(36) And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.
(37) And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him,
(38) Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.
I like football. Anyone who knows me, knows I like football. (American football, that is.) It’s the only sport I watch with any kind of regularity. I enjoy the strategy, the athleticism, and the plain old excitement of the game. When you watch a game, it’s not uncommon to hear a commentator say that one or more of the players is playing with an injury. They call it “playing through the pain.” I admire that because I am not sure if I would have the same grit or determination. But you know something? As admirable as it is to play through a game when you’re hurt, life is tougher than football.
Life often sends us hurts that go beyond the physical and when it deals us a blow, we can’t just put ourselves on the injured reserve list. We have to keep on living. It’s times like that where God calls upon us to do something much harder than “playing through the pain.” He wants us to pray through the pain. When your hurt is on the inside, when you’re stretched beyond your limits, and there is no earthly cure, praying through the pain is hard. But it’s in times like these when we are most in need of prayer.
In Acts chapter 20 Paul is on the final leg of his journey to Jerusalem. He has been urged by his friends on several occasions not to go, but he knows he must. To give his sorrowing friends comfort and peace, he prays with them. Comfort and peace in times of distress are what prayer is designed for. Why? Because when we pray, we’re not praying to thin air, we’re praying to the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
If the words won’t come, remember that the “Spirit also [helps] our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself [makes] intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
“Groanings” is the Greek word for “sighs,” and it’s talking about the deep sighs of emotion that come when we are deeply burdened. God knows that heartache. He understands that pain, and it is exactly those kinds of hurts He wants us to lay upon Him. That’s what Peter was talking about when he said:
“Casting all your care upon him; for he [cares]for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Casting all our care upon God means we can be brutally honest with God when our heart aches beyond what we can bear. God is not intimidated by it. He welcomes it. How can I be so sure? Look at the psalms. In the “angry” psalms, and the psalms where the psalmist is questioning the validity of faith in God itself, the pattern is always the same: They start in turmoil and end in praise. If you want that kind of peace, you have to pray that kind of prayer.
In some cases, God will bring us peace in the form of a heartfelt assurance that everything will be okay. It’s not something that we can put into words; it’s not a voice we hear. It’s just a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7)
Other times, He gives us peace by changing our way of thinking, so that we can accept our circumstances as indeed coming from the hand of a loving God. That’s what Paul’s friends had to do when they last met and prayed with him (Acts 21:14).
When my mom died of colon cancer years ago, I was not able to make it back home before she passed. It is something I will always regret. What I remember in the days and weeks that followed was how deeply my faith was challenged. Mom was the first person in my immediate family to go home to the Lord. She became a believer after I did, when she saw the changes happening in my life, and she completely gave herself to living for God. When she passed, my faith was tested and I began to doubt: Is she OK? Is this Christianity thing the real deal? Is mom really in heaven? I prayed. I asked God. I wondered. It hurt. Then I was reminded of a verse:
2 Timothy 1:12 “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
“Ashamed” means “embarrassed,” “shamed.” My faith is in a faithful God. I can count on all of His promises being true – even the ones I cannot yet see as fulfilled.
“Persuaded” means “convinced,” “to have confidence.” I can fully rest on God’s promises and be confidently assured that His promises are sure.
“That which I have committed unto Him…” What did my mom and every believer commit to God? Their very soul. Reading that verse reminded me that my soul, my mom’s soul, were in the very capable hands of God. I had nothing to fear.
That verse, of course, led me to think of the song based on that passage. What I got from that heavenly reminder was peace and assurance that mom was indeed very much okay! In fact, she was far better off than I was. (Until I go home to be with God, she still is.) I also got the assurance that faith in Christ was not just a mere sentiment, but a fact. God did not speak to me in some audible voice. Heaven didn’t open up with the sounds of an angel choir, but peace flowed into my heart that was not something of my own making. It was peace that came from God as I prayed through the pain.