February 4, 2018

Having One of "Those" Days? Weeks? Months?

5th Sunday of Epiphany

First Lesson:   Job 7:1-7

Second Lesson:  Romans 8:38-39

Gospel Lesson:  Mark 1:29-39

Hear our 2nd lesson again. (Job 7:1-7) Nice, isn’t it, and immensely comforting? Because of Jesus’ love, absolutely nothing will ever separate us from him. No matter the circumstance/situation, he’ll always be there to guide, bless, and lead us. Think about our Gospel lesson. In it, Jesus healed different people - another nice, comforting text. Jesus, who has unlimited power and unlimited love, is always there for us. Esp. in times of trouble, we can rely on him and know he will do what is best and right. 

And there are days we fully realize those feelings.  You have a brutal day at work, but then your boss tells you how much you are appreciated.  You face a strong temptation, but end up walking away. You’re really sick and pray for healing. The next day you feel right as rain. Do we have days when we’re sure nothing will keep us down, that our Savior will always be with us, and that whatever the issue is, he’ll see us through? Thank God we do, and those are blessings from him.

Yes, we have our Romans 8 days and our Mark 1 days. But sandwiched in there, don’t we also have our Job 7 days? Our text is a stark contrast to those 2. Paul’s and Mark’s words are comforting and encouraging - words that give us hope. Job’s words are sad, heavy. One could say they are depressing.  They certainly weren’t enjoyable to read and hear. 

But don’t we all have Job 7 days?  Days when we want to pack it in and give up?  Days when not only does it seem like nothing goes correctly, but also seems like every bad thing that could happen does? No, not all days are like this.  We get our Romans 8 and Mark 1 reprieves.  But if you could go through all the days of your life and put them into categories, wouldn’t you say that more than you care to count would fit into the Job 7 category? I know your answer.

Pick apart Job’s words. “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of hired laborers?”  Ever feel your life is one grueling day after another, that you put in tons of effort and hours, but no one appreciates it and you see few results of your hard work?  Maybe you serve the family and it goes unnoticed, but you are stressed beyond stressed.  Maybe at work you do all you can, but all you get is heat from your boss.  Maybe at school you try and try but all your work seems to be in vain.  Ever feel like you are wasting your time/talents because no one seems to care what you are doing?

“Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired laborer waiting to be paid, so I’ve been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me.” Slave is a word that has powerful connotations.  But don’t you sometimes feel like one in that you are forced to do all these things that are often thankless, non-gratifying work?  You hope and hope someone notices, but no one does. And when they do, there are complaints/accusations of failure.  You feel futile during the day because nothing is going right, and your nights are misery because you can’t turn your brain off.  Ever feel like that?

“When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.”  So far we have focused on an unfulfilled life. Shift topics. It is no secret we are far from perfect people. Daily we struggle with temptation, and time and again we give in.  While there might be a short-term thrill from that, the long-term result is sadness, pain of conscience, fear and so much more.  Doesn’t that rob us of sleep?  Doesn’t that cause tossing and turning because our hearts are not at rest, we are wondering when the sin will hit home, and we are scared thinking about the fallout?

And this doesn’t just affect us on the inside. “My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.”  What happens on the inside has repercussions on the outside.  Stress, fear, anxiety, and a whole bunch of other things can cause us to feel sick, tired, worn down, edgy, skittish, and so much more.  And this is esp. true when we are trying to hide from something, something we know is wrong.  I won’t ask the question if you know this feeling.  I know you do.  We all do.

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.” Sounds like an unending nightmare, doesn’t it? Job thinks so.  These days filled with hardship, pain, and suffering come and go, and he has no idea where the years went. His life feels like a word spoken that just fades into nothingness and is forgotten. And due to all this, there is one thing he feels more than anything else, the most depressing, saddening, frustrating, and painful feeling in the entire world: hopelessness.

How many times did you feel like Job last week? Last month?  Last year?  I can’t go through all the different scenarios that would cause this, so think of your own.  Think of those times when everything at school went wrong, or when your relationships all seemed chaotic, or you lost something or someone very close to you, or your entire life was in upheaval.  Did you feel the way Job does here?  Was hopelessness on your radar?  Or did hopelessness completely swallow you?

I’d love to say you can avoid such days and weeks if you just do ______.  But sometimes these feelings – hurt, pain, lack of hope – can’t be avoided.  Ours is an imperfect world.  We are imperfect people.  These days/weeks will come for all of us.  So the question isn’t, “How do we avoid these days?”  The question is, “What do we do when we have these days?”

And the answer is, in a way, very simple.  Back to Romans 8 and Mark 1.  Job’s problem is that he only saw things from an earthly perspective.  He was only focusing on this life and the fresh hardships each day brought. When we do that and are mired in the junk that often piles up at our doorstep, we can fully expect to feel that same helplessness and hopelessness.

“But it is so hard to see things from any other perspective when I am in the depth of suffering, pain, and loss!” Yes, it is.  When we have our Job 7 days, we are laser focused on those problems and on how rough things are.  And it seems like all these things happen at once, overwhelming us.  “How can I not focus on these things when they’re in my face all the time?”

But here’s the thing.  We don’t have to look past the problems or ignore them. In fact, we can embrace them.  Why?  Because God has promised to give us everything we need to face these problems and, in time, get past them.  How so?

Think about our Romans lesson, esp. vs. 38. Notice Paul doesn’t say there won’t be things that will try to drive us from God, drive us to despair, and make us feel a whole lot like Job in chapter 7.  What he does say is that none of these things, these problems, these issues, will succeed in doing that.  Why won’t they?

Because God is in control. He had a reason for allowing what he allowed in Job’s life.  The same is true for us.  I know that can come off as a trite Christian phrase, but it is true.  Think about past hardships.  What did you learn from them? The idea we are in control is an illusion. Problems make that abundantly clear.  We learn how much help we need as we are humbled by the matter and unable to figure a way out. And we’re necessarily forced to rely on God since we have nowhere else to go and no one else to cling on to. The older we get, the more we realize we grow the most through hardship, pain, and loss.  We learn to lean on God. We learn to find in him comfort and strength and peace that helps us ride out the Job 7 times.

That is what Paul promises God will do in Romans 8.  “I am convinced…”  Paul had hardships – prison, beatings, stoned almost to death, driven from towns, shipwrecked, etc.  But each time he was able to get up and keep going because God strengthened him to do so.  And having gone through all that, he knows it won’t be any different in the future.  Not matter what is thrown his way, no amount of Job 7 days will take God’s love away from him.  No amount of hardships will change the fact he’s a forgiven child of God.  No amount of hardship will cause God to abandon Paul or cause Paul to abandon God.  And no amount of struggle with change God’s promise to work all things for his good, no matter how dark they seem.

That same God is your God.  The love he has for Paul is the love he has for you.  The promises he made to Paul still hold for you as well.  And you know that.  I know this is on the spot, but think of 3 hardships you have gone through, your three biggest.  Maybe it was the loss of someone dear.  Maybe it was a major life upheaval with work or a move.  Maybe it was a physical thing for you.  The list could go on forever.  All those things you are thinking about happened in the past.  Didn’t God see you through?  When you felt hopeless, didn’t he in time restore that hope?  And can’t we say that through all that, we grew spiritually?  Maybe we got back into his Word for strength.  Maybe our prayer life increased.  Maybe we found a network of believers for support.  And maybe, hopefully, we learned to appreciate the one thing in the world that will never change even more – the perfect love of a Savior who washes us clean and promises us glory at his side.

And who is that Savior?  Go to our Mark 1 lesson.  Jesus is one of unlimited power.  He healed the sick in our lesson.  That’s almost like child’s play for him.  There is nothing he cannot do.  Esp. when we have our Job 7, “everything is going wrong, I have no hope days” we need to remember that.  He is in control.  He will work all for our good, even if we don’t know how.  And we know that because he doesn’t just have unlimited power.  He has unlimited love.  He loved those people in our lesson who were hurting, and that love caused him to act.  Nothing is different for us.  Look past our Job 7 days and think about the biggest problem we have and will ever have.  Think about what should cause absolute hopelessness.  It is the thought of not being a part of God’s family.  But love caused Jesus to do something about that.

He healed us, and in a way far better than the physical healing of our lesson.  He healed our souls of the sickness of sin.  He healed our wayward, foolish hearts.  He healed the rift between us and his Father.  He healed us in every way possible by his cross.  He became our sickness.  He became our pain. He became our loss.  And he became our cure.  There is a reason we too can say, “I am convinced…”  That cross proves one thing – we are loved in a way we will never fully appreciate in this life.  And what is love?  Love is always doing what is best for the other person.  Jesus did that, for Jesus is love.  And that love caused him to make the promise, a promise he will keep, that no matter how many Job 7 days we have, nothing of substance will change.  He will still be our Lord.  We will still be his people, people of faith.  And we will still keep marching every day one step closer to the home in heaven he won for us.

Don’t try to ignore your Job 7 days.  Don’t expect to not have them.  They will come.  But when those days bump, bump back with the right antidote.  Bump back with God’s promise of care.  Bump back with God’s assurance to work all things for our good. Bump back knowing the love of our Savior.  Bump back, bump back, and bump back some more, until our Job 7 days are over and we will be convinced of all this.  And that will be when we enter our home, our true home, and our Job 7 days won’t even be a memory.  God grant us such strength all our days.  Amen.