Why pray for others?

Paul realized that when there was a problem he couldn’t fix, Christ was on hand to sort the problem out for him – either by giving him strength IN the problem (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), or by rescuing him OUT of it (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

Either way, Paul learnt by experience that Christ was real. He had good reason, therefore, to say in 2 Corinthians 1:10, “On Christ we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” But he THEN ADDS in verse 11, “AS you help us by your prayers.” Paul also learnt that the prayers of people played a crucial part in his deliverance..

Reading the rest of verse 11, it even sounds like Christ was waiting for prayers before he acted, so that “many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” The more people praying the merrier, because “MANY” people would then witness the miracle when Christ did it.

Paul realized, then, that when “we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation,” verse 6, because the people praying for him would see Christ’s intervention in Paul’s life and in turn that would produce in THEM “patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” They too would realize there’s a real God on hand who “comforts us in all our troubles,” verse 4.

Praying for others in their troubles, then, not only plays a crucial part in Christ either rescuing or comforting those in trouble, it also makes Christ real to those who are praying. When people prayed for God to help Paul in his suffering, they actually saw God answering. It taught them all a vital lesson that “just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows,” verse 6. Yes, we suffer as Christians, but when we’re praying for those who are suffering, Christ answers with comfort. He lifts the person suffering out of his despair (verse 8) and out of the awful feeling of doom that’s suffocating the life out of him (verse 9).

What those praying get to see is Christ “raising the dead,” verse 9. When a person has given up all hope, and all he can think about is things getting worse and worse until the inevitable worst case scenario happens, Christ lifts them out of their ‘death wish’ and hope and peace fill their hearts instead. Christ exchanges their death wish for a ‘life wish’, by giving them patient endurance in him to see them through, with either strength in the problem or rescue from it. Either way he is healing as promised, and that promise becomes real to us too when we’re praying for others.

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A solution for killer stress?

Jesus was under enormous stress as a human. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he cried in Matthew 26:38. Jesus felt the crushing weight of despair. There was no strength left in him. His “spirit was willing,” yes, as he said himself in verse 41, but his “flesh was weak.” He learnt that a human body can only take so much. Go beyond a certain point and it starts to self-destruct. He discovered, just like we do, that stress literally kills.

But Jesus had one resource left, a knot at the end of the rope he clung on to. “May your will be done,” he prayed in verse 42. At the point at which all human strength had left him, Jesus focused entirely on his Father. It was now over to the Father to complete his will in Jesus’ life. His Father was now in control of what happened next. But the Father being the Father would see him through. His Father’s will would be done, Jesus believed, despite the helpless state Jesus was in.

And clinging onto that one last knot in the rope saw Jesus through the worst time in his life. He trusted the Father to complete what the Father had started. It had started with Jesus being human, because it was the Father’s will that Jesus experience the full range of human weakness and despair. It was also the Father’s will that Jesus experience the only solution to human weakness and despair – trusting the Father to complete his will in him, because human strength has its limits.

At the worst time in Jesus’ life, therefore, just before his crucifixion, Jesus not only accepted his Father’s will he also trusted his Father’s will. And because of it Jesus now knows from personal experience what gets a human being through killer stress.

It starts with accepting our strengthlessness. The flesh is weak – so weak it even overwhelmed Jesus with despair. He too felt like curling up in a ball of misery and giving up all together. But that’s exactly what’s needed to get us to the only solution. It’s when we’ve got nothing left in us that we say, as Jesus said, “May your will be done.” We trust the Father to complete his will in us. And all we do then is go along for the ride. It may be a rollercoaster ride, just as it was for Jesus, but the Father saw him through.

The only real solution to killer stress is: “HE will keep you strong to the end,” 1 Corinthians 1:8, and “He who calls you is to be trusted,” 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Sufficient for today is his grace thereof

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” says the King James Version in Matthew 6:34. In other words, don’t even think about tomorrow, we’ve got enough troubles to deal with today. But in the previous nine verses Jesus is also saying, “Sufficient for each day is God’s grace thereof.” So each day has its troubles, yes, but each day Jesus provides the grace to deal with them. Trust him to take care of us and “You’ll find your everyday human concerns will be met,” says The Message translation in verse 33.

Jesus is saying there isn’t any need or worry we’ve got that his grace doesn’t cover. He knows exactly what needs and worries we have, because he lived in our world as one of us. So, I ask myself, what need do I have, or what worry do I face, today? Because Paul’s answer to me in Philippians 4:19 is, “My God will meet ALL your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

All of them? Yes, says Paul, God’s “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3, and in 1 Corinthians 1:7, “you do not lack any spiritual gift” – meaning, we’ve got more than we need to take care of us, because the help we’ve got is “spiritual.” It’s from God, and God “is able to do far more abundantly BEYOND all that we ask or think, according to his power which works mightily in us,” Ephesians 3:20-21. He’s got power a billion times sufficient for anything I face, with power left over. How stupid of me to worry, then.

But let’s get practical. I face today. My mind whirred into action the moment I awoke. I started thinking about what needs to be done. I immediately felt weak at the prospect of some things I had to face and do, and there wasn’t much in my day I was looking forward to either, because most of it involved effort of some sort and I’d woken up tired. So, for my day to be filled with peace and joy and love – and all those other lovely “spiritual” things mentioned in Galatians 5 – I clearly needed help, because I was in no mood or state of mind to come up with those things myself.

But I don’t have to come up with them myself, because they’re spiritual. They’re from God, because he’s my sufficiency, not me. He, therefore, will fill my day with peace, love and joy, and wisdom, and calm, and laughter, and positive thinking, and whatever else I need, because sufficient for my day is his grace, thereof. HIS power working within me is BEYOND what I need.

Getting BOLD with God

Following on from “Would you please leave your problem with me?” (July 13/12), Jesus can say that because he can turn any desperate need, or overwhelming problem, or debilitating weakness we have, into a demonstration of his power and love for us, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

That’s because “Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us,” Hebrews 4:14 (Living Bible). Jesus is in God’s presence on our behalf all the time – as a human being too – because as a human he “understands our weaknesses.” If anyone knows how we react to the pressures of life, he does, because he was (and is) just as human as we are. So he knows we don’t react well! Neither did he. When he “was here on earth he pleaded with God, praying with tears and agony of soul to the only one who would save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7.

Jesus learnt from suffering that a human mind and spirit can only take so much. Anguish can kill, and Jesus experienced that. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he cried in Matthew 26:38. When pressures built, the strength went right out of him, to the point there was nothing he could do to pull himself out of his death spiral of anxiety. His mind was turning against him and killing him. Emotionally he was beyond the end of his rope.

But that’s when he yelled out to his Father for help, meaning “HELP – NOW.” Jesus was bold, because if his Father didn’t help him, there was no other help that could “save him from death.” But because he trusted his Father he got the help he needed, every time. When Jesus, in “reverent submission” to his Father (Hebrews 5:7), came to the Father as the Son that he was, recognizing he was utterly dependent on the love and power of his Father to see him through, he always got the power and strength he needed.

Jesus’ boldness was out of desperation, yes, but it was also because he recognized who he was. He was a son who needed his Dad. And having experienced what his Father did for him, Jesus is now the “source of (our) eternal salvation,” Hebrews 5:9. He now does for us for what his Father did for him. He is with the Father at all times as our High Priest, fully understanding our coming to him boldly for “grace to help us in our time of need,” Hebrews 4:16, and because we’re the Father’s children too, he’ll make sure we get the help we need exactly and perfectly when and how we need it.

What makes a sick person well?

James 5:15 says, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” – which means we can expect to be restored to perfect physical health every time we’re anointed for a sickness and an elder prays for us, right?

So why aren’t there huge line-ups of sick people at church asking for prayers by the elders? Because people AREN’T being restored back to perfect health every time an elder prays for them and anoints them with oil, are they? Clearly, then, being restored back to perfect physical health is not what makes a “sick person well.”

So what does make a sick person well? According to James it’s knowing our sins are forgiven (James 5:15), recognizing when sin has got the better of us and accepting we need help to deal with it (verse 16), and having someone get us back on track when we’ve wandered off it (verses 19-20). Forgiveness, admitting weakness, seeking help and getting it from God through the prayers of fellow Christians are all included in what makes a sick person well.

But “well” in what way? Since it’s not perfect physical health, what is it instead? According to James we are truly “well” when we are “mature and complete, not lacking anything,” James 1:4, which happens through a lifetime of circumstances that bring us to persevering faith in God, verses 2-4. We never give up on God, in other words, when life gets tough, as James explains in chapter 4:10-11 – “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed (or “well”) those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

“Blessed” people – or people who are really “well” – are those who hang onto God no matter how bad things get, in the understanding that God not only feels for what they’re going through, he’s also bringing about something wonderful at the end of it. And that’s what makes them well (James 1:12).

It’s when doubt creeps in (James 1:6) that all kinds of “sicknesses” creep in too. A person becomes “unstable in all he does,” James 1:8. He becomes frustrated, angry, impatient and jealous. He won’t listen. He becomes critical and quarrelsome, and he has no curb on his tongue. He forgets that “every good and perfect gift is from above,” James 1:17, and thinks instead that he knows best.

A person with sicknesses like that needs a prayer of faith to make him well. And if he seeks help through the prayers of fellow Christians, “the Lord will raise him up.”

Does God heal today?

Jesus healed everyone who asked for healing, and in James 5:14-15 it sounds like God still heals everyone who asks for healing because anyone “anointed with oil in the name of the Lord” will be made well “and the Lord will raise him up.”

So why do Christians die from the same illnesses everyone else does? Why? Because Jesus didn’t create his church to deal with our physical illnesses. That’s the job of a hospital. Instead, God sent Jesus “to bless you as you turn, one by one, from your evil ways,” Acts 3:26. Jesus gets to the heart and core of what’s wrecking our lives, and bit by bit that’s what he heals. And in context that’s the healing James was after for the Christians in his care too, because they had all kinds of problems messing up their lives – which James spends most of his book writing about. He also knew from experience that if they got their problems out into the open, took them to God with the help of ministers and friends, God would answer, because it was that kind of healing they were in the church for.

It worked for Jesus. While he was human, evil constantly threatened to overwhelm him too, so he cried out to God to save him from it, Hebrews 5:7, and every time God answered. And while we’re human, Jesus does the same thing for us. “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God (Jesus) keeps him safe, and the evil done does not touch him,” 1 John 5:18. Jesus wants sin to stop wrecking our lives. He wants to make us well. He wants to raise us up without all the problems and baggage that ruined our lives before. He wants to protect us from the devil’s influence and rescue us from all the junk that wrecks our relationships with God and people.

And all James asks is that we admit it when a problem has us licked. Admit it to friends and ministers, because if they’re praying for us to be healed, that kind of prayer “avails much,” James 5:16. It converts sinners, heals minds, keeps us thinking straight, and it brings us back from the brink, verses 19-20.

So in asking the question, “Does God heal?” James would answer “Yes, of course he does,” because in James’ experience any time a person got serious enough about an “evil way” in his life (Acts 3:26) to actually ask others to pray for him, God always answered.