Derek Kidner, in his book The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, makes some helpful observations about Job’s friends and why God was angry with their counsel. Kidner’s words are a stern reminder to us to proceed very carefully in matters of sympathetic grieving (“weep with those who weep”) and counsel.
It is possible to dismiss these friends of Job too lightly, for the book does no present them as hypocrites arriving to gloat (see 2:11-13), nor as heretics offering manifestly false doctrines, nor again as fools producing no serious arguments…Yet these men are ‘miserable comforters’ not only in Job’s estimation (16:2) but even more strongly in God’s (42:7-9)…A closer look at the material shows that the basic error of Job’s friends is that they overestimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume. That being so, if the book is attacking anything its target is not the familiar doctrines of other Scriptures, such as God’s justice and benevolence, his care for the righteous and punishment of the wicked, or the general law that what one sows one reaps. Rather, it attacks the arrogance of pontificating about the application of these truths, and of thereby misrepresenting God and misjudging one’s fellow man. (60-61).
Thus we must be careful not to misapply God’s Word to specific situations in which we are called to comfort and counsel. One example of this could be the misapplication of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it,” when we grieve alongside of parents whose child is out-of-control. We could begin to question otherwise godly parents, and suggest that they have been disobedient to the Lord and negligent in their parenting. But this would be the wrong way to apply this verse, since the Proverbs are given as general principles as to how the world works, not absolute promises. In such a case, we could have godly parents, who, overall, raised their child in a Christ-centered, God-honoring fashion, and yet have to endure the outright rebellion of a sinning child. Yet if we are not careful, we could come alongside of these parents in their grief and only deepen their pain by misapplying the truth of God’s Word. So the story Job’s friends serves as a (true) cautionary tale to us and exhorts us to use great care when we grieve with and counsel others.
The phrase used in the title of this essay is actually a quote from Jim Elliot, the God-centered missionary and martyr to the Quichua and Auca Indians in Ecuador. Devin, however, helped me to see what this truth meant practically during a conversation in the hall of a college dorm one evening.
I was a year and a half away from graduation and Devin was a semester away from donning the cap and gown, so our conversation that night focused on the subject of our futures. What were we going to do after graduation? What did we want to do after college? Even more daunting: what would be doing in the next 10 years? These are the kinds of questions that have the tendency to give a college student stomach aches as he sits on the threshold of his graduation.
Ironically (but not surprisingly) I was more anxious than Devin concerning my future, even though I had another full year and a half before I graduated. Devin gently inquired into my plans and aspirations with heart-searching questions. I would respond with several “I don’t knows” and “I just really wannas.” But instead of sternly rebuking this sincere but worried college student, Devin brought me face to face to reality and gave to me a treasure of wisdom that profits me to this day.
Devin asked me, “What has the Lord put before you? Your school work. Your family. Your friends and your ministry at church. Focus on these and do them with all your heart for His glory and God will guide you and provide for you.” That conversation was probably one of the greatest helps I received while at college. Devin’s exhortation was simply an application of the principle Christ laid down in Matthew 25:21 when He commended the servant who multiplied his five talents by saying, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” The principle: faithfulness in little prepares a person for greater responsibility. Another way to say it: You concern yourself the depth of your life and ministry and let God concern Himself with the breadth of your life and ministry.
For the rest of my time at college I would regularly apply this principle as I studied, nurtured relationships and did ministry, and it is this instruction from Devin that has brought me back time and time again, from unnecessary worry and panic about the future to focused, content and heart-felt labor.
For Christmas, my wife and I spent a full week in my hometown of Billings, Montana. It would have been her first white Christmas had the climate not been its usual self: predictably unpredictable. Just a week before we flew in, Billings was experiencing record snow and kitchen freezer-like temperatures. When we arrived, it was 55° F and dry.
During our time in Billings, my favorite place to visit was Westside Baptist Church. Westside is where my faith was nurtured after coming to Christ in the winter of 1999 and where my parents have attended for approximately 8 years. I have very fond memories of this place; especially of the fellowship I experienced. Continue reading “Wisdom From Devin, Part I: Short Conversations and the Kingdom of God”