Have you ever had an experience where someone you care about is going through something really hard and you aren’t sure how to help?  Few things are more frustrating than feeling helpless as you watch someone hurt.  Sometimes there are clear, helpful steps that can be taken to ease someone’s burden.  But many times, there are simply no easy answers to the pain people suffer. 

Well meaning individuals can try to say the perfect thing, or share the right Bible verse, that will bring hope and encouragement.  However, in my three decades of battling Crohn’s disease, I can tell you that words are not what have been most meaningful to me.  Don’t get me wrong, a timely passage of Scripture can be a healing balm to a hurting soul.  Yet, the people that have been the most meaningful are those who are willing to practice the grace found in the power of prayer and presence. 

The longer I am a Christian, the more convinced I become that prayer is one of the most neglected gifts that we’ve been given by God.  It is so easy to tell someone “I’ll pray for you”, but never actually do it.  We either forget, or, let’s be honest, we don’t think prayer will make that much of a difference.  Often prayer can feel like a last resort, a final last ditch effort.  But if there is an all powerful, all loving, all knowing God who wants to work through our prayers for the good of His people, then prayer should not be our last resort, but our first priority.  James gives us this promise, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (Jam 5:16 ESV).  God, in His divine wisdom and love, wants to use our prayers to bring His power to bear in someone’s life.  His power is greater than anything we could ever “practically” accomplish in someone’s life.  His power is what brings healing, provides comfort, instills hope, redeems the tragic, provokes repentance, and makes the impossible possible.  Therefore, as the great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “No man can do me a truer kindness in this world than to pray for me.”

In the busyness of life, it can be hard to consistently pray for others.  That’s why something I’ve found  important is to create systems to build prayer into the regular pattern of my family’s daily life.  We have a jar in the middle of our dinner table and every week we write out prayer requests that we have for other people and we put them in the jar.  Then, throughout the week, before we eat dinner we take these requests out of our “prayer jar” and pray through them.  Some prayer requests get answered quickly, others have still been in the jar since we started this several years ago.  But it has been a blessing to be able to always have this avenue to care for others and to have something we can do for those we love.

The best way to know how to pray for someone is to spend time with them.  To listen to them.  To let them talk.  To hear how they are doing. To be willing to sit in silence with them and not say anything.  Job’s friends did a great job encouraging him until they started to open their mouths. Through the pain of dozens of surgeries for my Crohn’s disease, the two miscarriages that my wife and I suffered, and the toils and trials of church planting, I don’t remember many things that people have said to try to encourage me.  Again, that doesn’t mean that words of encouragement aren’t important.  But what I remember the most are the people who have been there for me.  It is a powerful thing to have someone present with you as you suffer.  I’m always struck by the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died.  Jesus knows that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  He knows that everything was going to work out in a greater way than Mary could imagine.  But the first thing He does when He sees Mary is listen to her share her pain.  And then, He cries with her.  Jesus knew what He was going to do, but He also knew what Mary needed in that moment.  She didn’t need an answer about how everything was going to be ok.  She needed someone to be present with her in her pain. 

As much as you might feel that there are some situations where there is nothing you can do, those feelings aren’t true.  The practice of prayer and presence give us consistent means of grace to care for others.  So don’t give up and put distance between yourself and others, because you feel helpless to ease their hurt.  You might not be able to do anything to change what they are going through, but you can be faithful to go through it with them in prayer and with your presence.  

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Pro 17:17 ESV)