No doubt some of you are familiar with the story of Daniel Ruettiger. Fondly known as “Rudy,” from childhood he dreamed of playing football for Notre Dame University—and following high school graduation he set out to prove he wasn’t just a dreamer—he was also a doer. But there were numerous obstacles. Coaches and players felt Rudy was simply too small (just 5’6” and 165 lbs.), too slow and too average to have any chance of making the team. But what he lacked in size, speed and athletic ability, he made up for in determination and heart.
He tried out as a walk-on player, but ended up on the scout team (a group of unknowns who have the unenviable role of being tackling dummies to help the real team prepare for upcoming games). Still, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the task; though possessing a fraction of the ability of the starters, Rudy exerted twice the effort. His perseverance inspired teammates, even to the point they persuaded the coach to allow Rudy to “suit up” for the final game of his senior year. In the closing seconds of the game, Rudy entered and made one spectacular play before being carried off on the shoulders of his teammates.
We all like stories of those who choose to go on in spite of obstacles and adversity. Unfortunately we tend to focus the attention on the “happy ending” while overlooking the suffering and struggles it took to get there. We envision ourselves being hoisted onto the shoulders of teammates, but ignore the two years of physical punishment that earned the ride. We all dream of great things, but few are willing to pay the price necessary to achieving those goals. Sadly, when the going gets tough—many simply stop going.
In James 5:11 the inspired writer directs his readers to an Old Testament example of one who stayed the course in spite of obstacles—an individual who chose to go on when many others would have quit. Job stands as a remarkable example of steadfastness when there was nothing to cling to but God Himself. And James’ Jewish readers would have been well acquainted with the account.
The patriarch enjoyed an abundance of wealth, but unlike many who attain their fortunes by cutting corners or cunning business deals, Job reached his pinnacle of success with integrity and righteousness. Spiritually devout, faithful husband, honest businessman and connected father, his life story is almost too good to be true. Then the wheels came off his life.
Satan insinuates Job only serves God because of the blessings he’s receiving. The evil one challenges the Lord to afflict Job in order to see what Job really thinks of Him. Satan receives permission to test Job—and in the space of a few hours Job’s world caves in. His wealth (measured in animals and servants) disappears in a matter of moments. But as bad as that may have seemed, Satan saves “the best for last.” Out of the blue, a great wind strikes the house his ten children were occupying—and there are no survivors. In spite of his emotional anguish, however, Job continues to cling to his God (1:20-22).
Satan then moves to stage two as he gains divine permission to take away Job’s health. While sitting in ashes and enduring incredible physical agony, his own wife whispers words of temptation, “Curse God and die.” Job staunchly replies, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10). How was Job able to “go on” when everything in his life seemed to be saying, “Quit!”
One reason was his moral compass was correctly set. Job refused to forget it was the God of heaven who had given him his wealth to begin with—and if God had the right to give, then He also possessed the right to take it away (1:21). Job wasn’t privy to the conversations transpiring in the supernatural realm as we are. Though he believed he was innocent (thus longing for an opportunity to meet God and clear his name), he continued living in a manner that pleased and honored his Creator (see 23:11-12; 27:2-4). All Job had left was his integrity—and he refused to compromise it. People can steal your wealth, circumstances can destroy your health and your happiness, but no one can take away your character—except you! Suffering has a way of revealing who we really are.
He held to a fixed “point of reference”—which was the character of God. Job continued to look to God even though he didn’t understand what God was doing; and in spite of not receiving answers he regularly declared his faith. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (13:15). Job didn’t have a clue about the cosmic struggle that had caused his pain (but we do); he didn’t possess any written revelation to supply him with comfort or hope (but we do); he wasn’t aware of the limitations God had placed on Satan and that he wouldn’t die (but we do); he didn’t realize God would eventually reward his faithfulness by restoring his health and wealth (but we do). Job heard less from God than we have, knew less about God than we do, yet persevered because he kept his eyes focused on the One seated on the throne. Knowing all that we know, I wonder how many of us would respond like Job?
He was willing to look beyond himself. The speeches of Job’s friends are filled with flawed arguments, inaccurate conclusions and self-righteous superiority. They repeatedly state their conviction that Job’s pain is deserved. Yet, in spite of their crushing words, we read in the final chapter that Job is called upon to act as their intercessor (42:7-8). As we persevere through problems and pain, we must do so without allowing our past to control our future. Job experienced divine blessing, in part, because of his refusal to cultivate grudges or to nurse bitterness. He willingly ministered even to those who had contributed greatly to his anguish.
He trusted that God would make all things right. Job expected to die from the maladies devastating his body, but he persevered by looking beyond this life. “Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God…” (19:26). Job didn’t have a Bible (living hundreds of years before Moses penned Genesis). He didn’t know God’s plan of redemption or grasp the deep truths of the coming Messiah. But he was convinced that his Redeemer lived—and because of it he would live eternally, too.
Life is often filled with numerous dry and difficult valleys—and we all like stories of those who choose to go on in spite of them. The only question that remains is whether or not that will be our story.