Tavares D. Mathews
What Profit If We Pray?
“Where Was God” -Part 1
“What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:15)
Job, who lived during the patriarchal period (perhaps around the time of Abraham), was a man whom the Bible described as perfect, upright, a God fearer and one who turned away from evil. He was a godly father and the leader of his home (1:5; 2:9) He was a righteous man who had determined to devote his entire life to obeying God and serving others (31). Subsequently, Job was blessed materially as well. He was the wealthiest man of the east with 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys and a very great household of servants.
It is for this latter reason that Satan argues to God that Job is serving Him, namely, because Job has been blessed so abundantly materially. Hear him: “Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 1:10, 11). In one day, Job lost all of his wealth and if that was not enough, he lost all of his children – ten funerals in one day. But, instead of cursing God, he worshipped God (1:20). What an example of faith!
Satan was not finished. “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 2:4, 5). Job is severely inflicted with boils from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head (2:7). While trying to receive some sort of comfort by using a potsherd to scrape himself, his wife turns against him (2:8,9).
While we are aware of God’s and Satan’s conversation, we must remember that Job was not privy to the exchange. Job believes that God is using him for target practice (16:12,13). He wished that he had never been born (3). But, Job never attempts to take his own life. He maintains his integrity.
It was under these circumstances that Job asked the question, “What profit if we pray?” But, it is not Job who is asking the question, He reasons that the wicked ask such questions. He believes the wicked prosper in this world and because of this, they do not have a reason to fear and serve God (21). Asaph reasoned the same in Psalms 73. Zophar, his friend, argues the opposite. He contends that the wicked do suffer (20). In this article and in the forthcoming one, we would like to make some thoughtful observations concerning this question: “What profit if the righteous pray?” We may have experienced trials which seemed so unbearable that we have asked that question. Just as God did not reveal to Job why he had to endure such heartache and pain, we too may never know why we are experiencing so much anguish and trouble. Job lost basically everything but his life and his faith. His material substance was taken away, his children all died, his wife turned against him and his health was diminished. Even his friends were unsupportive. These circumstances may seem a bit much. But, we too are not immune to life’s trials and our hearts are not exempt from pain.
What if: You were to lose your job and are unemployed for months. During this time your utilities are turned off and ultimately your house goes into foreclosure. Your car breaks down and the repairs are astronomical. Your child becomes sick, without any type of medical insurance. Your spouse and only child are involved in a terrible wreck and are both hospitalized. Weeks later, both die. A year later you are diagnosed with cancer. You recover, but you are not able to get back on your feet financially until 5 years later. During this time you pray to God. You study your Bible. You help/serve others. Where was God during all of this? Did He care and if He did – “Why didn’t He do something?”
Three families. Same circumstance (child is dying from cancer). But, different outcomes. The first family are faithful Christians. The second family are unfaithful Christians. The third family are non-Christians and are rebels against God – atheist.
Prayers are offered for the faithful Christians, yet the child dies. Prayers are offered for the unfaithful Christians and that child lives. No prayers, by the family, are offered for the atheist’s child and their child lives. Why? Job asked, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him” (21:15).
False charges against God may abound: If God is not going to answer my prayer, why should I even bother praying to Him? If the unrighteous profits more than I, a faithful Christian, why should I even serve Him?
Many times when we feel that God has answered our prayers concerning the recovery of a loved one we say, “God answered my prayer – God is good”. But, when our loved one dies, it is said that God has not answered our prayers – and no affirmation of the goodness of God made. Is God not good when we do not receive what we pray for? Does God not see our tears when we pray to Him in the midnight hour? Does God not care about our situation?
In the end, all of life’s trials can be ascribed to one thing – we live in a fallen/sinful world. Death, pain and heartache abound. Furthermore, while it is impossible to know why things happen the way that they do, we can have confidence in the God that we serve. He has given us His word to comfort our hearts in times of confusion and doubt. We cannot fully understand the hurt and the pain that we may experience in our lifetime, but our Master knows. He knows the very thoughts that run through our minds (Ps. 139). He sees every tear that we shed. Some-times we may even feel as the Psalmist who said, “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” (Ps. 6:6) But our God has placed every one of our tears in a bottle and He has recorded their number in a book. (Ps. 56:8) For this reason, truly we may “sow in tears but [we] shall reap in joy.” (Ps. 126:5)
God cares about our individual circumstances and He wants us to pray to Him. But, that does not mean that when we pray we will always receive the results that we pray for. We must always remember to pray God’s will be done in our lives because He ultimately knows what is best for us. It has been rightly said that one of life’s greatest blessings can be unanswered prayers. We must remember that God has our best interest at heart always. God knows the end from the beginning of our lives. As His Son prayed in the garden, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done”, we too must resolve to say the same.
We must come to trust God’s Word – the Bible and the message of hope that it contains. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) How comforting to know that there is great encouragement in the word of God for us during those times when we may feel all alone or as if no one knows our plight. But as the text reveals, Our Father gives perseverance and encouragement through His Word. And as we look at those who lived in the days of old, even though they did not smile outwardly in the face of trials, inwardly their joy was maintained by knowing that God would work it out. (Gen. 50:20; Job 13:15)
Also, we must pray to God without ceasing as the Psalmist who said, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” (Ps. 55:17; 1 Thess. 5:17) God says, “”Call to Me, and I will answer you” (Jer. 33:3). Peter says, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12). Jesus declares, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).
Finally, God is in control. We must put our faith in Him because He has promised to never leave nor forsake us. Experiences in life that may seem terrible now may turn out to be good in the grand scope of things (Rom. 8:28). We should begin to view our circumstances in view of eternity and not according to our present conditions. Some things in life will not be fully appreciated until we cross the line which separates time and eternity.