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How to Pray in Hard Times

How to Pray in Hard Times

Alone But Not All Alone

Here you are in your version of Egypt. It feels foreign. You don’t know the language. You never studied the vocabulary of crisis. You feel far from home, all alone. Money gone. Expectations dashed. Friends vanished. Who’s left? God is.

David asked,

Where can I go to get away from Your Spirit? Where can I run from You? — Psalm 139:7 NCV

He then listed the various places he found God: in

the heavens… the grave… If I rise with the sun in the east and settle in the west beyond the sea, even there You would guide me” — Psalm 139: 8-10 NCV

God, everywhere.

Joseph’s account of those verses would have read, “Where can I go to get away from Your Spirit? If I go to the bottom of the dry pit… to the top of the slave block… to the home of a foreigner… even there You would guide me.”

Your adaptation of the verse might read, “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? If I go to the rehab clinic… the ICU… the overseas deployment office… the shelter for battered women… the county jail… even there You would guide me.”

You will never go where God is not. Envision the next few hours of your life. Where will you find yourself? In a school? God indwells the classroom. On the highways? His presence lingers among the traffic. In the hospital operating room, the executive boardroom, the in-laws’ living room, the funeral home? God will be there.

He is not far from each one of us. — Acts 17:27

Each of us. God does not play favorites. From the masses on the city avenues to the isolated villagers in valleys and jungles, all people can enjoy God’s presence. But many don’t. They plod through life as if there were no God to love them. As if their only strength was their own. As if the only solution comes from within, not above. They live God-less lives.

But there are Josephs among us: people who sense, see, and hear the presence of God. People who pursue God as Moses did. When suddenly tasked with the care of two million ex-slaves, the liberator began to wonder, How am I going to provide for these people? How will we defend ourselves against enemies? How can we survive? Moses needed supplies, managers, equipment, and experience. But when Moses prayed for help, he declared,

If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. — Exodus 33:15

Moses preferred to go nowhere with God than anywhere without Him.

As did David. The king ended up in an Egypt of his own making. He seduced the wife of a soldier and covered up his sin with murder and deceit. He hid from God for a year, but he could not hide forever. When he finally confessed his immorality, he made only one request of God:

Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. — Psalm 51:11

David did not pray, “Do not take my crown from me. Do not take my kingdom from me. Do not take my army from me.” David knew what mattered most. The presence of God. He begged God for it.

Do likewise. Make God’s presence your passion. How? Be more sponge and less rock. Place a rock in the ocean, and what happens? Its surface gets wet. The exterior may change color, but the interior remains untouched. Yet place a sponge in the ocean, and notice the change. It absorbs the water. The ocean penetrates every pore and alters the essence of the sponge.

God surrounds us in the same way the Pacific surrounds an ocean floor pebble. He is everywhere — above, below, on all sides. We choose our response — rock or sponge? Resist or receive? Everything within you says harden the heart. Run from God; resist God; blame God. But be careful. Hard hearts never heal. Spongy ones do. Open every pore of your soul to God’s presence. Here’s how.

Lay claim to the nearness of God.

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. — Hebrews 13:5 NIV

In the Greek this passage has five negatives. It could be translated “I will not, not leave thee; neither will I not, not forsake thee.”2 Grip this promise like the parachute it is. Repeat it to yourself over and over until it trumps the voices of fear and angst.

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. — Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

You may lose the sense of God’s presence. Job did.

But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. — Job 23:8-9 NIV

Job felt far from God. Yet in spite of his inability to feel God, Job resolved,

But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. — Job 23:10 NIV

What gritty determination. Difficult days demand decisions of faith.

The psalmist determined: When I am afraid,

I will trust in you. — Psalm 56:3 NIV3

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him. — Psalm 42:5 NIV4

Don’t equate the presence of God with a good mood or a pleasant temperament. God is near whether you are happy or not. Sometimes you have to take your feelings outside and give them a good talking-to.

Cling to His character. Quarry from your Bible a list of the deep qualities of God, and press them into your heart. My list reads like this: “He is still sovereign. He still knows my name. Angels still respond to his call. The hearts of rulers still yield at his bidding. The death of Jesus still saves souls. The Spirit of God still indwells saints. Heaven is still only heartbeats away. The grave is still temporary housing. God is still faithful. He is not caught off guard. He uses everything for his glory and my ultimate good. He uses tragedy to accomplish His will, and His will is right, holy, and perfect. Sorrow may come with the night, but joy comes with the morning. God bears fruit in the midst of affliction.”

When JJ Jasper told his oldest daughter about Cooper’s death, he prepared her by saying, “I need you to hold on to everything you know of who God is, because I have some really tough news to tell you.” What valuable counsel!

In changing times lay hold of the unchanging character of God.

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.5

Pray your pain out. Pound the table. March up and down the lawn. It’s time for tenacious, honest prayers. Angry at God? Disappointed with his strategy? Ticked off at his choices? Let Him know it. Let Him have it! Jeremiah did. This ancient prophet pastored Jerusalem during a time of economic collapse and political upheaval. Invasion. Disaster. Exile. Hunger. Death. Jeremiah saw it all. He so filled his devotions with complaints that his prayer journal is called Lamentations.

[God] has led me and made me walk In darkness and not in light. Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day.

He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago.

He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer. — Lamentations 3:2-8

Jeremiah infused five chapters with this type of fury. Summarize the bulk of his book with one line: this life is rotten! Why would God place Lamentations in the Bible? Might it be to convince you to follow Jeremiah’s example?

Go ahead and file your grievance.

I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him. — Psalm 142:2 ESV

God will not turn away at your anger. Even Jesus offered up prayers with “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7 NIV). It is better to shake a fist at God than to turn your back on Him. Augustine said, “How deep in the deep are they who do not cry out of the deep.”6

Words might seem hollow and empty at first. You will mumble your sentences, fumble your thoughts. But don’t quit. And don’t hide. Lean on God’s people. Cancel your escape to the Himalayas. Forget the deserted island. This is no time to be a hermit. Be a barnacle on the boat of God’s church.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. — Matthew 18:207


He’s waiting on you, my friend. If Joseph’s story is any precedent, God can use Egypt to teach you that He is with you. Your family may be gone. Your supporters may have left. Your counselor may be silent. But God has not budged. His promise still stands:

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. — Genesis 28:15 NIV

  1. JJ Jasper, personal conversations with the author. Used by permission.
  2. Thomas Lye, “How Are We to Live by Faith on Divine Providence?” in Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publisher, 1981), 1:378.
  3. Emphasis mine.
  4. Emphasis mine.
  5. Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock,” in Sacred Selections for the Church, and ed. Ellis J. Crum (Kendallville, IN: Sacred Selections, 1960), 120.
  6. Augustine, Saint Augustine: Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, trans. Sister Mary Sarah Muldowney (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1959), 85–86.
  7. Emphasis mine.

Excerpted with permission from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

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