Prayer of Pleading

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 12.8-9
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.

The following post comes from an excellent series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. Matt is a longtime friend and mentor in ministry and writing who graciously allows us to share his writings for the benefit of our community. — John

Reflection:  Prayer of Pleading
By Matt Tullos

When we run out of pretty prayers and Sunday School answers, pleading is an intimate, ugly cry that dares to cast away its pride.

If it be your will,
If there is a choice,
Let the rivers fill.
Let the hills rejoice.
Let your mercy spill.
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well.
— Leonard Cohen

As He begins this final journey toward the cross, Jesus prays a haunting, surprising prayer: “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” This plea reveals both His humanity and divine nature.

He knows that life will close in on Him.
No escape.
No turning back.

The world He came to save is now turning against Him. At this moment, one of His followers combs through the garden with a band of conspirators to capture Him. At the time of His greatest need, His dearest companions are comatose and negligent.

He is utterly alone and the weight of the harrowing pain-every kind of pain including isolation, torture, shame, nakedness, blood and farewells, would soon appear under the rays of the moon and the poor light of a covered sun.

We see Him in the garden, a different garden that served as the arena of the man’s fall, and He pleads, “If it be your will…”

Ultimately this cup is the cup of God’s fury. People often glibly use the phrase, “The wrath of God.” There is only One who experienced the wrath of God in its completeness, in its fearful symmetry, in a place where the constructs of evil converge into one horrible event.

This is the place where Jesus is kneeling—in the crosshairs of deep malevolence and holy, blood-soaked redemption. And Jesus knows this. He knows this well.

When we plead, we come to the end of ourselves and stumble toward the One who loves us. Beggars are never rejected at the footstool of the Almighty.

Pleading is messy prayer. It’s when we can do nothing else but beg. Are you a beggar today, pleading for God’s attention?

Are you so hungry that you’d be satisfied with the crumbs of the Divine?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 42 (Listen -2:41)
2 Corinthians 12 (Listen -3:54)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 1 (Listen -3:12) 2 Corinthians 13 (Listen -2:19)
Proverbs 2 (Listen -1:53) Galatians 1 (Listen -3:05)

Read more about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
The cup of God’s wrath is taken for us by Christ. He begs not to drink it, and yet he does. Leaving us not a drop to taste after him.

Read more about The Efficacy of Prayer
The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? — C.S. Lewis

Unobligated God

Scripture Focus: Job 41.11
Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.

Job 42.10-11
After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

Reflection: Unobligated God
By John Tillman

“Who can stand against me?” God says to Job. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?”

In the beginning of the book of Job, the adversary, Satan questions God’s justice. He says, in effect, “You are just bribing Job, God. He doesn’t really love you.”

Through many of their arguments, Job and his friends question God’s justice. They suppose that Job must be sinning in some way, otherwise, God is unjust.

We often question God’s justice today, asking many of Job’s same questions. Why do the wicked thrive? How is it that the innocent suffer? Why is the world not just, if God is just?

When we question whether God is just, we question the author of justice.
We think God owes us something because we live in an unjust world.
But it is us who have made this world unjust, wrestling it from God’s will along the way.

We have sinned against God. Not the other way around. God is not a debtor. We are. Our sinful condition means that we are not the victims but the perpetrators. Sin makes us into God’s enemies.

God does not owe us salvation and forgiveness. 

But thank God that he pays debts that he does not owe. He is a God who gives when he has no obligation. He is a God who comes to us, as we suffer in the highways and the byways, and compels us to come into his lavish banquet.

In the last chapter of Job (tomorrow’s reading) we see that God restored Job’s fortunes. I suppose we picture God handing Job a reimbursement check. 

But there is an important detail that we should not skip over. Job’s fortunes were restored by God, yes. But God used the means of Job’s friends to carry it out. Scripture says everyone Job had ever known came to give him a financial gift. 

Part of God’s restoration of Job was carried out in the community and by the community. When God sets out to redeem someone and rebuild their lives, he typically uses people to do it. 

May we cry to God for his justice, his righteousness, to be done on earth among us.
May we be a part of communities that line up to help the suffering as people helped Job.
May our actions be empowered by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate God’s justice in the world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 41 (Listen -3:03),
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen -4:46)

Read more about God is Faithful, not Indebted
Job and his friends believed in an indebted God who owed good to the righteous, owed suffering to the wicked, and never made late payments.

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
Thank God, that he is the God of the weak and the doubtful.
In doubt hold out your hands.
In weakness cling to him.

God’s Sufficient Justice

Scripture Focus: Job 40.8-14
“Would you discredit my justice?
    Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God’s,
    and can your voice thunder like his?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
    and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
    look at all who are proud and bring them low,
look at all who are proud and humble them,
    crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
    shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
    that your own right hand can save you.

Reflection: God’s Sufficient Justice
By John Tillman

When God finally speaks, he dares Job to dress himself in splendor and work justice in the Earth by his own power. This may have seemed uniquely personal to Job. To use today’s vernacular, Job probably felt attacked.

In earlier speeches, Job had described himself similarly to God’s challenge. Job described dressing in a turban and robe that would proclaim his status and power. He claimed to have struck fear in the hearts of the wicked and to have carried out justice. (Job 29.7-17

Job was “the greatest among the people of the East.” (Job 1.1-4) This may have meant Job was a chieftain or king, but even if not, he was as wealthy as one and equally responsible for the carrying out of justice in his community. 

Earlier, in Heaven, God defended Job’s righteousness, but here, he seems unsatisfied. So, is Job righteous or not? 

Like many heroes of faith in scripture, we can point to much earthly good in Job’s life to emulate. But like all of them, Job’s earthly actions are insufficient to claim righteousness before God. 

Humans are capable of great good and a certain level of justice and we are responsible before God to bring about justice. Justice comes first in Micah’s three-point list of what God requires of humanity: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. (Micah 6.8)

But even the highest levels of human justice are tainted. Job was arguably the most righteous person to ever live in scripture. Yet, scripture is clear that even the righteousness, or justice, of Job is as filthy rags compared to God’s glorious justice.

Being righteous before other humans is easy. We just have to be slightly less evil at heart than the next guy. But when God is the next guy, on our best day, we have no chance of being righteous in our own power. We, like Job, are simply incapable. We must simply cover our mouths, and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

Some have abused the notion that human justice is incomplete and imperfect as an excuse to cease pursuing justice on Earth. Some even call seeking justice anti-gospel. This is misguided, to say the least. 

“Thy will be done on Earth” is a prayer for God’s justice by God’s power, not our own. When we act on this prayer, we will find Christ with us, embracing us and imputing God’s sufficient righteousness and justice to us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm has he won for himself the victory.
The Lord has made known his victory; his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations. — Psalm 98.1-3

Today’s Readings
Job 40 (Listen -2:09),
2 Corinthians 10 (Listen -2:45)

Read more about Righteousness Sets Things RightIn Job’s example, righteousness is connected to and related to justice. The word sedeq, translated “righteous,” is often translated “just,” “justice,” “fairly,” and “rights,”

Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness
If Job was defenseless before God, unable to stand before him despite all his blameless actions, what will we do when God confronts us?

A God Who Celebrates

Scripture Focus: Job 39.19-21
Do you give the horse its strength
    or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
Do you make it leap like a locust,
    striking terror with its proud snorting?
It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
    and charges into the fray.

Reflection: A God Who Celebrates

By John Tillman

In Genesis, we read “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1.25) What we read in Job is an exponential expansion that goes beyond “good” to demonstrate God’s great pleasure in all creatures great and small. 

In Job, we see God thrill in his creation. There is no creature he mentions that is not spoken of with deep affection and pride. God shows he values diversity in his distribution of skills and power to the many different species which he singles out to Job.

God’s intense boasting is intentionally intimidating, however, we also see his tender love for these creatures. He does not only single out animals we might consider majestic, such as the warhorse. His loving gaze points out to us mountain goats and fawns tenderly raising their young. God implies that it is he who unties the donkey, liberating it from enslavement to run free in the desert.

Our God teaches goats to be tender.

Our God loosens the bonds of donkeys to run free.

Our God rejoices in the speed of the unwieldy and unwise ostrich.

God called creatures “good” in Genesis.
“Very good,” is what God said in Genesis about humanity’s addition to creation. (Genesis 1.26-31)

God celebrates the diversity and wondrous variety of the animals of creation, yet his rejoicing over us is more, higher, greater. The book of Job may end with God bragging to men about animals, but it began with God bragging about a man (Job 1.8) before the courts of Heaven.

What is humanity that he is mindful of us? We are a little lower than the angels. We are the kings and queens of the Earth—the rightful rulers of nature. (Psalm 8.4-9) We are the focus of Christ’s loving mission to Earth, and of Christ’s advocacy before Heaven on our behalf. (1 John 2.1-2; Matthew 10.32-33)

O God, we are unworthy creatures who rejoice that you rejoice over us.
May we be humbled by your great power, and lifted up by your great love.
Though we are tough and hard-headed as goats, teach us to be tender.
Though we are unwieldy and unwise as the ostrich, give us grace to run in the path of your commands.
Though we are enslaved to this world’s sins, liberate us like the wild donkey to celebrate in the desert.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

Today’s Readings

Job 39 (Listen -2:47),
2 Corinthians 9 (Listen -2:26)

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
You come out and embrace me, Father.
You invite me to celebrate

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend
Though my sins and weakness he sees,
My case before the Father, pleads.
He knows my state and yet he bends
God’s ear to me, for me contends


On Keeping Vigil

Scripture Focus: Job 38.1-3
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

Reflection: On Keeping Vigil
By John Tillman

In her insightful article on the practice of keeping vigil during Lent, Heather Hughes comments on an observation made by Thomas Merton while he was keeping watch for wildfires:

“In a haunting meditation on his experience of watching for wildfires one hot summer night in the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton makes the link between the enhanced sensory awareness of those on vigil and their enhanced spiritual awareness:

‘The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light: a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.’

Merton is confronted with the immediacy of God’s transcendent mystery; the darkness and isolation of his vigil provide an experience much like Job’s encounter with God’s voice in the whirlwind:

God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness, with You it is always the same thing! Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer! I have prayed to you in the daytime with thoughts and reasons, and in the nighttime You have confronted me, scattering thought and reason. I have come to You in the morning with light and with desires, and You have descended upon me, with great gentleness, with most forbearing silence, in this inexplicable night, dispersing light, defeating all desire.’

In his wakefulness Merton perceives more of the world around him, but also the quality of his own soul. Like Job, he learns that his questions, doubts, and accusations do not begin to confront the unfathomable enormity of God’s reality.

This is what we hope to accomplish through the spiritual discipline of keeping vigil: an encounter with the living God, an increased sensitivity to his presence in our lives and in the world, and a better understanding of who we are in light of this.”

As Hughes suggests, may we keep vigil during this season of Lent. If not the literal meaning of vigil—praying the hours at midnight—may we keep a mindfulness of God’s presence with us in not only the light moments of life, but in the darkness. For if joy is to come in the morning, first we must sit through the dark.

*Quotations condensed from “Keeping Vigil” by Heather Hughes.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Saviour, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2

Today’s Readings
Job 38 (Listen -3:33),
2 Corinthians 8 (Listen -3:25)

Read more about Spiritual Vigilance Needed :: Worldwide Prayer
The dangers of spiritual life are more subtle than a home invasion—and more dangerous.

Read more about Meditation in Spiritual RhythmThomas Merton poetically wrote about humanity, “He is the saddest animal. He drives a big red car called anxiety.


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