Our culture today highlights the enduring characteristics of folks who have persevered and succeed in this life. Movies like …The Hiding Place which highlights the survival of a woman from a Nazi camp …Soul Surfer tells the story of a young woman who survived a shark attack to return to her surfing career …The Blindside that highlights the success of a young man coming out of the projects to become a successful football player …all point to the endurance of heroes who survived and succeed in life beyond many of our wildest dreams.
Here in Kentucky we remember Abraham Lincoln as a hometown hero of enduring faith, but there are unsung heroes all around us who have pitched in when troubles came. We know folks in our own community who remained strong in their faith through terrible diseases. We know people who have endured disease and life struggles to remain faithful even unto death itself. And, I bet you can name a few even now.
Our text today names two heroes of enduring faith: Job and Elijah. They would have never believed that their life stories of faithfulness would be remember by us thousands of years after they died. Their witness in the face of grave losses of property and family as well as political oppression point us to our high calling in life to surrender ourselves to a greater good.
Probably the best-known story of enduring faith in the Bible is the life story of Job. Job was a wealthy man. To prove Job’s faithfulness to the Lord, God allowed the devil to destroy all his earthly possessions (Job 1.11). He lost his camels, donkeys, oxen, sheep, and servants then he lost his children. Afterwards he lost his health and his relationship with his wife was jeopardized with heart-felt bitterness. However, Job did not blame God. He accepted what God had a plan and would be patient for God to reveal His plan. Job’s three friends came to council him (not unlike Jesus’ inner circle). They tried to find out what great sin Job had committed to deserve the punishment he received (Job 3-37). Job would not admit to any sin, and challenged God in a heart-felt dialogue (38-42). In the end God restored to Job twice as much as he had in the beginning (Job 42:10).
The Greek word here means patient endurance. The word describes an attitude that can endure delay, bear suffering, and never give in. It means waiting for something. Farmers anxiously wait on the early rain to germinate the seeds and the late rains to grow to maturity. The opposite is true also that suffering misfortune and troubles in this life can cause us to become bitter and turn away instead of pressing on to become more Christ-like in our character. The true prophets of the Old Testament understood the importance of enduring faith in light of communities that had turned away. When we look at Job’s life, he truly teaches us that worldly possessions, wealth, children, spouse, health, and friendship should never come between God and his beloved child. When we come to the end of ourselves, God is all we have.
When we speak and make commitments, we are to stand on our word. We do not add to our commitment with drama, only speaking a yes or no answer provides all the commitment necessary. The action behind the words remains the truth telling. Leaders are given the task of assisting in caring for the people in the church. There are various ways of maintaining holiness of heart and life that empower God’s people to effective prayer. When we suffer, we should pray. When we are happy, we should sing. When we are sick, we should be anointed with oil in the Name of the Lord by the elders. When we pray, we should maintain faith believing in God’s desire to heal and restore. Now if for some reason we have sinned, then we should confession our sins to one another and receive the forgiveness of sins. In all things we should be earnest (heart-felt) in seeking God in prayer like Elijah who could move God’s heart to change the weather.
Probably the best-known prophet story is life story of Elijah with all kinds of miracles events (1 Kings 17-19). Elijah faced a time of evil in Israel’s history with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel on the throne. God sent a drought to change the hearts of the people to be moved toward repentance. And, in the end he was taken up in a whirlwind of God’s holiness after appointing his own replacement, Elisha (2 Kings 1-2). Elijah is a unique character for sure. He dressed in a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist. He was a man who faced hostile political climate with both King Ahab and Queen Jezebel being evil minded and prone to false religious worship. Elijah did not hold the office of priest nor did he live in the palace and advice the king like Obadiah. In many was he was not respected by the community-at-large such as the youth who spoke ill of him, “Go on up, you bald head.” (2 Kings 2.23). Yet, Elijah possessed the spiritual power to conquer evil in and through every area of his life – weather, food, disease, swearing, corrupt political power, and false worship. And, to be sure, God himself ensured his health and well-being by feeding him through the drought and speaking to him at a time of his greatest victory and deepest sorrow (massacre of 850 false prophets).
The key ingredient for us to understand is their view of God. To be sure that is their legacy and our inheritance in this text. For us to understand what the author desires for us to grasp then we must understand the Old Testament characters of Job and Elijah and their enduring faith. What made their faith endure?
When we examine Elijah’s life, we discover how effective our prayer lives can be when we follow God obediently. God is the one who heals, restores, forgives, and raises us from our sick bed to good health. We are to confess not only to the elders of the church but to one another. Once we live in the attitude of enduring faith then we can inspire others to the same kind of earnest (heart-felt) relationship with God Almighty. Once we learn the character of God’s best witnesses, then we can demonstrate that witness to others and win their souls for Jesus. The challenge the text leaves for us today is one of character development. Will we aspire to model our lives in alignment with those who possess enduring faith? When we follow Job’s example, we must remain a friend to God no matter what our losses – possessions, co-workers, children, spouse, health, extended family, or friends. When we follow Elijah’s example, we must be obedient to the inward voice of God at all times no matter the political or religious climate.
In today’s culture we have become completely distractible. Our attention span according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the length of time during which someone is able to think about or remain interested in something.” Over the course of history our attention span has grown terrible short. Research shows that our attention span is less than a goldfish! A gold fish has about a 9-second attention span – just long enough to nibble a few bites of food.
Research shows that over the course of an hour many will think about food, check their electronics, and daydream. Younger folks will check their electronics (on the internet somewhere) several times over the course of an hour. Some will spend their time daydreaming with all sorts of thoughts from hobbies to TV shows or even things around them. With all the electronics we watch – phone, computers, and TV – our attention span has dwindled to 8-seconds (National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press).
How can we expect to hear God in an 8-second window of time? When we think about maintaining an enduring faith, it is essential for us to overcome our cultural dilemma of distractibility. We have some work to do, and it all begins in our prayer life.
Listening to God is the beginning of prayer.
The discipline of prayer takes us deep into the heart of God. William Carey once said, “Prayer – secret, ferverent, believing prayer – lies at the root of all personal godliness.” And, I think that’s true for if we do not have a growing relationship with God our faithfulness waivers. Prayer must always be centered round our faithful attentiveness to God and his ways.
Listening to our inward selves is the next step.
Practice the Presence of God means to intentionally think about God in every act you do. Solitude means that you turn off the entertainment, work experiences, and find time alone. Meditation or Lectio Divinia scripture reading takes the time to stay with a text until God speaks to you deeply. Scheduling yourself not to be overly busy from day to day and going to bed at a reasonable hour. Self-Examination before God means you ask God how you’re doing instead of talking with your neighbor about life. Confession is the practice of saying I’m sorry to the one that you’ve wronged; it’s accountability. Discernment is the practice of assessing your daily life against the Bible. Sabbath Rest is taking a day of complete rest apart from your regular routine – particularly electronics. Fasting from the activities that distract us from God. Simplicity is the act of living minimally without the complications of competiting activities (and money spent of business). A Rule of Life is a rhythm of living that leads us closer to God in worship and holy celebrations. All this to say that our inward spiritual work leads us back to listening to God and onward toward hearing our neighbors needs.
Listening to our neighbor is where faith is lived out loud and where faith is put into action.
Listening to our neighbor is not where prayer begins but where it ends with actions of repentance and accountability for our words and actions, community building relationship that honor and respect, and loving caregiving for those who have needs. Faith begins in the heart of God who searches our heart and brings us to repentance then changes our heart and life. Faith leads us to expressions of love toward our neighbors in relationships. And, the heart of the matter is that faith in action is not just doing but being with others and supporting them in their life struggles.
Perhaps we should understand our distractibility in the context of spiritual discernment. Richard Foster points out, “God will implant a spirit of unity when the right path has been chosen and trouble us with restlessness when we have not heard correctly. Unity rather than majority rule is the principle of corporate guidance. Spirit-given unity goes beyond mere agreement.” When we seek to be at one with God, our selves and our neighbors, peace replaces restlessness that leads us to distractibility.
John Wesley once described a Methodist as one who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength giving thanks in everything. The Methodist has a heart lifted to God at all times: loving every man, keeping a pure heart (filled with integrity), maintaining the commandments, glorifying God, and adorning the doctrine of God. To be sure the aim of a Methodist is high. He goes on to say that we Methodists are to pray without ceasing just like the Scripture requires of us (1 Thess. 5.16-18). Wesley goes on to describe a Methodist as one who “whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts: he walks with God continually; having the loving eye of his soul fixed on Him, and everywhere seeing Him that is invisible” (Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 18-19).
Let us together seek to have that kind of enduring faith. Take time at the altar of your heart today to weed out the distractions that draw us away from our faithful task of loving God and neighbor. †