Prelude to Blessings
Pastor Darryl Bentley
Midland SDA Church
July 9, 2011
Homiletical Idea: Trouble is bound to come in this life for all of us. Christians are especially susceptible to this because they become the special focus of Satan’s attacks. Christ told us to take up our cross and follow Him. This tells us that we will have trials, but we must come to the place where we see those trials as a prelude to blessings. The valley experiences teach us to appreciate the mountain tops.
Setting the Stage
Life is hard. Life is trying. Life is unpredictable at times. Life is filled with people who don’t understand what we are facing each day. Life is a training ground to prepare us for something greater.
Opening Illustration: The longest march part 1.
When I look back on many of the things that the Army did to us I realize that they were simply trying to prepare us for combat. Each exercise, each training event was designed to make us ready to face our enemies. As Christians we can view our circumstances in a similar way I think.
A Season for All Things
The Christian life is filled with ups and downs, with tears and laughter, with sorrow and rejoicing, with tragedy and triumph, with victory and defeat, and with life and death. Solomon was said to have been filled with great wisdom and I believe it. We can read about that God-given wisdom in the books of Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that there is an appointed time for every event under heaven. That means that there is a time to die and a time to be born; a time to plant and a time to harvest; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to love and a time to hate. The list in Ecclesiastes goes on further, but I think we get the point don’t we: everything has its season.
If Solomon were to have written Ecclesiastes today what might that list from chapter three look like? I submit to you today that it would not look very differently than it does in its current form in the Bible. Maybe he would have added the lines: There is a time to be broke and a time of plenty; a time to fight cancer and a time to be cancer free; and a time to buy a home and time to lose it to foreclosure.
Truly the list of seasons happen much the same way they did when Solomon wrote them so long ago. Today they simply reveal themselves to us under different names.
The Seasons of Job
If there was ever a man in Scripture who understood these seasons from a human perspective it had to have been the faithful Job. The Bible teaches us that Job was an upright, blameless man who was faithful to God in all that he did. Job sought to turn away from evil.
As Job lived his life to honor God he was very blessed. He had wealth: 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 1,000 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants to tend to all he had. He had a big family with many sons and daughters. But most importantly he had a relationship with the God of heaven. This season of Job’s life was pleasant and filled with all that one could hope to have had in Job’s time. He had the nice house, the big cars, and large family of his day. But in the midst of his success he did not forget nor turn away from the God of heaven.
Job even offered sacrifice on behalf of his sons and daughters when they would get together to celebrate their birthdays. He did it the Bible says in case they “…sinned and cursed against God in their hearts.” And he did this continually. Job not only kept his heart right with the Lord, but he made every effort to ensure that his children stayed right with the Lord. This was a season of blessing for job.
As is often the case when we are in a season of blessing, Satan focused his attacks on Job and his family. Yes, we read that God allowed Satan to test and attack Job and his family, but the Lord never permits us to be tempted beyond what we are able without giving a way of escape right? (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In the time it took four messengers to relay their news Job lost his oxen, female donkeys, his sheep, his camels, and worst of all he lost all his children. So in about the span of thirty minutes or less Job lost almost everything he had. Can you imagine getting that news today?
Let’s say you’re at work and your phone starts ringing. You answer to find out that your house has burned to the ground, what was not burned up was stolen, your identity had been stolen and crooks cleaned out your bank accounts, and all of your kids were killed in a car accident. How would you respond? How would you cope? Would you cry out and curse God for allowing all this happen. Would you fly into a rage and vow to seek to revenge on those who did this to you? Would you turn to alcohol or drugs and try to drown your sorrows in a pool of booze and pills? Would you sink into a deep, dark depression blaming your poor up-bringing and disconnected parents for all your woes? What would you do?
I don’t even want to speculate as to what I would do, but I am very thankful that we have the record of what Job did. Look with me in Job 1:20. We are told Job tore his clothes, shaved his head, and fell to the ground and worshipped God. He had just lost almost everything and his response was to mourn, yes, but also to worship God and to praise the Lord. In verse 21 he says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Unlike so many of us today, Job did not lash out at and blame God.
Yes, he said the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, but Job did not make this statement in anger and judgment of God. He made this statement as a realization that ultimately God is control of everything. And the awesome thing about God’s control is that He controls things in such a way that ultimately bless us and glorifies Him. That is God’s ultimate purpose: to bless us and glorify Himself. And those are very, very good things.
The Rest of Job’s Story
We are not going take time to look at the rest of Job’s story today. If we did we would find that his wife and so-called friends both were of little help to him. His wife encouraged him to curse God (Job 2:9) and his friends were convinced he was a secret sinner and told him as much.
The beautiful thing about Job’s story is that although his faith was tested beyond anything most of us will ever experience, he ultimately remained faithful to God and His cause and God restored Job two-fold. Where he lost 7,000 sheep he gained 14,000, and he was given more children and lived to see their offspring for four generations. I love how the story of Job closes. **Read Job 42:17**
Some may hear this story today and ask, “So what pastor? What does Job’s suffering and loss have to do with my trials?” My answer would be and is, “That depends on your attitude.” Although you and I may not be wealthy like Job and although we may not have suffered great losses as Job did, we still have our fair share of heartaches today, Amen? Each of us could tell story after story of how life has dealt us hard blows.
Maybe we lost a job because of taking a stand for the Sabbath. Maybe we have lost a spouse to amnesia; they forgot where they were supposed to sleep. Maybe we have lost relationships with friends and family because we choose to serve God instead of partying and gambling away all that we have. Maybe we have lost a child to death at no fault of our own. Maybe we have lost loved ones to tragic accidents or vehicle crashes. There is no end to the troubles that we have or can potentially face as Christians.
But all is not lost! Hope is not dashed away! Joy can still be ours regardless of what this life or the adversary of our souls may hurl at us.
Acquainted With Trouble
If we fast forward to the New Testament we can find others who were also acquainted with sorrow and grief. The apostle Paul was certainly among this group. He was stoned, beaten, ship-wrecked, cursed, falsely accused, and who knows what else. But despite all that Paul endured he was able to stay focused on the task God had given him and he learned how to see trial and heartaches as a prelude to blessings.
There are at least two passages of Scripture that speak of Paul’s ability to see through the pain of hardship to the blessing on the other side. One is from Philippians and the other Romans. Philippians was written around A.D. 62 while Paul was imprisoned and Romans was written around A.D. 58. I mention this to show that Paul’s teaching was consistent over the span of his ministry.
The passage we will look at in Philippians is from chapter 4. Turn with me there please and let’s look at verse 13.
This is a passage with which many of us are very familiar. We may even quote it from time to time to garner the strength we need to go through a situation. Most of us even know it without looking. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yes, it’s true! When Jesus empowers us to accomplish a task there is no stopping us. But not only will Christ give us the power to accomplish great things for Him, but notice how Paul came to this realization.
The Power of Contentment
Verses 11 and 12 tell us how Paul has come to this way of thinking. Having suffered adversity and enjoyed blessings Paul writes under inspiration that “I have learned to be content.” (Phil 4:11) What does it mean to be content? According to Dictionary.com it means to be “In a state of peaceful happiness.” Don’t you love that? Paul writes, “When I am hungry I am peacefully happy. When I am full I am peacefully happy. When I am shipwrecked I am peacefully happy. When I am beaten I am peacefully happy. When I am in prison I am peacefully happy.”
How can Paul say all these things? Is he insane? Has he fallen off his rocker? No and no! Paul can say these things because Paul knows that happiness is not based off of our circumstances. Paul knows that joy does not come from being full no more than it comes from being hungry. Paul knew through deep experience that joy, peace, and happiness only comes through being connected to the God of heaven. Paul knew that troubles and heartaches were merely a prelude to blessings as we seek to be peacefully happy with God by our side. And it is when we trust the Lord to carry us in both famine and feasting times that we can then say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you and I do not learn to see adversity as simply an opportunity for God to prepare us for His blessings then we will never find true contentment. We will never find the strength to endure whatever Satan and this life may throw at us.
If we can only be happy when we have a great job, lots of money, a ton of friends, and all the social advantages that accompany these things then we will never know true happiness and when the least little bit of trouble comes our way we will not see it as an opportunity to trust in God as He prepares to bless us, we will instead blame God for not taking care of us and maybe even turn our backs on Him.
The Building Blocks of Character
Later, in his epistle to the Romans, Paul speaks of a set of building blocks that develop proven Christian character. I believe that these so-called building blocks teach us how to have that peaceful happiness that allows us to see trials and heartache as a prelude to blessings. Notice Romans 5 with me today.
Here Paul reminds us that because of the faith we have in Christ that leads us to the Father we have great reason to rejoice and glorify God. He goes on to say that we also have another reason to rejoice and glorify God, and that reason is our tribulations. Why are tribulations a reason to rejoice? Because tribulation produces perseverance, perseverance develops solid Christian character, and solid Christian character breeds hope and hope placed in Christ does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out for us by the Holy Spirit.
Wrap-up and Appeal
Closing Illustration: The Longest March Part 2.