How Prayer Acquaints Us with Suffering and Teaches Us Faith
I’ve been a member of the Prayer Team at my local church for some time now, and I’ve come to learn two things about the Christian life because of it:
1. Nowhere do you become more acquainted with the suffering of your faith community than when you commit to pray as part of your church’s Prayer Team.
2. In practicing prayer with a Prayer Team, you get to learn, in greater nuance, the Christian understanding of faith.
Let me explain.
Churchgoers go to a Prayer Team with any number of prayer requests – oftentimes pertaining to very difficult situations, and in my church’s case, identified only by their first name. These prayer requests include but are not limited to sickness, divorce, financial struggles, mental illness, spiritual issues, and even the death of a loved one. And these tough prayer requests come to us, as Prayer Team members, week in and week out. You can see how quickly one would become acquainted with the suffering of his or her faith community by being included on these regular communications. Furthermore, you become even more acquainted with that suffering as you daily pray for those requests. It is as if, daily, in prayer, you reopen the wound of a fellow church member’s suffering as you intercede on his or her behalf.
All said: committing to a Prayer Team makes you well-acquainted with the suffering of those you share the church rows (or pews or YouTube channel) with. And that can be difficult, for sure, as your heart breaks over the pain others are going through. It’s also a not-so-gentle reminder that life is hard. For all of us. Or as Katherine and Jay Wolf might say: being part of a Prayer Team disrupts the myth that church life is a pain-free life. Or, even more, on a theological level, maybe this is part of what it means to be a co-sufferer with Christ.
But then there’s the faith part of being on a Prayer Team. And I don’t mean the wonder and joy that comes when a prayer is answered: a healing occurs or a financial provision appears or a Service member comes home safely from overseas or a prodigal family member comes home to God. Moments when God answers prayers the way we hoped for are wonderful, but Prayer Team members are still left with ongoing prayer requests about difficult situations that don’t have resolutions.
Instead, by practicing prayer as part of a Prayer Team, you get to learn a more nuanced take on the Christian understanding of faith:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)
To daily enter into the prayer requests of my faith community teaches me that faith is the “assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is “what is unseen,” and, more, it’s in the unseen that we find the “eternal.” Faith resides in the immaterial, the spiritual, the eternal, in the infinity that resides within a human soul, in the deepest parts of what it means to be human. Faith is found collectively in the metaphysical beauty of a faith community as it leans into the love of God. Faith is not something you can quantify on a spreadsheet or store in a bank account; yet, it is cosmically powerful.
So when we go to prayer, we enter into that God-created space where, in His Presence, we can practice what we “do not see.” We can lean into the “eternal.” We can choose to hand over our own mortal, finite abilities, and, instead, have faith that the immortal, infinite Creator of the Universe will answer our prayers for our community’s good. The Apostle Paul says as much in his often-quoted letter to the Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28 NIV). And while we lean into the practice of prayer on our own and as a Prayer Team, the local Church can also bring us together regularly for communal worship and the study of Scripture – while also meeting material needs as they arise. From a theological end, this could be part of what it means to be co-heirs with Christ, right?
In total, being a part of a Prayer Team both acquaints me with suffering and teaches me faith. As I daily pray over what are, oftentimes, the tough realities of my fellow members of my local church, I daily open the wounds of those I share community with. And that practice is hard, no doubt. But in so doing, I also lean into the healing salve of faith: faith in a God who is present in the unseen, the eternal, and the infinite, and who is working in the very depths of our souls for our good. And, maybe, in this, we get to be co-sufferers and co-heirs with Christ, and be a Church that comes together to meet the needs of our community.