Praying for Difficult People

by Aaron Dunlop

img-difficult-peopleSometimes the Lord asks us to do difficult things that demand the sacrifice of the flesh and that need an extra measure of grace. One such incident is found at the end of the book of Job after a prolonged period of suffering. In Job 42:10 the Lord asked Job to pray for three friends. They were not just random friends but three friends in particular that the Lord had in mind. Job was asked to pray for the three men who had spent a very long time scrutinising and condemning him. These men had misunderstood him and misread his circumstances; they were obstinate, harsh, and unjust.

We are told that Job’s suffering stopped and his fortunes were turned after he prayed. We are not told what he prayed, nor are we told how the Lord answered the prayer. If we learn anything from this it is that the blessing of prayer is not in the articulation of prayer nor in the answer necessarily. The blessing promised in prayer is in the act of praying.

But there is another lesson here. There is a blessing attached to growth in prayer, to stretching our prayer life, particularly in our ability to pray for certain people—difficult people, people whom it is hard to like, people who irk us. The Saviour said this is a prerequisite to effective prayer: “When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

Notice the grace of prayer in difficult circumstances. Job’s newfound joy in the Lord came before, not after, his afflictions were lifted (Job 42:5; cf. verse 10). He had “seen” the Lord through the suffering, and in his affliction he was brought into greater experience with the Lord. Now Job, with a deeper realization of God’s grace, shows that same grace to others. Grace brings growth and growth brings happiness. Happiness is not just seeing God’s grace; it is sharing it.

The fact that Job prays is evidence that grace has been at work in his heart. He had previously wrestled with the value of prayer (21:15). Here we see that the suffering had made him better and not bitter, that suffering had strengthened grace and not smothered it. When afflictions deepen, grace brings a prayer life to correspond with them.

There is blessing in praying for difficult people. This prayer does not simply show that the friendship between Job and the three men was restored. To pray with his friends would have been sufficient to show a restored relationship and the chapter indicates that this prayer was indeed with them. But Job prays for them, which indicates that the friendship, at least on Job’s part, was deepened. This prayer is not so much about Job’s relationship with his friends as it is about Job’s relationship with his God. This prayer says more about the character of Job than any other part of this book. It shows Job’s heart: his desire that those who had done so much harm to him might experience what he had in his personal vision of the Lord (verse 5; cf. Matthew 5:44). It manifests a particular grace and it shows that rather than resentment there was renewed love, concern, and forgiveness and spiritual desire.

Deliverance from affliction depended on Job’s prayer-life. It did not depend on his ability to pray for himself but on whether he could pray for others. Much of our happiness is contingent on prayer. Many of our trials would be lifted if we prayed (Philippians 4:6–7), and we would have so much more to praise God for if we prayed (James 4:2). But we learn from this prayer how much of our happiness depends on how we pray for others, and particularly, whether we can pray for others.

God brings Job out of suffering when Job shows that he can pray for those who aggravated that suffering—those who turned the knife in his back, so to speak. What enabled Job to pray for these friends? He did not say, “Lord this is humiliating. These guys have been on my case now for a long time and I feel like praying against them, not for them.” No, Job realized that they had sinned against God, that they had wronged God. In light of this his own personal sense of hurt dimmed into obscurity—and he prayed for his friends.

To pray for these difficult people is Christ-likeness. The Saviour prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Like Christ who by His suffering became our priest, so Job by his suffering is given the ministry of mediation for his friends, a ministry which we all share (Revelation 1:6).

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