becoming aware and remaining silent

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13

Good start, but bad ending for Job’s three friends. Actually a good ending, considering that God had Job pray for them in the end. The fact that they sat with him in silence for seven whole days is exemplary. But what we can see from the rest of the book is that likely during those seven days their hearts and minds were stirred with thoughts for their words, essentially diatribes against Job, which followed.

Of course we wouldn’t have what turns out to be a long wisdom book without their sayings, and Job’s reply to them. It’s almost as if that dialog becomes what’s important, and especially God’s answer in the end. Not really giving Job an explanation, but instead, what Job really needed. But at the same time exonerating Job, while rebuking Job’s three friends. Interestingly, the young man who said something before Job spoke, is not corrected by God, unless one might say that he kind of anticipates God’s answer, yet even if he thinks he’s above Job’s friends, does seem to faintly echo them.

Job is actually a great book, even if puzzling and troubling on a certain level. My favorite group Bible study was one we had going through Job. It is more like an exercise in humility, rather than finding answers to help us through life. But that’s the point. We need to be silent and still before God, not just in regard to ourselves, but also concerning others. Rather than think we have all the answers based on our theology and understanding.

Does that mean we don’t try to understand the plight of others? I don’t think so. It might mean that in doing so, we try not to lean to our own understanding of even what we believe from scripture, but instead, actively lean on God. Much in our understanding might be true, as was the case with Job’s three friends, but like them, misapplied. We need to be in prayer, ask questions, and investigate. And never think we arrived to the final answer.

Of course the final answer in scripture is the gospel: God in Christ reconciling the world to himself and his good will and purpose. And that applying to every situation in some way, believe it or not. But still holding everyone accountable to accept in faith God’s word to us in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus’s incarnation, life, teachings, death and resurrection, along with his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is God’s answer to everything, which in itself is not simplistic, but points toward the completeness of the gospel itself.

So although Job’s friends did have a lot of knowledge in the way of theology, they lacked wisdom in applying it. Just the same, it is the inspired word of God, and is a case in point of how the parts as in the responses of Job’s friends need to be seen within the whole, and help us at least begin to appreciate what otherwise we never would. Job answers his friends who don’t let go, but answer back for awhile. And then God answers. All of it is instructive and important in its place.

This is a wisdom book, and unfolds in such a way as to simply make us aware of our need of God rather than some textbook answer which we can write down, and then carry out. Not that there isn’t instruction throughout, and especially in what God tells Job in the end, which really amounts to helping Job see that when it’s all said and done, Job can’t understand what only God can. And his friends failed to speak the truth about God, unlike Job, who at least was seriously wrestling with God over his disaster and the dilemma that followed. And in faith received God’s word. All of this now for us, in and through Jesus.

 

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calming and quieting one’s self

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

In an age of noise and anger, and the shout political programs (I used to see years ago, but have avoided since), it is good to simply get away and calm and quiet one’s self. I might do that with classical music and a book, myself, along with coffee. And always with the Bible; in fact that might well be my book, and I do carry one around wherever I go, because that helps me in this.

To simply be in the calling God has for us, whatever that might be, and I’ll add, in all its simplicity, is good. We might be led to go beyond our capabilities, or outside of our comfort zone. Though for me I think more often than not it’s just me going there, maybe with a fair rationale, but maybe also without the Lord’s leading. Though God will be with us, and if necessary, we can always backtrack and acknowledge what error we’ve made.

I think seeking to live in God’s presence in all that we do can and naturally will help us in this. It helps us remain humble, and listen, and unlike the world, try to have a conversation on a given matter. And then get to what’s basic and best: God’s promises to us and to the world in Christ.

We simply and often don’t know as much as we might think. And we need to acknowledge that, and work on what God is teaching us and humbly own that. Only then might we have a helpful word in the matters which trouble and concern people. As we remain in prayer always, as an attitude and practice. And together with God’s people, put our hope in God now and forever in and through Jesus.

a good prayer when not knowing what to do

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.

Psalm 86

There are times when we’re at a loss on what to do in a given matter. We might have inclinations, and we probably most certainly know what we would like to see happen. Though sometimes that may not even be the case.

Something important for us to learn is to pray, pray, and keep on praying. Psalm 86 is a prayer from beginning to end. The psalmist is in trouble; his very life being threatened by enemies. The psalm is attributed as a prayer of David, so that such circumstances are no surprise.

I usually know what I would like to do, and I’ve oftentimes done it, probably with mixed results at best. But I’m learning to hold back and simply pray, and keep praying. Maybe the answer from God will come sooner or later. And it likely won’t be an answer I would have come up with, or even be capable of coming up with. And with God guiding the process, God gives the grace to carry it out, something else not as true when we’re less dependent on God.

In the passage from the psalm above, that snippet of the prayer could be interpreted in reference to a specific situation, which actually was the case in the psalm. And it can also be an ongoing prayer for all of life. But in keeping with the psalm itself, it was offered when the psalmist was up against it in a particular situation.

For God to teach us his way means to do something in a different way than we ordinarily would do. It’s the desire to walk in God’s truth, or rely on his faithfulness, either one being true to the Hebrew in its translation. I’m not sure which one I would choose if I would study the text and context, and it’s never a matter (or might be rarely) of both being meant at the same time. To walk in God’s truth is so basic, yet not to be taken for granted. We easily deviate from that in our thoughts and attitudes. And to rely on God’s faithfulness is also crucial for us, because since we can count on God, why do we take matters in our own hands, even when it seems necessary to do so?

The prayer for an undivided heart that the psalmist might fear or reverence God’s name is also important. In the trial or whatever it is we’re facing, sins like pride might be uncovered. There might be a sifting, refining process going on. God might be just as concerned with the process as with the answer. Both likely go together, so that we’re changed, and therefore can live better in the outcome, even if it’s not what we would choose.

Something I’m working on, and trying to walk through. In and through Jesus.

the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

dependency on teachers

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Acts 17:11-12

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:27

As it is well said, it’s better to teach a person how to fish than make them dependent on someone who fishes for them. The best teachers in the church are those who help the listeners grow up into maturity in the faith through the gospel, and be not only students of the word, but lovers of God and people. Of course that love rooted in the gospel which is the expression of God’s love to us and to the world in and through Jesus.

Poor teaching and teachers make people dependent on them and their books. The older I get, the less I take notes. I used to be a big note taker. At the same time though, the older I get, the more I appreciate teachers who make one think, and challenge their faith in ways which build us up toward being more like Jesus, and knowing God better. In the ways of faith and love.

The passages quoted above tell us to keep searching the scriptures, and that means all of them, the Old Testament as well. And to trust the Holy Spirit to help us right now, today, and in the long haul as well.

We need understanding for life, which scripture is meant to give us. Life in community in Jesus, and for others for whom Jesus died, which means everyone.

But again Jesus makes himself and God’s good news and will known by his Spirit, using teachers, but not dependent on any one of them.

dependence on God and the peace that follows

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 26:3; NIV

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
because in the LORD, the LORD himself, is an everlasting rock!

Isaiah 26:3; CSB

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD from this time forward,
even in Yah, the LORD, an enduring protector!

Isaiah 26:3; NET Bible

The NET Bible note on one key difference in the translation we’re focusing on here (see the entire note for explanation of why the nation is in view rather than individuals):

In this context שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”), which is repeated for emphasis, likely refers to national security, not emotional or psychological composure (see vv. 1-2).

We are blessed today with reasonably priced Bible tools on line. My guess is that the Logos Bible software is as good as they come, but I haven’t looked into it. Yet it’s amazing what we have at our fingertips that is completely free (the first level of Logos is free as well). I use Bible Gateway, and sometimes the NET Bible with its substantial extensive notes.

Putting all of this together on this well known verse of scripture, it seems that what is probably spoken of here is the shalom which includes all human flourishing. Yes, safety from enemies, in the note above, “national security,” but contrary to that note, “emotional” and “psychological composure,” as well. The Hebrew Bible context of shalom is a fulfillment of what a people, including individuals were created to be: blessed to be a blessing. So that actually both the NET Bible rendering, along with the more traditional understanding of that passage are likely apt together. Although the same word can have different meaning depending on its context.

A key help for me is from the CSB rendering which brings out the need for dependence on God. Add to that this insight from John N. Oswalt in the first volume of his outstanding Isaiah commentary:

To experience the security of God’s city one thing is required: a fixed disposition of trust. This is the opposite of James’s “double-minded man” (Jas. 1:6-8) or Jesus’ servant of two masters (Matt. 6:24). This person has cast himself upon God without any reservation. To trust one’s ability partly and God partly is the surest prescription for insecurity and anxiety (8:11-22; 57:19-21). That person will never know the wholeness (shalom) which having all his or her commitments in one place may mean. This is not to say that we denigrate or deny God-given abilities. But it is to say that we refuse to believe the lie that we are independent and have in ourselves the keys to ultimate success in life. The person who…steadfastly looks to God can know an inner oneness which makes possible a confident outlook on the darkest scene. For our mortality, short-sightedness, and weakness, we receive in exchange God’s immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence. That is security.

So the crux of the matter of entering into and holding on to a faith which lives in this peace is a complete dependence on God. Of course not denying our own abilities, but not depending on them, either. Our very thoughts as well as actions are to be dependent on God, and not on ourselves, or anyone else. That’s of course not to say that God won’t use other’s thoughts, maybe even our own seemingly, to direct us. The point that must not be lost by us is that we need to commit ourselves to a dependence on God which is fixed, regardless of how we feel and the circumstances we are going through. It involves a commitment which is to help us to a fixed disposition in which we live.

One of my go to passages again comes to mind:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is one concrete way we can deal with the inevitable problems and troubling thoughts that will come our way. And we’re to cast what burdens we have on the Lord.

For me, again, the bottom line is dependence. If I depend on God, I won’t be depending at all on myself. If there’s even a little dependence on me, then my dependence on God for all intents and purposes is null and void, empty.  And in all of this as God’s people, when we consider the Isaiah 26 passage along with the rest of the Bible, we’re all in this together, so that somehow there is an interdependency among us all. One indication in Galatians 6 where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

And so if I am troubled over something, that’s a sure sign that I need to hand what troubles me over to God, to relinquish any thought that I might somehow be able to figure out and fix the problem. Of course, I may factor into God’s answer. But my part and set disposition should be to trust it entirely into God’s hands and therefore to simply do nothing, to let it go. Until I get a sense of what God might want me to do.

Something I continue to aspire to and work on so as to confirm and grow in the change into which I’ve recently entered. In and through Jesus.

a lazy faith

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3

I often find, sadly, that when things are going well, I can have a quite lazy faith. One might even say this can be a first world problem, because relatively speaking compared to many in the world, life is good for most of us. Although hard trials can barge in to any person or family, to be sure. What I don’t like are the very issues and problems through which I might end up much closer to God, and more like Jesus, than I would have been without them.

In the case of the Laodicean church, there was nothing the matter, and life was good. They were living it up in the lap of luxury. Thankfully for them, the Lord was not going to let them go. He stepped in to discipline them in love. He was longing for their communion with him, no less. This isn’t really a passage for salvation, though I’m sure God has used it that way to bring sinners into the fold. But it’s aimed at a church of at least professing believers, surely some of them born of the Spirit, but lazy in their faith to the point that faith was not something really needed for this life.

I can imagine that for some, the way they’ve been mistaught, faith is more or less about getting to heaven someday when they die, akin to what Dallas Willard used to call a “bar code” Christianity. But if we open our Bibles and keep turning the pages, we will see all the many ways that faith is for this life. And particularly when we’re up against it, our faith is awakened to possibilities which before were not needed. And we can grow in our faith, and from that in our development as mature people in a way we otherwise would not (James 1).

The Lord didn’t leave the believers who thought they had it all together alone, and he won’t leave us alone either. He loves us too much for that. Let’s respond to that love, and open the door, and let the Lord have his way in every part of our lives.