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Friday, January 8, 2016

Suffering and the Solitary Life


"A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow" (Job 6:14-15). 
"You, however smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you that would be wisdom" (Job13:4-5).

Ever been disappointed in friendship? Felt alone in all  your troubles?
The “good” seasons of life produce many friends but companionship during suffering is rare. Suffering revealed the true nature of Job's relationship with his wife, "Curse God and die!" and with his friends who attacked him. Sadly, Job discovered that he was very much alone. But, he's not alone in his experience. Other Bible heroes share in this "solitary life": 
  • Joseph’s journey was a lonely one, paved with betrayal and disloyalty. Had not the Lord been with him he would have been totally alone. 
  • Abraham was a solitary figure. 
  • Moses, alienated from his people, experienced rejection from those he sought to rescue. He spent forty years of solitary life in the wilderness twice, once with a bunch of sheep and another with a bunch of rebellious people.. 
  • Jeremiah only had an Ethiopian eunuch for a friend. 
  • David knew betrayal by friends.
  • Had the Lord not been with Daniel he would have faced the lions alone. 
  • The austere life of John the Baptist attracted few companions. 
Had God not been present these men would have been been totally alone. In fact, it may be that the presence of God in their lives drove others away. The harshness of their journey trimmed away the fatness of friendship. We shouldn't be surprised if we experience the same. 
Jesus spent his cruelest hour alone. Jesus knew betrayal and rejection--nevermore so than when He hung on the cross as He bore man’s sin and experienced alienation from His Father. Yet, Jesus was known by the Pharisees to be a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He describes his relationship with his followers: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). Jesus, however, knowing the treacherous nature of the human heart, didn’t withdraw from man. He remained engaged. He expected no less from man than what he received, “Crucify Him” instead of “Hosanna”. His philosophy, “They know not what they do,” sustained him throughout the ups and downs of human relationships. 


Jesus promised not to leave His disciples alone when He ascended to the Father. He sent them the Helper to be with them and live in them. Man never has to be totally alone. Ever. The friend of sinners is the friend who is near those who are alone in their suffering. He will never leave nor forsake us. 

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"You, however smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you that would be wisdom" (Job 13:4).

The friendships of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar must have really disappointed Job. Talk about "kicking a man when he is down"! Listening in on their conversations together reminds me of the old saying "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

I have a friend. One. Two. Well, maybe three. My husband is, by far, my best friend. But, women need female friends. Children, hobbies, and causes bring women together providing lunch buddies and companionship but real friendship is rare. Real friends are those who:

  • Accept me "warts and all"
  • Share my burdens and are easy to pray with
  • Don't reinforce my feelings of failure and inadequacy
  • Recognize my flaws, pray for me, but they never bring them up
  • Don't judge me
  • Make me feel valuable and valued when I am around them
  • Make me feel safe in their presence
  • Inspire me to become a better wife, mom, and sister in Christ
  • Fuel my heart for God
  • Contribute to my spiritual well-being
  • Inspire me to develop and reciprocate all of the above traits
We need one another to be each other's greatest ally. Listen to how the wisdom writer describes healthy friendship:
"A friend loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17)
"There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24)
"Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel" (Proverbs 27:9).
"As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:9)

Jesus, who was known by the Pharisees to be a friend of tax collectors and sinners, describes his relationship with his followers: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
Disappointed in friendship? The Lord Jesus offers friendship like no other, so much so that tax collectors and sinners felt safe with him. His disciples, with all of their flaws, were magnetically drawn by his love and acceptance. Reminds me of that old hymn, What a Friend We Have In Jesus:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Job 11:1-14:22

  • What remarks does Zophar make to Job that "gets his dander up"?
  • How does Job respond to Zophar's condemning statements and what rationale does he use to defend himself? What does this tell you about condemning remarks?
  • Think about a time when you received condemning marks from a friend. How did that make you feel?
  • How does Zophar misrepresent God to Job?
  • What does Job struggle over most about God?
  • Why does Job think death is the solution to his problems?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to make you sensitive/alert to words of condemnation used in your conversations with others. Thank the Lord for the gift of friendship, especially His friendship. If you don't see Jesus as "friendly", ask Him to show you where you are deficient in your experience/understanding of the friendship He offers. Ask Him to help you become a better friend to others.