Then Job took a piece of broken pottery
and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity?
Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman.
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:7-10 NIV)
In my story, I’ve arrived at a minor version of this place. Job was far more righteous and spiritually strong than I ever will be, and so this latest test doesn’t require nearly as much from me. I crumble much sooner.
I’m not covered with boils and my husband isn’t urging me to curse God, but I now have physical symptoms that set my teeth on edge – painful mouth sores along with annoying and at times unbearable body-wide itching. When I scratch, each itch turns into an achy bruise. Sunlight on my skin seems to be causing the itching. Keep in mind the weirdness of autoimmune diseases.
These new discomforts buzz right below the surface of my consciousness, making me irritable and less than gracious. I don’t smile as much. I’m snappish. My thoughts are darker. I cry easily, and I can’t concentrate, not even on my work.
This is a new test of my reliance on Christ. Even in physical agony, He did not sin, and He stands ready and willing to empower me if I will yield to His Spirit. Will I come to Him repeatedly and consistently? Even hundreds of times daily?
No. I already know the answer to this. I’m going to fail a lot. God will pour out His mercy, having already forgiven me and keeping no record of my wrongs, and I will beat myself up and cry over my many lapses. He will then comfort me. I will stumble around in this phase, because the previous sowing was sparse. I will reap what I previously sowed. Still, He is merciful.
The new level of growth presented to me here is a challenge. I must now learn to sow good seed, so that the next season of testing will result in the reaping of godliness. This requires me to move through the steps we employ in the prison as we help the women overcome sin habits.
- We identify the core heart attitude that triggers self-reliance.
- We repent of the sin we find there.
- We identify the trigger that prompts us to rely on ourselves, rather than on God.
- We recognize it in real time, seize the moment, and turn to Jesus.
That’s clinical and tidy in its bullet-pointed format. But it’s actually quite messy. That list reeks of self-reliance, but in reality the Holy Spirit does the work.
My job is merely to cooperate. He is the One who puts His gentle finger right on the sore spot of self-pity. Then He enables me to be alert and humble, so I can grab hold of His grace. He gives the grace and makes me more aware of His goodness and mercy. Recognizing God’s love and nearness enables me to respond in obedience, because I love Him in return.
As I scratch, my grouchy subconscious guides my actions and reactions. Self-pity is hard at work. It’s deeply embedded. In the first days of the itching, cranky responses came flying out of my mouth before I recognized they were coming. But I now suspiciously keep an eye on myself.
Sitting in ashes with broken shards of pottery to scrape at the sores is ugly spiritual work. It requires me to recognize the core sins that linger under my pile of good theology. It brings me face to face with a merciful God in ways that uncover yet more self-reliant thought processes and habitual sins.
It humbles me more thoroughly. Sitting in the ashes is good for me. Thank you, Jesus, for Your good work in me.