when all seems against you

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain
and not see the first rays of dawn,
for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
to hide trouble from my eyes.

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
Captives also enjoy their ease;
they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are freed from their owners.

“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.”

Job 3:1-26

One of the things I love about Scripture is the rugged, unapologetic, fully exposed truth about one’s experience and feelings. It is uncomfortable at times, even dreadful, yes, troubling, but it captures something of what we all experience in this life.

I return again and again to the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes, especially for me, the latter. There’s plenty of wisdom to be gathered from them both, along with the standard essential wisdom we find in Proverbs.

This tells me that it’s okay to express our true thoughts, especially to God. Job was doing so with friends he trusted, but who, alas, turned out to be untrustworthy. That teaches us something, too. But Job was undeterred. He let them have their say, and he would have his. Back and forth it went. Until the end, when God intervened.

We have to read the entire story. We don’t want to remain forever in minor key. But somehow all of that is included in what we might call the song of Scripture. God didn’t erase these words of Job, this part from the story. Indeed, it’s an integral part. Without it, the story would be incomplete. It mirrors something of our own story.

God deals with us as we are, where we’re at. Not how we would like things to be. We come to God as we are, frankly confessing and simply speaking all that is on our hearts, and often troubled minds. And we wrestle through it, like Job did.

An essential part of genuine faith in and through Jesus.

like Jeremiah, our need of ongoing repentance

Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
“I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

Jeremiah 15:15-21

It is so easy to find fault with one’s lot. There is almost always something wrong somewhere. Admittedly there can be seasons which are especially difficult and challenging, even for no fault of our own.

Jeremiah certainly ran into plenty of trouble because of his prophetic call from God. He was to deliver a message which would put his life in jeopardy again and again. He had his enemies who wished to see him dead. And it seemed to him at times that even God was against him. He is aptly called “the weeping prophet.” Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14). I tend to want to go back to Jeremiah again and again because I kind of identify with him myself, at least in some of the moods he was in, as well as trying to speak the word of the Lord into a world which is often indifferent, or sometimes hostile to it.

In the passage quoted above (the link is Jeremiah 14 and 15) Jeremiah is in the midst of trouble, and is tired of it. He has had enough, and God seems not only helpful, but deceptive to him. His attitude has turned south and is sour. He even likens God to “a deceptive brook” and “a spring that fails.”

God wastes no time in calling the prophet to repentance. Once again (Jeremiah 1) God gives him the commission, this time conditioned on his repentance. No matter what the outlook, God will see him through, albeit in a difficult task for sure.

This for me is a good and needed word. I too often complain at what in comparison to what Jeremiah went through is nothing. Although it can seem life threatening to me in a different way. And certainly not easy. But repentance of wrong attitudes toward God is basic, if we’re to continue on in God’s will. And a wrong attitude toward life is essentially a wrong attitude toward God when you boil it down for what it really is.

God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from God, even apart from his will. God is great and God is good, and he is love. We have to persevere in faith in the midst of difficulty. Otherwise we end up becoming part of the problem. And we can no longer figure into God’s solution.

Like Jeremiah, some of us might carry with us a predisposition to easily fall into the pit of discouragement and despair. And like him, we need to heed God’s call again, and when need be repent of charging God with wrong in our complaining and grumbling. What is essential for us is to grasp God’s call and keep coming back. Knowing God will see us through, and with the blessing of the gospel for others, in and through Jesus.

accepting struggle

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Eliphaz’s words here in Job are echoed by the suffering Job himself later. And Jesus, after some telling teaching on the idolatry of materialism and money along with the need to trust the Father for provision as one seeks the kingdom and that righteousness that goes with it closes that part with these words:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Some of us seem to struggle more than others. Surely a number of factors are involved in that. And perhaps we can outgrow some kinds of struggles, unless they might simply take on a different form as we continue to mature in Christ. But trouble is the lot of everyone in this life. There is no such thing as a trouble free existence.

This can be due to sin. A large part of it is due to the fact that this world is neither complete or perfect. We can say because of the fall of humankind into sin, but I believe this world was made with the world to come in mind. New creation in and through Christ when heaven and earth become one is the culmination and goal. At the beginning of this old creation, chaos and disorder ruled the day. In creation that began to dissipate significantly, though it is still present in the whole. Someday when the new creation completely takes over through the resurrection of all things in and through Christ, that chaos and the trouble that comes with it will be gone.

Of course some of the struggle, and surely sometimes much of it is simply due to our own lack. We don’t trust God as we should. Or perhaps there is some deficiency in our character due to sin which needs to be changed. We need the light of the convicting work of the Spirit to lead us to confession and repentance and forgiveness of our sins in and through Jesus.

One of the most important things we can do is simply to accept the struggle. Not try to escape it, but look to God for God’s deliverance. Ordinarily such deliverance will come only as we work through it. Usually deliverance is not out of trouble, but through the trouble. Remember Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, even with God himself.

We need to learn not to panic, and even to learn a form of rest during such times. Even as we cry out to God at the same time in complaint and lament as in the psalms. Not giving up, but pressing on, confident of God’s deliverance.

 

chanting the psalms

I like the possibility of chanting the psalms, which I believe provide for us a spirituality which helps us through the rugged terrain of life. This is done in monasteries, and I think we would do well to do the same, as well as chanting other scripture. Chanting as in singing in a simple way. Though left to myself, simply reading them in a prayerful way will have to suffice.

In the psalms in my view, not everything the psalmists say is sanctified. But what is sanctified or holy is the point that the psalmist does bare soul and all to God, does not hold back, but lets loose the tirade. And laments. Yes, even complains. At the same time doing so as one committed to God. Of course along with that is praise to God because of his goodness and blessings to us.

I think simply being in scripture, and saying the words out loud is potentially powerful. Of course we need to see all of this as done before God, in his presence, seeking to draw near to God in and through Christ. As well as doing something of the sort by one’s self, it is good to do it with others. The fellowship we are caught up into with God includes others in that same fellowship.

Have you done this? Is it an ongoing practice with you? Should it be? Does it help us to see something of why the psalms were given to us in the first place?