SPIRITUAL REALITY IN TIMES OF TROUBLE
These are my notes for teaching the Cornerstone's online Bible study on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
PRAYER Lord, may the meditation of my heart and the words of my mouth be pleasing in your sight. Amen.
Last Wednesday, we began looking at the man called Job, and today we'll continue with our study. Job is, in many ways, all of us. He is trying to make a good life for himself and his family. He seeks God. He tries to be a good person. He suffers. He asks questions and searches for answers and gets confused.
Job is a character study of what it's like to endure hard times. Last week we talked about emotional honesty in times of adversity. Today, let's talk about spiritual reality in times of adversity.
Let's begin by reading Job 1:1-22.
What can we learn from Job's experience about spiritual reality in times of adversity?
WHEN ADVERSITY HITS, REMEMBER THIS IS WAR We've been trained to doubt the reality of anything we cannot see, touch or hear. The scientific method has no room for anything that cannot be observed. However, Job's story tells us that there is an unseen spiritual world that invades and impacts our experience of life. The invisible world is very real.
(Job 1:6-7) One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 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.”
The Bible tells us that the Lord is real, angels are real, and Satan, the accuser, is real. Invisible and real. We know they are real because Job's life was deeply impacted by them. He was at war with an unseen enemy and so are we:
(Ephesians 6:12) Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Years ago, I read Frank Peretti's novel, This Present Darkness. I loved it. I know it's a work of fiction, but it was a vivid reminder that the spiritual forces of evil are real. In order to stay on course in times of adversity, it's a good idea to remember that the unseen world is real and some parts of it are at war with us.
WHEN ADVERSITY HITS, REMEMBER THERE WILL BE CASUALTIES Job lived in the land of UZ. No one is quite sure where that is, but in verse 3 it is said to be in the East:
(Job 1:3) He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. That's interesting because the Bible says that the Garden of Eden was in the East.
(Genesis 2:8) Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
As we began reading Job chapter one, it felt like we were back in the Garden. Everything was going well. Job was prospering and he was called "the greatest man" (1:3) and he was approved by God:
(Job 1:8) 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.”
Good things happen to good people, right? When life is good and everything's going well, we might be tempted to think, "Ah, heaven on earth." But that's a mistake. As you know, Job's good life came to a sudden halt; everything crashed. Reality struck: he lost his crops, his herds, and his children. Natural disaster and human raiders took everything. But look what was going on behind the scenes:
(Job 1:12) The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
This is a really important insight: we are not living in Paradise. We are living in a war zone. We should not be surprised that there are casualties of war. Bad things happen to good people.
Kim and I went on a wonderful cruise in the Bahamas last March. I jokingly said to Kim, "This is like heaven on earth." Then we had an emergency drill. We had to put on life vests and line up next to our lifeboats. That was a reminder that bad things can happen on "perfect" cruises. It's the same in all of life; we're not living in the Garden of Eden; we're in a war zone. Hard times and casualties are sad but normal.
Maybe I'm jaded, but hard times don't surprise me any more. What does surprise me is people who expect something different. When hard times hit, they get angry at God and bitter in their hearts. It works like poison in their lives, killing their faith and their joy. It steals their ability to comeback from setbacks.
WHEN ADVERSITY HITS, REMEMBER TO PRAISE GOD As far as I can tell, Job did not know what hit him. He did not know that his hard times were caused by a Satanic attack that God permitted. He did what we all do, he put it all on God even although, technically, Job's problems were caused by Satan.
But, where many people get angry and bitter with God, Job turned to God in praise:
(Job 1:20-21) Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
I think it's important to be clear about this: God did not harm Job in any way - he took nothing from Job. He did not kill his kids or steal his sheep. Satan did it. But Job didn't know that; he thought God did it, and yet still he worshipped God and did not curse him.
Job 1:22 (NIV-WS) In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (alternative translation = cursing him).
Satan wins when we refuse to praise God in our hard times. Satan loves to see us turn away from following Jesus, casting off our faith. Satan wants us to turn bitter.
Times of adversity are times to get closer to God, to lean on him, to trust his promises, to rest in his love and to find supernatural strength. But we can't do that when we're angry and bitter. That's why the prophet Habakkuk wrote this during a terrible time:
(Habakkuk 3:17-18) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
CONCLUSION: STAND, FIGHT, WIN! In these days of adversity, remember: God has not left us alone and defenseless. He has given us his power to stand, fight, and win:
(Ephesians 6:10-11) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes ... Ephesians 6:13 (NIV-WS) herefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
We stand in the mighty power of God. We stand in the victory of Jesus. He defeated Satan at the cross. He cheated death at the resurrection. He triumphed over the spiritual forces of evil at the ascension. We live in all the victory of Jesus, so stand, fight, win!
NOTE: After the study, I received a couple of texts with excellent insights. In summary: Hard times are the opportunity to demonstrate the reality of our personal faith. It is tried by fire and when we stand firm in Jesus, clinging to his promises and allowing the adversity to do it's maturing work in us, our faith comes out shining bright and testifying to the faithfulness of Jesus. See James 1 and 1 Peter 1.