Recently I preached through book of Job in just four weeks. If you are interested you can listen to those four sermons here. Job is the sort of book that is often neglected in our Bible, and due to its difficulty many preachers skip over it. When I first planned on preaching through Job, I had reservations. It’s a lengthy book with a difficult topic. Yet, convinced with its relevance to the lives of my church, I pressed on in my preparation.
A few weeks into the series a woman, who I respect dearly, express her initial timidity about my taking on this particular book in just four weeks, but shared with me the positive feedback she’s heard from many of our members through the Job series. I’ve been pleasantly caught off guard how this little book has impacted so many in our congregation, but I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Spirit of God works the the preaching of the word, even difficult books like Job.
Getting Past Glibness
Now I say all this not to laud my own preaching accomplishments. In fact, I believe the impact of the book of Job had little to do with the preacher at all—neither in the crafting of the sermon nor the delivery. No, I believe the impact of the book of Job on my congregation came from the neglect of teaching on suffering in the church today. People just don't hear message much on how to suffer well. In our consumeristic culture constantly trying to attract seekers, a topic like suffering wouldn't appear to draw much of a crowd.
If we let lost people dictate what is preached in the pulpit we end up with pragmatic, moralistic sermons devoid of the Bible and the Gospel. When we preach to people’s felt needs, our worship become superficial and glib. In order to convince people to be Christian, we plaster on our smiles and talk about how happy Jesus makes us. As a result, many Christians appear robotic and disconnected from the harsh realities in which we live. Sadly, that happiness promoted merely reflects the consumeristic culture, which is how the despicable prosperity gospel teaching infiltrates so many American churches. Lamenting Christians don’t make good billboards for our marketing efforts.
Expository preaching forces congregations to go through tough texts and encounter biblical themes that we might not ordinarily choose. Even still, expository preachers tend to neglect the Old Testament. A pervasive genre in the Old Testament is lament. From Job to Jeremiah to the Psalter, the Old Testament wrestles with depression and sorrow. I believe these sections of Scripture provide an significant comfort to Christians who have grown tired of pretending to be happy all the time.
Proclaim Hope to Sufferers
As an Christian could tell you, following Jesus is difficult. Suffering is a recurring facet of human existence in this fallen, sinful world. Pastors and teachers need to expose our people to these neglected gems, like Job, and teach them to suffer well. As I preached through the book of Job, I knew I was preaching to many who were suffering. Because I know my people, I know that there are suffers present: a man ever-weakening with ALS, women struggling with recurring bouts of depression, the widow who doesn’t know how to move on from her husband’s death, the mother who had to burry her own child, and the fathers laid off and struggling to find work.
If pastors are to be faithful in their task of shepherding they must proclaim the hope of the Gospel even in the difficult afflictions of the present age. We must help our congregation set their hope on Christ, in the midst of the depression and questions.
Worship in Tears of Joy and Sorrow
Thankfully, God has given us a wonderful resource to assist suffers: a savior who suffers with us and for us. Jesus identifies us in the frailty of our flesh and endures the cross of Christ to redeem us and to mend this broken world. Hope is here and is coming. the Bible in not a monolithic book, but is contoured with various writers and genres, styles and themes. This diversity allows us to voice the prayers and concerns of the Biblical writers to God, including those who may be going through the must anguished suffering like Job. We ought not to neglect tough books of the Bible, because they help provide balance to the full range of dynamics within the Christian life. We must learn how to follow Christ when the goodness of God’s providence shines brightly on us, but also when that providence darkens and turns bitter. When our hope is grounded securely in Christ, we can worship God both in tears of joy and of sorrow.