Effective prayer and compassionate care for others emerges from our own intimate acquaintance with suffering. Only as we face adversity and learn to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” will we learn to pray with understanding and care with sympathy.
When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he does not praise God “who enables us to escape from every affliction.” Instead, he assures a broken church: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
I am reminded of that most caring of pastors, John Newton, who wrote an ailing minister:
The doctrinal parts of our message are in some degree familiar to us, but that which gives a savour, fulness, energy, and variety to our ministrations is the result of many painful conflicts and exercises which we pass through in our private walk, combined with the proofs we receive, as we go along, of the Lord’s compassion and mercies under all the perverseness and folly we are conscious of in ourselves. It is only in this school of experience that we can acquire the tongue of the learned, and know how to speak a word in season to those that are weary.*
Living by faith in the school of experience prepares us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
* John Newton to W.B. Cadogan
October 22, 1782
Letters of John Newton (Banner of Truth: 2007, first published 1869), 416