Any discussion of prayer should begin with the sovereignty of God. It is important we know whom we are addressing so that we come with an appropriate level of respect and reverence. We often approach God too casually because we don’t really know him. Our prayers too often consist of a laundry list of requests as though we expect God to do our bidding instead of seeking to do his will. This is a serious mistake because we forfeit eternal rewards when we fail to fulfill his purposes for us.
Job was a man who had an inadequate understanding of God even though God considered him the most righteous man on earth in his day. God said of Job, “… there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8) But Satan said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11) In other words, why shouldn’t Job serve you? You gave him everything he has! Take it all away and he will forsake you.
So God took up Satan’s challenge. He let Satan destroy everything Job had. First four bands of raiders attacked his herds, one after another. Then fire from heaven burned up the rest of his livestock and servants. Finally a wind blew down the house where his children were gathered, killing them all at once.
These events were so extraordinary that there was only one explanation. Clearly, God had done this to punish Job! This was a real problem because Job served God. Three friends who came to comfort him when they heard about his troubles were also perplexed. They knew of his righteous deeds. In fact, everyone had heard of them. So the only way they could make sense of all these calamities was that God was punishing Job for some unknown sin.
But Job steadfastly maintained his innocence. He admitted he was not sinless, for no one is. But why would God choose to visit such terrible affliction on a man who loved God instead of on those who oppose him? Job insisted, “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” (Job 23:12)
The problem was that neither Job nor his friends were aware of what had transpired in heaven. They did not know that God has other purposes for suffering besides just punishment. In this case, he was allowing Job to suffer to prove Job’s faithfulness. God allowed Satan to reduce Job from the most prominent, respected man in all the world to a destitute, diseased specter of a man who was held in contempt even by the dregs of society. He did this all just to prove to Satan that Job loved him for who he was and not for what he had given him.
Job’s friends urged him to acknowledge wrongdoing and repent. His wife told him to curse God and die. But Job responded by saying, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” That he was not attributing evil to God is clear because the Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10). He was simply acknowledging that God allows evil because no one is entitled to good. He also said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) and “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15) He clung to his love for God no matter the circumstances.
Job may not have understood the reason for his suffering, but he knew that one day he would see God in the flesh, and on that day God would vindicate him. He longed for that day (Job 19:26-27). In the end, God did affirm his justice while chastening Job and his friends for questioning his ways. He expected Job to remain faithful despite the fact that he could not understand what God was doing. God never did reveal to Job and his friends what had transpired between Him and Satan. He rebuked Job’s friends for not speaking the truth about Him. But he restored everything that had been taken from Job and more because he refused to renounce his faith in God despite all the calamities that had befallen him.
Today we know the whole story because some Old Testament saint inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote it down for us. But we still ask the same questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How could a loving God allow so much evil?”
Well, the answer is still the same. God is sovereign. He has a plan. That plan is sometimes inscrutable to us. Nonetheless, he knows what he is doing. We sometimes don’t understand because we don’t have all the details. We don’t know what is taking place in heaven at any given time. All we know are the immediate circumstances which we face on a daily basis. We cannot see the entire scope of God’s grand scheme because it is beyond our comprehension. Nonetheless, God expects us to keep trusting in Him and not to doubt His intentions.
So when we pray, we ask God to set things right from our perspective. “Heal me.” “Meet my needs.” “Take away my pain.” And we sometimes even prescribe the way he should do it. “Increase his resistance so he can continue chemo treatment.” “Give him no rest until he makes things right.” “Bring me a buyer who will offer 100% of my asking price.”
We have several friends with cancer. Two have taken a serious look at their prognosis and decided it is better to be with the Lord. It befuddles and even antagonizes their doctors. Yet their confidence in God’s providence amazes their unbelieving friends and family and draws them irresistibly towards Christ. Their confidence is an inspiration to other believers, and an object of wonder to those who have no such confidence.
We come to God with a grocery list of wants and needs when we should be prostrating ourselves before him, begging for his mercy and asking him to show us his will. It is he who is the Master and we are his slaves. Not the other way around. He bought us with a price and we are not our own (1 Cor 6:20). A slave is not free to do his own will, but only the will of his master (Mt 6:24). What slave dictates the terms of his service?
Romans 8:28 says, “…all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Christians often use this verse to invoke God’s blessing on their endeavors. The real meaning is that God uses every circumstance whether good or evil to advance his redemptive purposes. The ‘good’ here is not temporal, but eternal. It is not just for our benefit, but ultimately to glorify God.
PRAYING JOB’S PRAYER: (JOB 42:2-6)
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Who am I that I should hide counsel without knowledge?
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes