Every year at Polishing the Pulpit (PTP), I want to hear Tom Holland speak at every one of his sessions. Dr. Holland, although he doesn’t realize it, has helped shape my adult life — While a student at International Bible College, I heard Brother Holland on many occasions, and I always left with my heart pricked and an earnest desire to follow Jesus more closely. Brother Holland is the only participant who has thus far spoken at every PTP. I’ll go to sessions where I’m not even interested in the subject if Dr. Holland is speaking.
But, not this year. Mom and Dad were so very kind to push me in a wheelchair everywhere and anywhere I needed or wanted to go. They gave up some of what they wanted in order to help me. That meant a great deal to me.
But, there was still a problem: my pain was beyond horrendous. I would go to the Pigeon Forge Community Center where I swam every day (swimming alleviates my pain in remarkable ways). I would attend five or six sessions a day, go with Mom and Dad to eat, look through the displays while Mom pushed, and sometimes simply sit and talk with Mom and Dad and enjoy being together. But, the more I went, the worse the pain became.
Dr. Holland had some sessions late into the evening or in the early morning. I wanted so badly to hear him, but I just couldn’t . By evening, my pain was so horrible that I had to return to my hotel room to lie down. I had a horrible time getting up in the morning; not only was I exhausted from the previous day, but I knew that when my feet hit the ground horrible pain. I contacted my general practitioner and my neurologist, but both said there was nothing they could do. I had to find other ways to cope.
Sometimes the pain isn’t physical. Sometimes the pain comes from a fractured marriage. Sometimes the pain swells when the phone rings and your child has been arrested for drug possession. Sometimes hearts break when you stand by a casket containing the mortal remains of a loved one. Sometime or other we’ll experience deep, deep anguish. How do deal?
Prayer should be the first thing that we do, not some last resort we use when all else has failed. God has a long history of answering prayer. Isaiah went to King Hezekiah at the command of the Lord, and the prophet informed the righteous king that his illness would result in his death; Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept and prayed; God heard that prayer and commanded Isaiah, before the prophet even left the palace grounds, to return to Hezekiah and inform the king that God would grand him another 15 years of mortal life (Is 38:1-8; cf. 2 Ki 20:1-11). When Peter and John were released from prison and ordered to preach in Jesus’ name no more, they reported their threat to the church, the church prayed for boldness, the house where they were shook, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31).
God wants us to take all our cares and burdens to Him because He loves us (1 Pet 5:7). In the New Testament, we find people who went before God and prayed about the pain in their lives. Jesus went to the Garden in great agony and prayed that the cup of His suffering might be removed from Him (Matt 26:36-46); while God in His sovereignty and love for mankind refused to grant Jesus’ prayer, our Lord prayed about His pain and suffering. Paul prayed three times (modeled after Jesus’ three prayers in the Garden?) that his thorn in the flesh be removed (2 Cor 12:8); God did not answer Paul’s prayer quite the way Paul desired, but God gave Paul the strength he needed to face his suffering (2 Cor 12:9).
How should we pray about our suffering?
- Ask brethren to pray for you.
As he sought to overcome sin in his life, Simon asked Peter and John to pray for him that he might escape God’s wrath (Acts 8:24). Paul asked the Thessalonian Christians to pray that he might be delivered from evil men (2 Thess 3:1-2); if Paul’s thorn in the flesh was persecution at the hands of others, he’s asking the Thessalonians to pray about his thorn in the flesh. “Pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Js 5:16); while I believe the healing in question is spiritual rather than physical, the principle of praying for one another’s healing remains.
In our modern American culture, we’re self-reliant. We can do everything ourselves, and we don’t want to ask for help. The church is about bearing one another’s burdens. Church is a place where we pray for and encourage one another. We ought never be too proud to ask our brothers and sisters to pray for us
- Pray specifically about your struggle.
If you’re struggling with a sin, go before the Father’s throne, mention that sin specifically, and “find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16); I’ve had a couple folks tell me that they don’t want to pray about their sin because they don’t want God to find out about it — Trust me, He already knows. If you have heartache, take your burdens before the throne of God, for He cares about you (1 Pet 5:7).
- Praise God.
As Jesus taught us to pray, He began, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9). Jesus didn’t begin with praying about forgiveness or being led out of temptation or receiving our daily bread. He began by praising God.
As we pray, praise of God is always the right place to start. In the midst of great Christian persecution, John emphasizes throughout Revelation that God is worthy of praise. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great” (Rev 19:5).
- Praise God that He is God, and you aren’t; therefore, He sees the big picture, He knows what is best, He knows you far better than you know yourself, and He has more power to help you than any doctor or any drug or any cure. . . .
- Praise God for the concern He has to hear your prayer.
- Praise God that He has the power to help.
- Praise God that He will eradicate all suffering on that Great Day.
For what can you pray when you are facing great adversity?
- Ask brethren to pray for you.
- Take care of yourself
The biblical idea of service is so ingrained in our thinking that we sometimes think we must always be about the service of others. I have often served others when I was in anguish: visiting the hospital, driving someone to an appointment, conducting a home Bible study, or sitting in my office helping counsel someone. On the other hand, I have been on the receiving end of service: financial help with medical bills, keeping my sons so that my wife could support me at a doctor’s appointment (sometimes, it’s very difficult to face a doctor by myself; I know that makes me sound like a big baby, but with some of my challenges, it’s comforting to have Tammy there. And, I do go more without her than with her), praying for me, sending cards, and so many other ways.
Yet, we must take time for ourselves. Jesus did, and He encouraged His disciples to do the same (Mk 6:30-32). Was it not God who established the Sabbath so that His people might rest?
Find some way that you take care of yourself. Spend time with family. Go for a hike. Exercise. Shop. Take a drive. Go on vacation. Do whatever you can to take care of yourself.
I take care of myself in a couple major ways. One: I diet quite carefully. I had a physical a couple years ago, and my weight, my cholesterol, my blood pressure, my heart rate, and my blood sugar were out of control. I do not need diabetes and high blood pressure and heart disease on top of my other health concerns. I have now lost about 80 pounds, and I intend to lose a good bit more.Two: I swim seven days a week. My pain is so greatly diminished when I’m in the pool, I don’t need to worry about falling (which is a constant threat in my walking), I’m not answering emails or taking phone calls, and I simply enjoy swimming. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that I know just about everyone who works at Carilion Wellness Botetourt and those who exercise at the same time I do.
- Do not forsake the assembly.
I, of all people, know how difficult attending the assembly can be when you are suffering horrendously: there have been many times I have preached when I probably should have stayed home and there have been other times I was tempted not to attend. I must admit that I am deeply disturbed by those who miss the assembly when they sneeze.
Yet, gathering with the saints not only lifts God’s name on high, not only reminds us of who is God and who is not, but also provides the encouragement we need as we struggle through life. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Worship with your brethren and be encouraged by them.
- Do not give up.
It can be tempting to give up and to sit down and give up. Trust me, I know. But, I am one of the most stubborn people in all the world (if you don’t believe me, my wife would be more than happy to tell you precisely how stubborn I am), and I have refused to give up: When I was still preaching at Dale Ridge, I had the option of walking into the pulpit via a wheelchair ramp, but I climbed a couple stairs with great difficulty; I have refused to use a wheelchair at the doctor’s office, although I was begged to do so by nurses and my wife; and I have gone to the hospital and people’s homes when I could barely walk. Why? Because I knew if I sat down and gave up, I’d be in far worse shape than I am. Giving up was simply out of the question.
At my last neurologist visit, I did consent to using a wheelchair, and I asked Dr. Ferrara if maybe it wasn’t time to use the wheelchair all the time. He said absolutely not. When I needed a wheelchair, use it. But, as long as I could put one foot in front of the other, I needed to do so.
We dare not be people who give up. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9). “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3). The contexts of these passages remind us of the importance of pressing on in trouble: We must continue to do good regardless of the struggle, and in the day of trouble, we can look to Jesus and be encouraged.
Let us cope with our situation, regardless of what that situation might be. In a context of suffering (knowing want and plenty), Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Let us look to Jesus and seek His help to overcome our adversity. He will walk with you just as He has walked with me.