When we can’t stop crying, or we can barely get out of bed in the morning, this is a beautiful testimony that pain can and will be used for astonishing Kingdom purposes. Our dark days are not forgotten or belittled by our Savior.
Normal life is restored now that the holidays are over, but you feel blah. That post-festivity let-down has carried on into January, maybe because the holidays brought a lot of pain with them or they stirred up old wounds. What if you are still feeling blah into February, or worse than that: depressed? God is listening, and here is what he says about the darkness you walk through.
Emotional Darkness Is Real
John Piper refers to Psalm 40, in which David declared, “God brought me up from a desolate pit.” Our heavenly Father doesn’t want you to pretend there is no darkness, no despair.
There is a pit, it’s very dark, and we all fall into it sometimes. “The Bible does not present our walk with God as uninterrupted brightness,” Piper acknowledged. David declared, “Troubles without number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me; I am unable to see” (v.12).
What an honest cry! Some of his suffering was caused by the sin of others (such as Saul), but some of it came from his own sin, and he was overwhelmed. The Lord had compassion on David throughout all of it.
“In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Jesus did not stipulate what sorts of trouble we would have, but he wanted us to know that following him would not mean we would be trouble-free.
God Promises to Help Us
Somewhere, the idea has gotten out there that Christ said, “Pull your socks up!” Many Christians promote the idea too, when faced with a friend’s depression or a loved one’s anxiety — “well, did you pray about it? You know God’s got it, so just move on.” But what did God say? He tells us to call on him; invite him to sit with us in the middle of our suffering.
David faithfully declared, “He turned to me and heard my cry for help” (v. 1). The Lord turns his face to us. Christ’s observation that we would experience tribulation ended with this promise: “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
He will bring an end to depression and to all pain one day. Meanwhile, we can expect to suffer. But “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Revelation 21:4 offers us this beautiful image of what Jesus will do with our pain: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
“But he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks” (Psalm 107:41). God will do all of these things in time, he has given us his word, and he can always be trusted.
But we ask along with the Psalmist, “How long Lord?” (13:1). Christians lament, “He is taking so long to come back! Pain and sorrow will be no more when Christ returns. When, Jesus, when?” We might wonder: what does he want from us?
What Can We Do?
We can’t help God to fulfill his plans, but we can defy Satan and our own pain. Scripture guides our waiting so that we can experience God’s peace and even experience joy in the midst of trials. Here are three things we can do.
1. Pray. Acts 16:23-25 recounts what happened to Paul and Silas in Macedonia during their imprisonment.
After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Two faithful men were flogged and imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel — their pain would have been extraordinary. Jailers weren’t concerned about the conditions their prisoners lived in. They didn’t tend wounds or offer meals. Yet, in the depths of suffering, these men called out to God.
The text does not say the two men ignored their suffering. In another letter, Paul described what he went through both in Macedonia and elsewhere.
“On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing” (2 Corinthians 11:26-27).
God knows, but he wants to hear about it.
Have you ever felt the chaos of a situation lose its power as you spoke about it with someone else? Imagine the result if that “someone else” was your Heavenly Father.
2. Give thanks. Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Paul’s life was evidence that the Lord does not always scoop his people out of painful situations, yet the apostle says, “Give thanks,” even before prayers have been answered with “yes,” “no,” or “wait.”
He encourages the church to be thankful that they can even make these prayers directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ, even when they are suffering.
Why with thanks? If you are reading this and you are now or have ever suffered from depression, you know how difficult it is to think of reasons to be thankful and what a sacrifice it can feel like to come up for air just enough to glimpse the light. The darkness seems to be your friend; it’s such a compelling idea.
But thankfulness is a glimmer of light, a very special weapon against despair. I picture someone trying to slam a door, and a foot goes into the gap — that is thankfulness.
Don’t let the door close on your gratitude to the Lord for what he did on the cross, for the empty tomb, and for what he has promised to do in the future.
If you can start there, it’s possible — just possible — to think of other reasons to be thankful. It can feel exhausting to get outside of your personal experience, to think beyond your own circumstances, and the Lord knows how hard this is.
The Psalms are full of anguish after all — our Father is not afraid to hear about your feelings. But it’s a great relief when you can look beyond your personal experience for a little while.
Ask the Lord to help you. Even if you sink back down, remember the sensation of freedom. Remember the victory, whether it lasted a day or a moment.
3. Sing to the Lord. Paul and Silas were praying and singing when their walls fell in. I’ve found that when I am most stressed, closest to tears, in the lowest places, if I can just start reciting the words to a hymn…. I can barely tell you how this happens.
When my need feels great because the tears are close, the rock on my chest is heavy, or my legs feel like lead, I will often begin to speak and then sing the words to a worship song.
It feels like the biggest sort of spiritual rebellion — a huge raspberry to my enemy, Satan, who revels in my despair. But I think he cringes and recoils from the sound of my voice once I put a tune to the words God has given me.
Singing of God’s grace and mercy, his power, and victory, even when I’m in the pit — this is worship. Suffering sucks, but we want God more when we really need him, and he responds to this deep longing by coming close. Music helps us to pray and to give thanks.
Breaking Down Other People’s Walls
Paul and Silas did something amazing with their pain. Firstly, they defied the expected outcome of their circumstances by choosing to pray, give thanks, and sing.
Satan hates it when we refuse to be silenced in our darkness. They broke away from their circumstances to find genuine joy in knowing Christ as their Lord, their Savior, and their Hope.
Secondly, the two disciples broke down the wall of skepticism in their jailer’s heart. They stayed when they could have been free, demonstrating that his life mattered and that God loved him too.
The prison guard and his family were saved. They considered another person more valuable than themselves (Philippians 2:3), and the Lord made something magnificent out of their selfless devotion.
Helping Others Out of Our Pain
The world doesn’t need to meet another stoic Christian who has it all together and doesn’t suffer. That’s not real, and it’s no help to a watching, worrying, suffering world. Witnesses need to see how, when we cry out to God and lament our pain, and we aren’t consumed by flames or struck by lightning.
They need to see that God can handle our honest feelings and to see what it’s like for faith to keep someone from sinking completely.
When an unbeliever witnesses our confidence in Christ even when we can’t stop crying or we can barely get out of bed in the morning, this is a beautiful testimony that pain can and will be used for astonishing Kingdom purposes. Our dark days are not forgotten or belittled by our Savior.
For further reading:
What Does the Bible Say about Suffering?
Why Do We Suffer if Jesus Lives in Our Hearts?
What Did Jesus Mean That We Will Have Trouble in This World?
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.