Recently, a member of PVCC asked if a few of our church’s leaders could meet with her the night before she underwent a medical procedure. More than anything, she wanted prayer; she was a bit nervous leading up to her appointment. So five of us met at the church to pray for her, her family, and her doctors.
In addition to prayer, she asked if we could anoint her with oil. This practice is often forgotten these days; some in our modern age may find it a bit bizarre, and even uncomfortable. However, there is Biblical warrant for it (see James 5:13-15 for more), and we were happy to oblige. So as we started our prayer, we rubbed a small amount of oil on her forehead as a form of “setting apart” this person for God’s care. It was an act of faith; faith that God would see and remember her in her time of worry. It was also a request; a request that God would spare her from unnecessary pain and discomfort, provide the answers she and her doctors needed, and ultimately give her good health. Thankfully, the appointment the next day went smoothly.
Now that you have some context, I can write about the main point of this devotion (which isn’t anointing with oil). The main point comes not from the anointing itself, but from a conversation we had before we started our prayer that evening.
As we were catching up, we mentioned that we don’t get these sorts of requests for prayer all that often. There are far too many times that our church’s leaders hear about someone’s struggles, hardships, and sufferings after it’s over, rather than in the midst of it. We sometimes discover that members of our church have been faced with difficult (even life-changing) decisions only after the conclusion has already been reached. She seemed genuinely surprised that many within our church would rather face these things on their own than seek prayer, counsel, and encouragement from others.
Some might take that as an indictment on our leaders; proof that we haven’t developed the credibility needed to be invited into these situations when members of our church encounter them. There may be something to that; it’s never bad for us to examine ourselves, and work harder to develop deeper, more transparent, and more trusting relationships with those who call PVCC home. However, I’d also suggest – based on previous experience working in other churches – that this seems to be a problem just about everywhere. For some reason, many Christians in many churches opt to endure challenges and navigate tough situations on our own, rather than opening up and asking our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for or help us.
Maybe the intention is noble. “Everyone has enough problems on their own; I don’t want to burden them with mine.” Maybe it’s more about “saving face”; if we open up about our troubles, people will see that our lives aren’t as perfect as we want them to think. Maybe it’s pride; we so highly prize our sense of self-reliance that we simply can’t bear the thought of depending on someone else for prayer or help.
Well, consider this devotion a reminder: when you (inevitably) face difficult challenges, big decisions, or even just general forms of suffering, you don’t have to face it alone. If you do, you’re missing out on one of the core functions of a church: the prayer, wisdom, and support of a community of believers.
Of course, our leaders don’t expect (or, quite frankly, want) you to include us in EVERY situation you face. You don’t need an Elder to help you endure a hangnail. You don’t need a pastor to pray for your decision about which color curtains to buy. But when you’re staring down a serious physical, financial, or spiritual hardship – or when you’re considering a major career change, move, or family decision – we’d like to know!
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. It takes many parts to make a body fully function. Some are big, and some are small; some get lots of attention, and some go unnoticed. But every part has a role to play, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). He adds in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
We can’t suffer with you, rejoice with you, or bear burdens with you if we don’t know what’s going on in your life. So please, talk to your Elders. Talk to your pastors. It’s our job – our calling, honor, joy, and privilege – to pray for you and help you. And just between you and me: there are other tasks of church leadership that are FAR more burdensome than meeting for prayer!
So, in short: don’t go it alone. Talk to us. We want to serve you, and want to pray for you. And the more we know about you, the more of that we can do.