Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: “Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? (Job 38:1–2)
When buried in trial and tribulation, it’s all too easy to see God as uncaring. Storms and tempests and whirlwinds have a way of skewing our perception. It often seems that even as we pray, the forces ranged against us simply blow our words back into our face. The real truth is that God answers prayer – even in the whirlwind. Job had come to a place where all human reason and logic had been swept away. He had no answers, no explanations, and little resilience left. His darkness was so great that he couldn’t see past it. But God, in His mercy, spoke from the whirlwind.
He may not immediately remove the storm, but always, God answers prayer.
Our assumptions are all too often that the ‘right’ answer to prayer is for God to remove or end the difficulty. We imagine that when God answers prayer, His light will immediately sweep away the darkness and restore peace and calm. As a result, we’re not always expecting to hear Him speak but rather to ‘fix things’ according to our fleshly expectations. We’re expecting ease and instant rescue while God intends something else entirely.
We can learn a lot from Job’s final encounter with God, just as we can from his entire story. He epitomizes the popular cry of ‘I don’t deserve this’ – as if we’re somehow exempt from the negative happenings of life, just because we’re a Christian. The reality is that, because we’re a Christian, the world and the devil will throw everything they have against us. We also forget that God uses everything for His eternal purpose in us, even the whirlwind. He may or may not deliberately send our trials – they often result from the choices we and others make – but He will certainly use them. And when God answers prayer, it is always according to His will and purposes.
What’s remarkable about the story of Job is not the popular – and correct – teaching of how the devil work in our lives. It’s not about the huge restoration God worked in Job’s life when it was all over, although this is certainly cause for hope and faith in His goodness and His power to transform. What really stands out is Job’s extraordinary revelation of the nature, character, and power of God. This is the real ‘gift’ that God extends to him, but it’s often one that is overlooked. God used the whirlwind of trial and suffering to bring Job to an intensely powerful revelation. When God answers prayer, particularly in whirlwind situations, it’s often to meet with us face to face on a much deeper level than we could ever imagine.
The fundamental nature of any kind of severe trial is that it inevitably strips away extraneous things. The problem is that these things all too often form part of the ‘safety net’ all of us create, often without realising it. We all have perceptions, beliefs, routines that we rely on, and people we depend on. In extreme trouble, however, we begin to realise that none of these can really make a difference. Our safety net isn’t a net at all. It’s simply an illusion. Contrary to our common expectations this stripping away of other things we rely is actually one of the ways God answers prayer.
An extreme revelation demands extreme preparation. Who we are is often too cluttered to receive this kind of enormous, life-changing revelation of who and what God is. From this perspective, while it may be painful, harrowing, and even emotionally and physically debilitating, we need to take hold of the truth that God works in everything to shape us to His eternal, perfect purposes. That is, of course, not what we want to hear. We seldom pray ‘Lord, whatever it takes.’ Rather, like Job, we focus on our confusion and pain, on the sense of utter loss this stripping away brings. We believe that somehow, when God answers prayer, it will be to miraculously lift us out of the storm.
From Job, we learn a significant truth – God answers prayer in the whirlwind, and then He brings relief and restoration. We lose sight of the fact that God is huge and vast and overwhelmingly passionate. He is a ‘big God’ in every way, and He wants us to know that reality. The greater the whirlwind, the greater the potential revelation of God. It’s significant also that when God answers prayer in the whirlwind, it is to issue a direct challenge to self. We live our lives using self as our definition, but God confronts Job with this right off. We see another important truth – when looking for answers to prayer, we must first adjust our attitude.
It’s human nature to retreat to self when things get hard and rough. Human experience is a powerful thing, and our response will always define our heart focus. This was what God confronted in Job. The message is clear – it’s not about us, but about God. It’s about His plans, His purposes, and His perfect will. I love these last few chapters of Job, but in them, God paints a self-portrait. He presents a vivid and awe-inspiring description of the limitless magnitude of His power, glory, and majesty. When God answers prayer in the whirlwind, this is usually what He wants to convey to us.
We can all agree that radical experiences always effect an equally radical transformation. The nature of the transformation will depend on the attitude with which we receive it. This isn’t to bring condemnation, but rather to highlight a wonderful spiritual truth – the less of ‘me’ we have in us, the more of ‘Him’ we can receive. This is the essence of the verse which reminds us to give thanks in all things. It’s a matter of turning our focus from self to God. Being systematically stripped through suffering is no picnic, but it is a powerful form of liberation from self and from the things that hold us back from God. It is something that radically prepares us to receive when God answers prayer – and to receive things we never even thought to ask for.
At the root of Job’s transformation and restoration lay one important principle – humility. As God challenged Him and revealed the power and majesty of His full nature, Job responded with an equal revelation of his own insignificance. With no worldly ‘safety net’ left to fall back, he came to an overwhelming acceptance that without God, he had nothing. This kind of humility – the humble and contrite heart – was the one which opened the way to receive what God wanted to do. It was when Job looked past his ‘right’ to understanding and human reward for his ‘holy’ life that He was able to accept what was important was that an almighty, all-powerful God answers prayer, but it’s not always as we would like. When Job reached the place of ‘not my will but Yours be done’ with a true acceptance of his insignificance, God responded with transformation and restoration.
While being in the ‘sand blaster’ is never comfortable, and is usually an intensely painful experience, we can be sure that God answers prayer beyond our human expectations.
Lord, help us to give thanks always, even in times of trial. Draw us close, and use our difficulties to remove those things that hinder us in our walk with You. Bring us, through Your love and grace, to the place of stripping away so that we can come before You with humble and contrite hearts and receive Your answers with joyful hearts.