Believers have something that the unbeliever wants (although they might not know it!).
As the book of Job comes to a close there is an intriguing twist. God rebukes Job’s three unhelpful friends and sends them back to Job with their tails between their legs.
These three friends have repeatedly accused Job of sinning in some unknown way – and that that sin that been the cause of the suffering that Job has experienced. Wrong. In the course of their debates with Job (Chapters 3-27), they have not once suggested that they themselves could have got it wrong.
Maybe they have taken the high ground assuming that their non-suffering makes them better or more righteous than the sufferer. How unhelpful. A person experiencing great suffering doesn’t want to be pitied. This is arrogance at its best.
So God turns the tables. In his rebuke he does two things. First he vindicates Job – ‘I am angry with you [Eliphaz, Bildad and Zopher] because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.’ (Job 42:7)
Second, he instructs the friends to appear before Job to ask him to pray for them – ‘My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.’ (Job 42:8). How humbling. Oh how the mighty fall. Can you imagine having to front up before Job, after all they have said, and ask for his prayer? They do and ‘the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.’ (42:9)
It is intriguing that God (in this matter) will only listen to Job. Grace finds expression in prayer. Here is a demonstration of the privilege of prayer. God can choose to listen to who he wants, but it is to the righteous that he promises that he will.
The prayer of the righteous may turn away God’s anger.
We will see that when Abraham intercedes for the city of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16-33. Their sin was ‘so great and so grievous’ that God moves to sweep them away. But Abraham stands before the Lord and appeals – ‘If there are fifty righteous people, will you spare the city? Wickedness must be judged, but should the righteous be treated as the wicked? The Lord relents. What if there are forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or ten righteous ones? And the Lord declares ‘For the sake of ten I would not destroy [this wicked city]’. That is grace. Even though their sin was so great, for the sake of the righteous, sinners would be spared.
As believers, do we realise this privilege of prayer? In fact, do we realise the need for prayer? There are so many who do not have an open line to God! We need to be speaking on their behalf!
Let me try and apply this tangentially.
In the news cycle over the last two weeks the dominant news story has been refugees. Christians need to be praying as a first step. Christians have a voice that needs to intercede with God on behalf of many who may not know to pray or indeed have any confidence that God will hear.
- Not all refugees will be Christians and so Christians need to be praying for them knowing that God will hear our appeal.
- So much of this crisis finds its cause in those of the militant Islamists who have terrorized so many in the name of Allah. We can pray that God would turn their misplaced evil to good, both for the sake of those they have terrorized and for their own sakes, as we can be sure that God will hold them to account.
- The governments of the world hold the purse strings. In this matter, economics needs to run second to compassion and generosity. We can pray that governments will open their borders and purses in order to care for those who have no place to go and no means to survive.
- Aid Agencies carry much of the burden as they work to materially provide for those in need. We can pray that they receive the resources and the support they need to do what is best for those who so badly need it.
- Ourselves. It is so easy to be distanced from the plight of those who need help right now. We can pray that our concern is sparked, our compassion willing, and our response selfless. We must not take the high ground and assume our non-suffering (or our distance) makes us better than those suffering.
- But lastly, we can pray for God’s grace. In the end, what these refugees need, what we all need, is God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus. Pray that in all this suffering, God’s grace will become clear to those who don’t yet know Jesus – those who have no one ultimately to call upon. It would not be the first time that those experiencing extreme suffering come to see the wonderful grace of God.