Summary: How can prayer help us when we're feeling pain, when we're overwhelmed?
God and Suffering: The Role of Prayer in Suffering
Today we’re continuing our series on God and Suffering. For the first two weeks of this series we looked in some depth at why there is suffering in the world, and then we looked at God’s role in the suffering human race, how it is that God enters into human suffering in order to fill it with his presence.
God entered into the world and embraced suffering himself in order to redeem humanity. He sent His only Son so that we would not perish but have eternal life.
Thus, those with open hearts to God, for those who have received Jesus, for believers, our suffering is experienced with a great sense of God’s presence and accompaniment.
The mourning we endure and the grief we endure are transformed by God’s love into the expectation of a new day; it is transformed into hope. The key, the key to altering the nature of suffering from being a diminishing experience to a redemptive one is, I want to suggest, today’s topic: prayer.
It is first in the choice to come to God in prayer when life spins out of control, when the unforeseen devastating experiences in life happen, when love ones die, when relationships end against our dreams and wishes. It is first in choosing to come to God in prayer. It is second HOW we pray. The HOW is hugely important. You know it’s possible to pray in pure despair. “God, just take me, now!”
I’m so glad that we have the Bible to instruct us. And I’m so glad that we have the example of so very many people who walked with God and wrote down their experiences of life and of their despair and of how they handled their suffering. They went to God, the first right thing to do. They were honest with God. That’s vitally important too.
They had faith in God. And it really seems like they had some level of understanding that God was present in what they were facing. God’s purpose in everything, every sorrow, every disaster, every unknown, tense situation is to redeem it, to take the bad that happens in our lives and work with it creatively so that good comes from it. God INFORMS our prayers, even when we don’t know how we should pray.
Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
There are a number of passages in the Bible that speak to the specific issue of prayer in the midst of suffering. We’ll look at a small number of them in order to see what we can learn together.
Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. 2 How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame ? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods ? 3 Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him.
When we pray in public, there is often a certain formality, a certain amount of ‘safe’ language that we use. We do that because well, we ARE praying, to be sure, but the ones leading want their prayers to be understood by others who are joining in with them. Often one person gathers together the prayers of the people. That’s what we do here each Sunday.
Bu when we’re on our own, in our own prayer closets, so to speak, there is no need for any kind of formality with God. WE may choose formal language, because that is our tradition, and that is fine. But we can see from this prayer of King David, a certain directness. “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God”.
He just goes for it. He’s serious here. He needs an answer, he needs a response from God. The way he begins his prayer might sound almost forward or too informal to our ears, except that as he very clearly addresses God, and he does so in a faithful manner.
He knows that God is righteous. Righteousness just means right-ness. There is no evil or wrong in God. There is no unfairness, no leaning at any point toward unrighteousness. So the writer KNOWS who God is.