Job’s story always gets me. I feel so much of the sense that, “This just isn’t right! This guy didn’t deserve this!” And at the same time the sense that, “This is how God works. He is working something eternal and wonderful in us through suffering.”
I don’t claim to know even a fraction of the suffering Job knew. I’ve never had a debilitating illness or disease. I’ve never grieved the death of a child. I’ve never lost all my possessions. But I’ve walked through my own fiery trials and in each of them, mostly daily life stuff, I’ve known the presence of God there with me, assuring me, he is doing something much greater than I can see.
In Jobe 23, Job says basically, “I don’t see where God is, or what he is doing, but he sees me. He knows what I’m going through.”
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” – Job 23:10
I may not see what God is doing in my struggles in my marriage and in the hard days as a mom of teenage sons, but the One who created me sees me. He knows the way I take. He knows and He is working all things together for my good to make me like the New Man- Christ!
This is the great joy and aim of every Christian. Greater than our pain is our desire to be made like Jesus! Greater than our trials is our joy in intimately knowing and being known by the Creator of the Universe who bore our sins in his bludgeoned body.
This is the peace beyond understanding that we have. This is the joy unspeakable and full of glory that we experience. This foretaste of knowing that one day, like Job, we will see our Redeemer in our flesh, with our eyes and all wrong will be made right and we’ll dive into the eternity of pleasures forevermore that dwell at God’s right hand.
This is not some ethereal dream. This is not a wish upon a star. This is the promise of the God-Man Christ Jesus who walked on this earth, knows what it’s like to be tempted and tried as I am, died bearing my guilt and shame, rose from the dead emerging as the beginning of a New Creation, a New Man… eternal life for me and everyone who loves him! And he’s put in me his own Spirit, guaranteeing that He will not quite! He will not give up doing this good work he started in me. He will try me, and test me and all so that in the end, I will come out as pure gold. I’ll be just who He’s making me to be.
Oh the riches and the wonder of the ways of our God!
How beyond explaining
I’ll just look up tonight before I go to bed and recall, with unspeakable thanks, that I will see you One day Lord Jesus! And you will not destroy, you will embrace me. Oh what hope! What joy. What a Saviour!
There’s a lot of waiting on God in the Bible. Joseph’s waits in prison, wrongly accused. Israel waits in captivity, suffering for her idolatry. Roman occupied Jerusalem waits for the Messiah after centuries of hearing nothing from God. And we wait for Christ’s return while we sow the seed of his gospel sojourning here. Waiting on God is an act promised to receive blessing according to the scriptures (Isaiah 30:15). And it’s the meditative focus of Advent. During the Christmas season we have opportunity to think about what or who exactly we’re waiting for. In the midst of parties, shopping lists, cookie exchanges, decorations and concerts, it is easy to miss the gift of waiting on God. Sometimes it takes hard circumstances for us to wake from our busy stupor and embrace the sober gift of longing for our coming King. It took a hard situation for me to exchange the stress of the season for savoring the sweetness of waiting on Jesus. If you find yourself in a painful, confusing, not-at-all-jolly season while the world around you rings bells and sings carols, I invite you to come aside with your Bible, a pen and paper and start unwrapping the gift of waiting on Jesus this Advent.
Waiting When Life Doesn’t Get Better
My youngest son was born two days after Christmas 13 years ago. That year, while I was burdened with his growing body inside mine, I was also heavy laden with a load of fear, sadness and shock. My husband was seeking a divorce and I was about to give birth to our second son. Along with the heavy anxieties of those cares came a stronger arm of grace to bear me up. In those days I began to learn what it means to wait on God in faith amidst my fearful circumstances. In the year my son was born, I started to learn that hoping in God and having faith in him meant waiting with expectation for Jesus, not waiting for everything in my life to get better.
That year, I began journaling in a discounted spiral-bound notebook I found at a local grocery store. With a poinsettia and the word “Faith” on the front, that journal became the place where I started a practice that has continued until now. Every year around Christmastime (sometimes the first week of the new year) I spend some time prayerfully reading God’s word with a specific look for how the Spirit would direct me in the coming year as well as reflecting on the last year’s entry and reality.
As I look back over the years, each year, I see how God is faithfully doing what he promised. He is using all things together for my good, to conform me to the image of his Son. Although I’ve seen God’s answer to my slow-to-believe prayers, my circumstances haven’t changed much. Thankfully, my husband and I are still married. But the marriage hasn’t been without its very difficult times. It’s not like I can say I have hope because God turned life in to a fairytale story of happily ever after. Not at all. I’m still praying for salvation to come to my household, and save every member. I’m still praying for God to rid me of being a coward and a man-pleaser and make me a woman of God who laughs at the days to come and fears God not man. I’m still a tired mom, who deals with depression and fears. But I do all that with a periodic lifting of my head to remember that I’m waiting on God. Advent is a good time to lift our heads and call to mind our hope.
Capture a Remembrance of Your Hope
Even if writing or journaling isn’t your thing, making a yearly tradition of using a small journal entry as a way of focusing your attention on Christ and his coming may help you look up and focus on the gift of Jesus. Here are four suggestions for how you might capture a yearly remembrance of your hope in the One who came to save his people from their sins, and is coming again to consummate our joy in him.
1) Cast your circumstances on him. Put in the journal the circumstances that are causing you to long for him. Is your marriage a wreck? Is your child dying? Have you lost a loved one? Are you lonely? Depressed? Anxious? Afraid? Tell him! Write it down. The Bible calls us to cast our cares upon the Lord because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). In Isaiah, Hezekiah took the threats of his enemies and laid them out before God and called on God to intervene. In the gospels, people brought their sick selves and loved ones to Jesus. When you bring your troubles to God in writing, you start to realize how much you long for him to do what he promises to do one day: Make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
2) Call to mind his promises. Look up scriptures with words like “hope” and “wait” and “trust” and “faith”. You’ll find some promises and prayers that will help you worship while you wait this Advent. Like this one, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4) Write it down. And turn those specific scriptures that grab you into prayers for yourself and others. Pray that God will help you hope in him.
3) Cry for your kids, or someone else’s. A yearly advent journal is a good place to put prayers for your kids or for kids in your life, maybe cousins, nieces, nephews, grandkids, kids in the neighborhood, kids at school, kids at church, etc. God doesn’t want us to hope in our kids. But he does want us to hope in him for our kids and to give our kids Him as their hope. “…that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…” (Psalm 78:5-7). Writing down your prayers for the next generation is a wonderful way to build your anticipation for Jesus.
4) Cry for new desires. It’s easy during the holidays to get distracted by things we want. Whether it be material things like a new phone, or clothes. Or relational desires like a new friend, or a happier marriage. Though there’s nothing wrong with those desires, if they consume us, we’ve missed out on real joy. In the midst of God’s chastisement Isaiah prays that God would be gracious to his people, because though they may be sick from head to toe with sin, his people really were longing for him. In their distress they waited for God their Savior. It says, “Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” (Isaiah 26:8). Over the years I look back and realize that often the name of Christ and his remembrance wasn’t the desire of my soul, but as I have cast my cares and called his promises to mind and cried for my kids, he’s developed in me a longing for new desires. He has created in me a desire for his name and remembrance. He has caused me to embrace waiting on him.
Life’s circumstances can be horrific, mundane, depressing, chaotic or just distracting. But when we lift our eyes off the circumstances, tell God about them, cry for his help, seek his grace and wait on him we experience the gift of anticipating our coming King.
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. -Psalm 69:1-3
Psalm 69 is not exactly a common Bible verse quoted at Christmas. But I think it’s perfect for Advent. At least it’s where I’m at right now. Maybe you are too.
For lots of people, Christmas is not all joy and jolly. For many it’s a very painful reminder that they long for things to be right and happy and light, but in reality they find themselves in a place where things are wrong and sorrowful and dark. If you find yourself in a place like that today, I pray this will encourage you as it has me.
I counted 11 times in my version of Psalm 69 where the writer asks God to save him in various ways.
Save me O God! For the waters have come up to my neck… (vs.1) …answer me in your saving faithfulness. (vs. 13) Deliver me from sinking in the mire… (vs.14) …let me be delivered from my enemies. (vs.14) Let not the flood sweep over me… (vs. 15) Answer me, O LORD… (vs. 16) Hide not your face from your servant… (vs. 17) Draw near to my soul… (vs. 18) Redeem me… (vs. 18) Ransom me because of my enemies…. (vs. 18) …let your salvation, O God, set me on high. (vs. 29)
Obviously the person writing this was in some sort of circumstance that made him feel desperate for God to show up and do something! And apparently these circumstances had been there for awhile and the writer wasn’t seeing God show up because he writes:
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God. (vs.2-3)
He’s sinking. There’s nothing to stand on. He can’t keep himself up. He’s overpowered by his circumstances. And it’s not short lived so he’s weary. His faith-eyes are barely able to see any kind of hope because he’s been waiting so long for God to show up and do something about this overwhelmingly difficult, long season.
There’s a lot here. The psalm describes the writers desperateness for God to do something about his circumstances. He’s specific about the circumstances- overwhelming numbers of enemies, lies, reproaches, shame, accusations. He even says that even though he knows he’s not guiltless- God knows the wrongs he’s done- he knows these circumstances aren’t because he did anything wrong. “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach…” He’s in these overwhelming circumstances because he is a God-representative. He’s in this despairing situation because of his identification with God.
At that point you may say, “Well, I’m out. I’m in the situation I’m in that I wish God would show up for and do something about because of my own mistakes.” That might be true to some extent. Like this Psalmist, none of us are free from the guilt of folly and wrongs that God knows about and may even be in part cause of our current suffering. I too am in a long-lasting difficulty that is in part due to my own sins. But in 1 Peter, Peter says something that always gives me hope and encouragement:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
I know that the only person who can claim perfect sinless suffering for God’s name’s sake is Christ. But, we who bear his name and love him and seek and him hate our sin and, like the psalmist in Psalm 69 acknowledge our sins before God, we have an “insofar as” sharing in this suffering that Christ perfectly endured. And we need to see that and believe that, because that’s where we will find the deliverance and redemption we long for from God.
The psalmist who wrote this was weary with waiting for God to come do something to deliver him out of these horrible circumstances. You might be too. I know I am. And that’s ok. It’s ok to long for God to do something to keep you from being swallowed up by the anger, bitterness, hopelessness and guilt that your circumstances threaten to bring. What I find amazing in this psalm is that the writers very cry to God to save him and answer him and deliver him and draw near to him and redeem him and ransom him and set him on a high place, is exactly where he finds God giving him hope and a song and a word of encouragement for other fellow long-sufferers.
He doesn’t find that his faith-dim eyes suddenly see because God comes in and changes his circumstances. He finds that in his crying out to God, God is there with him, strengthening him to endure.
By verse 30 of the psalm the writer turns from crying out in desperation and vulnerable confession to praising God with his words.
I wil praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving…
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
And build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it. (vs.30-36)
This is what we, who are waiting for God this Advent, need to do: SING and GIVE THANKS!
I can’t even tell how many times the simple act of opening my mouth and letting my soul sing, even while the tears flow, has caused me to find God is there. He’s there as I sing reviving my heart and reminding me of his promise: He will conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). He will not reject me or leave me (Hebrews 13:5). He will judge rightly all that happens to me (1 Peter 2:23).
Don’t know what to sing? Don’t have a great voice? Here’s a couple of my favorites to sing when I’m overwhelmed with my circumstances and sadness:
GIVE THANKS This is harder for me. Singing seems to come out of me (with the assistance of YouTube or iTunes) more easily, and lifts me almost instantly into hope. But the psalmist says he will magnify God with thanksgiving after telling him how dim his eyes had grown waiting for God to show up.
When the flood of hopeless thoughts, accusations and heartaches barrages you and threatens to take your faith down, you need to open your mouth Sheila and speak out loud what you are thankful for, or write it if you can’t talk! It will be a gasp of oxygen to your soul and some light for your dim eyes!
It’s Christmas. Everyone is decorating trees and you may feel like the world should be painted grey not red and green and glitter right now. But what if you took out a piece of paper and started writing what you’re thankful for and put it on a tree, or on a wall and decorated your hard, painful, weary-with-waiting-for-God Christmas with words of thanks to God.
Don’t know where to start Sheila? How about the fact that you have access to God’s words that pulled you out of a sinking pit this morning? How about the fact that you’ve been provided food and clothing and comfort and song and family and… the pieces of paper should cover the tree, or the wall.
Join me today in pouring out desperate cries for God to show up, singing songs of worship and longing and faith, and writing or speaking words of thanks to God that make you and I remember how big and good he is.
I need to expand my vocabulary. “Yummy”, “cool”, “weird”, “beautiful”, and “awesome” are used way too often. I get tired of editing myself for the multiple use of the same words. Texting is NOT helping. I really don’t know all the texting abbreviations, but I’m starting to find myself wanting to write a colon followed by a right-end parentheses (it just took me about 30 seconds to recall what that smile is called… sheesh!) in places where I would express a smile or happy emotion. This has got to change!
I took my boys, and a friend of my youngest, to an indoor play place. It’s guaranteed hours of play without many interruptions. Smile. They sweat and smile and chase each other through gigantic tree houses. And I get hours of time to read or, as in today’s case, work on preparing for an upcoming Bible study.
I thought Tamar would give me a run for my money trying to put that study together. But as it turned out I had so many pages of gathered treasure from that study I had to seriously cut it down to keep it a women’s Bible study length. Rahab, on the other hand, is proving more difficult than I thought.
I’ve heard Bible teachers say meditating on what the Bible says is like a cow chewing her cud. She chews, her stomachs process what she’s chewed, she regurgitates and chews some more. I like the baking analogy better. Studying the Bible is a kneading, setting aside to rise, kneading some more, rising more, process. I read through the passage several times. Make some notes. Walk away. Then later, while I’m driving, or at the gym, or getting ready for bed, thoughts that smell like freshly baked bread waft through my head. Hopefully I remember them when I get to place where I can write them down.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.- John 6:35
My sister had a second surgery on her wrist today. The first was to put a plate and pins on her seriously fractured radius. Apparently the surgeon measured wrong and now there’s an 8mm difference in the length of her radius on her fractured arm compared to the other. An error of 8mm in bone length at a joint is a big problem, according to the surgeon, and is the reason she has less than 25% range of motion in that wrist. This has had such a huge impact on her. She was doing a Crossfit workout when it happened and now, with the poor range of motion and a follow up surgery, she has been unable to do what she loves- Crossfit! She would tell you the Lord changed her from the inside out. And He used some of His people at her local gym to encourage her along the way. I know this is a vicissitude ( A new word. Smile.) for her. And the same Lord who began a good work in her will be faithful to complete it. But in the vicissitude it just plain sucks. It hurts, its hard, you can’t see ahead or explain why. You just want out. Our assurance is that this too will pass and He’s working it all for good for us who love Him. I’m glad my mom and the people at her gym and her husband are all there for her during this. I wish I could be too.
Rahab’s story brings up the issue of faith and works. Is it faith or is it works that saves? I’m glad the Bible gives a real answer rather than a nice, neatly packaged explanation. It’s not an answer we like to hear. It makes sense, its truth, its total grace, complete mercy, but its not an instant credit in eternity answer.
Everyone is in a hurry… They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity). – From Perseverance: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson
We all live what we believe. We know it to be true. Our lazy, selfish nature takes hold gladly of the instant credit answer. But the faith that saves, works. The faith itself is a gift of God, not from us. We can’t boast. Our response to the gift is the evidence that it was received.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! – James 2:18-19
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.- Ephesians 2:8-10