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
In difficulty, my first question is often “Why?” I can be tempted to demand an answer from God. Sometimes He makes his purposes clear; but God is not obligated, nor does He always tell us why.
But there is another question He will always answer, as JI Packer asserts in his book: Praying the Lord’s Prayer:
“If you ask, ‘Why is this or that happening?’ no light may come, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, ‘How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?’ there will always be an answer.”
Our Father in heaven will show us how to glorify Him, if we simply ask, ready to obey. So which question are you asking today?
“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
~from the archives
I love Scripture’s honesty. I love how the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, don’t hold back about despair, weakness, doubt, or fear. They don’t step gingerly around topics of pain or temptation or trouble. They are frank about the fact that life is hard.
So when the biblical writers speak to us of hope and joy and peace, we know these are real too. And in our depths of despair, we can take their hand and follow them out of the pit.
Take for example, the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 that we are all so familiar with: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 22-23). These words are spoken from the heights, a spectacular panorama. But how do we get there when we feel crippled by the trials of life?
The same way Jeremiah did.
Only a few verses earlier he writes from the deepest valley: ”...my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (v. 17-18).
Can you relate? Hope, gone. Peace, gone. Happiness, so far gone, you can’t even remember what it feels like. What do we say to someone who confesses this? Do we recoil at their lack of faith? And yet here is Jeremiah, prophet of God, confessing that in his trouble he feels bereft of all of the blessings of the people of God.
Then Jeremiah shows us how he gets from the depths to the heights: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).
His soul, which had taken its last breath of hope, was resuscitated by calling to mind who God is and what He does. He is faithful. He shows mercy, He does love. He does not forget. He sent His only Son who endured the agony of the cross, in our place and for our sins, and rose again, victorious. This I call to mind.
Notice that Jeremiah’s trial was unchanged. He didn’t get a phone call that the cancer was gone. He didn’t find his enemies on his front porch asking for forgiveness. He didn’t get hired. His child didn’t become a Christian. But he had something better.
He had hope. Hope that one day, even if it wasn’t until heaven, he would know happiness again.