Life can be full of difficulty. In this past year, throughout the world there have been earthquakes, famine, flooding rains, and hurricanes. Just over a year ago, we watched as hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. We have all seen the pictures. We remember seeing the pictures of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. In addition to the natural disasters, there are times when our lives just don’t seem to be working out right. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out as planned. You had your plans and they didn’t work out the way you wanted them.
This past week, if you’ve been following our reading plan for reading through the Bible, you have encountered the man Job. Here is a righteous man. The scriptures tell us he was blameless and upright; that he feared God and shunned evil. He was a rich man. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned all kinds of livestock. He was the greatest and riches man in the region of Uz. Job was a man who had it all. Even God considered him to be a fine specimen of a human. All was right with Job’s world, so it seemed. In Job 1:6, we pick up the action.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Then 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.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
So God permitted Satan to take everything but Job’s health and life and Satan did so. But Job did not do what Satan predicted. This is Job’s reply:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Satan came to God a second time and we have a second conversation that sounds much like the first. Satan replies, “Skin for skin…A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike has flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan strikes Job with painful sores. And yet, Job still does not curse God. He replies to his wife’s suggestion to curse God and die with this. “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
If we were to continue reading, we would see that just because Job does not curse God, does not mean that he doesn’t question God. It is a very honest questioning. How was Job able to praise God after losing everything he owned? How was Job able to praise God in the storm he was going through?
It is so easy to worship God, when everything is going well. It’s easy to praise God for new jobs, health, wealth, good friends and family. But what about when things don’t go so well? There are those in the Christian community that would say that it’s a faith issue. Job’s friends thought so. Job’s friends told Job to confess the sin he was hiding, so that God would bless him again. There’s a popular thought in Christian circles that if I’m sin free and I have faith, I will never be sick. I will never be poor. I will have wonderful friends and I will never go through a trial. What kind of faith does it require to praise God in just the good times?
If there ever were a test of our faith…If there ever were a test of our motives of worship—it is when a storm rolls into our life. Sometimes God calms the storms, but sometimes He chooses to ride along with us. What does it mean to praise God in THIS storm? Notice the emphasis…this storm implies that we are going through it right now. I had been singing it wrong. It’s easy to say that I will praise God in THE storm, because we are going through the storm, but the word THIS says, at least to me, that we are going through the storm at the current time and that I can praise God during the storm.
So who is correct? If we are going through difficulty, does that mean that we’ve sinned? Does it mean that we don’t have enough faith? To say these things means that we haven’t looked at the entire word of God. One of my favorite verses from years ago, comes from Romans 8:28. My favorite band during my teens and early 20’s was Glad. They wrote a song directly from this scripture, “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.” To be real honest, it sure doesn’t seem that way when you are in the middle of a storm. It’s difficult at best to get your bearings in the middle of a storm. But if we look at another writer he says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever, you face trials of many kinds…” Whoa back the truck up…We should consider trials a joy? Why is that? James continues, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…” So according to James trials and testing and the storms of life are not evidence of our lack of faith, but evidence that our faith is there and needs sharpening. Perseverance through the storm hones our faith. It strengthens our faith. I like the words James uses here. James in effect is saying that without trials we can never become mature believers. We can never become complete in our faith. Without the storms our faith will lack strength. Storms serve to strengthen our faith. So how do we praise God in THIS storm?
David suggests this in Psalm 42. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” We need to remember what God has done for us. When David was going through the storms, he remembered how God had worked in the past. That would give him the strength to go through the next storm and see how God would take him through it.
One of the things that’s important to traverse the storm is scripture. David writes in Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber or sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is the shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
What I love about the new songs is that many times they are scriptures set to music and I don’t know about you, but I can memorize music easier than reading a book. Scripture is key to praising God in the storm.
We must remember that God has a plan for our life and it’s not ours. God is God and we are not! Remember this exchange?
Shardrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Now that’s what it means to praise God in the storm. If we are a child of God, we know that ultimately He will rescue us. Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t’ look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”
Laurie Edwards watched her little girl gasping for air and wanted to breathe for her. She wanted the Maker of breaths to swoop in and fill her child’s lungs and dissolve every tumor with His mere glance. She wanted another miracle.
It was the early morning of Saturday, October 30, 2004. Ten-year-old Erin Browning lay in a hospice bed in her home, in such pain and shortness of breath that, in fear and exasperation, she could manage only one request of her mother.
“Just read the Scriptures!” she said.
So Laurie began reading the Scriptures. She included Erin’s favorite passage, Proverbs 3:5-6. From 1 a.m. until 5 a.m., loved ones took turns reading aloud the Word of God over a child in the last, cruelest stages of cancer’s grip. Little Erin had battled for more than three years.
And now the end was near. Laurie tried to refuse to believe it, but her trust in the Lord remained steadfast. She was frightened and faithful all at once. She prayed for an eleventh-hour miracle. And she kept reading the Scriptures, as Erin had asked.
At one point, Laurie placed her Bible on the floor and stood on it, literally standing on the Word of God as she read over her child. Finally, after the long night of reading Scripture followed by another long night of hopeful prayer, Laurie consented for a hospice nurse to administer an IV with medicine that essentially placed Erin in a painless coma on Sunday afternoon. There would be no more gasping for breath.
Erin Browning went home at 4:24 a.m. on November 1, 2004.
Laurie still doesn’t fully understand what happened next. She remembers only a tremendous peace and describes it as being under the shower of the Holy Spirit. She held Erin’s body for 90 minutes while her daughter played in heaven.
“It was not like how I expected her last minutes to be. I thought I’d be hysterical, but I wasn’t,” Laurie said. “But she was where she always wanted to be. She told me when she was six years old that she couldn’t wait to get to heaven. She said she had felt an emptiness in her heart, but when she asked Jesus into her heart she never felt it again because Jesus had filled her and would never leave her. For the 10 years she was on this earth, God used her in a remarkable, powerful way.
“I’ve learned that He can use an average, ordinary family to do extraordinary things and that He continues to use us despite ourselves,” Laurie said. “How He has done that is beyond me. But He has a plan and purpose. A lot of times I may not like His plan, but I accept it. I’m just honored that He chose to use Erin and this family as He has.”