Sinclair Ferguson offers some wise advice in his comments on Psalm 55 in his book Deserted by God:
“Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.”
(Psalm 55:17 ESV)
“When we are overwhelmed by our circumstances, our whole life tends to become disordered. This is one of the obvious signs that a person can no longer cope. But we do not always make the connection we should between these basic rhythms in our lives and our personal stability. David kept fixed points in his life. When everything else seemed to collapse, a basic strict was still left, and therefore recovery and rebuilding were still possible.
Remember that, when things overwhelm you and you want to flee. Keep up your basic disciplines and duties. They may seem pointless, like bones without flesh; you may lack the emotional energy to enjoy them or even do them with vigor. You may no longer have a taste for them. But you must not let them collapse. If you do, your defenses will be broken down, and rebuilding will become almost impossible.
It is too late to think about this when we feel overwhelmed. We cannot start to build foundations in the middle of a storm; it is too late. Make sure you have begun to build these basic disciplines now. David had obviously done that. He had built strong foundations. When the storm came, of course his instinct was to flee; but, as we shall see, that was not his actual response.”
Do you ever feel like you don’t know what to say to someone who is suffering? Are you ever tempted to avoid the person who is going through a trial? Do you worry about saying or doing the wrong thing?
In her second breakout session at the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference, Nancy Guthrie offered some practical advice for how to serve the hurting. This is one of the most helpful talks I have ever heard on this topic and I hope every woman will listen, take notes, and seek to grow in love toward those who are suffering. Nancy offers six ways to walk with people through loss:
1. Overcome the awkwardness to engage
“Sometimes we see people struggling and we want them to come so quickly to resolution, to figure everything out. The truth is, as we minister to other women, we do want them to come to resolution, we do want them to come to some peace, figuring things out. But sometimes I think we are in a much bigger hurry than God is Himself. What a gift it is to other women to be willing to sit—not forever, but at least for a while. To just go, “Wow, this is hard isn’t it?”“
2. Make room for tears and sadness
“Don’t think tears are the problem. Tears are a gift that God gives us to help wash away the deep pain that we feel and experience from living life in the brokenness of this world. There are some things worth crying about. There are some people worth crying about.”
3. Go deeper than deliverance in prayer
10 purposes in the Bible for which God wants to use suffering:
4. Gently challenge sentimentalism and spiritualism with Scriptural truth
“If that is the fruit of the suffering in the people’s lives you minister to, that’s really good fruit: to know God as he is, not what we’ve tried to make him into.”
5. Anticipate the family pressure points.
“Grief puts a lot of pressure on a family.”
6. Help them turn the misery into ministry
“So often we think: when I get this figured out, when I feel better, I can turn toward ministering to other people. I want to say: The way we begin to feel better is to begin to minister to other people uniquely out of our loss.”
You can listen to Nancy’s message, “Learning to Walk with Each Other Through Loss” here.
So if the pain can’t be prayed away, how do we pray? If the answer from God seems to be “no,” should we keep repeating the same requests? Or should we just stop praying?
A friend and I were talking about this recently. We’d both reached this point in our lives. We had prayed those “righteous, rigorous, repeated” prayers Nancy Guthrie talked about, but the answer from God still seemed to be “no.” Uncertain of how to pray, we each returned to God’s Word, and in particular, to the Psalms.
When we feel like don’t know how to pray (and even when we think we do!) we must rely on the prayers given to us by God. Throughout the Bible, but especially in the Psalms, God has provided relevant, profound, infallible prayers.
Here we cannot go wrong. Here we can pray each and every word with confidence—certain that God is pleased to hear the prayers of His eternal Word, prayed in faith, in the name of Jesus Christ.
And these prayers are not lifeless or detached from the struggles and stresses of real life. They are waiting for us in the depths of human grief, confusion, and uncertainty; they pull us up to the heights of praise.
So when you can’t pray away the pain, pray through the pain. Pray through God’s Word. Pray through the Psalms.
“The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Psalm 6:9
Have you ever sensed that God has said “no” to your prayers? Nancy Guthrie asked the pastors’ wives gathered at the recent Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference:
“I wonder if anyone is this room has ever sensed that God has said “no” to you? You prayed for there to be reconciliation in the marriage and it ended in divorce. You prayed for resources and you were willing to work and yet still the house went into foreclosure or the business went into bankruptcy. You prayed for that child to turn toward you or turn toward faith and he has lingered in rebellion. You prayed for and begged God and believed God for healing and yet have had to learn to live with the discomfort or the disability. I know many of you know what it is to go to God with a righteous, rigorous, repeated prayer and sense that heaven is closed to you, that God has said “no” to you. Sometimes God glorifies himself by delivering us from the difficulty and sometimes he glorifies himself by delivering us through the difficulty that he does not take away from us.”
How do we respond when God does not take away the trial or the pain? We want to strongly encourage you to listen and learn from this wise woman’s experience of learning to trust in God’s Word through suffering.
“God alone can do what seems impossible. This is the promise of his grace: ‘I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten’ (Joel 2:25). God can give back all those years of sorrow, and you will be the better for them. God will grind sunlight out of your black nights. In the oven of affliction, grace will prepare the bread of delight. Someday you will thank God for all your sadness.” ~Charles Spurgeon
In the midst of the joy of having Jude and Sophie home, the single worst day was when I took them to get their first round of immunizations. They had no idea what was coming and of course they screamed in pain when they received their shots. What hurt me most was the look of surprise on their faces, like I had betrayed them or something.
I did everything I could to make it up to them. I must have said “I’m so sorry” a hundred times before we got in the car. I drove straight to the Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen and basically offered them the store. But for many days after, even when the pain was certainly gone, Sophie would still come to me and point to her shoulder and give me the most pitiful look. Jude would make a face whenever anyone said the word “doctor.” And I had no way to explain that it was for their good, because I love them, and not just a cruel joke.
William Wilberforce once observed his granddaughter receive a vaccination. It was following the untimely death of his daughter Lizzie, and as biographer Eric Metaxes explains, Lizzie’s daughter “gave her grandfather some consolation and prompted this rumination on God and suffering: “‘I was much impressed yesterday’ he wrote:
’...with the similarity in some respects of my own situation to that of [Lizzie’s] dear little innocent, who was undergoing the operation of vaccination. The infant gave up its arm to the operator without suspicion or fear. But when it felt the puncture, which must have been sharp, no words can express the astonishment and grief that followed. I could not have thought the mouth could have been distended so widely as it continued, till the nurse’s soothing restored her usual calmness. What an illustration is this of the impatient feelings we are often apt to experience, and sometimes even to express, when suffering from the dispensations of a Being, whose wisdom we profess to believe to be unerring, whose kindness we know to be unfailing, whose truth also is sure, and who has declared to us, that all things shall work together for good to them that love Him, and that the object of His inflictions is to make us partakers of His holiness.’” Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxes, pp. 270-271
How do we react when we feel the sharp poke of God’s providence? Unlike my new children who don’t know me very well yet and are understandably confused, we know God to be perfectly wise and loving. We have proof in the cross of Jesus Christ. And yet, as Wilberforce observes, we still respond with impatient surprise, quickly forgetting that whatever God ordains, no matter how painful, is for our good and His glory.
Jude and Sophie do not know that in my desk drawer lies a schedule from the doctor for many more shots in the months ahead. But these immunizations will protect them from serious diseases that could otherwise take their lives. We do not know what trials God has ordained for us to endure. But we can trust our Heavenly Physician because we know that “The object of His inflictions is to make us partakers in His holiness.”
I was having my devotions yesterday morning when I got an email from my sister to all our siblings—“I miss mother but…how happy I am to have you.”
“The sainted dead dwell in life; beholding the king in his beauty; “shining as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars forever and ever.” They fade no more, nor realize pain. A wealth of love is theirs, a heritage of goodness, a celestial habitation….We may feel sad because they are lost to us, but while we weep and wonder, they are wrapped in garments of light and warble songs of celestial joy. They will return to us no more, but we shall go to them and share their pleasures…We would not call them back. In the homes above they are great, and well-employed, and blest. Shadows fall upon them no more, nor is life ruled with anxious cares. Love rules their life and thoughts, and eternal hopes beckon them forever to the pursuit of infinite good….Heaven comes nearer to us, and grows more attractive, as we think of the loved ones who dwell there.” ~Jonathan Edwards
And it hit me again, just how much I miss my mom. I could tell you all the things I miss about her, but that’s not really the point. I just miss her. I miss her being here.
It’s Easter morning and I am sobbing. I suppose it is normal to grieve more for loved ones on special days. And yet the Easter holiday also brings a special comfort. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, my mother’s sins were forgiven, she was given power to live a faithful life, and now she is with Christ.
As much as I miss my mom, I don’t wish her back. This Easter she is experiencing the power of the resurrection like never before.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14
”...the suppliant has no more to go on than the assurance that God is worth waiting for. But that is enough.” Derek Kidner
Ever ask this question about a difficult trial? How often do you assume that it will all end badly? Listen to this little sermonette by James Smith to hear how Scripture says every trial and difficulty will end for the Christian. Thanks to my good friend Lucy for sending this my way. I pray it will encourage your soul as it has mine.
“Our times are in God’s hands; it is well they are so. Believers are not to expect great wealth, long life, or to be free from trials. But all will be ordered for the best. And remark from Job’s history, that steadiness of mind and heart under trial, is one of the highest attainments of faith. There is little exercise for faith when all things go well. But if God raises a storm, permits the enemy to send wave after wave, and seemingly stands aloof from our prayers, then, still to hang on and trust God, when we cannot trace him, this is the patience of the saints. Blessed Saviour! how sweet it is to look unto thee, the Author and Finisher of faith, in such moments!” ~Matthew Henry