The Substitute.

I have a friend who is in the middle of a long, long, intense struggle. One that not many of us are strong enough to endure for a season, much less for years. My friend sees herself as weak, but I’ve watched her in this struggle, and I greatly admire her strength and courage in the face of difficulty.

But like all of us, she is human, and has days where her struggle seems overwhelming.

During one of her moments of weakness, another friend called her and gave her a simple yet profound offer…

She offered to hope for her for a while.  She offered to pray with faith and expectation about this struggle for my friend, as if the trial had just begun.

What an incredible offer.  It has impacted me for weeks as I’ve processed it.  What a gift.

Growing up, I was a soccer player (actually a pretty good one). And there were days, when I was playing someone extraordinarily fast, when I’d motion to my coach that I needed a sub. I loved the game, so I usually only came out when I was about to fall over, but when I was at the end of myself I would sub-out. And as I exited, someone, clothed in a fresh white uniform, well hydrated, with the energy that I had depleted 45 minutes ago, would pass by me, give me a high-five, take my position, and kick butt.

This is what this girl offered my friend.  A substitution.

If you’ve never faced a trial for a long time there is a truth you need to know:  Hope is hard to maintain.  At first, you have this shiny, beautiful hope. You hope for resolution, you hope for restoration, you hope for God to do the extraordinary before your eyes. You’re begging for miracles and you are ready because you know miracles are coming. So you wait and watch to see what God does, all the while praying about this situation that is truly difficult. And nothing happens. So you wait, and you pray, and you hope despite all evidence to the contrary. Over time, that hope can get tattered. Your eyes can get tired of watching (especially when the tears are pressing against them). Your heart can get weary of wanting something so bad you ache. It feels, on your weak days, like hope has betrayed you – like you are the most gullible chump on the planet for actually believing that good is still coming. Praying is hard in that place. You can manage “Jesus, please” a thousand times a day, but you don’t pray like you did at the beginning when you were confident that this was all going to turn out good. You are tired. Tired of feeling weak. Tired of disappointment. Tired of hope.

Now the super holy people will want to jump in here and say “Well, your hope clearly is in a thing and not in the Lord.” And they’d be cold and kinda self-righteous :), but partially right. On my bad days I’ll admit that some of my hope is misplaced, and I’m sure my friend would do the same. But Proverbs 13 says that “Hope deferred makes a heart sick, but a promise fulfilled is a tree of life.” We are made to hope. It is why we pray. It is why we strive. We are often called to so much more than our current situation holds and I think the Lord sometimes puts us in places where we need to rely on Him to rescue us.

So back to my friend. She has hoped and prayed for many years. And into this hurt and exhaustion comes this woman and she offers to, with faith that God can do what He’s said He will do, pray expectantly. She offers to sub-in for a while with fresh hope, fresh perspective, and fresh energy.

My friend was blessed. Heck – she was blown away.

It has really opened my eyes and showed me how much I can do this for people around me.

I want to be the substitute on the “playing field” of someone else’s struggle. I can believe for my friends. I can pray for their situations with hope and faith. I can come beside them when they feel like giving up and I can tell them that I still believe.

I can sub-in.

It has even stretched into my thoughts about finances. How can we sub-in for people in need? One of my Compassion kids suffers from a severe learning disability, and I recently found out that she cannot continue in school because she can’t keep up and her family can’t afford the special school she needs. She wrote me a letter apologizing for her failure (sweet girl – it broke my heart that she worried I’d be upset with her). What she didn’t know was that her letter wouldn’t find me disappointed in her or giving up on her – it would find me believing in her when she has given up on herself. I can sub-in on believing she is valuable. She lives in a slum in India, so money goes a long way there (much further than here in the States). So Justin and I, although we don’t have a ton, may have enough to sub-in for this family and help. So we prayerfully gave a gift and we are asking the Lord to multiply it and use it to substitute for her family to provide schooling for sweet Yohani. They have educated her for 13 years and taken care of her – with God’s grace we can step in for a bit and help take some pressure off. I can’t wait to see what the Lord does.

I love this idea. It excites me. It feels like the church being the family we were intended to be.  So if you are tired of waiting, tired of hoping, tired of praying – I want you to know that I am available as a substitute. It is so appropriate as we head into Easter this weekend.

Because that’s pretty much what this season is about – substitution. He took our pain, took our sin, took our death, and gave us His life. What a substitution. And because of that – we can love each other, hope for each other, pray for each other, and give to each other.