Thinking About Pain…

Anthony Weber wrote an article about suffering a long time ago that I had difficulty understanding and swallowing.  He said (and I believe he was quoting someone else),

“To diminish suffering is to refuse to need God.”

“Suffering is God’s primary way of uprooting our self-reliance.”

“Our prayer is often for God to change our circumstances or feelings.  Instead, we should cry out for strength to serve and glorify Him in the presence of suffering.”

“Faith does not demand the removal of suffering; faith desires endurance in the suffering.”

I could not understand or swallow it, not just because I couldn’t figure out why I should listen to him, but also because it went against every instinct I have. I do not want to ask God to give me strength to serve him and glorify him in the presence of suffering. I want him to take it away and the suggestion that I should desire the former seemed absurd.

I did not think I was refusing to need God by seeking to diminish my suffering – after all, is not our basic instinct to protect ourselves? Are we not supposed to avoid pain?

I returned to his blog the next day to read the post but it didn’t make any more sense. I was sitting in church today when I had one of those moments of clarity. God isn’t going to take the pain away. However much it hurts, it builds us and that is what he wishes to do. I can’t manipulate him with my cries and tears and no amount of prayers would change it. Rather than seek to end it, I should find ways to use it to his glory and in his service. I should let him do his work in me and conform him to the image of his son, who also was made perfect through his suffering (Hebrews 2:10). In other words, what Weber said. It was always very clear.

I prayed (or had friends pray) for God’s help learning to deal with pain five days ago. Now, I can cross it off my list.

Weber has another post on suffering titled “When God Weeps”. I haven’t read it yet, but I will and you should too.

On Answered and Unanswered Prayers

I started my prayer diary at the end of last month. It’s a wonderful way to watch my spiritual progress while keeping track of my prayers. So far, I have 17 answered prayers, 2 unanswered ones and 9 pending.  But it is not the numbers that are interesting. I’ve noticed some very interesting things. I can group my prayers into a number of categories and then predict whether or not I’m likely to get the answer I want. My predictions may not be reliable, though.

Prayers that are usually answered instantly
These are usually prayers for things over which I have no control, but which are quite important. They include prayers for strength to study when I’m feeling ill, or for courage to do something that really scares me. In short, they are prayers for things which I need at that very moment, but cannot do for myself. It doesn’t mean that I actually do those things, but that I get the strength, fortitude and courage to do them.

Prayers that are usually answered quickly, but not instantly
These are usually prayers for insight into or help understanding things which are time-dependent e.g. schoolwork that has a due date or really pressing questions about God or the Bible that threaten my faith.

Prayers that are usually answered, but not very quickly
Lots of prayers fall into this category but they mostly tend not to be time-dependent or pressing. They include prayers for insight into matters of scripture that are not very pressing and prayers to develop important Christ-like characteristics.

Prayers whose answers depend on me
Some prayers in the previous groups also fall into this one, especially where matters of understanding are concerned. They include prayers for things which require effort from me. Prayers for help paying attention in class are one good example. If I pray but do not make any effort, I drift off and miss all the professor says. Other examples are prayers to do well on tests and for help with problems I can handle on my own. When I first noticed this, I began to wonder why I should pray for those things at all but then Psalm 127:1 comes to mind.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.

If I pray but do nothing, nothing might happen and if I work hard and do not pray, nothing might happen. I can see how God might use this to teach us the importance of hard work and knowledge of his sovereignty.

Prayers that are usually never answered
This group includes prayers for an end to pain. When I cry myself to sleep at night because I didn’t do as well as I would have liked on a test and I ask him to make it stop hurting so badly, there’s no answer. He comforts me and assures me that it won’t last. I’ll feel better eventually but he usually lets it run its course however long that may be.So, should I still pray for such things? I think so. The reason is simple: there may someday be one instance in which he does want to moderate the pain. Besides, it’s not like I can stop myself.