How Should We Pray When We Suffer?
After a long hiatus from the Psalms, I recently returned to them for devotional reading. Psalm 4 has brought holy conviction and hopeful assurance that though God is high and lifted up he dwells with the lowly. The psalm is instructive for praying when we suffer or when we are perplexed by God’s providence in our lives.
Answer Me When I Call
David barges into God’s presence and declares: “Answer me when I call , O God of my righteousness!” Such daring boldness, such urgency, and such humility. All too often our daring prayers are prayers that sprout from pride not humility, from anger not desperation. Our “Answer me when I call” becomes a cry of disgust not desperation.
Should God answer when we call? Certainly. After all, he is our righteousness, our goodness, our only hope for true justice in this world pledged to us in Jesus. And his righteousness compels him to act justly for his people, but not always in the way we would expect. I recall reaching a place of desperation. I was wounded and in need of relief. God answered my call with more pain, not relief. How could he do such a thing if he is my righteousness?
I wanted the attacking party to come to me in repentance, kindness, and meekness. I wanted them to withdraw the arrow of their words and attend to my festering wound. But God wanted me to linger in the pain, the suffering, until I was desperate, not for kindness and vindication from men but for grace and mercy from Him to endure hardship.
Grace Comes Through a Cross Not a Courtroom
God does not always answer this way, but humility of heart will accept his sovereign design in life’s circumstances. And instead of growing angry and demanding with the God of our righteousness, we will find ourselves drawing near to him, our One true good saying: “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.” We come to realize that our vindication has come through Christ’s propitiation. His hope and healing are cruciform. Grace comes to us through a cross, not through the courtroom. Our attackers will roam free, un-prosecuted. Why? Because mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy triumphs over judgment so that we might be merciful not judgmental, so that the grace of God would abound, not only to us but also towards others. That mercy is a grace. That grace affirms the difficulty of taking up our cross and following him while also sustaining us so that we might be folded into Christ.
This grace is the privilege of being identified with Jesus, who suffered to make all things right with God, to place us in the perfect place of his acceptance and love. And so we pray: “Surround me with your perfect lovingkindness and let me converse with you about your design in my suffering. But let me tell you how much it hurts, how much I need your grace, how much I need you, O God.” If we will receive this grace, we will enter into deeper communion with him and our souls are sweetened in the pain. His grace proves sufficient in our weakness. His answer, though not what we would order, becomes precisely what we need.
How Then Should We Pray?
How should we pray when we suffer? Honestly and with humility. Boldly but with confidence in his blessing. Desperately with our eyes, not on our escape but upon our Lord. Hopefully, by directing our hope to the grace that comes through a cross, not a courtroom. Repentantly, as we let go of sinful demands for vindication and cling to his provision in self-sacrificing propitiation. Pietistically, wanting more than anything a deeper communion with Him. Lovingly, seeking to obtain that mercy for our suffering in order to turn it into a grace for our attackers. Thankfully, for his perfect design and provision in our suffering to bring us the greatest good. Worshipfully, acknowledging that Christ alone is sufficient for our failures and our sufferings.