It seems on the surface like that is an understood premise for the Christian, right?
We say it to each other all the time quoting from Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28. The platitudes roll off our tongues easily as if we have no doubts and neither should the person in the trial.
“I am sorry you are in the middle of that financial crisis but remember God has a plan!”
“I know it seems very lonely since your husband/wife/child left you but God has a plan!”
“I am praying God will heal your heart from the pain of the death of your child but until then hold on to His plan!”
But do we really believe it?
We will be in 2 positions throughout our life. The person in the trial and the one who has the opportunity to speak into the life of a suffering friend. How we handle both positions is reflective of what we believe about this statement…GOD HAS A PLAN.
I am studying Job right now with the online group Good Morning Girls. We read a chapter each week day and spend time using the SOAK method really immersing ourselves in the text. I am enjoying the slow pace and the community of women is beautiful! But, I have to admit that Job is not my favorite book of the Bible. When I was looking for something to study at the beginning of the year I had to laugh that God dropped this group in my lap. Each time I have previously read through the Bible I have so much anxiety about how Job’s friends treated him! I end up skimming through the middle of the book so frustrated with them and land in chapter 42 with great anticipation as they get put in their place by God. For me, the patience of Job was how he dealt with them, but I have realized that I was wrong. Job was not patient with them, they annoyed him too, and he told them so. In chapter 13 he calls them out, “Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay. Hold your peace with me and let me speak, then let come on me what may!” In chapter 16 he says, ““I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all!” Ouch!
Obviously, most of what we can learn from Job’s friends is how not to treat each other. They are constantly accusing him of secret sin and even insinuating that God killed his children because of some unknown sin. They have very little compassion on him, in fact the only time they show genuine concern is when they first arrive. They sat silently with him for 7 days because his pain was so great.
So how should we approach a friend in pain? The time of silence is brilliant, just being there and acknowledging the pain can be very comforting. Maybe during our time of silence we can consider the following questions…To start with, a personal heart check–do we honestly believe that God has a plan for the suffering our friend is enduring? A quick prayer here can help us to have confidence in God if an opportunity to speak comes. It may be easy to observe someone’s pain from the outside and tell them that God has a plan, but should we? Is that truly what they need at that moment or do they simply need to be heard and held in silent compassion? Will dismissing their pain relieve them of it or make it worse? When we offer prayer for them are we truly interceding and believing that God will intervene? Do we stop right then and pray for them or walk away only to forget that we offered? Like Job’s friends are we filling our opportunity to speak with assumptions of the sin that “must” be involved? Could we just love them and impart life to them? What will it profit them to be crushed under accusations or dismissive platitudes? Probably nothing. In fact, it may just add insult to injury. Proverbs 25:11 tells us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” This is definitely something to consider and pray about before we open our mouths.
Secondly, what will we believe when we are the one locked into a trial? Will we trust that He has a plan for us that includes this crisis, pain, or high calling? I certainly have not always lived like I believe that God has a plan. I can spend days frantically trying to solve a medical/financial/relational problem by myself before I collapse in a heap and realize I am not qualified to handle it! How long it takes me to hit my knees and beg for His assistance is reflective of how much I trust Him to take care of me, even when horrible things are happening to me or those I love.
I can also stand at the edge of a decision or crisis for days wrestling with taking that first step; the one I know God has told me to take. Caution while collecting wisdom is one thing, paralyzed indecision is another! How quickly I act when God gives me direction is reflective of my confidence in His ability to carry the plan to completion. It will also affect when I get to the top of the stairs leading out out of the present crisis.
Job had more than patience; he had gumption, a real live ability to look at his situation realistically and immediately refocus on what he knew about God!
He had so much confidence in God that in chapter 13 he was able to say to his friends,
13″Hold your peace with me, and let me speak,
Then let come on me what may!
14 Why do I take my flesh in my teeth,
And put my life in my hands?
15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.
16 He also shall be my salvation,
For a hypocrite could not come before Him.
Job truly believed that God had a plan. He knew it so clearly that he could call out his friends on their ridiculous comments regarding his miserable condition. He knew it so clearly that he could go to God and say, “I know You are going to save me from this somehow, but I thought we were friends! Why are you doing this to me when I don’t deserve it?! Nevertheless, even if You kill me, I will trust You.” For those of us who are afraid to say such things to God, we need to remember the Psalms where David cried out before God and hid none of his emotions! Besides, if you feel it, God knows about it.
Since I have read the end of Job already, I know that God’s response to Job was perspective altering. God defends Job to his friends in chapter 42 but first He reminds Job who is actually in control. Job 38:8-11 says,
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
11 When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
Chapters 38-41 are an overwhelming word picture of the enormity of God and His power. In the middle of your next crisis, when you are full of doubt, read those chapters. They will be a refreshing glimpse of the One who has designed an intricate plan for your life. He holds you and the pain you are feeling in His hands. He has seen and collected your tears. He will not leave you for even a moment.
Photos 1, 2, and 4 are provided by Sam Webster Photography. Photos 3 and 5 by Keri Lee.