Job 23:1-9,16-17; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:17-23
October 14, 2012
I. I suspect few of you were familiar with today’s prayer hymn, Joyful Is the Dark. For the other three, I did try to choose hymns that I was sure would be familiar. I hope I was right. Brian Wren’s lyrics are powerful though unsettling. In a similar way I always cringe when I get to the last line of the third verse of Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart (CH 265). “Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.” These hymns and the words of Job, such as we read today, challenge us to consider how we handle the silence of a hidden God.
A. Hebrews 4:16 invites us to approach God boldly, precluding polite, pious, powerless prayers. We need not tiptoe up to God like Dorothy and her friends on their first visit to the Wizard of Oz. No! This is an invitation to express our struggle and need with bold candor. God is not looking to belittle us for our inadequacy. No! God wants to hear from us our deepest yearnings. God is plenty big enough to hear any authentic boldness with which we speak.
B. With good theological foundation, we often end our prayers “in Jesus’ name.” Whether we say those words or not, all of our prayers are predicated on Jesus’ name. “In Jesus’ name” is not a signal that the prayer has ended. Jesus’ name is our authorization to speak boldly to God. When we speak out of our weakness and pain in Jesus’ name, Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus sympathizes with us, for he has been tested in every respect as we are.
C. Hebrews 4:16 encourages our boldness so we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Yes, a daily prayer life when life sails along smoothly is delightful, but when we feel God is silent or absent in our time of need, we are not to shrink back but to approach God and speak boldly. That is exactly what Job did.
II. The excerpt from Job 23 that we read today is a sample of Job’s bold appeal to God in the dialogs with his friends and his monolog in chapters 29-31. Job’s friends are appalled. They were convinced he had sinned grievously and so deserved his suffering and couldn’t believe he persisted in protesting his integrity. More than that, they were horrified that he was so bold as to call God to answer him.
A. Before we write Job off as dangerously impudent as his friends did, we need to hear what God told Job’s friends about Job’s bold speech. We’ll hear it again in two weeks, but God’s last words in the book of Job rebuke Job’s friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” (42:7-8) God is plenty big enough to hear any authentic boldness with which we speak.
B. In Job 23:6, 8, 9 that we read this morning we hear Job’s bold plea to see God. Job knew God is wild and free, and Job could not control God. But Job wanted God to notice him, to acknowledge the ordeal he was enduring. Job was seriously seeking God and troubled that God remained in hiding. Job didn’t ask for relief from his suffering or even an explanation of his suffering. What Job boldly asked for was that God would notice him and acknowledge his righteousness.
C. In case you think Job is an exception and that most of the prayers in the Bible are much more tame than Job’s, all you need to do is read through the Psalms. About 100 of the 150 Psalms, two-thirds of them, are laments or complaints. Some of them as bold as Job. I invite you to turn to Psalm 44 on page 479 of the sanctuary Bible and read verses 9-26 responsively with me. I’ll read the odd numbered verses and you the even, until we get to verse 20, then you also read verse 21 and we switch. When we get there, I think it will be obvious.
Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.
10You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil.
11You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations.
12You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.
13You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us.
14You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
15All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face
16at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
17All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.
18Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way,
19yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.
20If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread out our hands to a strange god, 21would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
23Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!
24Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
26Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
III. In Mark 10:17-23 we find the familiar conversation between Jesus and the man we call the “Rich Young Ruler.” Unlike Job’s disgraced suffering, his circumstances were luxuriously comfortable. But like Job, he was in serious spiritual distress.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
A. This man boldly ran up to Jesus and knelt down before him. He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” not in flattery but respect. He was not a cynic trying to trap Jesus. He was a serious seeker. God is plenty big enough to hear any authentic boldness with which we speak. But this man was not prepared for the shock of Jesus counter-cultural, counter-intuitive answer. Prosperity was considered a sign of God’s blessing. We may not really be too different today. So when Jesus suggested he give away his wealth, it was not only that his possessions distracted him from God, but that what he considered evidence that God has blessed him actually prevented him from enjoying eternal life with God.
B. To go from the man who walked away from Jesus’ loving offer of eternal life in shock and grief because he had many possessions to our annual stewardship emphasis is not much of a leap. It shifts stewardship from budgets and pledges beyond resources for ministry to how boldly we will speak to God about what springs from our spiritual depths. At the luncheon following Rachel Van Wagoner’s funeral this past Tuesday, I met a young man named Frances. He is from Kenya and works as a caregiver at Fountain Brook while studying for a nursing degree. He had lived in Los Angeles before coming to Oklahoma. He commented that in California people think they are broke when they get down to a few thousand dollars in the bank. In Oklahoma, people think they are broke when they get down below a hundred dollars in the bank. In Kenya people don’t think they are broke until they haven’t had anything to eat for a couple of days. How broke do we need to be to speak boldly to God about our spiritual distress? Bold stewardship puts our possessions in perspective, liberating us to speak boldly to God.
C. Many congregations struggle financially in the interim period between pastors. Sometimes people were giving to support a well-loved pastor instead of boldly giving to God. Sometimes people adopt a “wait and see” attitude and reduce giving until some new ministry motivates them. That, of course, only retards momentum, making the bold development of ministry more difficult. Bold congregations use the interim between pastors to build stewardship momentum. Bold stewardship in the interim between pastors keeps ministry moving so the new pastor doesn’t have to pull the congregation out of a stall before they can grow. Bold stewardship in the interim between pastors accumulates a financial reservoir so money is available for new ministry when the new pastor starts, to capitalize on the fresh energy that comes with a new beginning. Bold stewardship in the interim between pastors enables the Search and Call Committee to negotiate with the best candidates by offering a compensation package that doesn’t just say, “We’ll support you,” but it communicates, “We want you and value you!” God is plenty big enough to hear any authentic boldness with which we speak. I challenge you to be as bold as possible with your stewardship and expect something even bolder from God.
IV. How boldly do you dare to speak to God?
A. The bishop’s wife in Susan Howatch’s novel Absolute Truths (p. 169) gathered some women into a prayer group. She told them, “Forget that I’m Mrs. Bishop.” And she told them not limit their prayers with some idea of what prayer is supposed to be like. None of us know how to pray. We just know we need God. This is how she described prayer that speaks boldly to God.
“I used to think to myself: do our prayers work? Are we a success? But now I know these are the wrong questions to ask, they’re irrelevant. It’s not for us to judge how successful we are – and anyway what does ‘success’ mean in this context? To be successful is to do what God wants – and I know that what God wants for us at these times is to be, lining ourselves up with him so that he can use us to batter away at the suffering in the world. If we can only be, then he can use us and arrange us in the right patterns so that we’re playing an active part in his creative purpose, an active part in his redemptive love.”
B. Speaking boldly to God does not require lessons in composing prayers, only the same audacity Job had.
C. God is plenty big enough to hear any authentic boldness with which we speak.