Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Praise God for what you don’t have yet

My first novel hits the stores today. It’s a project 13 years in the making, and I never expected it to get this far. I’m so excited that I can hardly focus or think about anything else, but I’m absolutely terrified that people will hate it. And more than anything, I’m scared that it will fail.

I want it to challenge the way people think. That’s why I wrote it, because God challenged the way I think, and I wanted to share what I learned about faith and about following Him. I just did it with spaceships, bounty hunters, and malfunctioning androids. Different strokes, you know?

I’m asking that God will use it, not only to challenge our way of thinking in 21st Century America but also to support itself. I’d love to be able to make a living on this thing and its sequels. And I found myself yesterday telling God that if He made it successful in the ways I wanted, I would praise Him for it. But just as I thought that, I felt a little tug in my heart.

You know the feeling. It’s the finger poking you in your chest or that hand slapping the back of your head like Gibbs off NCIS.

And that unmistakable still, small voice asked me a question that rang in my ears: If I can praise God for what I already have, why can’t I praise Him for what He’s going to do later?

1056131_54670030Today’s verses are Acts 16:22-25.

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.

Paul and Silas were among the world’s first missionaries, and they always seemed to be getting into trouble. This was no exception. Because they couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, they got themselves beaten and arrested. But they weren’t moping or feeling sorry for themselves. No, they were singing praise songs.

I’m sure they had both gotten to the point where they could thank God for the tragedies and the difficulties in their lives, but I don’t think they were spending all this time thanking God for the chains and the prison. I firmly believe they were already seeing past the prison, to what God was going to do in their lives after He got them out of prison, which He did in rather spectacular fashion (check out the rest of Acts 16 for the rest of the story).

But how does that apply to us today?

Have you ever tried to praise God for something He hasn’t given you yet? To thank Him for prayers He hasn’t answered yet?

It’s easy to praise Him for what He’s already given us. We have it. We can see it. We can hold it in our hands. But praising Him for something He hasn’t given us yet takes faith–faith that He will do it, faith that He’ll provide and open doors and that He’ll really do what He’s promised to do.

Maybe it sounds arrogant to praise God for what He’s going to do for us tomorrow. And, granted, if you aren’t careful you can turn into one of the “name-it-and-claim-it” prosperity gospel preachers who tell you God will always give you what you want. And that’s not from Scripture. Not at all.

God always answers prayers in the way that’s best for us, and that doesn’t mean we always get what we want. It means we get what God wants–and ultimately that’s better anyway.  But regardless if God answers the way you expect or the way you don’t, He still answers. And maybe His answers aren’t what you want, but you can know they’re always good. Because He is good.

Will my book be successful the way I want it to? I don’t know. I hope so, but more importantly, I want my book to be successful in the way God wants it to. That’s what matters. That’s what will make a difference.

So whatever you’re asking God for today, don’t bargain with Him. Don’t base your response to Him on whether He does what you want or not. That’s not the point.

If you can praise Him whether you have what you want or not, you’ve already achieved something greater than mere success. You’re seeing life from His point of view. And that’s worth more than any 5-star review or royalty check.

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

When your lunch sings louder than you do

Life is loud. And busy. And crazy. And it takes all of our focus and determination sometimes just to get through a day, let alone a whole week. And it doesn’t stop with the daily grind from Monday through Friday. Most of the time, we have other things happening in our lives too. After work or school. On the weekends. All the time.

Life is so busy and so loud, when do we have time to sit still? I don’t. I’m always running from one hot project to the next with my hair on fire. I rarely get to rest. I rarely get to slow down at all. And that is usually 100% my choice.

I’ve learned this lesson at least a dozen times already, but I always seem to need a refresher.

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Luke 19:36-40.

As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

This passage is talking about something Bible-people usually call “the triumphal entry.” Triumphal is just one of those words that screams stained glass, so I try to avoid using it. Basically, this is the moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before He would be crucified.

The crowd welcomed Him on this day. Funny how they changed their minds about Him when He didn’t give them what they wanted. But that’s a post for another day.

What caught my eye this morning is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they told Him to shut His followers up. The translation I learned this passage in says, “even the rocks would cry out.”

I don’t speak Greek, so maybe my understanding of this is wrong. But I’ve always believed that what Jesus was saying here indicated that if people refused to give Him the praise and worship He deserved, creation and nature itself would do it instead.

How embarrassing would that be? To be beaten out in our worship by a rock? Or a flower? Or a bumblebee?

But when was the last time you sat down and really just absorbed nature? Romans talks about how nature provides all the proof necessary for us to recognize and worship God as Creator.

Have you watched a sunset or a sunrise? Have you marveled at a hummingbird or the bright feathers on a cardinal? What about the way tree leaves sound in a breeze or the wonder of how water can be liquid, solid, and gas? Not even talking about the human body here. Not even talking about the solar system. Just a flower. A dandelion. Or an ant. A single cell.

All of them scream praise to God in the loudest way they can, but somehow our lives are so loud, we still manage to drown them out. We tune them out and focus on our small, petty everyday problems. Or we focus on our huge, life-altering, faith-shaking problems, because people have those too. Either way, we focus on our problems and how big and unconquerable they are, and we forget about how huge and mighty our God is because we can’t hear nature’s praise and worship chorus going on.

Take some time today. Just a few minutes even. Watch to the wind in the trees. Listen to a bird singing. Smell your lunch. Whatever. Just do something that will help you stop–just stop–and be quiet and recognize who God is. And even if you feel like you can only spare a second, thank Him. Just a nod. Just a moment’s recognition that you know He created all of this and you know He is worthy of praise.

It will change your perspective. I promise. Because if you can wrap your head around the fact that God created all the ingredients that went into your lunch, maybe you’ll remember that He can help you face that meeting today, or your overflowing inbox, or that phone call you don’t want to make, or that paper you don’t want to write, or any number of the seemingly impossible tasks we face on this Tuesday after Memorial Day when life goes back to it’s deafening pace.

Find a moment to be quiet, and I promise the praise and worship of nature will shock you. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want inanimate objects–like my lunch–to sing a better song to God than me.

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What has God done for you today?

What has God done for you today? Are you paying attention? I don’t know why it’s so easy to overlook all the awesome things God has done and is doing for us. Maybe it’s because we’re foolish, silly, little people. Maybe it’s just me. But I can tell you that God has done amazing things in my life, and I never want to take that for granted.

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 52:8-9.

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.

The thing is, God deserves our worship and our praise without any of the personal interaction we experience from Him. He created the world. He created the universe. He created us. That’s enough to recognize Him and praise Him, but He doesn’t stop there.

He sent His Son to die for us, to pay for our sins so that we could have an eternal relationship with Him. Figure that in, and He’s worthy of our love and adoration ten times over. But He doesn’t stop there.

He takes a personal interested in our lives. He cares about what choices we make, what struggles we face, what challenges we overcome. He wants to play an active role in our lives, and all we have to do is let Him.

That goes beyond deserving our worship and our praise an d adoration. We don’t deserve any of that. We don’t deserve a love like that, but He invites us to accept it anyway.

God had does great things for me, and I’ll never stop thanking Him. What about you? What has He done for you? What ways has God made Himself known to you? What ways has God shown you how much He cares?

If you’re not paying attention or if you’re too focused on yourself, you might miss it. Trust me, the signs are there. Open your eyes and start looking today.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God listens better than we give Him credit

Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t listen. I know He does, but what I know and what I feel isn’t always the same. And I’ve been around long enough to trust what I know more than what I feel, but sometimes life gets to a certain point where you just can’t help it. You feel like a nail that’s being pounded into unforgiving wood by a sledgehammer that does more to bend it than drive it in. And no matter how much you ask for mercy, more trouble keeps coming.

In those moments, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He’s not listening. Otherwise, if He cared, if He listened, why would He let so much bad happen in our lives? I don’t believe that God brings bad things to us; the evil in our lives can either be attributed to our broken world or consequences of our own actions. But it’s still difficult to face sometimes because we want God to make it all go away.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 138.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I know this Psalm. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times, but verse 3 caught my eye particularly this morning. God doesn’t always answer my prayers right away. Most of the time, I have to wait. Or if He answers, I don’t know about it until years later. But just last week God answered me immediately. Without going into the extraneous details, last week I was exhausted and worn out and stressed out, and it felt like the bad news just kept piling up. And as I was driving, I asked God to help me focus on what mattered, to get my perspective back to where it needed to be, and to help me get through it. And just like that, a song started playing on the radio.

I can’t remember what song it was, but it was exactly the song I needed to hear. Followed by another song that was also relevant. Followed by another song that was just as good. Needless to say, I cried all the way home, thanking God for hearing.

I listen to all sorts of radio, not just one in particular. But this one was a Christian station, and though I enjoy the music, most of the time I am not driven to tears by what I hear. But this time I was.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like answered prayer to you, but to me it was evidence that God was listening. I mean, who else could have arranged the music schedule on this station to play the three most relevant songs that would touch my heart in a way that gave me hope and strength exactly the moment I needed it? That’s a God thing.

So don’t ever let yourself believe the lie that God isn’t listening. Because that’s what it is. A lie.

In the dark moments of life, it’s easy to trust what you can see and what you feel because those are the things that are obvious. But we can’t trust our feelings, and we can’t trust our eyes because the things that are real are the things we can’t see. And it’s not sinful to ask God to show Himself in those moments. God wants us to look for Him. He wants us to reach out to Him, and He’s not so far away that He can’t answer.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open too. And don’t be surprised if He answers right away–but don’t forget to be grateful. Granted, He probably won’t take your problem away, but just knowing He’s there, knowing He’s listening, and knowing that He will keep His promise is enough to get you through it.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Praising God because of trouble

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done in your life? I was thinking about that the other day. God has done so much for me and brought me so far. He’s helped me grow and become the person I am today, and He’s answered prayers I didn’t even know enough to pray. Even on the bad days, even when I get news I don’t want to hear, He isn’t far away, poking and prodding at me and reminding me just how good He is.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 52:9.

I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.

I don’t praise Him enough. I don’t tell Him how awesome He is often enough. I get wrapped up in my own issues, my own problems, my own shortcomings. I get focused on everything that’s going wrong or everything that’s going right. And telling Him how amazing He is falls by the wayside.

The thing about praising God is that it changes your attitude. It gets our attitudes back where they ought to be. Let’s face it: we get down in the mouth and depressed when we stop seeing God for who He is. Praising God in spite of the difficulties in our lives gets us back on track. And if you believe that, praising God because of the difficulties in our lives makes even more difference.

It’s so easy to just see the difficulties. It’s so easy to just see the struggles. We don’t get the big picture. We aren’t privy to how our lives are going to play out. We know what Scripture tells us: God will be glorified and He’ll make everything right. But let’s be honest. Is that enough? Is knowing that God will eventually make everything right enough to get us through a terrible day that we’re facing right now? Sometimes it is for me. But most times it’s not.

When I’m in the middle of a terrible day right now, I want reassurance that everything I’m struggling through isn’t in vain. Sure, I can cling to knowing He’ll eventually sort things out, but how much better would it be if He’d step in right now and fix my problems today?

Do you ever feel like that?

The funny thing about trouble is that you learn to appreciate it the further away from it you get. Trouble doesn’t last forever. At least, the same kind of trouble doesn’t last forever. That’s not to say you won’t be bombarded with lots of different kinds of trouble, but none of them will stick around forever. And when you get on the other side of it, most of the time you’ll be able to look back on it fondly.

Well, maybe fondly is too strong a word. But I know, in my life, looking back on the difficulties I’ve faced, I wouldn’t trade them for anything now. When I was going through them, I didn’t want them. When I was at the center of all the conflict around me, I would have chopped off a limb to make it all go away. But now, looking back, those struggles were in my life for a reason. God let me experience all those hard things to help me become the person I am today.

So I’m trying to remember that when tough times hit me I need to be thankful for them. Because some day in the future, I’ll look back on this time in my life, and I’ll be able to see how valuable these difficulties are.

That’s not a coincidence. It’s God working. It’s God taking the terrible things in our lives and using them for good. It’s God making something beautiful out of something our enemy intended for evil, and that’s something only God can do. And I don’t thank Him enough for that.

That’s what God does, you see. He restores. He redeems. And that’s the God the world doesn’t know because we don’t talk about Him that way. We get focused on Him as the Rock who supports us in trouble. We focus on Him as the judge who will bring order to the world. And that’s true. Both of those are true, and I’m so thankful they’re true. But the world doesn’t understand that. They don’t see a Rock; they see a crutch. They don’t see a judge; they see a sledgehammer.

What would happen if we praised God more often? What would happen if we thanked Him because of the troubles we face rather than just in spite of them? It’s a challenge we need to accept. It’s a challenge I’m going to try to do better at achieving, for my own sake as well as for the people around me.

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

God’s rescue comes even though the waters keep rising

You’ve got to love David. If you’ve ever spent any time in the Psalms, you know what I’m talking about. David just had a gift with words. He could turn a phrase just right so that it got right down to the heart of the issue. Most of the time I think it’s because David was honest and earnest about who he was and who God is. But one of my favorite “psalms” of David’s isn’t in Psalms at all. In fact, it’s in 2 Samuel.

It’s long, like 50 verses, but I’m only going to post the first 30 this morning, mainly because those are the ones that really stuck out to me as I read them. (I should correct yesterday’s post too, since my best friend’s novel is actually based on verses 17-18 of this passage; I saw deep waters and got my verses mixed up!)

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Samuel 3-30:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
    the one who saves me from violence.
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and he saved me from my enemies.

“The waves of death overwhelmed me;
    floods of destruction swept over me.
 The grave wrapped its ropes around me;
    death laid a trap in my path.
 But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    yes, I cried to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
    my cry reached his ears.

“Then the earth quaked and trembled.
    The foundations of the heavens shook;
    they quaked because of his anger.
 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
    fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
    Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
 He opened the heavens and came down;
    dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
    soaring on the wings of the wind.
 He shrouded himself in darkness,
    veiling his approach with dense rain clouds.
 A great brightness shone around him,
    and burning coals blazed forth.
 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded. 
He shot arrows and scattered his enemies;
    his lightning flashed, and they were confused.
 Then at the command of the Lord,
    at the blast of his breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen,
    and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
 He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
    from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
 They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
    but the Lord supported me.
 He led me to a place of safety;
    he rescued me because he delights in me.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right;
    he restored me because of my innocence.
 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
    I have not turned from my God to follow evil.
 I have followed all his regulations;
    I have never abandoned his decrees.
 I am blameless before God;
    I have kept myself from sin.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right.
    He has seen my innocence.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful;
    to those with integrity you show integrity.
 To the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the wicked you show yourself hostile.
 You rescue the humble,
    but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them.
 O Lord, you are my lamp.
    The Lord lights up my darkness.
 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

David sang this song after God rescued Him from his enemies, but there is a lot in this passage that applies to life as we know it today. So much that I don’t really have time to go over all of it. I could spend a month on this chapter alone. Maybe I should.

But what I love about this–one of the many aspects–is how it depicts God coming to the rescue. Part of me thinks it’s ironic to see God’s rescue being depicted in natural disasters; maybe there’s a point in that. But when God comes to the rescue like that, who could doubt Him? He charges in with thunder and lightning and earthquakes and terror and reaches down to us to pull us out of our distress and our fear. I love how this passage ends too. God is our light in the darkness, and with Him nothing is impossible.

I’m not sure if we can really wrap our heads around that concept, but we can try. So the next impossible task you face, remember this passage. Remember that when you’re in trouble, you just need to cry out for help, and God will be there. He’ll come charging in to rescue you, to draw you out of the floods that are threatening to overwhelm you.

True, the verse doesn’t say God will stop the floods. But it does say God will be there to help. And if we have God’s help, there’s nothing we can’t do.