Go ahead and cry and moan and lay it all out to God when you pray. But wait, too.
Great prayers populate the pages of the Bible. Prayers of Jesus, Moses, David, Daniel and Paul. They have inspired and instructed many. But few people have ever thought to look to the ancient book of Job for guidance in prayer.
Job is the story of a man who had it all and lost it all, a man who suffered greatly but never turned his back on God. But it is also the story of a man who can teach us at least five valuable lessons in prayer:
1) Pray what's really on your mind and heart.
Job didn’t mince words with God. His prayers may seem “cheeky” to many modern church-going people. He said things like, “I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 1:2, NIV).
He prayed, “Stop frightening me with your terrors” (Job 13:21, NIV). He complained, “Surely, O God, you have worn me out” (Job 16:7, NIV). He didn’t hold back. He didn’t spout platitudes.
So pray like Job. Pray your true thoughts and feelings. God sees and knows those things anyway, but as C. S. Lewis said, we must learn to “lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us” (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer; Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964).
2) Ask God to speak.
Job repeatedly asked God to speak, praying things like, “Tell me what charges you have against me” (Job 1:2, NIV) and “Show me my offense” (Job 13:23, NIV). Those are dangerous prayers, of course, but too often in prayer we do all the talking. We want God to listen to us but we seldom or never listen to Him and miss so much—not only correction but also affirmation and guidance, among other things. So pray like Job. Ask God to speak to you.
3) Keep asking.
Because Job is not a short book, people sometimes get weary of the back-and-forth between him and God and between him and his friends. But part of the beauty of the story and the poetry is Job’s persistence. He becomes more desperate (and more petulant) as the story progresses, but he never gives up. It is the approach Jesus urges in prayer: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for” (Matthew 7:7, NIV). So pray like Job. Keep asking.
4) Accept correction.
The old saying could have been written by (or about) Job: “Be careful what you ask for.” Throughout the book that bears his name, Job repeatedly asks God to speak, to answer Him. When God finally does, Job says, “I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (Job 4:4-5, NIV).
Job wanted God to answer him, but when God finally speaks, He says, “I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 40:7, NIV, italics added). Eesh. But Job, to his credit, bowed low and accepted God’s correction. So be like Job and accept correction when God offers it.
In the midst of his gut-wrenching, life-changing trial, Job’s wife encouraged him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9, NIV). But he did neither. For 40 more chapters, he cried out to God, complained to God and even got petulant with God. But he waited and he endured. And eventually, the Bible says, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first” (Job 42:12, NIV).
So pray like Job. Go ahead and cry and moan and lay it all out. But wait, too. Remember that God’s time zone is different than yours. He may not show up according to your schedule, because sometimes the waiting is as much a part of His plan for you as the destination.