To Do or Not To Do

02/23/2008

To do or not to do…that is the question. Of course we know this as “To be or not to be,” from Shakespeare, but in this message, as I heal from surgery, I’ll be putting a little different twist on it.

As one day rolls into the next, I am finding out what recovering from surgery is all about. The first ten days or so after returning home from the hospital I couldn’t even begin to write a full up-to-date message because I was in the “To Do” stage of post-surgery days. Now, this may seem backwards, so let me explain.

The “To Do” stage is where everything takes great effort and the patient would rather not, as in: “What do you mean you want me to get out of this hospital bed and walk the halls?” But, that is what is required to make sure the blood keeps flowing and problems don’t arise from too much stillness. To “Be still” could be dangerous during this phase.

When this is finished, a patient then moves into the “Not To Do” part of recovery, which comes just about “NOW!” After being unable to get normal things done and having to depend on others for help, the brain starts to say, “You are healing, keep on with the To Do, but the truth is the body now requires the Not To Do part of the recovery process. This is where patient endurance comes in—especially when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it feels like an early Spring has arrived. Shouldn’t everyone be out, actively pursuing life?

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
   They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don't get tired,
   they walk and don't lag behind.
Isaiah 40:31 (The Message)

I sat listening to Kenny G today, and as the soft music played, I spotted a bird soaring above the trees just outside my window here in the canyon. It was a peaceful moment, a time of reflection for sure, thinking about how easy it is to soar sometimes, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint when life is good. But with a broken wing, a bird cannot soar, and with a broken body, or even a broken heart, a person will feel faint and weary—and running, or sometimes even walking very much, is out of the question.

I have an inspirational candle here by my chair; it has four sides to it. Each side has a different inscription, “Stand in Courage,” “Walk in Love,” “Kneel in Faith,” and my favorite right now, “Wait in Hope.” Since standing, walking and kneeling can be difficult after surgery, waiting is what I’m called To Do, while I remember what Not To Do…it’s a bit easier to behave when I think of it as obedience.

…to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never
enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him.
Hebrews 3:18-19 (NLT)

I have a note in my Bible with this verse that says, “There is no rest in disobedience.”

Why don’t we don’t soar as the eagles do, why are we so exhausted—are we running away from God’s voice? Could rest be found in listening and following God’s instructions of whether “To Do or Not To Do”? Isn’t that a question we all ask anyway? We all wonder what we should be doing…we’re looking for a reason for being here on earth. When we get to know God, we start to realize that without a call on our life, life can seem sort of meaningless. Even the fun stuff can lack luster, even the hard jobs can be without purpose, even the peaceful moments can leave us empty. We ask, “Where are You God? And why am I here? Please help me to know.”

Today you must listen to his voice.
Don’t harden your hearts against him as
Israel did when they rebelled.
Hebrews 3:15 (NLT)

Right now Jim and I are being taken care of by so many, those listening to God’s voice and being obedient to Him. It is a huge help. The other side in the care being given is my obedience in it. God’s gentle whisper to me right now seems to be, “I’m providing for you…listen to My voice, do not harden your heart to the help that is being offered…heal in the way I have planned during this time.” If I overdo in the face of such love and generosity, then it’s like I’m rebelling against God’s kindness to us instead of embracing it.

Yes, it’s hard…it’s hard to accept help because we think we can do things alone, and many times we do…but not to do might hold something more important. To say “yes” to helping hands and allow God To Do through His body of believers might reveal some great new insights into our God. When we want to say “No,” when we want to say, “Never,” we should wonder what Jesus would say to that.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him,
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied,
“You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
John 13:6-8 (NLT)

In The Message version, it says,

“If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.”

When we serve, having never allowed ourselves to be served, it is good, and we know it is appreciated by those receiving it...but when we serve after having been served, it can be even better! We can have a better understanding of the need that is being met having had our own needs met. Knowing both sides of service is a wisdom that God longs for all of us to have. Perhaps then we can truly be a part of what Jesus is doing.

“Something special happens when someone touches us.”
(Taken from “The Joy of Encouragement” by David Jeremiah)

I’m not a big touchy-feely person. I’ve gotten better. When our son died, I became a hugger, never having been one before. But there’s something in the touch of another whether it be actually as physical as a warm hug, as penetrating as a look of understanding, or as important as the mere physical presence of another in our loneliness.

As an example: When I was checking into the hospital for surgery, I first waited in a room while the paperwork was taken care of. A woman came from behind the glass window to place an identification bracelet on my arm. I held out my hand to her as she secured the bracelet on my arm and then for a brief moment, she squeezed my hand before she walked away. In a world that hurries at a breakneck speed, and even in a hospital where sometimes procedures become more important than the patient, this was a moment of comfort given. I wonder how many hearts have been warmed by this woman’s simple gesture? What if this act of kindness was all some had to calm their fears? How awesome that this one woman will do this for the patients she serves. She didn’t have to do it…she could easily not do it…but she did, perhaps out of obedience to her God.

If we won’t allow ourselves to be “touched” (and I mean this in the purest sense of the word—let’s not let this fallen world taint such a beautiful expression of care and concern) then what might we be missing? What did Peter feel when the Lord bent to wash his feet? Did he feel the Lord’s strength fill him up for a time later when his flesh would be very weak? Did he still remember that touch as his mouth spoke words of denial about his Lord? Was it that very touch that tore deep into his heart and brought him back to a more concentrated devotion to God? When we allow others to reach out and touch us with care, with love, with help, with concern, sometimes even with silence during a time when sorrow so fills our heart that no words would be heard anyway…we are being obedient in taking down the walls of self-reliance, admitting our need, and welcoming a response from our Father in Heaven. It humbles the human heart, revealing our weakness and showing the strength of God—a strength that is poured through others into our need, into our pain, into our emptiness and our loneliness. It is not to be missed!

I know of a great pain right now in someone’s life, a pain where words are not enough because nothing is enough. Only the love of God can reach the depths of hurt this person must endure. Too many have tried with words to heal these wounds, and yet in all of it, I believe one of the greatest gestures of comfort offered was simply a hand, placed on a shoulder during a meal delivery—offering respect for the pain without advice about what to do about it. Sometimes, it is a time not to do or say anything, but just to be.

How many of us have said too much in these situations? How many of us have been JF’s? That’s short for “Job’s Friends.” I know I have, and I want to stop it. I want to learn by being served, during this not to do time in my life, what to do when the time comes. I have to believe Peter was better at washing feet after having it done by the Master. How could he ever forget such a gentle love being shown to him? How could he then not show it to another?

I can get pretty graphic about what God is teaching me along life’s journey, and I have been with this surgery too. Although I mean this in a laughing manner, I’m also serious to the core when I say, “I have been gutted like a fish.” There were things in me that God still needed to cut away, and He has been doing just that. Yes, the doctor took out certain parts with this hysterectomy to make me well again, but God has gone deeper than that. He’s been working on the condition of my heart—dealing with pride issues, on JF’s issues, and on things I believe are yet to be revealed. I could easily miss these things; I could harden my heart to God in rebellion saying, “I don’t have time for this. There’s work to be done.” But then isn’t that what God is saying, “Yes. There’s work to be done in your heart, so cooperate with Me here.”

As I listened to a Max Lucado book on my iPod while in the hospital, he talked about how we can stand in the middle of a river, with water all around us, but we could still die from thirst if we won’t drink while we’re there. (Taken from “Come Thirsty”) I felt myself starting to get thirsty in the river of recovery because I didn’t want to take the time to drink. While standing right in the middle of great lessons, I was in too much of a hurry to get out of the strong current and get on with my life. God knew it would happen; it does to most of us—we feel worthless in our reduced state. But when I began to listen again, God reminded me that He’s not the one saying, “What are you doing there on the couch? Get up and do something productive!” God knows right where we are, He knows just how we feel, He knows our energy level, and He’s okay with all of it. Now we need to be okay with it, and take the time to drink in so there will eventually be something to pour out.

“If a man considers his time to be so valuable that he cannot find time to
keep quiet and be alone, that man will eventually be of no value to anyone.
To spend all of one’s time with people, is to soon have nothing to give to any of them.”
(David Jeremiah-The Joy of Encouragement)

Or as W. Phillip Keller wrote, “It is not always easy to simply step aside into solitude and rest and quietness. But unless I learn how, my entire growth in God will be endangered.”

In this life, without growing in the mercy, grace and love of God until it is deeply ingrained in our own souls, we’ll not only be JF’s to those we know, we’ll be JF’s even to ourselves in our times of weakness and suffering. If we think others can be heartless with their words, think about the way our own destructive thoughts can sometimes beat us up and bring us down.

Listen to what some of Job’s friends had to say to him in his distress. Let’s see if we can hear words we speak to our own heart, as well as to the hearts of others we minister to in this dialog between “friends.”

The story goes…

“Three of Job’s friends…traveled from their homes to comfort and console him…they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. And no one said a word, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 2 NLT)

That’s the bit of grace we give to ourselves and others…we understand something has happened, we allow some time to recover, some comfort and consoling needs to be given…maybe seven days or so where we don’t get on ourselves for being down, or where we remain quiet before we begin to preach to another about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

And then….the first of Job’s friends has had enough, so Eliphaz speaks:

“In the past…you have supported those who were weak…But now when trouble strikes, you faint and are broken. Does your reverence for God give you no confidence?...My experience shows…Listen to my counsel, and apply it to yourself.”

The words of Eliphaz sting instead of comfort…we question why we are so down, why our faith is not stronger? Why we cannot be like him? Or why someone we’re ministering to is not standing up to the winds that blow? We begin to beat ourselves or others up for the weakness that is being shown. Compassion, grace…it is quickly disappearing…being washed down the river while there is great thirst all around. We’re going under and we wonder where the hand of God is that will keep us from drowning?

And then…the second of Job’s friends, Bildad, pipes up after hearing Job’s defense against Eliphaz:

“How long will you go on like this?...if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, if you are pure and live with complete integrity, he will rise up and restore your happy home…God will not reject a person of integrity.”

Bildad advice makes us start to question what we have done, or what someone else has done, that caused this condition/tragedy. Is there wickedness? Godlessness? It seems “if” this is done, or “if” that is done, the distress will stop. We wonder if hearts are in the right place? Has there been a devotion to prayer? Is it a question of being “good enough” to deserve God’s favor? The river is getting deeper, the pull is getting stronger…we’re surely going down…

And in our breathlessness, the third of Job’s friends has some advice to offer. Zophar speaks:

“Listen! God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve!”

Ohhh! Has the last strong wave of condemnation come? We can find no comfort in anything we have heard…powerful words are destroying us…dark thoughts are filling us with dread. Loneliness, betrayal, and abandonment seem to be our only companions…is there no one who understands our pain? What are we to make of this torrent of words that don’t help, but hinder our view of God’s love for us? It reminds me of the time my sister-in-law got stuck under a small waterfall in the Yuba River. Without a helping hand to pull her out from under the pressure bearing down, she would have drowned.

With what little energy Job must have had left, he used it to begin to argue against all these accusations—arguing against empty platitudes in his pain, perhaps even arguing against his own thoughts that were stealing his sleep in the middle of the night. As Job did, we try to sort through what has happened, what everyone has said, and search for a reason for the tragedies that life brings…but we may come to the same conclusion that Job did as he exclaims, “How can you comfort me? All your explanations are wrong!” (NLT) He said, “Look, I have seen many instances such as you describe. I understand what you are saying. I know as much as you do. You are no better than I am…Are you defending God by means of lies and dishonest arguments?...Be silent now and leave me alone.”

Our words, our conclusions, our opinions, may be way off base, and the pressure bearing down can start to drown all of us if we don’t go back to the beginning of the story of Job and find some sanity in his situation...in ours, or in those of our family and friends.

The story of Job begins this way:

Job was a man who God considered blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. God even said, “He is the finest man in all the earth.” (NLT) But Job understood what his friends did not, as he said, “Even if I were innocent, I would have no defense.” (Job 9:15) Job understood that it was not a matter of guilt or innocence many times when it comes to suffering. He was experiencing firsthand why we have to be so careful not to be a JF’s to ourselves or to each other when life deals us a terrible blow! Job said, God “destroys both the blameless and the wicked.”

We need to “get this” if we are ever to find comfort for ourselves, or to offer comfort to another in this life. How do we get it? Perhaps we have to come back to what Job said in Chapter 19, verse 25, “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives…” No matter what accusations surround us and fill us, we can know the Truth of where our hope lives. After what Job had experienced and then knowing of his loneliness by his words, “My relatives stay far away, and my friends have turned against me. My neighbors and my close friends are all gone.” Job needed the Truth to cut through the fog of confusion. We all do.

Let’s move towards the end of Job now to see who enters the picture after Job’s friends are finished. It’s a young man who thinks he can get this whole “whirlwind,” as God calls it, under control. I was intrigued with how Job responded to his hurtful comments. He didn’t. There was nothing from Job in reply to Elihu. Sometimes, isn’t that the best way? We fight back for a time, but then, we know it’s not doing any good, so we remain quiet as the world continues to spin around us, as heartache fills our days…life goes on but we no longer seem to be a part of it—any strength we had is gone. We wait in hope until our Rescuer comes to shed His light in the darkness. This may take months, years, or even a whole lifetime.

In Job’s case, when God appeared on the scene of his agony He asked Job some questions. Job’s response was, “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will put my hand over my mouth in silence. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.” (40:3-5 NLT) Job knew it was time Not To Do—God had still more questions to ask of Job. It was time for quietness, and listening to the voice of God.

When we think of the story of Job, we think of his losses, of his gains…but do we think of his friends? Will we learn from them? I received a poem in an e-mail just today from a friend going through great heartache in life. It saddens me when I hear that “Job’s friends” have come to “visit,” while relatives stay far away, and neighbors and close friends are all gone. The body of Christ must remember not only the story of Job, but of Job’s friends so as not to do any further damage to our members while they wait in hope. Here is just a bit of what was written by my friend:

I wish people could see it is okay to mourn
I wish someone would open their eyes
But I have given up fighting this losing battle I will live how my heart leads
Some may think that is foolish but I don't care anymore what they think
because the one running my heart the one who lives inside
is my Savior
my Lord , my guide
He may take me down a path
where others spit upon my journey
who talk behind my back and gossip with a furry

saying I am the example of what NOT to do
I don't care anymore I have to follow the master until He's through

How interesting, that I would receive this while I write this message. Did you catch the words, “Not To Do.” Job said much the same thing about his friends…they were telling him he was doing what he ought “Not To Do.” Job said, “They taunt me! They despise me and won’t come near me, except to spit in my face. God has cut the cords of my tent. He has humbled me, so they have thrown off all restraint. These outcasts oppose me to my face…they come at me from all directions. They rush upon me when I am down. I live in terror now. They hold me in contempt…and now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain as though something were relentlessly gnawing at my bones.”

And what was God’s reply to all that had transpired in Job’s misery? Let me use an excerpt once again from David Jeremiah’s book on encouragement to clearly paint the picture.

We would do well to remember the words of the Lord when He finally interrupted Job’s miserable counselors to ask a question: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (38:2). And we would be wise to consider the warning He issued to Eliphaz and his two friends: “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (42:7).

David Jeremiah finishes with this:

If we wish to be godly encouragers, we will not speak until we have truly listened. We will not deliver pre-packaged answers. We will not pretend to know what we could not possibly know. And we will not point a finger…unless it is to direct our friend to the only true source of encouragement. Remember, Christian encouragement does not require that we turn into backslapping, positive-attitude pep-talkers. Sometimes all it takes is to listen, to be present, and to be quietly supportive. And then, if the right time presents itself, to gently recall that God is good, even when we don’t understand. That’s often enough. And it’s always apt.

We do so much in life, do, do, do, do, do…we might think that’s what’s most important to God. But maybe what’s most important is Not To Do, not only when we’re in the process of healing so it can be in God’s timing and in God’s way, but also when those we know are healing. God is a God of mercy; He offers it to us and longs for us to accept it so that we in turn can offer it to another. God is a God of love—because He first loved us, we can love each other.

When God began to speak to Job, I started to underline all the times the words, Who, What, When, Where, Why and How were used. The times were numerous for all these words; except for one…I couldn’t find the word “Why” in my New Living Translation Bible. Isn’t that so like God—to not defend Himself? To not explain His reasons for what was happening! He has no need. Elihu seemed not to understand this as he said in his speech to Job, “Let me go on, and I will show you the truth of what I am saying. For I have not finished defending God! I will give you many illustrations of the righteousness of my Creator.”

Isn’t that the question we seem to most want to ask? Why? Isn’t that what Job’s friends were after in all their “wise counsel” to Job? Trying to tell Job why this had happened in his life. But they came up empty, just as Job came up empty, and as we’ll all come up empty until we are ready to settle for God’s uncomplicated answer which is…I Am! We have to begin there, and respond as Job did to his Creator when he said, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you…I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.” (42:2&3 NLT) As David Jeremiah said, God is good, and even when we don’t understand, that’s often enough and it’s always apt

If our goal is to be a friend of God instead of Job’s friends, the only way is by getting to know the Great I Am. Maybe part of that means having our feet washed by our Savior through those who serve as His body here on earth—and then in turn, washing the feet of another when there is a need. Hearts may be softened, weakness may become God’s strength, and relationships may be built instead of destroyed when we’re a part of what Jesus is doing.

Job was asked to pray for his friends when all was said and done. Job, being a blameless man of complete integrity, who feared God and stayed away from evil, did just that. He followed the most important commandment of all, to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as he loved himself. We’d do well to do the same!

Grace Noll Crowell’s words below may help all of us to remember how to be a friend of God to others…

Let me come in where you are weeping, friend
and let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours,
can understand.
Let me come in—I would be very still
beside you in your grief.
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend;
tears bring relief.
Let me come in—I would only breathe a prayer,
and hold your hand.
For I have known a sorrow such as yours
and understand.

Our Friend Jesus is the loving example of what to do.
Job’s friends are an example of what not to do.
It’s important that we know the difference.

I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.
Job 42:5-6 (NLT)

Until we meet again,

Diane