How to Be Job’s friend

We all know the story of Job and his three friends who came to visit. These three men are generally disparaged for their tiring, all-knowing speeches explaining Job’s misfortunes. It’s true, they talked so much that they ran out of words. Despite their pompous speeches, you know what I think of them? I think they were amazing friends. One could make the case that the story of Job is one immense lesson on friendship. Remember, Job gave a big long speech, too, and God reprimanded all four of them when He started up. (Reading Job 38-41 in The Message version will give you a fresh perspective on how God talks to His best friends. It’s actually hilarious.)

Why were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar excellent friends?

Because they showed up.

When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.  Job 2:11-13

They took time off work and travelled to be with Job. This was probably neither convenient, comfortable, nor profitable for them. But they were not afraid to enter into his calamity. They mourned deeply with him. And this is the astonishing part: they sat with him FOR SEVEN DAYS AND NIGHTS WITHOUT SAYING A WORD. Who does that? A really, really good friend. A better friend than I have ever been.

These friends who are known for their verboseness, if we read the story carefully, were initially slow to speak.

I think we can learn a lot about friendship from these guys, particularly about being a friend to someone in crisis.

How can we be a good friend to the Jobs in our life?

1. Go to them.

Show up. Just be there. Don’t be afraid to enter into the mess, into the darkness. It’s a very Jesus-like thing to do. {“I was in prison, and you visited me.” Matthew 25:36}  We all fret about what to do for our hurting friends, and often this discomfort keeps us away. I’ve come to learn that the main doing that’s needed is just showing up. The presence of a friend makes the dark cell of grief a little brighter.

2. Talk less.

I imagine Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were a deep comfort to Job those seven silent days. And I imagine they cancelled out all that comfort the moment they started talking. Trying to explain why God would let bad things happen to Job. “God has a reason for everything,” we say. “God never gives us more than we can handle.” “Have you confessed your sin?”  “Maybe God is trying to teach you a lesson.” “God works all things together for good.” “One day things will get better.”  Anyone who has been the recipient of these words during crisis knows how much they do NOT help. In fact, they hurt. Of course we want to explain why bad things happen; and who wants an explanation more than the hurting person? But in the middle of the pain is the WRONG TIME to make assumptions, to pretend to be God. These guys tried their best to have answers, and God nailed them on their presumption. {“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has,” God said to them. Job 42:7} Any words based on discomfort, obligation, unbelief, assumption, judgment, or agenda will hurt your Job and your God. Who are we to know why bad things happen? It’s okay to not know.

It’s okay to not have answers. Don’t try to fill the emptiness with your words.

3. Listen humbly.*    

*This one is for the friends as well as the Jobs.

Job also spoke against the Lord, but after the Lord’s rebuke, he was quick to LISTEN, quick to repent and say God, You’re right! I’m listening to you! I take back everything I said (Job 42:1-6). Job was quick to ask for forgiveness, which put him right with God. But Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were still in need of reconciliation, and their humility came at an even harder price.

“So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf.”        Job 42:8

God told them to go to Job and receive a prayer of forgiveness and blessing from him. Job, whom they loved yet judged. (Don’t we do that to each other a lot?) Instead of listening to themselves talk, they listened to God’s voice, counseling them how to be a friend to Job, how to mend what they messed up. And simultaneously how to set things right with God. (Don’t we all need relational mending?)

Job also listened to God’s voice and prayed for the friends who had just slammed him in his time of deepest need.  Job, covered in disease, plagued by loss, with absolutely nothing to give. Job, who should have been receiving blessing from his friends. And yet God turned the tables. It was Job’s prayer that made everything right again in their relationships to each other and to God. Job, the friend of God. {Job 1:8, MSG}

Do you notice how interwoven it all is? Their relationships with each other and with God?

God, friendship, suffering, and forgiveness are inseparable. If something is off with one, all connections fray.  If we are humbly listening, God will show us how to make it right with God and man. And listen we must, for it may look or sound different than we would assume. Perhaps suffering is an opportunity to deepen friendships. (Could friendship be that valuable to God?)

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Matthew 5:23-24

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Hebrews‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭

Job’s prayer produced wonderful results indeed.

When Job prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before! Job 42:10

Another detail about Job’s life that’s gone under-publicized! When was everything restored for him? When he swallowed his pain and pride and prayed for his friends, out of obedience to God. When they were all listening, humbled, reconciled.

The result of right friendship with God and man was not only forgiveness, but abundance!

I wonder what would have happened if this trio never made the trip to visit their friend. Would Job have been restored? Would the four of them have remained friends? Would they have ever heard God’s awesome speech? Would we have this profound understanding of relationship? This is why I think Job’s story may be a giant lesson in friendship.

Friends, let’s learn from it? Let’s not let Job’s suffering go to waste?

If you can relate to Job, I deeply hope this last point encourages you. Don’t give up. Your abundance is coming. Keep listening. Keep putting up with stupid people who don’t know how to be your friend right now. Give them grace, even though you have nothing to give. It’s not fair, I know. But you are not alone – Job has shown you the way. Faithfulness is being refined in you in ways you cannot see, and one day you will bear the fruit. One day you’ll be able to sit with someone in silence, and you’ll know how much it means to them to not have stupid friends to have a friend well-acquainted with suffering. Speaking of, you have one of those friends right now in Jesus. You are not alone. {Isaiah 53:3}
And if you have a friend in a hard place, please don’t be afraid to draw near to them. They need you – not for your theology, not for your perfection, not for your “timely words” – just for your presence, flawed as it may be. Don’t be afraid. If you mess it up, maybe God will make something even more beautiful out of the restoration. Maybe He’s been waiting for it all along. Listen, and God will counsel you on how to be their friend. After all, it’s not about you – it’s about God. 

Advertisements

Love is a Person.

Reading through the gospels recently, I’ve noticed something seemingly uncharacteristic about Jesus. He never came out and told His disciples, “I love you.” It’s true, go see! We think of Jesus as the ultimate expression of God’s love, but the exacting Old Testament God was much more vocal in His expressions of everlasting love than earth-side Jesus ever was.

It was not until the Last Supper that Christ implied His love when He told the disciples, “love each other as I have loved you.” -John 13:34

 

As I have loved you. So how did He love the disciples? By doing and saying what He saw and heard the Father doing and saying. And since that’s the only thing He did on earth, He was living and breathing love in the form of obedience.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind APPEARED, He saved us… according to His mercy, by the washing of the Holy Spirit… whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ…      – Titus 3:4-6

Jesus was the expression of God’s love, but not because of the words He said. It’s because He Himself was the WORD. That’s why John, the disciple Jesus loved, opens his masterpiece with this:

In the beginning was the Word…

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  John 1:1,14

Jesus’ love was not in words, because He Himself was the living Word: the living doing of the Father’s love. Jesus was Love in the flesh; the embodiment and conduit of God’s lovingkindness toward mankind. Literally toward men – sent to earth – Emmanuel. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Take a pause and let that sink in? The Word was not the talking kind of word, He was the doing, living, breathing, listening, acting kind. His mere existence in flesh and blood was Love.

Simply put, Love is a Person.

Love is Jesus.

Love looks like something, Heidi Baker says.  Love Does is how Bob Goff puts it.

Yes.

 

When Jesus did talk about love, it sounded like this:

“If you love me, obey me.”

Love looks like something! If this is a challenge to you, let it be. It certainly makes me uncomfortable. Consider your day today and purpose to live like Jesus: short on the talking kind of love and long on the doing kind of love. If Love is a Person, then you already have Love within you to teach you how to love well. Listen to Him. Obey Him. This is Ground Zero for being like Jesus.

The way I see it, friends, if we are not loving each other well, we are living in disobedience.

So let us love well!

“A new commandment I give to you,

that you love one another,

even as I have loved you.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples,

if you have love for one another.”    

John 13:34-35

 

Potholed People in an Era of Mercy

On this first day of September, I say we celebrate enduring this past month. I don’t know about you, but in all her humidity and heat and storms, August has mirrored (and likely expounded) the heat index on my insides. “Feels like 105,” August said as my six-year-old played her first soccer game. Oh September, treat us more kindly? Cover us with a dry breeze every now and then?

Cover. Makes me think of a Hebrew word I came across four Augusts ago: kaphar. It means to atone, to reconcile, to annul, to forgive.

This is what the Old Covenant priests’ sacrifices did – they made atonement, covered over the sins of the people. This is what happened at the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement (kippur). The lid of the ark of the covenant was called kapporeth, another derivative of kaphar… to cover. The place where the Mercy Seat sat.

Mercy.

Pope Francis says The Name of God is Mercy, and we are in a kairos era of mercy. When asked why humanity is so in need of mercy, he said, “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.” So true.

This word kaphar has one more meaning: to cover over with pitch.

My husband is a civil engineer whose specialty is asphalt. When we were dating, and still to this day, as we drive along he tells me the ins and outs of paving a road well. I have slowly grown to enjoy it. [Can you believe he loves the smell of asphalt?!] The first thing he taught me about paving roads – probably instigated by complaints about potholes – is that the paving machines can’t run in winter. The asphalt has to be hot enough in order to be applied correctly. So until the weather is warm enough, the road crews can’t repave a foot. They can only fill in potholes by hand. A temporary fix.

Winter causes potholes in the first place, then prevents repair. Winter, what’s up with that? The bitter-cold, barren seasons of the heart inflict similar damage, don’t they? Seep into your cracked fears and freeze, only to tear a rent wider and deeper, until once solid ground crumbles under foot.

Creator God knows this, and He is a respecter of seasons. Even when we long to live healed and whole, it is truly mercy that, in our immediate winter-time trauma, He patches up our souls so that we can continue to function. A temporary fix.

In her new book Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford explains the process this way: “Out of his overwhelming love for me – for all of us as His children – God brilliantly fashioned our hearts in a way that equips us to survive in the world, giving them the ability to keep pain from overwhelming us so we can function. However, this coping mechanism was given as a temporary solution to help survive emotional pain, but never as God’s permanent solution to heal it.”

It is not a temporary fix we hope for. It is forgiveness, it is mercy, covered over thick, once and for all, that all we potholed-people desperately need.

Oh mercy! A time comes, when the weather is warmer and the heavy equipment can operate, that He purposes to dig up the pothole and get to the bottom of the fault. And so He comes back around to do it right.

This August, I’ve felt the black of the pitch. Hot – sticky – stinky – in ruin. The equipment is heavy indeed; stripping away the crumbled asphalt that gained its strength from others’ opinions, others’ encouragement, other’s attention. The tension and pressure of metal teeth the size of my head grates into my core. Orange cones and flashing lights keep traffic away. “Right lane closed ← merge left.” Some days I feel He has diverted the flow of traffic too well, that no one can see me. It seems friendship cannot be grasped. It seems that we do not have enough. I am lonely. I am anxious. I am discouraged at the seeming lack of progress and all the mess.

And yet, I am beginning to see this  too is Mercy. To cover over with pitch, to fully fill the holes in my heart, to make me new, to make atonement – all is mercy.

 

“But I’ve dealt with all my issues,” you may say. Well, so have I, and yet here I am again. That’s the thing about being alive – there is always more weathered wounding to be had. And that’s the thing about being alive in Christ – there is always more healing, always more freedom, always more redemption to be found in and through the King of my heart. To have a sure highway, a firm foundation, a healed heart, the deeper work must be done. In my experience, every type of healing – emotional, relational, physical, mental, and spiritual – follows this pattern: it gets worse before it gets better. For this hope set before me, I can endure when it gets worse, knowing it is possible to cure the wounds

If you are in pain today, if your life seems to be crumbling around you, I encourage you to search out God’s perspective is. Maybe He’s getting to the root of your broken places, because He means to heal and fill you well. Maybe it’s getting worse because it’s about to get better. 

And if you are in a season of temporary fix, it’s okay. God is brilliant and near and knows. You can trust that His manual filling will last exactly as long as it’s supposed to, and His grace will be enough to get you through until you have the space to become undone.

Take some time alone and invite God into your heart. Ask Him what season you are in, and how you can partner with Him in that season toward wholeness. Whether a temporary fix or a deeper hot-weathered work, never doubt He has your best interest in mind, and He wastes nothing, and He does all things well.

“Search my heart, O God, and see if there be any hurtful way in me,” we often pray, and rightly so. The true journey is to go along with Him, diving into the deeper places of our souls, so He can illumine the eyes of our heart to see what’s really going on. Search together with Him, and the fear and loneliness will not overcome. His gentle ways and steadfast hope will sustain.

Search my heart, O God, and take me with you as you go…

With this cry, I come to the seat of mercy, where Jesus has paid for my whole and perfect heart, and say yes. I choose to partner with God to undo the patch job – to dig it all up again, and then some. To get below the deepest fault, uproot the old and establish the most excellent way. I commit to giving myself all the space and time and grace necessary to finish this road maintenance well.

And I am taking a cue from my husband by learning to love the smell of asphalt, for it means a heart is being made whole.

A Letter to the Women, On Finding Your Place

Church can be complicated. It’s a place we go to feel at home, to find our place. Yet how many times have you walked into a gathering of the saints and felt foreign, invisible, a misfit, out of place?  Oh my sisters, we can change this! For we need each other; in fact we were made to live in community. I wrote the following letter to the women of my church family that may speak to many others — especially those of us searching for a church home, for those of us wondering, is there room for me here?


Dear Vineyard Women,

Happy Summer to you! As you go about your days, hopefully indoors, Kitty and I extend a heart-felt hello and we love you and safe travels and SPF 50 and miraculous ease in traffic and ice cream consumption. Really, though, we write to connect at a heart-level with a thought God has been highlighting for our larger female body. Of the church, I mean.

We are a beautiful body, aren’t we? New folks and long-timers, college students to great-grandmothers, every-weekers and occasional-weekers. Speaking of new folks, if that’s you, we really want you to know that 1) there are lots of new members, so you are not alone; 2) this is a safe place where you can be yourself; and 3) welcome, welcome, welcome! Make yourself at home! There is room for you here.
There is room for you here. That one is for all of us, I believe. If you’ve heard an opposing voice in your head, hear me now: that’s not the truth. There IS room for you here. We need each other! Together we are glory and beauty and life and healing to our community, shining bright.  {Also together we are fun and refreshing to each other.}
All of you together are Christ’s body,and each of you is a part of it.

Lately the Lord has been speaking to me in puzzles… literally. {Anyone else love doing puzzles?} As I was pondering all you wonderful souls and this idea of Making Room, I saw the Lord dumping a box of puzzle pieces onto a table. It occurred to me that in the beginning it takes a lot more room to spread out all the pieces than it does to hold the finished puzzle. At first it is messy – cardboard dust billows, dull brown pieces somehow resist being face up. What is the next step? Each piece is hand-picked, turned over to reveal its color and design, and placed into a pile of like pieces.

My dears, we are this puzzle. We are each pieces of one another, and joined together we make a beautiful finished work. I forget this sometimes, especially during these transient summer months: we were made for Jesus and for each other. Specifically. Think of it! The Father has brought each one of us – with our stories and theologies, skills and giftings, victories and defeats, doubts and dreams – to be right here right now at this church to “fit together perfectly… for the building up of each other in love” (Eph 3:16). Oh how I wonder what the finished puzzle will look like!

Consider your part in the grand design. Have you allowed the Father to turn you over, to reveal your true colors? If you haven’t yet, how about let’s do it together? This is a healing place, to be sure. We need you, even if you’re broken… especially if you’re broken. {Brokenness is the greatest gift.} Without you, the puzzle will have a gap.  Paul says it this way: “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance” (I Cor 12:26). Discovering who you really are is a life-long pursuit best done arm-in-arm with sisters and mothers who hear the heart of God when you can’t. I am so grateful for such women I’ve come to know here in the last five years. We do this well. Let’s be purposeful to continue in it.

If you’re familiar with your piece and looking for your spot, let’s get creative! What’s something you’ve always wanted to do – spiritual, non-spiritual, whatever? How can we help you do it? What’s an upgrade or enrichment you could bring? What do you have that the body needs? Let us know. For real. Let’s spread all these pieces out and get to puzzle-building, beautiful glory-lights!

 

With joy,

Rachel