Picture yourself alongside the apostle Paul. There you are in a dark, miserable prison. Rats are plentiful. The smell of human waste is everywhere. You have no idea when you’re going to be released. You’ve been faithful to Jesus to share the good news of the gospel with many in the city of Philippi and because of that, you’ve had handcuffs slapped on your wrists and you were thrown into this prison.
Then, Paul leans over to you. You don’t necessarily expect Paul to gripe and complain, but you weren’t prepared for what he said next: “Brother, I know it’s late. I know we’ve just been beaten and the rats are starting to nip at us, but we should start praising the Lord.”
In that moment, what would your reaction be?
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would just jump right in singing and praising God like Silas did. Your reaction to that statement tells a lot about what you believe God deserves praise for. Paul had learned something that others before Him learned: We don’t just praise God because circumstances are going well. We praise Him because of who He is.
In this way, praise is a discipline. We don’t just wake up one morning desiring to praise God in the darkest and most bitter circumstances. What’s more likely is that we begin every day to delight in God for who He is and what He’s done for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. *This allows us to praise Him no matter the circumstances.*
Listen to David:
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,” (Psalm 31:7)
“Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright,” (Psalm 33:1)
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” (Psalm 34:1).
All of these point to David calling us to make a decision, based on who God is, to offer praise. None of these commands are based on the circumstances going on around him or us. In fact, some of them call us to praise in spite of the circumstances.
Beloved, we must get better at praising God for *WHO* He is, despite our circumstances. It’s the only practice that will get us to the place where we praise God in the prison. We want to be the people whose spirits are so alive with God that despite the gruesomeness around us we still love God.
We don’t get there in a minute. We get there day by day, praising God where we are at right now.
The other night, I had the privilege of praying with a brother who has started a house church network in an African country where the people in his churches can be killed for accepting Christ and becoming part of the church. I hope you’ll understand why I don’t give you many more details.
Our goal was to pray for the brother. We’ve supported him some financially, but we thought that it would encourage him to pray together over the phone. There are needs that frequently come up, there is constant persecution in many areas, and there are economic realities that make life difficult for anyone, let alone someone trying to plant churches full time. Our brother’s life is not an easy one.
Yet, when we got on the phone, the brother was constantly praising the Lord. He was doing it so much that we felt obligated to join in praising the Lord with him. When we praised the Lord with him, though, it was different. Our words were a bit more wooden. They didn’t have a natural feel coming out of our mouth, they felt hollow, even forced.
It provoked me a bit. I realized that my brother who lives in persecution and with less than me is better at praising God, though I lead a more comfortable and less stressful life. Why? My guess is my friend from Africa has had to learn how to praise God Himself, and not just praise God when circumstances are good. My friend has learned God is worth praise for who He is, not only for what He does. So he always has praise for God. Me, not so much.
So I’m on this journey, now, of not being a spoiled American. I’m going to start asking God to help me to learn how to praise Him for who He is in addition to what He has done for me. I think it’s an area I need to grow.
How about you?
Today is the day we gather around tables to give thanks.
But for believers, thanks is merely another word for praise given to God for everything He has done for us.
Awhile ago, we noticed our time of thanking God for our food around our table at dinner was getting kind of stale. The kids were distracted, uninterested, and definitely not praying. It was the monotony of a daily ritual that was causing the not to focus.
So, one day, I created a catchy song that invited us to join hands and thank Jesus for what He’s done. Then each of us took turns singing our prayers to Jesus, thanking Him for what He’s done. The result was several months of focused time actually worshiping Jesus for what He’s done in our lives.
Don’t let today (or any day) be a day where you give polite, half-hearted thanks to God. If it takes busting out of the routine it’s worth it to truly thank God for what He’s done in our lives both tomorrow and every day.
(BTW, if you’re up, Doug Black starts his tremendously funny commentary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Twitter at 8/7 CST. Join him for the hilarity.)