Bearing Each Other’s Burdens

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“For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you”
–1 Sa 12:22-24.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, says, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for on another, or it collapses… To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”

Have you ever found yourself struggling to pray for someone else because you felt you were the one who needed prayer more?

Several weeks ago I found myself in such a spot. But as I began praying, I realized something about myself. Even though I felt as though I was the one who needed the particular prayer, I was a person who could pray that same prayer for others precisely because I knew what the burden was like. How could I honestly pray  for someone who is struggling with something if I never knew what that same struggle was like? It is not easy going through trials and sufferings and such, but because we experience them ourselves, we can better pray for others who are going through similar circumstances.

Heb 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

I wonder if perhaps intercessory prayer involves, in some way, a sacrifice on the part of the one interceding. Anthony Padovano, in Dawn Without Darkness, says “We have judged the value of prayer by the amount of time given to it rather than by its intensity.”

Praying for others is sometimes—often times—hard work. In fact, prayer in general is sometimes hard work; praying for others, harder work.  And sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier not to pray at all. And if we do pray, we are more inclined to pray for ourselves. After all, the Lord knows we need prayer. Not to diminish the importance of this, but if it becomes our main priority, it becomes selfish—and selfishness is sin. Praying for others, however, can be difficult and taxing. It takes extra energy and extra time. It takes sacrifice. Praying for others, whether fellow believers or lost souls, if we are intentional about it, means taking on their burdens, feeling their pain, entering into their shoes, so to speak. It is not much different, I think, from what Christ did for us: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Ro 8:34)

I still feel that the prayer I was praying for others is a prayer I need just as much. But I have reached a point where I am not just praying it for them. I am praying it for us. I am no longer praying, “Lord, help them.” I am now praying, “Lord, help us.” In interceding through prayer for other people, I am no longer saying, “I will pray God helps you.” Instead, I am saying, “We are in this together, and so I pray God gets us through this trail together.” This means more than just listening to someone else to learn their needs and identify their burdens. Interceding for someone means identifying with their needs, shouldering their burdens, agonizing with them in their struggles and in their troubles, and in that identification, lifting them up to God in prayer. That is what the apostle Paul meant when he said to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2). And in this, Jesus sets for us the perfect example

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them”

– Heb 7:25

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