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Question:

"Why isn't God delivering me from my suffering? Why isn't God answering my prayers?"

Answer:

Suffering is something that can be difficult for us to understand. We believe that God is good, so why does He allow people to suffer so much? If He loves us, then why doesn't He deliver us from our suffering? Why does He sometimes seem to ignore us no matter how hard we pray? I suspect that we'll never fully know the answers to these questions this side of heaven, but the Bible does tell us that there is often a purpose for suffering. I'll get to that in a moment.

Sometimes the choices that we make can bring suffering on us. For example, if I choose to put my hand on a hot stove, I'm going to suffer pain. If people choose to disobey what God says about premarital sex, for example, then they might suffer from sexually-transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and so on. If our sins have brought the suffering onto us then we can repent and ask for forgiveness, we can turn the situation over to God, and we can trust that He will work things out for our good (even if "our good" means that He allows us to continue suffering for a time).

On the other hand, sometimes we suffer because we are being afflicted by demonic spirits. For example, physical diseases can be caused by the devil and his demons:
"The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head." (Job 2:6-7)
Even though Job was "blameless and upright" (Job 1:1), and even though Job "feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1), the Lord allowed the devil to afflict Job (but only up to a certain point!). Even though Job was not aware of it, there was a purpose for Job's suffering. This does not mean that your suffering has the same purpose that Job's suffering had, but we can trust that God is in control at all times, no matter what He allows us to go through.

Job's example also shows us that terrible events in our lives can be caused by the devil and his demons:
"The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship" (Job 1:12-20)
Once again we can see that the Lord allowed the devil to afflict Job (but only up to a certain point!). Job lost his family and his wealth to "natural disasters" and to the consequences of other people's choices (the various raiding parties). But notice Job's response to all of this suffering: He fell to the ground in worship! He didn't understand the reason why he was suffering so much, but he responded correctly. Now notice how the story ends:
"After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer. After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. ... The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." (Job 42:7-12)
So even though Job was not perfect, the Lord commended him for the things that he said, and the Lord blessed him with twice as much as he had before! The way we deal with suffering is very important, and I'll come back to that in a moment.

As we have seen, suffering can come upon us because of our choices, because of other people's choices, because of "natural disasters," and so on. Sometimes these things are a direct result of demonic affliction in our lives. If the enemy seems to be attacking your body, your family's health, your marriage, your finances, etc., then I invite you to see my article called How to Cast Afflicting Spirits Out of Your Life. It contains a powerful procedure for renouncing things that might have given the devil a foothold in your life, and for breaking generational curses.

Now, when we experience suffering, or when God seems to be ignoring us no matter how much we pray, there is often a purpose for this. God puts us in the "wilderness" or the "dry times" for a reason. The devil doesn't place us in the "wilderness," and we're not in the "wilderness" because God is angry with us. Instead, this is a season which God uses to prepare us for greater things. For example, when God delivered the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, He led them straight into the wilderness as a time of testing and preparation (which they failed miserably, and ended up wandering for 40 years in the desert - see Numbers 14:26-35). Before John the Baptist could begin his ministry of preparing the way for the Lord, he had to go through a wilderness experience (see Luke 1:80). Before Jesus could begin operating in His powerful ministry, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness (see Luke 3:21-4:2). God takes us through the wilderness, the desert, the valley, the dry times, the night season, when He is preparing us for greater things.

Think of it this way. What is there between two mountain-tops? A valley, right? When God is ready to move us to the next mountain-top, to a higher level in Him, He walks us through the valley to get to that next mountain-top. When you begin to find yourself feeling frustrated and uncomfortable, as if you want to know God better and find His will for your life and be "used" by Him in mighty ways, but He seems silent and far away, you're probably in the valley, in the wilderness. When you are suffering in some way and you have prayed and prayed, but God doesn't seem to hear you, you're probably in the wilderness. You're in that time of preparation where He is stretching your faith and stretching your patience. It is frustrating, and sometimes you just can't understand why He won't deliver you from the suffering, or why He is "wasting" all of the time and energy that you are now willing to devote to Him. Your job in the wilderness is to stay patient, to stay in peace, to maintain a good attitude (don't grumble and complain!), to draw closer to Him, and to just trust Him. He has a special plan for your life, and He knows the perfect timing for moving you into the next level. First, though, ask Him if there is any unconfessed sin in your life, and repent of anything that He shows you.

As you're waiting for God to change your circumstances, it's a good time to do some changing yourself. It's a good time to work on your spiritual maturity, because you're going to need it when God moves you into that higher level of service for His glory. I invite you to see my article called Scriptural Ways to Grow in Spiritual Maturity for some Scriptural suggestions on how to grow in spiritual maturity. As that article explains, the Israelites did not have to wander in the desert for 40 years. It was their lack of spiritual maturity that kept them in the wilderness for so long. Don't let your lack of spiritual maturity keep you in the wilderness longer than necessary! There is nothing you can do to speed up the process, your job is simply to "take" it and let God work on you. However, you might slow down the process by not "taking" it, and my article on spiritual maturity (above) will help you understand how to cooperate with God as He burns off more of your "flesh nature" in the wilderness.

Another way to look at it is the example of the potter and the clay:
"Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?" (Isaiah 45:9)

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)

"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel."" (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

"But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:20-21)
God refers to Himself as a potter, and we are the clay. Notice that a potter takes a lump of clay, and he first prepares it by using pressure to squeeze the clay in order to soften it. The clay might not like being treated that way, and it might want to cry out to be delivered from its suffering. Yet the potter has a purpose for applying this squeezing pressure to the clay, and in fact this step is essential in order for the clay to fulfill its proper destiny. Then the potter puts the clay on the wheel and spins it round and round and round, forming it into a vessel according to the potter's plans. The clay might be screaming that its life is spinning out of control, and that it doesn't understand the changes that are taking place. But notice that this whole time, the clay is always in the loving hands of the Master Potter! These things, as uncomfortable as they are for the clay, are absolutely necessary in order for the clay to fulfill the role that the potter has in mind for it. When the clay has been shaped into a vessel according to the potter's plans, it is then set on a shelf to dry. The clay might be crying out, "Where are you, Master Potter? Why have you deserted me like this? Why don't you answer me? Why won't you relieve my suffering? Use me, Master Potter! I want to be used for Your glory! Why am I just sitting on a shelf? What am I supposed to do?" Does that sound familiar? Do you ever feel like you are sitting on a shelf, confused, and wondering why God won't "use" you for His glory? Notice that the Master Potter keeps his eye on that clay vessel on the shelf, watching until it is dry. He hasn't forgotten it! But guess what? When the clay vessel is dry, where does it go? Into the furnace! Now that clay vessel is really screaming! Things just seem to go from bad to worse, and the clay doesn't understand why it is in the fire. No matter how much it prays for deliverance, no matter how much it rebukes the devil, no matter how much it asks why the Master Potter is angry with it, no matter how much it repents of every sin it can think of, it is still in the fire. But the Master Potter isn't mad at the clay vessel, and the Master Potter hasn't forgotten the clay vessel. The fire is essential in order for the clay vessel to be strengthened so that it can fulfill the tasks which the Master Potter has planned for it. Eventually, the clay vessel is removed from the fire for the last time. What a relief! But then it goes back on the shelf in order to cool off. After it has cooled off, the potter begins to paint it (or he applies glaze to it), and then it goes into the fire again. The clay vessel might not like having this sticky, confining, smelly stuff being applied to it, but the finished product is a beautiful vessel that is fit and ready for the Master Potter to put to use for His glory. If the original lump of clay had known what a strong and beautiful vessel it would become after its "suffering," it might have been able to rejoice in its suffering, right?

This simplified lesson in pottery helps us to see the parallels between our suffering and the "suffering" that the clay experiences at the hand of the potter. Remember, God describes Himself in the Bible as a potter, and He says that we are the clay. In order for us to become useful vessels in the Lord's hand, He has to take us through a refining process to burn off more of our "flesh nature" so that we quit being so self-centered and we become more Christ-centered. People often refer to this uncomfortable process as the "wilderness," the "dry times," the "valley," the "dark night of the spirit," the "night season," or simply, "suffering." But it is an essential process, and it is important that we respond to this process in the right way:
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)

"In this [hope] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith --of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6-7)

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:4-6)
Notice that 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (above) tells us to give thanks "in" our circumstances, not "because of" our circumstances. The more we understand the principle of the Master Potter and the clay, the more we can consider it pure joy when we go through trials and sufferings (see James 1:2-4, above). This "wilderness" or "dark night of the spirit" is a time of preparation, and when it is over then we are back on the mountain-top, higher than ever before. It brings us into a higher level in the Lord (as Paul said, we go from one degree of glory to another - 2 Corinthians 3:18), and it prepares us for a greater level of service for His glory.

For example, when I was young in the Lord I was a church-goer, but not much else. One day I began really feeling a desire to serve God, but I didn't know what He wanted me to do. I got involved with the JESUS Video Project in Houston, and I found myself in meetings, dinner parties, and so on, with some real Godly movers and shakers. These people seemed to know what their callings were, and they were doing some great things for the Kingdom of God. But inevitably they would ask me what area of ministry God had called me to, and I had no answer. It was a very frustrating time! I felt like I was floundering in my Christian walk, unable to hear God's voice, unable to discern His will for my life. I couldn't understand why God was "ignoring" me, because I was ready and willing to go where He wanted me to go, to do what He wanted me to do, and so on. Yet He was not showing me what to do or where to go. Why was He "wasting" the time and energy that I was ready to devote to Him?

I didn't know that I was simply in the wilderness. I had never had any teaching like this on the wilderness, so I was confused and frustrated. But eventually, almost in the blink of an eye everything changed! Suddenly He brought everything together in an amazing way to get this Internet ministry started, and He gave me a number of confirmations that this was what He wanted me to do. Now I get e-mails every day from people all over the world who have been blessed in some way by this ministry, from pastors who want to use some of this material in their sermons, from people who want to use some of this material to put together training classes at their churches, from people who need prayer, from people who have questions about God and Christianity, and I occasionally get to minister the love of Christ to "hecklers" who write to me in order to put down Christianity. My point is that while I was going through that frustrating time of feeling like I was "floundering," not knowing what God wanted me to do, I was simply in the wilderness. God was preparing me for the next mountain-top, and when the "due time" arrived, God suddenly moved! If you are in the wilderness, God will move suddenly when the "due time" arrives!

But guess what? A few years later God might decide that it's time to take you to the next mountain-top, even greater than the one before! This means that He will take you back down to the valley, and you will go through these confusing, frustrating times all over again as God stretches your faith and stretches your patience, preparing you for the next thing that He has in mind for you. For example, four years ago (in the summer of 1999), God showed me that I will go through a fiery trial, but there will be a great blessing on the other side of that trial. I know what the trial is going to be, and I know some of what the blessing is going to be. However, I don't know when or how this trial is going to happen. Every day for over four years I have been expecting this trial to take place, and there have been times when I have wondered if I really heard from God about this or not. It can be very frustrating. Usually I am able to stay patient and stay in peace about this, but sometimes it feels overwhelming and I wish we could just get it over with. And then, just when I am getting used to this, God seems to turn up the heat until I almost don't think I can bear it any longer. But I know that I can bear it, because He will never put anything on me that I can't handle with His help. I trust Him, and that's the whole point of this wilderness, to get me leaning on Him completely like never before. The fact that I have been through this before really helps me a lot. I recognize the signs that I am in the wilderness, and that helps give me faith that God is walking me through the valley on the way to the next mountain-top.

Here's another illustration that often helps me to get through this. When a caterpillar spins a cocoon, it must stay enclosed within that cocoon for the proper amount of time in order to emerge as a beautiful butterfly. If you find a cocoon and you cut it open with a knife in order to "help" the butterfly get out, what you will probably find is a half-formed creature that cannot fulfill its purpose as a butterfly. So no matter how dark and confining that cocoon is, the caterpillar must spend the full amount of time in the cocoon in order to emerge as a beautiful butterfly which is able to fulfill its proper role in nature. I don't want to be some kind of half-formed creature who is incapable of fulfilling God's plans, so I am not praying for God to get me out of the "wilderness" before the appointed time!

Another reason why God allows us to go through trials is because our hearts need to be refined and purified like gold:
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6-7)
When a goldsmith purifies gold, he melts it in the fire and the impurities rise to the surface. Then he scoops the impurities off of the surface of the melted gold so that they don't get mixed back into the gold. Here's how The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia, Inc. describes the procedure:
"The collected gold is purified by smelting. It is heated until it melts, impurities are skimmed off when they float to the surface. The molten gold is cast into bars, and transported to the refinery." (Gold Processing Offsite Link, emphasis added)
The analogy here is that God sometimes allows us to go through fiery trials and tribulations in order to purify our hearts like gold. When we are "in the fire," it causes some of the impurities in our hearts (anger, impatience, unforgiveness, etc.) to rise to the surface. When God "turns up the heat" and I find myself experiencing impurities of the heart in the form of wrong attitudes, I try to acknowledge those wrong attitudes and then ask the Lord to "scoop" those impurities off of my heart. The awesome thing is that those bad feelings usually immediately evaporate!


Many Christians have not had any teaching about the wilderness. When God puts them in the valley, they don't understand what is happening to them, and it is easy for them to simply give up. Sometimes they never make it through to the other side, and they never reach that "Land of Promise" where God was trying to take them (just like the vast majority of the Israelites never made it into the Promised Land - see Numbers 14:26-35). I recently found a website on Faith in the Night Seasons Offsite Link which contains many articles on "the dark night of the spirit" (as some people call this time in the "wilderness"). These articles have been helpful to me because they remind me that God placed me here in the "wilderness" for a purpose, and that there are some things that I need to do during this "night season." There are many good articles on the "dark night of the spirit" at that website, but the short article called What Are We To Do in our Night Season? Offsite Link is a good one to start off with. It will give you a general idea of what the "dark night of the spirit" is, what God is trying to accomplish in this "night season," what you need to do during this time, and so on. I have also found several of Joyce Meyer's mini-books to be very helpful. Check your local Christian bookstore for her mini-books called, "Why God Why?," "When God When?," and "Expect A Move Of God...SUDDENLY."


Conclusion

If you are going through some type of suffering and God just seems to be ignoring you, always remember that the devil does not put us in the wilderness. It is God who puts us in the wilderness. It is not because of His anger, it is His way of preparing us for greater things. To help you cooperate with the Lord in this process of preparation, I invite you to see my article on growing in spiritual maturity, called Scriptural Ways to Grow in Spiritual Maturity.

There are two questions that we often want to ask God, but He will not usually answer these two questions to our satisfaction. The two questions are "Why?" and "When?". Whether we like it or not, God's answer to "Why am I going through this?" is, "Because you need it. Keep trusting Me." And it seems that God's answer to "When is this going to end?" is, "None of your business. Keep trusting Me."

If you are going through the wilderness, the desert, the valley, the dry times, the night season, then buckle your seatbelt and hang on, because God is leading you into a greater level in Him than you have ever experienced before! Be patient and stick with Him (without complaining), and suddenly He will lead you out of the wilderness and into your new "Promised Land." Hallelujah!


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 07/19/2003 - Added an analogy of how God allows us to go through fiery trials in order to refine our hearts like gold.
  • 02/27/2002 - Added an illustration about a caterpillar in its cocoon.
  • 10/05/2001 - Added some of Joyce Meyer's mini-books as recommended resources.