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.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How to restart in ten minutes or less

What does it take to restart your perspective on life? I think that’s a great question. So many people are facing discouraging circumstances and frustrating situations. I’m one of them, and I would love a simple answer for how to stay positive in difficult times.

Honestly, I’d love to avoid difficult times. I’d love to find a way to skirt around them and not have to go through them at all. But in this broken world, difficulty is normal. And the simple truth is that your circumstances don’t matter but how you look at them does. How you see your circumstances determines whether you just get through them or appreciate them.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:28.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.

I posted yesterday about finding a way to restart, looking for the answer to changing my perspective about life, the universe and everything (42, for you geeks out there). Too often I find myself operating with limitations in my life, mainly because I’m just tired and worn out all the time. But I got to thinking yesterday morning about something I haven’t done in a very long time that might be part of the problem.

I spent my morning being grateful. And not the 30-days-of-thankfulness-on-Facebook brand of grateful. I woke up yesterday morning and got in my car and as I was driving my 45 minutes to work, I thanked God. I thanked God for the beautiful sun that was rising just over the edge of K-96. I thanked God for the frost on the fields that meant maybe my allergies will get better. I thanked God that I had a job, and not just a job but a job with a great company, and not just a job with a great company but a job doing what I love for a great company. Not many people get to say that. I thanked God that my family owns our house and our land. I thanked God that I own my car and that I have enough money in the bank to pay for gasoline and groceries and the occasional 700-page fantasy novel.

Before I was even ten minutes down the road, I was in such a great mood I couldn’t believe I’d been so surly yesterday.

How is it possible that taking ten minutes to be grateful can make such a difference? Can we really just list off the things we’re thankful for and seriously, honestly, openly thank God for those things and immediately be in a better mood?

I’m not promising anything, but it seems to work for me. It helps me stop and slow down and think about all the awesome things I have that I don’t deserve, that I didn’t do anything to obtain, and that God has provided for me because He keeps His promises. It makes me stop thinking about the things that are going wrong or that I don’t want to deal with or the conflicts I’m dreading, and it makes me think about the things I have. And if God can provide me with all of that, He can absolutely help me through the day.

There isn’t enough gratitude in our world. Very few people really express gratitude as often as they should. I know I don’t, and it’s a shame because it makes so much difference, not only to the people around you but also to you.

How does gratitude help you? Well, I think it helps you remember that someone did something for you that they didn’t have to do. Someone else took time out of their day or focus away from their own issues to help you in some way, and they didn’t have to do it. They gave you something. Even if it was just opening the door for you or holding the elevator open for you or letting you walk through the doorway first, that’s kindness demonstrating they are paying attention and wanted to do something nice for someone else.

Don’t let those small acts of kindness slip by without notice. Don’t just assume that people are going to do nice things for you. Pay attention, and you might realize that people show you more kindness than you originally thought.

We all have more than we think we do, and taking the time to thank God for everything in our lives forces us to acknowledge it. So take a moment and say thank you. But if you don’t mean it, if you aren’t really thankful, don’t even open your mouth. This is a heart thing, and if you’re just paying God lip service, it won’t help you at all and it won’t impress Him.

Thank Him for the small things. Thank Him for the big things. Thank Him for the good things, and, yes, thank Him for the bad things. Because if you can seriously, honestly thank God for the bad stuff in your life, that bad stuff won’t seem so difficult to get through. It won’t seem so daunting or frightening or intimidating.

If you want to restart and refresh your perspective, begin with gratitude. It may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything.

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.