What is the one thing we all have in common? We all struggle, we all know what it’s like to go through hardships. We may struggle with finances, we struggle with health, with relationships. We struggle in our hearts, we struggle with addictions, codependency, you name it.
What we don’t all have in common, however, is the way that struggles affect us and how we respond to them. Have you ever noticed how some people may go through extreme hardship and then the best comes out of them, and they come out of it stronger and wiser and a better person. Some people may go through the exact same thing and the struggle leaves them beat up and defeated, broken. That’s because wrestling with, dealing with our struggles, navigating that is not a skill that everybody has. That in a nutshell is what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about struggles.
If we look at the history of humanity, we know that people have experienced struggles from the very beginning. We also see that people have tried to figure out ways to struggle with it, to deal with it, and they’ve left documents and literature. We can go to the Greek philosophers and they wrote all this literature about how to live the good life, as Aristotle called it. But we also have indigenous cultures that have their wisdom, on how to be brave, how to do things in the context of community. They have passed down the advice and the wisdom from generation to generation. You name it, any culture around the world, everybody has tried to do the same.
The people of God have done that too. In the Bible we find all these scripts, all this knowledge, all this wisdom that tells us how the people of God have wrestled with themselves and with God as they navigate life. In fact, we have a biblical genre called Wisdom Literature, and that contains the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.
We also have the Psalms. Today’s message is not a hymn, is not a song, and is not a poem, it’s a prayer. It’s a personal prayer and it is Psalm 86. As we read it, I want us to not think about it as a song, not think about it as a poem, think about it as a cry for help that comes from the depths of David’s soul as he was going through extreme difficulty. I want us to hear his heart and to hear his desire to hold on to God with all his strength.
(Read Ps. 86)
I don’t know if you noticed this but the Psalm has different sections, or progressions, and we are slowly going to work our way through them. As we do that, we are going to find different questions that can help us navigate our struggles a little better. Questions that we can take pieces of advice or wisdom that we can get from this Psalm.
Am I Able to Name My Struggle and Recognize that I Need Help?
We can see this is an urgent cry for help. David doesn’t start this with a preamble or with a title. He just says, “Hear me out, Lord, I need your help because something is not right and I am in great need.” How many times have you been in that place? Where nothing else matters, where all the formalities go out the window and we cry out. We say, “Help me, Lord.”
Some of us can do that very easily, but some of us can’t because we’ve been trained to keep things together, to not make a fuss about things, to toughen up. But you know what I see when I read that first line? I see permission. Permission to call out to God with whatever emotions, whatever suffering, whatever struggling we are feeling in our hearts. There is permission to just cry because doing that is good for our soul.
A lot of people never get past their struggles because they never call out for help. They never recognize that they are stuck, that they had a need, that they needed someone to come and rescue them.
I was talking to a friend this week who has been through recovery and she was sharing with me her story and her journey and the decisions she’s made—the good ones and the bad ones—and she told me how she learned through this recovery process that there needs to be an acceptance that you need help. She said, “You know what, Gaby, without acceptance there will never be room for peace.” And I thought, That’s true. And not just room for peace, room for growth, for healing, for restoration, for wholeness.
I have several relatives in my family that struggle with different addictions—alcohol and drugs are the two big ones. Many of us in my family have tried to help them out many times. We go to them and it gets us nowhere, and we go to talk to all these places, recovery organizations, and the leaders talk to us and they say nothing is going to help them, we cannot help them unless they accept and recognize that they are in trouble and that they need help.
The first question that we need to ask ourselves when we’re facing struggles is this one: Am I able to name my struggle and recognize that I need help?
When David cried out to God, he said, “I have a need and I need help.” In verse 14, he clearly describes what his issue was, “Arrogant foes are attacking me, ruthless people are trying to kill me, they have no regard for you.” He said that but that is not the only thing that David said. He goes on to say, “God, guard my life, save your servant, have mercy on me, bring joy. Because you are a forgiving God, because you’re abounding in love. Hear my prayer. When I’m in distress I call to you.” He didn’t go to anyone else. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to go to someone else, but David knew that if he went to God, the One that is faithful over and over and over again, he would be there to answer David. So when David was in distress, where did he go? He went to God.
Where Do I Go for Comfort in Times of Struggle?
Notice how I said where and not who, because some of us go to people, but many of us go to things. We go shopping, we eat, we go online, we go to alcohol, we look for sex. Whatever it is that we need, that we think is going to fill that gap, that space, that hole in our souls, we go to that.
Where do you go? What are the idols in your life that promise this false security, this safety, this love that only God can give? King David knew that the only person that could offer that to him was God. He knew that well.
(Read Ps. 86:8-10)
“You alone are God.” When we are in pain it is very difficult to see God for who he truly is. It is hard to trust him, especially when we hold on to things or to people and we feel like our very lives depend on them. It’s hard to get rid of them. But only God can give us that safety. We need to remember that God calls us to trust him and that he does that because he has good plans for us because he loves us, because he knows better. Only in God do we find life, truth, and hope. So, he invites us to trust him.
But what is our response, what is your response every time you hear that from God? Look at David’s specific request to God.
(Read Ps. 86:11)
Can you see the posture of David? He is reaching out to God as an apprentice, as someone that needs to be taught something, someone that needs instruction. He is asking God to teach him, for he doesn’t know how to do things alone. And that’s okay because most of the time that’s us, we just don’t know what’s next, what step to take. So, David is asking for this.
I want to highlight that David asking God to teach him something is not just to get an answer. He is asking to teach him so that he can be transformed in his heart. He says, “Give me an undivided heart, teach me so that I may walk in your truth, so that my actions may reflect your truth.”
Many of us when we pray, we simply give God our list of requests, right? We forget that God’s heart is to partner with us. Yes, he loves doing things for us, he does. But he delights in doing things with us through partnership, union.
Do you want to know if you’re partnering with God when you pray? Look at the choices you make and see if they line up with your prayers. Lord, help me be a good steward of my time. Then five, six hours later we are still on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. We can’t pray to God to make us, say, a faithful spouse, and then expect him to do all the work, can we? We just can’t. There’s choices that we need to make that should reflect what we pray in our hearts.
Our prayers are connected to everything we do. We don’t only pray with our mouths, we pray with our minds, we pray with our actions, we pray with our lives. That’s why it says, “Pray without ceasing.” We pray with all of who we are and what we say should match what we do.
This past week I had an opportunity to do this. I said some things that I should have not said, and the Lord convicted me in my heart big time, and I felt really bad. What did I do? I prayed. I said, “God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I spoke wrongly, I should have not said that. But I know that you forgive me.” And I felt forgiven, but my prayer did not end up there. I made some phone calls and I said, “You know what, that thing I said, that was not okay, I’m sorry.” And the freedom that came with that, I cannot even explain it. I pray but I had to do what was right.
What Are the Choices that I can Make that Reflect the Things that I Pray?
Before you get there, you can even ask an earlier question: Do my actions reflect the things that I pray? Yes, no? Most likely, no.
What are the things that I can do that can reflect my prayers? Write them down. Praying through our struggles requires faith, but it also requires obedience and the surrendering of our very hearts. That’s how we move from hardship to happiness, from pain to wisdom, from suffering to strength. With faith, with obedience, and with determination.
There is a word that sums up all those things, and that word is resilience. That’s what makes the difference between a struggle that breaks you and a struggle that makes you stronger, wiser, better.
One author describes resilience this way: “Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better.” It’s a very simple definition. It connects hardship to a positive outcome in a way that presents the struggle as an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves. I love that. Because isn’t that what we’re all about, to become a better version of ourselves?
Our church is all about becoming like Jesus and making him known. Many times to get there we’ve got to go through the fire, we’ve got to struggle, we’ve got to wrestle. That’s what the Apostle Paul talked about when he wrote to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed. For we carry in our body the death of Jesus Christ so that His life may also be revealed in our body.” I love how Paul gives us the reason why we’re able to stand strong in the midst of struggle, because we carry Jesus Christ. We carry his death, and by carrying his death we carry his resurrection and the resurrection power of God’s Spirit.
Where Does My Strength Come from?
For years I thought that my greatest strength was being awesome at sports. I was really good at sports. Was, key word there. Then I spent nine months in a hospital bed without moving and I realized maybe I wasn’t as strong as I thought. Then I recovered from that and then I went to grad school and I thought my greatest strength was my ability to do well in school. I did well, but I went through so much emotionally, I went through so much in my heart, that emotional pain completely took over my mental strength, my intelligence, and I realized again maybe I wasn’t as strong as I thought.
In every season in life, wherever I find myself, I forget that my greatest strength is God. Where does your strength come from? David says, “My strength comes from the Lord.” All throughout the Psalms we read that my strength comes from the Lord. You are my rock, you are my strength, you are my refuge, you’re everything I need.
Whatever you’re struggling with today, know that you don’t need to go through it alone. In fact, you cannot go through it alone. It is impossible for us to go through things alone. We may think we can, but we cannot. We have God, always ready, always available, always willing, always desiring to partner with us because he has promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. He promised to be by our side when we go through fire, and we know that when we are weak he is strong. Not us, he is strong.
Let’s look again at the questions. Simple questions that go straight to our hearts. Am I able to name my struggle and recognize that I need help? Maybe that’s where you are right now in your struggle. Maybe you have not been able to talk about it or to accept it, to acknowledge it, to give it to God. Maybe you’ve done that but you’ve been going to the wrong places for comfort. Where do you go for comfort? What are the choices that you make? Do they reflect your prayer? Do they not? And where does your strength come from? From within yourself, as in my own strength? Or from within yourself as in the God that lives in me?
I’m going to add one last question, and I want you to think about whatever struggle you have in your life and then ask this question: Is this going to break me down and send me into a dark hole, or is this going to make me into the person that God intended me to be?
I’m all about doing personal introspection, I do that all the time, and asking ourselves questions is a great thing to do if you want to know what is in there. So, ask yourself those questions and then respond to each one of them in an honest way. Don’t respond what you would love to be or do, just say where do I go for comfort—I go shopping, I shop a lot, yes, that’s what I do. Truth from the Psalm. When I am in distress I call to you because you answer me. Then write your new direction, a new choice, a new direction you can go to in your life.
Praying through our struggles is a matter of faith, yes, no doubt. But it’s also a matter of resilience. The more we unite our hearts to the heart of the Father, the more we will realize that struggles come to our lives as invitations, as opportunities to learn something new, to grow a bit more, to trust in a new way, or to experience God’s love in a more powerful way, in a personal way.
Whatever you’re struggling with this morning, know that in that difficult place you are not alone. God is right there, and is able, willing, and desiring to partner with you, to take your life in a different direction, to help you push through. Know that in you is the very power of God that raised Jesus from the death. How powerful is that? You don’t need anything else.
God is always ready to guide us, protect us, empower us, and take us from victory to victory to victory. Many people say that their life is full of struggles, always going from one conflict to another. Let’s change the language around and say God is going to take me from victory to victory to victory, because that is how God is.
If that burden is heavy on you today, do not lose hope. Do not ever lose hope. Partner with God. Walk hand in hand with Jesus and say, “You know what, I’ll give you my struggle, you give me your strength. Let’s do this together. Give me your grace, give me your love, give me your forgiveness. I need it all.”
That’s what happens when we come to the Cross. Not only do we recognize that Jesus died for us. We also say, I choose to do things in communion with you. Let’s have communion with God. Let’s partner, let’s do things together. Because we cannot do it alone.
Gaby Viesca was born and raised in Mexico and currently serves as Women’s Pastor in Portland, OR.