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Standing in the breach

"Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." Colossians 1.24

How to make sense of Paul's astonishing claim that his own sufferings were completing the sufferings of Jesus? I would suggest by understanding "completing" in the sense of "complementing" or "faithfully replicating" and not in the sense that Jesus' own suffering fell short of what was required of him, in his mission to redeem creation and all its inhabitants. In so doing, Jesus paved the way for his followers to "complete" the task until the time is ripe for his return, just as we are called to build up the body of Christ, bringing it - and ourselves - to maturity.

We go about this most challenging of all responses to Jesus through voluntarily entering the suffering of others and offering that suffering to God in our prayers. Remember how Moses stood in the breach and interceded before God on behalf of Israel (Exodus 32. 9-13), how Daniel did the same during exile in Babylon (Daniel 9. 1-19) and Stephen at his stoning (Acts 7.59-60)? What is particularly challenging about this type of praying is that we are taking on the sins of others, in which we may not have colluded - but only in lesser imitation of how Jesus took the sins of the whole world on his shoulders, though he was without sin!

So there is no room for pride here. Instead suffering prayer comes to us as an awesome - if daunting - privilege, offering those with the stomach for it the means of standing with the Saviour and with those for whom he suffered, so that we can share something of the compassion God feels towards all who are struggling, whether through their own fault or the fault of others...



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