“…Put forth Your Hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your Face…Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.” Job 2:5, 7-8.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Yes, I know that we are well into the month of January, but to be honest we are still barely into the New Year. Besides, I haven’t been active in my writing since the end of last year. I have had this particular post written since December, but due to a very hectic schedule and a much-needed break in order to rest my brain, I didn’t get to my computer.
With the close of a year and the dawning of a new year, it’s a usual pattern of most people to take time to reflect on the things that has happened within the previous twelve months, while looking forward to the things to come in the upcoming year. For many of us, we are not only looking back on the previous twelve months, but more than likely the last two to three years. This is probably the case because we have seen such unfathomable things happen in our lives within an extended span of time, and it is a wonder as to how any of us were actually able to make it through it all. If we are completely honest, during these incredible times of hardship we may have found ourselves doubting God and His plan for our lives, even if it were for a split second. This is not to say that for those who had these moments stopped believing completely, but rather the impact of the hits that we had taken through the year(s) left us in a position where we had to dig deep to gain access to the measure of faith that God has given to us in order to press our way through. The last few years have been tough for everyone, but this last year was so tough for many because just when we thought that the worst was over, something else happened and let us know that we weren’t finished with the heavy hits just yet. For my family in particular, it was the surge of COVID cases. Seeing that this unmerciful virus was the very thing that led to my brother’s death, seeing a number of people within my family hit with this virus caused us all grief and moments of worry.
The Uphill Climb of 2019-2023
When I think about what some of my loved ones and myself have gone through, it makes me think about Job. Even though none of us had to endure the kind of disastrous events as Job did, we were still taken by surprise in similar fashion to the ancient man of God—with sudden fear and a sense of devastation as things began to happen to us all. One part of his story in particular that has resonated in my spirit is the point in Job 2 where he sits in ashes, scraping his skin because of the affliction of boils and sores. What we see in scripture is a depiction of one of the most ancient of practices of the people of the Near and Middle East, the donning of sackcloth and ashes. It was quite possible that Job did not wear the sackcloth because of the skin condition that he was hit with. However, the ashes were still present. This act of wearing sackcloth and ashes was an outward symbol of repentance, humility, and even submission. Personally, I believe that Job’s posture in the ashes was more so an outward sign of the fact that even though he was going through the worst season of his life, he was still choosing to remain submitted to God and His will for him—an incredible act of worship.
As Job remained in his physically, mentally, and emotionally injured state, he does not dare to speak against God. Instead of doing so (which would have been a warranted reaction to the chain of events, according to his wife and friends), he silently submits to God. This is important to notice because submission to God and His will for our lives is an act of worship. This is even truer when everything around us has fallen apart with no prior notice of such devastation.
Remaining Faithful to God
Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that there were other practices that were associated with the wearing of sackcloth and ashes. For example, in the Near and Middle East, there were people who subscribed to the practices of cutting oneself when mourning. In Leviticus 19:28, God Himself forbade such practices, due to the fact that they were attached to pagan and demonic religious ceremonies. The reason why this is so noteworthy is because of the fact that Job was a man who lived in the ancient Middle East (most likely in the Idumean territory, according to some scholars), and therefore would have at least been aware of these practices. Even though it has been said that Job himself was not Jewish, he was still a devout worshipper of the One True God, and therefore would have intentionally push away anything that was not of God. Even with the potsherd in his hand, as he scraped his skin, he did not cut himself or fall into the things that he had forsaken. His heart remained with the God who had created him and blessed him. Job sets himself apart from the people around him who did not know God (even apart from his friends). As a man of God, he knew better than to engage with such pagan practices. His scraping was simply a means for relief and aiding in the care of the sores and boils. Even at his lowest point, Job does not fall into pagan and ungodly practices. He does not accuse God of evil. He does not allow himself to think about anything that could open a door to his own disobedience toward God. Instead, he holds true to his faith in God.
What I have learned in this season is that there is nothing wrong with taking time to sit in the proverbial sackcloth and ashes, in order to take the time to mourn and take stock of the things that has happened to us in this last year and within the last few years. However, it is vital that we be careful to remain committed to the will of God. For many of us, this was the posture that we were compelled by way of our faith to take during these recent hard times. In fact, some of those closest to me who were hit with devastating blows actually cried through these moments of trying to understand what was going on, and their tears weren’t only due to the presence of God. They cried as they said yes, even though the “yes” itself was painful. In this season, many of us have had to worship through tears and past the point where we wanted to give up and end it all (ministry, businesses, marriages, building of dreams, life in general). What we must understand is the fact that God takes notice of these moments of lowliness and humiliation, and watches us and our reactions to all that has happened to us and around us. He is patient and understanding when we want to collapse under the pressure of the present hardships, but He glories and revels in the moments where His children press through their (warranted) feelings and decide to worship Him and submit to His will. This act alone would have been enough for Job to inherit great things, but he was able to receive even the more because he also defended the fame and the will of God to those who were unable to understand what was happening and why. To the best of his ability, Job remained submitted to God and His will for his life, and showed his devotion and worship by sitting in ashes as a sign to the people that he was in great mourning, and as a sign to God that he will continue to submit to God Himself.
Press Your Way Through
Throughout the last few years, the world has been turned upside down. For many of us, our personal landscapes have changed immensely. At times worshipping God has been a hard thing to do (I know that’s not necessarily a good thing to admit to, but it’s honest). We’ve had to cry it out, scream it out, wail it out, and even talk ourselves into a place of submission and faith in God through these unusual times. These were necessary exercises in the preservation of the faith that we are to walk in. By doing this, we were able to maintain our connection with the Creator of Heaven and Earth, while being a living example of what it really means to be submitted to God (this walk in Christ is literally a “through thick and thin” type of walk). During these last few years, many of us have lost hope, but still managed to maintain our overall faith in the sovereignty and goodness of God (I’ll expound more on that in the next post). Many of us clung to hope and faith with our fingertips, as if we were hanging on the side of a cliff, just inches away from slipping away and down to (what appeared to be an inevitable) death. Regardless of what this long season has looked like to us as individuals, we must find ourselves praising God and celebrating the fact that we made it! So, allow your testimony of how you made it through this tough time to push you into the destiny that awaits you in this newly dawned year.
Just a side note: this same sentiment can be applied to any cycle of life in which we would find ourselves graduating out of/crossing over into. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so through Christ and the inheritance He has made available to us through His sacrifice on the cross, we shall always come out in victory as long as we cling to Him.
Be blessed in Jesus’ Name!