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The Ministry of Presence

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Job 2:11–13

We have all heard that actions speak louder than words. But sometimes it is simply our presence that speaks loudest and most eloquently. It is this ministry of presence that brings so much comfort and encouragement to those who are suffering.


I want to introduce you to a powerful ministry that I simply call the ministry of presence. This takes place when you show up in the life of someone who is suffering or discouraged.

You don’t come to give that person your favorite verse or a pep talk. No, you show up and listen, and serve, and communicate love and support. You don’t have to be trained for this ministry; you don’t have to be eloquent or experienced. You just need to show up. Let’s watch it take place in the life of Job.

Now in Job 2:11, we are introduced to three of Job’s friends—three counselors—and let me just say that here in chapter 2 they get it right. It will all go wrong as soon as they start talking. But for now, we read in verse 11:

When Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment [a pact]together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.

Eliphaz is mentioned first, more than likely because he is the oldest. In each of the cycles of speeches made by these three friends, Eliphaz always speaks first. He alludes to himself in chapter 15 as a gray-haired man, older than Job’s father. Eliphaz may have been around seventy-five years of age.[1] His name means, “God is fine gold.” He was likely a wealthy and influential leader in his hometown in southern Arabia.[2]

The next man mentioned here in verse 11 is Bildad the Shuhite. Bildad does not show up anywhere else in the Bible. He is from Shua, a region named after Abraham’s youngest son by his second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2).

It’s possible that Bildad and Shuah knew one another; if so, Bildad may have benefited from the wisdom of Abraham’s youngest son. What we do know is that Bildad was a friend of Job. That alone speaks highly of him.

The third and final friend mentioned here is Zophar the Naamathite. He is always the last to speak and therefore probably the youngest of the three. He’s from Naamah, a region more than likely between modern-day Beirut and Damascus.

These three friends had heard the devastating news concerning Job, which took some time to reach them. It took even more time to correspond back and forth, but they agreed to travel together to encourage Job. One author said that if you have one friend who will drop everything and come running to you in your time of need, that is wonderful. To have threefriends like that is truly amazing.[3]

We have no idea how long it took to make their trip—it could have been six months before they arrived. And when they do, somebody evidently points them toward the town dump, where Job is now living among the ashes. 

We read in verse 12, “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept.” The Hebrew text informs us that these men literally wailed in grief and shock. 

Verse 12 also says, “They tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.”

Tearing the robe from the neck downward toward the heart was the customary way of expressing that your heart was torn or broken. And since Job is filthy, they essentially join him by soiling their own hair and clothing with dust.

And now we are told in verse 13:

They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Let me tell you, beloved, this is a powerful ministry of presence. And these friends get it right with at least three responses.

First, they identify with Job in his physical condition. If Job is sitting out here on the ash heap at the town dump, they will sit out here with him. They will just ignore all the townspeople who come out to stare. 

Earlier in verse 11, we were told that these friends came to sympathize with him. The Hebrew verb translated “show him sympathy” means more than a quick hug. It means literally to “shake the head or rock the body back and forth” as a sign of grief.[4]

You might do that today when you hear the news of someone’s thirty-nine seconds of unexpected suffering. All you can do is cover your mouth with your hands and shake your head and rock back and forth in stunned silence and sorrow.

That’s what they do with Job. Job is no longer crying alone; he has three grown men out here at the town dump crying with him. And they weep and wail over all his tragic losses.

By the way, have you ever been to the town dump where you live? Have you ever driven out to a landfill to drop off a truckload of trash? It will take your breath away. The smell of rotting garbage and the screeching of birds makes you want to drive away after about seven minutes. Imagine being there for seven hours. How about for seven days? Verse 13 says, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights.” 

Second, they join Job in his time of sorrow and grief. Seven days and seven nights was the customary length of time for mourning the dead. They are holding an impromptu memorial service for the loss of Job’s ten children. They’re not asking Job to cut his sorrow short. They’re joining him in this time of grief.

Have you ever noticed that no one is ever invited to a funeral? Invitations are never mailed out.[5] Word spreads, and friends just show up. And if they cannot come, they send flowers, notes, or cards to communicate to the sufferer, “Count me in; I’m there with you, all the way.”

Third, they allow Job the opportunity to speak first. Don’t miss this—underline it in your mind—they will allow Job to speak first.

When we show up at the bedside or home of someone who is suffering, we are tempted to say something to break the silence—something profound or wise. These friends got it right by remaining quiet. Those who offer the ministry of presence don’t show up to talk; they show up first to watch, to weep, to listen.

This is a good reminder, beloved, that the Bible is not a bandage, as if we can just stick some favorite verse on someone’s grieving heart and make it better. Scripture isn’t an aspirin. We can’t say, “Here, take two of these and call me tomorrow when you’re better.”

Physical injuries take time to heal. So do the internal injuries of the heart. If you haven’t learned it by now, learn it from this scene. You don’t eliminate sorrow; you share it. 

A pastor and his wife went through a painful time after the loss of their eighteen-year-old son in an accident. He wrote:

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I [already] knew were true. I was unmoved, except I wished he’d go away. He finally did. Another came and sat beside me for an hour and more; listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply and left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.[6]

Beloved, let’s offer to others this kind of comfort—it’s the ministry of presence.

[1] William Henry Green, Conflict and Triumph (Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 57.

[2] John E. Hartley, Job, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1988), 85.

[3] See Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job (Crossway Books, 1994), 49.

[4] Hartley, 85.

[5] See Charles Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing, 2004), 50.

[6] Ibid., 53.

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