May 1, 2021 | By Jay Ashbaucher
Like many in these Covid days of ill health, with so much instability and unrest in the world, I’ve been trying to overcome a time of suffering in my own life. There are many days that I feel like there’s no way I can survive. There are times I feel like giving up. I lack energy; I have no appetite; I don’t want to eat, I’m losing weight and getting weaker, I feel feverish and miserable; I get dizzy, my body goes through fits of uncontrollable shaking, I can’t focus on normal daily activities. Every day the same, it never goes away. I told my wife that I can’t live like this. A Bible verse came to mind, James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering?” “That’s me”, I said to myself. Then I eagerly looked for the answer and all James said was, “Is anyone among you suffering? He must pray.” My first thoughts were, “What does that mean, and how does that help?” Then I began to reflect on what it could mean to pray, and I began praying.
My dad died at the age of 98. He experienced many kinds of suffering throughout his life. He survived World War Two in Germany. He survived times of sickness, bouts with cancer, depression, and mental breakdowns. He suffered family difficulties, times of being unloved, rejected, and abandoned. Old age brought its own sufferings. I asked him, “Dad, what got you through those times?” Without hesitation, he quoted a Bible verse that helped him survive without fail. Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (KJV). The New Living Translation puts it this way, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”
Jesus went through horrendous suffering during his trial, and then afterward, he suffered being nailed to a cross and put to death by the hands of godless men. But God put an end to his agony of death by raising him up again. The Bible says that in his suffering he was helped and that he would not be shaken because God was always in his presence (Acts 2:23-28). That is exactly what my dad was saying; it helps to know that God is present with you in your suffering. “Is anyone among you suffering? He must pray.”
Prayer is fixing your mind on God’s presence in your life. I chose to fix my mind on God by putting together a series of biblical quotes, seeking God’s peace and comfort through his word. Sometimes, I repeat the following list, or parts of it, thinking about these words over and over. “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9). Be Anxious for nothing, He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). The Lord is my healer (Exodus 15:26). The Lord is my shepherd. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23). By repeating and thinking about these words from God, I am sensing His presence in my life. You can come up with a list of things that fits you.
Prayer is also crying out to God, telling him your honest feelings, and asking him for what you need, or what you would like him to do for you. The Bible invites us to let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is calling on God to be with you and to help you, believing that he will (Psalm 109:21-24).
Prayer is also giving thanks to God in all things. Certain scriptures help me realize that God has a good purpose for our sufferings. It helps to accept suffering and thank God for the good he is doing in our life through it. Read Romans 5:1-5. Suffering strengthens us for future trials. Suffering produces endurance and grows us in our faith (James 1:2-4). We must thank God for what we are going through. Even though we may not understand it, God causes all to work for our good (Romans 8:28-29). Thanking God enables us to adopt the attitude of Job, “shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:9-10).
In summary, prayer is practicing the presence of God in your life, prayer is crying out your honest feelings and requests to God, and prayer is thanking God for the benefits he is bringing into your life through your sufferings. But there is more to, “Is anyone among you suffering, he must pray.”
Prayer involves meditation. Jesus realized a great purpose for his suffering. He suffered for you and me so that we could be forgiven and could overcome death by being granted his eternal life. Jesus was glad when he saw into the future the results of his death that many would be saved. The Bible says that Jesus was able to endure the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). So, what can we meditate on that will bring us joy in our sufferings? We can meditate on God’s promises and the hope he gives us concerning our future. Specifically, our sufferings make us hunger for our true heavenly home. When we see our hope in the midst of our sufferings, it brings us joy. Our hope will not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5). Abraham, the father of our faith, lived with an awareness of God’s promises. He looked for a city whose builder was God, he desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:10, 16). Jesus promised us as believers that he has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3). Peter reminds us of our great future and wants us to focus on it in times of tribulation. Read 1 Peter 1:3-9. Meditation on these words is a form of prayer that brings us hope and joy.
Another way to pray to help relieve our sufferings is to take our eyes off of ourselves and to seek the good of others. Pray for those you know who are hurting and who need your prayers. Pray for missionaries and those suffering persecution for their faith. Pray for a hurting world and its need for Jesus. Pray for the salvation of others. It can be easy to become self-centered in our sufferings. Praying for others lets us focus on helping those in need. It may even lead us to text, write a word of encouragement to them, or call to see how they are doing.
There is yet another important aspect of prayer when suffering. Satan would like nothing more than to put his negative and depressing thoughts into our minds. In answer to such thoughts, we need to pray God’s word of truth. For example, during a time of suffering I heard these words in my head, “The world is getting so bad, and life is hard; it’s not worth living anymore.” Such thoughts can only come from the evil one who seeks to destroy us. Immediately, I affirmed, “Heavenly Father, life is valuable, you are its author, and it is worth living; even in suffering you will bring blessing. Lord, I will not listen to such words.” When wrong thoughts come into our minds, we need to counter with God’s truth, causing Satan to flee. We have the mind of Christ and we can pray his words to help us stay strong (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Finally, let us involve the body of Christ in praying. Invite believing friends and others of your church group to pray for you by sharing your feelings and needs with them. Knowing that others are beseeching God on your behalf is a great encouragement. Prayer is part of our love and care for one another. The apostle Paul shared his burdens with fellow Christians and believed God would help him through their prayers (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). It encourages others in prayer when they see answers on your behalf. And it also encourages you to be faithful in praying. When we pray for one another, we know we are not alone.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” There is much more to God’s word than would appear to us at first. Seven aspects of prayer were mentioned above. I made an appointment to see my doctor at the height of my suffering. I had questions and concerns. I do not know if he is a believer, but during our visit, I told him that the day before this visit I had taken a turn for the better. I told him about the verse in the Bible that I read and that it did not seem to offer much help to me, but that I began to pray. He laughed with me and remarked, “Just think, one day of praying and your better already.”