Posted On January 13, 2020

When Suffering Makes Prayer Hard

by | Jan 13, 2020 | Suffering and the Christian, Featured

I am not a journal-keeper. I have a collection of partially-filled journals where I tried to force myself into the habit but gave up less than halfway through. Though my journaling doesn’t happen on paper, I could fill books with the thoughts and conversations I’ve scribbled inside my head. My frustrations, my pain, my questions, my fears, along with my friends and family, I worry about.

Sometimes these thoughts are rattled off to others in prayer requests. When difficulty (or even minor complications) arise, I’m quick to request prayer from my friends. Or in a visit with a friend, I might manage to express the jumble of thoughts in my head in an attempt to understand them, or to hear someone else straighten them out for me.

I can spend days mulling over thoughts and concerns in my head or one day blurt them out in a text to a friend, but how often do I bring these petitions to my Heavenly Father? In suffering, my prayer life can become wobbly. Why? Why, as a daughter of the King, do I still balk at bringing him my prayers? As one who has full access to him by being hidden in Christ, why do I still struggle to tell him my hearts’ fears? Why do I trust my concerns more quickly into the hands of fellow non-sovereign people? Why is praying for myself so hard when I’m suffering?

Maybe you know this difficulty, too, and wonder at these same questions. Here are just a handful of reasons why prayer is hard during suffering and how God’s grace covers us even in those weak hours.

We Are Learning That God Is Still Near

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). I’m still growing to have the assurance of what is unseen. My husband and friends are tangible. They embrace me. They speak back to me. I can meet their eyes and see their compassion. But God is unseen to me. There is nothing tangible to hold onto when I feel weak. To entrust my deepest concerns to One, I cannot feel or see—that takes God-given faith.

God is still teaching me (and I’m still learning) to trust that his presence is not related to my feelings. Just because he isn’t as tangible as the people around me, that doesn’t mean he’s further away. Jesus said it was good that he left. Though sometimes we may think the disciples had it better with Jesus physically walking next to them, we’re actually better off because we have the Holy Spirit residing inside of us and counseling our hearts with the completed Word of God (John 16:4-7).

We Are Still Learning Faith

I sometimes believe that faith should come effortlessly—I know what the Bible says, and so now I should believe it. But faith doesn’t come with such ease all the time. More often, our prayers are, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Sometimes our prayers are asking for faith where we are weak: I believe You are sovereign; help my unbelief when trials toss my faith all about. I believe You are good; help my unbelief when it tempts me to doubt Your Word. I believe You love me even though You’ve taken away what’s dear to me; help my unbelief that says You don’t care.

Faith is something our deceitful hearts are constantly learning and re-learning as the Holy Spirit works to sanctify us. And thankfully, we have a patient Father who promises to see us to completion (Philippians 1:6). That when “we are faithless, He remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself,” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV).

We Are Still Learning to Pray, “Not My Will, But Yours Be Done.”

When I do come before God in prayer, it’s often with shaky, clenched hands. Because what if—what if I pray, “Not my will but yours be done,” and I don’t get pregnant again? What if he does allow the sickness to continue? What if he sends another house buyer away? What if the grocery bills continue to grow and the budget shrink? What then? What if his will really isn’t good from our perspective?

I can spout off all the Bible verses that remind me of the truth I need to know. God is good (Psalm 25:8), he is working all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28), his ways are higher than my own (Isaiah 55:8-9), he gives perfect gifts to his children (James 1:17). But to have the faith to pray even as those questions taunt me? That’s a fight.

I may play humble, but I have a sly, prideful heart that tells me I really do know better than God. It’s a match against fear and pride whenever I come to God for prayer. It’s a fight to say I don’t know best, but he really does. I know now the only way Job proclaimed, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:21 ESV) was through Holy Spirit-empowered prayer, not his own strength.

It can be tempting to avoid praying until we can finally unclench our hands before God. But part of prayer is teaching our hearts to conform to God’s will, not our own. So come with weak and uncertain faith before God, even if all you can pray is, “God, I’m terrified you will take this away. Help me to trust you—that even if you do see fit to take this away, you are still good and intend good for me.”

We Are Still Learning to Believe God Wants to Hear Us

Why pray when God is sovereign and has decreed the world’s turning? Why pray when God has already written the manuscript? Why pray when God doesn’t change his mind? I don’t fully understand why. But because God loves me, he has commanded me to speak to him. God cares to hear my feeble words. God works when I pray, and sometimes the majority of that work is on my own faithless heart.

Even when we don’t have words because the pain is too great, God still wants us to pray. Paul reminds us that in those times when words are lost in the blabber of tears, we have the Holy Spirit:

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28 ESV)

Learning to Be Okay with Praying Imperfect Prayers

I don’t understand how it works. I don’t fully know why I should pray all the time. My faith is usually weak. But I continue to fight to pray because God has called me to. Because I have direct access to the King and Creator of the universe through Christ. And when my prayers are weak, and I don’t know what to pray, I am thankful for the Holy Spirit.

While prayer doesn’t require fancy words and perfect punctuation, prayer is still hard. Prayer requires faith. And just as much as the results are in the gracious hands of our Father, so is our ability to pray at all.

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