Last night in our Tuesday Night Discipleship Study we continued through Richard Foster’s book, Prayer, and came to the topic of “The Prayer of Suffering.” I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started the chapter, but it wasn’t long before I found what Foster had to say to be compelling and entirely in accord with Scripture and life with Christ.
The “Prayer of Suffering” is not a prayer to have more suffering in life (Christians are not masochists) and it is not even the prayer to eliminate suffering from our lives. It is a prayer – or even more appropriately, a way of living life with others under Christ – of redemptive suffering. Foster says, “Here we give to God the various difficulties and trials that we face, asking him to use them redemptively. We also voluntarily take into ourselves the griefs and sorrows of others in order to set them free.” (pg. 217)
Our ultimate example of redemptive suffering is Christ on the cross. There, he took the pinnacle of unjust punishment, bore our sins, and died in our place. Through the suffering of the cross, Christ redeemed not just our eternal souls, but all the pain and suffering we endure in this life. I think it can be said that without the cross and the empty tomb, suffering is nothing but the nihilistic struggle it feels like, but with Christ it can be a vehicle for our redemption.
And it isn’t just Christ. The apostle Paul wrote that he endured all kinds of things in order to proclaim the Gospel, and that he rejoiced in that the Gospel was proclaimed in spite of his own pain (Col. 1:24-29; Phil 3:8-11). Then he encouraged us to do the same as we go through life with those we love (Galatians 6:2, Romans 12:15).
There is so much more to be said, but I encourage you if you are a disciple of Christ to learn what it means to live through your suffering and the suffering of those you love in a redemptive way. We keep our eyes and lives on Christ the author and perfector of our faith who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross and despised its shame (Heb 12:1-2).