I have been anxiously waiting to share from my heart a message the Lord has been teaching me during the past two weeks as I have been away with my family. Two weeks ago I left town with my family for vacation. I have learned throughout the past several years that the Lord allows me to go on vacation with my family for several reasons, not the least of which is to teach me. The lesson that has been most etched on my heart and soul during these past two weeks has been a lesson of humility and dependence.
The Lord has not taught me these lessons as I read some book on dependence or attended the latest popular church seminar on “How Humility Can Grow Your Church.” The Lord taught me these lessons while I was in the mountains of Colorado and at the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We took long hikes up incredible mountains and saw sights that would leave the most stoic with their mouths wide open.
One day while Nate and I were hiking up a 12,000 foot mountain called, Mt. Engineer, we came upon a couple who were totally fixated on a field of wild flowers that Van Gogh could never have captured. As Nate and I passed them I said, “The Gardner here does a pretty good job doesn’t He.” High definition television couldn’t capture the beauty of the flowers and vegetation growing on the side of the mountain!
We also stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looked across miles and miles of a canyon that scientists will tell you was dug through millions and millions of years of a river running through the countryside. We knew better.
I had always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I had seen pictures of it on television since I was a kid and I was more anxious and excited than anyone in my family to see it, but there is no way that my excitement and anticipation could have matched what I felt when I looked over the Canyon for the first time. The view is so overwhelming that it leaves you breathless. Nate bought a book called, “Death In The Grand Canyon” while we were there and on the way home he read a story to us about a woman who went to the Grand Canyon for the first time. When she arrived and walked up to the edge she was so overwhelmed that she passed out and fell into the Canyon! I’m glad that Nate didn’t buy the book before we arrived.
Let me give you a glimpse of its grandeur in simple numbers. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. The average depth of the Canyon is 1 mile. At its widest point the Canyon is 18 miles wide. Last of all, the average width of the Canyon is 10 miles for the 277 miles that it covers.
Each day of our week in the wilderness the Lord impressed upon my heart how incredibly small I am and how big and vast and awesome is the One whom I serve. I know that if He can plant, water, and sustain the mountains and hold up the Canyon walls through intense heat and frigid cold, then He can handle my problems and yours.
The other lesson that I learned is that I don’t understand much of anything. I have an unbelievable picture of a little tree growing straight out of a huge boulder. How does that happen? Don’t trees grow in soil? If I can’t figure out something as simple as this then how can I be expected to figure out the intricacies of the twists and turns of life? I believe that was exactly the message the Lord desired for me to take away from the past week. Stop trying to figure things out and trust…absolutely trust in His loving, gracious, and Sovereign hand.
Many years ago a farmer printed on his weather vane the words “God is love.” Someone asked him if he meant to imply that the love of God was as fickle as the wind. The farmer answered: “No, I mean that whichever way the wind blows, God is love. If it blows cold from the North, or biting from the East, God is still love just as much as when the warm South or gentle West winds refresh our fields and flocks. God is always love.” Not only is God love, but God is also faithful. He has demonstrated His love and faithfulness throughout history, but we are slow to learn the lessons of those who have gone before us.
Let’s take a look at a section of Scripture this morning found in Job. Job knew heartache. He had lost everything that ever meant anything to him and he could not figure out why. The Bible says in Job 1:1, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” When the walls came crashing down and he lost his children, his livelihood, and his health – he wondered “Why?”
For those who say, with Job’s friends, that he must have really done something bad to deserve all that he suffered, how about judging Job on God’s assessment of him. When God had a little conference with Satan in Job 1, these were God’s words.
8Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)
Job was a righteous man. A good man. A man who shunned evil. A man who made sacrifices to God everyday because of what his children might have done. He went to church, had his daily devotions, and volunteered at a homeless shelter. How much more can a man do? Yet, incredible trouble visited Job’s house and shattered his heart.
How did Job respond? Like most of us respond. He responded by trying to figure things out. His buddies told him to confess and repent and everything would be all right. Job checked his heart and found no evil, no unconfessed sin, nothing.
When we come to the 30th chapter of Job’s diary we find that he has discarded any attempts to find his own fault and has shifted to the unfairness of God. Both of these were massive errors on Job’s part. Read along with me beginning in verse 18.
18 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me; he binds me like the neck of my garment. 19 He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes. 20 “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. 22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. 23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living. 24 “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. 25 Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? 26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. 27 The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. 28 I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. 29 I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls. 30 My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever. 31 My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing. (Job 30:18-31 NIV)
Those are the words of a hurting man. A man who has lost those he loves. A man who has worked for the company for thirty years and then shown the door. A man who has had many opportunities to cut corners, to step on folks to get ahead, and to partner with malcontents to make a buck, but he refused…over and over again he refused. He refused not because he might get caught or it might ruin his reputation, but because it would defame the name of God. Job had done what was right and this is what caused him so much consternation and confusion. Job was like so many of us today who believe that if we take our vitamins, don’t cheat on our taxes, and say our prayers that life is going to be a cakewalk. Job said,
25 Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? 26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. (Job 30:25-26 NIV)
I’ve noticed something about myself when I am going through difficult times – my world becomes incredibly small. I think about me. I use words like “I” and “Me” and “My” most often. I lose sight of most everything else around me when trouble comes knocking at my door or the door of those I love and care about.
Let me give you an example. We left the Grand Canyon on Saturday afternoon to begin our drive back home. We had made it to Flagstaff, Arizona when I decided to call my mother. When she answered the phone she sounded like she had just run a marathon. She was gasping for air and struggling to put two words together. I didn’t talk to her for more than a minute when I said, “Mom, you need to get off the phone.”
I drove through the night and thought about my mother often. I decided that I needed to go see her when I got home. On Tuesday morning I left the house early and drove to Duncan to spend the day with my parents. It was not a good day for my mother as she struggled to breath. When I left to come home on Tuesday night my heart was broken for her. I thought about her all the way home and wondered how much longer she could last…and I talked to God. I asked, “Lord, I’ve prayed for her. Lots of folks have prayed for her. We’ve poured our hearts out before You, but she is still struggling for a breath. What’s the deal God?” I don’t understand why she hasn’t gotten better.
I promise you that if I had all the power at my disposal I would heal my mother, but I don’t have any power so therefore I trust God. I know that His love for my mother far outweighs the love I have for my mother so I trust, and I pray that her trust in Him will continue to increase.
Do you see what happens when we hurt? When our hurt comes either because of something we are going through or something someone we love is enduring we lose focus of the bigger issues that affect our daily life the most. You are probably wondering, “What bigger issues? My pain is a huge issue for me.” I know that, but I also know that there are bigger issues than our pain, struggles, and suffering. Let me share a few of these big items with you.
First, the Sovereignty of God. My friend we must always keep before us that God is absolutely in control – absolutely in control. We see this in Job’s life as we read about Satan’s attacks on Job. Satan is never allowed to do anything without first going to God and gaining permission. There was nothing that happened in Job’s life that happened by accident. There was nothing that took place in Job’s life that caught God off guard. The same can be said about you and me. God has not changed my friend. He has not given up His Sovereignty so that you and I are left out in this big world as a victim. We are not orphans! Our Father knows us, He knows where we are, and He knows what we are going through. God is still in control.
Second, God has a love for you and me that is beyond comprehension. One of Satan’s most well used schemes when we go through tough times is to plant a seed of doubt about God’s love for us. We say things like, “If God really loved me then why am I going through this? I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this?” This scheme has proven to be very effective because I believe that every single one of us here this morning has spoken those words at one time or another.
Those are words of emotion, words of a broken heart, and not the truth. It is like a child who, because their parent says, “No” to their request yells back, “You don’t love me!” The parent knows that they love their child. The child knows in his or her heart that their mom or dad loves them, but the pain of being told “No” drives the child to strike back.
My friend, we don’t need to be led by our emotions, we need to be led and instructed by the Word of God. God’s Word is very clear about His love for us. Turn with me to Ephesians 3:17 and let’s read together.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV)
Turn back to the book of Romans and let’s discover the ability of God’s love to overcome anything and everything that could possibly seek to separate us from Him. Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39.
38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
The presence of hardship can never negate the love of God for you or me. The absence of heartache doesn’t prove the love of God for you or for me. God has proven His love for you and me over and over and in countless ways throughout all of eternity! His love for you and me will continue till the end of all time.
Last of all, God is a God of purpose. If God is in control and His love for us is without end, then everything that He brings about or allows in our lives serves a purpose. I may not understand that purpose at this time. As a matter of fact, I have no guarantee that I will ever fully understand the purpose, but I know that God is a God of incredible purpose. Throughout Scripture we see that God’s purpose for all of creation, including you and me shall be accomplished. In Job we read,
5 “God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. (Job 36:5 NIV)
David was on the run from Saul who was trying to kill him. David knew that God was not oblivious to the trouble he was going through and this is why he wrote these powerful words in Psalm 57:2.
2 I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. (Psalm 57:2 NIV)
Paul knew about the tough times that you and I go through in life. He knew that even though he was a servant of God that hard times would continue to come, but they would not be successful in destroying him. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28-29.
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 NIV)
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he wrote from a prison cell and yet Paul knew that the hands of the Potter were busy shaping him and forming within him His perfect purpose for Paul’s life. Paul wrote to the people of Philippi to reassure them that the Potter’s hands were busy shaping His purpose in their lives as well. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13,
13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13 NIV)
Those of you who have stained your pillowcase in the past week with tears of sorrow and brokenness may be wondering, “What good can ever come out of my heartache?” That is a very relevant question and I would like to encourage you to think about something. I don’t answer your question lightly, nor do I want to downplay what you are going through at all. I know our troubles keep us up at night and our heartache is great. It is just that I believe there is One who is greater still.
God’s purpose in all of our experiences in life is to mold us and shape us into the image of His glorious Son, Jesus Christ. God wants our character to model the character of Jesus. God wants our dependence upon Him to reflect the dependence Jesus had upon the Father. God wants our mercy, our grace, and our compassion to flow with the same intensity as they did in Jesus. Now those are wonderful aspirations for anyone. Who wouldn’t want to have such faith? Who wouldn’t want to embody such mercy? The only problem is that these qualities are not gained by attending another Christian seminar or by reading the latest book by your favorite author. They are only cultivated in the live of the broken who will lift their broken lives to the Father in absolute trust. Oswald Chambers once wrote,
We need to remember that we cannot train ourselves to be Christians; we cannot discipline ourselves to be saints; we cannot bend ourselves to the will of God: we have to be broken to the will of God. (Oswald Chambers 1874-1917)
You and I may fight against the will of God to break us in order to fill us, but it will only bring us greater heartache and deeper sorrow. Job fought for a while. He wanted an appointment with God so that God could answer the “Why’s” of his troubles. God did answer Job, but not in the way that Job had anticipated. Turn with me to Job 38 and let’s take a look.
1Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? 12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? 14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. 15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. 16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? 18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. (Job 38:1-18 NIV)
Isn’t it interesting? Job wanted to know why he was going through such heartache. God answered Job, but He never mentioned Job’s heartache. Instead, He took Job on a tour of the cosmos, He walked Job through all creation and said, “Tell me what you know, tell me what you understand Job?” The more God spoke and the more bug-eyed Job became. God can do it all! He has done it all! He won’t ever stop doing what He has always done! God asked Job,
1The LORD said to Job: 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” 3 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:1-5 NIV)
God spoke up and said, “Wait, I’m not finished yet. Come on Job. Come on big man get ready for the ride ain’t over!” For another two chapters God questions Job about matters of righteousness, justice, punishing the wicked and the proud, the leviathan and behemoth, and other matters that Job has barely given a thought to because when his heartache came, his world shrank incredibly. Job finally answers God for a final time in Job 42. Take a look with me.
1Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 NIV)
” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” How often have I spoken like an authority on things that I don’t even begin to understand? How often have I made statements about God from a broken heart that no more reflect who He is than a man in the moon? We need to stick to what we know my friends. I know that God is Sovereign. I know that He has a love for me that I can’t comprehend. I know that He has a purpose for my life and that His purpose will be fulfilled.
How can we keep these things at the forefront of our minds and in our hearts? That is a great question. I say, “Go big!” Refrain from embracing a shrinking world and go big! What do I mean by “Go big!” I mean keep our eyes on God and not on ourselves. When we embrace a shrinking world our eyes become fixed upon ourselves and nothing else. When that happens we are heading for trouble. We must keep our eyes fixed upon the Lord when the pain becomes intense and the tears won’t stop flowing. He is faithful! He is merciful! He is the Sovereign King of all creation! If He can provide for the lilies of the mountains, feed the animals who live in the deepest canyon, then you can be assured that He can provide for you and me.
I want to invite some of you to take your first big step this morning. I want to invite you to turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into His wonderful face, and allow Him to save you, keep you, and reassure you of His wondrous powerful to do what He has promised. If you have never accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and King then I want to invite you to bow your head with me and pray a simple, but life changing prayer. Won’t you do that now?