Intimacy with God is the deepest comfort in pain. God’s presence was nearly palpable after my husband, Dan, died. I constantly conversed with the Lord; His comfort was real and His counsel clear.
But what are we to do if God feels distant in our pain? Scripture promises that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). God’s presence is based on His character, not our feelings. God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and that’s true whether we sense it or not.
Hebrews 4:16 promises that when we draw near to God, we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (NIV). We may not have chosen our circumstances, but we can choose to draw closer to God.
So here are ten practical tips to draw near in suffering:
- Study His Word.God reveals Himself in scripture. The Bible isn’t just for learning about God; we can encounter Him there. Scripture is alive and active. It convicts and guides us, points us to truth, answers prayer, and transforms our thinking (Romans 12:2).
“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 NIV). Time we spend in the Word will never be wasted (Isaiah 55:11).
- Express gratitude.Gratitude opens our eyes to all God does in and around us. It helps us become content and trust God rather than groan against Him. We’re to give thanks in all circumstances; gratitude has tremendous power.
Jesus modeled a life of gratitude. Before feeding over 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, Jesus gave God thanks (John 6:11). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus thanked His Father for hearing Him (John 11:41). He even thanked God the night He was arrested (1 Corinthians 11:23–24). Cultivating intentional gratitude helps us draw close to God.
- Lament.Lament is taking our complicated emotions and questions to God, leaving them there, and trusting God’s character and promises to provide the comfort and answers we need. We don’t have to hide our feelings or fake that we’re fine. God created us with emotions. Our emotions are safe with Him.
We find lament all through scripture. Hannah wept to God in deep grief over her infertility and barrenness. Job, Jeremiah, and Moses lamented to God in their situations. A third of the Psalms are psalms of lament that reveal how David and others took their difficulties and emotions to God. Lamenting isn’t crying out against God in bitterness or anger; it is crying out to Him as we draw near.
- Pray.Jesus often went away alone to pray (Luke 5:16). He spent whole nights in prayer and prayed intensely before and after crucial events. Before He called the 12 apostles, Jesus spent the night in prayer. After feeding the 5,000, Jesus went up a mountain alone to pray. And before He was arrested, tried, and crucified, Jesus prayed vigorously.
The power and intimacy of Jesus’s prayer life must have caught His apostles’ attention because the only thing they ever asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray (Luke 11:1). Jesus never let busyness or pressing needs keep Him from prayer. While prayer may seem an obvious way to draw near to God, we must be deliberate in listening, lingering, and persevering in prayer.
- Journal. Journaling helps us process our suffering. It unburdens the heavy emotions that weigh us down and untangles those negative thoughts that play on a continuous loop in our heads. For external processors like me, journaling helps me figure things out.
Whether you’re journaling to help you study the Bible or you’re journaling through grief to process your loss, the benefits of journaling are enormous. It helps us pause to capture what God is teaching us. It allows us to make fresh applications as we walk through the hard moments. It provides a place for regular confession, to record prayer requests and answers, and to write out scriptures we want to meditate upon. Grief journaling helps lower stress and boosts our mood. It is a safe place to work through emotions.
- Praise and worship.The day my husband died, our house filled with friends and family. I’ll never forget the friend who announced, “We need worship music,” as she popped a CD into the player. Another friend later urged me to come and listen as my children and their friends were upstairs singing and playing guitars in worship.
Worship draws us near to God when we don’t have words. It reminds us of God’s truth when circumstances are screaming differently. It fixes our eyes on Him when we can’t see the way through, and it renews our hope as we anchor into God’s promises.
- Tackle those thoughts.Our thoughts are a chief battleground when we’re in a place of suffering or grief. Fear, worry, doubt, regret, anger, bitterness, and despair can paralyze us and keep us from moving forward. Our emotions aren’t the problem; the problem is those emotions can stir up lies. Therefore, we must take every thought captive to God’s truth by letting God’s Word be louder than anything else we hear (2 Corinthians 10:5).
It’s a daily exchange of our thoughts for God’s thoughts. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Thinking about those things happens when we’re consistently in God’s Word and carefully choosing what we listen to, read, and view. Daily affirmations of God’s love and His promises help us through dark seasons where we must fight to focus on truth.
- Regular rest.God knows that endless busyness and constant distraction keep us from abiding in Him. Rest is God’s command and His gift, so we can regularly refill and refresh. Grief is exhausting; it takes enormous physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional bandwidth. Taking time to rest physically is a must, but we must also practice resting our minds and emotions in God so that He can renew our strength (Matthew 11:28).
- Go outside.God’s creation helps us draw closer to Him. Even as I write this, I can hear birds chirping and calling. It is a reminder that if God cares for the sparrow, He also cares for us (Matthew 6:26). We see God’s glory in nature, from the glorious design of roadside wildflowers to the roaring majesty of a rushing waterfall. Our Creator, who holds the world together, also holds our hearts together.
- Community.We’re not meant to live isolated from others. The Bible tells us not to forsake our gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). The enemy knows how critical meaningful fellowship with godly friends and a church family is, so he works overtime to keep us from them.
While we don’t need a church service to worship God, gathering with other believers is irreplaceable. It is where we find encouragement and witness the body of Christ working together for God’s glory. Apart from this, we will also miss the accountability of community and sweet fellowship with others who live and love differently than the world.
Intimacy with God isn’t for a few super-spiritual people. God created us all for deep intimacy with Him. But a close relationship with God won’t just happen. While some of these practices may feel mechanical at first, push through the awkwardness. Seek the Lord. Go to Him in honesty. And give Him your whole heart again and again.
LISA APPELO is a speaker, writer, and Bible teacher who inspires women to deepen their faith in grief and find hope in the hard. Formerly a litigating attorney, her days are now filled with parenting seven children, ministering, writing, speaking, and running enough to justify lots of dark chocolate. Find Lisa’s encouragement for faith, grief, and hope at LisaAppelo.com.