Mark Alan Williams
Seven Ways To Pray When You’re Suffering
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Have you ever tried to pray when you’re suffering and found it difficult, maybe almost impossible? When my mother died suddenly in 1995, I was in deep anguish. I spent a lot of time praying, but a lot of that time was just crying out to God in despair and confusion.
Likewise, there have been many other times when I’ve tried to pray when suffering and found it challenging.
Perhaps you’re going through such a time right now. I hope this article can help.
And if not, you might want to read it anyways, so you’ll prepare for the next tragedy that comes your way. Rest assured, it will come.
Here are seven ways to pray when you’re suffering:
01. Pray Optimistically When Suffering
In suffering we might be tempted to lose hope. Discouragement and depression can follow.
But with God there is always hope, therefore we can pray optimistically.
It’s interesting that our Lord Jesus prayed before going to the cross: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39a ESV)
Jesus prayed optimistically for a release from the coming suffering until He knew the request was denied.
02. Pray Submissively When Suffering
At the same time as we pray optimistically, we must also do as Jesus prayed at the end of the verse above: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV)
Trying to demand our preference from God is not just impossible, it is foolish.
When Job tried to tell God that his suffering was a mistake, he got a strong rebuke from the Lord that began with the words “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?” (see Job 38-41)
03. Pray Futuristically When Suffering
Jesus is our example when His prayer for deliverance was not answered. What did He do? Did he:
Suggest God didn’t know what He was doing?Wallow in self-pity?Stop believing in prayer?Stop believing in His Father’s goodness?
Of course He did none of these.
This verse tells us what He did: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)
Jesus endured as He remembered “the joy that was set before him.”
In other words, He looked forward to heaven.
Likewise, we need an eternal perspective to endure the difficulties of this fallen world.
04. Pray Persistently When Suffering
Another important way to pray when you’re suffering is to be persistent in our request.
Jesus affirmed the value of persistent prayer in stories like the friend at midnight and the widow and the unjust judge.
Jesus made it clear that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1 ESV)
On the other hand, if God makes it clear that the answer is “no,” then we must accept His answer and not be like a pouting child.
The Apostle Paul demonstrated both persistence and acceptance when he wrote about his “thorn in the flesh”:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV)
05. Pray Joyfully When Suffering
The last phrase of the passage above is one of my personal favorites. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Why? Because it gives me such peace and joy when I feel weak. I know that in my personal weakness, God can act powerfully!
This is affirmed in the epistle of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)
Muscles don’t get bigger when we sit on a couch watching TV. We get stronger as we use our muscles.
Likewise, our faith and character don’t grow until we are tested. We can thank God that in our adversities we have an opportunity to grow, no matter what the outcome.
I have several friends, including Carolyn’s sister, who have testified that as a Christian, a diagnosis of cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. Why? Because they grew so much through the trial. Their faith came into maturity, they began letting go of this world and putting their eyes more on what is eternal. They learned to look at what is truly important instead of the frivolities of this world.
06. Pray Frankly When Suffering
We don’t have to try to hide our emotions from God—He already knows them.
I love Psalm 88 for its frankness:
1 O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. 2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, 5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. 6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah 8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; 9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. 10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? 15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. 17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. 18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. (emphasis mine)
How’s that psalm for honesty in prayer!
Yes, you can pour out your hearts to God in prayer, as long as you remember two things:
a. Continue to pray optimistically and joyfully as explained above.
b. In your honesty, never curse God or abandon your faith.
Job is a great example in this: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10 ESV)
07. Pray Gratefully When Suffering
You might not feel like being grateful, but it is one of the best ways to pray when you’re suffering. Why? Because being grateful helps us to rise up out of the pit we’re in.
In our suffering, there are often two sources of suffering:
a. The actual situation we are subjected to.
b. The mental anguish we subject ourselves to.
This means agonizing over questions like:
What if I would have…?
”How do I deserve this?
What happens is we effectively double our suffering with these methods of mental anguish we subject ourselves to.
Instead of doubling our misery with these grinding questions, we must do as God has commanded: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
Note that it doesn’t say “give thanks FOR all circumstances.” It says IN all circumstances. That means we can, and we must, find reasons to be grateful in every situation.
All of us have blessings even in the midst of our troubles. We just take them for granted. Our family, our friends, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the privilege of prayer, the work we find meaningful.
If you are a Christian, you have something that trumps all else: salvation and eternal life. Mark 8:36 explains “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (ESV)
(If you aren’t a born again Christian, click HERE to learn how to become one.)
Finally, remember that even in your greatest trials you can thank God for the same truth that Paul claimed: “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV) (see point 5 above).
For more help and information on how to pray when you’re suffering, see these resources on this website:
Podcast: Why Aren’t My Prayers Answered?