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The Unknown Staircase

I used to say that my life could be described by a sinusoidal wave. I would be doing well in life, and then get complacent at the top, and then slide back down to a low point. The pit wouldn’t be a comfortable place, so I would work my way out of it (with or without God’s help) and then head back up the curve, until I reached the apex once again. This cycle would continue over and over again. As I became a Christian, I noticed that the amplitude of the wave (sorry, I am a chemist) would decrease, but I still stuck with the sine wave concept.

Yesterday, I came up with a new analogy that I shared in Sunday school this morning. The concept started earlier this year while watching The Biggest Loser. The trainers talk to contestants about their self-sabotaging behavior, stating that they tend to resist success because they fear it. They are comfortable with failure, but afraid of the unknown – the life that would result from reaching their goals. I was able to identify with that, on some level, because while I have grown spiritually in my Christian walk, I am still not trusting God as much as I would like to be. I now relate my journey to a staircase (perhaps the Stairway to Heaven…Ha! Okay, bad joke).

Life is like a staircase, of an unknown length. I climb the stairs until I reach a point where I find myself completely outside of my comfort zone. I hang out there for a while, trying to decide whether to go higher or not. I previously believed I would grow complacent because I put my trust in myself, but I am not sure that’s completely the case. I think it’s more that I get afraid of heights, and I don’t know what the next steps of the staircase hold. I lose my balance and fall down a few steps. Eventually, I regain my composure and restart my ascent. I climb a little higher, because I’ve been on those steps before….until I reach a new level, and lose my balance and fall again, but not as far as before. This cycle continues, and while I am growing, I never get to see what’s at the top of the staircase. In fact, I still have no idea how high it extends…

The staircase can be equated to aspects of my life that I trust God with. I trust Him with more and more every day, but I am still holding onto some fears and insecurities. Ironically, they don’t seem to be what the average person would think when they look at me. I have no problem trusting God with events outside of my control, but I struggle with some of my day to day concerns. Luckily, every day, He reminds me of the things I need to give completely to Him. I feel I am slowly getting there, as I feel led to leave my comfort zone. That helps me get higher on the staircase before I lose my balance. Eventually, I pray that my balance improves, and I can climb higher and higher without fear.

Fear…what am I afraid of? It certainly isn’t falling down the stairs. I’m really accomplished at that; in fact, I have learned to do so with grace, almost like a dismount off of the balance beam. I can land softly on my feet, stick the landing, regroup, and climb back up. Falling doesn’t seem to hurt much these days because I’ve accepted God’s grace, so that can’t be my fear. I think I’m more afraid of what’s at the top of the stairs… Essentially, fear of the unknown; the things that God could accomplish through me if I let Him.

I’m trying to give it completely to God and continue climbing the staircase. I’ve looked back at my prayer journal from four years ago, and I see how far He’s brought me. I know He’s completely capable of bringing me higher. I just have to trust Him and keep stepping out of my comfort zone, even though Satan will continue to attack me by engaging my fear.

God loves me; He loves you too… He has only wonderful things in store for us. All we have to do is trust Him completely, every day, every hour, every minute. He has an amazing plan for our lives, if only we can step out of the way and let Him achieve it!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

The Sovereignty of God

“We like to think that we’re in control.  But, we’re not.  God is.  And God must be sovereign in order to be God.  If anything holds any sway over Him, if one atom is rebellious to His will, if one bit of knowledge is unknown to His mind, if one force is unbending to His desire, if anything prohibits Him from accomplishing His plan – He is no longer sovereign.  And if He’s no longer sovereign, that which is able to oppose Him is greater than Him – and He is no longer God.”  -Mary Kassian, from Knowing God by Name

Week one, day five of this semester’s women’s Bible study… The name of God we were learning about was “Adonai Yahweh”, Sovereign Lord.  We could have spent an entire semester on this one name, and that still would not have been enough for me to fully embrace this attribute of God.  But, we glossed over it in the last ten minutes of our time together, and it’s been on my heart ever since.

When you consider God’s sovereignty from a superficial standpoint, it is perfectly easy to accept.  God must be sovereign if He is really God.  Everything in the Universe must be subject to His control.  If God is not sovereign, He cannot be God.  However, when I read the above paragraph from our study, the intricate details of His sovereignty became clear, perhaps for the first time.

If God is sovereign, which He must be in order to be God, every aspect of life must be completely under His control.  Everything!  Not one minute detail can be left up to chance.

Can this be possible, especially from a loving God?  What about the bad things that happen in life? What about the choices I make, especially the ones that God would not approve of?  What does this mean regarding my free will?  And, if God’s sovereignty is this complete and personal, how I do I feel about it?  How should it make me feel?

I’ll start with free will.  I definitely believe that God gives us the power to make decisions that may be in line with or opposed to what He desires for us.  Free will goes hand-in-hand with having faith in God.  It is completely intertwined with temptation and sin, and is required to have a maturing relationship with God.

Free will began in the Garden of Eden, when God allowed Adam and Eve to choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Their decision to give in to temptation changed humanity forever.  Another example is salvation; if there was no free will, we would not have to personally accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior in order to be assured salvation.  I must independently use my own free will to trust that Jesus took care of my sin problem on the cross.

I am also given freedom to live my life as I see fit, even when God cringes at my poor decisions.  However, because God is all-knowing, He knows what our decisions will be before we make them and those decisions are part of God’s overall plan for our lives. Even when our decisions are opposed to God’s desire for our lives, He allows us to make them.  God loves us so much that He does not want to force us into submission; rather He gives us the freedom to choose our way or His way.  And, while He knows how we will respond, He loves us enough to give us ample opportunity to choose Him.

But, if God is so loving, why would He allow bad things to happen that were not directly a result of my poor decisions?  This is one of the hardest questions to understand, and the answer is not always easy to swallow.  The truth is, because of Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths (Genesis 3:7).”  Their lives were made much more complicated; they were expelled from the garden, and we have been living in a fallen world ever since.

God never promises us an easy life on Earth.  In fact, He promises just the opposite.  Jesus says to us, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Life is hard; life does not always make sense; it’s not fair, but because of Jesus, we have reason to hope.  He has overcome the world, and by believing in Him, we can spend eternity enjoying endless joy, peace and love, together with our perfect God!

The bad things that happen in life, whether caused by influences outside our control, or our own poor decisions, provide us opportunities for our personal spiritual development.  If life was easy, and everything was perfect, I would not need God; I could be completely self-sufficient!  But, because our world, including my little corner of it, is completely messed up and incomprehensible, I realize that I need God to direct my steps.

By trusting God with my life, I give Him the opportunity to bring beauty from my pain, and help me see past my selfishness.  A great example of this comes from the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and later forgiving them and providing for them.  Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:20-21).

It is amazing that God will take the bad things that happen in my life and use them for His ultimate plan!  If one person can see the impact God has made on me and because of that, chooses to trust in Jesus for their own eternal life, then the pain I have felt will have been worth it. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

The sovereignty of God can bring us complete freedom, if we allow it to.  Since God knows everything that is going to happen, and it’s already part of His eternal plan, there’s nothing we can do to mess everything up!  That should allow me to not get caught up in the poor decisions I have made, or the bad things that have happened in the past (or may happen in the future).  If it were not for the things that have happened in my life, I would not be the woman I am today.  I will continue to be shaped by my experiences, and I pray those involve a deeper level of trust in God.

God’s sovereignty should completely free me from guilt, shame, anger, worry, and fear, if I let it and should bring complete peace in the fact that nothing will happen that is apart from God’s will for me.  If I have learned anything thus far in life, it’s that God is worthy of my trust, and truly has my best interests at heart, so giving complete control over to Him should be an easy decision!

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it (Isaiah 46:8-11).”

Christmas Night

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

Ever since I was a little girl, it’s been hard for me to sleep on Christmas night. Back then, I was so excited about Santa coming and anxious about everything I was going to get! I would sneak downstairs and admire all of the presents that were under the tree, and wait, ever so impatiently, until I could wake my parents up to open my gifts!

Being a mom, that magical part of Christmas hasn’t gone away, as I definitely enjoy the genuine enthusiasm of my son as he looks forward to Christmas morning! The smiles, the hugs, his plans to wake up at 6am, the inability to wait before tearing into his gifts…. It’s completely priceless!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a childlike excitement about Christmas, but for too long, this was all I saw. Presents, family, food, tradition… All very good things, all memorable, important parts of Christmas, but definitely not the centerpiece of the holiday season!

Looking back, something was always missing from my Christmas celebrations. While it was great to receive presents and spend time with family, there had to be more! I even went to church on Christmas Day almost every year, but that still wasn’t enough.

Although it took me a long time to figure it out, I now know that what was missing from my past Christmas celebrations was my personal, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ!

The birth of Jesus is more than a nice story… The nativity scene is more than a fancy decoration… God sending His Son to become man and later die for my sins is, by far, the best Christmas present imaginable! Receiving this gift – truly accepting God’s grace and mercy – is a life changing experience! This is what Christmas is all about!

At church tonight, our drama ministry presented two sketches about how many people see Christmas, and how it’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving and family craziness that the holidays bring. In between the sketches, our choir sang beautiful Christmas carols that focused on the true meaning of Christmas. Our pastor tied everything together perfectly, connecting our modern Christmas existence with reality, which is only found in Jesus.

I was amazed at how everything fit together, and felt honored and blessed when a stranger approached me and told me that we completely depicted all of the pieces that Christmas brings and how she really enjoyed everything.

I love how God can use something so simple to show the world His love. I am truly humbled that He allows me to be a part of His plan!

I am even thrilled that my inability to sleep on this Christmas Eve is not caused by selfish thoughts of the presents I’m going to receive or what we’re going to eat for Christmas dinner.

Instead, I’m completely in awe of the presence of God in my life! I am incredibly grateful for the Holy Spirit slowly working in me. I am thankful for an amazing church family and the godly people in my life, who help me stay grounded in my faith!

My life is far from perfect, because I am far from perfect, but I still have complete joy because of Jesus! Even when life hurts, I can rejoice because I know I am forgiven and made free and will spend eternity in Christ’s presence!

I sincerely want everyone to be able to experience God’s love, and personally know Jesus! I pray that people who haven’t found what’s missing from their family celebrations will open their hearts and see the true meaning of Christmas… Jesus Christ!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

Heart Purification

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8, ESV).

I posted on Facebook earlier that the K-Love verse of the day was Matthew 5:8, and that today’s lesson from my Aunt’s Max Lucado “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus” Bible study was on the Beatitudes. 

“Coincidences” like this tend to get me thinking….and the following paragraph from Lucado really got my brain going this morning:  “And though your heart isn’t perfect, it isn’t rotten.  And though you aren’t invincible, at least you’re plugged in.  And you can bet that he who made you knows just how to purify you – from the inside out.”

God knows how to purify you from the inside out… Why, yes, He does, even when you’re not looking for Him to!  In fact, God started working on my heart years before I was saved.   I believe this was necessary for me to fully embrace His love for me.

When I look back to the relationships and other experiences I had during college and graduate school, it was clear that my heart was non-existent.  I was closed to receiving love from others and tended to push people away when they tried to get too close.  The rational behind this could be a dissertation in itself, so I will spare you the details, but basically, I kept my heart safe, so no one could hurt me.  Instead of opening my heart to the possibility of things I didn’t understand, I hardened my heart, refusing to let anyone in.

Luckily, God slowly began softening my heart and planting seeds that would one day allow me to realize His love.

The major chisel to my hardened heart was the birth of my son.  I have learned so much about how to love by becoming a mother than from anything I have ever experienced.  Most people try to teach their children to love as they do; but, I can honestly say that my ability to love has resulted from my son teaching me!  I wish I could say that I learned the first time I held him in my arms, but like everything, it’s been a process.  Early on, I failed more often than I succeeded, but God gave me a wonderful boy, who always loved me in spite of my many imperfections as a mother.  I am grateful that my son and I are finally to a place where we can both learn from one another!

The next major chisel to my heart problem was the realization that my life was not where I wanted it to be.  I was still not a Christian, so I cannot really cite this verse as the basis for my change, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   Get rid of the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking (Ezekiel 18:31, NCV).

I knew some things in my life had to change, even before I knew I needed God.   Again, this is backwards thinking!   We should realize we need God, and allow Him to change us, but that’s not how it initially worked, likely because I did not have an understanding of God’s grace from my Catholic upbringing.  But, even though I was not seeking God, He was always chasing after me!

Slowly, my heart began to change, and I became open to loving other people and letting them into my heart.  However, as with anything new, it wasn’t a smooth process.  I ended up being manipulated and found myself in a dangerous situation.  But, despite the pain that resulted from my naïve heart, God used this experience to bring me to church, and by this point, my heart was ready to know Him.  Even though some people may not understand my feelings, I have absolutely no regrets, as this led me to learn about God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ unfailing love, and ultimately gave me eternal life!

To me, the most surprising thing is that afterwards, I did not go back to the “safety” of my hardened heart, as I would have expected, but rather I learned to trust God with my heart.  And, while the road has not always been smooth, and my humanness tends to complicate matters, I know I am headed in the direction that He desires for me. 

I’m being purified from the inside out, and as this is happening, I am able to see God more clearly.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).”

Divine Interruptions

I’m a little stuck in my Ecclesiastes study right now, so I thought I’d take a break and travel down a different path than where I’ve been writing from. Since we finished up our Jonah study, and it’s unlikely I will be able to make the final meeting, I thought it would be appropriate to write about what I took from that study…what my own personal “divine interruption” is and how I’m progressing.

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3 ESV)

The story of Jonah is not so unlike my life. Jonah runs away from God because he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. In a similar way, I have spent most of my life running from something. Insecurity used to have a huge hold on me, and kept me from fully embracing who I am. As a kid, I felt inferior around those I deemed were “better” than me. In fact, that attitude persisted a lot longer than it should have. It led me to make some really bad decisions, and not have the confidence to be completely comfortable in myself. At the time, I did not have a relationship with God, and often sought out acceptance in the wrong places.

When I became a Christian, I was a huge Angela Thomas fan. Our church started a support group for single moms and we read “My Single Mom Life”. I loved her down to earth style of writing and felt compelled to buy every Angela Thomas book I could find. One day, I came across a book and journal study called “Do You Think I’m Beautiful”, and while I totally disregarded the whole premise of God finding me beautiful or having a ‘romance’ with me, I bought it anyway and promptly filed it away in my nightstand.

In January of 2009, I was at a pretty low place in my life. I remembered the book and began reading and going through the workbook. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed this study to better understand the patterns in my life. It seemed that a lot of my poor decisions were related to my negative self-esteem. The study was eye opening and addictive, and landed me in the pastor’s office on a couple of occasions, as I tried to come to terms with everything I was learning about myself!

By the end of the study, I felt confident in God’s love and that He did see me as beautiful. I was passionate about Bible study and became very involved in the women’s ministry in my church. I knew I was being called to help other people overcome their self-esteem issues and become empowered by Christ’s love. The problem was that while I felt changed, I wasn’t comfortable showing everyone that I was a “new creation”. It wasn’t intentional, but I was almost living a double life – I acted “Christian” around “Christian” people, and “normal” around everyone else. I truly wanted people to see Christ in me, but He wasn’t shining through me in the manner He deserved.

But, God wasn’t finished with me….

When I started the Jonah study this fall, I wasn’t sure what “divine interruption” was taking place in my life. I considered that it was being single, but that’s been my life; it’s all I’ve known, hardly an “interruption”. I prayed about it and started getting to know people at my new church. It then became clear… God was telling me that I need to be who He has created me to be, all of the time, to everyone!

I always considered myself to be “real” and “open”, but I became aware that I was afraid to show the “world” that I was a completely sold-out Jesus freak, and afraid to share my story with Christians who seemed to have it all together. In other words, I was “real” and “open” when it was safe, but mostly afraid to completely step out of the box to glorify God and let Him work through me.

This Jonah study, along with the well timed encouragement of friends, has really helped me come out of my shell. Not only do I know God loves me and has a great plan for my life, I’m willing to let Him use me in any way He desires, even if it’s scary! This isn’t to say that I won’t have periods of self-doubt or insecurity in myself or where He’s leading me, but I am committed to follow Him wherever He leads, even if that means I have to go to Nineveh!

Usually I close with scripture, but today I want to close with a passage from my favorite children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams. Oh, I have always loved the words of the Skin Horse; such wisdom!! I look forward to a day where we can all be “real” and be exactly who God made us to be, without condemnation, guilt, or shame!

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Living in the World

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

My personality is unique. I’m very open and try to appreciate others for who they are, no matter their sins. I’m pretty successful at this, even with acquaintances and strangers. People generally feel comfortable being their true selves around me, and find no reason to hide anything. This is a very good thing…usually!

A problem can result when other people take my acceptance of their beliefs as my personal agreement with their decisions. I’ve never walked in the other person’s shoes, so I have no right in judging them. But, I have walked miles in my own shoes and know where God is leading me.

Since I’ve been on this trip, a couple of “weird” comments have been made by others that concern me greatly. I’m somewhat comfortable with expressing my beliefs, but fear these people’s thoughts represent the “status quo” for society. Considering the frequency of such remarks has been increasing in my life, this must be true!

Before I go into specifics, let me warn you that this is going to get personal really fast! You may not want to know this much about me or my struggles. I’ve been told that I should come with a warning label! This is it; you’ve been warned!!

Let’s start with last night. I decided to have a couple of beers with my colleagues, but I arrived at the bar earlier than the others. I ordered a beer, sat down at the bar, and the man next to me struck up a conversation with me, as frequently happens. It was completely harmless and innocent. When the others arrived, a colleague of mine asked me why I didn’t “go for that”. I initially thought she was joking, but I quickly learned she was serious. I explained that I’m not like that and don’t want to hook up with a random person. She then said something that disturbed me greatly….”No one has to know.”

I laughed and said, “This is me we’re talking about, everyone would know because I can’t lie or hide something that serious.” I tried to explain what I was looking for in a relationship and that I was not going to compromise that, but I don’t think they understood.

This morning, the group was talking about dancing, and since they know I enjoy it, they showed me a YouTube video of a hot, new Latin dance. I remarked that I would not be comfortable performing that dance socially, but it’s something I could enjoy with my husband, if I were married. A comment was made – “Isn’t that what dancing is for, to have fun with random people?” It is, but I feel some dances are too intimate to be shared so casually. Think back to the movie “Dirty Dancing” – this is your dance space; this is mine.

In society’s eye, I have become a prude! Anyone who has known me for any amount of time would have to credit (or curse, depending on their perspective) God for this transformation. I used to think just like everyone else seems to think…but I don’t anymore.

Maybe I’m ultra-sensitive and vigilant in this area because I know all too well the slippery slope that you face when you flirt too close to the line. I’ve even learned that being upfront and honest with people may encourage “challenge” in the wrong man’s eyes. This is all very dangerous and I’ve yet to meet a non-Christian who understands. Perhaps my mistake here is in trying to justify myself to someone who may never get it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Christians who seem to get it either. Many are married and haven’t experienced the pressures and societal “expectations” of single adults. I’ve also met single Christians who choose to ignore sin in this area of their lives, and others who have never had the opportunity for temptations or are not interested in “such things” at all.

It’s really too bad that sex is such a taboo subject in the church and many people are uncomfortable talking about it. I really believe that if we Christians are open about our struggles, it would show that this is a common issue among single adults who want to honor God in their actions, and still want to enjoy life to the fullest! It would also make it easier for everyone to be on the same page, and allow for compassion and grace.

Honestly, I’m not even completely at peace with God’s teaching regarding sex and marriage. I’ve come a long way, but I’m not there yet! A friend of mine recently got married for the second time and they decided to wait to have sex until their wedding night. I fully respect and admire their devotion to God, but I’m not convinced I could be that strong!

Now that I think about it (and you’re reading it here first, as I never considered this until this precise moment), maybe this is the reason I avoid relationships, especially with Godly men… Part of me feels guilty that I have these struggles and not having a pristine past makes me feel unworthy of their love. But, more than that, I know I could never be successful waiting to have sex until marriage (something that may never happen) in my own strength…and I’m not completely sure that I want to. It sounds terrible that I would want to deliberately be disobedient, but unfortunately, that’s where I am. I may have subconsciously decided that it’s safer and easier to be alone, date casually (where sex isn’t an issue), or most horribly, get involved with men outside of God’s will. In all of these ways, I am showing my lack of trust in God…and that’s a huge problem for me!

I feel God is asking me for complete trust and obedience in this area and that’s scary for me…but like I said yesterday – if He brings me there, He’ll bring me through it. So, I really need to get over this issue completely…and maybe once I do, I’ll be more comfortable being “different” to “the world”.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV).

Eliphaz – True Friend or Harsh Foe

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, mostly since my writing has been all over the place.  I hope I can keep my thoughts on the right track and actually make a relevant point!  I may revisit some of my previous, unpublished blogs to see if there is anything that can be salvaged…

Last night was the first Wednesday night Bible study I’ve been to in a while.  We’re studying the book of Job, which I recently studied on my own.  The subject was Eliphaz’s first speech and the discussion was very insightful.  The commentary from last night, as well as my previous study (by Charles Swindoll), both begin their attacks on Job’s friends in Chapter 4.  The implication is that Eliphaz is telling Job that he must have sinned and therefore, in some way, caused the punishment he received.

One of our group members made an interesting observation.  He questioned whether Eliphaz (in chapters 4 and 5) actually told Job that his sin caused his problems.  We looked for verses that specifically stated this, and the best we could come up with was verse 4:8 “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”  But, this wasn’t specifically directed at Job, and was more of a general statement about reaping what you sow.  Then, in verses 5:6-7, Eliphaz says, “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”  This seems to describe the sin nature of man, and actually goes against blaming Job’s plight on his specific sins.

The more I pondered this, the more I was troubled by it.  I agreed with the original comment, adding that I really didn’t want to admit he was right.  I did not explain why that was, but I will describe it here….

When I consider the book of Job as a whole, a couple things stand out to me from my previous study.  One is that Job was amazingly patient and graceful despite all of the terrible events he went through.  Two is that God never apologized to Job for what happened, and essentially put Job in his place.  A third is that Job’s friends were pretty selfish and cruel throughout their speeches, and really deserved their share of negative attention because of that.  However, maybe there’s more to the story and a second study will illuminate details that I previously missed…

What if Job’s friends were really trying to help?  I do believe their hearts were in the right place, as they showed up to support Job.  They even followed the customs of the day and were silent for seven days, giving Job the opportunity to speak first.  Eliphaz then tried to help Job understand his problem, speaking first of the friends, probably terrified that he would say the wrong thing.  Was his speech delivered perfectly?  No, of course not, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, that’s to be expected, as most of us don’t excel in knowing what to do when trying to help our friends.

When you read Eliphaz’s first speech without the context of what’s to come in remainder of the book, he didn’t do that terribly.  He presented Job with Biblical truths, encouraged Job to seek God for help in this matter, and spoke very well of God’s greatness.  He might have been a little presumptuous about his personal knowledge regarding Job’s situation, but I contend he really cared about his friend and wanted to comfort him.

My point – perhaps Eliphaz did not yet deserve all of the bad press he received in the friend department.  He tried, he genuinely tried; shouldn’t that be applauded?

I think people often avoid their friends’ problems because they are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing.  I am queen of putting my foot in my mouth, despite having honorable intentions. Like Eliphaz, I tend to start out timidly, but once the words start flowing, it’s not always easy to know when to stop.  I think we all fall into that category from time to time.

I need to take this a step further, and this is the hard part – why I didn’t want to agree with the original comment in Bible study Wednesday night… Okay, here goes.

Maybe I should be grateful when someone makes an effort to relate to me when I’m going through a tough time, even if they say and do everything that I believe is wrong.  It could be that they really want to help, but don’t know what to do, but yet they feel they must do something.

Maybe this person loves me so much that it hurts them to see me suffer and they’re willing to do anything to take that pain away from me.  But, not being me, not being God, and not knowing the whole situation, they’re at a significant disadvantage.

Maybe instead of getting mad at the unsolicited advice and perceived negativity, I should feel loved because they chose to say anything, when it would be much easier for them to ignore a problem that is not theirs.  I could just thank them for their concern and feel their love.

Maybe I could just focus on the positive and ignore the negative.

Who says you have to take advice just because it’s given to you?  Giving someone else harsh words in return for their attempt at comfort can truly make tempers flare and then everything will end up being much worse…

I wonder if Eliphaz would agree?