“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:15
These have been days of trouble for many of us. As one pastor recently put it, “It’s like we were all signed up for a marathon we didn’t want to run and as we approach what looks like the finish line, we are told, ‘Just keep running!’”
For many, the global pandemic has seemed to spark a chain-reaction of difficulties. There have been collective challenges, like quarantines and closures, lost jobs and income. But unique challenges have also hit many of us as individuals, as married couples, and even as families. Pastors are particularly burdened, feeling the weight of the increased needs of the people under their care. In the past week, our family has received news of the death of four loved ones. It seems everyone is carrying something heavy right now.
In times like these, it can be hard to know how to pray. We know we should pray, that above all we need God’s help in these hard times. But if you’re like me, sometimes the words don’t come easily. We don’t know what to ask for or how we should approach God when our hearts are broken.
Here are four recommendations for ways to pray during particularly hard times.
1. Pray with humility.
When life seems to be falling apart, one of the hardest parts of praying is when God shows us the depths of our own need for him. We always need God’s help, but we aren’t always aware of how badly we need it. Troubles have a way of showing us how desperate we are for God to help us on a daily and hourly basis. And so, a wonderful prayer posture is to come before God and humbly admit we need his help and his mercy. To acknowledge we can’t make it on our own. To remind ourselves that “God is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 24:18). We need God to show up and see us through our hard seasons. God loves when his children come to him. He loves to meet our needs to be with us through the hardest seasons of life. As we humble ourselves before him, we will find him able and willing to meet us in our hard times.
2. Pray trusting in God.
Just as we must come to God with humility, we should also come to him with hearts ready to trust him. Our natural response to difficulties is often to question and doubt God, asking “Why would he let this happen? Couldn’t he have prevented it?” It is true that God is all-powerful and can always prevent anything from coming into our lives. As we come to God, we must remember that he loves us and is always working for our good in every situation.
Regardless of what we are facing right now, we must recognize his ways are above our ways and he can be trusted to treat us well as our loving heavenly father. Christ is our wonderful example of this resolved trust. In Gethsemane, our Lord asked for the cup of wrath to pass from him, but then, with a heart full of trust, prayed, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
There are times when God may allow us to endure things we would prefer to avoid. In those times, we must trust in his ways, reminding ourselves that he is in control, that he loves us, and that his wisdom is infinitely above ours. Suffering is never easy, but we can always choose to trust in God. We can pray along with Eli who, after receiving the horrible news his sons were dead, said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:18).
3. Pray the truth of God’s Word.
When life is falling apart, we often don’t know what to pray. These are great times to hear God speaking to us in his Word and to pray God’s words back to him.
For example, you might take Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” and pray something like this:
Father, you invite us to call on you in our days of trouble and that is right where we are. We are troubled by fears of sickness and death and of losing loved ones and our jobs. There are many heavy burdens to carry right now. We ask you to help us and we trust you to deliver us as you have promised in your Word. We will glorify you by not letting our hearts give way to anxiety, fear, or distrust. You are our God and you are good to us. Thank you for helping us.
As we pray God’s Word, we acknowledge our needs and find comfort in communing with God through his powerful Word. These are not just any words, but these are the very words of God. In Isaiah 46:9–11, God says,
For I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed and I will do it.
This is the God to whom we pray. He will accomplish all he has said he will do and loves to hear his children bringing his own Word to him with faith and trust.
4. Pray with thanksgiving
Last, and certainly not least, we must pray with thanksgiving. No matter what you are going through, there are always reasons to be thankful to God.
One of the verses that has made a big impact on my life, especially during hard times, is Philippians 4:4–7:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is a verse that is easy to follow when life is going well but may seem a little odd when things get hard. Are we really to rejoice in the Lord always? Aren’t there things in life we shouldn’t rejoice in?
Notice Paul is saying “rejoice in the Lord.” We are not called to rejoice in evil or tragedy. But when those hard things come into our lives, Paul calls us to continue to rejoice in the Lord. God can still be rejoiced in through the hardest times.
We rejoice and bring our requests to God with “prayers and supplications with thanksgiving.” I’ve always found it interesting that Paul is careful to add “with thanksgiving” here. Life is hard and the burdens are many. Paul shows us that we always have a place to go through prayer and that we always have many reasons to give God thanks.
When life is falling apart, it’s easy to focus on the bad, but Paul is reminding us that God is always working for our good and giving us good gifts. Thanksgiving invites us to look and see the wonderful provisions of our Father through the darkest times.
As we come to God with tears and prayers, we can trust him to comfort us and see us through our darkest valleys. It may very well be that these are the days when God does his greatest work in drawing us to himself and conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.