You most likely have never done this. You receive a prayer request as an email about a friend's very difficult situation. She is asking for prayer for deliverance from pain or the solution of a problem or restoration of a troubled relationship. And this is what you most likely didn't reply: "I hope that you will enjoy this challenge. I have complete confidence that you will benefit from it. So don't try to get a solution too quickly but take full advantage of the pain instead."
What???? I told you you most likely haven't done that!
Why wouldn't we reply like that?
- She might think I don't love her.
- She might feel discouraged.
- She might feel alone.
- She might feel like I don't have empathy for her pain.
The problem is that that unlikely reply is exactly what Jesus' brother, James, wrote in his letter to fellow Christians (James 1:2-4). Hard to believe? I can see your point, but it's true. Here are God's words through James:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (NASB)
James did indeed use the word "joy." In effect, he was saying to be joyful about your trial, tribulation, and challenge. It's not until you think of replying to someone's emailed prayer request that the amazing perspective that James shares comes into focus.
faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Italics added)Amazing. Again, pause to take in the full meaning: think positively about pain, difficulty, and problems and be joy-filled because the challenge is going on and on. Don't we usually ask for prayer for a quick solution? A fast answer? A complete healing? The end of pain?
But James is basically saying, "Get the full effect of this pain and challenge. It's only through suffering that there's a spiritual change in your hearts."
This is not good news--it seems! When I was in bed for nine months because of excruciating pain, and I sent out a prayer request, I didn't want anyone to write me back and say, "I'm not going to pray for your pain to be gone right now because maybe God hasn't used it enough. And by the way, while you're waiting for the answer, be really glad it's happening!"
I think I might have taken her off my prayer request list.
But this is exactly what James is saying. And it is sobering and shocking.
I can't say I have the courage to give such a message to any friend's next prayer request. I think it could be misunderstood and for someone who is not convinced of God's good intentions for them through pain, difficulty and problems, it might just be plain discouraging and even faith destroying.
But of course then we would wonder about what that "faith" is based upon. A demand for their own definition of "good" or a trust in God that believes God knows best?
I do want to take to heart James's important message for myself. Because I can see great benefits from having such a perspective. What can you see as those benefits?
And could you share if you've ever replied with thoughts like James' ideas to your own hurting friend? What wording do you think would convey the care and love you have for them even as you communicate God's perspective?