Prayer. Suffering. Two things our local church has become extremely familiar with as of late. One fuels the other.
Rare illnesses, sudden deaths, painful infirmities…you name it, it has found a place in the homes of every one of our families (LITERALLY). Lately, I’ve often found myself praying and asking the Lord if I’m pastoring a church or an infirmary! And no, that was not a joke, but a peek into some of my more honest times of bewilderment. This is a time in my young pastoral life that is both startling and troubling, a time filled with tears and questions. Watching so many people you love wrestle with all forms of suffering can be, and indeed is, unbelievably difficult.
When faced with such an onslaught of difficulty, what is the church to do? When you stand literally helpless and unable to do anything to change these situations and aid your cause? The church is to PRAY! Really PRAY! Really PRAY THROUGH SUFFERING. It is the perfect thing to do…the only thing to do… the “Christ thing” to do.
I say the “Christ thing” to do because it is actually what Christ did! Jesus PRAYED! He REALLY PRAYED! As a matter of fact, we see His fiercest use of prayer in His own sufferings. In some of Jesus’ final hours in the garden of Gethsemane, one of the most difficult moments of His earthly life, we see Him REALLY PRAYING THROUGH SUFFERING (Matthew 26:36-46).
It is in this moment that Christ offers us a powerful example, teaching us at least four important lessons concerning prayer in suffering.
1. Pray Through Suffering With COMMUNITY
Reading the Gethsemane account one would immediately notice that Jesus brings His disciples along with Him to pray! If we must pray through suffering, let us do so TOGETHER!
The early church certainly understood this as well. In Acts 12 as Peter is miraculously rescued by God from a prison, he returns to a household of people who are unaware of his release but they have been praying fervently TOGETHER for God to move on Peter’s behalf (Acts 12:12).
Obviously, Christ’s desire to have his disciples pray with him is not as successful as those of us reading the account might have hoped it would be, but it doesn’t make it any less necessary. In fact it serves as a sober reminder that even when we are the observers of suffering, we must seek God’s strength to press in with our suffering brothers and sisters, empathizing in such a way that it spurs us to DILIGENT prayer with and for them! We see Jesus pleading for the prayers of His brothers and yet them not being sensitive enough to see the urgency. We must seek God’s grace to place ourselves in the shoes of those suffering alongside us in order that we can push through and pray with them and for them. The unfortunate reality is that our own frailties may cause us, like the disciples, to fail from time to time, but it can’t stop us from seeking the Holy Spirit’s power in our efforts.
If Christ asks for it, then it stands to reason that it is necessary.
2. Pray Through Suffering WITH HONESTY
As Christ stands in this garden called Gethsemane (translated WINE PRESS), preparing for the Father’s wrath to be pressed down upon Him (Isaiah 53:10), we also notice that He stands and prays with brutal honesty.
 Then he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.
The perfect Lamb of God speaking with what even appears to be human vulnerability is stunning to read, but what does that mean for our own bouts through suffering? It means we don’t have to be afraid to ask for our deliverance. No unwritten rule exists prohibiting us from simply ASKING! Christ doesn’t hide his desire in His suffering…”My Father, will you deliver me? Is it possible for this suffering to be taken from me?”
Now some may say, “we are no Christ!” and they would be right! But how about Paul? In 2 Corinthians 12, he describes being given some sort of thorn of suffering as a means of discipline, continued sanctification of his soul. Nevertheless, that didn’t actually stop him from praying the prayer THREE TIMES until he was told by God, “Paul, this thorn will remain but so will my grace!”
We must be willing to pray through suffering with honesty. To not shy away from asking God to move our suffering away from us.
Of course, our God moves according to His will, which is ALWAYS PERFECT AND GOOD, but on many occasions, His will is to actually answer in accordance to what we have prayed (James 5:16)!
3. Pray Through Suffering WITH RELENTLESSNESS
As we pray through suffering, we don’t have to get uncomfortable and cease after seeking the Lord once. As we suffer through trials and tribulations, we should not be afraid to pray fervently and to pray often about our suffering. Some popular and contemporary thought would have Christians believe that seeking God concerning the same thing over and over again is a sign of doubt. However, I think we have biblical grounds to disagree.
In Gethsemane, Jesus beseeches the Father on THREE separate occasions concerning the cup of suffering He is facing (v42-44)! Paul as well concerning his thorn in the text mentioned earlier (2 Corinthians 12:8).
In addition, Christ shares a compelling parable elsewhere (Luke 18:1-8) about a widow who stands before an evil judge constantly petitioning him for justice against her adversary. This judge, being evil, could care less about God or about people, but before the judge stood a widow who obviously WOULD NOT STOP ASKING FOR JUSTICE TO BE SERVED. Her relentlessness won her the reward of having her request heard and attended to! How much more so is the case with our Holy and Just Father?
If we believe He is faithful to respond to our suffering, either with deliverance from our suffering or strength and courage to bear well through our suffering, why would we not ask Him?
I know the feeling of faith waning to the point where you just get tired of asking, but HE IS FAITHFUL to hear our relentless prayers made to Him!
4. Pray Through Suffering WITH HOPE
Christ, on the brink of the greatest suffering ever faced in history, prays with great desperation and doesn’t have his initial request granted. However, if you listen again, you won’t hear the sound of a denied request, but rather you can hear a whisper of hope.
Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done. (Matthew 26:42 [ESV])
YOUR WILL BE DONE. Those words don’t signify quitting. They signify HOPE!
It comes from a place in our Spirit-indwelled souls that tells us even in the midst of suffering, God is GOOD and His will is GOOD!
In the most desperate moment of His earthly life, Jesus prayed and acknowledged that the Father would not deliver Him from this trial but that He would eventually bring Him to a place beyond the suffering of the hour (Hebrews 5:7).
As we pray, we must see what is beyond our suffering! Not just temporary deliverance, not even just strength to bear through the suffering, but a final ETERNAL Glory (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)! A glory where our suffering will cease and most assuredly NEVER return again!
As we pray through suffering, let us always pray with that HOPE as our backdrop!
Prayer. Suffering. Two things our local church has become extremely familiar with as of late. One fuels the other. One fuels us to endure the other.
Servant of the amazing Jesus Christ, Husband of the astonishing Candi Crawford, Father of the adorable Brian II (B.J.) and Elijah James (E.J.), and Pastor of the awesome Joshua Generation Church (Tallulah, LA). Learn more at raanetwork.org/author/bcrawford or follow him on Twitter @bcis4jc.