What Job taught me about prayer

What Job taught me about prayer

Written on 06/24/2020
Ilana Reimer

Written by Ilana Reimer

“Dear God, you suck. Amen.”

Job’s prayer style isn’t what you expect to hear on a Sunday morning.

His complaints are straightforward, raw, and honest. Job bitterly lashes out at God, accusing Him of “mocking the despair of the innocent” (Job 9:22-23). But Job isn’t a one-off example. Consider how these Bible characters interact with God.

Prayer turned wrestling match

Consider Jacob wrestling with the angel of God (or God Himself?) in Genesis 32:22-32. Could this represent a form of prayer? After all, doesn’t prayer simply mean communicating with God?

We caricature prayer as piously kneeling at a church altar, lifting up eloquent monologues. Instead, Jacob challenged God to a wrestling match and then asked to be blessed.

Moses had one of the most remarkable relationships with God ever recorded. When he first met the Lord, he was stubborn, expressing all his fears and doubts about the mission God had for him (Exodus 3:2-4:17).

This type of interaction is presented regularly in Scripture. But the speakers are not condemned; rather, they find favour with God. God spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11-17). Moses gained confidence. No longer afraid, he later boldly asked to see the Lord’s glory (Exodus 33:18-23).

God likes straight shooters

As I pondered the kind of prayer God seems to desire, the phrase “straight shooter” came to mind. Out of curiosity, I checked the definition and found these two descriptions:

Straight shooter: a person who states bluntly what they think; or, a person who is forthright and upstanding in behaviour.

According to thesaurus.com, some synonyms are “good person,” “salt of the earth,” and “upright person.”

Of course, this isn’t particularly ground-breaking. Honesty is a familiar Judeo-Christian value. However, not many Christians I know are truly straight shooters. More often, we dodge pointed questions or shy away from asking them because things could get awkward.

For a long time, I did the same thing with God. I prayed vague, safe prayers because I was unsure if He would answer bigger, scarier requests. I was afraid of doubt or disappointment.

Praying vulnerably, especially in group settings, is terrifying. Job’s angry, fearful babble would likely be met with uncomfortable silences in many Christian circles in North America.

Now, I’m not saying the takeaway here is to wail on street corners in the name of honesty. Being a straight shooter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to say what you think all the time.

But I think the Lord asks His followers to be honestly themselves—even if that self isn’t always pretty.

And while God kindly puts up with our yelling, accusing, and complaining, I don’t think this is always the best way to pray. We honour Him by not hiding our true selves, even when that means we bring our shouts and tears before Him. And of course, He’ll help us get through the pain.

Jesus’s weird prayer parables

In talking about prayer, Jesus describes the persistent widow who comes before a stubborn judge time after time, asking for justice (Luke 18:1-8). Eventually, the judge gives her what she wants because he’s tired of her constant requests.

Previously, I took this story to mean we should ask regularly for something if we really want it. But the example is of a woman who argued her case so regularly and forcefully the judge thought she might attack him if she didn’t get her way.

And this is how Jesus talks about prayer?!

In the next parable, He goes on to praise the straightforward, humble tax collector who prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:9-14).

Jesus seems to be telling us:

  • Be tenacious and put up a fight for what you want. Be honest with God.
  • Don’t worry about how it looks and don’t be fake. He wants you, not the person you think He wants.

Job did a lot of angry yelling at God. His story is not the warm and fuzzy feel-good relationship we want to hear about. But the thing is, he chose to confront God, not run away and channel his bitterness elsewhere, or try to find happiness without God. He stuck it out until God did show up (Job 42:1-6).

Full disclosure: as I am writing this, I keep thinking of those who feel as though God is absent, despite years of crying out to Him. I know talking to God can’t be summarized in a pat dismissal of “seek and ye shall find.” But overall, I have seen in my own life, the lives of others, and in Scripture, there is much to be gained from the choice to be a straight-shooter in all areas of life—prayer most of all.

A version of this article originally appeared on unfoldingwork.com.