18 Jun 2020
I watched her body tense as she made eye contact with me and said tearfully, “I don’t want to pray; I don’t know what to say.”
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White and When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “How to Pray When Your Heart Hurts,” which corresponds to this video.
18 Jun 2020
Pain is deafening. Whether physical or emotional, pain not only has the ability to hurt deeply but also to smother our faith and hope in Christ. Pain of betrayal. Rejection. Broken relationships. Loss. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Ongoing sexual struggles. Deferred hopes. Or simply the consequences of living in a broken world with our sinful choices. The sad reality is that, regardless of what triggers our pain, the aftermath can be just as disorienting.
Many Christians have been taught that prayer is a wise response to painful life circumstances. However, one of the things I hear the most from women amidst their suffering and heartache is that they struggle to know what to pray. In the throes of emotional turmoil, many people find that words evade them, or they don’t think they are allowed to say what they truly feel to a holy God. Sexual strugglers can mistakenly believe that their temptations and sins cannot be voiced at the throne of grace. Shame keeps them silent and stuck in an internal dialogue of unbelief: “Can God really handle my truth?!”
God is holy and deserves our reverence, but he also desires to be in relationship with us. For relationship to thrive, there must be communication. But what do you do when the pain of life cuts so deep that you can’t think, let alone find the vocabulary to pray?
Well, you can pray God’s Word. Let his Word come up with what to say for you. Scripture shows us examples of God’s people crying out gut-raw, honest prayers in the midst of their pain and suffering. The Psalms are a great example of this appropriate honesty. When life hurts most, we have a guide!
Here are some ways you can pray when pain is disorienting.
When you feel weak and weary, pray…
“Lord, I am so tired; I don’t feel like I can do this. Your Word says you give power to the weak, and you increase their strength when they have none. Please give me strength to get through this day” (Isaiah 40:29).
When you feel ashamed, pray…
“Father, I am so ashamed; I just keep failing. Please remove my shame because, in Christ, I am your beloved one. Thank you that as I look to you, my face is never covered with shame, regardless of what my emotions tell me” (Psalm 34:5).
When you feel alone and afraid, pray…
“Father, I feel all alone. I’m so scared that this pain is never going to go away. Your Word says not to fear because you are with me, but it is so hard to believe that you are near. Please help me believe. Strengthen me, help me, and uphold me with your righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
When you feel grief, pray…
“Father, my hopes and dreams are caving in. As Proverbs 13:12 says, a deferred hope makes the heart sick, and that’s all I feel right now. Thank you that a day is coming when you will wipe away every tear from my eyes; when there will be no more death, sorrow, or crying; when there will be no more pain as the former things pass away” (Revelation 21:4).
When you doubt God, pray…
“Lord, I just don’t understand! The pain of this ongoing struggle is making me question so many things. Please help me trust in you and not lean on my own understanding. I acknowledge you as God. Help me believe that you will make straight my path” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
When you feel tempted, pray…
“Father, help! I don’t feel like I can say no to this. I know this temptation that is trying to overtake me is common to mankind, and your Word says you are faithful—you will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. This feels like too much to bear, so help me see the way out that you provide for me to endure this” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When you need hope, pray…
“Lord, I feel hopeless. But thank you that I have more to hope in than my present circumstances. Thank you that, according to your great mercy, you have caused me to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for me. By your power, I am guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Are you struggling to know what to pray? Be honest with God about how you feel. When we are crushed in spirit, God doesn’t expect us to package all of our emotions into neat, little gift boxes. He doesn’t say, “Child, don’t speak until you have something eloquent to say.”
Instead, he meets us in our honesty with mercy and compassion. He speaks tenderly to us with peace, love, and forgiveness (Hosea 2:14). He does what only he can do by taking the pain meant to destroy us and using it to make us more like Jesus, the person who is most able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
The next time that life hurts so bad you can’t think of words to pray, or when circumstances make despair seem like the only feasible option, let God’s Word be your guide. Our loving Father already knows exactly what you’re feeling, so accept his invitation to tell him about it.
You can also watch the video, “Praying with Someone in Pain,” which corresponds to this blog.
One of the most common questions I receive from individuals who learn about our ministry to hurting parents is, “Where would you even start to help a parent struggling with this?” They usually ask with a sincere concern and eagerness to help. Nowadays, Christians are well aware of the cultural shifts occurring with sexual and gender identities but are often at a loss for how to speak into these issues. In particular, you may feel heavily burdened to help a parent whose child embraces an LGBTQ+ identity, but you may also feel nervous and timid when approaching such a difficult subject.
If you personally know a parent whose child is experiencing these issues, or you would like to help Christian parents who are navigating these difficult waters, I encourage you to be assertive in utilizing one of the most powerful tools of help: prayer.
Christian parents desperately need your prayers. Often, this experience is devastating and disorienting for a parent. It leaves them feeling a range of emotions from guilt, to fear, sadness, despair, and grief. Their questions and fears are simply overwhelming. In the midst of their hurt and confusion, parents need reassurance of the truth and comfort of Jesus Christ. As with many hard trials that we endure, parents need to be reminded of the truths of God they already know but are struggling to see and believe. They need the body of Christ interceding for them, providing strength in the midst of their weakness. I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure” (Life Together, 23). In our place of strength, may we commit ourselves to interceding for parents who are deeply struggling.
When you are at a loss for which words to pray, Scripture is a good place to start. God’s word gives us language to use as we pray it back to him. I encourage you to consider finding specific passages to direct your prayer and intercession for hurting parents.
Here are a number of ways you can pray:
Pray for Comfort in Their Pain
“Lord you say, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Would you let this parent know the blessing of your deep comfort in the midst of their grief over their child?” (Matthew 5:4)
“Thank you, Lord, that you are near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit. Be near to these parents in their heartbreak.” (Psalm 34:18)
Pray for Peace and Trust in God
“I pray these parents would turn to you in their anxious thoughts about their child, because you are for them. May your peace, which transcends their understanding of what is taking place, guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as they entrust their requests to you.” (Philippians 4:4–7)
“I pray that this parent would trust in you with all her heart and not lean on her own understanding of what is best for her child. I pray that she would acknowledge you in all her ways, that you might direct her steps!” (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Pray for Wisdom to Love Their Child
“Father, this is my prayer: that these parents’ love for their child may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. May they be able to discern what is best, and may they be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:9–11)
Pray for Strength and Perseverance
“Lord, please help these parents lay aside every weight and sin that entangles and run with perseverance the race you have marked out for them. Help them fix their eyes on you, the Author and Protector of their faith, who endured the cross for the joy set before him. Help them consider you who endured such opposition from sinners so that they may not grow weary or lose heart in their continued love for their child.” (Hebrews 12:1–3)
“Father, you say that you will renew the strength of those who wait on you. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. I pray that you would help this parent wait on you, Lord, that you might renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Pray for Their Child
“Lord, you are the spring of living water! Open this child’s eyes to see you rightly, as the true living water for their soul. Help them see that turning to anything else to find fulfilment apart from you is only a broken cistern that cannot hold water. May you draw them to yourself.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
“Father, only you can remove a heart of stone and give a heart of flesh. I pray that you would soften this child’s heart. I pray your Holy Spirit would move in them so that they would desire to follow after you.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
Many issues need to be addressed to effectively battle against sexual sin, but perhaps the most pervasive and overarching battle is a battle to kill pride and cultivate humility.
To learn more from Mark Sanders, read his accompanying blog: Hope vs. Despair
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14, ESV).
This verse gives us two clear and connected steps to take in finding growth and change from debilitating sexual struggles. The first step is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Having acknowledged your sin before God and a trusted person (see previous blog post), now Jesus commands and enables you to “stand up and walk” by faith. What does it mean to “put on Christ?” It means three things:
- Seek consistent fellowship with God through his word and in prayer. This seems so basic that often we overlook it. Nothing, however, can replace cultivating our relationship with Jesus. When sexual sin has been a secret, shame-provoking part of a person’s life, often the heart has been dulled in devotion to Christ. Living water and fresh nourishment must be feasted upon regularly to fill and satisfy a hungry heart.
- Cultivate authentic relationships with Christians. Have you noticed that a good part of the Bible’s commands cannot be obeyed unless we are in relationship with other Christians? (See 1 John 1:7, which connects one’s walk with God to one’s walk with other believers.) God has designed our faith to be personal and intimate with him, but not apart from rich involvement in the life of other believers in the church. Do you have at least two people in your life with whom you can allow yourself to be fully known and prayed for? To be encouraged and discipled by? If you don’t, begin asking the Lord for such friends as these. It’s that important!
- Seek opportunities to love and serve others. There is grace, comfort, and joy to be poured into us and through us. We were not designed by God to be receptacles but conduits of his love and mercy. Look for opportunities to reach out to someone and show them love and care. For this you were made:“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Did you notice that I’ve said nothing regarding sexual sin in the advice I’ve given? That’s intentional! Most women who have struggled sexually have spent so much time focusing on “sin management” or battling against temptation, that they have neglected cultivating their relationships—with Jesus and with other sisters in the Lord.
Jesus, not the sin itself, must be the one upon whom you fix your gaze as you seek to walk away from sin!
The second step is to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” While cultivating and building up relationships is crucial, especially as a first step, you still need to know how to fight the battle! Overcoming sin patterns, including sexual sin, is never something we “happen upon” or coast into. No, sin must be intentionally fought as we flee temptations and deal directly with the heart issues from which they are triggered.
- Identify and then avoid and flee triggers and temptations. What are the situations, influences, people, and emotions which seem to weaken your resolve to obey God? Is it being alone? Watching certain types of entertainment? Anger, hunger, loneliness, boredom, and fear can push us to crumble in the face of temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 instructs believers to flee temptation as we receive the escape path he provides. To run on that path of escape increasingly means we must learn to discern when we are creeping near to sin. Ask yourself, “What helps me to sin, and how can I avoid these influences?”
- Fast from good gifts which are not good for you. One common struggle we all have is taking good things from God and then worshipping them—allowing them to mean more to your heart than God himself. Are there things that you use or have that, while either enjoyable or useful, are increasingly pulling you into temptation and sin? Your smartphone? Your laptop? Places you are visiting or people you are hanging around with? Will fasting from these things be difficult or inconvenient? Sure. I challenge you to try this. Hard as it might be, this may be a necessary step in order to focus your time and attention on Christ and recapture your thought life.
- Refuse to isolate or hide. It’s been said that the power of secret sin is in the secret. To “walk in the light” (1 John 1: 1-9) and to “renounce secret and shameful ways” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) will mean sharing your life and struggles with others. This path of obedience (and grace!) flows from what I said above about cultivating authentic relationships.
These initial steps, walked out day by day, little by little, over a lifetime, will lead you increasingly into the spacious freedom which is ours through Jesus Christ. All of this is waiting for you. May you find in Jesus the humility to run to him—or be carried to him by others who know you—in order to discover the life you really want.