Prayer in Suffering


“We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” C. S. Lewis

I have found Lewis’ quote about prayer to run truest when pain or grief smack me severely or unexpectedly. Does my brain just black out on the many verses about the love, power and sovereignty of God? What about the Apostle Paul’s reference to his harrowing life as simply these “brief, momentary afflictions?

I’d love to say that my first prayers overflow with immediate hymns of praise and verses of confidence in the Lord’s care in the harrowing situation that has just fallen into my lap. And thanks to my mom and my junior high Sunday school teacher, verses in the KJV and Fanny Crosby hymns are inside my head and heart.

But Lewis offers an important lesson: better to prostrate myself before the Lord with my needy heart rather than try to impress Him with Sword Drill skills. Who do I fool?

It didn’t surprise Jesus when Mary initially sat in the house and Martha rushed to meet him saying,”Lord, if you had been here, my brother (Lazarus) would not have died”(John 11:20-21). But follow the narrative a few verse to make an observation.

John 11:28-32 (ESV)

[28] When she (Martha) had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. [30] Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The sisters came in different ways and at different times, but each had the same heartsick appeal to make of Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Each woman cried out her pain.

Two verses show us Jesus’ heart to Mary, Martha, and by grace, to us.

The shortest verse of holy writ, “Jesus wept,” has massaged broken hearts of every generation since. Although Christ knew He was about to call Lazarus out of the grave, He wept. Less recited, John 11:33 nevertheless soothes. “When Jesus saw her(Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”

So whether facing pain and grief as a Mary or a Martha, we do well to lay ourselves before Christ as we are. He will not cast us out, for He knows exactly where we stand in the path of sanctification mapped out for each of His children.

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