Intimacy with God is the deepest comfort in pain. How can we draw near to God in suffering? What if God feels distant in our pain? Scripture tells us when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (James 4:8)
After Dan died, God’s presence was nearly palpable. I was in constant conversation with Him, His counsel came with razor clarity and His comfort was real.
But God’s presence is based on His character, not our feelings. Psalm 34:18 promises that God is close to the brokenhearted and that’s true whether we sense it or not.
We can have confidence to draw near to God to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) We may not have chosen our circumstances, but we have the choice in them to draw closer to God even when we feel spiritually dry.
How do we do this practically? Lean into these 10 practices to draw close to God in suffering and grief.
1. Draw near to God through His Word.
God reveals Himself in scripture. The Bible isn’t just a book to learn about God, but a book to encounter God. The Bible is alive and active. It was amazing to me in my grief how God comforted me, lifted my head and gave me hope day after day as I opened the Word. It didn’t matter whether I was in Leviticus, the Psalms or the gospels — God always revealed Himself and gave me enough strength to face that day.
Paul knew the value of studying the Bible and encouraged Timothy, his young charge, to continue studying the Scriptures which he’d done since his youth. “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)
Our time in the Word will never return void.
2. Draw near to God through gratitude.
Gratitude opens our eyes to all God is doing in us and around us. It helps us become content and trust God rather than groan against Him. We’re to give thanks in all things, even in circumstances that are hard or painful. And while that may seem impossible, God knows the tremendous power of gratitude.
Jesus modeled a life of gratitude. Before feeding over 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves, Jesus gave God thanks. (John 6:11) Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus gave God thanks he would be heard. (John 11:41) Jesus even thanked God on the night he was arrested. First Corinthians 11:23-24 says “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” Cultivating intentional gratitude helps us draw close to God.
3. Draw near to God through lament.
Lament is taking our hard emotions and hard questions to God, leaving them there and choosing to trust God’s character and promises for us. We don’t have to hide our emotions or fake that we’re fine. God who made us, made us with emotions. Our emotions are not just safe with God; they are safest with God.
We can find through scripture. Hannah lamented to God in deep grief over her infertility and barrenness. Job lamented to God, Jeremiah lamented to God and Moses lamented to God. Fully one-third of the Psalms are psalms of lament. These psalms show how David took his diffilculties and emotions to God in lament throughout his life.
4. Draw near to God through prayer.
Jesus often got away by himself for regular prayer. (Luke 5:16) He spent whole nights in prayer and prayed intensely before and after crucial events. Before calling the 12 apostles, Jesus spent the night in prayer. Before Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, he spent time in vigorous prayer. And after feeding the 5,000, Jesus went up to a mountain alone to pray.
The power and intimacy of Jesus’ 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 need keep him from prayer. And while prayer may seem an obvious practice to draw near to God, I know in my own life I often do more asking than listening instead of lingering or persevering in prayer.
5. Draw near to God through journaling.
Journaling helps us process our suffering. It allows us unburden our heart from the heavy emotions weighing us down and untangle thoughts that would otherwise play on a continuous loop. Especially for those of us who are external processors, journaling helps us figure things out as we write.
Whether you are Bible journaling to help you study or grief journaling to help you process your loss, science backs up the enormous benefits of journaling. Journaling helps us pause to capture what God is teaching us. It allows us make fresh application as we walk through the hard. It provides a place for regular confession, for recording prayer requests and answers, or for writing out key passages we want to meditate on.
Grief journaling also provides a safe place to work through emotions, helps lower stress and boosts our mood. You can find 50 grief journal prompts to get started here.
6. Draw near to God through praise.
The day Dan died, our house filled with friends and family. I’ll never forget one dear friend working in my kitchen saying, “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 different. It fixes our eyes on Him when we can’t see a way through. And it renews our hope as we anchor into God’s promises. Create a worship playlist or save this songs to comfort in grief playlist. You can find it on Spotify here.
7. Draw near to God by tackling our thoughts.
Our thoughts are one of the chief battlegrounds when we’re in a place of suffering or grief. Fear, worry, doubt, regret, anger, bitterness and despair can paralyze us from moving forward. Our emotions aren’t the problem; the problem is our emotions can stir up lies.
We need to take every thought captive to God’s truth by letting God’s Word be louder than anything else we hear.
It’s a daily exchange of our thoughts for God’s thoughts. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” We can do that by getting into God’s Word consistently and by carefully choosing what we listen to, read and view. Daily affirmations like these 31 Christian affirmations rooted in scripture have been espcially helpful in seasons when I’ve fought to focus on truth.
8. Draw near to God through regular rest.
Rest is a gift from God. He knows that endless busyness and constant distractions keep us from abiding in Him. Rest is not just His command but His gift so that we can regularly refill and refresh. I’ve come to love Sundays where I get to rest, nap or otherwise take it easy after church. Putting boundaries on my Sunday to get a regular Sabbath rest has made a world of difference for the rest of my week.
Grief is exhausting. It takes enormous physical, mental, cognitive and emotional bandwidth. Grief fatigue is a real thing and we can’t fix it simply by getting more sleep. Dr. Saundra Dalton Smith has excellent insight into the seven kinds of exhaustion and seven kinds of rest we need, which I’ve found particularly applicable in grief.
9. Draw near to God through time outside.
God’s creation helps us draw close to Him. Even as I write this, I can hear several different kinds of birds chirping and calling, a reminder that if God cares for the sparrow, then He cares for us as well. (Matt. 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 holds our heart together as well.
My near daily walks don’t just get my blood pumping; they refresh my soul. Experiencing the wonder of a freshly-spun web stretched across my favorite trail, a summer sun shower that stops as suddenly as it starts, or the day’s sun sinking through a cotton-candy sky shifts my focus from my circumstances to God who is over my circumstances. It’s a reminder that I’m not the center of this story, that God is working in ways I can’t begin to fathom, and that this world, glorious as it is, is not my home.
10. Draw near to God through community.
We were not meant to live isolated. The enemy knows how critical meaningful fellowship with godly friends and a church family are and works overtime to keep us from them. I mean, is it just us fighting the struggle bus on Sundays to get our family to church?
Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone at church and you’ve stayed away. Maybe you can’t find a church that fits or you’ve let an online service take the place of in-person fellowship. While we don’t need a church service to worship God, gathering with other believers is irreplaceable.
If we’re not part of a church community, we miss opportunities to use our spiritual gifts and benefit from the spiritual gifts of others. We miss how God is working in this present age through His church. We 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 every one of us for deep intimacy with Him. But a close relationship with God won’t just happen. While some of these spiritual practices may feel clunky or mechanical at first, push through the awkward. Seek the Lord. Go to Him honestly. And give Him your whole heart again and again and again.
Like the psalmist, let’s be people who say, “it is good to be near God, I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:28)