It is easy to spout platitudes when all is rosy. It’s natural to praise God when things are going our way. However, when God begins to shake us, to put the jack hammer to our foundations, the platitudes evaporate. The only thing left is honesty. But isn’t that how it should be all along?
When the foundations are shaken, we see what still stands in our lives. Let circumstances strike at the deep places in our lives and it is revealed to us—and often those around us—what we are made of. It isn’t so much that tough times form our character as they reveal it. Such times show in what or who we are trusting, and whether our faith is strong and settled. During these times it is not unusual to see people bargain with God, “If You get me out of this I’ll…(fill in the blank: “go back to church” or “donate a large sum”, or “change my priorities” etc.). Or we might get angry with God because He hasn’t behaved as we thought He should, “Hey, I’ve been good. I’ve been reading my Bible, giving a tithe, and even trying to love my neighbor. How come You let this happen? What did I do wrong? If this is the way You treat me, maybe I’ve got this faith thing all wrong.” They may walk away from God, from a “faith” based on how they’d rather think God to be, or go through the motions with a cold and bitter heart.
If we’ve walked with God for any length of time, one thing we know is He doesn’t fit in our boxes or play by man-made rules. He’s not a genie we go to in order to have our wishes fulfilled, or a fairy godfather who turns all our pumpkins into golden carriages. We discover that He doesn’t necessarily keep us out of trials, but He does meet us in the midst of trials and see us through them. There’s not one major figure in all of the Scriptures who did not face some kind of trial or difficulty. What the Bible narrative shows us is how God met them in those circumstances, saw them through, and how what they went through was part of His plan to glorify Himself, edify them, and advance His purposes on earth.
The Scriptures are also full of very honest prayers. People wrestled with their thoughts, feelings, doubts, and understanding of God and His ways. There are prayers of lament, of oppressed believers crying out, “How long, Lord?” There’s a plea for God to “Look away,” because the attention of God on the sufferer was more than he could handle. It’s like he was saying, “Go pay attention to someone else for a while, and ignore me.” God’s ways are not always comfortable, and it is good to be honest about that with Him.
But those who have persisted in walking with the Lord through this kind of trial also learn something else—that even when things are incredibly hard, God is good. That is NOT a platitude. That is a testimony of experience and faith. As the anthem mentions, this kind of praise costs something. Scripture calls it a “sacrifice of praise.” When we praise Him and acknowledge His goodness in the midst of our pain, it reveals a supernatural perspective, one that looks beyond the tangible and the temporal. It displays an eternal faith, much like Jesus who, because of the joy set before Him, endured the cross. Jesus looked beyond the excruciating suffering He would endure for us, to the resurrection, ascension and the glad day when He would welcome us home with Him and put all His enemies under His feet. Praising Him at such times shows a determination to cling to His goodness in faith, despite what we experience or witness around us.
His faith in the goodness of God was such that in the midst of the agony on the cross, under the intense wrath of that very God for our sins, Jesus said, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Even knowing the suffering, what He was enduring was from God Himself. He believed so much in God’s goodness that He placed His spirit into His Father’s keeping. When we trust in God’s goodness in the midst of our sorrows, we are doing the same. We join Jesus, and we join Job in saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” And we show forth our faith through both our laments and praises in the face of our troubles.
When the councils of the spiritual realm hear our honest prayers, they are amazed. They see the anguished heart and hear the words of lament followed by the words which express, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done,” and they are in awe that this God can inspire such love and trust in His children, even when they are the very ones who are suffering under the will of God. It inspires worship in the heavenly beings, and frustration in the demonic beings that do their best to kick us when we are down and pile sorrow upon sorrow, as they did with Job.
Honest prayers are not in denial about our pain. They say, “Ouch.” They say, “This is hard.” They say, “I don’t know how I can bear this.” They say, “If it is Your will, let this cup pass from me.” But they also see the honest truth of who God is and cling to that all the way through to glory. We cling to Him because we are growing to know Him and His heart, and He deserves both our trust and our praise.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries
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