You never go a day without excruciating pain – simply getting up to get a drink of water tortures you. You sit in an ICU waiting room while the dearest in all the world is hooked up to machines in what appears to be a futile attempt to save his life. You have just heard the word “cancer” from the doctor, and, “Things don’t look good,” she says. Your marriage is about to fall apart. You’re hurting – hurting far too deeply for words. How can you pray?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. In a context of suffering, Paul writes, “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” (Rom 8:26). At times in my own life, I’m simply asked the Spirit to take over and communicate “with groaning too deep for words” my petitions to the Father.
While we do not always “know what to pray for as we ought,” I want to offer some suggestions today for praying when you’re suffering. Granted, you may not be suffering now, but you will at some point in your sojourn in this fallen world. Perhaps, it’s best to know how to pray in suffering before we suffer. With all the earnestness in me, I ask you to prepare you heart to pray in the midst of suffering.
Yesterday, I suggested the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) acronym for a guide to praying. Today, I want to take the first two letters of that acronym and think about how we adore the Father and confess sin in times of trial.
Our Father in heaven always deserves adoration; the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne and declare, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). In the midst of his trials, Job adored the Father: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). In His great suffering, Jesus, too, adored the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). Job blessed the LORD’s name and Jesus sought the Father’s glory.
When your heart is breaking or your body is hurting or your spirit is tired, how can you adore the Father? Here are some ideas:
Bless Him as a God who hears the prayers of His people.
Bless Him as the God who has all power.
Bless Him as the God of all comfort.
Bless Him as the God who works all things for the good of those who love Him.
Bless Him as the Sovereign God who shall one day crush Satan under His feet.
Bless Him as the God who raises the dead.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Suffering is in this world because of sin (Rom 5:12); yet, that does not mean every single time we suffer we have directly sinned. Job’s friends thought that his suffering befell him because he had sinned grievously, and YHWH appears in a whirlwind and declares to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
Suffering doesn’t always come directly as a result of sin, but sometimes it does. If my marriage is falling apart, I may very well have sinned. I may have sinned and brought financial ruin or physical illness upon myself. I may suffer because of the sins of others – a drunk driver may injure me or take the lives of those I hold most dear.
Too, when we’re suffering, we’re susceptible to sins we otherwise wouldn’t commit. Speaking for myself, when I’m in physical pain, I’m more likely to lash out in anger at my wife or others. Because of faulty wiring in my brain, I’m more likely to have angry outbursts than I would wish (I’m not denying responsibility, but my neurological issues make it far easier for Satan to tempt me in certain ways).
How might you confess sin when your heart is breaking or your body is hurting or your spirit is tired? Here are some ideas:
Confess any sin that might have contributed to your suffering.
Confess any sin made easier because of your suffering.
Confess any sin which might keep God from hearing your prayers as you’d wish.
Confess any sin which will bring judgment should you leave this world.
Prayer is important. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is sorely needed when we suffer. Let us not neglect to pray when we hurt.
Tomorrow we’ll think about giving thanks and making supplication to God when we’re suffering. Until then, be blessed!