In God’s timing and sovereign providence, he often brings his children through some very difficult and painful trials in life. Trials like these come upon us: financial stress, serious illness, depression, chronic pain, a rebellious child, a marriage falling apart, intense grief, the loss of a job/income, and in some areas of the world, even physical persecution. Certainly our crosses are quite heavy and painful at times; many of us know from experience that this world is indeed a “vale of tears” full of dark storm clouds.
Therefore, one thing that we as Christians must learn is that God is sovereign in and through our afflictions. He has not only decreed all things which come to pass – including our trials – he has also promised that trials are ultimately for our spiritual good (Rom. 8:28, Heb. 12:6-12 James 1:3, etc.).
One good thing (among many) about trials is that they cause us to pray like never before. I’ve had it in my own life and counseled people who say the same thing, something like this about their trial: “I’ve prayed more in the last two months than I have in my whole life.” God uses trials to help us follow his word to pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). Here’s how Thomas Watson stated it (I’ve edited his words slightly).
“There is profit in affliction, as it quickens the spirit of prayer (‘premuntur justi ut pressi clament’ = the righteous are afflicted that in their affliction they may pray). Jonah was asleep in the ship, but at prayer in the whale’s belly. Perhaps in time of health and prosperity we prayed in a cold and formal manner and we scarcely prayed at all. God sends some cross or other to make us stir up ourselves to take hold of him in prayer. When Jacob was in fear of his life by his brother, he wrestled with God, wept in prayer, and would not let the Lord go until he blessed him (Hos. 12:4). There was once a terrible sickness which caused people to die in their sleep, so the remedy to keep them awake was to force them to smell rosemary leaves. So the Lord uses affliction as a rosemary branch to keep us from sleeping and to awaken a spirit of prayer. In times of trouble we pray with our hearts, and we never pray so fervently as when we pray from the heart. Therefore, one profit of affliction is that it quickens the spirit of prayer” (p. 175).
Watson’s words are very accurate. Sometimes Christians have days (weeks!?) where it seems like all we can do is pray and weep. While we may outwardly go through the motions of a regular day, inside we are crying and praying to the Lord: “God, please help, I don’t know if I can make it through the day. Lord, just get me through this next hour. Father, I don’t even know what to say, but I need you. Take this thorn from my flesh. Please help me. Please!”
I realize it is a tough truth, but it is a good truth: one way trials are a blessing is because they often make us constantly pray to God fervently and from the heart. And we also receive the high benefit of looking back after the trial is over to see that God was there, listening, hearing, and answering our fervent prayers. Of course we should not bring trials upon ourselves, but we should know that they are not meaningless. The Lord uses them for our good. Lord, teach us to pray!
The above quote is found on page 175 of Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer.