Sometimes, the evidence of God’s power is not always easy to see in the lives of those who choose to follow Him.
Many people who are struggling or in pain ask questions such as...
“Why do we suffer so much in life?”
“What does God want me to do when I’m suffering?”
“Does God care about my pain?"
If we’re going to suffer despite committing our lives to God, shouldn’t He bless us in return?
“I didn’t see you at church today,” Kate said.
Lindsay sighed. “Well, I appreciate your call.”
“How is Sam doing?” Kate asked.
“Some days are better than others, but it’s tough all the time.”
“I understand,” Kate said. “And how are you doing?”
“I’m okay, I guess.”
“Well, Lindsay, just remember, everyone at church is praying for Sam. And for you too.”
Kate spoke up. “Are you there?”
After a short pause, Lindsay answered. “Listen, Kate, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’d appreciate it if you’d tell everyone to stop praying for us.”
“Lindsay, why do you want everyone to stop praying?”
“Because, I don’t believe God is going to heal Sam’s cancer. We’ve been praying for months, but he’s not getting better, he’s getting worse. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if God even cares about us right now.”
“Lindsay, don’t think like that. God cares, and He can heal Sam. I just know—”
Lindsay interrupted. “Kate, I really need to go. Thanks for calling.”
The successive beeps told Kate that her call with Lindsay had ended.
Kate put her phone down and sat in the hush of her living room. For just a moment, she let the silence wrap around her as she thought to herself, then turned her attention to God. “Lord, Lindsay is right. We’ve been praying for months now. She and Sam have been faithful to you. Why haven’t you healed him?”
She strained to listen for the slightest hint of God’s still, small voice. But the only sound she could hear was the echo of her own questions.
God, are you listening? Where are you?
Have you ever felt like Lindsay or Kate?
Have you ever doubted that God was listening as you poured your heart out to Him?
If you said yes, you aren’t alone. Not many people can say they have trusted God beyond the shadow of a doubt, especially in trying circumstances.
is god listening?
You, or someone you care about, may be suffering from an illness or a financial hardship. Maybe you’re having trouble with a relationship or job. The list of problems we face in life is nearly endless, and the heartache can go on for days, weeks, or even years.
It’s inevitable that we’ll all face something too big for us to handle alone. What options do we have when we have prayed for God to take the pain but continue to suffer?
Let’s review the stories of two men from the Bible as we attempt to answer these questions.
thorn in the flesh
The Bible teaches us about God’s character and how He works in the lives of those who choose to trust Him.
Paul of Tarsus was one of the most faithful men of God to ever live. In the midst of helping the government persecute Christians, Paul became a believer during a dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ that changed him forever.
From that moment, he spent the rest of his life spreading the message of Christ while playing a key role in developing the first-century church. Paul has been credited with writing as many as thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul mentions a mysterious ailment that caused him so much pain he referred to it as “torment.” In the letter, he explains:
“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9)
Here, we see that though Paul asked God to remove the pain, his request was denied—not once, but three times. In the end, Paul accepted that he would have to live with his malady, and that God’s grace would sustain him. Paul was also reminded that God’s power is magnified in suffering (“My power works best in weakness”).
But Paul wasn’t the only one required to be faithful in pain.
was jesus afraid to die?
Jesus, God’s Son in human flesh, understood the immense pressure of fear. Just days before He was killed, He went to God in prayer and asked to be spared. Jesus was so afraid, He told three of his closest friends, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death…” (Matthew 26:38).
He took this fear to God in a desperate plea for help.
During His prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus expressed His deep desire to avoid the suffering that awaited Him. Matthew 26:39 tells us, “He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’”
Three times, Jesus asked God to spare Him. His prayers took place over the course of several hours and in the middle of the night. No doubt, Jesus was distressed by the weight of His mission.
Neither Jesus nor Paul got the answer they desired. Instead, they were forced to forge ahead despite the pain and suffering. However, both men realized that God’s plan was more important than their desire to avoid pain.
I’m not suggesting that you will never be healed from your affliction or overcome your problems. But the passages above illustrate that two of God’s most faithful men were not immune to suffering and pain. Even though their purpose was ordained by God and played a pivotal role in changing human history, neither was spared from enduring hardship.
Should we not also expect that we will have to suffer, too?
what doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Now, it’s time to be human.
How many of us can say we would be at peace accepting pain, suffering, or even death—all for the glory of God? Ask this question in a crowded room, and I doubt you’ll see many hands go up.
But God accomplishes much more in the face of adversity and pain than in other circumstances. Our focus on God tends to be more intense when we’re suffering than when our lives are going well.
How many people pray for God to help after discovering they, or someone they care about, is ill or dying?
How many people decide to commit their lives to Christ once they have gone down the wrong road again and again?
It’s human nature to take matters into our own hands until we realize we no longer have control of the situation. Only then are we forced to relinquish control and trust God.
And that is when He does His best work in and through us.
how does god use pain?
Suffering has a mysterious effect on the human heart. Some of the greatest stories of heroism have been written in the blood of sacrifice. Many of our greatest life-lessons have been borne out of mistakes and regret. Difficult circumstances united those who might have otherwise divided.
Throughout history, people have found strength in their weakest moments.
How many times have we been inspired by people who have stared death in the face with a peace and confidence that only God could provide?
How many people have encouraged us by having a heart of forgiveness when they have been victims of injustice?
By nature, humans aren’t wired to respond this way. Our nature is to lash out, feel sorry for ourselves, and demand revenge. Our instincts drive us to survive at all costs—even at the expense of others.
But if we can hand the situation over to God and ask Him to provide us with the ability to persevere, perhaps we will come to understand what Paul meant when he wrote in the book of Philippians:
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”