The Sacrifice of Praise

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)


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.

 

Advertisements

An Open Letter To Desert Dwellers

Desert

An Open Letter to My Dear Friend T and Anyone Who Feels Stuck In The Desert:

First and foremost, you are not alone! I know what the enemy would have you believe, that you’re stuck out there by yourself, all on your own. That’s a lie.  The best way to weaken somebody’s resolve is to isolate them. Separate them from the pack.  Once you do that, it’s easier to get your victim to believe your lies. The first lie you have to refuse to listen to is that you are alone.  You have friends and family that care about you, and more importantly, you have Jesus Christ walking alongside you, each step of the way.  The comforter, the Holy Spirit, is there for you. You are etched into God’s hand and he is not letting go.

Feelings are feelings, but they are not always reliable. Remember when we studied Philippians and talked about Joy? Remember that happiness is based on a temporary situation, but for the Christian, true joy is based not on a feeling, but on the facts. The fact that we are assured salvation when we receive Christ as our Savior, that his death was payment for our sins once and for all. The fact that it isn’t based on our performance or ability.  That fact that even if we feel stranded in the desert and God is far away, he is not. The fact that over and over the Bible tells us He will not leave us, that if we seek him, he will not turn away. (Isaiah 42:16; Psalm 94:14). The fact that if we lean into him, he will lean into us. (James 4:8).  The fact that Jesus promises us rest in our weariness (Matthew 11:28).  That fact that even if we don’t feel anything, it’s all still true.

The truth hasn’t changed. All the things you believed before you entered this difficult season remain the truth. God doesn’t change. (Malachi 3:6). His word is still the same truth you have believed and held close to your heart.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). All the promises you held tight to and believed before, the promises you used to guide others through their own deserts, they are still there and are still true for you.

What put you in your desert could be any number of things. A financial crisis, a terrifying health scare, family problems that seem beyond repair, infertility issues, addictions, depression, and on and on.  While the root cause may be different, the highway to the desert is almost certainly the same. Somehow, you’ve let the voice speaking to you the loudest be the one telling you you’re alone, it’s hopeless, you have to handle this by yourself, and you should probably just give up.  That is a pack of lies straight from the devil himself. But because those messages keep getting more and more airtime in your mind, the voice of God starts fading away until you eventually stop hearing him altogether.  And that is exactly what your adversary was hoping for. He “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 English Standard Version).  (And sometimes the devouring doesn’t happen to those in the extreme desert seasons of their lives. Sometimes it happens to those who simply give in to accepting to chose to live a life in the “meh” zone, not really that happy or sad, nothing is really that terrible, but nothing is ever very good. He just devours any real positivity from your life.) Once he’s got your attention off God’s truths and promises and refocused onto his load of poop, he moves in for the steal, kill, and destroy phase. He’s going to steal your confidence in God, kill your joy, and destroy your hope. Welcome to the desert. 

So how do you get out of the desert?

  1. Ask God to meet you there, right in your desert, and help you. If you have already put your faith in Christ as your savior, God will meet you there. He is not going to abandon you. He is waiting for you to ask him to be with you in this thing that you’re facing. Let him in. You have to do your best not to hold back any of it, but that may take some time. Just keep at it. If you have not put your faith in Christ, please hop over here real quick, then come back.
  2. Choose your lenses and how you use them.  You have in your possession two figurative lenses, one convex and one concave. One makes items appear smaller when you look at them through it (concave), the other lens (convex) makes objects appear larger. STOP USING THE CONVEX LENS TO VIEW YOUR PROBLEMS! Just throw that one away. You don’t even need to use the concave lens too look at God. He IS bigger than any problem you face.  No trick lenses needed. Grab a piece of paper and write your problem(s) in the center of it. Now in big giant letters, write GOD over the top of that problem. Put that paper up as a visual reminder where you can see it. Friends, you absolutely must change your perspective. We’re talking about the plague sending, Red Sea parting, manna from Heaven providing God. And that’s just Exodus. Will God instantly remove every problem? No. He might, but he might not. Probably, he won’t. But that’s for him to decide. He will give you the grace you need to get through this rough patch. (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace is sufficient for everything. More than sufficient. It is all you need. 
  3. Stop believing there is no hope and start believing you are an overcomer. This goes back a little to looking at our issues with the lens that makes them look bigger. And we all do that, we tend to let things loom large over us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (And if you know who that is, God bless you doubly for being old like me!) In my last post we read about Paul encouraging the new believers by telling them trials and tribulations are how they enter the kingdom of God. Folks, we are refined in the fire. But just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, we have somebody standing with us, even when the heat gets turned up. (Daniel 3:16-28).   In all things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through Christ. 1 John 5:5 says we that believe Jesus is the son of God will overcome the world.  But we are not conquerors or overcomers as believers by our own power. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, English Standard Version). The same Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us! Tap into the power of the Holy Spirt, y’all!  You are not a victim. You are not an addict. You are not a diagnosis. You are a child of the Most High God and that makes you an overcomer! CLAIM THAT or you might as well pitch your tent in the desert.
  4. Lean into Me and I will Lean into you. I already shared that from James 4:8.  When you’re in the desert feeling alone, and all you’re hearing is the voice of the enemy, I’m guessing little by little your time with God has slipped off into nothing much, if at all. Or perhaps it didn’t exist with any consistency in the first place (no judgment here). Now is the time, friend, to lean in. Grab the hem of Jesus’ cloak and don’t let go. Grab that Bible and get in it. Look up verses that may speak to your specific situation, but if you’re alone in the desert, get yourself into the Psalms.  Almost half the psalms are called psalms of lament. These are cries of despair to the Lord. Folks, you are not the first to walk this path. Read how even King David cried out to God when nothing seemed to be going his way. But always, in the end, he know God was for him.  Get yourself in the word. This is God’s primary way of speaking to us. Make daily Bible reading a habit. Make daily prayer a habit. (These two things are quite helpful for avoiding deserts in the future, by the way.) Tell him everything. He already knows, but he wants you to share it with him. Feel like he’s left you? Tell him. Feeling lost and need help? Ask him. Not sure about anything or what to do? Lay it before him.  Getting out of the desert is going to be pretty tough if you do it by yourself.  Get God in this with you.  Rest in him.
  5. Don’t be an island. God made us for community. There are people that care about you. Be discerning, of course, but don’t be afraid to ask for support. Talk to your pastor. Don’t have one, you say?  Sweet child, please go find a community of fellow believers. Once again, the enemy will try to silence you, telling you there is too much shame in admitting you have this issue going on. Just another lie.  Use discernment for sure, when you chose which friends to share with. But you are not alone.

I have lived through long desert journeys and short trips. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re on your own, nobody cares, and you found the end of the rope. I’ve been there. But God.  God will show you there is hope, and not just life, but abundant life. He will show you that not only are you not alone, He has always been with you and never left your side. He will bring great, loving people into your life if you open yourself up to it. And he’ll take that rope and show you not only is there a whole lot more you didn’t see, but it’s long enough for you to use it to lead others out of their desert, too.

Father God, tonight I do pray for the hurting, those that feel hopeless, those that feel their burdens are so heavy they cannot take another breath. You are our loving Father, you redeemed us not so we could live under the oppression of the things of this world, the fear of the future, the uncertainties of life. You promised us not just life, but a life more abundant. I pray for each person reading this that you would touch them right now, where they are, to not just meet their needs, but exceed them in the way only you can. Father, let each one see your hand stretched out to them and stir their hearts to grab on and never let go.  In Jesus Name.