So here we are, one year since my husband lost his job, still unemployed. You may or may not be in a similar situation, but all of us have gone through times when we’ve felt helpless to change our circumstances, and weighed down by uncertainty. So as Christians, what do we do? God’s Word is clear that we are to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). But have you ever wondered why? Why would God ask us to do something so counterintuitive? Based on my own experience and study of scripture, I’d like to throw out these observations:
Praise takes our eyes off of ourselves and our own circumstances, and directs our attention to our Savior and Deliverer. When I look at our current situation through human eyes, I feel discouraged. Our future and financial well-being seem out of our control. As uncomfortable as that is, perhaps that’s where God wants us. We’re currently facing what seems like an impossible decision, based on my human perspective. But when I look to Jesus, I’m reminded that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Jesus promises that if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things – our needs, our daily bread – will be given to us as well (Matt. 6:33). The writer of Hebrews challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:2, The Message). So when we turn away from fear and turn our hearts toward Jesus in praise, we’re reminded that nothing is impossible for him, he’s gone through every pain we have, and when he asks us to seek first his kingdom, he knows how hard that is because he paid the price for this radical call to obedience with his life. When we choose to honor his sacrifice with our own sacrifice of praise, we are choosing to seek first his kingdom. When we choose to praise, no matter what our circumstances may be, we are placing God on the throne of our hearts instead of our own desires, and trusting him to take care of our needs.
To go even further, I’d like to suggest that when we praise God BECAUSE of our suffering, not just in spite of it, our eyes are opened to the work of Almighty God in our lives and on behalf of his kingdom. When we choose to praise God because of our difficulty and suffering, we are giving God permission to reframe and redeem our circumstances. Through praise, our vision is focused on the things of heaven, and God gives us heavenly vision in return. I could go on and on with examples of how God has reframed things I would perceive as losses, like my family’s gluten intolerance, our tight finances, and the challenges of homeschooling. Through praise, he’s opened my eyes to see them as opportunities to minister to others who are in similar circumstances. Not every trial we face is for our benefit. Sometimes, they are for the benefit of others. My children may someday need to recall our present time of trusting God to meet our needs while facing their own crisis. Seeing my determination to praise and serve God may be what God will use to shape their faith someday. Praise paves the way for God to remind me that my life is not all about me. When we praise God for the opportunity to share in his sufferings, he redeems the hurts and disappointments we experience by showing us how they fit into our journey toward becoming more like Christ. As painful as our present situation and uncertainty is, I can praise him for this trial because he is using it to draw me closer to him and bring him glory as I continue to serve him.
Praise does not always come easily. In fact, I’ve really struggled with the choices we’ve been facing this week, and I’ve had to rely on scriptures and praise music often to keep from giving in to the crushing weight of discouragement. And yet, all it takes is a glance at my dog to remind me whom I praise. (That’s right, I said my dog.) Two months ago our previous dog of 14 years died, and I grieved over that ornery dog for weeks. At a time when everything in the house seemed to be falling apart, I broke down and cried out to God that losing our dog on top of everything was just too much to bear. I have no doubt that my Father, my Friend, heard those cries. The very next day, we were told of a family who needed to find a home for their dog. When I first saw Cookie, I almost laughed out loud. You see, every pet I’ve ever had has been black with white on its chest and paws (including our crazy gerbils). Of course, our new dog fits the profile exactly. It’s as if God was saying, “I picked this one out just for you.” Not only that, but Cookie has chosen me as his favored owner, and lives to snuggle with me. He waits outside my door at night and does a happy dance the moment I walk out in the morning, wagging his stumpy tail. When I look in those big brown eyes that are so obviously in love with me, I see a glimpse of how much my Father loves me and desires to give good gifts to his children. God has yet to answer all my prayers, but I can praise him while I wait because I know how tenderly my Daddy loves and cares for me.
Lastly, I believe that the most absurd times to praise can provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move in ways we can’t imagine. Praise doesn’t just bring us peace and joy in the midst of suffering, it empowers us with the kind of faith that can move mountains. Praise opened the prison doors for the Apostle Paul, and it can open prison doors in our hearts. Most importantly, when we are in a posture of praise, the enemy can’t defeat us. When I am focused on God and not myself, there is no room for fear, doubt, and condemnation. The accuser is silent when I bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ and lift up his name in praise, for “at the name of Jesus, EVERY knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). Time and time again, when I have been under a cloud of discouragement or condemnation, and choose to praise, the enemy has been shut down because he has to take a knee. Glory to God!