Our Staff Job Studies
From Grant Dibden
We had a wonderful time considering several of our staff Job studies during the year. It is such a packed book and we were challenged as we reflected back over the whole book, its themes and big lessons as part of our final study time.
The book of Job explores why God sometimes allows tremendous suffering by those who deserve it least. God seeks to give us knowledge of Himself and to add to that chief blessing many other temporary ones.But Job teaches us that sometimes God must interrupt His normal policy in order to deliver us from trivializing Him as a business partner or loving His gifts more than we love Him as the giver. When God allows inexplicable suffering, when God gives us seemingly strong reasons to give up on Him, when He appears to treat us like an enemy, He is forcing us into a relationship with Him in which He is truly seen to be God and Lord—the only kind of relationship that will save us. The book of Job shows us that, much to our surprise, a great war is being fought in heaven over the saints during such trials. We learn that Satan is under God’s control. Spiritual warfare is real, and we may not know it is happening. We watch as Job struggles and criticizes God but cannot bring himself to give up on Him, and he is vindicated for his faith. We also watch as Job’s friends attempt to comfort him but only add to his pain.
We are sobered as we reflect on our ability to damage people God loves and approves of merely by what we say. Just like Job’s friends, we can sound very spiritual and give advice that is superficially plausible and theologically correct, only to malign deeply a servant of God and hurt them in the process.
A central lesson in Job is that the children of God may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!
The suffering of the children of God is not the firm application of a principle of retributive justice. It is the free application of the principle of sovereign grace. The suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous it is not punitive but curative. Suffering makes a righteous person sensitive to his remaining sinfulness and helps him hate it and renounce it (Job 36:10 cf Psalm 119:71). This is how John Piper challengingly puts it:
“Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually-designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”1
We learn that God is a relational God, and the wisdom of God is not just fear and rules-based like Islam, or western intellectualism, but it is relational and personal. God is enough for us. Just Him and not what benefits we get. The only answer in Job-like suffering, the only thing that can comfort us in inexplicable loss, is not further explanation but a deeper vision of God.
Finally, we learn that these experiences are blessedly temporary and that, having confirmed us in our relationship with him, God never fails to give us exactly what we need.
1Compare 1 peter 1:6,7; Hebrews 12:10,11; 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 and James 1:2-4 for a New Testament take on this.
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Resilience to Labour for a Lifetime
By Robert Bolton, Brisbane Labouring Community
Resilience is the ability or capacity to recover quickly – to bounce back from difficulties and setbacks. Sometimes, everything in us wants to quit or at least slow down, it’s in these times that our need for a resilience outside ourselves is apparent. (more…)
God is Enough for Me
By Kendrea Dibden, Sydney Labouring Community
As a teacher, I know the importance of intentional reflection and analysis to be aware of strengths and shortcomings. Reflexive practice in order to be constantly improving. As a believer this has been a vital part of my walk with the Lord as well. Because in the middle of life, it is difficult for me to see change and it is easy to get caught in (more…)
Put Your Head Down and Labour
By Tami Brown and June Sparks, first published in Compass Winter issue 2022
Theresa Suan has had an incredibly fruitful ministry at Macquarie University ISM. She shared with us recently how it has changed over time, giving us a glimpse into the journey the Lord has taken her on.
There were times when Theresa felt alone, struggling without a helper or staff working alongside her. There were moments she felt hopeless and helpless. (more…)
By Ian McIntosh
We can see relational conflict all around the world and throughout history. These conflicts have resulted in wars. We see this in the news today. These wars take place on a much larger scale, but I think I can say all of us have experienced relational conflict on a smaller scale. Sometimes that conflict is internal, battling our personal demons to relate to ourselves, others and God. Sometimes it is external and quite apparent that it’s with another person. The impact of (more…)
Resilience in the Gospel
By Ian McIntosh, first published in Compass Winter issue 2022
What do you think about when you hear the word resilience? TV interviews with disaster victims or soldiers fighting a David and Goliath battle? Relational conflict? People battling their personal demons relating to themselves, others and God? Or just wanting to feel okay?
Resilience is inbuilt whether we are a believer or not, but the ability to endure and spring back with hope and optimism from a difficult situation over which we have little or no control can be a struggle and feel impossible without Christ. (more…)
New Beginning … New Opportunities
By Tim Mapperson, Melbourne Labouring Community, Student Ministry. First published in Compass, Autumn 2022.
What do you do when your ministry is pulled out from under your feet? When you watch the community that you have strived to build over the years slowly diminish until it vanishes, nothing left, and there’s nothing you can doto stop it.
Pessimism is a ready friend when the membership list is emptied, when the team dwindles to … only yourself.
I’m referring to student ministry during two years of COVID lockdowns, campus closures, and national border closures (for international student ministries). Pessimism is a ready friend when the ministry membership list has emptied, and when the thriving campus team dwindles to only yourself. Oh, there are still people we’re discipling—graduates, workers, mostly no longer in Melbourne. But the community and campus teams are gone.
In the early days of COVID, we tried to keep everyone connected. The team kept in close contact with our network—phone calls, messages, Zoom catch-ups. Bible studies and discipleship shifted to online. We shopped and cooked for those who were not handling the isolation of lockdowns. We wanted to meet the needs of our community, but that became harder as lockdowns became longer. We made short videos about conquering fear, keeping emotionally healthy, and
such topics, but their impact was minimal.
Looking back on it all, our efforts were probably helpful—tangible love and service. For that, we’re pleased and grateful. But none of it worked long-term to ‘save’ the ministry. Why? Unlike a local church, university ministry is high turnover. People graduate and move on. For an international ministry like ours, they often move far. Yes, we follow the fruit, disciple our young professionals, but the lockdowns starved us of the next generation. Now, no campus community, no
campus team. This was hard to come to terms with.
And that’s where the other daunting realisation set in. Me, a nearly 40-year-old male, recruiting young university students to birth a new discipleship community… C’mon, pull my other leg. This normally requires a team—a small community of committed individuals to begin with. Those who go it alone amongst non-Christianised strangers do it tough, often labouring many years, decades, with little or no lasting fruit. Did I just get a glimpse of my future? That thought was daunting. My theology says, ‘Trust God’. Instead, existential questions knocked on the door.
So, what do you do when your ministry is pulled out from under your feet, and you are left alone? Here is what I have learned. First, my ministry had not been pulled away because … I never had one. It’s the Lord’s. I pressed this truth until it reshaped my thinking. Second, my job is not to recreate the ministry that once was, only what the Lord wants now – they may look different. Drop expectations that are just me clinging to the past. Third, take time to remember my calling, renew confidence in it. Fourth, don’t presume what God will or won’t do. Be flexible. Look at what I’ve got, then start moving. Every new beginning has new opportunities. Look for them, don’t pine over ones lost.
I have found the Apostle Paul is a repeated example of resilience. His life and ministry are worth chewing over for a while. Over time, I adopted 1 Corinthians 15:58 again. It’s a good truth to behold.
Foundations of Resilience
By Bruce Clarke. First published in Compass, Autumn 2022.
The global pandemic has significantly changed our lives through lockdowns and restrictions affecting employment, relationships, travel, gatherings, sport, etc. We are cut off from so much of what is important to us as creative, social beings. Followers of Jesus are also impacted by changes to fellowship, worship, and ministry. Our faith in God may be challenged as God’s purposes seem to be thwarted or as we experience setbacks to ministry.
In response to these substantial challenges, there has been an emphasis on personal resilience. The word “resilience” and its derivatives are not used in most versions of the Bible, but given the context of the early Christians, it is not surprising that the concept is a major theme of the Epistles. We are encouraged to persevere, be strong, stand firm, be disciplined, remain, press on, and endure. In the early church, resilience was encouraged in the faith challenges of severe persecution, the influence of the surrounding sinful culture and the attacks to distort the Gospel.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are reminded of Jesus’ humility in the incarnation, His death on the Cross and His exaltation as Lord (Phil. 2:5-11). We have the perspective of citizens of a heavenly kingdom ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20-21) and so we “stand firm in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1). Enabled by prayer and the right focus, God’s peace protects our faith (Phil. 4:6-9). Although Paul was in jail, he was still pressing on to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). He was still able to rejoice in the fact that the Gospel was advancing (Phil. 1:12-19) even under circumstances that were far from ideal humanly speaking. Indeed, the many apparent setbacks Paul experienced never reduced his passion for Christ and the spread of the Gospel.
Living in an ever-changing world, we have the unshakable foundations of the eternal, unchangeable LORD and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The uneasiness and uncertainty of change reminds us to shore up these foundations of certain hope. Our confidence is in our God who graciously provides the endurance needed now and in the future.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5
Living in an ever-changing world,
we have the unshakable foundations of
the eternal, unchangeable LORD…
Standing firm in our faith also means maintaining the truths of the unchanging Gospel message in word and deed. We should be careful to ensure that our experiences do not reshape the Gospel truths. For example, it is possible that the pandemic experience has caused a more inward focus which has the danger of reframing the Gospel in personal therapeutic terms. Rather, as the Scriptures frequently remind us, we hold fast to the teachings of the apostles not altering the Gospel because, when we do, we end up destroying the truth we are called upon to preserve.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
We have a sympathetic Saviour, a certain hope, a sovereign unchanging LORD, and a Holy Spirit that provides all that is needed to live transformed lives for the glory of God. Our resilience is made possible by, and demonstrates the truth of, the redeeming and transforming power of Christ.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it is noteworthy that he did not dwell on the difficulties of his imprisonment, but saw that it provided new opportunities for the Gospel and for deepening his knowledge of Christ. Considering our current context, how is Paul’s perspective relevant to us? What opportunities for the Gospel does the pandemic open? What Biblical truths does the pandemic highlight that we should dwell on and strive towards? How can the pandemic experience deepen our commitment to advance the Gospel into the nations?