In his book, "Loving God", Charles Colson tells the story of Bill Bontrager who, as a successful judge,
became a Christian.
But instead of becoming more successful, Bontrager's Christian convictions cost him his job.
Colson closed the story with these words: "Obedience to God does not always mean a happy ending.
But, then again, why should we think it would?"
Many of us have heard "happy-ending" stories from Christians.
Here is one, such illustration:
"My business was going down the tubes, my children were running wild in the streets,
and my wife was ready to leave me.
But then I met Jesus, and now my businesses is grossing 1 billion dollars a year,
my kids are being interviewed on "Focus on the Family" next week,
and my wife thinks she's married to Tom Selleck.
Isn't Jesus wonderful!"
When people are bombarded with these kind of stories, they get the ideal that the call to salvation
is an automatic exemption from pain and testing.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
As we look to the pages of the Bible, we see that many of God's saints suffered.
That is why James wrote, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials."
Notice that James did not say, "If you encounter trials," but he said, "when."
Testing is inevitable for every Christian.
The testing that God allows in our lives come from any number of sources.
It may come from circumstances sickness, financial ruin, with the loss of a job, etc.
People may be the source of our testing.
In fact, 1 Peter is a survival manual on suffering for potential categories of people
who might be the source of conflict employers or employees, husbands or wives,
children or parents, and unbelievers.
We also find included in 1 Peter ways to deal with each of those conflicts.
Our own carnal desires are a source of testing.
Peter wrote, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts,
which wage war against the soul." (1 Peter 2:11)
And finally, Satan can be a source of testing for the Christian.
1 Peter 5:8 says "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
How can we survive the testing that will come into our lives?
We can certainly get some help from studying the life of Job.
In fact, when James wrote about patience and endurance during testing, he singled out Job as an example
of a right response to suffering.
So, let us first look at the troubles that Job experienced.
Let us look at the man from Uz.
We find a biological sketch of Job in the opening verses of Job 1:3:
"He was a contemporary of Abraham.
He possessed great wealth in fact, he 'was the greatest of all men in the east."
But the most important word about Job is found in the opening verse of the book:
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was blameless, upright,
fearing God, and turning away from evil." (Job 1:1)
The scene shifted from earth to heaven, and we find Satan and God are conversing.
God began to brag on Job: "Have you considered my servant Job?
For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man,
fearing God and turning away from evil." (Job 1:8)
Satan argued: "Of course, he's righteous, look at all you have given him.
He would be a fool not to obey you.
But if you were to take it all away, I bet he would curse you instead of praising you."
Someone has said that testing is God's vote of confidence in us.
God had confidence enough in Job faith to allow Satan to bring adversity into Job's life.
We read in Job 1:12: "Then the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power,
only do not put forth your hand on him."
"So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord." (Job 1:12)
Here we need to say something about the difference in testing and temptation.
God tests, but Satan tempts.
But what's the difference?
Webster defines, "tempt," as "to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain."
In other words, the goal of temptation is to make someone fall.
And the Bible teaches that God never tempts anyone.
On the other hand, the goal of testing is to make someone, stronger.
James said, "The testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1: 3)
Trials are like a refiner's fire used to heat gold or silver.
At a certain temperature, the dross rises to the top, and is scraped off so that the resulting product
is purer and stronger.
Testing is a way for God to remove the impurities from our lives.
The goal is to make us stronger.
Haven't you heard -- that when it rains, it pours.
We have a vivid description of the catastrophic losses Job suffered.
Notice how quickly one followed another.
Job 1:13-19: "Now it happened on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine
in their oldest brother's house, that a messenger came to Job and said:
'the oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans attacked and took them.
They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven
and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "the Chaldeans formed three bands
and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword;
and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "Your sons and your daughters were eating
and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold a great wind came across the wilderness
and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died.
And I alone have escaped to tell you."
The loss of all of one's possessions and children would be enough to make most Christians throw in the towel.
But not Job!
We find Job's response to these disasters in the closing verses of chapter 1.
Job 1: 20-22: "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped.
And he said, "And I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Through all this, Job did not sin nor did he blame God."
Most of us have heard the saying that if at first you don't succeed.
"Satan was not through with Job.
Again Satan approached God, arguing that if Job's health were taken away, then he would turn from God.
Still confident in Job's integrity, God gave Satan permission to attack Job;
however, Satan could not take Job's life."
"Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot
to the crown of his head, and he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes."
Meredith Kline, an Old Testament scholar, wrote this about the nature of the illness of Job:
"Modern medical opinion is not unanimous in its diagnosis of Job's disease.
But according to the prognosis in Job's day, it was apparently hopeless.
The horrible symptoms included inflamed eruptions accompanied by intense itching. (2:7-8,
maggots in ulcers (7:5), erosion of the bones (30:17), blackening and falling of skin (30:30),
and terrifying nightmares (7:14), though some of these may possibly be attributed to the profound exposure
that followed the onset of the disease, Job's whole body, it seems, was rapidly smitten
with the lothsome, painful symptoms.
Though Satan had been obliged to spare his victims life, the sufferer probably thought his death was imminent."
(The above was from Wyclif commentary.)
As Job was scraping his boils off with a broken piece of pottery, and surrounded by the ruins of his possessions,
his wife approached him and said, "Do you still hold fast your integrity?
Curse God and die." (Job 2:9)
But Job's response was:
"You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.
Shall we indeed accept good from God, and not accept adversity?
In all this, Job did not sin with his lips." (Job 2:10)
What gave Job the ability to stand firmly in his faith, unswayed by the circumstances?
As we look at the life of Job, we find three secrets that kept him strong in spite of adversity.
First, He refused to listen to the ungodly counsel of others.
Isn't it amazing how many people have advice to offer when we are suffering?
Job had his share of unsolicited counsel.
First, he heard from his wife.
By her actions and attitudes his wife seemed to have no faith in God so we would not expect her
to give godly advice.
Her perspective on suffering was like most unbelievers: "If there really were a God, He would deliver you."
Job dismissed this line of reasoning.
He realized that adversity is just as much a part of God's plan for His children as is blessing.
Furthermore, although he valued his possessions, his children, and his health, he realized
that they were "on loan" to him from God.
Secondly, the advice of his three "friends" was even more insidious than his wife's.
We will not take time to look at each of these men's words to Job,
but the sum of what they said was this:
"Job, you must have some unconfessed sin in your life that has caused God to punish you.
Otherwise, why would you be suffering?
For we know that God prospers the godly and punishes evildoers."
Isn't it funny how that same line of reasoning is just as popular today as it was in the time of Job?
I think the biggest heresy in evangelical Christianity is this prosperity gospel that
"God wants every Christian healthy and wealthy."
While that sounds good, the corollary of that is lethal: "If you are not prospering and/or you are sick,
there is something wrong with your spiritual life."
There have been many people who are filled with guilt and of spiritual impotence because of some adversity
that has entered their lives.
They reason, "If I would believe just a little more, maybe God would remove this problem."
Let us start telling people the truth.
God's plan for Christians does not necessarily include prosperity and health.
If it did, Jesus Christ certainly missed out on God's blessings.
He wandered about Israel without any possessions and without any home, and ended up being crucified.
Remember Paul's ministry.
During most of his ministry, he was penniless or in prison.
He suffered a physical handicap that God never healed.
The conclusion of Paul's ministry was less than spectacular for he was beheaded
in some obscure prison outside of Rome.
Then consider the first century Christians as we read in Hebrews 11:37:
"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword;
they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated."
If we are going to stand firm in times of testing, we must reject ungodly advice
whether it comes from unbelievers or from well-meaning, but unwise friends.
Now let us change gears, and look how we can help those who hurt.
Let us look at some practical ways that we can be of genuine help to those who are experiencing a great loss.
There are ways of helping those who hurt.
One is that we should be genuine.
People are always worried about saying the wrong thing to someone who is grieving.
But the hurting person would appreciate your honesty.
If you were stunned at the news of their loss, say so.
If you feel like crying, cry.
If you just sit with them without a word, just sit with them.
Secondly, be quiet.
Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.
Don't worry if you don't know the right thing to say for sometimes the best thing to say is nothing.
Joe Bayley in his book, "The Last Thing We Talk About," relates an experience after one of his children had died.
"I was sitting, torn by grief.
Someone came and talked to me of God's dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave.
He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true, but I was unmoved, and wished that he would go away.
He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me.
He didn't talk.
He didn't ask leading questions.
He just sat beside me for an hour or more, and listened when I said something.
He would answer briefly, and he prayed simply, and left.
I was moved.
I was comforted.
I hated to see him go."
Remember that it is you that the grieving person needs, not your words.
Haddon Robinson told a story about a little girl whose favorite playmate had died.
One day the girl told her parents that she had comforted the grieving mother.
The father ask, "What did you say to her?"
"Nothing," she replied, "I just climbed upon her lap and cried with her."
That's what it means to be supportive.
Do something practical.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for grieving person is just do the dishes.
I can remember being in the home of a husband who had lost his wife,
and one of our ladies from the church came in, and said nothing.
She just went in the kitchen and started doing the dishes.
And maybe just mowing the lawn for someone.
It might be bringing their dinner to them.
There are many practical things that we can be of genuine help to someone in sorrow.
Then in the second place, Job was obedient to God in spite of the circumstances.
Notice that Job still worshipped God, even when everything was bleak. (1:22; 2:10)
Though there seemed to be no evidence of God's love and power, Job still was obedient.
The result was that Job was strengthened.
The German pastor, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp, said,
"Only he who believes is obedient,
only he who is obedient, believes."
God is calling us to be obedient in spite of our circumstances -- those difficult days those terrible disasters
those serious illnesses and other such terrible circumstances.
God's message to us is the same as His message to Job:
"Obey, even though you can't see the immediate result of your faith."
Then in the third place, Job trusted in God's sovereignty and goodness.
Sure, Job had moments, like all of us, when he wondered if God were in control.
But in the end, he expressed his belief in God's sovereignty:
"I know that you can do anything and that no one can stop you.
You asked who it is who will so foolishly deny your providence.
It is I.
I was talking about things I knew nothing about, and did not understand things far too wonderful for me."
(Job 42:2-3, TLB)
Not only did Job believe in the sovereignty of God, but he also was convinced of the goodness of God.
That belief gave Job the courage to say, "Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him." (Job 13:15)
While God's goodness might not have meant the removal of his personal problems,
Job believe that it would result in his eternal good.
We see this in Job 19:25-26: "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.
And at last, He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed.
Yet from my flesh, I shall see God."
Too many of us have a distorted view of the goodness of God.
C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
"We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven
whose plan for the universe
was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."
How many of us have said either out loud or silently, "Why me, Lord?"
The Bible doesn't paint Job as a saint.
The story is filled with instances in which Job questioned the wisdom and the love of God.
Most of us will find ourselves wondering why God allows suffering in our lives.
Of course one reason and the most basic reason that we suffer is because of sin.
We live in a fallen world, with fallen people.
God's plan for us never included pain, sickness, broken relationships, or even death.
All of these came as a result of sin.
That is why Paul wrote, "We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons,
the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23)
God uses trials so that we will fix our hope on heaven.
God doesn't want us to build our lives around possessions or people.
Instead, God wants us to be looking toward heaven.
The more we suffer here, the more we look forward to heaven.
When we are young heaven doesn't occupy much of our thoughts heaven seems away off
a distance somewhere.
But when you talk to those who are advanced in years "Now that I am old, and most of my loved ones
are in heaven, it is taken on a new meaning and blessedness for me."
We understand that when we began to bury our friends and family.
Maybe that's something of what Jesus had in mind when he said,
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)
Thirdly, God allows us to experience certain trials so that we can comfort other Christians
when they encounter similar difficulties.
We see this truth in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our afflictions
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves
are comforted by God."
Finally, in the fourth place, God uses suffering in our lives to make us more like Jesus.
Do you know what God's will for your life is?
It is clearly stated in Romans 8:29: "To become conformed to the image of His Son."
God wants to make us just like Jesus.
In every circumstance that God allows in our lives is designed for that purpose.
How are we made to be like Christ?
It is not through the easy times.
It is through the hard circumstances.
One the most amazing verses in the Bible is Hebrews 5:8.
Speaking of Christ, the Bible says, "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered."
And God uses suffering to develop our character.
That is why the apostle Peter wrote:
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for the testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation."
So, refuse to listen to the ungodly counsel of others.
Be obedient to God in spite of the circumstances.
Trust in God's goodness and sovereignty.
We must pray to be more like Christ that is God's will for us!
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White