When I first heard my church was going to do a series on Job, I flinched. I love the book of Job (and Ecclesiastes… I tend to go for the dismal ones I guess) but it took me a while to get there. While reading Job as an adult, I began noticing that the formulas I had been taught about sacrifice and suffering were not the same of those of a loving God. Growing up I had been taught that constant (often unnecessary) sacrifice was being like Jesus, and that Job had it worse, therefore you shouldn’t be complaining about your “suffering”. The “happy Christian” formula is one of my least favorite lies that you’ll find in contexts of Christianity.
My pastors were right in choosing to preach from this book in the time of global crisis. For me personally, it has helped me to unpack something I’ve been wrestling with these last few months. I’ve been shown how quick I am to be the martyr sometimes. When there is conflict, I am quick to say it was my fault and I should’ve done [insert small thing here] differently and I would have prevented it. When a friend points out how someone else has hurt me, I am quick to come to their defense. “They don’t understand, so if I explain my feelings differently for the 13th time then they will stop hurting me.” (This is a co-dependent tendency I picked up from past abuse.) I have an extremely high sense of responsibility, which makes me feel as if something fails, it is because I could have done better—whether it was a team effort or not.
There is suffering we experience that is the reality of living in a broken world far beyond our control. There is suffering we experience directly or indirectly from others. There is suffering we bring upon ourselves via our own choices, whether we recognize it or not. I’m not writing a novel to you on the complexities of the suffering of the humankind, since others far more knowledgeable than me already have. What I’ve been learning lately has been how often I suffer because of choices I make with a sense of martyrdom, as if it is self-sacrifice alone that brings me closer to Jesus.
For example, I often will forego speaking to my needs because in my own mind and heart I have decided others are more valid, even if both of our needs can be met with minimal compromise. I will excuse and defend behavior that harms me, especially if I see it as benefitting the other person. I was taught that to be Christ-like is to constantly die for others rather than dying to self. To an extent, there is truth in this. Sacrificial love is a powerful thing. Jesus is our example of that.
That being said, while God has called me to be Christ-like, He has not called me to be the Christ.
What a relief that is—that Jesus has already made the ultimate sacrifice, and the majority of my involvement is a metaphorical “carrying of my cross”. While God has called me to die to my own desires, it is not for the sake of others. It is for Him. When I sacrifice myself to other people for the sake of sacrifice itself, especially if it comes at a cost to me that detriments God’s callings for my life, I am not worshipping my God—I am glorifying myself while making other people my gods.
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, but He wasn’t the sacrifice at every given turn. If Jesus sacrificed Himself to every person that came His way, He never would have made it to the cross. God’s love is so much more expansive than that. Yes, Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins. That was His victory over death. But His love does not end there. His love was present and active as He washed His disciples’ feet. His love was present and active when He healed the sick. His love was present and active when He refused to sacrifice Himself to the Pharisees and Sadducees because He had much bigger plans. God’s grand plan was to sacrifice Himself for us, not to us.
So now, when I am encouraged to be Christ-like, I remember that I sacrifice myself to my God. I sacrifice my desires for His and seek His heart. Choosing not to sacrifice to another person is not sinning. And when I suffer (not because of my own choices) I remember Job. Job did not ask God to suffer, nor did he sacrifice all he had to other people at the expense of himself or his ministry. In fact, the life of Job is his most powerful ministry.
For those of you who struggle like me, I hope you feel encouraged to say “no” to the right things. To speak to your needs and be as protective of your own wellbeing as you are of others. To be willing to sacrifice yourself to the God who gave Himself for you. To remember that same God when you suffer. Job and his friends had yet to know Jesus, and we live with the blessing of a relationship with Him. An advocate who has suffered with us and for us, not because we wanted it or deserved it, but because He wanted us to know Him. Don’t disqualify yourself from doing His work because you are too overwhelmed by being an unnecessary martyr.
If you would benefit from hearing some amazing preaching on Job, check out this link. This series answers the question, “Is God worth loving in a crisis?” and continually has me thanking God for Job’s story.
With more newly learned humility,