Grace Under Pressure--Week One: Consider My Servant Job


Today we are launching a brand new sermon series for the month of October, and we're using select readings from the oldest book in the Hebrew Scriptures as our guide. 

This series is entitled Grace Under Pressure, and yes, I totally ripped off the name and the image for our series logo from the rock band Rush, and their 1984 album of the same name.  

As I mentioned, we're going to be studying the oldest book in the Bible from the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), the story of Job, which is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood books in all of the Bible. 

Job seeks to answer a question that we have all asked at least once in our life:  Why do bad things happen to good people?"

When we are facing trials and tribulations, challenges, and problems, it’s easy to wonder where God is in the middle of everything.  We may even start to wonder why God would allow the things that have happened to us, to happen.  

But what if we were able to see the challenges we face in life as chances to grow stronger in our faith, to learn to trust God more, to surrender our need for control?  

What do we do when we keep all the rules and do everything right and things still fall apart?  How do we learn to discover grace under pressure?  This series will seek to answer those questions, and more.  So let's get right to it... 

Let me ask you a question: 

Ever feel like God is picking on you?

It might feel like it when you've had a really bad day.  Maybe a day as bad as some of these people---cue images. 

When you are having one of those days--you know the kind of day I'm talking about--when everything just goes south.  It's like you fell down after being hit by a wave in the ocean, and as you try to get up, you keep getting smacked by more waves.  

Have you ever wondered in the middle of one of those days---maybe out loud--what God was up to?  Maybe you asked that question a few times over the past 18 months.  

Maybe you even asked a deeper question...  "Is God even there?"  

The book that we're going to be studying for the next few weeks begins with a strange twist.  It starts off with this verse:  

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

This is the ancient Hebrew equivalent of: 

So right away we know that we are dealing with a story, a parable, a work of legend, a story that probably has been passed down from generation to generation---at least this first part.  

And the funny thing about the way Job begins... God makes a bet with a character named Satan, which is a Hebrew word for Accuser, and in this case should be thought of like the Prosecuting Attorney, the D.A. of Heaven. 

The result of that bet is pretty costly for Job and his family, to be honest.  

In the opening of the story, there's an assembly of the royal court of God and Satan is among them.  God asks Satan to consider how awesome Job is, and how faithful to God Job has been.  

And the Accuser says, "I bet you I can get him to curse you.  Just take away everything that matters to him, and let's see what happens." 

So naturally, in this story, God takes the bet and tells the Accuser to do anything he wants to Job--but he can't harm him physically.  And so the story relates how Job loses all of his flocks, his wealth, and then all of his sons and daughters are killed in a freak accident.  

I know that people who read the Bible literally want to try to make this into some sort of historical account, but it isn't.  This is a story, albeit a powerful one.  But it's a story that resonated with the ancient Hebrew audience who told and retold it.  

And it resonates with us, too.  When bad things happen to us, sometimes really bad things... we want to affix some kind of meaning to it, even when it seems meaningless.  

So naturally, the easy thing to do is to begin to believe that God has it in for us... or is messing with us... testing us... you get the picture.  We've all done it.  That's part of what makes this story so timeless.  

But despite what we read here---we can't blame God for our problems because God didn't cause them.  God doesn't cause all things.  Sometimes things just happen.  

But even though God doesn't cause all things, God is present in the midst of all things, and the recognition of that presence can be transformative for you and me.  And that's what we're going to spend the second half of the sermon exploring.  

I want you to hold on to this one very important idea though...  

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE TURNS PROBLEMS INTO POSSIBILITIES

Our challenges can become chances for us to grow in our faith and learn what it means to exhibit grace under pressure as we learn to trust God, no matter what is happening in our lives. 

Let's pick up the story of Job in chapter two where Satan finds his way into the Divine court once again: 

On another day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 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.”

3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

So what are we reading here exactly?  A parable, as we said earlier, but it's even more than just a parable.  It's a response to the laws in Deuteronomy---you know the ones that state, "If you do all of these things, then God will bless you.  If you don't do all of these things, God will curse you." 

Well, the ancient Hebrew theologians who began telling this story, and who eventually wrote it down had a problem.  They knew that there were many people who had done everything right, kept all of the rules, and still had terrible things happen to them.  

So obviously, there was something amiss with the laws themselves, right?  Or was there something deeper afoot?  This is what the writers of Job wanted to address.  

The theological term for the issue that the writers of Job were trying to resolve is called a "theodicy."  Theodicy questions are exactly the same questions that we've been mentioning throughout this sermon:  Where is God?" "Why did God?" "What is God doing?" 

These are the kinds of questions that occur when we begin to wonder what God is up to, how God could let the things that have happened, happen... and also we might begin to wonder if God is even there, or if God exists. 

The truth of the matter for the ancient Hebrew writers of Job is that bad things happened to people whether they kept the law or not.  So they wanted to determine why that was the case, and what kind of meaning could be affixed to a tragedy that just happened. 

Kind of unfairly, Job loses everything, and then some---even his wife turns on him at last.  You can't blame her, she lost all of her children and everything she had.  

As the reader, you know just how unfair it all is because God is making a wager over the whole thing!  It doesn't even make sense.  Because at that moment God seems just like all of the other gods in the Mesopotamian world---petty, capricious, treating human beings like pawns, etc.  

You have to wait a bit in the book to see what is actually happening... and to learn that in the end... God is God and we're not.  Some things are just beyond our comprehension.  

To his credit, despite the unfairness of it all---Job never wavers in his faith.  At this point in the story, he merely accepts it all, the good with the bad, as he tells his wife.  

It doesn't mean that at some point Job doesn't start looking for answers, and wondering why... but for now, he surrenders, and does his best to assume that God must have reasons.  
 
But what can we learn from this passage and this story to help us discover what it means to have grace under pressure--to keep trusting when it's nearly impossible to trust? 

Grace under pressure---Trusting God when it doesn't make sense. 

Getting what we deserve—do we really?  (Humility)
 "I don't deserve this!" is something that I've said on numerous occasions when I find myself facing troubles and trials or when bad things happened to me.  And then sometimes I've lapsed into what some people might call self-pity by saying the exact opposite, "I guess I deserved this."  

Would you believe that both of those statements come from a place of pride?  They do. When we exercise humility we begin to realize that more often than not we have all sorts of amazing things that happen to us in life that we don't deserve either.  

Giving thanks for what was—remembering well. (Gratitude)
When we are dealing with trials and challenges it's easy to lose sight of all of the moments in our past when we experienced God's provision and presence.  This is why it's important to keep those signposts up, so we can look back in gratitude, and remember well all the things God has done for us.  

Learning to live in Gratitude tends to keep us more connected to God, no matter what we might be dealing with at the moment. 

Choosing to live in expectation—despite the evidence. (Hope)
In the end, it's our choice whether we want to live in hope or despair.  We can choose to act in humility about what we deserve and the kind of grace that has already fallen upon us.  We can choose to live in gratitude for all the ways God has shown up in our lives in the past.  

And we can choose then to take all of that and turn it into hopeful thoughts and trust in the future where God is already present and waiting for us.  

Imagine what it would look like for us if we figured this out, and began living accordingly.  It could change the way we see God in our lives, even in tough times.  It would also help change the way we are able to speak into the lives of others, who might be going through challenges as well.  

May you be filled with that hopeful expectation.  May you see your challenges as chances to grow in faith.  

And remember:  Grace under pressure turns problems into possibilities.  

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