Friends, I am so thankful for God’s Word, especially the Old Testament! What an amazing cast of characters He has provided so that we can examine their lives and their faith in our times of need. When I am walking through trials or living out a season of struggle, I usually turn to Job. What a story! What a man!? What boldness! I try to wrap my mind around his suffering. I close my eyes and imagine Job standing, gazing up at the stars and asking Yahweh to explain Himself. Job’s indictment is piercing, but God’s answer is profound. I am swept up in the power of Yahweh’s answer. As the story resolves, I feel the satisfaction of Job’s vindication in front of his wife and friends, the joy of fortunes restored, and the closure of a valuable lesson learned. All’s well that ends well….
But, not today. No, today I’m wondering if Job shared all of my feelings about his story. Did he feel vindicated? Did he have closure? Did he ever sit back and long for the old days? He’d regained twice as much as he’d lost, but Job must have felt heartache over his lost children. What about his marriage? Can you imagine the work that Job and his wife must have put in to heal their relationship after she told him to just curse God and die? Of all the stories I’d like to see fleshed out a bit more in the Old Testament, it’s hers! What happened in her heart? Did she repent after Job told her she spoke like a foolish woman? Did she share in the great lessons that her husband learned? And what about their grief? How did they overcome it? Most importantly, were they able to overcome it together? Because we know the happy ending to Job’s story, we overlook the fact that simply replacing all of the people and things he’d lost would not have healed the pain of losing them. I wonder if Job ever questioned whether it was all worth it. The harsh truth of the human experience is that the pain lives on, and it is ours to carry through this fallen world. After our prayers are answered, beyond the honeymoon period of sweet relief, we clunky lumps of clay often find that–even though our perspectives may have changed–the reality of human existence does not. That’s where bitterness lives. It hides within the garden of expectation, ready to strike when we least expect it. In those moments when present circumstances should give us nothing but joy, our hearts often turn back to the past and drag up old hurts that we imagined were long gone. I imagine it was much the same with our friend, Job, and I wonder if he was disappointed to find that his heart would always ache with loss. We can take comfort in assuming that Job must have made peace with it all, otherwise we might not be talking about him still today. What a comfort to know that the God who calls the stars by name also reaches down to speak peace to our hearts so that we won’t surrender to bitterness.
Times of struggle also turn my mind toward Jonah. I have to be willing to consider that I may be living out the consequences of my own sinful choices. Our friend Jonah refused to listen to God. He sat in the belly of a whale for three days, offered what Eric Mason calls a prayer of “counterfeit” repentance, promising that he would return to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the temple (still not going where God commanded him to go), got vomited up on the shores of Nineveh–which is exactly where Jonah did NOT want to go–reluctantly started a revival in Nineveh, and then plopped down under a tree to whine about how unfair it all is. Talk about bitterness! The scariest part of the entire story is that we never find out what became of Jonah. Did he finally repent? Did he ever realize his own pride and disobedience? Did he make peace with his time in the belly of that big fish? Or, did he sit under that dead tree being bitter for the rest of his life? Yikes!
They are two very different men with very different struggles, but each had an important lesson to learn through his trial. Job may not have been in the belly of a whale, but I’m sure he felt as though sorrow was eating him alive. What about you? Have you been through a “big fish” experience? If you’re human, I’m willing to bet that you have. We all do time in the belly of the whale. Suffering and hardship are part of the human experience, the fruit of a fallen world. The good news is that any time of struggle is an opportunity for God to grow us. We learn patience, perseverance, and hope as He works all things for our good. However, a big fish is a little different. This is a particular kind of hardship that has been ordained by God for a specific purpose. The Bible says that God appointed the fish to swallow Jonah, and that he allowed the many disasters that happened to Job. While their stories are very different, each of these men faced hardship that had either been allowed or appointed by God to teach each man an important spiritual lesson. For Job it was perspective, and for Jonah it was obedience. In our lives, too, the big fish have an important part to play. If you love the Lord and follow Him, you can be sure a big fish will swim into your life. It may even gobble up something or someone that you love very much–it may just swallow you whole. That sounds kind of ominous. It may make you think twice about putting your trust in the Lord, but don’t be afraid. Even when the big fish comes, it is always on a mission of mercy. Whether sent as a test or for redirection, you must remember this: the fish has come because God loves you. He watches over you and cares for you. Remember, though, that He cares more about your spiritual self than your temporal, human self. At times, He allows our flesh to suffer so that our soul can thrive. He wants to draw you into a closer relationship with Him. He wants you to have a clearer understanding of His nature and His will. Believe it or not, God wants to set you free from so many worldly burdens, and the big fish is part of that. I believe this was exactly his purpose for Job.
And, poor Jonah. He just didn’t want to do what God wanted. He wanted his own way, when all it ever got him was on a ship in a bad storm, tossed overboard at sea, swallowed by a ginormous fish, and spat out on a beach covered in bile and fish vomit. Gross! Stop and think about the path you’re on. Do you feel like you’re moving your feet as fast as you can on the little hamster wheel of life and getting nowhere? Are you failing faster than you can recover? Welcome to Fishbelly, population: you. Don’t believe me? Read Psalm 127:1-2. Does any of that sound familiar? It did to me right about the time I realized that I was breaking my back trying to gain something God didn’t want me to have. He wanted something better for me. Everything in my life fell apart–even our appliances! EVERYTHING. God wanted my husband back in full time ministry and I was having NONE of it. After three years I finally had had enough. I cried and fumed and fussed and railed at God. I was ANGRY! But, almost as soon as the torrent of bitterness was over I climbed into the arms of the Savior and admitted that He knew best. I confessed that I could not obey Him in my own strength and I asked Him to change my heart. I asked Him to make me willing to obey, quite literally, because I just wasn’t. And He did it. He changed my heart–over night. True story. These days I can honestly look back on my big fish time and feel thankful. I feel joy in looking back and seeing how far the Lord has brought us. I can embrace it.
Sometimes the enemy brings up unpleasant memories, and I feel bitterness creeping into my heart, especially when there are hurt feelings involved. When I feel grief over the “old days,” I take those feelings to God. I pray that He will help me to see the immeasurable value of glimpsing His heart, and that He will help me to understand that the pain was a necessary part of the process. Job would never have had that amazing encounter with God if he’d not first been driven to seek Him so boldly. When I start to feel bitter over my time in the big fish, I turn to the Lord and ask Him to keep all of these things in perspective for me. Those people that “did me wrong” aren’t the villains of my story, and neither is that big fish. Quite frankly, I’m no hero. God is the protagonist. He is the hero of all of our stories, and that big fish is part of helping us to see that we don’t have to save ourselves. We couldn’t if we tried. We have a Savior that died once and for all to save us from sin and we get to spend our lives in the shadow of His wing. The crazy part is, even in the belly of the whale we’re still hidden under that protective wing, because there is no place where we can hide from His presence.
Make peace with the big fish. Embrace the experiences that draw you closer to our loving God. Don’t waste your life sitting under a dead tree eating bitterness. Release your will and open your heart to His. He promises that life, ABUNDANT LIFE, awaits if we do. If you need help letting go, ask. He will provide all that you need and more.
Be blessed, friends.