I recently met a good Christian friend of mine who is going through a very hard time. He told me that he was hanging on by his fingernails and he asked me if I had any advice.
Sadly, I didn’t have the answers that would solve his problems quickly. It was one of those occasions when I really wanted to help but I felt pretty powerless.
Nevertheless, having had several times in my own Christian life when I have felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails, I was able to make some suggestions. So I made a list of things for him to try to do, which I think he appreciated.
Then I decided that it might be good to write down what I said, in case others might find it useful too. Hence my words in what follows.
So, if you are a Christian who is suffering badly at the moment, if you are hanging on by your fingernails for one reason or another, I would encourage you to do the following:
First of all, never, ever give up. Keep on going until God comes to rescue you, which He will if you don’t give up.
As you persevere, pace yourself. Unless you are sure God has spoken to you clearly about when He will help you, don’t set a time frame for this. If you can’t endure much more, He knows all about that and He will time things in a way that meets your need.
Leave the details to God
Don’t be overconfident about exactly how God is going to rescue you. He is enormously skilful and wise, and there are probably thousands of different ways He could act. Leave all the details to Him.
Confess and repent of all sins you are aware of. If there are sins in your life that you know of but are making no attempt to address, then you can’t expect God to come and help you.
If you are battling sins, that’s a very different matter. Sins that trouble you repeatedly and that you are fighting against won’t stop God coming to rescue you.
That said, if you are struggling with sins of this kind, try to let other Christians know. Choose some people you can trust and tell them. Although these sins won’t stop God delivering you, they still need to be addressed, and help from others may be needed.
Unforgiveness can be a block that prevents us receiving God’s help, so forgive anyone you have not yet forgiven.
By forgiveness here, I mean rejecting and letting go of all bitter and hateful attitudes towards people who have wronged you. I don’t mean that you necessarily have to aim to have an obstacle-free relationship with people who have sinned against you but remain unrepentant.
If the person who sinned is repentant, we should always aim to have an obstacle-free relationship with them. However, if the person is unrepentant, how we relate to them is a much more complicated matter. Nevertheless, it is never right to harbour feelings of hatred and bitterness towards anyone who has sinned against us, whether or not they are repentant for what they have done.
If, after choosing to forgive, you find that you still feel bitterness towards someone for something they have done, then use your will to reject those feelings to the best of your ability. If you are doing your best, any remaining feelings of bitterness will not stop God coming to rescue you in your suffering.
Ask God to reveal obstacles
Ask the Lord if there might be some other sort of spiritual block that is hindering Him helping you. I think it would be very unusual for a Christian who is suffering badly not to receive God’s help because of a block of this sort. But it is worth asking Him if there might be some obstacle in the way.
If you find it difficult to hear God’s voice or if you have no idea about blocks of this kind, don’t worry. Only if you know that a block is there and refuse to do anything about it, would this stop Him coming to rescue you as you hang on by your fingernails.
Persevere in prayer. Remember the parable of the widow and the judge in Luke 18:1-8. Think about how the widow, i.e., the Christian, kept on and on going to the judge, i.e., God, until she got what she asked for. Be like her in “pestering” God to come and help you.
When you pray, look the Lord right in the centre of His eye and commit fully to everything you ask. Say something like this:
“Lord, in humility I’m asking You to definitely come and rescue me from my situation. Show me what You can do.”
Pray fervently and often, but after finishing a time of prayer, don’t keep praying over and over worriedly. Instead, choose to leave the matter with God and don’t pray about it until the next prayer time. If it helps, use your arms and hands to symbolically hand over the problem to God, and then refuse to think about it for a while.
Have faith that God will come to help you.
If you find yourself doubting that He will, don’t worry. You only need faith smaller than the size of a mustard seed (Luke 17:6). Follow the example of the father of the demonized boy, whose faith was mixed with doubt and who said, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark ). He got what he wanted.
Don’t try to manufacture feelings of confidence. It’s impossible to do that. Just use your will to choose to accept that God will come to rescue you, even if you feel that He won’t.
If you feel doubt and gloom about the future, go against your feelings by speaking words of faith. From time to time, speak words out loud to the Lord like:
“Lord, I believe that you will set me free from this situation.”
And then leave things with Him, including your doubts, and refuse to think about the problem for a while.
See other Christians
Tell other Christians about your problems. Don’t let yourself get isolated. And don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice or prayer. Christians should be doing this constantly, whether going through hard times or not.
Also try to get to church services and spend time with other believers. Sometimes Christians are really too ill to do this. But unless that is the case, having fellowship with others is very important.
If you really are too unwell to get to church services, don’t worry. That won’t stop God coming to rescue you.
Read the Bible
Don’t neglect Scripture reading.
Read the Psalms. See there how people of God before you have been hanging on by their fingernails. You’re not the first.
Have a read through 2 Corinthians too, and take note of the things Paul suffered. Yet God brought him through, as He will do for you as well if you don’t give up.
Give thanks to God for the good things in your life. Even when we are suffering badly, there are always positive things in our lives that we can be glad about.
For example, thank God for providing you with salvation. Thank Him for all the times in the past that He has helped you. Thank Him for the people that love you. If you can see, thank Him for that. If you have food to eat today, thank Him for that. If you have a bed to sleep in, thank Him for that. And so on.
When thanking, don’t try to make yourself feel grateful. We should never try to manufacture feelings or emotions.
If you don’t feel grateful to God, don’t worry. That won’t stop God coming to rescue you. Just use your will to thank Him for the good things in your life anyway.
If you are able, sing praise to God.
There are times when a Christian is so unwell that doing this will only make them feel worse. If that is the case, then speak out some praise instead.
Rejoice in God. There are biblical commands to do this (Philippians -18; 3:1; 4:4). And the Bible also has many examples of God’s people rejoicing in the midst of their sufferings.
The prophet Habakkuk is a good case in point. He declared that he would rejoice in God even though outwardly everything looked disastrous (Habakkuk -18).
Importantly, the biblical instructions to rejoice are not about trying to make ourselves feel happy. Some Christians who are suffering badly look at the commands to rejoice and think these mean that a believer should always be able to choose to feel happy. Then they try to do this, it fails, and they feel even worse than before. This comes from misunderstanding these commands.
What the commands to rejoice mean is simply that we should consciously choose to reflect on things in our lives that we are glad about.
Spend some time thinking about these things. Even if you feel bad, it is quite OK to say to God something like:
“Lord, all things considered, I don’t enjoy my life at the moment. My sufferings are terrible. But I’m glad that I can pray to you. I’m glad that You are with me. I’m glad that x, y and z are true of my life.”
This is what it means to rejoice.
Try to fight demons
The Bible teaches that every Christian will often come under direct personal attack from demons (Ephesians -18). Some of the negative thoughts or feelings that come upon you are probably the direct attack of these creatures against you. As far as you are able, fight off the demons that attack you.
If you have trouble recognizing attacks, be open to the possibility that a sudden bad feeling or negative thought might be a demonic attack. Try demanding repeatedly that any demon which is oppressing you leaves in Jesus’ name.
If you find that you are not able to make much headway in spiritual warfare of this kind, don’t worry. That won’t stop God coming to rescue you.
If you can, speak in tongues
If you have the gift of speaking in tongues, use it. Remember how Paul said that this gift builds up the Christian who uses it (1 Corinthians 14:4), and how he thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians ).
If you don’t have this gift, don’t worry. That won’t stop God rescuing you.
Be completely honest with God and with yourself about everything, even when the truth is unpleasant.
Importantly, if you feel that you dislike God for not having helped you before now, or for some other reason, admit that and tell Him. He won’t be shocked and He wants to hear it from you. Many Christians have felt this way before you.
Of course, if we dislike God, we have got something wrong, and we should acknowledge that. But we should never pretend that we feel something we don’t, or that we don’t feel something we do.
If you find that you dislike God, say something like this to Him:
“Lord, I don’t understand why you haven’t helped me before now. I know that You can’t have treated me badly, because You are perfect. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling some dislike towards you. I’m sorry about that and I know I must be seeing things wrongly, but I do want to tell You how I feel. Please help me not to feel like this.”
I would suggest that God is delighted by honest prayers like this. And I am sure that if a suffering Christian is honest about any wrong feelings, those feelings will in no way stop God from coming to rescue them.
Don’t just be open with the Lord about negative feelings, but tell Him all about how you feel, positive as well as negative. Of course, He knows already, but telling Him how we feel is good for us, and the Bible has many examples of God’s people doing this.
Sleep, eat and exercise
Try to get plenty of sleep and to eat enough nutritious food. And try to get some exercise too if that’s possible. If you can’t sleep much, eat much or exercise, don’t worry. That won’t stop God coming to rescue you.
Take things easy
Other than fighting against sin, don’t do anything difficult. God doesn’t expect that of you at the moment.
If a soldier gets injured in battle, he is not expected to get back into front line duties until he is well enough. Similarly, if you are suffering badly, don’t force yourself to do anything hard unless you are certain that God is telling you to do it. Other Christians can do difficult things at the present time. You don’t have to.
If there are (morally acceptable) things you enjoy doing, spend plenty of time doing them if you are able. And don’t feel guilty about this. The time will come for you to get back into serious Christian service. But right now you are aiming to get better, and if you can spend time doing things you enjoy, that’s a very worthwhile thing to do.
Help others if possible
Spend time helping other people, if you can do this without it making you feel worse. Giving to others is something that Christians should be doing a lot of if they are able.
However, if you are so unwell that it makes you feel worse to help others, then don’t. When you are hanging on by your fingernails, it’s unwise to do things that increase your suffering still further.
Even if you are not able to help other people practically, try to pray for others. Prayer is always one of the best ways of helping other people anyway.
Again, however, if praying for others makes you feel worse, you don’t even have to do that.
Think about others who have suffered
Think about the fact that there are many other Christians who have suffered badly too. Many have been in a very similar situation to yours and have come out the other side.
There have been several times in my own life when I have been hanging on by my fingernails. Probably the worst example was in 2012. There was a period in that year when I was suffering very badly, I lost a lot of weight and I was more or less housebound for several weeks. My tears were many and my prayers were agonized. And there were times when I doubted that God would rescue me and I didn’t know how I could go on.
But then, as He had done before, He came and rescued me by greatly easing my distress. He heard my prayers and the prayers of faithful brothers and sisters who were interceding for me. He will do that for you too if you don’t give up.
Never give up
If you are a Christian who is suffering badly, then, I would encourage you to do the things I have listed. And keep on doing them until God answers your cries.
As your heavenly Father, He loves you greatly and you can depend on Him totally. Never stop believing that He will help you, even if you find that your faith is mixed with doubt.
Keep looking Him in the eye and saying, “Lord, help me,” and He will come to rescue you.