When Someone You Love Is Struggling Spiritually

They’ve been a pillar of spiritual strength. A source of biblical wisdom. Prayer warriors who have bolstered others with their faith and love.

But now they’re struggling.

A health crisis has entered their lives. Or a wayward child, or a job loss. Perhaps a mountain of unanswered prayers are weighing them down. Ministry is difficult, unappreciated, or non-existent.

Instead of speaking words of faith and hope, they’re drowning in a sea of questions and disappointment. They’re struggling spiritually, and you don’t know how to help.

What can we do when someone we love is struggling spiritually?

1. Be Patient. The deeper the hurt, the longer it can take to heal. When someone’s been through a serious personal, financial, or spiritual crisis, we can’t expect them to reorient immediately. If you’ve ever experienced grief, you know that oftentimes the process involves two steps forward and one step back.

2. Resist the urge to set them straight theologically. If they say “God doesn’t love me,” don’t quote John 3:16 to them. They already know it, and deep inside they believe it. John Piper, in A Godward Life, says,” How quickly we are given to defending God—or sometimes the truth—from words that are for the wind alone. There are enough words, premeditated and studied, that need our rebuttal, but not every despairing heresy blurted out in the hour of agony needs to be answered. If we had discernment, we could tell the difference between the words with roots and the words blowing in the wind.”

3. Recognize the source of their words. When they speak foolish, faithless words, recognize that the source of these words is pain and hurt, not true disbelief. When someone is hurting, they have a tendency to strike out at those closest to them. For men and women of faith, that Someone is God. When they fling hurtful, faithless accusations at the One they know could have spared them from the crisis, they speak from their humanity. Even David did this as he penned the words of Psalm 22, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?”

4. Pray often and intensely for them. Consider fasting. While it’s ok to pray that God will lift their burdens, pray also for them to accept and live in the grace God has provided. Ask God to strengthen their faith and give them a vision for how they can glorify him in their circumstances. Pray that God will reveal himself to them in personal, intimate ways that demonstrate his love and care.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit. Pray for God’s Spirit to speak truth to their hurting hearts and break through the pain. Rest confidently that He will take the truth they know and apply it to their situation.

6. Do what you can to restore their bodies and souls. When Elijah alternated between despair and depression while hiding from wicked Queen Jezebel, God ministered to his physical needs first. He fed him and encouraged him to rest. It was only after his physical needs were met that Elijah was ready to hear the “still, small voice” of God (1 Kings 19).

For us, this might mean taking them a meal, babysitting their kids, or inviting them out for a fun, lighthearted afternoon. Send them a silly card that makes them smile, text an encouraging Bible verse, or share a Youtube video like Mandisa’s “He Is with You” or Third Day’s “Cry Out to Jesus.” Invite them over for dinner with a few close friends and end the evening by laying hands on them and praying.

Piper gives wise insight into how to minister to someone whose spirit is hurting: “Let us learn to discern whether the words spoken against us or against God or against the truth are merely for the wind—spoken not from the soul, but from the sore. If they are for the wind, let us wait in silence and not reprove. Restoring the soul, not reproving the sore, is the aim of our love.”

What about you? Has there been a time when you were struggling spiritually and someone ministered to you? I’d love for you to share your story in the comment box below. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like “When Life Chews You Up and Spits You Out – How to Banish the Dark Night of the Soul.”

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  1. Lori, I am reposting this--such wisdom and insight! Thank you! Because I served on church staffs and in Christian organizations I often felt that I had to "buck up" and not show any struggle because I was a leader. But when someone close to me died, I couldn't contain my grief and other related emotions. The beautiful thing was that those who loved me told me later that they were almost "relieved" that I had expressed some very human emotions. They ministered to me and it actually deepened our relationship. And I LOVE the Psalms because as a friend of mine says, "David played the whole keyboard: white keys and black keys too!"

    1. Love that quote! LIke the one from Piper, I think it will stay with me for a long while. . . thanks for swapping wisdom :)

  2. Lori, EXCELLENT post! Sometimes just coming alongside of them, loving them and praying with them is a great boost. Or just being there, no words, no "help", just being there. Thanks for this. I'm enjoying your blog!!

    1. Kate,

      I think you nailed it -- just being a presence without having to solve anything is a comfort. So glad you stopped by!

  3. I love so much about this post, but most of all, I appreciate the quote from John Piper about words that are meant for the wind. #2 and #3 in particular are important for me to be aware of. My mom has always been my favorite person to talk to when I'm struggling because she listens first. And only after she's listened and sympathized does she speak gentle truth to me. :)

    1. Jen,
      Piper's quote stayed with me because he pulled back the curtain on suffering and nailed what often happens when we've been wounded in the depths of our souls. You are so blessed to have a wise and listening momma. Thanks for stopping by today!

  4. Lori,
    This one is something we can all benefit from reading. Thanks so much!

  5. Dear Lori,
    This is great advice. So many times we don't know exactly what to do when others declare that God doesn't love them. I appreciate your taking the time to share your compassion and wisdom with us.

    Celebrate you.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Joan,
      So often we think we have to defend God, when he's quite capable of defending himself. How presumptuous we are! Thanks so much for commenting today :)

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  7. This is very helpful to everyone. We should learn how to move on to some bad things that happened in our life especially the problems that we encounter.
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