Powlison: 5 Questions to Ask When You Are Suffering

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David Powlison, God’s Grace in Your Suffering (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 43–46.


When he engages your suffering, the all-wise God typically creates a dynamic interplay of five questions.

  1. What hardship are you facing?
  2. What life-giving word from him speaks to you?
  3. What input do wise friends give you?
  4. How can you honestly wrestle your way toward trusting him?
  5. What should you do next?

. . . Walk this through for yourself.

1. What hardship are you facing?

The first question is easy to answer, because life lands on your head with something hard. What are you facing? If you’ve chosen a crushing, multi-dimensional affliction, perhaps start with one small slice of the far larger problem. God’s ways with us always respect that we can only take the next step. No leaping tall buildings at a single bound.

2. What life-giving word from him speaks to you?

The second question has many possible answers.

Do you already have in mind something true from and about our God that speaks relevantly to you in your situation? . . .

What has been helpful to you in the past?

Or do you need something fresh about who the Lord is?

Read in parts of Scripture where suffering provides the backdrop. Psalms, Job, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Peter are the usual suspects. But many parts of Scripture touch on our afflictions.

Is there a song that reminds you of who you are in his sight?

A psalm that honestly relates to God in the middle of a struggle?

A teaching point from a sermon or book that speaks to how God works in affliction?

A promise of what the Lord will do in the future?

3. What input do wise friends give you?

The third question is very important, but can be complicated to answer.

You need other people. It’s easy to forget this, and try to fly solo through hard times.

Who can walk with you?

Ask yourself:

“Who is the person I most trust?

Who will handle with care the fine china of my honest struggles?

Who will draw me out and listen well?

Who keeps confidences, prays thoughtfully, and is willing to speak candidly with godly wisdom?

Who is the most sensible, straightforward, humble, believing, experienced, courageous person I know?”

None of your friends is perfect! But God puts imperfect people in our lives who are also wise, caring, and trustworthy—the kind of person you want to be for others.

Who can share the burden with you, will cast your cares on God, will encourage you?

Part of the complexity of Question 3 comes because other people can be foolish—even very foolish. They can be like Job’s counselors, and treat you wrong. They might offer bad counsel. They might make foolish promises that aren’t at all true about God and how he works within tough situations. They might be meddlesome and just try to fix you. They might be untrustworthy, and prone to gossip. So you can’t ask just anyone to walk with you. . . .

4. How can you honestly wrestle your way toward trusting him?

The fourth question gets you wrestling to make what is true your own.

Wrestle to remember and take to heart truth that is easy to forget. Seek the Lord honestly.

In turning toward him, you will likely be turning away from instinctive and habitual sins. Anxiety? Anger? Despair? Escapism? He is merciful. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Don’t be afraid to tell the Lord the truth about your sufferings, your sins, your desires for mercy, your struggle. Dozens of psalms have walked that road.

Ask your Father to give you his Holy Spirit. All wisdom, trust, peace, courage, love, endurance, hope is a fruit of his personal touch.

Honest wrestling is not magic. It’s not “claiming the victory.” It’s not finding a religious truism to short-circuit the process. And it’s not wallowing in heartache and self-pity. God is taking us in his direction. Ask. Seek. Knock. He found you first, and he is willing to be found.

4. What should you do next?

The fifth question gets you thinking about the practical “What now?”

In significant suffering, the problem is always much bigger than what you are called to do now. I couldn’t fix the distressing things that had happened that day, but I could make a couple of phone calls. Katharina von Schlegel couldn’t bring back her beloved friends, but she could put her soul’s struggle into a poem that we still sing, “Be still, my soul.”

What is a small, but significant next step? It may be as simple as getting up from prayer and calling a friend, or doing the laundry, or paying your bills, or going to work, or taking a personal day to walk in the park

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