Call it what you want, but I think the term providential fits the scenario rather appropriately. I mean really, how wonderful that the sermon at our church spoken the Sunday immediately following Rob’s termination was entitled, “The Good News of Recession,”!? Timely, no doubt! Relevant, absolutely!! It resonated with so much meaning and application as the truths we heard met us exactly where we were in life. We listened intently to this message that hit home the fact that “God has purpose when He allows us to walk through trials.” The phrase ‘suffer well’ was used over and over again, offering a means of encouragement to believers who are in the midst of affliction. And taking in every word, a blessed assurance flooded my mind. I was re-affirmed in my faith that I would be able to suffer-well, that is, I would be able to have a peace and a hope in our current trial because I could trust whole-heartedly in the fact that “ALL things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”
So I left church that day with a prayer that was to be foundational in shaping my perspective and attitude during this time of unemployment, and that prayer was to suffer well. But from that same sermon, I also gained an additional understanding of God’s purpose in that “recession exposes and reveals hidden sin in order to bring us to a place of deeper repentance and cleansing.” The example used for this point was based on the suffering God allowed in the life of Job. While all was going well in Job’s life, he was described as “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and turned away from evil (Job 1:1).” But when the calamity came, when the loss and the pain were extreme, areas of unrighteousness that had been unseen in times of prosperity now began to surface. It was because of the suffering that Job became aware of those things he needed to lay before the Lord to be cleansed and healed from. I love how John Piper also makes this same point here when he says, “The suffering has brought out the hidden sin of pride in Job. Now Job’s ear has been opened to his remaining imperfection. Now he can repent and be cleansed and depend on God as he never had before. His suffering was not only an occasion for God to get glory over Satan; it was also an occasion for God to deepen Job’s insight and trust and godliness… Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”
With all this new insight into suffering and how God can use it to refine me and allow me to grow more in the likeness of His image, I was now actually looking at our trial with a bit of excitement (not a lot, just a bit). Now I know that I am far far, so very far, from EVER being described like Job was. I am already very much aware of lots and lots of character, emotional, spiritual, and behavior tendencies that are in need of much improvement, or better yet removal. Even without suffering, I know there are areas of unrighteousness and imperfections in me that need some supernatural work. So with this sermon fresh in my mind about the goodness of recession, I began to formulate the idea that I could just hand over my long list of shortcomings I wanted God to take care of and then, voila! I would be a better soul for the suffering I would need to endure. I didn’t think it would be pleasant by any means, but I was looking ahead to what the end result would be (a better me) when the day arrived that Rob might be employed again.
Well this theology of mine was obviously way off! For the most part, I was still trying to remain in control of the situation; and in essence I was telling God that this suffering was going to happen on my terms and these were the specific things He was going to work on in me. But with that train of thought, I was hindering what God wanted to work on because I was so focused on what I wanted to work on. I had overlooked a key point in the sermon about suffering revealing the ‘unseen’ sin. And whatever the underlying reason for my failure to clue in to that (maybe because I am already aware of so many deficiencies I struggle with on a daily basis, I didn’t want to be informed of anything additional…), I was basically missing being able to see God’s purpose because I was so caught up in my own.
When the first glimpse of a possible job opportunity came about, I was saddened by the fact that after more than a month of coping through life without an income and direction, I didn’t see any maturity in my faith or character. I was reflecting over my already known weaknesses and seeing no improvement or signs of growth. But I still believed God had purpose and was at work even if I could not see it; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).” And I started trying to seek from God what He was revealing to me and what He wanted me to learn through this time of trial.
As I began to look back over the weeks that had passed, a thankfulness consumed me for all the ways so many people showed our family much care and sympathy. Not only were just mere words of acknowledgement expressed (which was huge!) but many acts of kindness in all shapes and form were so generously bestowed upon us that left me in awe. And to a person that struggles with trying to always be self-reliant, this benevolence of others was very difficult to accept. But God showed me two important things through the compassion of others that I desperately needed to know and apply if I was to grow in my faith.
God was teaching me that if I refuse the sincerity of others wanting to minister to me with their generosity, I am robbing them of something greater. There are words in Philippians 4:15-16 that say “nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction… you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” but then further down, Paul goes on to say “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” I read a translation here that this could be saying, “I don’t need your money because I have learned to be content in all circumstances and I trust God will accomplish his work without your money, BUT I am so glad that you gave to me because giving to the Lord’s work equates to profit in your heavenly bank account, and I badly want THAT for you more than I want anything from you.” With that explanation, I began to understand that the worth of others’ compassion goes well beyond just being a blessing to me; in the end it blesses the giver so much more. And far be it from me to hinder a reward from others, especially when they are being sensitive to God’s leading to offer their kindness. So the first thing I learned was that I needed to be able to gracefully receive the care and compassion of others.
I also was humbled to realize that this inner strength I try to maintain and my mental refusal to receive the help of others has a negative counterpart. I can see that how my avoidance of being sensitive to my own feelings can leave me with a somewhat callous and unfeeling heart towards others and their needs. And now I have much regret to know there must have been many opportunities I missed out on to minister to others in their time of suffering because of that. But the Lord is compassionate and merciful and did not allow me to remain in such a state of insensitivity. I am so thankful for the trial we went through to make me aware of that. The verse that speaks with new meaning to me and will now be a praise and prayer of my own is this. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).” I have experienced first hand how God used others to comfort me in my affliction and now more than ever I want to make sure I am aware of how I can comfort those going through their own afflictions.
So all these ramblings and self-reflecting came about because Rob did get a job offer!!! Wahoo!!!! But unlike Job, I don’t feel like, at the present, I am any better (in my own eyes) because of it. However! Even though I can’t see any new sensitivity in my make-up, I know the time of trial made my heart receptive to seeds that God has planted and will water and will grow. And while I might never know the full extent of God’s purpose for our unemployment time (more than two months), I do feel like I can use this verse to capture what was at work.
Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.