A Job Lot of Trouble…
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” [Job 2:10 NIV]
If you were to look at the events of my life, it would be fair to say that a great deal of them could be considered trouble. Trouble appears to have followed me around. I have been both troubled and troublesome.
Some of the trouble came ‘out of the blue’ – like an HGV smashing through the front room of your life. Some of it was foreseen and expected. And some of it was my own stupid fault. It was like that as far back as I can remember.
Now, this isn’t an exercise in self-pity. Nor am I seeking pity from anyone else. To be honest, of late, I see the trouble in my life as vital; without it I simply wouldn’t be equipped for the work that is in front of us. It has taken a while to get to this place. But I am there now…and wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
It’s funny, because I kind of expected the trouble to disappear when I first believed. That was all part of the promise, I thought. Of course, it isn’t that simple. And it was only when I became a Christian that the real trouble started. It seemed to happen all around me. It happened to me. It happened to my friends. It happened to my family.
As a result of such a calamitous life, you develop a choice system – to be philosophical and objective about it or to blame God/Yourself/Everyone Else/All of the Above (Delete as applicable). You get to feeling a bit of an expert on such matters.
I should declare here at this point that I believe that all trouble is relative. That is to say, that an event I might deem as a walk in the park, to the next person could be as devastating as some of the things that have floored me. And I often stand in awe of people who tell me their tales of woe and wonder how they survived – how they simply just didn’t curl up and die. Believe me, some of the things I have heard from others make my own dark experiences look like a tea party. I have been humbled many times before people whom the world has crushed, abused, beaten up and tried to destroy.
This subject has been on my mind for a while now. With all that I write here there is always a context. Usually the context is Cornerstone itself (don’t get me wrong, Cornerstone has brought a whole heap of trouble of its own), but on this occasion I am inclined to set this dialogue into the context of how Christians view and deal with trouble. If I am honest, I don’t think we either view it objectively or deal with it constructively.
I am not claiming to have the answer. But, instead, I wish to open a dialogue on trouble and how to deal with it. The temptation is to make some wide, sweeping and deeply observant remarks about life and finish up with some selective quotes from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ poem. Job done. Sadly, for me, it can’t be like that. We have to get to the bottom of this. Trouble is coming. Lots of trouble. Like the world has never known before. And we need to learn how to face it.
The Bible is my ‘go to’. It has to be. The fixed reference point. Without it I would be lost. You can read the Bible in several ways; as a manual to life, as a love story, as a history book. Often, it comes down to perspective. It depends on your outlook. But for the purposes of this dialogue I am going to adopt a topical approach. And the topic is trouble.
It was always going to be trouble. From the moment the serpent persuaded Eve to stop trusting in what God had said, it was trouble. If we look at that moment as ‘ground zero’ (I have to say I dislike this phrase intensively but it does facilitate a powerful image in many situations). From the moment that Eve took the fruit and pursed her lips to taste it, the world has been subjected to the consequences of her actions. From that ground zero it spirals outward. Imagine a fractal image. At its centre is the first act of defiance. As the fractal expands, you see the effects ripple out, increasing in size.
Within moments of eating the fruit, fear had crept in. They hid themselves from God. What follows are curses. Natural consequences to their actions. Unstoppable. Built into the system of life in advance by God. Why? Who knows. Some things are meant to remain a mystery. But what isn’t a mystery is that God is just. Totally and completely just. It is impossible for Him not to be. And because He is just, then the consequences of that initial act of disobedience, like every single one since, have to be punished. There is no other way. Thankfully for all of us, rather than facing the punishment of a just God, He sacrificed His own son. Jesus took the punishment that was due to us. Due to Adam, due to Eve, due to you, due to me. And because Jesus took the punishment in our place, God’s sense of justice was satisfied. What does that actually mean? It means that God looks at me and, despite all the myriads of punishable sins I have committed, He sees that Jesus took my place and died instead of me. And that’s the good news – God has no need to punish me. Jesus took it for me. He took my rightful place. Hold this thought: God has no need to punish me. None whatsoever.
So, if God isn’t punishing me, why do I still have trouble?
Before we look at that particular question, let us first consider a life without trouble. Of course, we will peer into the lives of some and witness no obvious trouble. Some people appear to simply float through life without care or collision. But, the reality is that whatever we think we might see, there is always trouble. It just varies how intense it might be. Let us accept that everyone has trouble, whether or not they are aware of it at some point in their lives.
A life without trouble would mean that we were always happy; always satisfied; always in abundance; always healthy; always wealthy…and so on. Nice as it might sound, it would ultimately mean that we would have no need for God. Imagine that!
But the true reality is that at the moment that Adam and Eve ate the fruit which opened their eyes to the knowledge of good and evil, trouble entered mankind. The consequence of that disobedience, that sin, was trouble. Trouble for the entire human race thereafter, passed along from generation to generation in the blood. Sin entered the world through one man and so did the consequences:
“…just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned.” [Romans 5:12 NKJV]
There is, of course, good news to go with that. But, for the moment, let us look at the consequences of sin – the trouble. If we accept that God has no need to punish us for the day to day stuff that we do wrong then the troubling things we face must serve a different purpose. If not to punish, then what purpose do they serve?
Let me use a recent example to build a picture for you. At the start of the Cornerstone Project, it was clear that God had called us to do something different. Or rather, something differently. There are other people feeding the poor and clothing the naked all over the place, so there is nothing different there. But the way in which we felt led to do it is fairly rare. Now, just because we have chosen to do it this way doesn’t mean we have criticism for anyone else’s methodology. This is just what we felt called to do. Most people, when they hear of it, think we’re nuts.
The something different we were led to do was not to ask anyone for anything. To never hold out our hands for money or goods. Instead, we ask only God. Now, when you have no regular income whatsoever, this becomes a huge leap of faith in its own right. When I first realised that this was the way God was leading us I was scared. But once I started to get my head around it I realised there was something else more vital than fear. In the past I have allowed fear to be a major motivator in my life. But God turned that view upside down for me when He showed that choosing this way; His way, we could glorify Him fully. There were basically three options at the beginning for funding the work that needed doing in order to get Cornerstone to a place of being ready to open. We could sell (our home), borrow (against home or Cornerstone), or believe. With sell or borrow it would be easy to glorify ourselves. We could try to glorify God but ultimately it would have looked to everyone as, at best, prudence on our part. However, if we went for the believe option and believed God for all of the provision, then we could glorify Him totally. This is how it works in practice: We identify what we need. We petition God to make provision for that need. We tell no one else what we are praying for until we actually receive it and then we can tell people how we came to receive it. Sometimes things just turn up that we didn’t even pray for and we realise that we should have been praying for them! It has an amazing effect on people. Sometimes it is incredulous wonder; other times it encourages them to believe in God for their own needs. But the net result is always that all of the glory goes to God.
And when we decided that the ‘believe’ option was the one for us, we started to encounter trouble. In fact, it has been a whole heap of trouble. A job lot, you might say. At every turn, at every decision, at every choice, there it was. Sometimes it came in the form of challenging phone calls from the bank, and at other times it came in the very real form of bailiffs turning up at our house with a court order saying they could remove goods to the value of £7000 for unpaid Non Domestic Rates – even though we were exempt from paying them. At times, it seemed incessant – we would get a whole day of it from a wide variety of sources. At times I lost my cool. The intensity was horrendous. It becomes very easy to lose sight of God and His purposes when you are surrounded on all sides. I got to feeling sorry for myself. I shouted at God…a lot. I was angry. I was tired. It ‘felt’ like God had abandoned us, or was punishing us for something. We questioned everything we were doing, everything we had ever done. We repented. We declared. We proclaimed. We bound. We loosed. We clutched at straws. None of it made the slightest difference. The trouble remained. But, the trouble wasn’t the real trouble at all. It was the way we were dealing with it that was the trouble.
I don’t know about you – I can only speak from my own experience – but there appears to be a culture within modern churches that has an odd approach to trouble. We tend to go to war. Now the subject of Spiritual Warfare is vast, and not something that I intend to go into now. But, I will say that my experience is that when you tell people in church of your troubles they want to start praying in loud tongues and binding this and loosing that. Hardly surprising when you think about it. That’s what many of us are taught to do. I am not saying there is anything wrong with it but there is very little in the New Testament to support some of the practices we witness in prayer meetings. As I have said before, I am pursuing the authentic. I’m not criticising anything that is going on. But I am questioning its effectiveness. Jesus said ‘follow me’. And when I look at the gospels I don’t see anything like we see in church meetings. But I do see Jesus using the authority that God gave him. That same authority He then gave to us:
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” [Colossians 2:9 NIV]
Putting these practices aside and looking at my general approach to trouble, I started to see what the real problem was. It came down to how I viewed the trouble itself. You see, either the increased trouble was coincidence or it was what we modern Christians like to term as ‘opposition’. Obviously, and because I pray ‘Your will be done’, it wasn’t a coincidence that the trouble started when we decided to trust in God. So, that made it some kind of opposition. So, how does it work?
The book of Job provides possibly the best example of what we call opposition. Before we look at that I want you to think about a phrase that helps to keep the perspective right – ‘as above, so below’. Before you start thinking of the film with the same title, I have borrowed the phrase from Mark Fairley of the Fuel Project. Mark has made a series of films explaining misconceptions from both life and the Bible. One series in particular is essential viewing for anyone wishing to rediscover New Testament Christianity. It is called ‘Know Your Enemy’ and can be found here.
The reason I mention the phrase ‘as above, so below’ is that it helps me to remember that there is an invisible world that governs the physical world…and not the other way around. With that in mind let’s look at the example of Job.
In the first chapter we learn that Job is upright and blameless. He was upright and shunned evil. Basically, he was an all round good guy. Then in verse 6 starts one of the most interesting passages of the entire Bible.
“One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going to and fro in it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” [Job 1:6-8a NIV]
Let’s just pause there. We can make some deductions from the text. Firstly, that the angels (good and bad) are accountable to God. We can also fairly safely assume that as God dwells in heaven, that this assembly took place there – which means that Satan was/is allowed before the throne. In the book of Revelation it is written that the accuser stands before God day and night accusing the saints continually (12:10). Thirdly, the name Satan literally means the Opponent; the hater; the accuser; one who resists, obstructs, and hinders whatever is good. And then, God asks Satan if he has taken a look at Job.
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” [Job 1:9-12a NIV]
Clearly, Satan knew who Job was. He knew enough of him to know that it would be pointless to attempt to trouble him because he could only do such things with permission from God Himself. In fact, Satan challenges God to strike Job Himself. God then gives Satan the authority to act in any way he chooses, without touching him. This dialogue reveals that God is prepared to allow us to be tested to reveal the depth of our love for Him.
What followed was shocking and cost Job just about everything he had. Notice in chapter 1:16 it says ‘the fire of God fell from the sky’. Job, however, at hearing all of this horrendous news didn’t start shaking his fist at God. No. He fell to the ground and worshipped him. There’s a tough example to follow. And we are told that Job didn’t sin by charging God with the wrongdoing. The reason I drew attention to the ‘fire of God’ line above is because of what follows in chapter 2. We are shown the same assembly before God but on a different day. Once again God asks Satan where he has been and then offers Job to Satan for consideration. But this time, after the offer comes an extraordinary statement that we prefer to gloss over.
“And he still maintains integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” [Job 2:3b NIV]
The King James Version reads like this:
“and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.”
Another pause. Really? This reads that Satan incited God to act against Job. Incited suggests that God gave into rage or was suckered into ruining Job’s life. The word ‘movedst’ in Strong’s Concordance offers the following definition:
“H5496 sut – properly to prick, i.e. (figuratively) stimulate, by implication to seduce: – entice, move, persuade, provoke, remove, set on, stir up, take away.”
Now, I don’t know about you but I find it hard to believe that God allowed Satan to seduce Him. But I can believe its meaning is more in line with that only God has the power to perform such acts (think of the fire) but that He gave to Satan, for that purpose alone, the authority to call upon the power of God into to test Job’s resolve. We know that supernatural feats are performed by people not loyal to God. We see that with Moses and Pharaoh and with Balaam. It is as if you can tune into or tap into that supernatural resource and use it, providing you have the authority. Take a look at Acts 19:13-16. The spirits, evil ones we are told, recognised the authority of Jesus and even Paul, but these guys had neither. They had nevertheless been driving out evil spirits until one spirit challenged them.
I said earlier that the purpose of this wasn’t to provide an answer but to start a dialogue. I do think we have a tendency, in the church, to look at all of this from a blinkered stance. Now, and I could get hung by my own petard here, some of you will be saying that Job was before the redemptive work of the cross and that Satan was cast down from heaven. I hear you. But I will point you to look closely at Revelation 12:10. It is the same accuser as in Job. The fulfilment of Satan being cast out of heaven may have happened already (Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven after the disciples exercised their authority – see Luke 10) but it may be prophetic. The scripture in Revelation 12 suggests that he is there day and night accusing the saints.
The point I will make here is that God clearly allows Satan, and others, to tap into supernatural powers. God, who is wise beyond anyone or anything else, knows that by testing us or allowing us to be tested, we learn to rely upon Him all the more. Read the whole book of Job and see what God was really trying to reveal in Job. It wasn’t his righteousness. It was his pride and arrogance.
I believe that God allows trouble to come our way for the purpose of revealing in us the traits that hinder our walk with Him. He forces us into the corners of our lives that we might learn to trust Him. I am learning this. And will never stop. The recent troubles have shown me my own shortcomings and helped me to submit my way to God. Especially the small stuff. I have learnt more about how much God loves me in these troubles than anything else. And this is stuff you can’t learn from a book.
If you have trouble right now then rejoice. Give thanks to God because he already considers that you are worthy of improvement. James 1 tells us to consider it pure joy when we face troubles. And Romans 5 says that we should glory in tribulation. I used to think that these lines were just two disciples putting on a brave face – a positive mental attitude. I was wrong. They said it because it is true. Praise God in the troubles.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 and 17-18 NIV]
My troubles will continue, of that I am sure. But I am learning something of how to recognise them for what they are when they arrive. Think differently about trouble. Don’t go looking for it, but when it arrives embrace the situation just as Job did. Just as Paul and James did. Just as Jesus did that night in the garden. No coincidence that. The two gardens. No coincidence. We must follow Jesus. He yielded to God’s will. We must do the same.