Sunday, August 23, 2009

Praying For Those Who Suffer

Prayer in the Midst of Physical Suffering

By Susan Sorensen, co-author of Praying Through Cancer

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also

through Christ our comfort overflows.

2 Corinthians 1:5

We all know people who suffer with physical ailments. Maybe you are one of them. My battle with cancer began more than 20 years ago at the age of 19. I was home from college and getting a few routine medical check-ups. My doctor noticed a lump on my neck which proved to be thyroid cancer. Several surgeries later, they had removed both my thyroid and lymph nodes as a result.

At the age of 41 it happened again. An annual mammography and subsequent biopsy revealed that I had breast cancer. I was at a completely different place in life…now a wife and a mother of young children. Once again, I walked down a path I wouldn’t have chosen but where I found God to be faithful.

To say I was carried through these physical challenges is an understatement. God transformed my prayer life and taught me some very important lessons about praying for others.

Prayer Boot Camp

During my first battle with thyroid cancer, I came to love the story of Gideon in Judges 6. God told Gideon to raise up an army to fight the Midianites. After needing much confirmation, Gideon gathered nearly 40,000 men. Then God told him there were too many! The ranks were narrowed until only three hundred men remained. The Lord then explained that He was keeping the army small so that the Israelites would not boast in their own strength but would know that the Lord saved them.

In the midst of my treatments, these verses spoke close to my heart. Through them I was challenged with a question, “Do you take enough risk in your life to know that it is not you, but God who won the battle?” I have come to realize that when we step out in faith (or are pushed out!) we begin to see God do extraordinary things in our lives.

My greatest prayer lesson? Instead of asking, “Why, Lord?” I began asking “How, Lord?” “How are you going to work through this? How are you going to provide for me?” I have found that by simply changing the question, my doubt is replaced by the anticipation of seeing how God will work His way.

The Power of Praise

The Psalms have become a daily companion. I’m learning to praise God for who He is and thank Him for each and every situation. As I read the book of Psalms I am struck by David’s attitude of praise. He doesn’t always start that way but he always ends up there. David often begins by pouring out all his hurts and heartaches. Somewhere in the midst of gazing upon the Lord he begins to realize who God is. Then the praise begins.

A resource that has blessed my life immensely is a little book titled, 31 Days of Praise, by Ruth Myers. It literally provides 31 prayers of praise. I am learning that as I praise God I get my eyes off my situation and onto the solution which is my Lord. Psalm 50:23 says, “He who offers a sacrifice of praise honors me.”

Trials Transformed into Chariots

Hannah Whitall Smith, in her classic book, A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, said that trials are “God’s chariots sent to take the soul to its high place of triumph.” She encouraged, “When your trial comes, then, put it right into the will of God, and climb into that will as a child climbs into its mother’s arms. The baby carried in the chariot of its mother’s arms rides triumphantly through the hardest places, and does not even know they are hard. How much more are we who are carried in the chariot of the ‘arms of God!’”

I was reminded of this on the morning of my mastectomy. On the way to the operating room a rather tall and muscular orderly sang many of my favorite Christian hymns as he navigated my gurney through the hallways. I might have believed him to be an angel, but everyone seemed to know him! His voice and message were beautiful. I truly felt I was in God’s chariot all the way to surgery. I had climbed in, and my loving Father was reminding me of all His great promises as we rode on our way.

When we pray we have the opportunity to step into the chariot and experience a ride with our Savior. Even down rocky mountains at breathtaking speeds, we find Him faithful.

The Lonely Road

When physical suffering continues for a long period of time, the road can become quite lonely. We have an opportunity to uphold others as they suffer just like Aaron and Hur upheld Moses’ arms in the day of battle.

I had the privilege of working with 47 amazing women to put together a 90-day devotional for women facing cancer titled, Praying Through Cancer: Set Your Heart Free from Fear. Some experienced times when God seemed far away…even prayer warriors had difficulty praying. That’s when we especially need to come alongside and lift up our suffering friends. It might mean partnering with them in regular prayer. It may be through a prayer chain or email update that gives specific prayer concerns.

How can we support our friends in their battle? I have personally discovered there are several ways to unleash the power of prayer.

Take them to the One who is able to heal

I often picture myself carrying my friends to Jesus just as sick people were brought to Jesus in the Bible (Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:1-12). Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We have the privilege of asking the One who is able to heal to work on their behalf.

Thank God for being the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort

Thank God for His promise to pour out His comfort. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Ask God to miraculously overcome any fear in their lives

One of the greatest battles in illness is the fear. We must constantly take captive our thoughts according to 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. I have often prayed Psalm 112 for myself and others. Ask God to enable your friend to “have no fear of bad news; that his heart will be steadfast trusting in the Lord. His heart will be secure, he will have no fear.”

Assist them in putting on their armor

Come against the devil’s schemes by walking through Ephesians (6:10-18) on behalf of another. Ask God to awaken their desire to put on their spiritual armor. Than prayerfully dress them with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ask God to be mighty in battle on their behalf.

Ask God to show His power in and through their lives

The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our bodies are “jars of clay” so that God has opportunity to show “that this all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Let us proclaim in prayer… “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within [our friend]…” (Ephesians 3:20).

We can do battle in prayer for our friends and family who are suffering. You may have opportunity to partner with them in a tangible way. One woman I know has come alongside of a number of women to battle breast cancer in prayer with them. Another has become a patient advocate (in more ways than one!)…and a doctor pays her to do this! Before heading in this direction, reread the book of Job for a quick reminder of how not to do it.

The Apostle Paul had an interesting perspective on suffering. He said…

I want to know Christ…and the fellowship of his sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)

Fellowship? This is not a word I would place with suffering. But God’s ways are not man’s ways. As we experience suffering directly or walk through it with someone else, we have an opportunity to experience Christ in a unique and powerful way. We have God’s promise that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance; character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:4-5)

Resources:

www.prayingthroughcancer.com – the website for W Publishing’s newly released book, Praying Through Cancer: Set Your Heart Free from Fear, a 90-Day Devotional for Women, by Susan Sorensen and Laura Geist

www.RestMinistries.org – a ministry that serves people who live with chronic illness or pain and their families

www.CancerPatientAdvocate.com – a site with resources to equip people to encourage others dealing with cancer and serious illness. Includes information on starting a support group, becoming a patient advocate, combining faith and medicine.

www.hopeforcancer.org – Outreach of Hope is a ministry founded by former professional baseball player Dave Dravecky and his wife. It is designed to serve suffering people, particularly those dealing with cancer and amputation.

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1 comment:

Mary said...

Godly article by a woman of great faith. Suffering for Christ strengthens the armor! May many who suffer from any type of "cancer-like" pain draw from her experience and faithful leadership in prayer and His words of truth.