Putting Others First (even when it’s not easy)
Pray for others as often as you can, even when your own problems seem overwhelming.
I was at a mid-week church service. The emphasis this particular evening was on prayer. After a time of worship, the person leading the service instructed us to break into small groups of six to eight. Each person was to share their biggest prayer need with the others in their group.
The prayer concerns shared in my group were about things like money, issues at work, parenting – typical “everyday life” stuff.
Except for one.
A man—I guessed him to be in his early thirties—confided that his marriage was failing, that his wife was about to leave at any moment. He was a Christ follower; she was not. Though they had been trying to work things out, the issue of faith was proving to be a wedge between them.
I recall a deep sadness in his eyes. In his countenance I saw numbness, resignation. It was as if his spirit was saying, I’m tired of fighting. One way or the other, I just want this to be over.
Have you ever been in that place, just wanting to give up? I have. Many times.
I knew exactly what he was going through.
The leader had also instructed each group to identify who had the greatest prayer need. Who had the biggest problem? In my group it was unanimous: it had to be this young man.
I was quite sure what was coming next. Obviously, the leader was going to instruct us to collectively pray for the person with the greatest need.
“Okay,” she said, “whoever has the greatest prayer need—I want that person to pray for everyone else in the group.”
It took a bit for her words to sink in. The sanctuary got quiet. People looked at each other, then looked at the leader and then at each other again. Is she serious?
It was counter-intuitive. It was awkward. It just didn’t seem right. We should be praying for him, not he for us.
The Bible tells us to pray for our families, for our rulers, for the lost, for the sick and suffering, even for our enemies. When we pray for others, it builds up the Body of Christ and pleases God. (1 Timothy 2:3, NIV).
Okay, I get that. But, how can you be expected to pray for others when your own world is falling apart?
Well, that is exactly what Jesus did.
He was at the Last Supper with his disciples. He knew his arrest and crucifixion were imminent. Soon, he would die a horrible, excruciating death. As he broke bread with The Twelve, Jesus prayed for them. And, he prayed for us:
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:24)
Human reasoning will attempt to diminish what Jesus had to bear because of where he came from. It couldn’t have been that hard on him, could it? He came from heaven, sent by God. Surely God would make it bearable for him.
But, let’s remember that Jesus came to earth as a man. He was fully human. He had the same emotions we do…including fear.
We know this because just a short time after his last meal, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying,
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:42,44, NIV)
Jesus was so distraught as to sweat blood.
When I consider what Jesus suffered—in the midst of it desiring to pray for me—I am…well, I don’t really have the words. Humbled? Grateful? Overwhelmed? Those all seem so inadequate.
My troubles are so small compared to what Jesus experienced. He came to earth to love. In return, he was hated. He was hated for no reason. Humiliated. Betrayed. Tortured. Murdered.
And yet, he prayed for the salvation of all people. He prayed for you and for me.
The young man in our group did as he was instructed. One by one, he prayed for us. And, as he did, I believe I noticed a change in him. It wasn’t a huge one, but noticeable, nonetheless. He stood a little straighter. His eyes brightened just a bit. It was if he was thinking, Maybe I’ll be okay, after all.
The awkwardness of the moment seemed to just melt away. By the time he was finished, it felt so right.
I am pretty sure the experience at church that night changed that young man. I am certain it changed me. It is one thing to have another person pray for you, quite another when that person’s life is in turmoil.
I have had the privilege of praying for other people on many occasions, including times when I was going through my own crisis. It’s not always easy or convenient, but after I pray for another person I always have more peace about my own problems.
I encourage you to pray for others as often as you can, even when your own problems seem overwhelming. When we put others first, it blesses them, pleases God, and—I guarantee you this—will do wonders for you, as well.
It will feel so right.