Red "For Hire" sign pops up from antique machine--a symbol for our times.
Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

If you lost your job today, how would you respond? Our knee jerk response to any crisis isn’t simply the product of a single moment, but the result of habits formed by many moments. Each trial can become a training opportunity, disciplining us to run straight to “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10), who offers “grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

That’s the story I heard from Dr. Daniel M. Gurtner, for whom the Covid crisis became personal on Tuesday, April 21, 2020–the day he lost his job as professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He’s been reeling ever since. There’s just no good way to be laid off. No matter how gently they try to do it, the fact that it’s you and not someone else stings. And no matter how much you want to trust God, the reality of no more pay checks can pull the rug right out from under you.

But Dan is a runner. In fact running is his favorite way to sort through problems, think through Scripture, and pray for anything and everything that’s on his mind. These days his runs are helping him pound his troubles into a well beaten path of holy ground.

A Dramatic Loss

Dr. Gurtner has a wife and three children to support. When he decided to pursue an academic career, he committed to professional training that lasted almost a dozen years, taking him from his undergraduate days in Pennsylvania to graduate work in Massachusetts, Chicago, St. Andrews, and Cambridge. An adventure? Certainly. But also an expensive investment.

This job he just lost, his second teaching position, was a full professorship and one he expected to last for twenty years. Instead it ended after only four. In that moment he lost not only his job, but his living, his platform for writing, and his shared life of ideas with his students, peers and betters. How would he manage?

Lost, But Running After God

He would run, pouring out his heart to the Lord as his feet pounded the pavement. The Scriptures that he had learned since his freshman year conversion became his running mate. He pondered them, reasoned from them, argued with them, and prayed them until he returned home, sweaty but clear minded. Raw emotion gave way to holy submission.

Eight days after his termination Dan went public with this tweet, “Due to the Coronavirus, I have been laid off from a job I love. Though this is hard, the Lord is good. He is unchanging, unshaken, and unshakable. ‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’”

Due to the Coronavirus, I have been laid off from a job I love. Though this is hard, the Lord is good. He is unchanging, unshaken, and unshakable. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Twitter

Do you recognize Job’s response in his tweet? This wasn’t a cut and paste job from Dan’s Bible to his twitter feed, these were words that had gone deep through robust study and emerged trustworthy as he ran and prayed them. The ordinary habits of Bible study and prayer became a literal anchor for his soul–necessary and steadying–as he determined to follow Christ one day at a time.

His twitter feed, too, was becoming holy ground, a place where he could proclaim the blessed goodness of his Sovereign Lord, one day at a time. 

Lost Jobs and Unholy Ground

“What has been hard for you?” I asked him. 

“Keeping my temper,” was his immediate response. Dan went on to describe this weakness–how quickly he could get mad, especially when life threw him a surprise. Anxiety and fear were often involved as well, but anger was the presenting symptom. He pondered for a moment what might be the cause of this besetting sin. Perhaps it was wounded pride, possibly even coming from an idol of reputation. 

He concluded, “That’s when I have to do business with the Lord, going for a run so I can bring my raw emotions to him.”

God’s pruning is already yielding good fruit in Dan’s life, as he wrestles with both hopes and fears. He tweeted, “Having lost my teaching job last week, I’m learning today to put my hope not in my resume (CV), publications, teaching, or reputation, but solely in Christ. The former is fleeting, a chasing after the wind. The latter is a ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’ (Hebrews 6:19).” Twitter, 4/30/20

A week later he tweeted this insight: “Right now I need Christ to cleanse the sins welling up in my heart more than I need Him to give me a new job.” That rings true, doesn’t it? Anyone who’s experienced deep trial knows the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. At the beginning we just want relief, but by the end, we’re glad for its sanctifying power in God’s hands.

Lost Jobs and the End Game

Only the Lord knows how long this will last, and whether Dr. Gurtner will have to take a non-academic job in the meantime—even one at an Amazon distribution center—simply to care for his family before another academic position opens up. The roller coaster might continue to jerk him up and down while he waits on God for it to end.

In view of that I asked him, What kind of person do you want to be when this is over? What kind of life do you want to be known for in the end? I gave him a short list of options.

“Contented,” he answered. “That’s the kind of life I want to be known for, a contented life. That’s what I want, and it’s not my nature. So if that’s happening, it’s Him.”

Contentment. What a worthy goal—one worth pursuing with all our energy—but there’s one big problem. The only way to learn it is to be brought low. Who would knowingly pursue this downward path? None of us, to be honest. But God cares so much about our holiness that He Himself takes us there and sustains us through it. That’s the apostle Paul’s testimony of his own learning curve:

“I have learned how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” 

Philippians 4:13

It’s worth it, friends. God’s grace will strengthen us and turns every trial into the kind of holy ground that bears much fruit.