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Helpless, But Not Hopeless

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


“My spirit is broken my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me.” (Job 17.1)

You won’t see this verse hanging in anybody’s house. In fact, this type of attitude seems contrary to what you might expect from someone of faith. Faith primarily hinges on hope and with that is assumed one will have optimism and a positive outlook on life. 

Job doesn’t seem to have those things. Job often appeared unstable as he vehemently defended his faith. Even his words about God become very pointed as he wrestled with His sovereignty (see Job 7.11; 10.1-3). And yet, God praises Job for his integrity and faith (Job 2.3). Which begs the question, “How can someone of exemplary faith be so negative about life?” 

Job’s story must challenge our paradigm of faith. 

I think our primary struggle to resolve Job’s attitude with his faith is that we often pretend difficult seasons shouldn’t exist. Life should always be sunshine and rainbows… but we know that’s just not true. Sometimes we hurt and must grapple with the existential question of “why?” It’s the only way we will look beyond the temporal to a bigger solution than what we can see or know. In those seasons, our deepest fears and strongest emotions of negativity often come to light. 

I’m not condoning perennial negativity, but we need to be realistic about life and allow its various seasons to shape us. Job teaches that faith doesn’t exempt us from feeling helpless. In fact, it might amplify those emotions. Trusting God sometimes feels like we don’t have a safety net, and everything is crashing down. There is a helplessness we will experience because we just don’t know God’s plans. 

People turn to God because they are looking for help and hope. Faith is our effort to engage with God to receive something better (Hebrews 11.13-16). For believers, it is God’s faithful and sure promises that propel them forward. These promises are life-changing, but we must remember that hope’s fulfillment is not found in this life. 

This is a hard reality. We will encounter situations outside of our control that drive us to our limits. We will not always be emotionally centered or mentally stable as we deal with the issues of life. But God is patient, gracious and even welcoming as we work through these emotions (see Psalm 6; Hebrews 4.15-16; 1 Peter 5.6-7). 

You may feel unstable, but God doesn’t desire for you to remain that way. Instead, faith learns to anchor itself in God. Hope is stronger when you are weaker (1 Corinthians 12.9). And so, “let us rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer” (Romans 12.12) and anchor our souls in what we can confidently know about God. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19.25-26)

A Lifestyle of Trust

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


“If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear.” (Job 11.14-15)

God’s people often found themselves in bad circumstances because they made sinful choices (i.e. Judges 2.11-16). Hence the prophets’ refrain of ‘return to God and he will return to you’ (see 2 Chronicles 7.14, Zechariah 1.3, and Malachi 3.7). Certainly, where sin is present and known, it must be acknowledged and exposed before a relationship with God is possible (James 4.8). 

But this is not the case with Job. He had no willful sin (see Job 1-2). He practiced what he preached (Job 4.3; 6.28-30) by continually acknowledging his weakness before God (Job 9.19-20) and cultivating a lifestyle of humility and repentance (Job 1.5). Although Zophar’s admonition is predicated on the cause and effect principle, it doesn’t take into account that one can’t always know the cause. That knowledge is exclusive to God (Job 11.7-10). 

The feeble attempts of these men to make sense of the situation demonstrates human limitations and highlights some things we must remember: 

  1. We learn the plight of life and suffering through experience. Life is temporal and fleeting. All good will end in this life, ultimately at death. God’s grace allows for reprieve, but it is not the end game (Ecclesiastes 5.16-20; Job 6.13). Job’s comforts were taken away to build trust and broaden his vision. I fear we sometimes decry his suffering without appreciating God’s purpose: He is developing trust and longing for better things. 

  2. “God tests the righteous” (Psalm 11.5). God told Abraham to kill Isaac (Genesis 22.1-2). He sought to kill Moses after he called him to lead Israel (Exodus 4.24). All great people of faith were challenged by God’s calling because it was often contrary to what was natural.  If your faith doesn’t cause you stress and struggle, God may not feel like you’re ready to be tested. 

  3. Present circumstances do not define God’s grace towards us (Matthew 5.45). Sometimes the wicked prosper and righteous suffer (Psalm 73). “Time and chance happen to everyone” (Ecclesiastes 9.11). “For everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3).  God’s promises play out over time and so we must learn patience and develop trust in every season. 

Job wrestled with the realities of life, but he did not lose faith or become ambivalent in his efforts to turn from sin. His story highlights our need to press God during difficult times and lean into what God has revealed and promised. When we don’t understand why things are happening, we must be willing to dig deeply into our hearts and put our feet on the rock of God (Psalm 18.31). This can be hard and exhausting but is the only way to cultivate what God desires to create in us: a lifestyle of trust motivated by hope. 

“Do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10.35-36)

Revived By Hope

Tuesday, May 05, 2020


“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22.1)

This prophetic depiction of Jesus’ death and subsequent glory captures the myriad of emotions Jesus went through during his final hours. In fact, Jesus invoked this phrase while hanging on the cross to point us to God’s plan through this horrific event (Mark 15.34). Tragedy gives way to victory (Psalm 22.24, 26, 28).

Hope is strong in the psalm, but part of what makes it powerful is the suffering. Written by David hundreds of years before Christ, it paints a chaotic picture of helplessness and need to which all can relate. We have times when every path seems wrong, every effort seems futile, and our weaknesses overwhelm our competency. Like this psalm, we vacillate between God’s control and our desire to avoid the present distress. 

The sense of abandonment we feel in times of stress is very real. Even Jesus experienced this. In the garden of Gethsemane, his humanity bled out as he begged God to “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26.39). He knew this was God’s will, and yet even he was overwhelmed by the weakness of the flesh. 

Jesus was a “man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53.3, NIV). We're not happy he suffered, but it is so valuable that Jesus experienced life just like we do. The application of this psalm to himself accentuates just how much Jesus understands the struggle of life in this world. That is what allows him to be merciful and sympathetic as he makes intercession for us before God (Hebrews 2.17; 4.15-16). 

Life may be hard, and you may feel like no one understands; but Jesus does.  Even though he was tired and weak and abandoned by those around him, Jesus trusted God (1 Peter 2.21-23), and God rewarded him for it (1 Corinthians 15.3-4; Ephesians 1.20-23).

For believers, suffering always give way to victory, and the best part of this psalm is that it doesn’t end in defeat. “You who fear the LORD praise him!... For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted… but has heard, when he cried to him” (Psalm 22.23-24). The psalmist was revived by this hope; Jesus endured by this hope; and we too can overcome the challenges of life with this hope. 

God has always been near (Acts 17.27) and thoughtful of our daily needs and struggles (Psalm 8.4). But through Jesus he has done great things to provide for those needs (Isaiah 53.3-12). This is the gospel. God offers hope to those who would turn from sin, and trust in him. If we believe God’s promises are sure, then, “let us draw near with confidence to God’s throne of grace through Jesus so we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.16, paraphrased). 

"[God] has heard, when he cried to Him... The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD!" (Psalm 22.24, 26)

Good Comes From God

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


“I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”” (Psalm 16.2)

Children do not understand their utter dependence. From the time they come out of the womb, they quickly learn their parents are going to give them what they need. When they cry, they get fed. When they’re tired, they expect to be rocked, swaddled and put into their bed. Their paradigm is very selfish because that’s all they’ve ever known. 

We know they must learn how to do these things themselves, but they don’t realize that. They just assume their parents are watching out for their best interest.

As parents, that’s what we do. We provide for our children even when they are thoughtless of what we have done. Sometimes it’s frustrating because they can be incredibly selfish; but as long as they are in our house, we do our best to give them what they need because we love them. And those moments when, unprompted, they stop to say “thank you” or put their arms around your neck and say, “I love you” make it all worth it. I don’t know why acknowledging our efforts seems so unnatural to children, but I do know that it will only come through maturity. 

This relationship highlights the immaturity we sometimes have towards God.  As our Father, he gives and gives and gives! We have access to everything that is his (Luke 15.31b)! And yet, like children who thoughtlessly presume our parents will provide, we sometimes fail to acknowledge God’s daily provisions. 

Sometimes it’s not until our best efforts leave us unfulfilled that we see how desperately we need the Father’s presence and blessings (Luke 15.13-19). But like a true Father, he always leaves the door open for us to be with him (Luke 15.20). As we mature we realize that, “nothing on earth I desire compares to you… It is good for me to be near God” (Psalm 73.25, 28). We can acquire things that will bring us momentary pleasure, but it is not things that bring fulfillment (Ecclesiastes 5.11), but the presence of God in our lives.

The good we experience only comes from God. It is the effect of God’s grace to make life bearable (Ecclesiastes 2.24-25; 3.12; 5.18-20). As James would note, “every good thing comes from God” (James 1.17). And yet, how often have you overlooked this simple truth? 

The greatest joy we can offer our Father is to acknowledge his grace, and the greatest fulfillment we will find is to walk with him in obedience (Psalm 16.9-11; 17.3-5). Let’s not behave like children; let’s go onto maturity (Hebrews 6.1) and practice daily thankfulness and humility towards our Father who provides for and sustains us (Psalm 3.5; 1 Thessalonians 5.18). 

“I bless the LORD who gives me counsel… You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16.7, 11)

Responding to Criticism

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

BIBLE READING: Proverbs 12

“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.” (Proverbs 12.15-16, NIV)

If someone criticizes you, what is your first response? I would love to say that I always patiently accept it, consider the information and honestly evaluate myself. But a more natural response is, “How dare you! What right do you have?” I’ve often played the scoffer… anybody else? 

It can be hard to take criticism. We are processing information and juggling our emotions in that moment which can make it easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and respond poorly. And yet, the Proverbs teach it is the fool who allows natural emotions to dictate their response. 

By nature, we reject information that doesn’t fit into our paradigm. We see things through the context of our life experience and our value system. Our limited understanding of life is often loftier in our mind than we realize. Hence why the bible is replete with admonitions to be humble and gracious (see Proverbs 3.7; Romans 12.3; 1 Peter 5.8). 

Wisdom can come in many forms, and sometimes it comes from people that we don’t want to hear from. For us to make determinations about who has the right to give criticism demonstrates a proud heart (see Proverbs 15.12; Romans 12.16; Philippians 2.3).

Our natural responses will likely get us into trouble. So, we must discipline ourselves to listen and respond well. 

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12.1)

“By [presumption and contempt] comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13.10)

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29.11)

We’ve all seen the effects of responding poorly to criticism. We often say things that aren’t thoughtful, make choices that are rash and cause unnecessary damage to relationships we value. We must train ourselves to make wise choices when criticized by storing up this wisdom and following the example of Jesus. 

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2.23, NIV). Jesus had nothing to be criticized for, and yet he patiently endured those who hurled it at him.

You may not like what someone has to say, or it may not be delivered well; but it does not change the objective nature of truth. If we are wise, we will train ourselves to receive criticism with grace and patience and use it as an opportunity to refine our faith. 

“…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1.19)

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