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“Life is difficult.”
That is the first sentence of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, and it is one of the truest sentences I have ever read in any book. We cannot escape life’s difficulties; we can only struggle with them. And as Christians, we struggle first and foremost by praying.
The Apostle Paul knew how difficult life could be from personal experience. In 2 Corinthians 11.23-28, he enumerates some of the hardships he endured in his missionary journeys:
- Frequent imprisonment
- At least five floggings with a whip
- At least three beatings with rods
- One stoning
- Several shipwrecks
- Natural dangers
- Dangerous humans
- Hard work without sleep
- Physical deprivation
- And to top it all off, “the pressure of my concern for all the churches”
If I were Paul, I would’ve been tempted to cut and run from Christian service after my first imprisonment. Perhaps Paul himself was. But he resisted that temptation and struggled on. He endured hardship to ambitiously pursue Christ’s purpose for him. And it’s a good thing he did. Because of Paul’s difficult evangelistic labors, you and I Gentiles are Christians today.
If I were Paul, I’d also be tempted to judge others’ Christian faith by whether they were suffering as badly as me. Misery loves company, after all. If I have to suffer for my faith, you should too. And if you’re not suffering, there’s probably something deficient about your faith. It’s a good thing Paul didn’t fall prey to this spiritually immature attitude. He recognized that Christ had called him to a unique form of Christian service, with both unique rewards and dangers for his service.
To use a military analogy, Paul considered himself a front-line soldier. Not every soldier can or should serve on the front line. The church needs a supply train, after all, as well as medics and logistics experts and battle strategists. For Paul, what is important is not where you serve in God’s army, but that you serve. Not every Christian is called into front-line warfare, but every Christian must contribute to the struggle.
According to Romans 15.30-33, we struggle by praying:
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Specifically, we struggle by praying for four things: rescue, service, God’s will, and peace. We pray that God would rescue us from the forces of evil, both in this life and in the life to come. We pray that God would give us success in our various forms of Christian service. We pray that we would know and do God’s will in every area of our lives. And like all soldiers, we pray for peace, both between God and us and between you and me.
Life is difficult. Are you struggling against it with prayer?