How the Book of Job Speaks to This Season of Loss in Youth Ministry
This past year has felt like a never-ending Lenten season in which we’ve all given up things our hearts desire, although not by choice. As youth ministers, many of have lost the ability to meet face to face with the students we love and serve. Our students have had hopes and expectations taken away from them, leading some to question who they are without this or that dream. All of us have lost joy, motivation, stability, and peace at one point or another during this tough year. Take a moment to consider all you’ve lost. Allow yourself to reflect on what has been taken away from you this past year.
It’s okay to grieve these losses, to lament all that’s been taken away. It’s okay because we know that the Sovereign God we worship is One who takes away, but He is also a God who gives. He is the one who gives us breath, purpose, and our calling into ministry in the first place. Our God was there before the pandemic and is with us now holding and sustaining all of creation. Our God knows the day this will all end.
Especially during the season of Lent, what could be more appropriate than reflecting on that which God takes and gives as we focus on His resurrected son, Jesus Christ? I have found great comfort and confidence to lean on our Sovereign God during this difficult season through revisiting the story of Job.
Job’s story speaks quite profoundly to the year we’ve endured together by God’s grace. Job had it all: a healthy family, wealth, and security. He was an exemplary person of faith; he even made sacrifices for the sins his children might commit! Scripture says of Job, “he was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). Unlike Job, we may not feel that we “have it all” as youth ministers. In hindsight, however, we realize how much we did have before the pandemic. We weren’t concerned about things like masks, and we were able to host as many students as we could rally to come to youth group. We could attend the extracurricular events our students participated in. We didn’t have to cancel annual traditions like mission trips and retreats, and we were able to go grab a bite to eat together without thinking twice. Sure it wasn’t the world, but don’t we all wish we were back to that time?
Unfortunately for Job, his faithfulness to God and all he possessed put him on the center stage of Satan’s focus in the heavenly courtroom. Our adversary, Satan, suggested that the only reason Job was good and faithful was because of all God had given to him. Seeking to tempt and destroy, Satan asked permission from God to prove his point. God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job except for his actual life. As the drama unfolds, we see Job go from his highest mountain to his deepest valley as his family is killed, his wealth and security is stripped away, his health deteriorates, and to top it all off, his wife’s last request is that he go “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
As we revisit this story, we see Job experiencing a number of things to which we can likely relate: the people closest to him begin to interrogate his character and integrity. He becomes overwhelmed with grief to the point of doubting whether or not God is trustworthy. He then allows his grief to turn to complaint as he begins demanding answers from God. While we don’t want to commit the age-old Christian trope of equating any and all suffering that we’ve experienced to that of Job’s, we can relate on some level to his experience of loss.
Perhaps like me, you’ve had your intentions scrutinized over Covid-related decision-making. Maybe people have called your integrity into question over students who refuse to wear masks: “Do you really not care if people live or die?’ or on the other side, “Why do you fear the government more than God?” Perhaps you’ve allowed some of that stress to get you down to the point where you are desperately questioning God. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve wondered where God is in all of this craziness, perhaps even to the point where you wonder if he’s there at all. We haven’t lost everything like Job did, but we can certainly relate to him—his emotions, his doubt, his questions, his grief.
Thankfully, God gives Job some explanation and answers to his questions—only not quite the answer he was looking for. Rather than explaining why God allowed all of these things to happen to Job, in the midst of Job’s doubt and questions, God reminds Job who is in charge. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?… Who marked off its dimensions?… Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (Job 38:4-5, 12). For four chapters (Job 38-41), rather than answer Job’s direct questions or doubts, God reminds Job that every inch of creation and the brokenness that exists in it is under his mighty, sovereign, and loving hand. Hearing all of this, Job responds “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted… surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things were too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:2-3).
Notice, Job didn’t get the answer to why his family died. He wasn’t assured that his wealth and health would be replenished. Instead, the very specific questions Job wanted answered were calmed by the assurance that God is indeed in control of everything. Job needed to be reassured of a basic truth, that God was with him and is in control.
This is an assurance we need as every day passes through this pandemic. The God we worship is in control. We will continue to go through the valley, yet God is with us. As the apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, there will be times we will feel hard pressed on every side, but God will not let us be crushed. We have been and will continue to feel perplexed, but God will not leave us in our despair. Perhaps now more than ever, we are experiencing an awful lot of what feels like persecution, but God will not abandon us. There may be days, weeks, and season when we feel utterly struck down, but just like Job, God will not allow Satan to destroy us.
So hang in there! Take the necessary time to grieve all that you’ve lost and all that’s been taken away. But, in this season of Lent, allow yourself a moment to also reflect and give thanks for all that the Lord has given us as well. Allow yourself to give praise to God for his Son whom he has already given us on the cross so that we don’t have to make it through this year alone. Praise God that Jesus Christ resurrected has defeated the power and sting of death forever. As you reflect on what’s been lost this year, and as you may feel inspiration or motivation start to dip, know that Jesus himself is eager to return and make all things new once and for all.
Just as Job needed to be reminded of the basics of God’s presence and Sovereign control, so we need to be reminded, and our students need us to remind them. Flee from the temptation to make youth group “cool” with games and gimmicks to bring back the students who aren’t coming. Don’t be afraid to leave the shiny new dodge balls and baby food in your Amazon cart. What we and our students need now more than ever is to hear the good news of the gospel. Gimmicks and games aren’t going to address the grief we’re all collectively feeling, but the gospel can and will.
So preach the gospel, feast on the word of God often, do not cease in praying. And remember that the One who laid the earth’s foundations and gave His only Son out of his great love for us is in control always and forever. You are not walking through this valley of a year alone. We are in this together, and more importantly, God holds us all in His mighty, sovereign, and loving hand.