Sermon series: Lessons from Job

  1. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering - Job 1-2

  2. Six questions when giving or receiving advice - Job

  3. Three hard truths about wisdom - Job 28

  4. Job's perfect storm - Job 30, 40, 42

  5. How to respond to a powerful and loving God - Job 42

  • eliminate the pain

  • stop the questions

  • create a logical reason for your suffering.

Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will

  1. remind you that God is in control

  2. be a rare gift to God

  3. bring you closer to God.

Andy uses a preaching method of a "key illustration" that runs throughout the sermon.

Key Illustration, Part I: When 38-year-old Carlotta Bennett realized the water in her house had reached her family's hiding place in the attic, she lost control of her emotions. She had good reason to panic. Hurricane Katrina was blowing sections of the roof off her home, her house was off its foundation, and the rising water was threatening to drown the five people trapped in the attic.

Two, huge pecan trees had fallen around the house, one in the front, the other in the back. As the house shifted from side to side, the trees wedged the house in place and kept it from collapsing. Nevertheless, every new blast of wind, and the rising water, threatened to kill the entire family.

That's when Carlotta's 4-year-old daughter decided it was time to pray.

"I've never been so scared in my life," Bennett said, "but that's when Arminta said, 'Mama, you've got to calm down. Let's pray.'" She grabbed all of us by the hand, and started praying."

When the child finished praying, the water started receding. When the family scrambled down the attic stairs, they found almost every entrance blocked by the trees that had saved their lives.

Clayberg Bennett, Carlotta's husband, led his family through a window, and all five members gingerly made their way to a Middle School, where they would stay for the next 10 days.

"Once it was over, we had to get out, but we couldn't get out the door," Carlotta said. "The roots of that tree pulled the porch up in front of the door, so we had to climb out a window. A beam fell on my back, so I couldn't hardly walk. Once we got outside, we had to walk on top of debris, with nails sticking up everywhere, and all kinds of seafood on the ground – it was awful."

Four people in the neighborhood were dead, and many were injured. The sound of howling winds gave way to the sounds of screaming people, and collapsing houses. A casino barge floated down the Bennett's street, which was less than two blocks from the coast.

"There was a shed floating down our street, and a riding lawnmower," Bennett said. "There were photo albums open in our yard, photo albums from other people's homes. We had two cars, but they just left me. We lost everything."

At the middle school, more than 350 people, many of them injured, lived without running water or electricity for the next week and a half. The Red Cross delivered the first loads of food and juices, and families bathed outside from a water spigot. Only later did they find that the water was contaminated. Inside the school, toilets refused to flush, and conditions were becoming dangerously unhealthy. After five days, most of the families moved outside, where they lived on the parking lot for five more days.

With their world in disarray, and fading hopes for a rescue, the Bennett's and other destitute families began to pray for a miracle. In the face of such a disaster, it was the only thing they knew how to do. (Note: This illustration is completed as the conclusion of the sermon.)

People have been dealing with the destructive power of hurricanes and earthquakes and tornadoes as long as humans and the forces of nature have been doing battle. When the storms finally subside, another battle rages.

It's the battle of the heart, as people ask a very important question: Why would the God who created us allow so much suffering?

Thankfully, the Bible isn't afraid of the tough questions about suffering. One of the oldest stories in recorded history anchors a heavy place in the Bible, as a man named Job undergoes so much suffering, no mother on earth would ever again give her son Job's name. But by no means have we forgotten Job. In fact, the way he dealt with his suffering has been a source of strength ever since people began searching the Bible for answers.

Job responded to his suffering with great faith. His story, and his response, leaves us with a very important question: How will you respond, when your world caves in? Will you dare choose faith?

If you make the choice of faith, the battle with suffering is far from over. Like the water-logged Bennett family in Biloxi, sometimes the biggest battle comes after the storm has passed.

This message has a simple outline. We'll take a look at three things choosing faith won't do for someone who suffers, and three things choosing faith will do.

1. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will not eliminate the pain.

Job was nearly crushed by the pain of suffering. He tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell to the ground when he heard that his children had died (Job 1:20). His physical ailments were so painful, he used broken pottery as the instruments in his homemade surgery (Job 2:7).

And yet in the midst of such pain and heartache, Job issued some of the greatest statements of faith ever heard.

"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." (Job 1:21)

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10)

How is it that a man can choose such great faith, and still feel such great pain? How else could it be? If we take the risk of loving those around us, the grief will be tremendous if those we love are taken from us. The alternative to grief is to never love at all, and Job simply would not take that alternative.

Illustration: A preaching professor at Harvard University tells the story of the year his 5-year-old son was working on an art project in his kindergarten class. It was made of plaster, resembled nothing in particular, but with some paint, sparkle and time in a kiln, it was ready to be wrapped as a gift. He wrapped it himself, and was beside himself with excitement. It would be a gift for his father, one three months in the making.

Early in December, when the child could hardly contain the secret, the last day of school finally came. All the parents arrived for the big Christmas play, and when the students left for home, they were finally allowed to take their ceramic presents home. The professor's son secured his gift, ran toward his parents, tripped, and fell to the floor. The gift went airborne, and when it landed on the cafeteria floor, the shattering sound stopped all conversations. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, as all involved considered the magnitude of the loss. For a 5-year-old, there had never been a more expensive gift. He crumpled down on the floor next to his broken gift and just started crying.

Both parents rushed to their son, but the father was uncomfortable with the moment. People were watching. His son was crying. He patted the boy on the head and said, "Son, it's OK – it doesn't matter." His wife glared at the great professor. "Oh yes, it matters," she said to both of her men, "Oh yes, it does matter." She cradled her son in her arms, rocked him back and forth, and cried with him.

In a few minutes, the crying ceased. "Now," said the mother, "let's go home and see what can be made with what's left." And so with mother's magic and a glue gun, they put together from the broken pieces a multi-colored butterfly. Amazingly, the artwork after the tragedy was actually much more beautiful than what it had been in a pre-broken state.

At Christmas, the gift was finally given, and as long as he taught at Harvard, the professor kept the butterfly on his desk. It was a constant reminder that grief is real, and that loss hurts. It was also a reminder that from great loss, great beauty can eventually emerge.

2. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will not stop the questions.

In the book of Job, two chapters of great faith are followed immediately by 35 chapters of great questions.

Job wasn't alone with his questions. Jeremiah couldn't preach without weeping, questioning how God could have allowed such despair.

David wrestled with questions for years, especially while hiding from Saul and wondering if he'd even live to see the reign the prophet had said would be his. Remember how he began his Psalm 13?

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?How long will you hide your face from me?

Paul wasted two years in a prison cell in Caesarea, right in the middle of his best church-planting days. Maybe that's where he learned that the Holy Spirit would take over his desperate prayers, when he had run out of painful words.

Romans 8:26-27 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searched our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."

The questions about suffering even reached the mouth of Jesus, as he genuinely wrestled with the internal agony before the crucifixion. "Must I really do this?" he asked, under such stress that blood vessels popped in his forehead. "Is there no other way?" (See Luke 22:42-43)

3. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will not create a "logical" reason for your suffering.

The book of Job presents one of the most unusual pictures in all the Bible. The God of all the universe entertains an audience with Satan. The subject of their celestial conversation is a nearly flawless man, and how he might be tortured. It's a test fit for the Roman Coliseum, and God Himself takes a seat to see how much of a beating the overpowered one can take. We don't like anything about the story. We don't like God having a conversation with the enemy. We don't like God watching from the sidelines. We don't enjoy the results of the blood-letting. Nothing about this story seems to make sense, and it certainly isn't satisfying.

That's part of the point. Suffering doesn't make sense, either. The more natural expectation in life is spelled out in the first paragraph of Job. We want for every new baby a good family, a good childhood, a good education, eventually a fulfilling and well-compensated job, a good home, and a retirement set against the sunset of a perfect life. We want the first paragraph of Job, which tells us this man was blameless, upright, righteous, and the greatest man among his people. He was a man who did without something we'd all like to do without. He was a man without suffering.

Our expectation of such a life soon collides with reality. Suffering comes well armed, with grief, hardship, misfortune, illness, crisis, tragedy and more. It pays no attention to age, sex, nationality, or the size of one's bank account.

In the midst of such hardship, faith is still an option, even if it appears illogical to choose faith. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering, as Job did, may look like insanity to all who watch. Job's friends tried mightily to find logic while they looked at the illogical comparison of great faith, and great suffering. Job's wife certainly didn't think highly of her husband's nonsensical faith. Her only lines in the book? "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (2:9)

A lot of things about faith don't make sense to those outside the circle of faith. Eventually, God would work his greatest triumph through what appeared to be His greatest loss. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing," Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." – 1 Cor. 1:18

Despite all of the reasons why Job might not have chosen faith in the midst of his suffering, he chose faith anyway. By doing so, he made the better choice, by far, and survived his season of grief. His choices also illustrate the wonderful things faith will do for us, if we'll make the choice of faith in the midst of suffering.

1. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering WILL remind you that God is in control.

What a tough choice! When we choose faith, we must trust the very God who allows the difficult circumstances in the first place.

But look carefully at Job's story. The only being in complete control of all events, is God. Throughout the entire event, God is always in control. Choosing faith doesn't allow God to be in control – it only reminds us that this truth has always been, and will always be.

Study the conversation between God and Satan. Job would have struggled with such a conversation as much as we do. Job wouldn't have liked the conversation, nor would it have made sense to him. But there's no doubt that the conversation was crystal clear to God. God wasn't tricked by Satan. He didn't misunderstand. God carefully weighed the options, considered the ramifications, and made a choice. At no time was God out of control.

What are our options in the midst of out-of-control suffering? On the one hand, we could reject the God who allows suffering. Many do. On the other hand, we could trust the only Being in all Creation that remains in control above all evil, and all suffering. Though suffering doesn't make sense, and faith in the midst of suffering seems to make even less sense, placing your life in the hands of the only God who can take care of you in this world and the next is ultimately the only logical action a person can ever take.

2. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will be a rare gift to God.

Anyone can sing a song of praise on the good days. All of us have. But it takes a person of tremendous faith, and tremendous spiritual maturity to sing those same songs of praise on the bad days. If you can pull it off, you will give God a precious gift of worship that may be unlike any gift you would ever give Him again.

Job was wise enough to know that God had controlled the good days, and the success of his life, just as surely as God was now controlling the bad days. Beyond that, Job learned a lesson that must be remembered in a time of suffering. Nothing about your present circumstances – be they good or bad – have changed the first thing about the nature of God. God is still the same today, just as He was the same yesterday, and the same He will be tomorrow. That God is always worthy of praise.

In the midst of the worst of it, when he knew so little that seemed secure, Job hung on to one truth. "I know that my Redeemer lives," he told his more comfortable friends, "and that in the end he will stand upon the earth." (Job 19:25) Without the circumstances, we might not have remembered Job's words at all. Understanding how bad Job had it when he said such a thing is what makes the words memorable to us, and a precious gift to God.

Job wasn't the last man to give such a gift to the God who allowed terrible pain. Long before he wrote the words "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, 'Rejoice!'" Paul lived those words. (Philippians 4:4)

On their first visit to Philippi, Paul and Silas were wrongly accused, beaten severely, and thrown into painful stocks in the town dungeon. What were they doing at midnight? According to the history of Acts 16, they were singing their songs of praise to the same God who'd let them go through a Job-like day.

During the midnight song service, a miraculous earthquake came with just enough power to free the men, but not kill them. That single day of suffering, coupled with the way two faith-driven men reacted to that suffering, created a church in Philippi that would help change the world. It was one of the greatest gifts either man ever gave their Savior. Had they missed the opportunity, they would have never had such a great harvest in that community.

The ultimate gift of worship in the midst of suffering? Watch Jesus as he struggled with the weight of the cross, the burden of the task, and the unspeakable pain of the crucifixion. Through it all, he committed to the will of the Father, and never let his Spirit be committed anywhere else.

If you're in the midst of suffering, you're also in the midst of an incredible opportunity. If you can worship now, the gift you give may be more valuable than it ever has been, or ever will be again.

3. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering will bring you closer to God.

Though he didn't know it yet, Job was on his way to the most intimate encounter with God that he'd ever have in his lifetime. Through the season of suffering that had fallen upon him, he was starting a short journey that would lead to his greatest understanding of who God was. The road of suffering was the only road that would lead him to a more intimate encounter with God.

Unfortunately, not every person comes closer to God on the road of suffering. Some use the road to go in the opposite direction, going further away from God than ever before. Pharaoh, for instance, destroyed his entire country when he refused to acknowledge God in the midst of the pre-exodus suffering. Most of the kings that would rule the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah couldn't find faith in the midst of various hardships, and both kingdoms fell as a direct result of their faithlessness. A rich man, afraid to suffer the loss of his material wealth, missed walking with the Messiah. Judas was overwhelmed by his own, self-inflicted heartache, and he missed the resurrection.

But for every lost opportunity, the Bible provides plenty of success stories.

All of the patriarchs – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses – suffered for decades before seeing how faithful God could be, to those who simply would not let go of the rope of faith. David became more than a king. He became the most beloved song-writer in the history of faith, and most of his great psalms came straight out of his seasons of suffering.

After the heady days of popularity disappeared, the disciples knew suffering. Thankfully, they also found a life-changing resurrection at the end of the worst weekend of their lives. To say that they learned more about God through that weekend would be the understatement of history! They found that the Jesus they'd followed was the confirmed Christ, the Son of God . . . a Messiah who faced great suffering with great courage.

Ever since, those who have suffered and looked for God have been finding hope in the Savior who died for them.

Key Illustration, part II: For more than a week, the Bennett's suffered in a forgotten corner of Biloxi. The nation's focus was on flooded New Orleans. Few reporters had waded the waters of Mississippi to see the damage there. However, one news team finally found the families living on a Middle School parking lot. The pictures and the stories were soon beamed around the country.

Rev. Matt Stacy, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in tiny Pavo, Georgia, decided it was time to act. He arranged for eight busses to pick up the hurricane victims, and bring them to a Baptist Assembly, where 259 people found hot food, comfortable beds, and clean restrooms. Local schools and businesses began donating shoes, clothing, money, and food.

"It was heaven," Carlotta Bennett said of her arrival at the assembly in Norman Park. "That's all I've got to say. They had food waiting for us when they got there. They had a wheelchair waiting on me. The next day, I had medicine. We had two beds, and our own bathroom! They took care of us, they really did. We prayed for a miracle, and it came."

In time, the family found even better lodging at a local church, and complete medical care. Eventually, the family hopes to be back in Biloxi. Clayberg will return first, where he expects plenty of work in his construction job.

When they return, however, the family will be profoundly different in one additional way.

"After this experience, we just changed our lives," Carlotta said. "We found the Lord – it was time. I saw my life flash before my eyes in that attic, and it was time we did something different."

Surrounded by the care they received in Georgia, the Bennett's prayed to receive Christ, and were baptized on Sept. 19, three weeks to the day after they first walked away from the hurricane that changed their lives. Carlotta says she'll never return to her job in a Biloxi casino, and she says the entire family will be committed to Christ, and active in a local church.

"I just know I can't work in the casino again, no sir," she said. "I can't work right now, anyway. But once my back gets better, I'll just let the Lord guide me. He'll take care of us."

Andy Cook is the pastor of Shirley Hills Baptist Church in, Warner Robins, Georgia.