Day 287: The fear of the Lord

Job 28-29; Philippians 4

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

This verse has always been meaningful to me…but it has become especially meaningful in the wake of my own personal suffering…

The morning of April 13, 2010 began in its normal way with me caring for my three healthy children. By noon, a truck had plowed into the side of our van, inflicting its permanent damage on our family. My middle child, Anne, came very close to death. By God’s grace, she survived…but lives with a debilitating brain injury. Our family is very different. In many ways, our lives have been split in two – we talk about life in terms of “before the accident” and “after the accident.”

Job’s life has also been split in two. His whole view of the world has been scarred by his immense loss. Yet the foundation of Job’s life remains “the fear of the Lord” (Job 1:1; 28:28). Job manages to land on this solid foundation briefly at the end of Job 28. This chapter is a bright ray of hope as Job describes his desperate search for wisdom. And in the end, he remembers that “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (Job 28:28)!

But in the very next chapter we see Job looking back at his life as it was “before.” This is a dangerous trap…one that I have fallen into so many times. After the initial shock of tragedy faded and my new reality began to unfold, I longed for life to be as it used to be… easier and lighter.

But I found that these kinds of thoughts only sent me deeper into despair. And similarly for Job, we will read of his deep anguish in his final lament, tomorrow, in Job 30.

Job needed the truths of the gospel….the kind of truths found in Philippians. He needed the peace of God described in Philippians 4! He needed to stay on his life’s foundation. He needed to dwell on the “fear of the Lord”!

Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding (Job 28:28).

Day 286: Knowing Christ

Job 25-27; Philippians 3

Knowing Christ…isn’t this the heart of every believer? This is Job’s heart! If you peel away all the layers of confusion and anger over his circumstances, Job’s greatest desire is to be accepted by God. Job’s desire for God is so strong that he refuses to forsake Him and he continues to choose the righteous path…

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit (Job 27:2-4).

Job longs for Christ – even though he doesn’t even know Christ exists! This should be the longing of every believer… to know Him and to rest in the assurance of His care and strength.

Paul was willing to sacrifice any earthly treasure for the sake of knowing Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:8-9).

Paul goes on to write that he longs to know Christ by sharing in his sufferings. Isn’t this God’s purpose for Job? Satan meant Job’s sufferings for evil – to tempt Job to curse God. But God had a higher purpose – for Job to know Him more deeply!

Job’s anguish enables him to see God in a way he never could have in more prosperous circumstances. Even through all of Job’s false beliefs that God has rejected him in anger, he holds fast to his longing for God. Ultimately, suffering is the conduit through which God reveals more of Himself to Job (Job 42:1-6)!

Knowing Christ…this should be the motivation of our life. Like Paul, we should “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). In other words, we press on in our faith so that we might see Christ face to face!

Day 285: Comfort to Endure & Overcome

Job 22-24; Philippians 2

I think one of the most disturbing aspects of all of the speeches from Job’s “friends” is that they teach a “prosperity gospel.” In other words, they believe that if you do good works for God, he will make you prosperous. And if you sin against God, God will make you suffer on earth. This just isn’t true!

The best defense against this position is Christ, himself. Christ was absolutely sinless! Yet, he suffered greatly. He was born in poverty and lived in Egypt to avoid being murdered by Herod. As an adult, he had no home, no income and was unjustly arrested, flogged and murdered. Christ knew suffering – just as Job knew suffering.

But Job seems to have gathered himself and can think more objectively about his suffering in Chapters 23-24. He is able to articulate God’s sovereignty and understands that he is being tested (23:10).

But he is still confused by the apparent lack of justice in this world. He spends Chapter 24 wondering when and if the wicked will ever be judged. The question of why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer has been asked for centuries.

Job cries, “If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?” (Job 24:25). God, rather than “reduce [Job’s] words to nothing,” preserves them in Scripture and lived them thirty-three years in flesh. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, we live with evil and suffering and temporary injustice. We do not understand entirely why, but God himself has endured with us and has overcome it in the resurrection (Frances Bennett, Job, Lessons in Comfort, CEP, 2009, pg 68).

Paul talks about Christ’s suffering in one of the most profound passages on Christ’s incarnation in Scripture (Philippians 2:5-11). But Paul was using Christ as an example of how to serve others in love. He had just commanded the Philippians to “count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3).

Isn’t this the key to offering comfort to the suffering AND receiving God’s comfort in the midst of our own suffering?? 

It’s all about humility…laying down our idols of “entitlement” and looking to Christ’s example of pouring ourselves out for others.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

If Christ wasn’t spared from suffering, then why would we? God expects and endures our questions, but it is our faith that brings God delight. Just as Paul instructed the Philippians…enduring suffering without grumbling or complaining is like a bright light in a “crooked and twisted” world (Philippians 2:14-16).

Lord, through the preservation of these questions and through the recorded pain of Christ’s life, You seem to say You know suffering exists, but You have a purpose in permitting it to remain until the Day of Judgment. Because Job endured and Christ overcame, You offer comforting assurance: those who look to You can also endure and overcome. Thank you Lord…” (Frances Bennett, Job, Lessons in Comfort, CEP, 2009, pg 68).

Day 284: The power of Purpose

Job 20-21; Philippians 1

I love Philippians. From our reading in Acts, I feel like I know the church well, and the book is especially meaningful knowing that Paul wrote it during his house-arrest in Rome…described in the closing chapter of Acts.

Philippians is hopeful and full of joy. Paul sees a greater purpose for his imprisonment and suffering; consequently, he can rejoice. The contrast to Job is stark. Job doesn’t have the written word of God to give him hope in the midst of immense suffering.

In today’s reading, Job asks some tough questions…Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer (Job 21:7-15)? Why do the wicked seem to go unpunished (Job 21:17-21)? What is the purpose of following God if both the righteous and the wicked die in the end (Job 21:22-26)?

Job doesn’t have God’s written word for encouragement. Job is left in despair because he sees no purpose for his pain.

Paul, on the other hand, knows the ways of the Kingdom…that this life is not the end, that at the end of the age, ALL will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and the wicked will be punished and the righteous will have their reward. Paul knows that suffering in this life will not compare to the glory of our eternal home (2 Corinthians 4:17)!

Like Job, Paul also wants to escape his suffering through death…but for a far different reason!! Paul knows that he will see Christ!

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:21-24).

Paul has a purpose that helps him endure the suffering. His purpose is to further the gospel, equip the churches and bring glory to God. Job is crushed under the weight of his suffering because he sees no purpose. And his friends’ false ideas about God and judgment in this life only serve to increase the weight of his burden (Job 20).

If you are suffering, do you suffer in hope or despair? Seek God’s comfort in the truths of His word. There is a good and loving purpose for your pain! Look to Christ and find hope!