This week's 'thought' comes to you from Mike Mason's superb book, "The Gospel According to Job."
One need not study the book of Job in depth to benefit from Mason's insights into the spiritual life which are gleaned from Job's lengthy time of suffering and the attendant soul-struggle it spawns in him. A struggle which becomes quite heated at times.
In fact, those who read Job chapters 1-2 and then skip (as too many do) to the happy ending in chapter 42, often miss the meaty lessons on true, gritty, mud-slinging, down-to-earth spirituality! Mason skips over none of them. He tackles each one with such keen insight there isn't a believer I know who would not benefit from his 200 or so short, devotional style entries. This one is entitled: Pouring out the Heart. Enjoy.
"Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath." (Job 7:7)
"This may well be the most significant verse in the entire book. Why? Because this is where we first hear Job break into prayer... And from this point on we frequently hear him slip into and out of this intensely personal form of language, as spontaneously as if a visible, incarnate God were sitting right there beside him, just one more participant in the discussion.
Granted, Job's prayers are more concerned with God's apparent absence than with His nearness. But the radiant proof of Job's genuineness of faith is that he prays at all -- especially in view of the fact that prayer is so conspicuously missing from all the talk of his friends. Nowhere in the book does one word of prayer pass any of their lips.
Surely this is the crucial, telling difference between the speeches of Job and those of everyone else. Job regularly talks to God; his friends talk only about God. Like Christ on the cross, even in his agony Job continues to speak -- now to himself, now to others, and now to God...
It is worth reflecting on how unusual it is for anyone to speak openly to God while other non-praying people are present. [Add to that the sad fact that his friends sit with him for days on end, throughout his intense times of struggle and pain, and never once offer a prayer on his behalf]... The point should be clear: Job is the only person in the book (with the possible exception of Elihu) who has any direct communication with God. Quite obviously Job knew the secret of Psalm 62:8: 'Pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.'
Human hearts are full of many things: joy, anger, peace, weariness, anxiety, strength, bitterness, trust. To pour out the heart means to pour out not just some, but all of these contents before the Lord, the bad along with the good. Would we try to conceal our bitterness from God? Or conversely, would we cling greedily to our joy? In either case we could not really pray. In one sense joy is no better a thing than bitterness, because either can pass away in a moment. Yesterday's joy will not do for today. A flower is beautiful, but in drought it withers like a weed.
Therefore in prayer everything in the heart must be poured out to the Lord like a drink offering, so that the heart is kept empty for Him. God only fills hearts that have been prepared for His residence like a clean, swept house with all the windows thrown open to the sun. This is what Job is doing when he prays. He is sweeping out all that is in his heart, even to the point of groaning, 'I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning' (7:16).
Are these good Christian sentiments? It does not matter. What matters is that Job is not afraid of true prayer. He knows it consists not in flowery language, nor in false humility, nor in pretending to possess any greater faith than we really have, but rather, in simply trusting God enough to spill our guts to Him. Because Job does this, because he speaks his heart to the Lord as frankly, as familiarly, as crudely as any hapless drunk to his bartender on a lonely Saturday night, the Lord in His time speaks back."
One of my dad's favorite sayings was, "Honesty is the best policy." I believe he was right. And not just me. From what Job says in consequent chapters he seems to have held firmly to that same truth as well (see Job 10:8-22, 16:6-14, etc.) -- a truth he applied to his prayer life.
After all, why would anyone pretend they are feeling one way (at the time they are praying) when they really feel another? Do we really believe God doesn't know the true state of our soul? Do we not insult His limitless knowledge when we try to cover our anger, bitterness, disappointment or frustration with Him by using words that suggest "it is well, it is well, with my soul!" ? And if it's not well, why not tell Him things are not well?
Would we want our children to lie to us (or throw up a smokescreen) about the struggles they are going through, or tell us the truth? Would we not be disappointed if they didn't trust us enough to bear their souls to us that we may help them in their struggles -- even if the "truth" included hearing their frustrations or anger with some of the things we were doing?
That's one of the things we learn from Job. It's ok for God's children to be real with their heavenly Father. He encourages us to pour out all the ACTUAL content of our hearts to Him, not just fake and flowery words of reverence. Prayer isn't a game of pretend, its a dialogue between two people who have covenanted to love each other, share with each other, remain committed to each other, and be completely truthful and transparent with each other -- even when the truth is embarrassing or stings.
Forever in the Grip of His Grace, Pastor Jeff