Snapshots: Day 44

Snapshots: Day 44

The Snapshot: “God said, “I will be with you.”  (Ex 3:12a) Is just knowing He is here enough? If everything the preachers say is true, it is not. If He is love, I want to sense that love, if He is comfort, I want to sense that comfort. If He says I will provide for you, I want to know that sense of provision. If He says I am the healer, I want to know healing. If I don’t know these things, why not?  What is missing? What am I missing? What? I must “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) That I need to remember to come near to him? (Jas 4:8) I can keep it in my intellect that He will never leave me (Heb 13:5) or I can wait upon Him, desiring to draw near to Him, until I sense He is here. That is a possibility; I’ve known it, so why don’t I do it more often?

Further Consideration: In the previous snapshot we considered some of God’s attributes about His being, His existence, but there are more that pertain to His character which leads to His words and His actions:

He is Faithful, He is Good, He is Just, He is Merciful, He is Gracious, He is Loving. If these things are true – and they are – if my heart isn’t yearning to experience them, there must be something wrong with me!

Thus when God says, “I will be with you,” then all of these things will be part of that experience, knowing His presence in the days that follow. We know that we can trust Him because He never changes in His attitude towards us, we can be assured of His goodness, that strange description that is so difficult to grasp, yet when we do, we have a feeling that it is right, pleasant, enjoyable and we need have no doubts about Him in any shape or kind. And so it goes on; these are the things about God that the Bible is clear about and which make knowing Him not only worthwhile but essential in life.

The apostle Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Rom 8:31) which could be equally said, “Because God is for us, who can be against us.” That is the truth, He is for us. He is with us, indwelling us by His Holy Spirit, working around us by His sovereign power, and ruling from heaven over the affairs of mankind, working them together for our benefit (Rom 8:28). That is almost too good to be true – but it is! But my experiences of Him being “with me” will vary.

There will be the relatively rare times that I referred to previously when His presence is virtually manifest and there is such an awareness of Him there; there will be other times when we have no sense of Him there (although He still is), and there are a multitude of experiences in between. Sometimes He seems very active in our lives, sometimes it seems like He is waiting and still – but He is still there!   Rest in that.

7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

1. God the Comforter

Meditations on Isaiah 40: Introduction

When we come to the Bible to study or meditate, we can opt for themes or we can choose passages. In this present new series we have chosen what we believe to be a highly significant passage of Scripture to study, Isaiah, chapter 40.

We might suggest that there are three divisions in Isaiah: Part 1 warnings of judgment, chapters 1 to 37, Part 2 an historical episode, chapters 38 and 39, and Part 3 words of comfort and encouragement, chapters 40 to 66. In these studies, we will be considering the opening chapter of what we have just called Part 3.

Because Old Testament prophecy is not always easy to take in, before we start a chapter, it is helpful to lay out and outline the chapter. Here is chapter 40:

v.1,2 Instructions to Isaiah – comfort my people for her punishment has been borne

v.3-5 The message is, get ready and make the access for God to come easy

v.6-8 The frailty and transient nature of humanity

v.9-10 Get up high and tell them, God is coming

v.11 He comes as a shepherd to care for Israel

v.12-14 There is no one like the Lord

v.15-17 The nations are as nothing before Him

v.18-20 Don’t compare Him to idols

v.21-22 Realise He is the Creator

v.23-24 He is all powerful and reigns over mankind

v.25,26 There is no one to compare with the Creator

v.27-31 Israel don’t you understand the Lord’s strength power and greatness?

If we accept my breakdown, we can see it falls into two parts. The first part is about comforting God’s people for He wants to come to them. Part 2 distinguishes the Lord from any other ‘god’ or idol or belief and exalts Him as the all-powerful creator of all things, who is also Israel’s provider.  So we will start at the beginning and slowly work our way through with shorter meditations or studies than we usually provide, but longer than the style we refer to as our ‘short meditations’. Throughout we will seek to see just what the Lord is saying to Israel through His prophet and how that ‘fits’ their current situation, and then see how it might apply to us today.


Meditations on Isaiah 40 on: No.1.  God the Comforter

Isa 40:1,2a   Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

Verse 1: God’s word that comes through Isaiah is here very simple and straight forward: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (v.1) and then “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” (v.2a). So often with a prophetic word in the Old Testament, we tend to think, it comes as a strong warning with great strength, but here we find something completely different.

When we come into the New Testament, after the Cross, we find the purpose of prophecy within the church to be for, strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). (Contrast the message to the ‘world’ today, which is simply to repent and believe the Gospel; it is always the same message.)  When we come to the Church, in prophecy at least, there is always to be an element of comfort for those who need it. When the apostle Paul was speaking about Scripture, he said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) so we see that the written word is used to bring us in line with God’s will and will thus train us, rebuke us when we are going the wrong way, correct us and show us the right way, and train us how to live a godly life. That is the foundation for our lives changing.

But then life is sometimes stressful, it is a battle (see Eph 6) and so, within the body of Christ, the gift of personal prophecy comes and strengthens, encourages and comforts us. Indeed, God is spoken of by Paul as a comforter: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) So comfort is very much a part of the New Testament Christian experience.   To comfort someone means to alleviate or free from pain or anguish or anxiety.

In the Old Testament, as we’ve noted, the message was often one of judgment because, as the word came through the prophets to Israel.  It was always in the context of the testimony of Israel and of God’s presence in Israel, and God’s requirements for specific nations. That ‘judgment’ highlighted the sins of the nation and then called for repentance, or even went further and warned of what God was intending to do in respect of the wayward nation. Read the book of Judges and you see this happening again and again as Israel were disciplined by judgment when they kept falling away from the Lord.

Thus, when we come to this word in Isaiah it is remarkably different, and we have to wonder, was it for that moment, or is it a much bigger word that speaks more generally to God’s people in history? As we will see shortly, it was specifically for Jerusalem and Judah, but nevertheless one cannot help wondering if it is in fact one of those more general words to all of God’s people wherever they are in history. Obviously we will consider more of this as we progress through the following verses.

For us within the church today, yes, there may need to be words of correction, but understand even where there is that need, nevertheless there is still that underlying desire of the Father in heaven to comfort, lift and bless His children. When the Lord instructs the prophet to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” He is saying, speak with gentleness, don’t be harsh with them for I want to win their hearts, and that is how the Lord comes to you today. Let Him win your heart with His love.

33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?

26. The Caring Church

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 26. The Caring Church

1 Cor 14:3 the one who prophesies speaks to people for their  strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Recap our Goals: In the previous study we laid out our strategy again: we are examining things that will help us grow. We are examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church.

The Challenges of Change: We went on to reflect on the incredible changes that are coming in our world and the challenges that the enemy would make to our faith in the light of those changes, the challenge of relevancy. I suggested that these things did not affect the reality of the existence of God nor the fact of human sinfulness and our need for salvation.

The Nature of the Church/Kingdom: Now, before we move on into practicalities, I think we need to highlight something that comes out of these two things I have just mentioned, and it is the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God that we have been considering earlier.

Human Need: My starting point is to face the reality of life, and that includes for Christians. Put in its most simple form, it is that each of us needs to feel loved; it is a basic human need. Put another way, each of us from time to time (if not most of the time), need strengthening, encouraging or even comforting. We go through times of feeling weak, we go through times of discouragement and we even go through times of worry or anxiety or pain – and so we have needs to be met.

The Caring Saviour: The second thing is that we have a Saviour who cares for us and who wants to help us. If we had been one of the twelve travelling with Jesus and we were looking down and dejected, I don’t believe Jesus would have ignored us or even chided us; I believe he would have strengthened, encouraged or comforted us privately. But now he has a different body, you and me, but his intentions do not change. His intention is still to strengthen the weak, encourage the downcast, comfort the grieving.

Failure Talk? It may be that someone reading this comes from a military background or a background of high achievement expectations (family expectations can often lay some ungodly perfectionist expectations on us) and emotions get suppressed by macho “get a grip on life for goodness sake!” outlooks. In some churches there is an inability to be honest – everything is just fine (always!) – and any talk about weakness etc. has been made to sound like failure.

Reality: Look, Paul would not have written, “Do not be anxious about anything,” (Phil 4:6) if we didn’t get anxious sometimes, and as for, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God,”  (2 Cor 1:3,4) he certainly wouldn’t have described God like this if we didn’t need comforting from time to time “in all our troubles”. When it comes to times of contact with God or His angels, there are numerous “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” times (e.g. Jud 6:23, Mt 1:20, 2:22, 8:26, 10:26,31, etc. etc.) so that when we are real we can see there are many, many situations where the natural response is fear and so God comes to lift us above that – but it is the natural thing!

Beware Hardness: The problem that also arises here is that when we have been brought up or trained or disciplined into this hard-nosed way of confronting life, not only do we suppress our feelings, but we also look down on those who appear weak or who are showing their feelings. Over the years I have been to many funerals, and taken quite a few, and the spectrum of human feelings is more clearly revealed at a funeral than any other place. Some people stand in the funeral service absolutely stony-faced, while others cry or even wail in ways that are symptomatic of Old Testament Judaism. There is no ‘right’ response and if we look down on people who don’t grieve like we do, or down on people who find it difficult to express their emotions, we are not walking the walk of Jesus. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Rom 12:15) said the apostle Paul.

Carriers of Love: Now why am I saying these things in this Part when we are thinking about reigning with Christ to bring in the kingdom of God? I am saying this, because whatever else we might say about this, if we are not a church of love brought into being by One who is described as love (1 Jn 4:8,16) we are missing the goal. The kingdom is an expression of the love of God and the way we ‘reign’ over circumstances is, at the very least, to be a demonstration of God’s love. When I witness to someone, when I pray over someone, when I preach to people, when I share a word from God with someone, if I do not do it in love, I am missing the point! And that goes for you too!

To Church & World: When I look around me in the church, if my heart is not moved by compassion for those expressing obvious needs, I am missing the point. When I encounter people in the world expressing their needs, if my heart is not moved by compassion to pray for wisdom to know how to act on their behalf, I am missing the point. The kingdom, I say again, is all about bringing and expressing the love of God. That has to be of paramount importance. There is another of these things to be considered in the next study before we move on to the practicalities but these things, I suggest, very much flow over into the practicalities.

17. To Asa

“God turned up” Meditations: 17 :  To Asa

2 Chron 15:1,2 The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Asa’s summary at the start of the record in 2 Chronicles is good: Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands” (2 Chron 14:2-4). We also see that when he went to battle he called on the Lord (2 Chron 14:11) placing his reliance on the Lord, and so the Lord gave him victory. It is as they return from this victory that Azariah gets stirred by the Holy Spirit to come and prophesy over him. The Lord has turned up!

Yes, the Lord had been with him previously and yes the Lord had given him victory, but now the Lord comes close, so to speak, and speaks personally to Asa. This is a new level of experience for Asa. It is a significant prophecy.

It starts out with this somewhat strange sounding word: The LORD is with you when you are with him.” i.e. the Lord will be for you and will bless you as long as your heart is set on the Lord.  It continues: If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” This is both a reassurance and a warning.  Seek God and you will find Him but forsake Him and He won’t stay with you,  i.e. your blessing from God is conditional upon you sticking with Him.  It says you cannot take the Lord’s blessing for granted.  Blessing comes with obedience.

The prophecy then continues to speak of a past time of apostasy that had continued until Israel had sought the Lord (v.3-5). It had been a troubling time for the Lord had brought corrective troubles to turn the people back to Himself (v.6) but now is a time for Asa to take courage: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (v.7). It has effect: “When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the portico of the LORD’s temple.” (v.8). What we find here is the Lord speaking to motivate this king to move out further in his reforms.

Isn’t this what prophecy is all about? Paul taught, “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). Yes, sometimes there will be a corrective element in it, even a teaching element sometimes, but primarily it is to strengthen, encourage and comfort. The Lord knows that in this Fallen World so often we feel weak, so often we feel down and defeated, and so often we feel heartbroken, and thus He speaks to support, build and energise us.

See the effect on Asa.  He gathers the people together, which includes some of the Israelites from the north (v.9,10) and they sacrifice (v.11) and enter into a covenant together to seek the Lord (v.12) and this they did (v.15). Furthermore he dealt with idolatry within the royal family (v.16) and although he didn’t go up into Israel and purge that land (v.17) he was committed to God and restored the Temple (v.18).  This is how prophecy should work!  It should have the effect of bringing transformation and kingdom life.  This prophecy had been a strong encouraging word and it had effect – for a time.

Unfortunately time passed – 36 years (2 Chron 16:1) – and Asa forgot the importance of that initial word that had set him on a good path.  When Israel arose to threaten them he did not call on the Lord but on the king of Aram (2 Chron 16:2-).  Thus the Lord turned up again through another of His men and rebuked him for it (v.7-9) Asa took it badly (v.10) and so when he was afflicted with a foot disease he did not call on the Lord for help (v.12) and two years later he died.

The lesson is clear: the Lord loves us and will come with words of encouragement and we are to hold on to those – and keep on holding to them. Within them there is a basic principle – blessing comes from obedience. The other side of that same coin is that we are not to take the Lord for granted and drift from Him for the blessing remains only as long as He does, for it is a Fallen World and we need the Lord in everything we are and everything we do. When we move away from Him we become vulnerable to sin and Satan and the ways of the world. The call is to hold fast to the Lord.

56. Where is Wisdom?

Meditations in Job : 56.  Where is Wisdom and Understanding

Job 28:12,13 But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.

In this final discourse from Job we have noted his cynical challenge to his friends (26:1-4), his acknowledgement of the mystery of God (26:5-14), his claim to righteousness (27:1-6) and his acknowledgement that God deals with the wicked (27:7-23).  Next he challenges the very basic premise of these friends – that wisdom and understanding can be found this side of heaven.

In chapter 28 he ponders on where wisdom comes from. In 28:1-11 he simply speaks about man’s activity in mining gold (v.1), iron and copper (v.2), and sapphires (v.6). He majors on the great endeavours that are needed to dig deep into the earth to find these things of great worth, and he does this to contrast the finding of wisdom.  In our verses above he asks where wisdom can be found.  Man doesn’t value it, he maintains, so it is in very short supply. It’s not in the natural world (oceans, v.14), it cannot be bought (v.15,16) and yet its value far exceeds that of precious stones (v.17-19).  Where therefore does it come from, he asks again (v.20), for it is hidden from us (v.21) and even the afterlife hasn’t got it (v.22).  No, he concludes, God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells,” (v.23).  Why? Because, “he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (v.24)  i.e. because the Lord knows everything and sees everything and therefore knows how everything works (v.25-27).   Moreover, He has declared to man that, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (v.28) i.e. wisdom comes with a right relationship with the Lord and a life that flows out of that relationship. This is what wisdom is all about.

In chapter 29 he looks back on how things had been, before these calamities had come upon him. He remembers how God had been with him and he had been blessed (29:1-6). In those days he had been respected in the city (29:7-11) because of all his good works in helping the poor and needy (29:12-17).  In those days he had felt utterly secure (29:18-20) and his counsel had been gladly received by all who sought him out (29:21-25).

In chapter 30 he faces what has happened.  Now all that has changed!  He had counseled and sought to help those who were the dregs of society (30:1-8) but now their sons mock him (v.1,9), they detest him (v.10), they throw off restraint (v.11), they attack him (v.12-14) and he is left in a place of terror (v.15).  Now he is in a place of physical anguish (v.14-19) and although he cries out to the Lord he gets no answer (v.20).  Indeed it seems like the Lord attacks him (v.21-23).  It’s like it’s all been turned upside down. “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress.” (v.24)  That’s what you’d expect!

He thinks back to those he has responded to in similar situations: “Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?” (v.25) Might he not have expected similar?  But, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.” (v.26-28)  Part of the awfulness of this trial is the absence of help, the failure to be given comfort. Instead of comfort he’s just received accusations (darkness) and ongoing anguish continues as he has to defend himself (churning inside) and his character has been blackened and he’s left crying for help.  He feels a total outcast, “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls,” (v.29) and his physical affliction has just got worse: “My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever,” (v.30) and his inner anguish just gets worse: “My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing.” (v.31).

As we have quickly scanned these three chapters of Job’s outpouring, we have caught again a little of the awfulness of what has happened to him, the terrible contrast between what was and what he now is.  We have also seen the awfulness of the lack of help, encouragement and solace.  It has been said that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.  Perhaps this is the original example of that.  When he needed comfort, all he received was criticism.  When he needed compassion all he received was condemnation. His afflictions are far more than merely physical, or even the loss of his family and life; his afflictions include that lack of understanding and feelings from his friends. How do we stand up under such scrutiny? How do we measure up in the light of our responses to the fallen around us?

41. False Comforters

Meditations in Job : 41.  False Comforters

Job 16:2   I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!

Comfort, in modern usage, is normally about having nice things in our homes. We don’t tend to speak about comforting another unless it is in respect of a small child, yet the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as the Comforter in older versions, or the Counsellor in more modern versions, for a counsellor is simply someone who brings comfort. The psalmist wrote, May your unfailing love be my comfort,” (Psa 119:76). Knowing the God is a God of love and that all He does for us is an expression of His love, is a comfort to us. We need comforting when we are in worrying or difficult circumstances, and in a fallen world, that is quite often! Here is Job sitting in total misery (if you have forgotten, go back and read his earlier anguish in chapter 3) and in dire need of comfort. We have travelled this path before but it bears treading again. When you are in such a place what is it you want? Comfort! Well, yes, but what does that really mean? You want understanding acceptance, you want your friend to lift and encourage you with words that help. The last thing you want is words that condemn or judge, but that is what Job has been receiving!

Thus now as he responds to Eliphaz’s last outpouring, his first response is not to reply to the judgement but to express what he feels about these three ‘friends’. (We sometimes say, “With friends like that, who needs enemies!”)  What does he call them? Miserable comforters! That’s right, go for it, Job, you tell them! He’s been waiting for a simple word of encouragement and all he has received from them have been long rambling tirades! Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (v.3a). He despairs that they seem to go on and on. He wonders what is wrong with them: “What ails you that you keep on arguing?” (v.3b). It’s like he says, “What is it with you guys that you just have to keep on and on at me. Why can’t you stop?”

But then he thinks what it would be like if the boot were on the other foot, if it were him in their position and they were in his: “I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.” (v.4). Yes, anyone can make fine sounding words when they are feeling fit, healthy and secure; that is easy! But, he goes on, I wouldn’t do that to you! “But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (v.5).  I wouldn’t want to just go on at you; I would want to encourage, comfort and somehow bring you some relief if I could.

This little passage thus challenges us once again on the sort of people we are. I Have noticed that there are some people who just want to be strengthened and confirmed in their state of discouragement, and so they go and find others who they know are the same and the two of them groan together about how bad the world is, and go away conformed in their belief that life is bad and people are nasty and as for God….!  Those sort of people, it seems don’t want to be lifted and encouraged because if they were it would mean that they would have to take responsibility for their lives and for others around them, and they don’t want that.

But there are others who simply have low self-esteem because of the hard knocks of life, and although it may be a long, slow process, they are willing to receive gentle uplifting when it is given. But there comes the challenge, are we willing to be those who will bring such gentle and gradual uplift? Bringing encouragement to others requires persistence because their state means it is difficult for them to be lifted, and so that gentle understanding acceptance that we have spoken of, needs to come with a consistence that proved to our friend that it is not an artificial quick fix approach. No, our friend who needs lifting, wants to know that our care is genuine and that it won’t only come in one minute bursts. I knew someone who seemed to express care almost ‘professionally’. You were left feeling that they said what they said because it was their duty, and they would rather not have to do it, if only you would get yourself sorted out! Indeed as soon asd hey left you they were off on the next quest and you were forgotten.

That’s not what someone who needs lifting wants. They want to know that they are important to you, not just when you are before them but all the time. Paul was staggeringly good at this: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Eph 1:15,16) Wow! They were on his mind all the time! No, when we comfort another, part of that comfort comes in the knowledge that they are important to us. I have a terrible memory but I am aware that remembering people’s names is important. In a large church this is especially difficult but at least with just a relatively small number, surely we can show our care by remembering people’s names – and the things they shared with us when we last spoke. Little things perhaps, but they help people feel you care – and you do if you work on it. Soon you will find you are thinking about them, praying for them and wondering how they are getting on. It is something to be learned and something to be worked on, but if we do we will avoid being like Job’s comforters, who merely pulled him down further.

Why not set yourself a task to focus on a small number of people who you know struggle with life and who just need loving acceptance, and work at giving it to them. This won’t be a short term project so don’t embark on it lightly, but if you settle in for he long haul, you may find yourself helping a number of lives to be transformed in a significant and meaningful way.