Does anyone love God because of who He is exclusively or do we love God for what we can receive from Him? More personally, do you have faith that is larger than your self-interests?
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This question was the accusation of the devil to the Lord about Job. There is something genuine about this kind of charge because it resonates in everyone’s heart. Christians love the Lord, but they are not so self-deceived to discount self-loyalty.
Why do you serve the Lord?
I know part of the answer is because divine Sovereignty imposed Himself on your life and made you born again (John 3:7; Ephesians 1:4). Ultimately, that is the number one answer—God regenerated you. But personal regeneration does not fully dislocate your depravity. There are always other motives lurking in imperfect hearts. Nobody is free from sin’s temptations.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? – Romans 7:24
The irony here is how we want to be free from the complexity in our souls, but we do not want to go through the process to be free because the most effective way to be free is to suffer.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7
Nothing will draw out your true motivations like personal suffering. The refining fire refines the soul. When God throws you into the crucible of suffering, every good and bad thing in you will eventually be made known.
What has your suffering drawn out of your heart? For example, pain can reveal anger, fear, and the quality of your faith.
We want to be set free from sin, but we fear the process of being set free. This dilemma is our angst, which is why we need Sovereign clarity, so we do not miss the lessons we are supposed to learn through the hard times that come to our lives.
Job went to the Lord’s counseling office. And like any good counselor, the Lord drew out of Job’s heart what Job needed to see. Collected together, the Lord asked Job seventy questions, all of which you could sum up this way:
If God is big enough to keep you from suffering, isn’t it also true, that He’s big enough to have reasons for suffering that you do not understand?
Unkindly, He kindly Shows
There is wisdom to be found in that statement, but it is the kind of wisdom that does not come exclusively from an intellectual understanding of the Lord. The type of wisdom that I’m talking about comes from a deep and soul-exhausting experience with the Lord. Job said it this way,
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. – Job 42:5
God taught Job about Himself. Job knew God. He received the Lord’s instruction. He learned how the Lord gives and the Lord takes away things (Job 1:21). He knew faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Job, like us, was Christianized enough to have a basic understanding of the Lord. What Job did not know was the difference between knowing God and seeing God.
It was only after his undeserved and horrific ordeal that he experienced the Lord in a unique way that transcended his previously known knowledge. When it comes to your relationship with God, you cannot see without hearing, but you can hear without seeing (Hebrews 11:27).
This twist is the difference between being in a religion and being in a relationship with God. It is the difference between knowing the Lord through an intellectual intake and having an intimate fellowship that is born in the crucible of suffering.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. – Philippians 3:10
Many people sit in church facilities every Sunday of their lives and hear many great things about the Lord, but their relationship with the Lord is no more profound than what they have heard.
You must season your knowledge of the Lord in the fires of suffering for you to mature. The Lord took Job deeper than mere knowledge. It was a place that transcended language. A place where God shattered the idols of his heart.
My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast (a person who attacks). Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
- In every one of us, there are wrong ways of thinking about God, life, and others that can only be rooted out through suffering.
- In every one of us, there are selfish ways of thinking that we’ll only see when God does not act like we think He should.
- In every one of us, there are selfish ways of thinking that motivate us to serve God for our good rather than His glory.
So you think God was kind to make you sick? Jemimah asked, and take away your health and all your sons and friends, and daughters — all the ones you loved?
Jemimah, what I think is this: The Lord has made me drink the cup of his severity that he might kindly show to me what I would be when only he remains in my calamity. Unkindly he has kindly shown that he was not my hope alone. (John Piper, Job, Part Four)
John Piper is correct: unkindly He kindly shows us that our hope is not in the Lord alone. God created us for this one purpose: to worship the Lord God alone and perchance we put any other gods before Him or equal to Him, He will act upon us.
Having mixed motives is not necessarily your fault. You were born that way. To worship other gods or to want different outcomes more than wanting the Lord most of all is part of human cursedness. It does not make you odd, but normal.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot get out of our way, which is why we need the Lord, not just for our salvation, but also for our sanctification. Mercifully, the Lord does not leave us alone after He saves us.
He stays with us, always working, sometimes hurting, but relentlessly loving us. He aims to conform us to the image of His Son—an image Adam distorted, and now, because of the gospel, there is hope for a reversal of the curse.
There is a purpose in pain. There is a reason you are going through what is happening to you. The Lord is at work for your good. Though you cannot perceive all the good He plans for your life; you must know He is active, planning, and preparing future blessing.
With that in mind, here are three considerations to help you as you ponder what the Author of your life is writing into your script. As you read these things, ask the Spirit of God to open your mind to receive and respond to how you need to change.
In His Kindness, He Humbles Us
Though you do not want to hear this, the truth is we are proud. We have a high view of ourselves, and we do not want to lower it in any way. And we want others to have a similar perspective of us.
We want to be liked, received, accepted, and loved. Anything that can put us in an unfavorable light or at a disadvantage will cause us to fight back in anger or to retreat in fear.
We are most loyal to ourselves, and only the Lord can impose Himself into our lives in such a way to break us from this bondage. Suffering humbles, and being humbled is what we need the most.
- Are you being humbled by your suffering or are you resisting the Lord’s suffering?
- How are your responding to your suffering: anger, fear, or faith?
In His Kindness, He Vindicates Us
During our seasons of suffering it is not possible to see the future that will come as a result of our suffering. This problem is where we are called to trust in the active goodness of the Lord on our behalf.
If you respond with humility, rather than anger or fear, to what is happening, you will have positioned yourself for an excellent and favorable outcome. Job’s vindication in chapter forty-two did not turn into vindictiveness because he accepted the humbling of the Lord.
If you try to manage your pain through self-reliant means, you will not only prolong it, but you will complicate all of your relationships which are part of your suffering.
Notice the Progression: you must live in authentic humility, which means you must be pliable to the Lord’s work rather than resistant to it. If you do this, you will be at rest, even in the storm (Matthew 8:23-27). This response will position you to access the Lord’s strength rather than relying on yourself (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3
The Lord will restore you if you walk down the paths of right living that He provides for you, even if you find those ways laced with suffering. The reason He will restore you is that it is His name on the line, not yours. You are His child, and He is responsible for you.
The book of Job is not a book about Job, but a book about God. It was the Lord who was on trial, and it was the retribution policy that the devil was challenging: Job does right, and he will receive good, but if he does wrong, he will receive evil.
The Lord took all Job had away, and he still held to his faith, though he suffered mightily. The Lord was proven not guilty in the matter of Job and when the suffering was over He vindicated His servant.
- Are you patiently trusting in the Lord’s future vindication of you?
- What is it you want that keeps you from resting in the Lord and, thus, hindering His victory in your life?
In His Kindness, He Blesses Us
Be careful here. You do not want to complicate the process of suffering by being stubborn, fearful, or self-reliant. You must give yourself entirely up to God’s full work in your life, or you will put yourself in opposition to His inexhaustible favor (James 4:6).
Sinning in response to the sin in your life can bring more sin down on your head, which is what Job did, and the Lord thundered down hard on him. Then Job repented, and he was eventually vindicated.
The blessing of the Lord comes through a person’s willingness to die. That is one of the most influential pictures of the gospel: Jesus was fearful of the suffering that was in His future (Matthew 26:39). He did not want to experience it.
Finally, He did relent by giving Himself entirely over to the will of His Father. From there, things only became worse for Him. After He walked out of Gethsemane, His persecutors nailed Him to a tree.
Do you want to be blessed? Of course, you do. Do not be deceived about how blessings come. It never occurred to me how the loss of everything that was dear to me in 1988 was the beginning of profound and undeserved benefits that could only come through the door of suffering.
- How are you responding to your suffering? What does your response to your suffering reveal about how you think about the Lord?
- Are you confident the Lord is going to bless you and out of that confidence (faith) you’re experiencing soul stabilization?
- How do you need to rethink the suffering the Lord has brought to you, and in what practical ways do you need to change?
Also published on Medium.