Sunday’s Sermon: Faith in Times of Struggle

There are many characteristics that make a Scripture passage memorable.

For one, a memorable Scripture passage has to be one we have heard time and time again. The stories of Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale fit this. A memorable Scripture passage brings out the best of our creative senses, which allows us to tell the story in different ways that are each true to its message. The Prodigal Son or the Last Supper are perfect examples. Finally, a memorable Scripture passage is so rich in truth that every time we read it, we gain a new understanding of our faith in Christ. Here, I am thinking of the Resurrection of Christ or the Sermon on the Mount.

As we think about memorable Scripture passages, I wonder how many of us would include the story of Job. This grand story, which we will spend the next few weeks looking through, is memorable in so many ways. It is one we have heard proclaimed in church on many occasions. Job is truly a drama that is told over the course of several acts. It is also a story that is deep in theology and rich in what it means to follow Christ at all times.

Job is the familiar story of a faithful man who lived in the town of Uz. Throughout these 41 chapters, we are told about Job’s faith. We are told that he is a very rich man. We are told that he is tested beyond comprehension. We are told that he lost everything. We are reminded that he was consoled by his friends in his time of need in the best way they knew how. Job is the story of a man who wondered why God would allow him to experience such hardship. It is also the story of how God showed Job the depths of what it means to be faithful and to live a life in relationship with the Lord.

You know, there is another characteristic that makes a Scripture passage memorable. It is when we can find ourselves in the middle of the story. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of Job’s story? Have you ever found yourself sitting with Job in the ashes? Have you found yourself frustrated by Jobs’ friends and their words of consolation? Have you ever wondered aloud with Job why these things happened?

In other words, have you ever placed yourself in Job’s shoes? If we do, I believe we will find that Job is a story about us. It is a story about our journey of faith and what it means to be in a relationship with God in times of deep pain and anguish.

As we study this memorable story, I want to invite you to see yourself as Job. Feel what he felt when he lost everything. Experience his loss as he sat in the ashes. Experience his frustrations that he expresses to God. Most importantly, find yourself face-to-face with God as we seek to understand what it means to have faith in times of suffering.

First, we need to do some background work. One of the most important things to understand about Job is that it is not a historical book. It does not tell the story of a historical person of faith. Through the use of a lengthy parable, this story teaches us something about what it means to follow the Lord in both good times and bad.

We also need to examine Job’s name. One of the most common definitions is “Where is my father?” It recognizes that God is our Heavenly Father and sees the Lord as continually present in our lives. With that, Job’s name also becomes a plea of frustration, wondering if God is truly there with us when we go through difficult moments.

This background helps us as we examine the prologue to the Book of Job and these two big tests. Before each of the two tests, we are told that Job is blameless and upright. He is a man that is full of integrity and has a deep faith in God. He is also a man with material riches of children, servants, and animals. In the first test, Satan seeks to challenge God by testing Job. Satan believes that Job would curse God if his material possessions were destroyed. God agrees to the test, knowing Job would stay true to his faith. In this test, Job loses everything through several difficult moments. His animals were killed. His servants were killed by raiders. Finally, his children were killed when a powerful wind destroyed their home. At the end of this testing and in deep grief, Job continues to praise the name of the Lord.

Satan comes back, in Chapter 2, with another attempt to prove that Job’s faith is only built on his blessings and not a deep love of the Lord. After God praises Job for his faith, Satan says that Job’s faith is only skin deep. He challenges God, saying that if Job is physically harmed, then he would curse the name of the Lord. Satan believes that if Job experiences physical pain and suffering, then it would prove his faith isn’t deep and is built on a foundation of blessings and not the joy of the Lord. The Lord knows that Job will be able to once again withstand the test.

So, Satan tests Job physically, with the provision that he is not to be killed. Satan harms Job by covering his entire body with painful boils. Job received so many boils that his friends could not even recognize him when they visited him. Job was still alive, but this would be a life of suffering.

If this wasn’t enough, Satan used Job’s own wife to continue the temptation. As Job sat in the ashes, his wife comes to him and tells him to forget his integrity and curse God. We could do some deep investigations to figure out why Job’s wife would say that to him, but it is important to focus on Job’s response. Yes, he says something we might find offensive in calling her foolish, but with his deep pain and frustrations it is understandable that Job would say something like that. But notice what he says about his faith, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”

Job has been immensely impacted by these tests. He is in pain. He is exhausted. He is confused. He is frustrated. He is suffering. Yet, he never walks away from his faith in the Lord. Even though he has deeply suffered, Job continues to praise God and never sins.
The prologue to Job moves quickly, but it sets up the rest of the book and Job’s interactions with his friends and his later engagement with God. There is much we can take from what we have encountered.

First, the prologue reminds us that everyone suffers. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad person if you suffer. As long as we live in a world filled with sin and evil, there will be suffering. Because of this, we cannot ascribe periods of suffering as evidence of deep sin in a person’s life. At the same time, we cannot say when a person is free of suffering that they are in a good relationship with God. Job is right to denounce those who would seek to define God’s relation with us when he questions his wife about whether we should only receive times of good from God. A deep relationship with God is as faithful in times of suffering as it is in times of plenty.

The prologue also reminds us that times of suffering call for one of two responses – to claim that suffering is more than we can handle and let go of our faith in God or to maintain our faith and allow this time of testing to strengthen our walk with Christ. It is dangerous when we allow our times of trial to define our relationship with Christ. When we do, we begin to be bitter and distrustful of God. We see God not as loving, caring, or holy, but as someone who is vindictive and the author of the bad things in our lives. Of course, this is a misguided position, but it is one that we can all have when we are so focused on our suffering and not our faith in Christ.

All of us can fall into the trap of looking only at our suffering and not the riches of our faith. It is easy to live in the moment of our suffering and not in the depth of our faith. In all things and at all times, we must cling to our faith in Christ, especially in times of suffering. It is our faith that will shape us when we suffer. It is our faith and the strength of God’s love that will comfort us when we are experiencing deep pain. When we do, these times of suffering become moments of deep faith that bring us closer in our relationship with God. As we continue forward in this month of looking at Job, we’ll see how Job held on to his faith, and it brought him to a deeper relationship and experience of a life in God.

Today, we find ourselves sitting in the ashes with Job as we look at all that is around us. As you heard the story read, perhaps you were reminded of something that is plaguing your life right now. Maybe you were reminded of a time of suffering that you have experienced and how it challenged your faith. No matter how you experienced Job today, as we prepare to dine at the Lord’s Table, I want to invite you to give your suffering over to the One who has suffered for you. Come to the table and lay your suffering down, knowing that Christ has always been there and always will be there for you.

Come to the table and be transformed by the grace of our Lord, and leave willing to be a people who proclaim their faith in Christ in the good and in the bad.

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