The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians explaining the strain he felt: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 8-11, NIV)
Paul was able to endure severe pressure because of two things. He did not rely on himself, but God. He also relied on the prayers of others. This is a root lesson, a rudimentary principle, about living the Christian life that all of us believers know. Yet we undervalue it in practice too often. We cannot rely on ourselves; only reliance on God is sufficient. Plus, we need the prayerful help of others.
I have nothing within me that can carry me through crisis and temptation and pressure from others and any other stress. Under my own power and with all the intensity I can muster, counting on my internal gifts and abilities, I may survive for a time. I may even look as if I’m successful at bearing up, to an outsider. But inwardly the turmoil takes a terrible toll. Eventually, I submit, surrender, or just sag into disaster. I haven’t the resources to last until the end.
For this reason, God in Christ must become my source of stamina. He has to be my encouragement in distress. He alone has the wisdom, the necessary provisions, and the wherewithal to pick me up when weariness etches itself on my heart. He cares enough to let me bear some of the burden, but little of the genuine weight of it. His hand lifts more of it than I realize. He guides me through the maze and brings me safe to the other side. God has the will and authority, power and interest in me to raise my spirits from the dead if they should succumb. He can keep me going when I haven’t the desire nor the muscle to continue. I must rely on God.
But the prayers of others are a second tool God places at my disposal. I have to seek the petitions of Christian friends to succeed, as I have to offer my prayers for them if they are to prosper in the labor God sets within their hands’ reach. Prayer is a key to Christian service. None of us pulls through a rough patch in our work unless we’re borne up on the folded hands of our companions in grace. Why? Because in the knowledge that others are praying for me, I will find the encouragement to stand back up and carry on. God knows my mind and heart will trust him only so long. For this reason, he gives me others who are more tangible to lift my spirits, to direct my plans, to bear my burdens by their prayers. Prayer is essential to faithfulness because it connects me to other believers, and discipleship is never… never… never a solitary affair. I’m never a successful Christian servant if I serve alone. I need the body of Christ because I’m part of the body of Christ.
As a table is made of a horizontal surface with four legs holding it up, so Christians support one another. Yet the legs and table top have to be attached by screws and glue. Prayer is the glue in the joints!