I regularly encounter hurt in others believers’ lives that I cannot solve.
Death, disease, abandonment, injury—all among the many problems that I am unable to fix. I also cannot enter into the emotional or mental space that others’ pain occupies in them to comprehend all of the unique features of their pressures and sorrow. And yet, I have a desire and longing to be that impossibly close—to reach that far.
This is why I so appreciate when the apostle Paul tells—no, urges—the church in Rome to join in his struggle. He doesn’t instruct his fellow Christians to merely accept and acknowledge their real limitations in helping him. He also doesn’t say that because they are not the agents of solution or omniscient listeners, they aren’t much help after all. He tells them to join, to enter in.
After teaching upon teaching of gospel theology in his letter to the Romans, Paul also wrote to the church in Rome about his needs; he let them know that he needed to be rescued from unbelievers in Judea so that he could continue his journeys, that he desired for his upcoming service in Jerusalem to be well-received, and that he wanted to be refreshed (Romans 15:31-32). And Paul gave the church at Rome this information solely on the basis of them being fellow believers in Christ who shared with him in the love of God through the gospel. While he was hoping to visit them, he had been prevented from doing so (Romans 1:13). But he entreated that they share his concerns; he wanted their help.
He asked them to pray.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”
Romans 15:30 NIV
Commonality Affects Prayer
If any of the recipients of his letter have merely casual concerns for him thus far, he urges them forward toward prayer that more fully joins with him. If they have little to no concerns, he asks them to consider their same Lord and the same love of the Holy Spirit among them—the God who makes their interests and mission, their lives, shared. And then, if they already do have significant concern, in partnership with him, then he directs that drive of compassion toward one end—the means by which he believes that he will substantially receive their aid.
God teaches us in this verse that when someone is suffering and we want to help, pray. Perhaps you have done all that you are able to do in the life of a suffering friend—been present to listen; continued to remembered them over time; sought to offer specific physical help of some kind, or insightful and compassionate words of biblical help that God has enabled you to provide—and you still feel as though you wish you could do more. Don’t belittle the help you have already given. And then, don’t doubt that compassion remaining in your heart; don’t allow it to make you feel helpless. It’s there for a purpose. Pray.
As we pray for God’s glory in the lives of our believing friends and family members, we remember what He can do:
- God can enter into the human soul to know exact spiritual needs and prepare corresponding provisions of Himself to help the believer stay near to Him in sorrow; the Holy Spirit is able to guide the suffering Christian into the truth of the Word, and the truth affords lasting and prevailing comfort.
- God can change circumstances, glorifying Himself through a demonstration of His power if He wills it; and He can also arrange the sufferer’s days to allow for circumstantial provisions of care amidst their pain.
- God can provide opportunities through the lives of the suffering to unveil Christ-like, Holy Spirit-given character and to present the gospel that gives hope, radiating His glory through the believer’s life; God can enable the Christian to maintain, and often proliferate, his or her ministry of fruitfulness and witness to Christ while in the saddest of days.
- God can move the Christian’s inner spirit to pray with a hopeful, expectant, and believing heart that He come back for His own soon.
God can press His good purposes into human sorrow with such power that the believer can have immense joy through the privilege of glorifying His Name and depending upon Him in all things. Isn’t this how each of us as believers would want to look to God in our suffering? Paul is, of course, right. We have commonality through our shared love of God that enables us to understand the lines along which we can pray for each other.
Never Helpless in Helping
Because we have prayer, I believe we are to never feel helpless in helping. We contend along with our brothers and sisters in this world by calling upon the Lord who knows them and grasps their circumstances with knowledge that is comprehensive, familiar, and precise. Keep praying.
Leaning into our desires to help others in impossible-to-us ways is useful and hope-filled. For, through prayer for brothers and sisters in their needs and difficulties, it’s as though we are as close to them as we long to be because we pray into their lives the nearness, hope, and comfort of our God.