It is Monday…of Holy Week. There are four more principles to be discussed from 14 Secrets to Better Relationships, the Lenten series book that my church congregation has been reading since Ash Wednesday. Todays “one another” command is “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18. Comfort. We are called to give to one another comfort. Who needs to be comforted? And how do we do that?
Dave Early begins this chapter reminding us of the heart-breaking story of Job. This is one of those stories in the Bible, that honestly, I used to have a really hard time with. This is how the story of Job starts : Job 1:1-22.
” 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.He had seven sons and three daughters, 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.
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. 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.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 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.’
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.’
‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘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. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’
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.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 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!’
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!’
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!’
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, 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!’
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then 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.”
How can that BE? God did not cause all of this suffering to happen to Job, but He allowed it. Yesterday one of Dave Early’s quotes on “conflict”…said the following, “Our sovereign God might not create conflicts, but He often allows them to arise …for our good and His ultimate glory. Therefore we need to realize that conflict is always an opportunity. Conflict can either be very destructive or very beneficial, depending on how it is handled. Every conflict we experience has great potential. When handled well, conflict can make us better, give us stronger relationships, and glorify God.”
Now exchange “conflict” in the above quote for “hardship.”
The story about Job always made me angry because I could see why Adam and Eve got thrown out of the garden…or why the tower of Babel was destroyed, or why Sodom was destroyed…and Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. I could understand why Goliath died and why Pharoah’s son and army died and why the walls of Jericho fell down. I could understand stories where there was a bad guy that had a choice and chose not to do good …but we are told that Job was “blameless and upright…he feared God and shunned evil.” And yes, Jesus was blameless and upright too! But Jesus was JESUS! Yes, he was a man made out of skin and bones and a heart and feelings…but Jesus knew that betrayal and pain were his to bear…it was his purpose and he knew it was for God’s ultimate glory. The way that Jesus lived and died was to be a model for us all…and Jesus knew that.
But Job wasn’t expecting such horrors. What did being good and Godly do for Job? It put a target on his head…not for God to do him harm …but God allowed the devil to attack him. Why if God could ALWAYS protect all of us, does He not do it?
The devil might tinker with people who are already doing evil…he might make things more miserable for the lost, but it isn’t much fun to bring down someone who is already low! How much more fun and how big a coup if the devil is able to cause extreme pain and suffering and hardship to one of God’s VERY best? What if the devil can succeed in causing one of God’s VERY best to blame God. Instead of praising and worshipping God and sharing the mercy and love of God…what if all of our pain and hardship caused bitterness and hatred and resentment and we started to CURSE God. We fell out of fellowship with God. What a POWER TRIP for the Devil! I can hear him taunting God now…as if it were a chess match, “I got another person! I got ANOTHER person! And it wasn’t just a pawn! It wasn’t just a pawn! It was someone great…someone really powerful! Now he’s on my side…now he’s on my side! You are losing people! You are losing people. I am getting greater. You are obsolete. No body loves You. Everybody Hates you! No one believes in You! You don’t protect them. I can do what I want, and You can’t stop me!” God can stop the devil. Anytime He wants of course. But what God really wants is for us to stop the devil by not letting the devil create fear and doubt in us. Whatever the devil has to throw at us, we can repel if we only remember Ephesians 6:10-11, ” Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. ” We have THE FULL ARMOR of GOD!!! All we have to do is put it on.
Satan did what he wanted to Job. And he can do things to us too. When we love God, when we are God’s child, we become targets. How much can we take? How much can we bear? In 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 we are told, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 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.”
Do we lose our wealth and our health and our homes and our jobs and our standing and our loved ones? …Sometimes we do.
When terrible things happen to us or those around us, do we lose our hope and our faith?
This is how Dave Early describes what happened next with Job…”the only comfort Job’s bitter wife offered was the advice to ‘curse God and die.’ Even worse, the next day Job lost his health as he awakened with a body covered in swollen, oozing, angry red boils. Devastated, despairing, deflated, and depressed, he desperately needed a little comfort. Grief-stricken, anguished, crushed, and pummeled with pain, he longed for the comfort of a true friend. Sadly, none came. Oh, his ‘friends’ came by but not to comfort Job. They showed up to talk at him but failed to listen to him…They failed to help, strengthen, or encourage this broken man. Instead they criticized and condemned him.”
We don’t understand why things happen sometimes…but we can be sure that God does not allow us to suffer for no reason. Isaiah 55:8-13 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
…will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it
…You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.
That is hope. That is faith. That is a promise. God keeps His promise. But we have to keep the faith. We have to keep hope alive.
Dave Early explains that we cannot comfort people “from a safe distance. ” And that “God comes alongside the afflicted to give strength, courage, boldness, and bravery….God is the source of every type of righteous comfort imaginable – strength, wisdom, encouragement, hope, help, mercy, and compassion. When we suffer, God is near. He comes alongside us to comfort us. We are called to do the same for others. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Again, sage words of wisdom from Dave Early: “The comfort we receive from God is transferable and intended to be shared….The suffering we encounter will either involve us with others or isolate us from others. We will either build walls or bridges depending on the attitude we take.”
Rick Warren writes, “If you really desire to be used by God, you must understand a powerful truth: The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life – the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget- are the experiences God wants to use to help others. They are your ministry.”
What has been our pain? Our toughest problem? Can we use that for good? Can we relate to a person who is in need of comfort? Can we encourage…sympathize…empathize…lend an ear? Hold their hand? Give them a shoulder to lean on or cry on? Do we have time for that? Would we want someone to take time for us?…help us? “Do unto others…”.
Would we want others to ignore or criticize or condemn us when we need comforting?
Job was tested. He lost it all…everything except his life, and he wished that he were dead. He was beyond miserable… and had no comfort. There are 42 chapters of Job’s grief…but at the end of the Book of Job in the final chapter starting at verse 12 we are told “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. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 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. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.”
We don’t know what God has planned…or what the devil is going to do to thwart those plans, but no matter what hardships and miseries come our way we must remember the words of Jeremiah 29:11″For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:1-10
Be still at the beginning of this Holy week. Search your heart. Remember the pain that you have had…remember how you were comforted…use that knowledge to comfort someone else. Are you in pain? Ask God for comfort. Jesus promises to comfort those who mourn. The Holy Spirit, as comforter, helper, counselor, advocate, intercessor, strengthener is always with us. Ask for comfort.
The chapter of Dave Early’s book on comfort ends with the question, “What now?” The answer given, “Make up your mind to be a comforter. Use your wounds to be a wounded healer. Allow your brokenness to build a bridge to the hearts of others who are hurting.”
If we have hardships it is not because God is angry or does not love us. It is because God has great plans to use us in a way that we could not understand…unless we know.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”