|Series Theme: The Anguish of Job|
1-10 roughly cover Ch.1-4
11-20 roughly cover Ch.4-7
21-30 roughly cover Ch.8-11
31-40 roughly cover Ch.12-15
41-50 roughly cover Ch.16-21
51-60 cover Ch.22-33
61-68 cover Ch.34-42
Meditation No. 35
Meditation Title: Futile Prayers
Job 13:20 "Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you"
The thing about meditations is that you can let your mind run further afield than a strict study allows. This is particularly true as we come to this next section. One of the great unknown areas of the Christian life is prayer. Some people have written books trying to detail it and others have written about how unclear the whole subject of prayer actually is. I tend to feel that the truth is somewhere in between. The reality of the passage that we now find ourselves looking at, is that it is prayer, talking to God. Now some of us are highly dutiful when it comes to prayer, feeling we must follow the tramlines of a few specific Scriptural verses. Others of us feel we just don't know what to say – so say nothing. Some of us believe our praying will have effects that will change the world, while others of us doubt that prayer will do anything – and so don't pray. So prayer – or lack of it – emanates from our beliefs and hopefully our beliefs come from the Bible. All I know, when I did a study of all the obvious prayers recorded in the Bible, is that they all flowed out of a crisis. We ‘pray best' when we are in a crisis – and that is also true of Job.
When we are in a crisis we tend to pray honest prayers, and I believe truth and honesty are important issues as far as God is concerned, especially when I find that His Son was described as being full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). When we are in a crisis I have noticed two important characteristics of our praying. First we pray from our heart and second, because of our desperate situation, our viewpoint is often skewed and we aren't too bothered about the accuracy or correctness of what we pray, we just pray!
Now it is this latter part that I believe is so important here. Job has confessed to speaking out of the anguish of his spirit and the bitterness of his soul (7:11 & 10:1) and that his words had been impetuous ( 6:30 and that he is despairing (6:26). He recognises that his words may be off-kilter, but we've just seen, in his security in the Lord, that he is willing to just plough on and say stuff and risk the consequences (13:13-16). He may be off beam but he'll risk it before the Lord he utterly trusts. So, he's going to say stuff that isn't right, and he's going to ask things that are wrong and, in other words, some of his praying is futile and he isn't going to get the answers he's asking for.
Now the interesting thing, that we've now noted several times, is that the Lord doesn't chide him for this in the long run. Yes He does chide him for speaking without knowledge (38:2) but that's the extent of it! We might say the Lord isn't phased by His child jumping up and down and having a temper tantrum – after all he's got some good reasons for it – and He's certainly not going to judge him for it. A wise parent doesn't inflict punishment on a young child for what we call ‘childish irresponsibility' and with the incredibly limited revelation Job has at this time, he is certainly in the ‘childish' category.
So let's see the ramblings on of this man. “Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you.” (v.20). Job, I'm not sure if you've fully appreciated it, but you are in no position to make demands of God. You were on firmer ground when you were pleading for mercy ( 9:15 ), and as for hiding, don't you realise that no one can hide from God (see Psa 139:7-16). He continues, “Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors.” (v.21). Are these the two things you're asking for? Why? “Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply.” (v.22). You put conditions on answering God? You will only talk to God when you are out the other side of this trial? I think you've missed the point; you are actually talking and explaining yourself right now! What do you feel about yourself? “How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin.” (v.23) No, I don't think I'll answer this; it would spoil the point of it. The reality is that I'm not doing this because of your sin. This is just a workout in the heavenly gymnasium but I'll let you come to that conclusion on your own for that's part of the exercise. What else is on your heart?
“Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (v.24). I think you've jumped to a wrong conclusion; merely because things are going badly, it doesn't mean you are my enemy, and actually I'm still here with you if only you could realise that. Carry on. “Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?” (v.25). That's not exactly how I see you. My enemy may try to make you feel you are being blown all over the place but actually you are doing remarkably well. You didn't turn round and abuse me, you haven't sworn and cursed. You're actually remarkably steady in the way you have stood in the face of the awful things that have happened to you and the antagonism of your three friends. Oh no, son, you're nothing like a windblown leaf or dry chaff. What else do you feel?
“For you write down bitter things against me and make me inherit the sins of my youth.” (v.26). You think I'm bringing a case against you for your sins, but you can't see them in the present, and so assume they must be the sins of your youth? No, later on my people will understand that I don't hold sin against those who genuinely don't realise there is a wrong. No, it's nothing like that! “You fasten my feet in shackles; you keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet.” (v.27). You think I've made you a slave? You feel like I've put shackles on you and put the mark of a slave owned by another on your feet? You'll come to understand one day, perhaps, that those who consider me their Master or Owner are, in fact, the best off in the world. For the moment it seems like a harsh existence, but be patience and receive my grace for it won't last forever. “So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths.” (v.28). Son, I realise that that is how it feels at this moment. I understand and I feel with you. I don't stand at a distance for I am, as my future people will come to understand, your loving heavenly Father. This IS tough stuff and I don't pretend that it isn't, but I am here for you and I have decreed the boundaries of this experience, so it IS limited.
With the light of the whole of the revelation of the Bible, I have attempted to suggest some possible responses of the Lord, but of course Job doesn't hear them. Thus he carries on expressing the anguish of his heart in a variety of ways – and God still loves him! If He didn't, the end of the book would not be as it is. The end of ‘your book' and mine is more clearly revealed – we have a sure hope. Even when we blow it between now and then, as immature little children, our loving heavenly Father will be there for us. Take comfort in that. Jesus died to ensure we get there.