We can overcome much by the power of God through prayer. Through difficult circumstances, prayer gives us an opportunity to become intimate with God, overcoming a sense of loneliness or worthlessness and aligning our hearts with God. Amid tragedy, prayer enables us to overcome our grief and find hope again.
When we are young, we don’t stop to consider the possibility of losing a loved one, a dream, a job, an opportunity, or our health. But all too soon, life happens and we are left looking into the face of deep tragedy and loss. When this happens, we can lose hope or decide to give up.
Like many of you, I have experienced situations that caused great grief. From dealing with multiple miscarriages, to financial collapse, to the death of my spouse, many situations left me feeling hopeless. In each instance, the one constant that caused me to find hope and strength was prayer. Prayer assured me that God is still present, still sitting on the throne, still loving us, and still powerful enough to meet all our needs. I want to share with you some of the ways prayer enabled me to overcome hopelessness.
When one is overwhelmed with grief or loss and hope is gone, it is often difficult to pray. The heart is too full of sorrow and the mind is so numb that words don’t come. Even if words do come, they seem to fall to the floor as soon as we utter them. In addition to claiming the promise that the Holy Spirit continually intercedes for us with wordless groans (Romans 8:26), I have learned that when the pain is intense and words beyond reach, I find comfort and hope by praying God’s words back to him. The Psalms are particularly helpful, as many of them are songs of lament, verbalizing the pain our hearts are feeling. The Psalmists were not afraid to bring grief to God. Beyond Psalms, any portion of scripture is powerful when prayed in faith. There was a time when I watched my son struggle in high school. My heart was so heavy I didn’t know what to pray, so I prayed Philippians 1:9-11 over him every day: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” It took a long time, but God has answered that prayer in ways that were beyond my ability to ask or imagine. Hope comes when one prays scripture because you know you are praying in God’s will. His word assures us he is listening and that he longs to answer with love and grace.
Not only is God’s word the perfect place to find the words to pray when your own won’t come, but it is also full of powerful promises that are bursting with hope. Many of us cognitively know these promises, but we don’t always claim them and live into them. When grief and loss wear us down, the evil one fills our minds with lies, robs us of hope, and keeps us from holding fast to the powerful truth of who God is and who we are. I encourage you now to start making a list of scriptures that give you hope in times of trial. Keep the list in your Bible so that, when the struggles come and you are too overwhelmed to think clearly, you will have a tool to help you keep your eyes on the hope of God’s sure promises. Promises like those found in Isaiah 54:10, Hebrews 13:5, Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 4:17…and I could literally go on and on. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to verses that are a particular comfort to you. Then when tragedy strikes, chose to believe these truths and rest in God’s grace as you rediscover your hope.
No one is comfortable with the negative feelings and the pain that accompanies trials and grief. We fear to let others see the depth of our pain, so we try to cover it up or stoically “suck it up.” Unfortunately, we can’t find the healing we need unless we honestly face the doubts, anger, confusion, despair that is deep within. Only then can we reclaim hope. The best place to be totally honest with all the ugly feelings and pain in is the presence of God in prayer. I have laid on my prayer rug with tears streaming down my face, yelling at God for how unfair life is, asking him where he is in the middle of the mess, telling him how angry and confused I am. And you know what, he has NEVER pushed me away or admonished me. At those times, I felt his loving arms around me as I rant and rave and then when I calm down, he gently reminds me of who I am and who he is. Being open and honest with God in prayer has given me an opportunity to get rid of burdens of anger, shame, guilt, doubt, fear, and so much more.
There is a lie circulating that tears are a sign of weakness, but I believe our tears are prayers we cannot utter. Instead of a sign of weakness, I have discovered it takes strength to be honest about our weakness. It takes great courage to let the tears fall as we face the negative feelings of grief, loss, and pain. And it takes trust to give ourselves over to the loving embrace of the Comforter to carry us. When you are feeling hopeless, never forget God is still present, still holding onto you so run into God’s presence and honestly pour out your deepest feelings and let the tears fall. There you will hear him say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). There you will find overcoming hope.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema