suffering, unknown to him, was that he should stand before men and angels as a trophy of the saving might of God.” Meredith Kline
Which is precisely what happened to Job: “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” Job 2:10
This is the very thing James alludes to as well when he writes about trials as both tests and also temptations. One is good; the other not so good.
On the one hand, James says that trials can be tests to demonstrate how well we are living the Christian life:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Ja. 1:2-3
While on the other hand, those same trials also have the potential to tempt us into sinful reactions and responses:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Ja. 1:13-14
So then trials are an everyday part of life and they come to us ranging from people’s bad choices to the fact that we live in a broken world filled with disease and decay.
Yet, on a higher level, these trials are battlefields between good and evil where we are being pulled into different directions by opposing forces.
3. God Knows Our Limits!
In the midst of this, lest you think we are helpless victims, I want you to know that every trial ever sent has had its limits; and for everyone that limit is different.
Your limit is not my limit nor is my tolerance level necessarily your level! God in heaven knows your tolerance – better actually than you yourself.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I Cor. 10:13
Don’t get bent out of shape with the word “temptation” here since I said earlier that God does not tempt you. The word actually means trial, which builds in the idea of test as well as temptation depending on who is coming at you.
Don’t lose the point of this passage, which is God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”!
You see this very clearly in Job’s situation where God made it very clear that the trials were to go so far and no further:
‘The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Job 1:12
Friend, God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear!
It’s easy to think, especially with the Accuser whispering this to you, that I am the only one, that no one understands the trouble I have seen so I might as well run for the hills or simply cave in!
What we need to remember is God allows things to happen in our lives according to our ability to withstand them.
4. Trials That Showcase Our Faith
Lest you think that we best hunker down till the storm blows over as we hang on to our faith by the skin of our teeth, I’ve got news for you, my friend!
Trials can actually be harnessed to create character and shape faith!
This is what God wants to show off when he tests us with our lot in life.
When God pointed Job out to the heavenly beings including Lucifer, you can almost get the sense of, if not boasting, then certainly a sense of pride in who Job was and the kind of life he led.
“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8
By the way, this says nothing about his incredible wealth as the reason why God showed him off. We might show off the rich and famous but God shows off the blameless and upright in this world! We may be enamored with wealth; God is enamored only with those who fear God and shun evil!
Let that not offend your Mennonite sensibilities around showing off.
I know that we are to be a humble people who do our acts of piety in a way not seen by man, but the truth is that God takes great pleasure in you and like any father, He loves to show off his children to his friends and obviously foe alike!
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him”
The same idea is in Paul’s writings when he says: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:10
God says: “Look at how my children are withstanding the fiery trials of life! Look at how it’s developing faith and character. Far from becoming bitter or losing hope, my children continue to thrive even in the midst of the trials of life.”
Mennonites are incredible examples of resilience in the face of some of the craziest trials known to man!
Far from cursing God and dying as Job’s wife suggested, we do what Job did when he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:21, 22
That’s the kind of response that can be showcased to the world and the universe!
It is a faith and character shaped in fiery trials!
Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at this from the life of Paul and Peter; how trials actually made their character and faith stronger.
Paul talks about his own character development, which he called “my way of life” in 2 Tim. 3:10, 11 where he outlines how “purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance” all were developed as direct consequences of his trials.
Something Peter called “the crucible of fire” that refined his faith like gold refined in fire and then showcased to heaven and earth:
“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
I Pet. 1:7
James makes that same point:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Ja. 1:2-4
This is from the writings of the church fathers.
Trials can test our resolve to persevere which, if allowed to run its course, will make us mature and complete enough that God can showcase us to the universe.
Which was behind God saying: “Have you considered my servant Job?
5. The Need for Wisdom
Although these insights come from the pens of the church fathers, it doesn’t make it any easier when you are in the middle of a fiery trial.
Job had tremendous wisdom to look at his fiery trials through God’s lens of testing and showcasing.
Lesser people would not have had this grace. In fact, all three of his friends as well as his wife didn’t have the wisdom to see that this was a gigantic test of Job’s faith and resolved to serve God despite circumstances.
Which is why James, in the middle of his discourse on trials, talks about having the wisdom and insight to look upon trials as growth opportunities instead of punishment or evidence of God’s displeasure somehow:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Ja. 1:5, 6
Where did that wisdom come from? Wisdom given by God!
The original word for wisdom that James uses is sophia, which is not only a beautiful name but also literally means ‘divine wisdom’.
“The Greek word for wisdom is Sophia, which means, ‘divine wisdom’. Wisdom refers to the ability of the believer to apply God’s perspective to issues in his or her life.” Kay Arthur
Wisdom based on God’s perspectives that this fiery trial, far from being our demise and ruin, will actually develop in us the kind of inner qualities that God will showcase in heaven and earth!
6. God Blesses Us, Not Curses Us!
One last thing I want to say here before I close and that is that at the end Job was not only justified and fully exonerated but also doubly compensated!
I love Job’s insight when in the midst of his great trial he said:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27
That insight turned the tide. Job would have served God had his skin and all his flesh been destroyed. He would have served God in the lean times and times of plenty. He would have served God whether rich and famous or stripped of all and accursed.
Job would have served God! He proved it for all to see and the moment he did, the moment it was obvious, the test was over and the suffering ended!
“Since Job had successfully endured the test and proved that his righteousness was not rooted in his own selfishness, there was no reason for Job to continue to be tested; his sufferings needed to cease. God created humans so that he might bless them, not curse them.”
This was not about suffering. God is not about suffering. These may be tests but as with all tests, they will cease. You come out of the other side of the test promoted into the next grade!
You go on your way living life on a whole new level until the next great test happens.
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.” Job 42:10-17
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