suffering and the unanswered prayer…

A line from the song Casimir Pulaski Day, written by my favorite musician Sufjan Stevens, says, “Tuesday night at the Bible study we lift our hands and pray over your body but nothing ever happens.”

It is with notions and sentiments such as this that we uncover the difficult areas of faith that are many times too taboo, or too controversial, for the Church to entertain. It is as if our recognition of the fact that God sometimes does not seem to answer our prayers somehow then compromises our faith at its very core.

The truth of the matter is that there is nothing wrong with recognizing the fact that there are times when God does not answer prayer the way that I would like. And sometimes that means the unanswered prayer will make my life hard…sometimes unbearable…but it doesn’t mean that God is not there suffering with me or that God has turned against me and does not love me.

I don’t speak of such matters in ignorance, for over the last ten years of my life I have dealt with severe body pain. For the most part I keep it to myself. I don’t talk about it much, only to a few close friends, because I can’t stand to be the center of attention. So the less I share about it, the less people will focus on me. That is the way I like it. But in those few instances when I have opened up with others about it, they were very surprised at how much I suffer through the pain.

I can identify with the cry of the Psalmist, in my suffering through unanswered prayer, as he writes, “O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me. Save me because of your unfailing love.”

But there is only silence and questions.

Why is it that God has not answered my prayers when I have asked for relief from this excruciating pain that won’t go away? Why is it that God has not answered the prayers of those closest to me when they have prayed for me? Why is it that God did not answer the prayers of one of my closest friends yesterday when he put his arms around me and prayed for me like no one has ever prayed for me before?

Am I now a man that has compromised his faith by asking such pointed and direct questions as to the distant hand of God? Or could it be that I am just a guy that embodies on a small scale the much larger reality of life- the unresolved tension between the pain and suffering in this life and the hope and anticipation of what is to come? I believe it is the latter. We carry this tension with us everywhere we go, waiting patiently and contently in hope, while continuing to give praise to God with every breath in great anticipation of this tension being resolved and all things being restored as God always intended.

It isn’t as if this is unique to humanity. We witness this same tension all throughout creation. There is a frustration and an anticipation all throughout creation, from what it is to what it will become, from bondage to decay to glorious freedom. This is the consistent condition that we find ourselves in, and through which we have hope of being rescued and renewed.

Paul writes that, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

In our humanity it is impossible to grasp the will of God. And in our limited humanity we ask questions and wonder why some prayers are answered, while others seem to be ignored. It is only the Spirit who works and intercedes on our behalf in those moments of weakness and who helps us to understand that God’s greater purposes and will is being done whether our prayer is answered or unanswered. For in the answered prayer we trust and celebrate that the goodness and glory of God is being extended from person to person throughout the world. And in the unanswered prayer we trust that the goodness and glory of God is being extended in the world as others witness our patience, contentment, and joy through suffering.

That is how I choose to extend the greater purposes of God in this world through my suffering. Let me be a patient, content, and joyful example of what it looks like to bear the tension of pain and suffering and the anticipation of what is to come. I know that it is through my sufferings that I persevere in order to develop the character that embodies the hope of what is to come, and it is through this that I…and the Christian…can live contently now with the tension of suffering and the unanswered prayer.

brandon

10 thoughts on “suffering and the unanswered prayer…

  1. Hey, I have missed you and the way that God has gifted you to speak truth, even if it comes from your own pain and sufffering; I am very sorry for the pain you deeply feel to the core of you joints. I also know from the journey only those who have suffered, or are suffering currently; can lead a rag tag army of cripples to the Savior who heals, suffered unto death him self. Who they cried out to him in his own suffering, come down off the cross and we will believe, he helped others why can’t he help himself. In my own deepest hour of need Psalm 22 has been my only hope. As you said in your post at the top, he suffers with us enters our suffering, he is not far off, and that is the healing to the rub of my questions. Brandon, thank you for leading people and not being afraid to post questions, I deeply appreciate it for it is not often seen enough of a leader disclosing and baring himself like Jesus said to his disciples, not to lord over the people but to lead from behind. I love you bro.

    Thomas your fellow worker in his fields

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  2. The book of Job alone should be sufficient enough to back up your above article Brandon. I would also highly recommend, if you have not already read it, C.S.Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain.” He write the book while he was wife was dying of cancer. All prayers are answered. That is the promise of the Word. They are just not answered according to our wishes…but according to His desires.

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  3. Thank you Brandon! Being a Christian and daily suffering seems like a paradox. But you encourage me as I learned that your suffering is becoming a platform for worship! Blessed be the name of the Lord! Thanks again for being transparent!

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  4. Brandon – The power of prayer pierces your life and allows you to flow into what God has made you. Like in a war you are not on the defensive, but rather on the team with the ball. The hope that you have expressed through your words is a comfort to us all. This reminds me of praying to God to provide me with my bride for so many years before I knew her as well as praying for our child so many years before he was conceived. Praying in God’s will we were always taught or we were lead to think that positive answers would come within hours or days. Looking back I would not have traded the closeness I have become to God through my 12 mile hikes alone praying and praising God or on my knees crying out. This seems like a reflection of liking the pain, but rather it’s a celebration of who God is and how he refines us into his likeness. Looking at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 the first beatitudes: blessed are..the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek- these are all ones we participate in not because we want to, but because God uses these to bring us close to him. I do not like to be in mourning, I do not like to cower in the corner as if not to have a backbone-I would rather be strong and vocal. God uses these times of weekness to draw us near to his heart-this is the blessing-communion with him. The other beatitudes are those we actively pursue-where we should be in prayer about to allign ourselves with Christ: We should pray for a hunger and thirst for righteousness, we should actively pray for a heart of mercy and that it should be pure, we should actively be praying to be peacemakers. The last two are how we can actively use what Christ has called us to be alligned with him. Without him the last two are impossible. Being percecuted for righteousness and for Christ’s sake. He has refined us into his image and continues to do so. Overlaying the beattitudes with seasons in life sometimes helps me to understand more fully. He preps us for next steps, he preps us foor what we need for the next stage. He gives us the strength where there is none to be had. He brings us VICTORY when you are but a small man up against a mighty giant. Think of it like going into the weapons depot as a soldier. A man greets you at the door and begins to show you the tools you will need for battle. He offers you a sword which you grip in your hand and hold aloft looking at the shimmer of the blade. He then offers you a suit of armor and you put it on, and so on until you are fitted with your helment. You are now ready; you leave saying gooodbye to the man thanking him as you venture out in conffidence knowing that you are ready. Christ has called us all to be in communion with him. He calls us to be warriors in prayer and persevere through the difficult times. Thank you Brandon for sharing how active prayer is. Hang in there. We will be praying for you.

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  5. I’m doing a study that addressed the issue of suffering this week, and I’d like to share what I learned about what the Bible says about why suffering is part of God’s plan. (It’s an issue I deal with as well, although not physical).

    Brandon already made reference to Romans 5:3-5, about how suffering builds character.

    Romans 8:17-18 tells us that if we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will also share in His glory (and mentions, praise God, that what we’re suffering now is NOTHING compared to the glory!)

    From 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, we learn that when we suffer, we learn to rely on God instead of ourselves.

    2 Timothy 1:11-12 teaches us that we suffer as part of ministry or when God has trusted us with great responsibility.

    And 1 Peter 1:6-7 says that suffering refines our faith and proves how genuine it is.

    I’m praising God for His promises…

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  6. I love you son and I wish I could take your pain, but Jesus tells us that If anyone among you sick, Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective

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  7. I appreciate your well worded and thoughtful article. This subject is so huge and so formidable to all Christians and many non Christians. Talking about it can only help.

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  8. I had to come back to this, because while I love it that you are talking about it, I have some issues with your perspective. I agree with your Dad. I want to be frank without being mean, so please understand I may not say this just right.
    I am concerned when your opening paragraph is from a line in a song that exalts Non- biblical ideals. Time after time we pray, but you don’t answer. That is a perspective of faithlessness. What happened to ” Call unto me and I will show you great and wondrous things, you do not know!” ? My God will answer me!
    If I take the path of what God does not do, I am going to find myself in a desperately hopeless desert.
    In the end of the Psalm it says ” for I have trusted in your steadfast love my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing unto The Lord for He has dealt bountifully with me.”
    I have found myself in sickness and pain. God has delivered me from everything I have petitioned Him for deliverance.
    I had to take a different approach to suffering. Either the Bible is true or my experience is true. Jesus said I could ask anything in His name and it would be given to me! However, my experience with that verse fell short of truth, so is Jesus a liar or am I crazy.
    I began to talk with God about this problem I had….. Not believing what God said over my intellect or my experience. This is part of what I came away with…… How long would I have to pray to get the answer? 24 hrs, 72 hrs, a week, a month? Am I willing to fight for the answer, pursue the answer with determination or am I putting the outcome at the feet of God with no responsibility on me?
    God wants to heal. His name is Jehovah Rapha ( The Lord who heals) . But there are elements to the process that most followers do not want to address, like the work involved to obtain it.
    I am ruined. I have seen too much to not beleive.
    “But there is only silence and questions” you say. I know exactly what you are saying, but in light of that silence don’t you get just a little curious about a God who says, if you seek me you will find me, but you walk away with questions without answers. I did. So this is what I did. Lock yourself in a place, a cave like Dumas did and seek God and don’t stop until He answers. Break through to heaven. My wife and I fasted for eighty days once. Extreme? We sought God’s help with an issue beyond our control. He did everything we asked of Him. I want to know God. What does it take to gain entrance to the wisdom of God? How far are you willing to go ?
    The perspective we take determines the outcome of our condition.
    I agree with you that there are always struggles and pain and suffering in this world, but as you noted ” the Spirit Himself makes intercession for the Saints in accordance with God’s will” , which, if I read correctly is to always heal us, deliver us, improve us, bless us and strengthen us. If something other than that is occurring then there is a problem to iron out.
    You are an excellent writer. Thanks for being so open. God bless my brother.

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