It may seem odd to talk about pain in the modern Christian life. If you were to examine today’s preaching and worship music, you’d likely get the sense that the Christian life is supposed to be a perpetual state of happiness, or that happiness can be gained in five simple steps.
Yet many believers are stuck in a perpetual state of pain. Perhaps that pain is loneliness, depression, anxiety, or a combination of these hurts. How should we understand these struggles, and how do we pray with God in the midst of pain?
What Happened to Lament?
First off, I want to be clear that the primary mode of existence for the Christian life ought to be one of joy, not the pain of a fallen world.
The subject of joy is all over Scripture, and it is presented as a blessing that God graciously gives to believers (Luke 1:14, John 15:11, Nehemiah 8:10, Psalm 16:11, 1 Peter 1:8, Philippians 4:4). Joy characterized the early Christians (Acts 8:7-8, Acts 16:34), even in periods of persecution or hardship (Acts 5:41, Romans 5:3, James 1:2). Joy is considered a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
The problem is when we have that nagging feeling that we should be happy all the time, or something is wrong with us.
Here’s the thing: The Bible recognizes that there is pain in the Christian life. When we read the Psalms, we see both prayers of praise and lament. In fact, the prayers of lament comprise the largest section of the Psalms! If you want to learn how to pray with God in your pain, try praying some of the laments. Examples include Psalms 22, 39, 59, 74, and 109.
Take note: You will struggle praying the laments, if you think you must present a cleaned-up version of yourself to God lest you offend Him. The prayers of the lament Psalms do not reflect this. The psalmist is giving himself in prayer to God; not a happy fake avatar of himself. He is expressing his honest feelings. He is being real.
Asking the Right Questions
When we experience pain in life, sometimes we just need to talk it out with someone. Many of us already do this with other people, as we should. But God is also available. Prayer is not a one-way conversation, but a dynamic engagement with the God who speaks.
Consider Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The psalmist is asking God to run a diagnostic on his heart and direct his way accordingly.
In light of this, we may find it helpful to ask God some questions and then spend time attending to His voice…
- Lord, why was this so hard for me to deal with?
- Lord, why am I downcast?
- Lord, how do I process what just happened?
- Lord, why do I feel this way about this person?
- Lord, where are You in this situation?
- Lord, how do I be with You in the midst of this?
- Lord, what do You have for me here?
Give these questions time — perhaps 10 or 15 minutes for each question you choose to ask. If you don’t hear anything, don’t worry; just sit with God in silence. Either way, you are with God, and God can use that in powerful ways. If you do hear something in your mind, process those thoughts and use your own God-given wisdom to discern if your thoughts are good and biblical. It could be that God has just spoken to you, or that God brought something to your mind that was there all along.
Will this practice heal you of depression and anxiety? I expect it will help. But the purpose of this exercise is primarily to learn how to pray with God in your pain. It’s not about results; it’s about relationship. If you are with him, you are doing well.
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