In our reading from Job this morning, we hear Zophar, one of Job’s friends, argue that Job isn’t experiencing God’s blessings because he hasn’t tried hard enough to live a pure and decent life. Notice the conditions that Zophar lays on Job:
If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away…
Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and not fear. (13-15)
Note where the emphasis lies--on Job’s performance. Zophar is basically telling Job that God’s blessing is conditioned on his sincere and devoted obedience. That God’s blessing is transactional. Quid pro quo. This is essentially a repackaged version of the same accusation that Satan leveled at God at the beginning of Job—the idea that a man’s religious piety motivates God to hand out material blessings.
This teaching is actually quite prevalent in the broader world of American Christianity—especially amongst evangelicals. It’s not an uncommon experience to go to one of these churches and hear the pastor preach something along the lines of: “God is ready to pour down his blessings upon you. He’s ready to open up the floodgates of heaven and give you more than you can hold. But you will only experience that blessing if you________________.” Fill in the blank. That’s one of the reasons why so much of what passes for American Christianity sounds like self-help styled life coaching. It’s built around this false idea that God rewards those who make themselves ready and worthy to receive his blessings.
Over and against this false theology, we cling tightly to the truth revealed in the words that Jesus taught us to pray. The very first words of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that faith alone—not our own piety—make us worthy to call upon God as our true and dear Father. The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer teach us that God is at work to answer our prayers and provide our needs even before—even without our asking! The closing “Amen” to the Lord’s prayer teaches us to be confident that God hears and answers—not because of our obedience, but because of his own promise. Even during times when God seems hidden or distant—his divine goodness and mercy—his promises to give us his name, his kingdom, the needs of body and soul, forgiveness of sins, and protection from evil…these promises never fail. Jesus’ gave us this prayer as a gift. To assure us that God’s blessings are not premised on our behavior and piety…but on his very nature and word.
Therefore, let us always come boldly before the throne of grace that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…praying always in his name and as he has taught us.