God comes through for you when you get what you want. And He comes through by giving you things you don’t want. It’s this second truth that troubles our souls, and challenges our perspective about the Lord.
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Shari took a shortcut to work. After arriving on the company campus, she learned of an accident on her usual route. A tractor-trailer overturned. No one was hurt, but it stopped the traffic for three hours. She thanked God for directing her differently that morning.
Jared received an unexpected check in the mail for $3,500. It was an IRS oversight. Jared was sharing with his small group how he and Jennie had prayed, asking the Lord to provide for a recent medical emergency. God came through for them.
William and Caroline just came home from a fantastic honeymoon. With stars in her eyes, Caroline floated into work the following Monday. The Lord gave her exactly what she wanted: the man of her dreams.
You may want to read:
- Why Does God Bless Some, But Not Others?
- Rick’s Articles From the Book of Job
- Three Things to Know When Life Does Not Make Sense
All three of these stories have two things in common: their desires were met, and they were satisfied with the outcomes. They were happy because they received what they wanted. The Lord was kind to them.
I have been thinking about this idea of being onboard with God when positive outcomes happen, while being distraught or angry about results that do not meet my expectations.
The classic passage for this line of thinking is Job 1:21. I am talking about Job’s response to the adverse outcomes that came into his life. Job did not receive what he wanted, but his response to disappointment was astounding, as well as convicting.
And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:21
I remember the first time I read this passage. It was profound then, and it is still world-shaking. Job was experiencing an outcome that was the farthest thing from his expectations.
After he surveyed the scene and processed the data, he began to praise God for the good and the bad that came into his life. Say what you will about Job, but in this passage, at this moment, he got it right. Job’s astounding response to disappointment has never left me. God has used it mostly in the disappointing times in my life.
- Job’s response has been God’s healing when the news came about the deaths of my two brothers.
- Job’s response has been God’s admonition when sitting at a traffic light that had interrupted my life.
- Job’s response has been God’s appeal when my wife and I were not getting along.
- Job’s response has been God’s hope when I was out of work with no opportunities forthcoming.
I typically do not have a problem thanking God when I get what I want. It is when I cannot muster praise to God for the difficulties in my life that you would be correct to assume that my gratitude for the good things is more about me than God.
If all I can do is praise God for good outcomes, then I have laced my praise with a lot of self-focus and self-expectation.
Mature Christianity is when a person can see God working in the hardships, while not being overcome by those difficulties. It is further exemplified by genuine worship to God for the high privilege to walk in the steps of His dear Son.
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 1:21
Disappointment is how I usually think when I am being interrupted by the traffic lights of life. I do not have to ask the Lord to give me feedback on my sanctification. I do not have to ask a friend how I am doing. All I have to do is measure my immediate, knee-jerk response to the traffic lights and busy intersections in my life.
At the moment of not getting my way, the response that comes from my heart is the most accurate and most objective measurement of my authentic Christian faith.
Job was not perfect, as we learn from the succeeding chapters, but he also was not a Christian rookie. Job was a mature Christian, who was not entirely sanctified.
Though I would love to experience what Job did at the end of the book (Job 42:10), it would be satisfying enough for me to possess what he had at the beginning of the book.
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. – Job 1:1
Wouldn’t you like to have what Job had? To regularly turn away from evil, choosing God instead, is a compelling testimony. If you want to get to this place in your daily walk with the Lord, there are at least two things you have to do.
- Redefine what good is.
- Learn how to live in a parallel world biblically.
Determining what “good” is, you must change two things: (1) broaden your definition of the word and (2) improve your weak view of suffering. Having your mind changed about these two things could revolutionize your life.
Typically, we understand good to be along the lines of health, wealth, and satisfying relationships. Meaning, we want what we want. This perspective is a cultural-centric worldview, not the Bible’s view of how things are in a cursed world.
People have a hard time budgeting difficulty, suffering, and frustration into their lives. They do not want to do this or, at least, I do not want to do this. While I understand the desire to stay away from adverse outcomes, it is myopic to try to orchestrate your life according to your preferences.
It is also a prescription that will lead to bitterness, unforgiveness, cynicism, and broken relationships. Good and suffering can be synonyms in the Bible. Similar to the word gospel, which we call good news.
The problem is how some people do not pull the curtain back far enough to see how the good news became the good news. The gospel is as much about death as it is about a resurrection.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Good Christian folks do not want to talk like this. Suffering is considered the underbelly of Christianity, rather than a necessary component for the Christian. Personal pain is one of the most significant ways you can relate to Christ.
It most assuredly is one of the most potent ways He relates to you (Hebrews 4:15). Why can’t we reverse the tables and see the benefits and possibilities of suffering? To miss this point is to miss out on your best life now.
- Is your view of good more like the three stories at the beginning of this chapter?
- Have you trained yourself to hunt for the benefits in the difficulties in your life?
- What is your knee-jerk response to disappointment?
- What does your response say about your practical theology?
Living In a Parallel World
Job lived biblically in a parallel world. On the ground level, he was a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). From a sovereignty of God level, he was secure and worshipful (James 1:5-8).
He had a high view of God, which was more controlling than his difficulties on the ground. Regardless of the adverse outcomes in his life, his perspective and understanding of the Lord were what kept him stable (Job 19:25).
We all live in a parallel universe. On the ground, we engage thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). You are pricked daily with disappointment. All of the paths in your life have the mark of evil on them.
This reality was Joseph’s testimony. He was willing to recognize and acknowledge the evil that came into his life (Genesis 50:20). He did not sugarcoat his problems. He called it for what it was rather than ignoring the obvious.
Like Job, he did not fixate on the bad things that had happened to him. He lived in the parallel. He recognized the evil, but he filtered it through the sovereignty of God.
Joseph firmly believed that God was in his mess. No matter how powerful or disappointing his life was unfolding, he knew that nothing would shake him down to the ground to where fear, anger, regret, or bitterness were his all-controlling heart issues.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
From Bad to Worse
Embracing good suffering is one of the biggest struggles in the Christian community today. No matter how much we give assent to affirming this truth when the rubber hits the road, most Christians respond sinfully to their disappointments. Humbly embracing this reality is a vast, life-altering, worldview, shaping deal.
Let me put it this way: if you cannot get this right, your life will muddle along in low-grade disappointments because of your unwillingness to give God space and time to mature you through the crucible of suffering.
The best news of the gospel does not come until after the bad news. If we will not embrace and find God in the bad news, we will never be able to see satisfaction in the good news.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:39
When a person does not biblically process the suffering in their lives, several sin patterns will begin to accrue in their minds. If they regularly give way to these trends, they will grow into a self-defeated life. Let me illustrate with disappointment.
When something terrible happens to us, typically the first thing we experience is disappointment. This response should be a signal that turns us to God, but all too often that is not the case. If we do not turn to the Lord, we will enter into a progression that can look like the following:
- Regret (or Refusal) – Rather than turning to God, we begin to think about would’ve, should’ve, could’ve–the things we ought to do differently to gain a more preferred outcome.
- Bitterness – If the disappointment stays and we cannot change our circumstances to gain a more preferred outcome, bitterness will soon take root in our souls. We can become distant, critical, numb, fearful, and angry.
- Unforgiveness – Rather than looking to God to figure out what He is up to in our situation, we begin to find others to blame. Once we are locked in on the target, these people will become the reason our life is not the way it is supposed to be.
- Self-Righteousness – A greater than/better than attitude always accompanies unforgiveness. You cannot look down on another person and punish them for what is wrong in your life without being superior to them (Matthew 18:33).
- Relational Dysfunction – As you can imagine, a person like this barrels toward relational dysfunction. At this point, it will be hard for them to see how the problem is more about their relationship with God than their relationship with another human.
- More Poor Choices – From here they will make more poor choices. Out of a heart of frustration, due to the accumulative effect of the responses mentioned above, the person will be tempted to choose more poor responses.
Do you see yourself anywhere on this list? Before you move on, let me appeal to you to work through the call to action below. Pray through the questions. Ask the Lord to make Job’s response your response:
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Call to Action
- How has your definition of good changed by reading this chapter?
- In what ways have you experienced the goodness of God through your trials?
- List at least two ways you need to change your response when unfavorable circumstances come into your life.
Also published on Medium.