Column: You can relate

DORA, Ala. --After reading Bruce Wilkinson’s book, "The Prayer of Jabez," several years ago, I began praying for “Jabez encounters,” or divine appointments to minister in the precious name of Jesus.

During a trip to Scotland to cover the Gospel Music Convention in Fraserburgh, God blessed my prayer in amazing ways. While my photographer husband, Larry, scurried about getting his on-stage shots, I spent my time interviewing the artists off-stage.

One of my first interviews was with a lovely singer about my age. She told me that she had spent much of her life singing in night clubs and bars, using alcohol as a crutch to give her the courage to walk on stage. She then told me how she was wonderfully and beautifully saved from her unhappy lifestyle and given a brand new life filled with the joy of Jesus.

As we talked I strongly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and I knew that this interview was somehow becoming a “Jabez encounter.” Sure enough, within a few more minutes, this dear lady opened up to me and confided that she had had little education and that she was struggling with fear even as the Lord blessed her singing ministry. Finally, she told me that she could barely read and write. She also said she had a burning desire to study God's Word and that her lack of reading skills made this a real struggle.

How like the Lord to put us together! I immediately told her that I knew how difficult it was for her to share her problem with me. Then I told her that one of my close family members had been unable to read and write. I also told her of another friend who'd made it all the way to college, struggling all the while with a reading difficulty. I was able to give her the names of some excellent self-teaching programs that she could work with as she traveled doing her ministry. By the time we'd finished our conversation and prayed together, her face was aglow with a brand new confidence and excitement.

How urgent it is that we encourage others! Second Corinthians 2:15 reminds us: "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing."

During another one of my interviews, I was talking with the wife of one of the quartets' bass singers. As she talked about their life and family, tears began to fill her eyes. She said, "We had two more daughters, but one died shortly after birth; another died at age 15." Here again I knew a "Jabez encounter" was taking place.

As I silently prayed for the Lord to give me words of wisdom and comfort to share with her, I listened as she continued: "The music today really touched me. This is the first time I’ve been able to cry for my children. Ever since I lost them, I’ve been in pain. So has my husband. This is the one area where we can't even pray. We try, but the words won't come. The relief won't come." And she began to sob openly.

I have never lost a child, but I have experienced something that helped me relate to her pain. For a period of three years, our only son chose to be estranged from our family. Larry and I agonized during this time, striving for peace, trying to pray, finding no words to express the depth of our grief and suffering. This is what I could share with this woman.

In my case, God mercifully returned our son to us. This woman would not see her children again until she was reunited with them in heaven. Her pain was beyond anything I could imagine. So what could I do? Listen. Share my own experience. Be genuine. Care. Pray with her.

This is what I did, and it seemed to comfort her to know that in some way I understood what it was like to feel a wall between my prayers and God's throne. I can't say that she was able to fully unburden her pain to the Lord, but I believe that she was at least relieved to know that her inability to express her prayers to the Lord was understandable -- that even God understood.

The verse I shared with her was Romans 8:26: "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words...."

Sometimes a hurt is too deep to express in words. God knows this, and He gives us His Holy Spirit to plead on our behalf, to express what we cannot.

All around us people are hurting. They need to know that we care. They need to know that -– however imperfectly -– we do understand, and more importantly, that they matter to us individually. Above all, we need to assure them that God cares.

Spread His love. Spread His peace. Spread His comfort today.

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Judy Woodward Bates is a freelance writer, author, speaker and creator of Bargainomics, a Bible-based time and money management philosophy, and the author of “The Gospel Truth about Money Management.” Visit her website at www.bargainomics.com.