What Does Faith Look Like in a Season of Suffering?

This week, we dive into a short series taken from a recent sermon series Pastor J.D. did at The Summit Church on Psalm 23. First, Pastor J.D. answers: “What does faith look like in a season of suffering?”

Show Notes:

“The faith of desperation.” Job expresses this faith in Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” God, I know you’re good. And I can’t understand what you’re doing but I know you’re working a good plan. And so even though everything around me is falling apart, I’m still going to trust that you are good. “Even though you slay me, yet will I trust you.”

Many people never make it to this stage. They live on the faith of propriety. And it makes them judgmental. When something goes wrong in someone else’s life, they think, “Well, I wonder what they did wrong?” Their marriage isn’t going well, and you think, “Well, they’re different behind closed doors than what we see of them.” Or their finances are a mess and you think, “Well, they must not be very good money managers,” or, “They must not be putting God first.” One of their kids starts to wander and you think, “I wonder what they did wrong in their parenting? Unlike me over here who is just killing it as a parent, which is why my kids are doing so well.” You think that way because you only know the faith of propriety.

But then God sends you through a Job chapter. And some people fall away, sadly. But others go on to develop the faith of desperation. It strips you of your judgmentalism and you say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” 

Is this where you are? Have you ever been forced to develop this kind of faith? 

Dallas Willard says, “Often God allows us to reach the point of desperation so we can learn how to trust. It is a hard lesson, but an essential one. The “life without lack” is known by those who have learned how to trust God in the moment of their need. In the moment of their need. Not before the moment of need, not after the moment of need when the storm has passed, but in the moment of need. For it is in that moment, when everything else is gone, that you know the reality of God.”

Is that where you are? 

Ah, but, believe it or not, there was still another level of faith for Job–it’s the faith of Psalm 23, and Dallas Willard calls it “The faith of sufficiency.”  

I used to think that the faith of desperation was the ultimate expression of faith, but Dallas Willard showed me there was a 3rd kind of faith, an even higher type, and it appears right at the end of the book of Job. It’s the faith that rejoices, sits silently and calmly, in the presence of the Shepherd.

You see, throughout the book of Job, Job has been protesting his situation before God. “God, I did it all right! I obeyed you! I put you first in my marriage, my parenting, my finances, and look what happened! When are you going to come through for me?” Throughout the book of Job, Job keeps saying, “I want to appear before God. I want to see God and talk to him face to face.” 

And so, at the end of the book of Job, God grants him that audience. Job sees God. He stands in his presence. And when that happens, Job says, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer you? “Vile” here doesn’t mean what we think it means. It doesn’t mean “nasty” or “evil.” A better translation of the word “qalal” there would be “insignificant” or “unworthy.” Because I am so insignificant, “I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4–5).  Job says, “Seeing you, I see how utterly small-minded and unwise I am and how utterly sovereign and good you are.” 

Job continues: (Before this) I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear (IOW, I knew the doctrines about you–I knew how to answer the theological questions–you are powerful and good), but now my eye sees you (beholds you); therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Surely I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job 42:5–6

And at that point in the book, Job stopped pressing his case. He rested. He saw with his eyes the goodness of God and knew he could trust him in all things. 

In fact, did you see where he said the word “repent”? “I repent in dust and ashes.” What was he repenting of? You see, the writer of the book of Job says repeatedly that throughout this whole ordeal Job had not sinned with his lips, so what is he repenting of? He’s repenting of not feasting upon and resting in the goodness of the Shepherd. 

But now, you see–now–Job’s vision of God was so full and so satisfying that what happens to him from this point on doesn’t matter. He can trust in the goodness of God; content just to be in the presence of the Shepherd where goodness and mercy surround him and follow him and satisfy him all the days of his life. This is called the faith of sufficiency. 

A lot of us are where Job was. We’ve heard about all these things with the hearing of our ears, but our eyes have never seen them and our souls have yet to feel them. Some of you are Bible-scholar level in you perception of the doctrines of God, but kindergarten in terms of your experience of them.

You say, “Well, what exactly did Job see, and can I see it too?” Ah, now you’re asking the right question. Job gives us a pretty important clue to what he saw in chapter 19: “I know my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth… and I will stand with him!” (Job 19:25) Job saw how committed God was to reconciling him and how secure his future was with God. He saw his Redeemer–alive, after being slain, and standing on the earth. 

Where do you learn the faith of sufficiency? “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” Not “happy” as in “I have no troubles,” but “happy” as in “filled to overflowing in the presence of my Shepherd.”

Looking at the cross, you see, is not only the way we’re saved from sin, it’s the way we’re sustained in suffering. When we see a God willing to go to the cross on our behalf–willing to go to the depths of suffering to redeem us–that casts a transformative light on our own sufferings. A God who would not forsake us then, at the cross, will not forsake us now, in our hour of trouble, and we know that someday he will keep his promise to turn it all for good and make everything sad come untrue. We’ll stand with him.

At the very end of the book of Job, in the final verses, God restored all that Job had lost, 7-fold in some cases–and God did that because God is good and he loves to pour out his goodness in the land of the living–but the point of Job is, and don’t miss this–Job’s joy came before that restoration. Job’s faith of sufficiency was founded on the fact that his Redeemer lives and stands with him. You stand by my side because you stood in my place!

Let me ask you again: What do you think you lack this morning? What do you fear? Do you fear marriage going south? Your kids wandering? Still being single this time next year? Your health deteriorating? The death of your spouse? Loss of your job? The collapse of your finances? Nuclear war with Russia? No matter what it is, you can live without that fear. You do not have to be afraid of anything. Because God is with you, you have no lack, and so you can live without fear.

Here’s my dilemma: I can’t teach you this. I couldn’t even teach myself. I can tell you stuff that you can hear with your ears, like Job heard, but only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of your heart. 

Philip Keller says that there’s one thing shepherds sometimes do that outsiders cannot understand. When a sheep continues to wander… the shepherd breaks the legs of the sheep. Carries that sheep on his back for the next 3 months as he heals, and when he puts him down that sheep never wanders again. Why? Because that sheep has learned that all that needs for fulfillment and security is to be close to the Shepherd. Maybe that’s what God is doing to you. Maybe that pain is not to punish you, but to teach you to learn more fully on him, so that your joy is unshakeable, because you know the greatest and most secure joy in the Universe–the joy of knowing that the Lord is your Shepherd and he is right beside you, knowing when even a hair of your head falls to the ground.

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