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.

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Private parties are pretty selfish

I think people forget that the Bible is full of feasts and celebrations. God wants people to celebrate and rejoice and spend time together remembering all that He has done for them, and I’m not exactly sure when that became uncool. I mean, does anybody really do that in the States? We have parties, yes. We have “fellowship time” I guess, but do we ever just have a party with the sole purpose of celebrating what God has done for us? Kind of sounds like fun, actually.

I don’t take enough time to celebrate like I should. I thank Him for what He’s done, yes. I do that frequently, but to actually stop and mark the day and slow down long enough to focus on being thankful is difficult for me. I’m not a scholar about this sort of thing, but if I remember correctly the Jewish calendar is packed full of feast days and celebrations. And not just one-day celebrations. Week-long celebrations. Sometimes longer, if memory serves. Now that’s a party.

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verses are Psalm 63:3-8.

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy.
I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your strong right hand holds me securely.

When my brother and I were in Edinburgh at the beginning of our UK trip, we were walking down the Royal Mile looking for a place to eat. We had stopped to listen to a bagpiper play in the doorway of a government building, and then we heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band. I still don’t know what this marching band was doing, coming up the Royal Mile with their drums and instruments and banners. There were five or six groups of them, all in different uniforms, all different ages.

I didn’t think much of it until now, honestly, but I’m sure they were commemorating something. Maybe it was a holiday. Maybe it was an anniversary. Who knows? What matters is that when they appeared, people stopped to watch them, to listen. If you look closely at this photo, there’s even a guy videoing them. Shoot, I even took pictures. I have no idea what they were celebrating, but it was enough for me to want to remember it.

Here’s the point, Christians. Our God is awesome. He’s everything, or at least He should be. He loves us especially when we don’t deserve His love, He never gives up on us, and He never leaves us. He’s working everything in our lives out for good, and we can trust Him. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our relationship with Him. I love what David said in the Psalm today because it really just expresses so many of the things I want to tell God. But I can tell Him those things in private. That’s perfectly fine. I can celebrate in private. That’s fine too. But private parties are pretty selfish, don’t you think?

I don’t know what these marching band folks were celebrating, but it was a big enough deal for them to get dressed up and march for ages in funny outfits. It was a big enough deal that it made me stop in my tracks and pay attention.

Celebrating what God has done in our lives is something that should be public, and it’s worth slowing down for. I’m working on learning how to do that because it’ll be good for me and because I’m convinced it’s the best way to introduce others to Christ. If the only Christ others know is the one we ram down their throats, why would they have any interest in getting to know Him? My Jesus is my best friend. I talk to Him all the time. I tell Him everything, and I know He hears me. And I love telling people what He’s done for me because I absolutely don’t deserve any of it but for some reason He decided to trust me.

So slow down. Look at your life. What has God for you today? Maybe it’s small. Maybe it’s not. In any case, He still did it, and that’s worth celebrating. So party it up. Rejoice. Celebrate! And let others see you do it. Be ready to tell them why you’re celebrating so maybe they can begin to wrap their heads around the fact that following Christ isn’t about rules or stuffy old church buildings–that it’s about living life with Jesus and the joy is so great it’s difficult to comprehend. Who knows? Maybe someone who doesn’t believe will stop and listen.

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Why are you discouraged?

Last week was one of those weeks that makes you want to crawl into a corner and cry your eyes out. Have you ever had a week like that? Where just about everything goes wrong? And even in the moments where things go right, you’re afraid to trust it because you’re just waiting for the bottom to drop out from under you? Yeah. It was that kind of week. And, honestly, this week isn’t shaping up to be much better. I hope it is, but I’m not expecting much improvement.

So what do you do when you’re already discouraged and you’re trapped in disheartening circumstances? What do you do when none of it seems to make sense and every time you try to fix your life, you just seem to make it worse? What do you do?

Stop and praise God for it. 

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Kite over Jamaica Beach – Galveston, TX

Psalm 42 

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
    as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
    and through each night I sing his songs,
    praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
    oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
    They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Perspective is one of the most important parts of living a Christian life. If you don’t keep a true perspective of who God is and who you are and what your purpose is, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to get tripped up. And once you start tripping, it’s not too long before you take a tumble. But even if you have the right perspective, you can still end up in a place where all you can see is darkness. But even then, if you can keep your perspective and recognize it for what it is, you’ll still have joy, even if you aren’t necessarily happy about it.

Verses 5 and 11 out of Psalm 42 say the same thing:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

It’s also repeated in Psalm 43:5. The Bible doesn’t just repeat things for lyrical value. Yes, the Psalms are songs, and this makes a wonderful little tune (remember the song “Why So Downcast, O My Soul”? Guess where that came from). But practically speaking, whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, you need to pay attention.

So when you start trying to get your perspective right, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you’re discouraged. Try to identify what it is that’s got you down. And then, once you’ve figured out, put your hope in God to straighten it out. Do what you can and let it go.

I love how the Message says this:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s okay to feel down. But it’s not okay to let your perspective slip.

When everything is going wrong, that’s the time to praise louder than before. When it feels like your world is falling apart, that’s the time to put your whole focus on God and what He is doing and what He can do and what He has done. When you’re so discouraged that you can barely function, that’s the moment to thank God for everything He has done for you. And if you can do all that, you’ll find something amazing happens.

Even though your circumstances haven’t necessarily changed, even though you still have all the same problems as before, you’ll be smiling about it. Not because you’re in denial and not because you’re childishly ignoring the facts, but because your heart will remember who God is and that no circumstance is bigger than He is.

Roses at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

What is a good thing?

Some mornings, you just need a Psalm. That’s my opinion at least. Some days, it’s good to remember who we are and who God is and how much we really depend on Him. Wasn’t it Martha Stewart who would say, “It’s a good thing”? I always think of that when I read this Psalm because it was the basis of an old chorus we used to sing. I’ve always thought of this as the “good thing” Psalm.

The funny part is that I doubt Martha Stewart, or many others of her rank, would agree on what “good” is. What is a good thing? Do we even really know? If there aren’t even any good people in the world (Romans 3:10), how do we know what’s good?

Well, that’s what we have this Psalm to tell us.

Roses at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Roses at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to the Most High.
It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
    your faithfulness in the evening,
accompanied by the ten-stringed harp
    and the melody of the lyre.

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
    I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
    And how deep are your thoughts.
Only a simpleton would not know,
    and only a fool would not understand this:
Though the wicked sprout like weeds
    and evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever.

But you, O Lord, will be exalted forever.
Your enemies, Lord, will surely perish;
    all evildoers will be scattered.
But you have made me as strong as a wild ox.
    You have anointed me with the finest oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
    my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.
But the godly will flourish like palm trees
    and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
    They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
    they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just!
    He is my rock!
    There is no evil in him!”

It’s a good reminder for a Friday. As we end another week, let’s remember that it’s good to praise God no matter where we are in our walk with Him. Don’t ever lose the sense of thankfulness and smallness you feel when He answers your prayers, and don’t ever forget that the only reason we succeed is because of everything He has done for us. Never let go of your joy and remember that even though it seems like people who do wrong have it made now, the story isn’t over.