Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 31.13-14, 28
“If I have denied justice to any of my servants, 
         whether male or female, 
         when they had a grievance against me, 
what will I do when God confronts me? 
         What will I answer when called to account? 
…then these also would be sins to be judged, 
         for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.

Reflection: Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

There are many lists of sins in the Bible which should give the thoughtful Christian pause and send us to our knees in confession. Job’s list of sins in Chapter 31 contains famous verses, such as “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman,” (verse 1) and several more regarding sexual sins (verses 9-12) that I remember being pounded with as a youth and in college. But the majority of the sins Job lists in his denial have nothing to do with sex and are often skipped or skimmed over by preachers.

May we read verses 13-40 with opened eyes for our own sins and those of our leaders, both religious and political. If Job was defenseless before God, unable to stand before him despite all his blameless actions, what will we do when God confronts us?

May we run to Christ, the mediator that Job prophesied, with this confession.

*What we pray today is not a confession of individual sins, although any of these sins may be committed by one person. Instead, it is a corporate confession, as would be offered by the high priest or a faithful prophet on behalf of the people. As we confess sins of our communities and nations, we step into our role as a kingdom of priests. This does not mean we deny our own culpability. Instead it means that we say that we ARE culpable and confess each one as if it were our own individual sin.

Prayer of Confession
Based on Job 31:13–40

We confess, Lord, we are not like Job. (Job 31.13)
We have denied and delayed justice to servants, workers, women, and outcasts, propping up the reputation of abusive men and staining the reputation of Christ’s church.

We confess, Lord. (Job 31.14-15)
We have dishonored and disenfranchised those in the womb, though they, just like us, are being formed by the hand of God.
And we have discriminated against those who are born, who are our brothers and sisters, born equal before God but treated by our hands as unworthy and spoken of as if they were animals.

We confess, Lord (Job 31.16-23)
We have behaved heartlessly and selfishly toward the poor and the outcasts.
We have blamed them, denied our responsibility, and held them accountable for their deaths caused by our hand.
We have seen those perishing due to lack of bread, lack of clothing, lack of freedom, lack of shelter, and said, “It is their own fault.”

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.24-28)
We have cared more for economic health than spiritual health.
We have trusted more in gains of the stock market, than storing up treasures in Heaven.
We have made success our idol and wealth our god.

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.29-30)
We rejoice in the suffering of our enemies.
We cheer insults, we encourage and participate in violence, we mock our opponents’ tears and laugh to see them suffer.

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.38-40)
That the land and its people cry out against our abuse.
Neither the Earth, nor our brothers and sisters who live on it are more valuable to us than reaping wealth.

We pray for your forgiveness, Lord, but more than that, we pray that you would change the hearts of the oppressors, and may you begin in our hearts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Open, Lord, my eyes that I may see.
Open, Lord, my ears that I may hear.
Open, Lord, my heart and my mind that I may understand.
So shall I turn to you and be healed.

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

Today’s Readings
Job 31 (Listen -4:16)
2 Corinthians 1 (Listen -3:52)

Read more about Righteousness Sets Things Right
Righteousness, as Job describes it, is marked by formidable, positive actions on behalf of justice.

Read more about Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice
Christ is the miracle of justice and forgiveness in one glorified person. He alone is able to complete the cycle of justice.

Righteousness Sets Things Right

Scripture Focus: Job 29.2-3, 12-17
“How I long for the months gone by,
    for the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone on my head
    and by his light I walked through darkness!…
…Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
    and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
The one who was dying blessed me;
    I made the widow’s heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth.

Reflection: Righteousness Sets Things Right
By John Tillman

When we think of righteousness today, we tend to think first about achieving righteousness via elimination. We seek to avoid sin, to abstain from certain food and drink, to abjure the company of certain people, or to censor our experience of the world. These things may be wise measures for avoiding temptation but they are not marks of righteousness. 

Limiting our exposure to certain things in order to remain righteous is a confession of our unrighteous state. Light does not avoid darkness to remain light—it pierces the darkness and the darkness cannot overwhelm it. Job acknowledges that the light of righteousness that used to be his was not his own, but came from the presence of God shining through him. Rather than focus on righteousness by omission, Job describes the righteousness of commission. 

In Job’s example, righteousness is connected to and related to justice. The word sedeq, translated “righteous,” is often translated “just,” “justice,” “fairly,” and “rights,” it also is often paired with mispat, which is in this passage translated “justice,” but can mean “law,” or “judge.” 

Righteousness, as Job describes it is marked by formidable, positive actions on behalf of justice. Righteousness sets things right. Job defines his righteousness by his use of power, wealth, and influence to benefit the weak, the marginalized, and the victimized. 

When Job walked in, the powerful trembled. They recognized an enemy who would break their “fangs” which were their means of holding onto prey and exerting their poisonous control.

When Job walked in, those taking advantage of the poor would lose their control and investment. When Job walked in, abusers knew their time was up. 

When Job walked in, the needy rejoiced. When Job walked in, the outcast celebrated. When Job walked in, the fatherless felt the power of a father on their side. When Job walked in widows knew that they would no longer suffer indignity or disregard.

When the church and Christians walk in righteousness, it will be the powerful who tremble at our approach. It will be oppressors who pray that we do not show up. It will be swindling money-lenders who dread us setting their debtors free.

Do you walk in righteousness? Ask yourself this question. Who gets nervous when you approach? Do the powerful pat you on the back? Or do the oppressed consider you a friend?

Righteousness isn’t righteous if it makes the wrong people nervous.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant whose trust is in you. — Psalm 86.2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 29 (Listen -2:26)
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen -8:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 30 (Listen -3:14)
1 Corinthians 16 (Listen -2:54)

Read more about Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel
We can and should be agents of justice to the best of our ability. But we also know that ultimate justice cannot be completed by this world’s systems.

Read more about Joy and Justice :: Joy of Advent
The justice we long for will come yet, as we wait, we represent the justice and righteousness of Christ on Earth.

Where is Wisdom :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 28.20-21
Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.

Reflection: Where is Wisdom :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

As February winds down, we pause to seek God’s wisdom in a responsive prayer beginning with the words of Job.

Finding Wisdom:

“There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined…
But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?”

Reflect briefly on some decisions you have made. Move chronologically backward. Spend no more than sixty seconds weighing each one as wise or unwise.

Reflect on one from yesterday.
Then one from the weekend.
Then one from last week.
Then one from two weeks or more.
Now return to the words of Job on wisdom’s value.

“No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver.”

Reflect on some places you have looked for wisdom.
Articles? Advisors? Academic research?

Thank God for human wisdom! We must, however, confess to God that human wisdom can only take us as far as human understanding, which even the greatest of scientists would admit continually finds more questions than it answers.

Ask God to open to us the true and timeless wisdom that comes from one unlimited source.

“God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
…he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom.’”

Thank God for his wisdom that is first of all pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Ask God for his continual grace to grant you his wisdom in each moment of the remaining week, the remaining month, and the rest of this year.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

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

Today’s Readings
Job 28 (Listen -2:44)
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen -5:40)

Read more about The Root of Wisdom
You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.

Read more about Seeking after a Seeking God
Wherever and however we draw near to God, he will draw near to us.

Needing Jesus to Pray

Scripture Focus: Job 21.4
Is my complaint directed to a human being?
Why should I not be impatient?

Reflection: Needing Jesus to Pray
By John Tillman

We tell our wants to God (and everyone else) easily enough. If this was all prayer was, it could be said to be natural, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian, disagrees. He said, “This is a dangerous error to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 just two weeks shy of the liberation of the camp by American forces. To say he understood the experience of intense prayer, and unanswered prayer, would be an understatement. He wrote:

“It can become a great torment to want to speak with God and not to be able to do it—having to be speechless before God, sensing that every cry remains enclosed within one’s own self, that heart and mouth speak a perverse language which God does not want to hear.”

Bonhoeffer taught ministry students and congregants that it was not possible to pray rightly without the power of God:

“We confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing—all of which the heart can certainly do on its own—with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer further explained how to pray Scripture, which is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, who fills words with the power of God:

“Jesus Christ has brought before God every need, every joy, every thanksgiving, and every hope of humankind. In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ. Thus it does not matter whether the Psalms express exactly what we feel in our heart at the moment we pray.

Perhaps it is precisely the case that we must pray against our own heart in order to pray rightly. It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray. If we were dependent on ourselves alone, we would probably often pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to you loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life. — Psalm 119.145

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

Today’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen -3:05)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen -1:54)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 22 (Listen -2:54), 1 Corinthians 9 (Listen -4:04)
Job 23 (Listen -1:43), 1 Corinthians 10 (Listen -4:04)

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer
“My witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” — Job

Read more about The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer
How easy it is, in times of confusion like today to fight in the name of Christ against the real Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God is Faithful, not Indebted

Scripture Focus: Job 20.2-3
      My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer 
         because I am greatly disturbed. 
      I hear a rebuke that dishonors me, 
         and my understanding inspires me to reply. 

Job 21.4-6
      “Is my complaint directed to a human being? 
         Why should I not be impatient? 

Reflection: God is Faithful, not Indebted
By John Tillman

Chapter 20 begins with Zophar speaking up because he is offended: “I hear a rebuke that dishonors me…” Then as now, when making arguments, people get emotional, tend toward exaggeration and aggression, and take personal offense at the other person’s comments. It is notable that in chapter 19, Job was not responding to Zophar, but to Bildad. The last we heard from Zophar was in chapter 11. 

How often have we (have I) taken offense at an argument or comment not directed at me on Facebook and lashed out? Probably more often than it is comfortable to admit.

Zophar spends this speech defending the idea that the wicked succeed only momentarily before being destroyed. Something Job easily demonstrates as false in the next chapter. Most of Zophar’s speech is gleeful descriptions of what he believes will happen to the wicked. It reads a bit like revenge fantasy.

Zophar and the rest of Job’s friends have a deep, fear-based need to show that Job’s sin caused his suffering. If they can convince Job and themselves that Job messed up and brought this on himself, then they are safe because God owes them protection.

Prior to these events, 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. 

The God Job begs audience with, whom he desires to stand before, is a different God.
He is an un-indebted God. It is we who are the debtors. 
If God does owe us anything, it is wrath—wrath which he is forestalling payment of, holding that debt in arrears until such time as Christ would pay it.  

God proves more faithful than Job’s friends, and as he came to Job, he also comes to us. God comes to sit in the dust with us when we suffer. God does not attempt to make himself look good in comparison to us, as Job’s friends did, instead he comes to trade places with us, taking our suffering, experiencing it as his own.

Rather than an indebted God, we serve a faithful God. He does not treat us as we deserve. He has laid on Christ the iniquity and punishment owed to us. He has imputed to us the righteousness won and proved by Christ. By his poverty we are enriched. By his stripes, we are healed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Turn to me and have mercy upon me; …and save the child of your handmaid. — Psalm 86.16

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

Today’s Readings
Job 20 (Listen -2:52)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen -6:09)

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer
That I might swap with him my place,
That I might be changed by his grace,
That I might be healed through his wounds,
That I might live, he be entombed.

Read more about Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts
In suffering for the gospel, Paul carried with him a joy and purpose that he worked to pass on to Timothy and to us.

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