Every now and then, we find ourselves consumed with the pain and suffering of a friend or family member. Diagnosis and divorce. Infidelity and infertility. Addiction and abuse. Job loss and love lost. Some of life’s unexpected events make impact with such force that the aftershocks are felt by friends and family far and wide. When these not-so-natural disasters strike, our compassionate (and protective) instincts kick in and we want to help our loved one survive the storm! We’ll do anything to show support and ease the pain. We visit, cook meals, run errands, and even pay bills. We listen and offer encouragement, advice, and prayer.
Yet other times, our helping hand isn’t accepted or even acknowledged. What if our care, comfort, cookies, and cards aren’t welcome? What if estrangement, physical distance, or shame is blocking our rescue efforts? How can we help if all lines of communication are down? We become consumed with the need to control the situation and contribute to the solution, only to be met by devastation and defeat.
When we fear for those we love, it’s only natural to want to do everything we can to help prevent further pain and suffering. But when we try to control things ourselves, we forget who’s in control of it all. Let us get out of our own way, give up trying to manage the situation and instead give it to the Great Manager by interceding in prayer on behalf of the hurting.
Intercessory prayer is simply that: praying as a mediator on behalf of another. All Christians filled with the Holy Spirit are called to pray for others just as he intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27). We’re not only encouraged to pray for our friends (Job 42:8), but also our enemies (Jeremiah 29:7), and even those who persecute and forsake us (Matthew 5:44, 2 Timothy 4:16). The physical act of using our own personal time to call out to God for another is a selfless act of faith.
Psalm 139 is one of the most infamous Scriptures in the Bible because of its powerful description of our relation to God. King David is overwhelmed with the realization that God knows him perfectly, goes before him to prepare, and pursues him to protect. But these 24 verses aren’t about David. They’re about God. They describe who he is to David, to me, to you, and to our hurting loved ones. During this three-day devotional, we’ll use Psalm 139 as a guide to intercede for the suffering.
Day 1: Comfort
Read Psalm 139:1-6, Deuteronomy 31:6, Philippians 4:13
Chances are that the trial your close one is facing is wreaking havoc in multiple parts of their life. Daily routines, relationships, and finances can be affected overnight. They’re likely feeling ill-equipped and overwhelmed, stressed with everyday decisions and/or afraid for the future. This can be terribly lonely. But we’re never alone. God promises he isn’t leaving you or me or them. He knows when we sit and when we sleep. He knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we speak them! Even when we can’t feel his presence, he’s there, surrounding us on all sides, laying a hand upon us that we don’t always feel. He’s our strength when we feel weak.
David had many hardships in his life. He single-handedly battled a great giant (1 Samuel 17:48-49), was forced to flee from King Saul who put a bounty on his head (1 Samuel 21:10) and grieved the loss of multiple children (2 Samuel 12:14-18, 2 Samuel 13:30). It’s fair to say that he had some sleepless nights of suffering. But he also knew God’s comfort surrounded him (…hem me in…) and God’s strength was shared with him (…lay your hand…). Regardless of the circumstances burdening our loved ones, they too can experience God’s power and peace as they engage and endure the problem they’re facing because he knows them.
- How is your friend or family member suffering that you’re aware of? Could their choices or circumstances out of their control be compromising parts of their life you haven’t even considered? List all the areas of their life that might be impacted by their current situation. Be specific.
- Pray they’ll come to feel God’s comfort as they experience distress from navigating all the troubled waters you listed above. Pray they’ll feel or learn, if they don’t already know, his presence and power with them wherever they go, and in whatever they’re doing. Maybe you’ll be called to introduce or remind them of these truths, but if not, pray for a spiritual experience in their life that will allow for the knowledge of our ever-present, all-powerful God to feel just as wonderful to them as it did to David.
Day 2: Clarity
Read Psalm 139:7-12, Jeremiah 29:11, John 14:12-14
When disruption spills all over our perfectly laid plans, confusion will blur and distort those same plans beyond recognition. Why is this happening? What could I have done to prevent it? What do I do now? Who do I tell? How do I fix it? Why me? What if…? In response to this sudden chaos, we naturally default to one of our greatest protective instincts: fight or flight. Should I engage all my people (and Google) to get some help and advice? Fight. Or should I go to bed, burrow under the covers and pray I have answers when I wake? Flight.
David knew the complexities of both fighting and fleeing. In addition to defeating Goliath in one of the most famous fights in world history, David took matters into his own hands when his mistress Bathsheba became pregnant. Rather than running from this unplanned problem, he plotted to have her husband killed (2 Samuel 11). Talk about excessive! But when David’s popularity in combat as a great warrior gained admiration from the people and King Saul felt threatened (1 Samuel 18), David went from being Saul’s highest-ranking officer and greatest asset, to Israel’s Most Wanted. Desperate to get away from Saul, David pretended to be insane and fled to a cave in enemy territory. (1 Samuel 21-22). Whether he fled and hid (…flee from your presence…) or rose and fought (…rise on the wings of the dawn…) God was with him. God pursued him and responded to David’s calls for help (Psalm 57). When David floundered in the dark, unsure of where to go or what to do next, God was there to guide him towards the light, the right way, the right answers. God hears our prayers and will direct us in the way we should go, along the path towards the plans he has for us. God is in control!
- What decisions is your loved one having to make that might be confusing? What questions are they tasked with answering that could be overwhelming? Write down similar examples of situations that left you feeling the need to fight or flee in response to a complicated situation.
- Pray that your friend or family member will receive the right advice, necessary guidance, and confirmation of choices that will give him or her peace that God is in control. Pray he or she will gain clarity as God shines his light upon their darkness.
Day 3: Confidence
Read Psalm 139:13-18, 1 Samuel 16:7, Psalm 34:18
Self-confidence is often the first casualty in a conflict or crisis. How did I get here? Why is this happening? What could I have done differently? Unfortunately, we often default to blaming ourselves…too much. Sure, we need to take responsibility for our own actions but spending too much time on how we caused it can lead us to believing we can control it. I think of it as the “If I” infection. If I just try harder, if I just do more, if I just change this, or if I just do that, everything will turn out okay. But thinking (and behaving) this way comes at a cost. We can’t always direct the outcome and when our best efforts are futile, we feel like a failure. This can deepen the despair in which we’re already drowning.
God’s favor on David’s life was not based on David’s actions. If it was, God’s favor would have been lost once David sinned with Bathsheba, counted the fighting men (2 Samuel 24) or once he committed any one of the many other things with which God was not pleased (Psalm 32). Regardless of what we’re doing or what’s been done to us, God loves us because he created us on purpose with a purpose, (...fearfully and wonderfully made…). We were each created with great thought and care, (knit together…). Whether we’ve been participants in our own pain or innocent victims, God knows and understands because he’s been with us since the beginning, a witness of our most vulnerable state (My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in that secret place…). He created those parts of us (your eyes saw my unformed body…). We don’t need to do more or try harder to prove ourselves in his eyes. We are intimately known and loved by God; we’re his greatest creation!
- How is your friend doing? Feeling? Are they unfairly blaming themselves? Are they already defeated by their lack of control? Jot down your thoughts. Don’t judge or place blame. Instead, put yourself in their shoes and consider how they might be blaming themselves.
- Pray that they will feel the Holy Spirit’s reassurance. Pray they will remember who they are and whose they are so that they will be filled with holy confidence to make important decisions and to cope with their challenges in a healthy way.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter