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How do we react when we stumble?

For a children’s message I wanted to illustrate Job from the Bible losing his family and his possessions.

I said, “At any time, your calm and reasonable life can be disrupted. We stumble and fall.” So, to make my point, I deliberately stumbled down the steps fully intending to catch myself. Somehow, I lost my balance in the act of falling and hit the floor, hard. In my enthusiasm to make a point, I nearly ruined the service and one of my knees in the process.

Despite my idiotic flair for the dramatic, stumbling is an unfortunate element of life. At any time:

• The doctor asks to see you in her office to discuss a recent biopsy.

• Your employer schedules an appointment amid rumors of layoffs.

• Your spouse confesses he/ she is unfaithful and wants out of the marriage.

• A sleepy driver runs a stop sign directly in front of you.

These past 15 or 16 months have been full of stumbles when you consider how the pandemic has taken the lives of more than 600,000 Americans and impacted the health of millions more. COVID-19 devastated our economy, closed businesses, eliminated thousands of jobs, made it dangerous to simply be out in public, temporarily closed churches, schools, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events and the list goes on and on.

Caught in the middle of all this, it is tempting to panic, “What do I do? How could this happen? What went wrong?”

The best Biblical example of stumbling and the damage wrought is the story of Job, a prosperous farmer living in the land of Uz. Job is described as “the finest man in all the earth – a man of complete integrity.” (Job 1:8) But before you can say, “stumble,” Job through no fault of his own loses his possessions, his family and even his health until he is left sitting on an ash heap scrapping his itching, boil-covered skin with a broken piece of pottery.

Job cries out to God proclaiming his innocence while his so-called friends begin to offer possible explanations. Maybe, you did something wrong? Could it be your children’s fault? Somebody must have done something wrong. You are simply being disciplined. Don’t be angry with God. Shut up; you have no right to complain.

Whoa! With friends like this, who needs… friends.

But don’t be smug. Job’s friends represent our own well-meaning response when people around us suddenly find themselves stumbling. Instead of compassion, you offer cheap explanations. Instead of help, I offer unwanted criticism. Instead of empathy we offer slanderous gossip. Meanwhile Job, confused and even angry at times, continues crying out to almighty God.

Job cries out, “If only someone would listen to me! I will sign my name to my defense. Let the Almighty answer me. Let my accuser write out the charges against me. I would face the accusation proudly. I would wear it like a crown.”

Just when you think all is lost, “The Lord answers Job from the whirlwind.”

“Brace yourself because I have some questions for you. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who defined the boundaries of the sea? Have you ever commanded the morning to appear? Where does the light come from? Can you hold back the movements of the stars?” (Parts of Job 38)

This sounds impressive, but as I read this, I have more questions than answers. Job was asking, “Where were you when I was suffering?” God answers, “Where were you when I created the earth?” What? What kind of answer is that?

It may be the best answer of all because Job comprehends who God really is. “I know you can do anything, and I was talking about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me. I take back everything I said.” (42:2-3)

Job chooses to trust God, and because of his courage and faith, all of heaven celebrates as evil is defeated.

• When the doctor calls… can you trust God to see you through?

• When you lose your job… can you believe something better is waiting?

• When your spouse abandons you… can you believe God is ever faithful?

• When a car pulls in front of you… can you believe God is still in control?

As we come out of the devastation of COVID-19, we have the power to choose our attitude. We can go back to the way we were, or we can look for and respond to the unique opportunities within our community and world, trusting God to provide and lead us on the right path.

Studying Job fortifies your faith and strengthens your attitude. Attitude is part trust and part perseverance, which together can withstand the worst tragedies life can throw at you. Sudden storms will always appear out of nowhere. You will stumble from time to time. The question is, “How will you respond when you stumble and fall? What attitude will you choose?”

All of heaven and hell is watching.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.