Eight months after we stood beneath 100-year-old trees and promised to love each other in sickness and health, Xylon and I sat in front of a surgeon while he told us the biopsy results, “It’s cancer.” My husband would undergo 16 chemo sessions, a bone marrow transplant, radiation, and countless uncertain scans before he would reach the five-year mark when his doctor finally let us remove the surgical port inserted for his chemo.
This experience took us to places we never thought we’d go, and it taught me that things happen that would not otherwise happen without prayer. I’d pray for wisdom during doctor’s meetings. I prayed in the middle of the night while Xylon shivered from fevers caused by a weakened immune system. I praised God for another as we watched sunsets. And I cried prayers out in the car on long trips to-and-from the hospital.
Every season of intense suffering is a unique experience, but prayer is the key to walking through each of them. Countless scientific studies list how, especially in seasons of intense suffering, prayer benefits your health, reduces depression, makes you happier, and even speeds up post-surgical recovery. This list isn’t one of those lists. These seven reasons why prayer is the key to walking through intense suffering are based on my personal experience of praying my way through a unique season of suffering. I hope they will encourage you and give you strength to face your own season.
1. Prayer helps you draw on the Grace of God in the middle of your suffering.
In seasons of intense suffering, it is easy to forget that God’s grace is enough for you to walk through every season of suffering. Oswald Chambers says, “Prayer is the practice of drawing on the grace of God. Don’t say, ‘I will endure this until I can get away and pray.’ Pray now – draw on the grace of God in your moment of need.”
In hard times, we often forget that God’s grace is enough to carry us through everything we struggle with – even suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9). Through prayer, we draw on the grace of God in our moment of need and find that God’s grace is enough for today, for this moment, for this need.
2. Prayer gives you words when you have nothing to say.
I found that often when I’m under stress (and a season of suffering is a time you’ll be under stress), I can’t figure out what to pray. I’ve found that using prayers written by others can really help during those times. Sometimes the prayer will be one sentence, and other times I’ll read prayers that are pages long. When you can’t find your own words for the experience you’re living praying the words of others or of scripture can help you find the words to express the feelings that overwhelm you.
Here are 7 of my favorite one-line prayers:
God, we need you.
Thank you, Jesus.
Lord, give us wisdom.
Jesus, help me.
Lord, take me to the place of your greatest blessing.
Abba, we belong to you.
Our father in heaven, reveal who you are.
3. You can say the unthinkable to God.
Sometimes during seasons of suffering, you can’t find the words to pray, and other times you won’t believe the prayers you will say. I remember praying that my husband would be well enough to have chemotherapy. I never thought I would be praying for him to have chemo!
You are not the first to pray the unthinkable to God. In 1 Samuel, Hannah prays an unthinkable prayer, “Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, if you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, if you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me by giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.”
“God hears the prayers that we thought we’d never pray.”
Hannah prayed a bargaining prayer, a last hope prayer, a prayer that laid all her pain out before God and said, “Lord, do something!” God heard her. And God gave her a son. A son, Hannah gave back to God.
I’m not saying that bargaining prayers are the best way to communicate with God, or that sacrificing our hopes and promising to give everything to God is the way to get what we want. What I am saying is that God hears our unthinkable prayers. God hears the prayers that we thought we’d never pray. He listens to the words that we hope no one ever knows we asked God for as well as the appeals that we literally sob through heavens gates. God won’t close his ears to the breaking of your heart and the sighing of your soul. The Lord sees your pain and he is listening.
4. Prayer reminds you that the secret is Christ in you, not you in different circumstances.
This one is hard. Many times when I was driving back and forth to doctor appointments or leaving my husband in the hospital, I wondered what it would take for God to change my life. It wasn’t that I wanted a different life; simply that I dreamt of a life without trouble, without hard things, and without suffering. It’s so easy to think that if your circumstances changed, then everything would be good. Trusting in God is harder than trusting in what we can see.
If you are struggling to trust God in your circumstances, this prayer might help:
Lord Jesus, help me to put my hope in you and nowhere else. Show me how to place my confidence in you instead of what I can see. As I put my hope in you, God, please give me a peace in my heart that no matter what happens, in your arms I am safe.
5. Prayer can help you embrace gratitude.
Seasons of suffering are hard. Prayer of supplication will get you through, but so will prayers of gratitude. Gratitude for God is what we do when we praise him and thank him for the gifts he’s given us. One way to tie prayer and gratitude together is to offer praise to God for the good things in your life daily. Ann Voskamp wrote a beautiful book, One Thousand Gifts, about how she learned to embrace gratitude through hard things. The basic premise is to find three things to be grateful for each day. I kept a list for a couple of months while Xylon had chemo and I found myself noticing the small things to be thankful for that I might have otherwise missed.
6. Prayer will remind that you are God’s beloved.
It is so easy to forget that God loves us, isn’t it? It shouldn’t be, but it is, especially when suffering is your daily reality. In Brennan Manning’s The Wisdom of Tenderness, he tells the story of a 78-year-old nun who was sexually abused as a child. This nun came to Manning one night and told him of all the hatred she has felt in her heart for a long, long time. She spoke about going through the motions of religion to keep up appearances, but her heart was very, very broken. After listening to her story and praying for healing, Manning asked her to find a quiet place and pray this prayer every day for the next 30 days: Abba, I belong to You.
Inhale-Abba. As you exhale-I belong to you.
He explained that this prayer is exactly seven syllables and corresponds to the rhythm of breathing. Inhale-Abba. As you exhale-I belong to you. She did it. And in her follow-up letter to Manning, she shared how her heart was being healed, how she had forgiven her abuser, and how she knew inner-peace for the first time in her life. I’ve prayed this prayer countless times in the last few years, and it’s changed me too. Every time I pray it, I am reminded that I am God’s beloved.
7. You’ll need hope.
Hope is a fragile thing. When I feel hopeless I often return to (MSG) which says, “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us…”
Prayer creates an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching right to the very presence of God. Just thinking that Jesus is standing in heaven interceding for us and working out all things for our good makes me feel hopeful about tomorrow. And some days, praying is enough to give you that hope.
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