The continuing dilemma of the Christian life is how to cope with recurring instances of trouble and travail in our lives. There is a prevailing notion around that, if you love the Lord and serve him faithfully, trouble will stay away from your door.
I don't know about you, but in my life and experience I have found that not to be true. In fact, the very opposite seems to occur. Over the course of forty-five years in ministry, many times it seems that the best people catch the most hell.
The Scriptures, on more than one occasion, pose this question: Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? This riddle of life can only be understood in the full context of the Scriptures and the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. If there is any trouble in your life today, and I suspect there is, there is a word for you from a man named Job.
And if there are no clouds on the horizons of your life, let me suggest that you fasten your seat belt because old man trouble is on his way to your house. You need to understand that he has an equal opportunity program, and there are no exceptions. His program of trouble is very much like supermarket. The trouble he dishes out comes in all sizes and all varieties. There are big troubles and little troubles. There are some troubles that seemingly won't quit. There are some middle-sized troubles and some teeny-weeny troubles. Everywhere you turn is trouble, trouble, trouble. It lets up for a little while, and then the next thing you know, trouble rears its ugly little head just when you think he is finished with you.
There are many types of trouble.
Some of the trouble that comes to us is of the "To whom it may concern" variety. Some trouble is indiscriminate. It can come at any place, any time, to anyone, at the most inconvenient season.
Then there's some trouble we make ourselves. I don't know why we haven't learned that there's enough trouble in the world. Yet, every once in a while, we play the fool and go out and make some trouble that the world doesn't need.
It's like what Joe Lewis told another fighter, "You can run, but you can't hide." Trouble will hunt you down and make your house his house. There is no escape from the trials and tribulations of this life. They are broad in variety and all-inclusive.
Sometimes it's sudden and debilitating sickness. It can be minor and irritating and frustrating. Sometimes it's disappointment with friends and circumstances. Trouble will come to you and mess with you on your job. He'll meet you between your house and the subway station and ride all the way to work with you before he shows his hand. To tell you the truth, he'll come home with you right in your car; and when you put the key in the lock, he goes in the door with you.
I have news for you. Trouble comes to church. He's here this morning. I don't know exactly where he's sitting, but he's watching and picking out someone to go home with. Trouble has a ubiquitous nature. He'll show up any time, anywhere, with anybody, and he can be several places at the same time.
Now, Christians, you need to be ready for him because he is persistent. If you haven't run into him in your life just yet, get ready because he's coming just like overnight mail. If he doesn't show up tonight, he'll be there the first thing in the morning.
The Job narrative in the Bible is instructive about the options available to people of faith that face the prospect of trouble in their lives. To use the language of the street, when the narrative of Job begins in the Old Testament, Job had it going on. He had it made. He had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He was sitting on the board of two or three major banks. He had international contacts all over the world. He had a pretty wife and a lovely family. All of them had completed Masters and Doctoral degrees. But just like you and me, after a while, trouble found old Job.
Now in the biblical narrative there's a conversation going on between God and Satan. Satan says, "The reason why Job serves you is because you got a fence around him."
God told Satan, "No, that's not so. I know Job. You can touch him, but you can't kill him." And in cascading sequence one thing after another happened in the life of Job.
First, the marauders came in and took all his camels. And while that servant made the report, another one came and said that they had also come into "the south forty" and took away the goats and the sheep. While he was yet speaking, another one came and said that the cattle were gone. Then, while he was yet speaking, another came and reported that the east wind had come and knocked down the pillars of his eldest son's house, and all of his adult children had perished while they sat and ate.
Job rent his clothes and said, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord."
Then Job's friends, who hadn't seen him downtown for a while, came up to his house. He had become afflicted suddenly with some disease—from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He was sitting out there in ashes. He was doing so badly that his wife didn't want him in the house, and he was sitting out there in some warm ashes, scratching with a potsherd trying to relieve the itching. They passed right by him. They didn't recognize him.
They went up and knocked on the door and said, "We'd like to see Job." Job's wife replied, "That's him, out there."
"Job," they said, "you've been living a double life. You've got all that money. You're living in this big house, and you belong to Canaan Church of Christ. You serve on the deacon board here. But we found out you've been running dope in Harlem. You run houses of prostitution, and now the Lord is paying you back for that double life you've been living."
Job said, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Then Job's wife got so disgusted with him and his circumstances that she said, "Job, I've watched you serve the Lord. You've been a good man. You've been a good father and a good husband. And I tell you the truth. I don't know why the Lord is letting all of this happen to you. If I was you, I would curse God and die."
He said, "You talk like a foolish woman. Naked came I into this world, and naked shall I go out. The Lord giveth and the Lord hath taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
It is the story of human life at its best and its worst. And, you know, that's what most of us experience. In this life you get some of the best and some of the worst, and the portions are seldom equal. There seem to be more tears than joy. Many times it seems the "worse" has the larger share.
Because there is this universal dispensation of trouble that touches the fabric of all of our lives, I thought I would run through this story of Job and tell you the options that were available to him.
Job's story shows three main wrong responses to trouble.
The first is found in those three friends who came to see Job—Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar. They said, "Job, this is happening because of something you did." And as quiet as it's kept, there are a lot of us in our personal dilemmas who think that when trouble comes and camps on our front doorstep, God is getting even with us for something we did that we should not have done.
Now, I need to tell you that borders on superstition. See, God is too busy bringing up the sun in the east, and pulling on the tides twice a day, and setting out the moon at night, and running all the big things of this world to worry about the little jive stuff that you got all mixed up in your life. God doesn't have time to be paying you back or keeping a record for the wrong you do. You see, if that were the case, I wouldn't have nobody here to preach to today. And I wouldn't be here preaching, because all of us would have been gone a long time ago, if God paid us back for the wrong that we do.
So in your heart and in your spirit, when there's trouble in your life, don't get yourself all stretched out, trying to find out what God is paying you back for with this trouble in your life. It does not have to have rhyme nor reason. Trouble can come out of the thin air—just like that. It doesn't have to do with anything that you did wrong.
I'm not saying that you are excused from what you do wrong, because sometimes the wrong that we do rises up to smack us in the face again. But I do not want you to be theologically unsound and to think that because there's trouble in your life, it is because you did something with which God wasn't pleased.
Then Job's wife verbalizes a second option. Some folks just give up. She said, "Job, if I was you, as hard as you've tried to serve the Lord and do the right thing, and with all this trouble that's on your plate, I would just curse God and die."
You would be surprised how many people, people who are under the sound of my voice at this very moment, have contemplated suicide.
Sometimes, in our darkest moments, it seems like life just isn't worth living. You do everything you know how to do, and it looks like all your dreams have turned to ashes. But just remember what Job told his wife: "Woman, you talk like a fool."
Anyone who has an ounce of faith in God must understand that, no matter how bad things get, you are being foolish if you think the answer to your dilemma is to just give it all up and to snuff out the life that God has given you.
When I was pastor of a church in Petersburg, Virginia, a woman on the Virginia State College campus had become so depressed that she took her three children in the bedroom, turned on the gas jets and went to sleep. That's sad.
Don't let life get you down to the point that you ever consider giving up and not wanting to live any more. The life that you have? God gave it to you, and he didn't have to. So he gave it to you for a purpose. You may not be able to detail or understand exactly what he meant for you to do in your life, but you must stay here till you find out your mission because God does not do things that are unwise. Some folks flat give up.
Then there are some who are philosophical. I heard a quatrain once:
Don't fret. Don't fume.
Don't fuss. Don't cuss.
As bad as it is,
It could be wuss.
Now, that is at least a step better than suicide and giving up. But it doesn't have any roots in God. It is only the wisdom of man that says, There's some things in life which you can't do anything about. There are some circumstances over which you have no control. But you must understand that, and you must find some strength to go on. Being philosophical is not sufficient.
Don't fret. Don't fume.
Don't fuss. Don't cuss.
As bad as it is,
It could be wuss.
Now, that suffices for some things, but when you're standing by the grave of somebody that you love and the preacher is saying ashes to ashes and dust to dust, don't fret; don't fume; don't fuss; don't cuss doesn't quite get it. Or when the doctor tells you that he's got to invade your body with the knife and you got to face triple or quadruple bypass surgery, don't fret don't fume; don't fuss; don't cuss won't get it. You need a strong arm to lean upon.
Or when the tranquility of your home has been broken, or your children, whom you love and have nurtured, seem like they are on their way to hell, don't fret don't fume; don't fuss; don't cuss won't get it.
You need something stronger than that. You need something like, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up as with eagle's wings. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and faint not. Wait, I say, on the Lord. Be of good courage, and he will strengthen thine heart."
Being philosophical is not strong enough for the dilemmas in life that we face.
Job showed a heroic response to trouble.
Then there's Job's response. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to opt for what I call heroic living. Too much of the focus in this life is on successful living. Now, I'm not going to knock success, but I don't believe in success at any price. I could be successful if I did some things that aren't pleasing to God, but I don't want to be a success that bad.
There are some things in life where I draw the line. I'm not going to do some things. And people who subscribe to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ have to have a line that they draw that they not going to go over.
Whatever life throws at you, you need to opt for heroic living—keeping your faith intact in spite of what happens to you. Which does not mean that you faith is not tested.
One of the worst times in my life was in 1993 when I had this trouble with my throat. I got so depressed I couldn't function at times. Here I was a Baptist preacher, and my voice was such that I couldn't speak.
My chairman took me aside and said, "Reverend, you need to conserve your strength. Don't go so much. Because if you can't preach, the folks won't come." And I had to confront that reality. You know, it's nice for me to give a nice little homily and read something off the paper, but the folk want a regularly ordained preacher to raise his voice once in a while. And I wondered how on earth I was going to make it.
And it wasn't until that October that I made up my mind that I'm just going to learn to live with it till the Lord delivers me from it. And it wasn't until after the eighth or ninth month after I made the decision that the Lord began the healing process. On January 14th, I was down at the NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on a Friday morning, and a little bird got in my mind and told me, "You can raise your voice." And so I raised my voice, and I've been raising my voice ever since. God had, in his own time, decided when he was going to deliver me.
Sometimes you have to opt for heroic living and just say, God, I'm going to put it in your hands. I've done everything I know to do with it, and I don't know what else to do. But I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to be philosophical. I'm going to wait, like Job says, until my change comes.
Job lost his camels, his sheep, his goats, his children. His friends turned against him in his troubled hour. There's something called The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Here's one definition: back—that part of your friend's anatomy which you are privileged to see when you are in trouble.
When trouble comes, I have found that the people I thought I could count on I can't count on; and the people who I never dreamed I could count on, they are the ones to give me support and strength.
They tell you, "If you need me, call me." What they really mean is, "If you need me don't call me." It is a sobering experience to go through the valley of the shadow of death. And somehow, life has a way of shaking out and sifting out the people who really mean something to you in your hour of need.
First his friends turned against him, then his wife, out of whose loins their children had come and with whom he had been married for 43 or 44 years. She said, "Job, if I was you, I would curse God and die."
Now, all of this can work on your mind. I've had some sickness in my life, and I've had times when it worked on my mind. I'd sit at the breakfast table and tears would start rolling down my cheek, and my wife wanted to know what was wrong with me; and I told her, "I don't think I'm ever going to get well." When your body gets sick, it can make your mind sick.
It happened to Job, and he started wondering why God was letting this happen to him. He'd been chairman of the board 30 years, been the superintendent of the Sunday school, been the deacon, the faithful husband and all of that, paid his tithes and gave offerings beyond what was required. And then here was this mountain of trouble that landed on his front doorstep.
Job said, "I know what. I'm going to go out and find God and ask him why this happened to me." So he went out. And his testimony is: he went forward. He couldn't find God. He went backwards, he couldn't find God. He walked to his right, he couldn't find God. Walked to his left, he couldn't find God. And then he started crying out, "Oh, Lord, where are you? I want to register my complaint."
Over in the thirty-eighth chapter, the Lord speaks out of the void and says, "Who is this that darkeneth my door?" And Job starting running down his list. Why had all this happened to him?
God said, "All right. You want to know why this happened? I'm going to answer your question, but you got to answer a couple of my questions first.
"Where were you, Job, when I set the foundations of the world? Do you know, Job, how the Orion and the Pleiades run in their orbit? If you know, Job, answer me. Tell me, Job, do you know how to make a snowflake? Or do you know where the home of the lightning is? If you know, Job, answer me. Tell me, Job, who made the horse strong? And who taught the eagle to fly? If you know, Job, tell me. Job, what makes the water come to the shore and no further and the land come to the water and no further? If you know, Job, tell me."
Job says, "Excuse me, God, I didn't mean no harm. This sickness started working on my mind, and I'm out of place. I got no business asking you anything. Whatever you let me have, Lord, I'm going to deal with it.
"In all the days of my appointed time I'm going to wait right here. I'm going to wait right here till my change comes. Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I go out. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.
"Blessed, blessed, blessed be the name of the Lord!"
When I was a lad down in the Calvary Baptist Church on Spruce Street, I used to hear the saints sing this old time song,
I will trust in the Lord. I will trust in the Lord. I will trust in the Lord till I die.
I will trust in the Lord. I will trust in the Lord. I will trust in the Lord till I die.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?