Spurred on by the biblical exhortation to ‘remember . . . those being mistreated’ (Hebrews 13:3, all references New Living Translation, unless otherwise indicated), I have over the years been guided by the excellent prayer diaries published by Barnabas Fund and Open Doors with up-to-date details concerning persecuted Christians worldwide. I consider it a daily privilege and not a mere duty, but there is always a danger that the practice becomes just that. In recent weeks I have often heard myself asking the Lord for compassion. That word com-passion literally means ‘suffering with (others)’. After all, the text referred to above bids us: ‘Remember those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.’ And the apostle Paul urged the Christians of Galatia to ‘share each other’s burdens‘ (Galatians 6:2).
The Spirit’s emotional sighs
I find it reassuring that Paul elsewhere actually included himself when admitting that ‘we don’t know what God wants us to pray for’ (Romans 8:26). Switching for a moment to The Passion Translation, our confidence is inspired by his full statement: ‘ . . . the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. For example, at times we don’t even know how to pray or know the best things to ask for. But the Holy Spirit rises up within us to super- intercede [Greek, hypererentungkhao] on our behalf, pleading to God with emotional sighs [in fact, ‘groanings’] too deep for words. God, the searcher of the heart, knows fully our longings, yet he also understands the desires of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit passionately pleads before God for us’ [and through us, of course], ‘us, his holy ones, in perfect harmony with God’s plan and our destiny’ (Romans 8:26-27).
When our granddaughter was on holiday with a couple of her friends in Krakow, Poland, she sent to us a series of photos she had taken of the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz. As I looked at them I felt the same gut-wrenching reaction that I had experienced when I visited there myself many years before. On that occasion, as I exited the site I bawled my heart out in a spate of audible sobs. Now, once again, I was experiencing those deep travail pangs concerning ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.
Jesus prayed with passion
Now, ‘those who are controlled [like this] by the Holy Spirit . . . Christ lives within’ them (see Romans 8:9-12 NLT). And how did he pray? ‘During Christ’s days on earth he pleaded with God, praying with passion and with tearful agony that God would spare him from death’ [that is from premature death in Gethsemane . . . John 18:11)]. ‘And because of his perfect devotion his prayer was answered and he was delivered’ and so remained alive to bear our sins on the cross and die an atoning death for us (Hebrews 5:7 TPT).
“Jesus, Our Compassionate King-Priest”
The paragraph Hebrews 4:14-16 TPT carries this heading that celebrates how the ascended Jesus is able to facilitate us in praying with compassion:
‘So then, we must cling in faith to all we know to be true. For we have a magnificent King-Priest, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose into the heavenly realm for us, and now sympathizes with us in our frailty. He understands humanity, for as a Man, our magnificent King-Priest was tempted in every way just as we are, and conquered sin. So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned, to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen [‘help’ King James Version] us in our time of weakness.’
A footnote to that final verse tells us: “The Greek word boetheia means ‘urgent help’, and is used as ‘reinforcing’ (a ship in a storm). See Acts 27:17.” Go figure!
P.S. Other forms of prayer
(i) The category of prayer we have been considering is intercession on behalf of others in need.
(ii) Praise can be expressed with ebullient emotion (as in Psalm 103:1-3 TPT).
(iii) Adoration, however, is best manifested in the awesome silence of wonder before the majesty of the Almighty. David, in composing one psalm, began: ‘I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him’, ending that opening stanza with an ‘Interlude’, He begins the second stanza: Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him’, and concludes it with another ‘Interlude’ or ‘Selah’ (KJV) – (Psalm 62:1-8).
(iv) What a contrast all of that is to his tearful confessions in some other of his psalms (e.g. Psalms 32 and 51) which he uttered after his impulsive act of indulgent adultery with another man’s wife.