I wrote a post back in 2013 that has been my most-read post to date. In it I set out to answer the question, “What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?”
Apparently, a lot of you have asked that question, because over 57,000 of you have taken to the Google, entered a form of that question, and wound up reading my post on the subject.
Yesterday, I turned that post into a 2-part sermon and preached it to about 80 women at a conference at Slayden Baptist Church in Slayden, MS.
(Side note: they misspelled my name on the poster for the retreat, and I could not love that fact more. I see it as God’s way of saying, “This ain’t about you.”)
And, let me tell you something, brother [read that in a Hulk Hogan voice], they were a sweet bunch of ladies who encouraged me to no end. We had women in their 20’s to their 70’s, most of whom had been born in that country church, who knew how to love one another across generations and make a stranger like me feel welcome.
I don’t really fear Satan. I believe in God’s power over him and don’t worry that Satan will somehow usurp God’s good plan for me. Satan can only do what God allows him to do (Job 1,2), and I have confidence God will use Satan’s schemes for my greater good and His greater glory (Jeremiah 29:11).
Where I struggle is with the fear that God is powerless to save me from myself. Obviously, God is all-powerful. But when we factor in human free will, I get a little nervous. Because I know myself. I know my tendency to run away from God instead of toward Him. I know my resistance to pain and suffering and all things undesirable – the very mediums God tends to use to accomplish spiritual growth in us…
In light of all these facts, I worry that I might have the ability to choose to resist God. I fear I possess the capability to utterly ruin whatever good plans He may have for me by being disobedient and uncooperative. He isn’t going to force me to do anything I don’t want to do. That’s scary. Because sometimes I need to be forced. I know myself; left to my own devices, I won’t always choose to do the best things. Sometimes I need God to make me.
I was talking to the Lord about all this the other night. And at one point I just asked Him, “Do You get exasperated with me?”
I was thinking along the lines of human parents who get exasperated with their children for asking the same questions a hundred times or for stubbornly refusing to obey certain rules. We get exasperated…
Since God is our Father and we believers are his children, does He experience similar feelings of exasperation with us when we act childishly or foolishly? Or does the whole parent/child analogy break down there? The Bible does say the Lord doesn’t grow tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28)… even of me and my ridculousness?
I continued to think about my children. At the end of the day, when they’ve fallen asleep, I take a few minutes to go in and look at them. I pray over them. But, mostly, I just look at them – their little features, their cute positions, their innocence – it all overwhelms me. It fills me. And I inevitably feel inexplicably blessed that they are mine.
Whatever feelings of exasperation toward them I had throughout the day, all those feelings disappear when I watch my children sleep.
That got me thinking about God watching me sleep. Does He have to fight the urge to reach through the heavens and stroke my hair or kiss my forehead? Is His heart overwhelmed with love? Is He speechless that I am His? I think it’s a safe bet He probably is (Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 43:1).
After pondering that image and those questions, I was reminded of a David Crowder lyric in which he says to God, “Thank You for loving me.” And because I was feeling thankful, I said those exact words to God, “Thank You for loving me.”
And without missing a beat, He smiled and said, “How could I not?”
God. Of the universe. Said that to me.
I fought the urge to count the ways to Him that He could not, and I chose, instead, to accept His fatherly gift.
After all, what was God really saying?
He didn’t mean He loves everything about me. I’m certain He’s not real fond of the countless ways I find to sin, for example.
He meant there is something special about our relationship – Parent/child – that endears His heart to mine no matter what I do or don’t do. Just like me with my kids. When they’re sleeping, and I can hardly breathe for their beauty, no matter how many times I felt exasperated with them that day, I can’t come up with any possible reason I wouldn’t love them.
They are mine – I love them – how could I not?
I need this reminder of God’s heart toward me often. Daily. And I figure I’m not alone.
If you’re needing a reminder, too, I recommend Isaiah 43, in which God says to the Israelites, and subsequently, to Christ-followers, “I have called you by name; you are mine… you are precious and honored in my sight… I love you,” (Isaiah 43:1, 4).
Psalm 102 begins with this caveat: “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the LORD.”
Intriguing. I read on.
“Hear my prayer, LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.”
Yes, I need Him to listen. I need Him to respond quickly. It’s all relative, I guess. When one day is like a thousand years and vice versa (2 Peter 3:8), how quick might this fix come?
“For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.”
How long have things been like this? The days have given way to months, and I’ve lost count.
“My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.”
It’s funny, at first, trying to imagine someone actually forgetting to eat. But this morning I had to cinch my belt as tightly as it would go, and I watch the number on the scale fall day by day. The joke’s on me.
“I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.”
I sip my second cup of coffee and think of all the hours I saw pass me by last night: 9:32, 10:43, 11:21, 12:25, 2:41, 4:46, 5:28, 6:37…
“All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse.”
I can’t see the Enemy of my soul, but I know he’s there, trying to persuade the Lord my faith is self-serving, the same way he accused Job before God’s throne (Job 1:9-11). Is Satan right?
“For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.”
Like a warehouse that boasts of x number of days since its employees’ last accident, a sign hangs on the wall of my heart that reads, “0 days since your last tears”.
“My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.”
I hope my withering isn’t as evident as grass dying in the summer heat or the winter cold…because then I’d have to explain it. Just in case it is, I devise ways to throw off the casual observer… makeup covers the evidence long nights leave behind; t-shirts hide a shrinking waistline; I’ve been rehearsing “I’m good!” with just enough inflection to make it believable on a Sunday morning.
“But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.”
Ah, this is the part of the psalm my Enemy doesn’t want me to get to. If the Lord is Lord forever, it doesn’t matter how quickly I estimate He is responding; He can take all the time He wants because all of time is His.
“You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity.”
The Lord is a God of compassion and shows favor… His character has not changed since the days of Zion. I can trust He will show me compassion and favor too. But will I?
“The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory.”
I guess that’s what all this destruction is about… the Lord is going to rebuild me from the inside out to make His glory evident. But will I survive the demolition phase?
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.”
That sounds like a promise. There are no guarantees how He will respond, only that He will respond. Do I trust His response is best, even if I don’t understand how?
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD: ‘The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.'”
The Lord sees me. He hears me. He longs to release me that my children’s children will praise Him when they hear my story.
“So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD. In the course of my life he broke my strength; he cut short my days.”
God has worn me down, not allowing me to settle for less than His best. This is actually an expression of His love for me. Will I receive it as such?
“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
My approach to life has bought me a few days, but, if I continue in my ways, in the end, my plan will result in my death. Only the Lord’s way will endure forever; if I follow Him, I will live.
“The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.”
More is on the line than just me and my life. If I serve You, You will bless my children and grandchildren. I want that legacy for them. But I have to choose; You won’t choose for me.
(Apparently, I’ve been watching too many Charlie Brown holiday specials because “blockhead” is my new favorite insult).
(Is it bad to start a blog post with a digression? No? How about two digressions?)
In my last post I quoted one of Job’s blockhead friends, not to point out his inability to understand God’s dealing with Job, but to praise his accurate representation of the Gospel.
And since I’ve posted that praise, I’ve been pondering the “rightness” of doing so.
It is clear in Job 42:7 that three of Job’s friends “have not spoken of [God] what is right.” The fourth friend, Elihu, whom I quoted in the last post, was not mentioned in God’s rebuke of Job’s friends. I don’t know why. But he said some similar things about God for which the others are being rebuked. So I guess we can assume Elihu didn’t speak of God what is right also.
[That grammar is killing me, but it’s THE BIBLE. I mustn’t change it…]
[Is mustn’t a real word? It must be because my spell check isn’t putting a red squiggly under it…and we all know how accurate spell check is.]
So, to recap, Job’s friends said some things that were wrong.
And I praised one friend for something he said that was right.
What does that teach us?
We can learn from blockheads.
Just because someone is wrong most of the time, that doesn’t mean we should write him off all together. You never know when he might spout off some biblical truth that will blow your mind.
To be sure, when we’re dealing with people that have blockhead tendencies (read: all of us), we should check what they say against the rest of the scriptures.
And that brings me to my next point.
How great is it that God can/does use Job’s blockhead friends to speak truth about Himself at times, in between the multitude of falsehoods they assert as truth?
Super great! Because that means God can use blockheads like you and me to speak truth about Himself at times, in between the multitude of falsehoods we assert as truth.
Whew. SO glad I don’t have to be perfect before He will choose to use me for good.
(And, seriously, it makes it more exciting! I love the change of pace of reading the Bible on my computer, and I really love the ability to make notes on verses as I go along. It helps me remember what I want to develop into blog posts.)
I started my reading plan a couple of weeks early, knowing full well that there’ll be days this year I don’t get my daily reading completed.
So I am on Day 12 of the plan, which means I am nearing the end of Job. I’ve read Job several times, and, to be honest, it’s not my favorite book. There is a lot of repetition – Job claims he is righteous; his friends say he’s a sinner; repeat. And I’ve never known what to make of Job. He’s often touted in Christian circles as a great example of how the godly can/should endure suffering, but I really don’t see that in the pages of scripture.
Instead, I see a mouthy, disrespectful guy, high on his own pride (Job 27), blaming God for his suffering. And, I guess God is responsible for Job’s suffering, but the way Job accuses God in such a harsh tone (Job 30:20-22, for example) has never sat well with me. Surely, God cannot be pleased with such blatant disrespect…
But that’s not the point of this post. I have much more to learn on the subject before I go against the Church’s (and James’) popular representation of Job as a hero…
I only bring all this up to paint for you the picture of what I was thinking about as I pushed on through the chapters of the book of Job – I was annoyed, confused, and bored.
And then I found a gem of a passage I did not remember from my previous perusals of the book!
(And that, my friends, is precisely why continual reading of the Bible, even though you know all the stories, is so important and rewarding and necessary).
In chapter 33, after three of Job’s friends fail to convince him to change his tune, a younger man pipes up to offer his opinion of the situation.
Elihu repeats back to Job what Job has said – that he believes he is without sin but that God has turned on him (Job 33:8-11). Then Elihu confronts Job, saying, “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man,” (Job 33:12).
Elihu continues, “Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it,” (Job 33:13-14).
And Elihu goes on to point out that God uses means like dreams to warn men to “turn from wrongdoing and keep him from pride,” (Job 33:17). Why does God do that? Because if men don’t turn away from sin, they may experience painful physical and spiritual ramifications (Job 33:19-22).
Yet, Elihu says, if a man finds himself reaping the horrific consequences of pursuing sin, there is still hope. Elihu says if there is an angel on the man’s side, that angel can act as a mediator between the man and God – telling the man what he ought to do, and asking God to save the man from his sin-induced circumstances (Job 33:23-24). The angel offers God a ransom of some sort in exchange for the man’s life, satisfying God’s requirement of justice. In return, God restores the man to a life of health and righteousness (Job 33:15).
This is all very interesting, but we are just now reaching the verses in this chapter that really excite me.
Elihu says that once God has restored the man, the man responds this way, “He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state,” (Job 33:26).
Pure joy over and intimacy with God! When God restores this man from his broken state, bringing him back from the edge of the pit, this man is overjoyed and enjoys the Lord face to face.
And I can only imagine how giddy God is getting to enjoy His creation the way it was always meant to be – guilt-free, joyous, and face to face.
But the story doesn’t end there.
After the man enjoys his face-time with God, “he comes to men and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right,'” (Job 33:27).
Why in the world would this guy go broadcasting his sins to others?! Especially given that God had already dealt with him and restored him? If I were this guy, I do believe I would go on rejoicing in the Lord and just keep those sins to myself…
But this man, fully understanding the love that motivated God to save him from his sins, can’t keep silent. He is compelled to share his discovery of God’s love with others that they, too, might enjoy that same amazing love.
He explains, “‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light,'” (Job 33:27-28).
Does anyone else see what just happened here?! In one of the oldest books of the Bible, just after Noah but before the Tower of Babel, THE GOSPEL WAS RECORDED.
Go ahead and reread those last two verses, I’ll wait.
It’s the Gospel, right?!
Before the concept of grace through faith was penned by Paul, it was spoken to Job through a whipper-snapper named Elihu.
Wow, the God of the Old Testament really is the same God of the New Testament. He does not change.
So it was the Gospel hidden in Job 33 that really floored me today. But it’s worth mentioning that the man in this story also shows us a pretty simple way to evangelize.
1. Tell others about your sins.
2. Tell others about the grace you received despite your sins.
3. Tell others about the hope you have as a result of receiving that grace.
Good stuff today.
I marvel at people who don’t have any religious beliefs. Depending on the website, between 2% and 11% of the world’s population are atheists, agnostics, or have no religious beliefs. Assuming a world population of 7 billion, that translates to between 140 million to 770 million people in the world today that do not believe in God whatsoever.
That’s astonishing to me. Primarily because God = hope. Even false gods can offer a modicum of hope, though I would argue that hope will run out. As long as we have something we believe in that is supernatural, we can have hope that the bad stuff in this life will not be forever. We can believe that something better awaits us. In other words, when we believe in some form of a god, we have a reason to endure this life.
But if we don’t have that hope, and hundreds of millions of people don’t, what reason do we have to live?
I guess some might say they live for their families. They love their spouses and kids and hang around to see them grow up.
But what happens to that reason when your marriage isn’t going well? Or your kid gets diagnosed with cancer? Or your teenager gets pregnant? Or when your kids grow up and leave your home? Or any other number of tough circumstances arise? Life is no longer fun. In fact, life becomes unbearable, despite having your spouse and kids.
What happens when the temporal sources of your hope fail you?
In Job 8:13-15, Bildad says, “Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider’s web. He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.”
Bildad says of these people who forget God, “they wither more quickly than grass” (Job 8:12).
When I hear “wither”, I think shrivel up and die. Depending on where you live, grass withers every 6-9 months. And those who forget God – those whose hope perishes because they don’t believe in God – wither more quickly than that.
What does a withered person look like? Depressed, bitter, angry, tired, disenfranchised. These symptoms can be alleviated for a time with temporary sources of hope, but they always come back when those sources stop supplying cheap hope.
There is only one source of everlasting hope.
“…there is only one God, who will justify the [Jews] by faith and the [Gentiles] through that same faith” (Romans 3:30).
What are you hoping in? Is it working? Or is it a temporary fix for your eternal problem?