I didn’t realize my personal theology was like a carefully-balanced stack of toy blocks until life came and knocked it down.
Growing up in the church, I frequently heard that God blesses our obedience. Whether it was directly communicated or not, I came to believe this meant that obedience to God’s Word would somehow shield me from heartache. In adulthood, my grip on this belief was so tenacious that it began to damage my view of God’s character.
Could I trust a God who seemed to turn his back on faith-filled prayers as family, friends and I begged him to heal my mom’s cancer?
Was God still good when he allowed my nephew to be diagnosed with autism, stealing my sister’s dreams for her firstborn?
What was God thinking, calling my husband and me to pack up our kids and move to Papua New Guinea, when he knew that unexpected hardship would bring us back to the U.S. just a year and a half later?
We had believed him, sacrificed our comfort for him and obeyed his Word in some radical ways. So where was the blessing?
In the middle of heartache, I couldn’t reconcile our circumstances with the promise in Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires” (NLT). More than anything, I wanted health and safety for my family, as well as a thriving ministry — good, God-honoring things — and I couldn’t understand why these desires were slipping through my hands. We loved God and were serving him faithfully, but this didn’t feel like a blessing.
I shared about this wrestling with a good friend. She looked at me with straightforward compassion and said, “Read Job again. Your theology needs help.”
A Blameless Life
Job’s story opens with a statement of his righteousness: “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless — a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.”
But as the story progresses, we see that Job’s blameless life didn’t guard him from calamity. If anything, God used Job’s obedience to draw Satan’s attention.
God echoed the opening lines of Job’s story, asking Satan: “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless — a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil” (Job 1:8).
Piece by piece, Satan dismantled Job’s life, trying to destroy his faith by removing everything he valued. However, Satan made an enormous miscalculation in his attempt to steal Job’s hope. He forgot that he could not take away the one thing that mattered most to Job: God himself.
After 37 chapters filled with the arguing and lamenting of Job and his friends, one profoundly simple verse stands out: "Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind” (Job 38:1).
God showed up. In the midst of the rubble, God held Job still with a series of questions, inviting him to remember his Creator’s unchanging presence.
While we know from the end of the book that God restored Job’s fortune by giving him ten more children and twice as much wealth as he’d once had, one of Job’s final recorded statements shows that he understood the biggest blessing he had received: “I had only heard about you [God] before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5).
In his suffering, Job saw God with a clarity he never had before.
Our Heart’s Desires
David, the psalmist and king of Israel, desperately wanted many things. His heart ached for rescue from his enemies (Psalm 3:7), his children’s welfare (2 Samuel 12:16-18; 18:29-33) and peace for his country (Psalm 122:6-7).
But in Psalm 27:4, David revealed his deepest longing: “The one thing I ask of the Lord — the thing I seek most — is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.”
The desire of David’s heart was nothing other than God. That makes what David writes later on in Psalm 37:4 an astonishing promise: When we take delight in the Lord, he becomes our heart’s desire — and he promises to give us himself!
The Best Blessing
The tumbling down of my carefully-balanced theology didn’t look like a blessing. But as suffering has toppled so many things I thought I knew, my definition of “blessing” has changed completely.
Before, my idea of being “blessed” was colored by blue skies and easy days. On this side of heartache though, I understand that the way God blesses our obedience is by drawing us into intimacy with himself. He didn’t make my journey easier in the moment; instead he turned my eyes away from pain and fear, giving me peace that could only come from him. And rather than surrounding me with comfortable circumstances, he enveloped me with with his own powerful, compassionate presence.
Anything less would not be enough. Discovering the depth of God in the midst of suffering, where my own striving ran dry, is truly the best blessing of all.
Dig for Treasure
Do you feel like the things you love might be slipping through your hands? Let these Scripture passages remind you that God, the best treasure, is always with you:
- Psalm 25:14 — The Lord is a friend to those who recognize and honor him for who he is.
- John 10:28-30 — No one can snatch us from God’s hand.
- John 14:26-27 — Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us.
- Romans 8:35-39 — Nothing can separate us from God’s love.