Grace Under Pressure - Week Three

 


Today we are continuing our 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 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 is seeking to answer those questions, and more.  So let's get right to it... 

Today we're going to be learning an important lesson about self-centeredness in the midst of trials and tribulations---when we become so focused on our pain, we can easily begin to shift toward seeing ourselves at the center of all of it. 

I'm going to do everyone a solid today, and teach you the etymology of a word you have probably heard of before.  Sound good?

Okay here's the phrase:  navel-gazing. 

So you might have some idea what that means in our cultural context.  Navel-gazing is described this way: self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view. 

In other words, someone who practices navel-gazing is kind of self-obsessed.  

This comes from the Greek word omphaloskepsis, which in Greek culture referred to the actions of a contemplative person who would seek to gaze inward, often at the expense of the real world around them.  

But here's the thing--in our current culture, navel-gazing has been elevated to an art form.  Think about this for a moment.  

We live in a world where everything revolves around you---brought to you personalized, curated, picked especially for you by Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft... you get the picture. 

"Alexa" is always listening, man.  Ready to give YOU what YOU want.  

You can fashion your media world so that you only see or hear things that you agree with or like.  You will receive ads for things that you love.  You can adjust your playlists on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Spotify, and the like so you only see movies that you will probably enjoy and listen to playlists made up of music that you love.  

You can join clothing clubs that will assign you a personal shopper who will purchase for you things that you like.  

There is a darker side to this navel-gazing society, though.  

We start to believe our own press after a while.  We start to think that maybe, just maybe we might be the center of the universe. And we might not even be aware that we have started to think that way.  

So when things don't go our way, we don't react well.  We start to wonder if maybe, just maybe God might have gotten things wrong---because we're suffering and we're not supposed to have to suffer. 

This is what makes the story of Job such a great guide through this conversation.  Job's story takes an interesting turn in the passage that we're going to be studying today.  

You may recall how Job's story began in the Hebrew Scripture - Recap

After all, is said and done, Job continues to maintain his belief that God is good (sort of), and must be misinformed about Job.  Despite this, he remains focused on his own issues, suffering, and problems.  

And then he wishes he'd never been born: 

16 “And now my life ebbs away;
    days of suffering grip me.
17 Night pierces my bones;
    my gnawing pains never rest.
18 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me[a];
    he binds me like the neck of my garment.
19 He throws me into the mud,
    and I am reduced to dust and ashes.
20 “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
    I stand up, but you merely look at me.
21 You turn on me ruthlessly;
    with the might of your hand you attack me.

Job has turned so far inward... he's become so self-obsessed that he loses sight of the God that he purports to believe is good.  He isn't able to see that there is a bigger picture to it all.  

In the end, it's easy to become hyper-focused on your own challenges and miss what is happening around you.  

But if we have the courage to let the temptation to be self-obsessed in times of trial, we'll discover something amazing and freeing, and one of the truest things that we will ever learn.  

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE TEACHES US IT'S NOT ABOUT US. 

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

As we mentioned earlier in this series, Job finds himself sitting in a pile of ashes, scraping the boils on his body with a piece of broken pottery, consumed with grief, confused about why all of the horrible things that have happened to have happened, and then his three friends show up to sit shiva with him, and also to try to make sense of it all. 

They each offer their own explanations, all of which come down to the idea that God acts in a transactional way, and so Job must have done something to offend the Almighty even if he doesn't know what it is. 

Their efforts to find meaning in the midst of misery, to understand why bad things happen to good people all fall short.  Job keeps maintaining that God is faithful, and he will remain faithful to God, but as we mentioned earlier, he has gotten to a place of self-absorption, turning his frustration inward, wishing that he had never been born. 

And then God shows up.  God shows up, after all is said and done, speaking from what the Scripture describes as a "whirlwind," but more accurately should be interpreted as "the storm." 

God offers no explanation, no acknowledgment of Job's situation.  Nothing.  Instead God basically asks Job, "Who are you to question God?"

Critics of this passage have often described this as a clear case of divine bullying, where God basically acts indifferently to Job's suffering, even though (in the story) God has caused it.  

But what God does here in this part of the book is to present a comprehensive overview of reality that is completely removed from Job's complaints, and the attempted explanations by his friends.  This view that God casts is not anthropocentric, in other words... it's not focused on human beings.  

There's more going on in the world, God essentially states, and there is no way that Job nor his friends could comprehend it.  

The cosmos is described by God as full of unfathomable paradoxes.  There are rhythms between light and darkness, there's a pattern of dying and rising, there is so much more than Job could understand.  

God essentially says to Job, "Do you really have any idea what is going on in the world---because I do, and it's not all about you."

Now, I know that this might seem like a small comfort, or maybe no comfort at all.  Because the question is:  "Are you God?" To which you have to reply: "No." And then the response is: "That's what I thought." 

But there's something liberating in this response to Job that can be true for you and me.  When we are willing to be set free from our navel-gazing, we are finally able to look around and see all of the places where God is present, even in the middle of our suffering.  

We also can begin to understand that sometimes things just happen.  They don't have to define us, even when they are bad.  We are part of something greater.  

Grace Under Pressure--Discovering the truth about ourselves. 

Lift up your head—Does your view need to change? - What are you missing because you have become so consumed by what is happening in the six inches in front of your face?

Lift up your heart—Do you need to lay down your armor? - Sometimes the bad things that have happened to us can leave us so wounded and broken that we feel we can't continue without having some kind of armor to protect us.  But that armor also keeps us from feeling, connecting, and even loving.  

Lift up your hands—Do you need to surrender your ego? - When you figure out that it's not about you, that's when the real growth can begin.  You can see yourself as part of God's purposes to bring shalom to the world.  You give up your need for control, or to figure out the meaning of suffering, and you simply learn from it, grow from it, and strengthen your faith because of it.  

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE TEACHES US IT'S NOT ABOUT US. 

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