by Mike Ratliff
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)
I don’t know about you, but the passage I placed at the top of this post strikes a deep response of joy and recommitment in my heart. Paul knows all about suffering for the Gospel. He knows why he suffers and he rejoices in it. How could anyone do this? His commitment to his savior and the mission given to him is made up of a devotion to God that takes precedence over anything he could or would want for himself. Paul is strong in grace and empowered by joy. He sees the suffering that comes upon him as one of the primary elements of the effectiveness of his ministry. God is glorified in him and in that he is content. I believe God’s goal for each of His children is for them to reach this level of faith.
In the last lesson we left as Zophar finished lambasting Job by accusing him of defaming God by professing that the horrible suffering he was going through was undeserved. To Zophar and Job’s other friends, this was calling into question God’s character. This caused them to be indignant against Job. The problem was that their straw god of their imaginations is not the Living God. Their straw god loves everyone equally. If suffering comes upon anyone then it is deserved and repentance is the only solution. Doesn’t this sound right? It does if we are processing this information through our Human Reason. However, as we have seen in earlier lessons, God and our faith are spiritually regarded. If we regard them via Human Reason, our flesh, then we create a false view of God and Man. This results in a creation of a straw god that exists only in our imaginations. Believers guilty of this, which is most of them, are actually being idolatrous. Why? This type of “religion” is nothing more then Humanism. Humanism is idolatrous because it magnifies Man and creates a straw god who is subject to Human Reason.
Let’s join Job as he answers all three of his friend’s accusations against him. Remember, Job is suffering horribly. His physical condition is best described as walking death. God is upholding his mental capabilities or he would dissolve into a puddle of agony. Satan is continually attacking him through the assault of false doctrine coming from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
Then Job answered and said: “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock. In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip. The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand. “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man. (Job 12:1-25)
Job accuately gives God praise and tells his friends that he knows the real God who knows him. He has a relationship with God. However, he is still completely at a loss for why God has allowed this suffering to come upon him. As I shared in the last lesson, I have been here. Oh, my suffering was nothing like Job’s, but I have had one blow followed by another followed by combinations of blows. Each of these blows causing me to reel in anguish. It is during these times that God seems to be nowhere in sight. His presence is not apparent. I feel abandoned and cry out to God asking why He has forsaken me. Of course, He hasn’t abandoned me. He is right there sustaining me. He is taking me through the fires of tribulation for His own purposes.
This is where Job is in this passage. He hasn’t lost his faith, but his focus is inward instead of outward. This is what I do when these things happen. When we get our focus inward we are no longer Spirit-led. We have reverted to Soul-led mode. We seem to lose the ability to be Spirit-led. The days of close communion with God seem a far memory. We desperately want to get back to it, but it seems as if we can no longer attain it. What is God doing? We can only surmise, but I believe that God is building our faith and trust in Him. He is withholding the sense of His presence from us so that we will learn to trust Him, relying on Him even when we can’t see or hear spiritually. I think this should show us that the ability to walk in the spirit, to be Spirit-led, is a gift from God. It isn’t something we can turn on when we want. All we can do is put ourselves in position for God to take us into His embrace.
How do we do this? What is it we have to do to be in this position? It starts by devotion. Yes, that’s right. That is why having a consistent time in prayer and Bible reading is so vital to our walk. It must start by drawing near to Him. (James 4:5-10) When we do this, God draws near to us. He does a wonderful work in our hearts when we do this. Now consider this. God may not give us a sense of His presence when He does this. He does when it is His will to do so, but at other times He will withhold it. This is what is happening to Job through most of the book. This is why he is in such anguish. He is used to a close personal relationship with God. When that seems no more, he cries out that if only God would come back he would question him. God has given Job a sense of abandonment. He hasn’t abandoned him, but Job certainly feels as if he has been. I think we can all relate to that. Now consider this as well, does it bother you when God does this? Do you even realize it has happened? Remember when Samson lost God’s presence by having his haircut, he was not even aware it had happened. Do we do this as well? Job is painfully aware of it and he is still very confused by it. If we suffer this way, it is a very good thing. Yes, that is right. If we sense that God is withholding the sense of His presence from us then what should we do? Shouldn’t we draw near to God in devotion, cleanse our hands, repent, and wait on Him? That last part is so hard! However, God will use this to build patience in our hearts.
“Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom! Hear now my argument and listen to the pleadings of my lips. Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay. “Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Keep listening to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right. Who is there who will contend with me? For then I would be silent and die. (Job 13:1-19)
Notice that Job has not lost his ability to see the foolish false view of God that his friends have. He knows God and knows His ways. He is suffering mightily so he is a bit distracted, but out of his mouth comes rebuke that is empowered by God Himself. Can you see it? I have been right here where Job is. I have been distracted like he is and not really sensed God’s presence at all and have had my gift of prophecy blast out of my mouth like this. I have also been gentle and Christ-like with people who were unreasonable. What does this tell us? Again, can you see it? What I am getting at here is our use by God is not dependant upon our sense of His presence. We can be in the deeps, as despondent as ever and God will use us like this. It will get your attention I assure you.Let’s leave this scene as Job gathers himself for his despondent prayer, which we will look at in the next post. I pray that you have seen what I have been trying to convey to you. Our joy is operational as our strength even when we are mightily struggling with focus. What this should tell us is that we are most effective in the Kingdom of God when we have the least control. Let me restate that. When we are in control and calling the shots, God must break through that in order to use us for His glory. We must suffer some and become entirely dependant upon Him in order to work in His Kingdom. It isn’t much fun, but it is empowered by His joy.
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