Loving Despite Limitations

The World War II-era protagonist of one of my favorite inspirational novels, With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin had an interesting practice when she was a child. As a botanist's daughter growing up with few friends in the jungles of the Philippines, Mellie Blake kept a scrapbook of "friends" made from pictures of real people cut out of newspapers and magazines. For the friends who seemed to need it, such as children who had endured tragedy, she offered up prayers.

Mellie's childhood prayer habit resonates with me. I didn't grow up in the jungle, but I was the only child in a family that moved frequently all through my formative years. While I enjoyed the migratory lifestyle, I also experienced a loneliness that wasn't relieved until my faith journey began in earnest when I was a teenager. As the first thrill of recognition of God's love swept over me, so did a fervent desire to serve Him and share that love in some way. But so many traditional methods of doing this seemed closed to me because of my youth, shyness, and the fact that we never seemed to stay in one place for very long. But one thing I could do, I realized, was pray for others. When I heard about acquaintances or strangers struggling with grief or illness, I would set aside time to pray for them.

Notwithstanding my modest prayer ministry, I still spent a lot of time pining for for my future adult life, when I would finally be able to do all the things for God that I wanted. Much like Mellie Blake; however, I realized when I became an adult, that real world circumstances and relationships are complicated. All these years later, I find that my time is pulled in countless directions. I pull back with all my might just to offer up moments of prayer and seasons of service that are much different than the lofty acts my younger self envisioned.

Yes, there have been times in my adult life when I've been able to minister to others and share God's love in new and exciting ways, but there have also been times when I could do little more than pray for those that needed it. During those latter times, my efforts felt much like they did when I was young: small and inadequate.

I imagine everyone on the faith journey has feelings like that, when all that can be done for God is to offer praise, and all that can be done for others is to offer prayer. It doesn't seem like much, but as someone who has been at the center of loving prayers, I know it is far from insignificant.

I doubt the apostle Paul would have considered it insignificant either.

It's traditionally held that, when he penned several of the letters we now hold as sacred text, such as the ones to the churches in Ephesus and Philippi, Paul was in prison. Although he encouraged and taught believers with his writing, he also spent a great deal of his confinement in prayer. "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him," he says to the Ephesians (v. 1:17) and "I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you," he tells the Philippians (vv 1:3 and 4). We can't possibly fathom how much Paul must have supported the community of Christ by wrestling, rejoicing, and pleading in prayer.

Paul seems like a formidable role model of how to serve God and others. He was, after all, an apostle.  The writings attributed to him form the doctrinal fabric of the Christian faith. But in the epistles, we also see a man who was confined, limited, and often stymied in his plans to spread the Gospel. In prison, he was separated from the spiritual brothers and sisters he loved. But that didn't stop him from serving them and connecting with them in his prayers.

It strikes me as a sobering reality that I may never serve or give or love as much as I should. I will make many efforts. I will take time out for God and for others. With the Spirit's help, I will strive to imbue the words and actions that comprise my daily life with Godly love and a servant's heart. But I will often be hindered by circumstances, limitations, and my own failure to act with my whole heart. Part of this is the reality of being an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. Another part is the reality that I can never convey enough love to express the gratitude that Grace merits. But that shouldn't prevent me from persevering in love.

There are aching, striving souls all around us and we are equipped to love them with a power so great, that it strengthens us from the inside out, working within us to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:16 and 20). With such power, no gesture is too small: especially prayer.


Sundin, Sarah. With Every Letter. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2012. E-book.

All Bible verses quoted or paraphrased from the New Revised Standard Version.


  1. Chloe, I love this! God can use us no matter what circumstances we're in, and I love how you recognized that and chose to serve in prayer! We'll never know how many lives you blessed - but God does :)

    1. Thank you for reading! Yes, it is both reassuring and humbling to think that God chooses to accomplish His will through us, even when we worry that we're doing very little.


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