From the Crucible of Suffering

Scripture Focus: Job 6.2
Oh, that my grief could actually be weighed
And placed in the balances together with my tragedy [to see if my grief is the grief of a coward]! (The Amplified Bible)

Reflection: From the Crucible of Suffering
By Jada Swanson

With these words, Job responds to the accusations of Eliphaz. He felt that he was being unjustly judged by his friends. Since they had not suffered the great loss that he had, there was no way for them to understand his grief. The raw emotions that are expressed cannot be truly understood unless one has walked this journey.

It is easy to see God’s grace when things are going well. But in the midst of suffering—when we don’t sense any positive change in our circumstances—we can start to question God’s goodness and his love. Not to mention, navigating the advice of others while in the midst of great pain and suffering can be an added trial. To be sure, Job’s friends doled out quite a bit.

Suffering and brokenness are common experiences to which all who live in this world can relate. Yet, many tend to gloss over suffering, thinking it is unspiritual to dwell upon. The pain of suffering is like a visit with an unwelcome friend. Still, the importance of sitting with this intrusive companion, learning from the experience, and, in the end, being transformed cannot be minimized. It is essential in navigating the journey of suffering and loss.

There is a deep richness that comes to people who face suffering biblically. A key to this richness is a joy and a contentment that difficult experiences cannot steal. Unfortunately, many Christians do not look at suffering in this way, and run from it, instead of facing it head-on.

Are you in the midst of a trial, experiencing great loss, suffering without hope? You may wonder is God being too heavy-handed? Or if this kind of suffering is “normal” for a Christian’s life? Those are honest questions. And, sometimes, the answers do not come as quickly as we would like.

In the crucible of significant suffering, profound good often emerges. In these times, we can be assured that our powerful, tender God is with us, helping us discover meaning and purpose in the trials we experience and the suffering we endure.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words. — Psalm 17.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen -2:56)
Romans 10 (Listen -3:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 7 (Listen -2:23) Romans 11 (Listen -5:23)
Job 8 (Listen -2:09) Romans 12 (Listen -2:58)

Read more about Meaning In Suffering
Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome.

Read more about Suffering for Our True Identity
It is not our goal to get the world to like us. In fact, we should not be surprised when they hate us.

The Grace of Holding Space

Scripture Focus: Job 5:27
We have studied life and found all this to be true.
Listen to my counsel, and apply it to yourself.

Reflection: The Grace of Holding Space
By Jada Swanson

Eliphaz continues to share his thoughts, encouraging Job to simply turn to God and everything would be alright. When the fact remains, Job never turned away from God to begin with. To his credit, this is what Eliphaz’s tradition has led him to believe. Sadly, he is a misinformed theologian. Which, no doubt, many of us have encountered or, perhaps, we have been at one time or another.

As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. However, when someone is navigating grief, a traumatic situation, or a horrific loss (relationship, job, etc.), we must resist the need to try and fix the problem, heal the hurt, or repair the damage, and, instead, embrace the tension that exists. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally. Instead of expressing empty platitudes or well-meaning, but unhelpful Christianeze expressions, choosing to simply be present with another is the most loving alternative, even if the silence is deafening.

What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another. What does it mean to hold space for someone else? Author Heather Plett describes it in this way,

“It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control … To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.”

God, help us all to become comfortable with the necessary response of holding space for another. May we sincerely seek and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance during those times.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you. — Psalm 86.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen -2:29)
Romans 9 (Listen -5:15)

Read more about Constant Comfort in Suffering
When every other source of joy is dried up…the stream of God’s mercy flows on as freely as ever.

Read more about What to Expect When Suffering
When in suffering, we can at times be surprised by the emotions that are stirred. We can encounter deep sadness, anguish, and even rage.

When Help Doesn’t Help

Scripture Focus: Job 4.7-9
Think! What innocent person has ever perished?
When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?
As I’ve observed, those who plow sin
and sow trouble will harvest it.
When God breathes deeply, they perish;
by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

Reflection: When Help Doesn’t Help
By Jada Swanson

After seven days of silence, Eliphaz speaks to Job. Eliphaz is somewhat gentle and appears to sincerely attempt to bring comfort to his friend, Job. Yet, it doesn’t take long for one to see that his belief about his friend’s plight is that it is due to sin in Job’s life. In verse seven, he states, “Think! What innocent person has ever perished? When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?”

For we all reap what we sow, don’t we?

Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today. No doubt, statements have been made such as, “I wonder what she did to bring this upon herself?” or “If you’re living right, you will surely have a blessed life.”

Yet, if this is an accurate assessment, it begs the question, “What had Job done to bring such pain and suffering into his life?” and “Wasn’t he ‘living right’?”

The reality is that God never promises that his children will have a life free of trial, hardship, pain, or suffering. In fact, James 1 tells us to consider it pure joy whenever we face such situations and circumstances, because the hardships one endures brings about perseverance, which is needed to become mature and complete.

Most certainly, “Considering it all joy” does not mean one rejoices in the cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, or destruction. It does not mean there will be no tears or sense of loss. Rather, amidst these constraining circumstances, one can embrace a sense of confidence and peace.

Although Eliphaz meant well, his response was insensitive to his friend’s plight. It bears considering if Job’s circumstance brought to the surface some of his own concerns and vulnerabilities. Perhaps, he thought he had matters of faith and God figured out. Yet, God does not fit into a neatly packed box of predictability. In fact, we are told his ways are mysterious (Isaiah 55:9).

Everything is not always what it appears on the surface. Most often, there is more to the story, necessary details and nuances that hover just below the surface to which the public is not privy. As such, one needs to be careful in expressing personal opinions about the circumstances another is facing, regardless if this person is a family member, friend, or acquaintance.

May we understand that times of trial and hardship will come into our lives. May we embrace peace amidst suffering. May we listen to understand, not merely to respond. And when we do respond, may it be with sincerity and sensitivity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 4 (Listen -2:06)
Romans 8 (Listen -6:22)

Read more from Seeing Beyond Suffering
It is a very high privilege for a Christian to be conformed to Christ. To be conformists to Christ, is to be nonconformists to the world. But what conforms us more to Christ than the cross?

Read more about Suffering and Sin
Jesus taught his disciples that they were wrong about tragedy and wrong about sin. His words don’t at first seem comforting.

Lamenting With Job :: Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 3:20–26
“Why is light given to those in misery, 
and life to the bitter of soul, 
to those who long for death that does not come, 
who search for it more than for hidden treasure, 
who are filled with gladness 
and rejoice when they reach the grave? 
Why is life given to a man 
whose way is hidden, 
whom God has hedged in? 
For sighing has become my daily food; 
my groans pour out like water. 
What I feared has come upon me; 
what I dreaded has happened to me. 
I have no peace, no quietness; 
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Reflection: Lamenting With Job :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Job’s language is harsh and bitter when he speaks of his suffering. He doesn’t quote platitudes. His words do not sound like “prayer.” He curses his own life and wishes that he had been stillborn. He curses the joy of his conception. He curses every circumstance or kindness that brought him to life.

Job’s prayers are not perfect but they perfectly express what is inside his heart. The scriptures specifically tell us that in nothing he said did he sin. (Job 1.22)

Complaining is a sin that separates us from God. Lament is a powerful prayer that connects us to God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, who will pray on our behalf when we are unable to form words, lament can swallow up complaining in our lives. Lament is frequent and important in the Bible and should be in our lives as well. 

The prophets lament. (Habakkuk 1.2-4)
Approximately 50% of the Psalms are lament. (Including Psalm 22, quoted by Christ on the cross)
Christ laments. (In Gethsemane and on the Cross)
Paul laments. (Romans 9.1-5)

May we lament through this prayer mixed with Job’s words from Job 3.20-26. 

Prayer for Lament:

You have given us light, even in our misery.
Help us to lament, Lord.

Help us to take our unvarnished pain to you, God. 
Help us to know that we need not soften our language or hold our tongues when we are hurting. 
You have already heard the worst of our thoughts before we speak.
We release our pain to you through our words and our wordless cries…

You have given us life, Lord, even though we are trapped in death.
Help us to lament our sin.

No matter how righteous we feel, Lord, remind us we are like dust.
Show us your holiness that makes ours look like filthy rags.
Fill us with your spirit and expel from us every complaining spirit.

Give us your presence as our daily bread, rather than the bread of our sufferings.
Help us to lament with you.

Rather than complain about our sufferings as if you did not know about them or as if you caused them…
Let us instead recognize that you are in our sufferings with us. Let us share them with you. As we yoke ourselves to you, share the weight of our suffering, Lord, easing the strain on our hearts.

Hear our prayer. Give us peace.
Hear our cries. Give us quietness.
Hear our lament. Give us rest.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, 
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, 
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, unitil he shows us his mercy. — Psalm 123.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 3 (Listen -2:32)
Romans 7 (Listen -4:09)

Read more about A Generational Lament
God accepts the prayer of the despairing and the cries of the frustrated and broken more quickly than the prayers of the proud.

Read more about Lamenting Our Detestable Things
God will find us and God will speak to us when we lament our culture’s sins as our own.

Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer

Scripture Focus: Job 2.1-2
On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And 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.” 

Job 19.25
      I know that my redeemer lives, 
         and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

Reflection: Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
By John Tillman

As Job begins, Satan walks the Earth and has power over it. Before Job ends, he declares the promise that the Redeemer will stand upon the Earth to reclaim it.

Job is one of the places in the Bible depicting cultural beliefs about the cosmos that show God as a God of gods, or lower divine beings. When ancient writers thought of “the heavens,” or of the “council of gods” in God’s throne room, or “the mountain of the Lord,” they had images in mind that came from what the prevailing culture believed to be true. Just as we might picture God in a boardroom and angels as corporate officers, Job saw God as a king over other kings, rulers, and powers.

Ancient writers saw the heavens as the floor of God’s dwelling place—the underside of a literal floor through which God could look down. We are not that different from them. Simply because we, with modern telescopes, can see farther into the heavens than ancients, does not make us more intelligent or less dependent on metaphor to understand God’s vastness. 

We have found the heavens to be larger than the ancients guessed. Does that mean that the heavens are any less of a footstool for our God? No. It means both God’s footstool and God, himself, are more expansive than we knew.

If we have discovered God’s footstool is bigger than we thought, we must recognize that the God whose feet rest upon it must be greater than even the wisest of wisdom literature could comprehend.

It is this God whom Job proclaims “will stand upon the earth” as his (and our) redeemer. Job, nor we, could have fully imagined the lengths Christ would go to in fulfilling his words.

Christ, who is higher and greater than anyone has imagined, would become less and lower than anyone would imagine, to do for us what no one could imagine. 

As Job, may we never lose faith in our great redeemer, Christ, who stood upon the Earth.
He stoops down in humility to join us.
He lay down in suffering to die as one of us.
He rose up in victory to assure us.
He enters our lives to transform us.

May we be changed, shaped, and focused as a telescope toward the Heavens, striving to reflect and magnify his image.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Deliver me, O Lord, by your hand from those whose portion is life in this world. — Psalm 17.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 2 (Listen -2:11)
Romans 6 (Listen -3:28)

Read more about He Stoops to Raise
Christ’s entire life could be understood as a process of descending and ascending…He goes from the highest place, to the lowest place. And then, he ascends.

Read more about Humbled by the Heavens :: A Guided Prayer
Extoll the undeniable, wordless speech of God through the wonder of his creation that we can see with our naked eyes, if we will but open them.

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