Serving God with Our Prayers

Job 42:1-9 (Common English Bible)

Job’s second response

42 Job answered the Lord:

2 I know you can do anything;
    no plan of yours can be opposed successfully.
3 You said, “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?”

    I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand,
    wonders beyond my comprehension.
4 You said, “Listen and I will speak;
    I will question you and you will inform me.”
5 My ears had heard about you,
    but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore, I relent and find comfort
    on dust and ashes.

Epilogue

7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz from Teman, “I’m angry at you and your two friends because you haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job. 8 So now, take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and prepare an entirely burned offering for yourselves. Job my servant will pray for you, and I will act favorably by not making fools of you because you didn’t speak correctly, as did my servant Job.”

9 Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah did what the Lord told them; and the Lord acted favorably toward Job.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When people join a United Methodist Church they are asked to participate in the ministries by their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Each of these five is a different way that we can work through our church to serve God.  For the next five weeks we will be looking at each of these topics in turn and exploring what we are doing and what we can be doing so that our actions reflect our faith.

Prayer is a hard thing to wrap our heads around.  Defining what it is, how it works, and what it can do is difficult.  Furthermore, since it often is very personal it can be something that people struggle with and feel uncomfortable about.  Many people are uncomfortable praying in public or in front of others.  At one time or another almost everyone wonders what their prayers are really doing.  Prayer is an act of faith.

Prayer often gets misconstrued.  We tend to think about prayer mostly in two ways, prayers of petition and prayers of thanksgiving.  Prayers of petition are when we ask things of God.  Prayers of thanksgiving are what we do after God gives us something.  Unfortunately this makes prayer to be a one-way street, akin to a Christmas list and a thank you card.  We put out our requests to God and when something happens we give our thanks.  Prayer becomes a monologue.

If you look at scripture there are examples of both of these types of prayer, but they are not the only way to pray.  In fact the more powerful forms of prayer tend to not be monologues, but in fact dialogues between individuals and God.  These come when a person takes the time not just to talk to God, but to also listen.

Our passage from Job comes at the end of just one of these dialogues.  Job starts out with a friendly wager between God and Satan.  Satan believes that Job is only righteous because of his wealth and privilege, while God feels that Job’s faith runs deeper.  To resolve this dispute they take up a bet.  God steps back and allows Satan to first take away Job’s wealth, his family and then finally his health.  In the end Job is left in misery, sitting amidst a pile of ashes, wondering at what has caused his misfortune.  First three, and then a fourth, friend come along and in turn they all try to get Job to admit he is the cause of his own misfortune and to seek forgiveness from God.  Job in turn professes his own innocence and dares God to appear that they might resolve things properly.  In the end God does appear in the midst of a whirlwind and reminds Job of God’s majesty and power.  Here is where our passage begins, with Job bowing before God and understanding his own place relative to the divine.

What I love about this story and really about this ending is how it all finishes.  Job is never punished for questioning God.  Instead he grows from the experience and in the end becomes blessed both in terms of wealth and also wisdom.  Job never finds all the answers to his questions.  Instead what prayer does is deepen his relationship with God.  Prayer happens when Job is fully open with God and shares not just his thanks or his desires, but instead his deep feelings of pain and of frustration.  The conclusion reinforces that what matters is not wealth or even knowledge, it is our relationship to God.

How do we serve God with our prayers?  Maybe the real question is how can we serve, or follow God, without prayer.  Prayer is the basis of what we do in the church.  Once we stop talking to God, where can we expect to turn for wisdom and guidance?  Even as I ask these questions I know that I for one am guilty of trying to do just that.  Prayer is one of those things that happens when something really bad happens, but it rarely forms the basis of what I do, because I am just too busy.  I also know when I get that busy what happens is I start to lose track of the why behind everything I am doing.  When I am grounded in prayer, then my actions flow from this ongoing conversation with God.  When I get away from those practices I end up acting from my own needs and desires much more.

Finding the right way and time to pray can be hard.  For some people prayer works best as a repetitive action, like repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over.  Other people need to be moving to pray (I am one of those).  Still other people prefer a stillness, a silence, and an emptying of themselves so that they are ready to listen for God.  There is no one right way to pray.  The wrong way to pray however is one that does not let us be honest with God and share our feelings and fears, and one that does not also put us in a position to listen to what God says in response.

Over the next five weeks we are going to be exploring many different ways that we can live out our faith and that we can serve God.  All of them start with prayer.   It is through prayer that everything else gets its meaning and everything else flows.  When we forget this we falter and stumble.  When we remember it, even in the worst times in our lives, we know that God is with us.

Questions to Ponder:

What is your favorite way to pray?

When is a time you have felt your prayers where answered?

What does it sound like when God speaks to you in prayer?

Prayer: God of whirlwinds and of stillness, help us to find the time and place to come to you more often in prayer.  Open our hearts that we might share fully with you.  Open our eyes that we might see your greatness that surrounds us.  Open our minds that we might remember all that you do for us.  AMEN