Sunday, January 16, 2011

Confessions of a Prayer Warrior

Job’s Restoration - A Lesson in Prayer

(This article 1st appeared in "The Christian Journal", May 2010)

The book of Job is very familiar to most Christians. However, there is a special lesson about prayer buried in Job’s story that is not so familiar. In fact, this little nugget of wisdom is usually overlooked by those reading or studying Job. To find this nugget, it is helpful to briefly recall Job’s story.

Job experienced tremendous adversity! He lost his children, his personal wealth, and even his health. He lost everything except his wife, and his faith. During his trials Job’s friends were anything but helpful. In fact, they drew God’s anger with their notoriously bad advice and false statements. Nevertheless, at the end of the book, God does a work of restoration in Job’s life.

Job 42:7-10 tells us, “…the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has…And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly…So Eliphaz and Bilbad and Zophar went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (ESV)

Eliphaz, Bilbad, and Zophar were three of Job’s closest friends; but unfortunately, they offered him very poor advice throughout his personal ordeal. At the end of the book, God held them accountable for their poor advice while at the same time exonerating Job. This is how most people remember the story’s end. The friends face the truth of their shortcomings, Job is honored, and God restores back to Job twice as much as he had before. This understanding of the end of Job’s story is accurate, but I think there is something more. I think there is a profound lesson on prayer hidden away in the story of God’s restoration of Job.

Let’s re-read the last verse of this passage, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) Is it more obvious now? The restoration of Job’s fortunes occurred when he prayed for his friends. I don’t think this was a mere coincidence. I think it contains a lesson about the importance of praying for others.

It is certainly alright to pray for one’s self. This truth is demonstrated many times in the Bible – Hannah’s prayer to conceive is one such example. But also it is very important to pray for others even if we ourselves are in dire need of prayer. Job did this. In fact, he was asked to do this by God, Himself.

My prayer group jokingly calls this the “Job Method” of praying. We tease that our prayers for others are selfishly motivated because we are hoping that like Job, God will restore our fortunes too as we pray for our friends. Actually, there is no simple formula to prayer. The study and practice of prayer is multifaceted – but the importance of praying for other is one facet we would do well to remember.

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