I was having coffee with a friend recently when she started telling me that she was feeling afraid, unmotivated, and hopeless about some difficulties in her life.
I immediately knew how she felt, and told her how much prayer has helped me get through dark times in my life.
She’s not religious, but she was open to hearing what I had to say, and asked me how prayer helps in these tough times. I went on to tell her that prayer helps me find peace, hope, and courage that I can’t find anywhere else.
Though this interaction may seem like not a big deal, her question reminded me why I actually pray. As a Christian, it’s easy to get caught up in the motions of what I think a “good Christian” does, filling my schedule but forgetting why things like reading the Bible, praying, and engaging in spiritual relationships are important. This conversation reminded me of how powerful prayer is; only through prayer have I been able to see the light of the Bible and find friends who could help me.
Sometimes we respond to the desperation and despair we feel in difficult times by isolating in silence. And yet what Jesus wants us to remember is that in our most difficult moments, in our most hopeless hours, and in our darkest days, prayer is the way out.
Jesus tells us a pivotal story about prayer and hope in Luke 18:
Then Jesus used this story to teach his followers that they should always pray and never lose hope.
“In a certain town there was a judge who did not respect God or care about people. In that same town there was a widow who kept coming to this judge, saying, ‘Give me my rights against my enemy.’ For a while the judge refused to help her. But afterwards, he thought to himself, ‘Even though I don’t respect God or care about people, I will see that she gets her rights. Otherwise she will continue to bother me until I am worn out.’”
Luke 18:1 NCV
The woman in this story had been through a dark time and was denied justice and protection, but she continued to ask for help and persevered until her situation changed. If that level of persistence could get a crooked judge to come through for her, then our own persistent prayer will bring God’s light into whatever darkness we may be facing.
The “dark times” in my life usually have involved one (or more) of these four difficult emotions:
- Dread: When we’re overwhelmed with worries about the future that we don’t know how to handle.
- Despair: When the pain in our lives is too much to handle and it feels like God has abandoned or refused to help us.
- Disappointment: When unfulfilled desires make us question whether God remembers or approves of us.
- Discouragement: When past failures, sins, and regrets cling to us and hurt our faith.
Dread, despair, disappointment, and discouragement are strong, painful feelings, but prayer can lead us to a God who understands and cares for us. In this devotional, we’ll look at four reassuring ways God helps us when we bring these emotions to him in prayer.
When we pray through our dread, God gives us direction.
…he broke through and delivered you from the power of darkness and has gathered us together from all over the world. He has set us free to be his very own! Some of us once wandered in the wilderness like desert nomads, with no true direction or dwelling place. Starving, thirsting, staggering, we became desperate and filled with despair. Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did! He led us right into a place of safety and abundance, a suitable city to dwell in.
Psalm 107:2-3 TPT
After graduating from college and getting my first real job, I felt a lot of stress about taking care of myself, succeeding at work, and living on my own. I was filled with dread about my responsibilities and the possibility of failure.
I started going out drinking with friends to relieve the pressure I felt. I had many nights out that I regretted and my guilt became increasingly burdensome, but I didn’t know where else to turn. I had attended church growing up but it wasn’t personal to me—I didn’t know that God would be there to listen to me or help me find relief, hope, or fulfillment.
I came home one evening after partying and felt sick from drinking so much. I was ashamed of some of the things I had done and felt completely alone, lost without direction and without a place that felt like home. I cried as I prayed that God would help me and told him that I was desperate to find answers.
God, all at once you turned on a floodlight for me! You are the revelation-light in my darkness, and in your brightness I can see the path ahead.
Psalm 18:28 TPT
Not long after that, I met some women who were kind enough to help me out after my car had broken down. They gave me a ride home and an invitation to church. They later asked me to study the Bible and just like Psalm 18 says, I finally got the answers and path I was looking for from the Scriptures.
The Bible became a light that showed me that God was powerful enough to break through my darkness. He was loving enough to offer me forgiveness for my sins and protection from the dangers of my bad choices. The light of the Bible helped me see that God wanted to not only meet my needs but also lead me to a place of abundance, so that I would have plenty and not have to fear the future.
The Bible showed me that I could pray to God every day for relief, reassurance, and guidance through hard times in the present and to come. Learning to pray and read the Bible helped me to face the future without fear.
This is still true to this day. Though I have a relationship with God, at times I am bombarded with dread, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. I feel tempted to take over or plow ahead like I’ve done in the past, but it is always through prayer and turning to Scriptures that I get the clarity and peace I’m looking for in the midst of the unknown.
Pause and reflect
- What fears do you have about your future and how do you see God sending His help to rescue you?
When we pray through our despair, God brings us comfort.
Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
Psalm 23:4 TPT
When we go through dark times, it can feel like we are completely alone and abandoned. But the Bible tells us that even in the deepest darkness, we are never alone. God always remains close to us, comforting us with his love and leading us out of the darkness.
There was a time in my life when the pain of a broken relationship took me through a valley of deep darkness. After being married for five years, I found out that my husband at the time had been unfaithful throughout our marriage as well as during the 4 years that we dated. I felt heart-broken, rejected, and afraid that I couldn’t make it through the pain. Even though I had faith in God, I felt forgotten by him and I didn’t understand how he could let something this painful happen to me. I was filled with doubt and it was difficult to say anything to God at first.
Though I felt God’s presence at times, the pain and sadness would always come flooding back and I found myself like the widow in the story mentioned at the beginning of this article: needing to go back to God for help again and again. Often when I tried to pray, I ended up just overwhelmed with feelings of anger toward my ex-husband and even toward God.
Eventually, I learned that I had to be honest with God about how I felt about him. This wasn’t easy for me because I was very religious and I usually said what I thought God wanted to hear instead of the messy truth, but breakthroughs in prayer only came when I started to be brutally honest with him. So I told God that I felt devastated; I felt he didn’t care and that he could have done more but must have chosen not to for some reason.
As I was brutally honest with God, I remember very clearly that something changed: I suddenly started to think about all God had done for me, the ways he had protected me by exposing the truth and the way he was comforting me through friends who listened to me with compassion and care. Telling God the truth set me free from my doubts, anger, and despair; it helped me see that God was close by my side and leading me through my dark time of rejection. As I poured out my heart in prayer, I felt God was close; he did care and he was willing to feel my pain.
When my marriage ended in divorce and I needed hope for my future, a friend read me this passage in Psalm 18:
I cried out to you in my distress, the delivering God, and from your temple-throne you heard my troubled cry. My sobs came right into your heart and you turned your face to rescue me…He then reached down from heaven, all the way from the sky to the sea. He reached down into my darkness to rescue me! He took me out of my calamity and chaos and drew me to himself, taking me from the depths of my despair!
Psalm 18:6 TPT
This passage helped me see that God cared that I was hurting; he was reaching down to comfort me and draw me to him. The Bible says my cries reached his ears and he turned towards me. He wasn’t ignoring me and didn’t forget about me, even for a moment.
Although my situation didn’t change and I was going to be single once again, knowing how God felt about me made me feel loved and no longer rejected. God comforted me by giving me access to him in prayer, anytime and every time I needed to talk. I was able to start my morning by talking to God and there were times I said a short prayer in my head at work, or in the car driving or even late at night when I felt alone.
My faith grew stronger because I knew that I could go to God any time of the night or day and he would be there to listen, help me to heal, and give me hope for whatever the future would hold.
Pause and reflect
- What pain in your life feels too much to handle? What would it look like for you to cry out to God for help?
When we pray through our disappointment, God brings us hope.
I will remain silent and will not grumble or speak out of my disappointment. But the longer I’m silent the more my pain grows worse! My heart burned with a fire within me, and my thoughts eventually boiled over until they finally came rolling out of my mouth. “Lord, help me to know how fleeting my time on earth is. Help me to know how limited is my life and that I’m only here but for a moment more…! And now, God, I’m left with one conclusion: my only hope is to hope in you alone!
Psalm 39:1-4, 7 TPT
Years later I got married again, but this time to someone who shared the same faith in God that I had. As we grew close in our marriage, we decided to start a family, only to face many painful years of infertility.
I felt disappointed that my prayers didn’t seem to be getting answered and I felt insecure that maybe God had forgotten about or was upset with us. As I saw many friends and family members start their families, my feelings of disappointment grew stronger, and I started to pray less. I began to give up on my prayers being answered and instead desperately worked to strengthen my health. I followed a specific calendar and read everything I could about how to boost my chances of getting pregnant.
At one of our many visits, our fertility doctor explained my health challenges and our limited probabilities of pregnancy. I finally realized I was not going to be able to make this happen through sheer will and determination. I decided to find passages of the Bible that would help me have more faith in prayer, and as I made many Bible studies to look for answers and insights, God showed how faithful he is through verses like this:
Here’s what I’ve learned through it all: Don’t give up; don’t be impatient; be entwined as one with the Lord. Be brave and courageous, and never lose hope. Yes, keep on waiting-for he will never disappoint you!
Psalm 27:14 TPT
Each time we found out we weren’t pregnant, my husband and I felt the disappointment of a dream unfulfilled and another hope lost. My impatience was making a dark time in my life even darker. I had to make a decision to not give up on prayer and trust that God cared and had a plan. Patience would mean I would wait while keeping my hope alive. To do that, I had to share my disappointment in prayer to God and believe that he was interested and concerned.
This active choice to keep praying changed my perspective about the possibility of having a family. God did not disappoint us; he did answer our prayers and gave us the opportunity to adopt two amazing girls!
As they grow and we keep building our family, we are continuing to learn that praying with patience makes all the difference.
Pause and reflect
- Have you given up on praying about things you desire?
- What disappointments have you faced and how do you see that God cares based on the passages of the Bible above?
When we pray through our discouragement, God brings inspiration.
Some of us once sat in darkness, living in the dark shadows of death. We were prisoners to our pain, chained to our regrets. For we rebelled against God’s word and rejected the wise counsel of God Most High. So he humbled us through our circumstances, watching us as we stumbled, with no one there to pick us back up. Our own pain became our punishment. Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did! His light broke through the darkness and he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow and snapped every one of our chains.
Psalm 107:10-14 TPT
Although we have been married over 25 years, my husband and I still face times in our marriage that feel like we’re “sitting in darkness,” because of our discouragement over not being able to change. We’ve felt chained to the regrets of past sins, failures, and ways we have hurt one another.
When one of these times happened recently, we made a decision to pray together about our pain, our discouragement, our desire to be close to each other and to help other married couples. God answered when we got the opportunity to study the Bible with another married couple who was experiencing similar challenges. They needed friends to talk to and so did we.
Praying together helped us shift our focus outward instead of stewing in our own discouragement. We didn’t have room for unbelief and discouragement about ourselves, because we wanted to love and help our friends out of their own darkness. We prayed together with these new friends and shared scriptures with each other. As we shared our lives and our challenges with this couple, they not only became Christians but also became some of our closest friends.
Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”
Luke 18:6-8 MSG
Circling back to the end of Jesus’ story about the persistent widow, we see that even if we face dark times and encounter people who don’t care about us, God will answer and God will care. God will step in and defend us, but we must not give up praying before we get answers from God.
God has shown me many times in my life that he brings guidance, comfort, hope, and inspiration into my life. As long as I persist in prayer, I will be able to not only get through my own dark times, but also help others out of theirs.
Pause and reflect
- What is a relationship that feels hard to change? How can you include prayer in your relationship with that person?
- Who is someone that needs you to inspire them to turn to God?