“How can I pray for you this week?” my friend recently asked. It’s a question she asks on a regular basis, and it’s one I’m glad to answer. Whether it’s prayer for an immediate need or a request for a family member or prayer for strength in the temptations I face—whatever I ask her to pray for—I am encouraged in knowing that she brings those things to the Father. But there’s more. As I share those prayer requests, my friend also encourages me with the truth and hope of the gospel.
As she does so, I am reminded that I’m not alone.
We Never Suffer Alone
As believers, when we face trials, heartaches, temptations, or other challenges in our life of faith, we often live as though we have to bear those burdens on our own. Yet God did not create us to live in isolation; He made us to live in community with others. The church is our God-created community, made up of brothers and sisters adopted into the family of God through the saving grace of Christ. Every redeemed saint—past, present, and those yet to be born—are our siblings in Christ. We are united to Christ by faith and also united to one another.
In John 17, Jesus describes this union in His prayer for the church when He prays “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (vv. 21–23). Christ is one with the other members of the Trinity, we are one with Christ, and we are one with other believers.
The Apostle Paul often describes the church’s union with Christ and one another like the union of a human body with Christ as the head and us as the parts. We all work together to make the body—the church—grow (Eph. 4:15–16). And just like a human body, when one of our members is hurt, we all feel it. “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Because we are united to one another, their pain and sorrow becomes our pain and sorrow. We weep with each other in our losses, griefs, and suffering (Rom. 12:15). We walk with one another in our battles against sin and temptation. We bear each other’s burdens.
This means we never suffer alone.
Walking Together in Suffering
There are many ways we share one another’s trials and sufferings. Here are three practical ways:
Preach the Gospel to One Another
Many believers have heard the phrase “preach the gospel to yourself.” It’s an important practice we all need to do, for the gospel isn’t something we hear and respond to only at the moment of our salvation; rather, it’s the truth that we need to turn to over and over throughout our lives. We need to remind ourselves of who Christ is and what He has done. We need to look to the cross each time we sin and remember anew what Christ has done to redeem us, appropriating that work in repentance and reliance upon Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death in our place. We need to remember the gospel in our sufferings as well, reminding ourselves of Christ, the Suffering Servant, who is familiar with grief and sorrow. He is our hope and peace in the midst of sorrows.
But the truth is, when we are in the midst of a trial, we are often weakened by that trial so much that preaching the gospel to ourselves seems impossible. That’s when we need fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to preach the gospel to us. We need them to remind us of the Man of Sorrows who came in answer to the deepest cries of our heart. We need them to remind us that He knows the pains and heartaches of life on this earth and that He entered it, taking on human flesh so that He could conquer sin, death, and evil for us. We need them to remind us who we are in Christ. We need them to remind us that Christ is our hope and the only source of life. As Kelly Kapic wrote, “The flame of individual faith weakens when it is alone, but in true community the fire of faith illumines the night.”1
Pray for One Another
Praying for one another is one of the ways we practically live out our union with one another. When we pray, we beseech our mutual Father to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. The Reformer Martin Luther suffered from chronic physical ailments as well as emotional torment and despair. He relied upon other believers to encourage him and to pray for him. In 1527, Luther wrote a letter to his dear friend Philip Melanchthon after he suffered from a severe illness: “I was for more than a whole week in death and hell, so that I was sick all over, and my limbs still tremble. I almost lost Christ in the waves and blasts of despair and blasphemy against God, but God was moved by the prayers of saints and began to take pity on me and rescued my soul from the lowest hell. Do not cease to pray for me as I for you.”2
In our sufferings, we are often engaged in battle against Satan and his minions. Luther recognized this and depended upon the prayers of fellow believers to help him in that battle. In a letter to Johannes Agricola, he wrote: “Please do not stop comforting me and praying for me, because I am poor and needy. . . . But Satan himself rages with his whole might within me, and the Lord has put me in his power like another Job. The devil tempts me with great infirmity of spirit, but through the prayers of the saints I am not left altogether in his hands, although the wounds he gives my heart will be hard to heal.”3
Serve One Another
A third way we walk with one another in our suffering is by serving one another. When we face a trial or experience a season of suffering, the practical details of life are difficult to manage. Doing simple things such as going to the grocery store or returning phone calls can be overwhelming. We can serve our brothers and sisters by taking over those practical tasks of life. It might be making them a meal, watching their children, driving them to and from the doctor, mowing their lawn, or keeping their refrigerator stocked with food. Serving and helping one another in the body of Christ is part of what it means to be united to one another. And Scripture teaches us that when we serve one another, we serve our Savior.
We never face suffering alone. Share your burdens with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Rely on their prayers, receive their acts of service, and rejoice when they preach the gospel to you. For in Christ you are united to them as one.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on September 19, 2018.
- Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2017), 127. ↩︎
- Martin Luther, letter 768 in Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, vol. 2, 1521–1530, trans. and ed. Preserved Smith and Charles M. Jacobs (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1918), 409, accessed at https://archive.org/details/lutherscorrespo02luthgoog. ↩︎
- Letter 771 in Luther’s Correspondence, 2:412. ↩︎