Orlando…a tragedy of proportions we have not seen before, at least in our lifetime. No matter your stance on sexual morality, traditional roles of gender, or LGBT+ issues, human lives were ended. Early on a Sunday morning, just a few days ago, someone who can’t be asked for his motives, took the lives of numerous…
She stood there, her eyes transfixed on the flames that jumped into the air with no sign of relenting. Though they had long since delivered the death blow to the victim, they would not soon give up their prey. The home she grew up in, the home her mother and family still lived in, was disappearing before her eyes. Yet the tears she shed and cries of anguish she made could not and would not silence her praise. Through it all, she knew in the middle of pain and tragedy, God would not leave her side. She knew without doubt in the middle of heart-wrenching tragedy and loss, He was worthy of all her praise, no matter the outcome. Standing in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of her devastation, she lifted her hands and her voice and praised the One who is worthy of it all. No matter what. And it was the most beautiful, inspiring thing to witness.
There are few things guaranteed in life. We can do everything in our power to stay healthy, put money away in the bank, live our lives fully submitted to God’s will. And yet, there are still no guarantees that this life will be free of trials and hard times. In fact, Jesus told us we will have hard times. (John 16:33). I think it’s pretty safe to say that every one of us will face a few things that shake us. The loss of a job, a catastrophic illness, the death of our parents, or a fire wiping out the family home. We will go through trials of varying degree, no doubt. But Jesus said as certain we can be of troubles in this world, we can be certain we have one who walks with us through them who has overcome sin and death–he has overcome the world!
After I left my friend that night, I asked myself if my faith was that strong? Sure, I know God is with me in all things. Sure, I know God works out all things for my good. But in the middle of the raw emotion when tragedy first strikes, will my first reaction actually be to praise Him? Or will I have to wait to make sure God came through on the promise first?
Praise is easy when things are, well, easy. We have no problem (at least I hope!) giving God glory and praise when things are going great! Or how about when you’ve come out on the other side of a trial. We can praise God then because He got us through. But how many of us truly stop to give God heartfelt praise and adoration the minute the trial starts? I’m going to be honest with you, it takes me a minute to get there. But how could things change for me, for us, if we trained ourselves to have that as our reflex reaction? Our natural reaction is fear. What if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us to reprogram that?
I spend a great deal of time in the Psalms during my devotional time. The psalter contains hymns written by the various authors that hit pretty much every human emotion. Joy, dread, fear, anguish, anger. It’s all in there. But of the 150 psalms, about 2/3rds of them are what’s called psalms of lament. In other words, songs written to God when the writer was having a pretty tough time. Many of David’s psalms are his words crying out to God, asking ‘where are You in all of this?’ That’s right. David, the king. David, that man after God’s own heart.
Our friend David wasn’t just handed the keys to the castle. (If you haven’t spent much time reading the richness of the Old Testament, I high encourage it! You can read all about David starting in 1 Samuel 16.) David spent a lot of time on the run, fearing for his life before he got to be king. After he became king, he had another batch of challenges. David had real reasons to be crying out to God.
The psalms of lament generally follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern we can all learn from to help cultivate our prayer life in difficult times. Of course, the pattern from psalm to psalm may be in different order, or the order may jump back and forth a bit, but the elements are generally consistent.
Let’s look at Psalm 22 in the New International Version as an example.
First, the writer cries out to God in his distress. There is no pretense, no trying to clean up before going to God. Just messy, raw emotion.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (verses 1-2)
Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death. (verses 12-15)
Second, the writer entreats God for help. Come, LORD, to the middle of this mess and get me out of it! (Sometimes the request is imprecatory, where the writer asks for God to bring retribution to his enemies.)
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (verses 19-21)
Lastly, the writer includes thanksgiving and praise to God.
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned. (verses 22-24)
These psalms, especially those of David, are like a sneak peak into his journal. If you look through these psalms of lament you will see real people struggle with real feelings, sometimes asking God “where are you?” Does that surprise you? Don’t ever feel like you can’t take your raw emotions straight to the throne room of God in prayer. He can handle it. What kind of genuine relationship would you have with your best friend if you couldn’t really be honest with your feelings, always saying what you thought was the ‘right’ thing? That would get old pretty fast. God knows your struggles. He is okay when we say “where are you?!” But even in our doubt and despair, we can always, always rest on God’s promises when it doesn’t feel like He’s there. Because of His promises, in our struggles and doubts, we can praise Him because of the truth that cannot change. The God that does not change. And that God, our God, is worthy of that praise!
David knew that. Even when his enemies were on his tail and closing in, he knew that. So in the same breath, he could ask where God was and still give him praise.
My friend Maria knows that. It’s why she can stand in front of a surreal scene of fire trucks, news crews and the charred remnants of the home her family has known for close to 50 years and still lift her hands to praise God for His goodness. Even when the good seems hard to see.
I pray we all have a faith so deep that, should the kind of world-shaking trial come, and it will, that in our anguish we instinctively offer God our praise. For He is worthy!
If you feel so led, a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for Maria’s family.
Jesus tells us that the devil, comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Peter warns us that he prowls around like a lion, “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yikes. Sounds like serious business. And it is! The devil, who has many names in the Scriptures to describe his various character traits and job duties, has one main purpose–to be your adversary. Let’s be clear–he’s got lots of tools in his arsenal and he knows just how to use them. He knows your weaknesses and how to exploit them. But let’s also be clear about something from the beginning, and I want you to get this deep, deep in your spirit. He cannot prevail against you. I don’t think you heard me. HE CANNOT PREVAIL AGAINST YOU. I know you may feel like it sometimes (there we are with the feels…but they are not the standard of truth!!), but he never will against a child of God. In those times you need to make sure you are calling on the weapons in your arsenal. You know, the ones that are stored in heavenly places. You need to be prayed up and suited up with your armor from Ephesians 6.
Now, if I were your adversary and I was trying to render you ineffective in your calling and purpose, short of killing you, do you know what I’d do? I would leave you in fear. I would work on that fear angle so well that after awhile, I didn’t even have to stick around to do the work. I’d have you trained to do the work for me. It’s a beautiful plan. So good, that the devil does it all.the.time. He has done this so well that we too often become conditioned to have fear be our go to reaction for anything and everything. God may be calling you to step out into something big or even something small, but we’re scared of failure. Before we even give it much more than a passing thought, we’ve dismissed it as too hard, too big, too much for little old us.
Fear can cripple you or it can just slowly stagnate you. Fear keeps you in that false sense of comfort. You know, that place where you want more but you feel stuck, things are not quite all that you dream of or aspire to, but they’ll do. Deep down you’re not all that happy with things as they are, but you’ll stay there because it’s easier to be uncomfortable than to be uncertain. Or worse, to try and fail.
I could be way off here, but in my experience the problem is that fear stems from the inability to control the outcome. And the anxiety and trepidation that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome is usually because the more I’m trying to control outcomes, the less I’m trusting God.
This is something that’s been part of the evolution of my prayer life in the last six months. I used to pray specifically for the outcome I wanted, and tack on “but Your will be done” at the end, genuinely hoping my requests aligned with His will. But having had to deal with more in-your-face scary things than I ever wanted to, it’s transitioned, particularly when I’m praying in times of fear, to not just asking for the outcome I’m hoping for, but sincerely telling God how much I trust him and thanking him for his faithfulness NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. If that seems like a no brainer to some folks, good on you! It was not for me. I was too scared of the unwanted outcome to verbalize my trust to the God of the universe to carry me through the unwanted outcome. Possibly my trust wasn’t as strong as I thought. Smart one, that God.
Fear keeps you in the boat. Or in the job you hate. Or from starting that homeless ministry. Or the Bible study at work. Or signing up for the New Testament Greek class (just sayin’). Fear says just don’t try. Jesus says, “Come”, calls you out of the boat, and grabs your hand if you get overwhelmed and things get scary. (Matthew 14:28-31)
Fear tells you all the reasons why not. Jesus tells you nothing is impossible with God. (Mark 10:27)
And though the Bible says “fear not” some 365 times, do you think God expects us to somehow eject that part of our humanity that makes us react to unnerving or dangerous situations with fear? Of course not. It’s not possible. Why then, the command not to fear? ‘Fear not, because I’m the Great I Am, and I’m going to let you go through this all by your puny little self. Sucka.’ No way! God does not call us to do things, or let us go through trials, and just turn His back and hope we figure it out. “Fear not for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10). Be strong and courageous….because the LORD your God goes with you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up and said to the wind ‘Peace, be still.’ He said to his disciples ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'” (Mark 4;39-40 NIV) Get the picture? He’s not really asking you to not ever be afraid again. He is asking you to trust him. There’s a big difference. If I trust in me, I have every reason to hold on to my fear. If I trust in God, I know he’s got my back.
Still don’t believe me? Every situation that brings you fear, rather than let it immobilize you, analyze it to it’s worst possible conclusion. Every time I do that, it leads to Jesus walking me through it. Or death. And death leads to…yup. Jesus. Really, take the sting even out of death. Afraid you won’t get the job? Trust God to know what’s best. What if the business fails. Yup, it might. Trust God if it does for provision and direction.
Being so afraid to fail and never trying is crushing to your spirit. And if you never even try to do what God is asking you to do, score one for the adversary! That’s what he wants.
It boils down to a choice. Trust God in everything, even the scary, uncertain stuff, or stay put and live in a small circle controlled by your fears. You have the power to step out of the circle any time you chose.
What’s it gonna be?