CHALLENGES TO THE RHYTHM OF LIFE
Local elder at Capital Memorial Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Washington, D.C.
He delivered this sermon shortly after a medical
condition made it necessary for him to retire
from his professorship at Howard University.
Theme: In the midst of crises, disappointments, tears and sorrow, our faith can declare, “God is good, all the time.”
Theme Text: Psalm 6
Presentation Notes: The notes presented in this section do not constitute a prepared sermon script. The following helps are designed to offer a framework, supportive resources, and illustrations toward the development of a sermon on the stated theme. You will want to shape these ideas in your own style, drawing upon your own study and experience, to meet the particular needs of your congregation. Throughout the following outline, numbers in parentheses (1), (2), (3) will indicate illustrations, quotations and other material found in the section called Sermon Illumination that may be helpful in your sermon development and delivery.
God is good. In some churches, when the speaker says, “God is good,” the congregation responds antiphonally, “All the time.” Can you do that this morning?
“God is good . . .”
(Congregation responds) “All the time.”
And the reverse is also true, All the time, God is good.
The Rhythm of Life
For many of us, life has developed a kind of rhythm, with good days and a few bad ones, times when we are emotionally up and times when we are down. There are sunny days, and other days when into our lives “a little rain must fall.” Rhythm is a good way to describe this ebb and flow. It is “an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements” according to the dictionary. We’ve accepted that, with the bright and the cheerful experiences, there will be occasional disappointments-perhaps a bout with the flu or some other illness which may bother us somewhat, but will probably not be of too great a consequence. Perhaps we fall short of the money we would like to have at times. Maybe we lose in a sports game or in a table game and someone laughs at our misfortune. We have become accustomed to a certain amount of disappointment that comes along with happier times.
Then, in the course of this rhythm of life, we get a terrific jolt, some shattering circumstance, which rocks the very foundation of our lives. It shocks us into recognizing our own frailty and finiteness. In the midst of that shock or disappointment can we say, “God is good”? Or should we say it?
Negative responses to low points in the rhythm. Not everyone affirms that God is good-all the time. I’m sure you’ve heard somebody say, “I think God has forgotten me” or “God must be dead.” You may have been tempted yourself to murmur, “Life isn’t fair.” Or you may have had the thought, “I wonder what sin _______ (some Christian) must have committed for God to treat him/her like that.” It is not unusual, even for Christians, to wonder in a time of tragedy, “How can a merciful or a loving God allow such a terrible thing to occur?”
I can think of incidents I know about which give us pause, cause us to wonder, as we consider them. There is a young Christian woman in her early twenties who is doing extremely well in a Masters in Business Administration program at one of the top universities in the United States. She has already interviewed with two major international corporations for employment. Then, during her last semester, she becomes ill. Doctors diagnose cancer of the liver. Her days are numbered. If you were in her place, could you say, “God is good?” (1, 2, 3)
These are challenges to the rhythm of life. But, God is good-all the time! Does your response sound a little weaker than it did in the beginning? I hope we can restore that volume, that enthusiasm with which you said it at the first.
A Personal Challenge
A year ago, I was feeling quite good and enjoying life. Then, late last year, while I was visiting relatives in the Caribbean islands, things changed dramatically. After some time on the beach, I had returned to the house for a nap. When I awakened about two hours later, I could not move. I tried for a full ten minutes to get off the couch and could not do it. I called my brother and he helped me to my feet, but I had difficulty standing up and could barely walk. I suddenly knew what it was to be physically challenged.
I returned to the United States and underwent five days of hospital testing. However, after all of that, the doctors concluded, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Everything is within normal range.” By then I was getting back a little strength and could walk a little, but it turned out that I could not go back to my job. So for most of these last nine months I have been at home. I still cannot get a definitive answer as to what happened. Life has been up and down. Confronted by this challenge, I decided in the summer that I was going to lecture a little and just see how it would go. The first morning I sat and lectured to the class. When I wanted to go to the chalk board to illustrate a point, I found I just could not get up out of my chair. I relaxed and, after a while, I succeeded in standing and walking. Later, I talked with the doctor again. He sent me to other doctors. They all tried. At the present time there are differences of opinion regarding the diagnosis and treatment.
Frankly, it has been a bad experience, leaving me to decide what to do with my life. Reflecting on this experience, I came up with the thought for this sermon, “Challenges to the Rhythm of Life.” Under the circumstances, I have had to retire from the university. I plan to seek treatment which will help me restore my strength. But whatever happens, I promise you that I will continue to say, “God is good-all the time.” (4)
Crises in the Life of Job
We don’t understand the end from the beginning. We are not sure really why we have these challenges. The biblical character Job comes to mind. I invite you to revisit the book of Job, perhaps reading from one of the more modern translations so it is easier for you to follow the thoughts.
A man of good character. In the beginning we find a splendid character reference for Job given by God Himself, “And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8 KJV)? Now this wasn’t written by a relative or someone trying to make Job’s resume look good so he could get a job. This is God talking about one of his servants, “There is none like him. A perfect and an upright man. A good guy.” We learn of his position and possessions. He had many sheep, donkeys and camels. Most of these camels were used for transporting goods. Perhaps Job owned a moving business. On one of his camels you might have seen a sign “Job and Sons-Movers,” “Don’t move without calling Job and Sons.” He also must have been in the dairy business. He had five hundred she-donkeys and those were for milk. (I’m not making any recommendations to you, only telling you what the record is.) So Job was doing very well. Life had developed a smooth rhythm.
Terrible losses. Then, everything changed. A servant rushed in to report a raid and the loss of his five hundred oxen, five hundred she-donkeys and the servants who were with them. Job could hardly absorb that tragic news before another servant reported, “Fire came down from God” (He just had to put his own theology in there). “It fell and burned up all seven thousand sheep, and all of the servants and I alone am left.” That was followed by another devastating report that the Chaldeans had stolen all of his three thousand camels. Job must have had a pretty good heart. Why he didn’t collapse and die, I can’t explain. Just as he is sitting there and wondering what next, a fourth messenger arrived with the most tragic news of all, that his seven sons and three daughters had died when the building they were in collapsed in a wind storm.
Job worships. Now remember, Job is only human. The Bible tells us that he arose, tore his robe and shaved his head-expressions of sorrow-and fell to the ground and worshipped (Job 1:20). “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (vs. 21 KJV). In other words, Christian friends, in spite of all that we have just enumerated regarding what happened in Job’s life in one day, I hear the word of God telling us that this man said, “God is good-all the time.” Could you have done that? Could I have done that?
Physical, mental and spiritual agony. The story unfolds with the devil still in control of Job’s conditions and circumstances. He hits him with sores all over his body. Poor Job cannot lie down, sit down or anything. Then his wife, his help mate, comes to him and says, “Man, I’m sorry for you . . . Do you still hold to your integrity?” That’s an interesting word: integrity. And out of her own religious experience she offered this counsel, “Why don’t you curse God and die? There’s nothing else to live for. Go ahead. Curse him and die” (See Job 2:9). But Job did not follow her advice; he held on (Job 2:10). Then his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, came in with all of their theological reasoning and different points of view, “Job, you are a terrible guy, you have to be guilty of something. I don’t know what sin it is, or what it is you’ve done, but God knows. You’d better straighten your life up.” They continue judging Job. Still he holds on and makes that great statement, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 39:15 KJV). After a while, in the later chapters, we find that Job starts to ask some questions. I think the conditions surrounding him were such that he himself began to wonder about God. How could all this happen?
A revelation of God. Then, in chapter 38 and following, God reveals to Job that He has been in control all the time. God is omnipotent. “I have been watching you; I have known of your circumstances.” Job responds to God, “Yes, despite all of this, I’m still your child; I’ll still be faithful.” Then the book ends with chapter 42, when the Lord restores unto Job twice as much as he had before. Three more daughters, seven more sons, a thousand sheep, a thousand donkeys, six thousand camels and on and on. Job’s end was even greater than his beginning.
Lessons from Job
Evil happens. As I thought about all this, I asked myself what lessons I could pull from this book that would help me to understand the challenges to the rhythm of my life. The first one that struck me was this: evil happens. There isn’t always a human contributing cause to evil. Tragedies occur which are completely beyond our control. The disciples of Jesus sought reasons for everything, so they went to the Master one day and asked him about a certain blind man, “Master, tell us something, why is this man blind? Was he born blind? Was it because he sinned? Or was it his parents’ sin?” (See John 9:2)? Jesus said, “Neither. It wasn’t because of his sin or his parents’ sin. But that the works of God may be made manifest” (See John 9:3). Now think about that. There are occasions when unwanted things will happen; these challenges will occur so that God’s love, His works, may be made manifest. It is not because of anything you did or I did.
Suffering reveals God’s power and love. While God is not responsible for suffering, suffering can show both the power and the love of God. Whatever the cause of the suffering, God can use that event to remind us of His love, and to show us that His power is greater than evil and pain. God is always able to overcome evil and its consequences. That is something we need to remember.
Care more for and judge less those who are suffering. There is need for more caring and less judgmental behavior when we see others suffering. Don’t get into the trap of saying, “That person must be very bad, very evil to have that kind of suffering.” Passing judgment on human beings is the province of the deity. It’s not our responsibility.
Coping with grief through service to others. Reaching out to serve others can help us in our time of grief. I remember one psychologist saying, “Caring for others who are grieving, and praying for them, will help us to deal with our own pain and our own losses.”
God accepts responsibility for the freedom He has given. Although He was not directly responsible for Job’s suffering, God was willing to accept the responsibility for the great freedom He has given His creation. The book of Job does not tie up all the loose ends, nor does it explain all the causes for suffering. But it is a testimony to one man, Job, and how he responded to his suffering. Suffering will remain with us as a mystery. God will reveal more to us later.
I’d like to stress a quotation from Mrs. White. In fact, it’s such a strong one, it is recorded three different times in her writings. Virtually the same thought is repeated. When we worry about why we suffer, I think this thought should comfort us.
“God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him” ( The Ministry of Healing , p. 479).
“He never leads them otherwise than they would choose to be led if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose that they are fulfilling” ( Prophets and Kings , p. 578).
When I read this thought, it says to me that, if I knew the end from the beginning, if I knew all that God knows, if I were omniscient, then I would have chosen the events that have occurred just as they did. Do you have that much faith to accept that? Can you really believe and accept that and say, God is good-all the time?
“God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led. If they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him” ( The Desire of Ages , p. 224).
In other words, when these sad things are happening, there is some purpose beyond your awareness, beyond your knowledge, beyond your imaginings which is being fulfilled, which is working out to God’s glory. And that’s what we’ve got to learn to accept.
Surrender to the divine will. Finally Job sees God. He knows that God possesses infinite power. He knows that God is gracious and he is assured that even though he, Job, may suffer, he is still the child of the Almighty God. He therefore repents, for his vision of God has enabled him to surrender to the divine will and to say that God is good-all the time.
Here are some helpful passages of scripture which I’d like to leave with you. I suggest you memorize them. When challenges disrupt the smooth flow of the rhythm of your life, repeat them:
- I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help (Psalm 121:1 KJV).
- Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee (Ps. 55:22 KJV). You’ve got to believe in His omnipotence. He knows everything; just go to Him. Cast your burden upon Him; He will sustain you.
- I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears (Ps. 34:4 KJV). David didn’t say He delivered him immediately; he didn’t say He did it the same day; he just simply said, “I sought and He heard and He delivered.”
- In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 KJV). Christ Himself is speaking to His disciples and telling them that the road is not going to be smooth all the time. In other words we need to know that difficult times are coming, not just the mild ones, but the real challenges. However, our Lord Jesus Christ has had experience with this world. He has been tempted in all points and has been victorious over all that can happen to us in this world.
- Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Proverbs 3:5, 6 KJV).
- The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them (Psalm 34:7 KJV).
- Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward (Hebrews 10:35 KJV). Don’t give up; don’t stop coming to church; don’t throw away your lesson quarterly. Cast not away your confidence.
Brothers and sisters, in this world we will face tribulations and disappointments. There will be challenges to the regular rhythm of life. The question is not, Will they come? Yes, they will. The question is, ” How will you respond? How will you and I respond to these challenges, these unwanted, unexpected circumstances?” What I want to beg of you is that you remain faithful and loyal to your commitment to follow Christ, come what may. Do not permit sickness to discourage you. Do not allow the death of loved ones to destroy your faith in God, regardless of the circumstances in which the persons died. Do not let economic and financial problems limit your loyalty to God. Do not falter because of broken relationships in the family or even in the church. True, these can hurt us and some people will talk about leaving the church because some person didn’t speak to them last Sabbath. Don’t do that. Do not quit the faith because somebody whom you admire has left the church or is challenging some fundamental doctrine. Christians friends, brothers and sisters, I want you to hold fast like Paul, keep the faith like Job, and say as did Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Have faith, dear friend, in God. For God is good-all the time. Amen.
One (1): How could a loving God allow Swissair Flight 111 to crash into the ocean, taking 229 lives to a watery grave? An Adventist family had put their son on that flight. In just a few days he was to begin his college studies at our school at Collonges sous Saleve in France.
Two (2): A young man, struggling to provide for his family and to get work for which he is qualified, takes on odd jobs and busses tables at a restaurant, just to earn some money. He learns of an unusual opportunity-with an investment of $5000 he can become the representative in his area of a certain company. After much effort and prayer he secures the necessary amount as a loan from a bank. He invests the money and, as promised, becomes the representative in his area. However, within six months the company closes down. He is back where he started, only worse off than when he started, for now he has a debt of $5,000 plus interest. Why were his prayers for the loan answered?
Three (3): A family sends their daughter off to a college some two thousand miles from home. Later they discover that she is not attending college at all, but has run away with a drug-using, non-Adventist lover. She considers him to be sent by God to her and determines to continue cohabiting with him.
Four (4): You may be familiar with the American hotel chain, Holiday Inn. Do you know how that company got started? It began with a man who was fired from his previous job. To provide for his family as best he could, he rented rooms in his home for visitors to sleep and gave them a morning meal-what we call a Bed and Breakfast. Today Holiday Inn is famous everywhere as ‘the innkeeper to the world’. The founder is reported to have said, “I am still looking for the man who fired me, so I can thank him.”
White, E. G. (1940). The desire of ages . Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1942). The ministry of healing . Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1943). Prophets and kings . Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Facing Family Crises. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1999.