Worship first, then wrestle

An attitude of worship - image credit Hans Dinkelberg (creative commons)

Have you ever looked at a Christian who has undergone great suffering and wondered how they can still remain so positive and joyful in God?

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Last year two of my friends were expecting their first baby. They were excited and scared, like any first-time parents. There were no indications in the pregnancy that anything was wrong. She gave birth, and three days later they lost their baby boy. He had a congenital heart problem and there was nothing anyone could do.
 

I was shocked to hear the news, and found myself raging at God on their behalf at how He had allowed this to happen. They were such wonderful, sunny people – I did not want such a cloud of sorrow to be surrounding them.

 
I was even more shocked by their response. They were sad, and expressed deep sorrow, but they were also thankful. They praised God for the way He was there for them, they thanked God for the hours they spent with their baby boy. Even though they’d only had three days as his parents, they thanked God for those three days.

 
At his thanksgiving memorial service, they spoke about Jesus. The doctors had said the condition was congenital, his death inevitable. In a sense, he was a baby who was ‘born to die’. In their sorrow, they looked to Jesus, who came as a baby in order to die on a cross.

 
God is not unfamiliar with suffering, and Jesus died to restore our relationship with God and ultimately bring an end to suffering. Though it did not answer all their questions, focusing on Jesus who was ‘born to die’ helped them to trust in a God who gave them a baby who was ‘born to die’.

 
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Yesterday I read Job, chapter 1. It is the story of a good, a righteous man, who was blessed with success, prosperity (which in those days was measured in oxen, donkeys, camels and sheep) and a large family. Then, in a day, everything is taken from him.

 
Four messengers come: the first tells him the oxen and donkeys are gone – attacked by the Sabeans. The second tells him the sheep are gone – fire from heaven. The third says the camels are gone – attacked by Chaldeans. Most devastatingly, the fourth messenger tells him the house that his children were in has collapsed. They are all dead.

 
Yet he doesn’t get angry, but worships God, and simply says,

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
May the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

 

What does Job’s story tell us?

 

Mourning - image credit Hans Dinkelberg (creative commons)

1. Don’t rely on temporary things
Disaster can come at any time. It is tempting to think we can foresee the future. If we have a good job, good health, if we have a loving spouse, if we have children, we are set – we’ve made it.
 

The lucky few of us that have some or all of the blessings that Job had should be thankful. But we are fools if we place our security in these things. They are not within our control. You can go to the best university, get the best grades, do the best networking, land the most fulfilling job. Great. But it could be gone tomorrow.

 

2. Worship first, then wrestle
Job’s reaction to hearing the news that he had lost everything was as follows:

‘At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.’ (Job 1:20).

 
Job’s first reaction was to worship God. He had lost everything and he tore his robe in grief but he worshipped God anyway. In stressful situations like these we reveal our character. We do what is instinctive rather than considered and thought out. And Job’s instinctive reflex was to worship God.

 
Would it be your instinct? I’m not sure that it is my instinct. (In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not my instinct. I have a way to go in this regard…)

 
There are certain people in my life that I have great admiration for, people whose character just shines with Jesus, people who are good to the core. When I think about how they react in difficult situations, I see people whose ‘reflex reaction’ is to worship God. This was true of Job, and it was true of my friends who lost their baby.

 
This is not to say we shouldn’t be questioning, crying out, mourning, raging. Job spends the next 36 chapters doing just that. He wrestles. It goes on for a LONG time.

 
It is hard work to emotionally recover from trauma and face tough theological questions about suffering. It takes time, and questioning and dialogue. Sometimes other people who are meant to help, don’t. The book of Job gives weight and importance to that stage.

 
And yet… There is something beautiful about the way that Job reacts. I see it in his life and in the life of my friends. Worship first – wrestle later.

 
Honour God in the midst of the pain, and then work through your pain somehow with Him. It takes faith to worship before you’ve wrestled, to say, ‘Because I know God and know Him to be good, I’m going to worship before I make sense of this.’

 
3. Worship now
The reason Job’s first reaction was to worship is because he already was living a life of worship. It was his habit. He would even offer sacrifices to intercede for his children.  His life was saturated in worship. If you are not worshipping God now when you are comfortable, then you will not worship Him when the going gets tough.

 
We need to worship in the land of plenty, regularly, habitually, so that it becomes our reflex reaction even in the times of famine. Worship till it becomes your reflex.

 

  • Don’t rely on temporary things.
  •  Worship first, then wrestle.
  •  Worship now.

 

These feel like tough things to say, and they leave some questions unanswered. (Even at the end of Job there are some big unanswered questions!) You may be in a place of wrestling – and this is okay. Job spends a lot of time doing that. Sometimes in a place of famine it is all you can do to hang on.

 
But what if you are in the land of plenty? Are you worshipping now? This is what is challenging me today.

 

Over to you:

  • What is your instinctive response when hard times come?
  • Do you tend to worship or wrestle or (like Job) do both?
  • Do you know people who have worshipped in the land of famine because they worshipped in the land of plenty?

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10 Responses to Worship first, then wrestle

  1. Nick 6th May, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    I think perhaps I’m too inclined to worship God for His gifts, rather than His character. This means that when His gifts are taken away, I have no reason to worship. But if we worship His character, then we have a firm foundation; we know that, come what may, He will always be worthy of our worship.
    Brings me back, again, to the refrain of ‘and yet’ found so often in the Psalms.
    Yet will I praise Him.

    • Tanya 8th May, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      Amen to this – and I love your phrase ‘and yet’ – it’s really helpful. It is hard to realise when we are worshipping God’s gifts instead of God – until they are taken away…

  2. Kevin 2nd May, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Thank you Tanya for expressing in words so much we often think about. Worship has helped me in the times of the utter blackness of clinical depression; it didn’t make it better, it just helped. I drew together my own play-list of songs which I still go back to today as a reminder of God’s enduriung faithfulness. One of the songs is an old hymn ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way’, it was not only the words of the old hymn that spoke to me, but also the story behind the hymn, written by a Godly man who had lost his four children in a terrible tragedy at sea. http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/10145.htm
    Blessings

    • Tanya 3rd May, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing what has been spiritually helpful to you. It is great to have other people’s words to say when we don’t have the resources to pray ourselves and other people’s voices to ‘borrow’ when we are in a place where we can’t sing.

      That song is an amazing hymn. Thanks for the link to the story behind it – it is so powerful. Oh, to be able to say at moments of great loss, ‘it is well with my soul’! A real challenge. Thank you.

  3. Karmen White 2nd May, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Hi Tanya,

    I think of myself as a calm person, but am aware I’m often ’emotional’!! I sometimes ponder what I’d be like in an emergency medical situation. Would I keep calm or just freak out. I hope I would be able to be calm enough to be of help. I hope I’m able to make a decision to try to help if ever the situation calls for it.

    But, when a personal tragedy happens I’m not sure you have a choice to worship first then wrestle. I agree with you, it has to a reflex reaction.

    Having just come through a horrific family situation I can honestly say, I would not have got through it without God. I have no doubt in my mind that God carried me through. I didn’t make a decision to rely on him, I didn’t stop and wonder where God was in the situation, I just shut off and let God take over. I worshipped him throughout this ordeal, thanking him for lending me his strength in order to cope, and yes, I’ve wrestled since, but I have learnt to fully rely on God in recent years, and I was able to just trust that God had his hand on me.

    I love God so much that I didn’t have to think about it.

    As you wrote; “We need to worship in the land of plenty, regularly, habitually, so that it becomes our reflex reaction even in the times of famine. Worship till it becomes your reflex.” This is the best advice I think you could give someone.

    Thanks again for writing, I hope your seeing some improvement in health xxxxx

    Love K x

    • Tanya 3rd May, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing this. Your testimony here speaks so powerfully of your faith in Jesus- it has been awesome to witness how He has been carrying you and how He is bringing good out of hideous situations. It is so amazing to be able to say ‘I was able to trust that God had his hand on me. I love God so much that I didn’t have to think about it.’ You are a real inspiration! Thank you.

  4. Giles 2nd May, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    This is brilliant, Tanya, thank you! In all things, we thank and worship God. It’s because of who He is and who He created us to be, not about our circumstances. Even when it doesn’t make sense. In fact, maybe especially then – that’s faith that God gives us.

    • Tanya 2nd May, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      Thanks Giles – you are clearly someone who has walked with God through those tough times. I’m really glad that you enjoyed the post.

  5. Claudia 2nd May, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    I know exactly what you’re saying. I’ve seen a lot of that over the last couple of years. I’ve lived through it.
    I’d add that when I was in the middle of grief and trauma, I couldn’t pray. Or rather, my prayer was more a wordless gut-felt groan to God. But He never left me, and walked through the darkness with me, carrying me when I couldn’t walk.
    I can’t honestly say I worshipped. But I wasn’t wrestling either. All I could do was trust and hope.
    And those temporary things? They collapsed into dust around me. But these three remain, faith, hope and love.
    God bless you, Tanya. Thank you for sharing.

    • Tanya 3rd May, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I read of your experience of being in the Christchurch earthquake on your blog – it was powerful stuff. I guess that you could probably relate quite well to Job from that point of view… I know in my head that all these things are temporary, but I think there is something still quite shocking about seeing how quickly all these things can be lost.

      I can relate to what you said about struggling to pray at times of severe trauma. I find great comfort in those verses in Romans 8 that tell us that the Spirit intercedes for us with wordless groans. Sometimes we are too emotionally spent to pray ourselves. Thank you so much for sharing something of your story. Blessings.

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