We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, NLT)
In the previous paragraph, Paul affirmed that God’s comfort is available to us in our times of trouble through Jesus Christ. The comfort of Jesus enables us to stand beneath the load of our trials and becomes transitive to those around us. We “stand” upon Christ and lean upon one another.
Though he doesn’t enumerate his troubles, he does describe of the weight of them. The word translated “troubles” in English is the Greek word thilipsis, which is not the word used in reference to a physical illness. It’s generally used to describe the anguish of spirit that is present from persecution and relational duress. The relational struggles Paul faced were crushing and overwhelming, like a beast of burden that buckles under the weight of its load. This persecution was both mentally exhausting and physically demanding, as his enemies were willing to go to any length to silence his work.
God allowed Paul to go through these troubles so that Paul would recognize his own helplessness and learn to place his full trust in the God who raises the dead. God’s greatest work is revealed when we come to the end of ourselves, acknowledging that our challenges are far greater than we can bear alone. The greatest power that Paul can fathom is God’s power to raise the dead. If God can raise the dead, he can and will continue to perform rescue mission after rescue mission.
Paul concludes this thought with an appeal for ongoing prayer. He affirms that the prayers of the believers are helpful to him, and in turn, helpful to these intercessors as they see their prayers answered. He doesn’t give us the nature of the content of those prayers, but you can imagine that his description of his struggles gives them clues as to how to continue to pray.
There’s nothing wrong with praying for deliverance and relief. To be honest, that’s usually my starting point when I pray for someone. But when it becomes evident that instant relief will not come, we need to listen for insights for how to continue to pray. If you review the text, what clues do you see Paul offer his intercessors? At minimum, he passively suggests that he needs continued strength to endure, the humility to trust in God, and the boldness to continue his work despite opposition. Sometimes prayer is most effective when we are disciplined to listen. The true prayer warriors are those who are able to translate the words of the suffering into well informed prayers to the throne.