“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”-Matthew 11:28(NIV)
I’ll be honest, sometimes I find the most difficult times to pray are when I am going through the hardest circumstances. When faced with great pain, or trial, or sadness it can be easy to turn away from God and look inward. Sadly, this will only result in more pain and less comfort. Let me describe some of the tendencies that we can take when faced with hardness.
"Jesus, give me back the wheel"
Not as catchy as the Carrie Underwood song and much more dangerous. When things seem to be going badly in our minds, sometimes we stop praying and asking God for grace and help. Instead we try to fix the situation on our own. Like when you lose your job and rather than trusting Jesus you worry and fret and stress, trusting in your LinkedIn and running all over town chasing interview after interview. Or maybe when you or someone in your family becomes ill, you start seeking out the best doctors or the obscure treatments, scouring WebMD, and obsessing over everything you eat and drink. It can even be as subtle and simple as not coming to God with your money and your budget when you are struggling to get by. Instead of praying first, you start over-working, counting coupons, and selling your plasma to get by.
By themselves, these things may not be bad. In fact, Jesus may use things like interviews, doctors and budgets to enact His grace upon you. But the truth is that no matter how organized you are, how good of a problem-solver you are, or how hard you try, you simply cannot overcome hardship on your own. Even if your circumstances change and things get “better” your heart will continue to be burdened by stress, and you will not feel the need to come back to God and thank Him for bringing you through, because in your mind you are the one who fixed things.
When circumstances don’t go our way, we need to pray:
- That Jesus would keep our eyes and hearts on him.
- That our circumstances would change if God wills it.
- That he would give us the strength to trust him no matter the circumstance.
- That he would receive glory and thanksgiving through these circumstances.
The other day my four year old son, Boaz, tripped and fell on the sidewalk. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “Daddy…OUCH!” That was it. He didn’t know where it hurt. He didn’t even fully realize what had caused him pain as it happened so fast. He just responded to the person who loves him and cried out in pain.
There are times in our lives when something happens that is so painful, traumatic, or just sad that you don’t even know how to process it. Our family has recently gone through something like this. When I heard that our son, Ezra, had died in the womb at 32 weeks of pregnancy. I had no words: not for God, not for any of the people around me, just nothing. My wife and I just cried as a million thoughts raced through my head so fast that I couldn’t even hold on to one long enough to articulate it. Even since then, I’ve had times where I will sit down to pray and just don’t know what to say.
What comfort I've found in the Bible, though, with sections like Romans 8:26-27."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.”Have you ever felt that? Groaning too deep for words? I have now. What a great truth, that God the Holy Spirit is with us when we are so weak and the only thing that we can muster is just a guttural groan “ugh.”
God has not abandoned us in those times when we are overcome with sadness or pain. God loves you so much that he will listen to you cry; in fact he is honored by it. It takes courage to bring your tears to God. Jesus, when he was preparing for the cross, was so overcome by the sins of the world that he prayed for hours with sweat and tears like blood. The Lord is no stranger to your pain. He is our great High Priest, who we can come to in confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
When faced with grief and pain, we can pray:
- God, OUCH!
- Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you deeply.
- That we would continue to trust God.
- That he would get glory and thanksgiving through these circumstances.
"Are you good?"
One of the most important reasons to pray when life is hard is to allow God to show us himself. Satan loves nothing more than to come at you when you are sad, scared, stressed, or otherwise troubled and make you start questioning the goodnessof God. It’s the same lie he’s been telling since the garden and unless we are spending time with Jesus, it’s a lie we’re prone to believe.
Let’s look at the rest of that passage from Romans 8."And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified"(Romans 8:28-30 ESV).
There is so much in here that you could take multiple sermons to unpack. But I want to highlight these key points. First and foremost, God is in control and He is good. When we are going through pain or trouble, this is what we need help remembering. This is what Satan will try to convince us is not true. That’s why prayer is so important during hard times, because we need to ask God to fill us with this truth, that for those who love God, all things work together for good.
Finally, there is a great promise here. Not just that God will work all things together for good in this life. But he points us to our eternal glory which He is preparing for us. Telling us that hepredestinedus shows us that He is in control. Hearing that hecalledus shows his goodness and love. Seeing that hejustifiedus shows his righteousness and holiness, that he lived the perfect life we couldn’t live. And promising toglorifyus is a sweet and beautiful encouragement that this life is not the end. Our present trials, griefs, and sadness do not compare to the glory that lies before us in spending eternity with Christ.
So when we start to doubt God’s goodness, we can:
- Recite Romans 8:28-30.
- Pray against Satan and his lies in the name of Jesus.
- Recount the times when we have seen God’s goodness.
- Give thanks and glory to God.