Praising Him… When It Feels Like A Struggle
I want to be a thankful person.
But then life happens.
And yeah, the struggle is real.
Sometimes I also want to feel sorry for myself.
Like today. My head hurts. My throat is sore. I feel hot. My limbs feel achy.
I have work to accomplish. I have places to go.
I don’t have time to be sick.
And one of my default thoughts, “God, why would you allow me to be sick right now?” And my other thought, “Ugh, this isn’t worth complaining about.”
So what do you do when you have a bunch of plans and God allows an unexpected detour?
The options are:
A) Fight it. Get some essential oils, vitamin C, soup, and power through.
B) Take a nap.
C) Cry, complain or try to minimize your feelings.
D) All of the above.
E) Choose to believe God and worship Him no matter the circumstances.
I’ll be honest: Most of my life? Option D.
I have found fighting back and checking out to be temporary bandaids that sometimes ease my frustration. And venting my emotions is a familiar coping strategy. Telling myself I shouldn’t feel the way I’m feeling doesn’t always work but its how I deal sometimes.
Last week, when we were on our epic eight-mile hike, our passionate five year-old son, Benji, whined for just about the entire way down. Three hours of high-pitched torment. Yes, he was powering through it. Sure, he wanted to stop and take a nap. But his MO was complaining as if that would somehow relieve him of his misery.
My husband eventually looked at Benji and said, “You’re just making it worse! You can’t change the fact that we have to get down the hill but you can change your attitude!”
The truth is, we didn’t really blame Benji. He had every right to cry. He’s just a little boy. He was cold. He didn’t sign up for an eight-mile hike. His hand-me-down shoes were probably two sizes too big. We had compassion on him. But that didn’t change the circumstances. The sun was setting. We had to keep moving forward on our journey.
At some point, after at least an hour of empathy, reasoning and logic– in an act of desperation and perhaps parenting genius,
Brian told Benji he would start singing if Benji wouldn’t stop complaining.
Benji said music hurt his ears.
Brian said the whining hurt his ears.
Benji kept right on with the loud complaints.
So, Brian, our exchange student, Ruby, and I started singing.
Every time Benji would quiet down, we’d stop singing.
Every time Benji would cry some more, we’d start singing again.
We were able to make it through the hard journey by singing praise songs to Jesus.
That’s a lesson right there.
The Bible is full of lessons on the importance of gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve learned that a heart of gratitude doesn’t always start with a thankful feeling. Instead, it starts with surrender.
In the Old Testament (2 Chronicles), there’s a story I’ve heard some great sermons on about a guy named King Jehoshaphat (Let’s call him King J). King J finds himself in a terrifying situation when a bunch of armies come to attack him and his people. King J cries out in prayer before God, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12b). God responds by reminding King J that the battle belongs to God and not King J. And what happens next in the story is astonishing.
Instead of strategizing an attack, putting on additional armor or running away, King J sends out a praise team as his first line of defense.
They are on their way to battle and the song they sing is recorded as going like this, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.” (verse 20:21b)
You need to look up the story for yourself to find out what happens next — but let’s just say, God is amazing.
King J’s story is a good reminder.
Perhaps the battle is simply annoying.
Perhaps the battle is huge or just feels huge.
Perhaps the battle is getting down a mountain before it gets dark.
Perhaps the battle is unexpected and messes up our plans.
And God’s response to us is the same. “Trust me. Give it to me. Surrender to me. Believe I am who I say I am. Worship me. Be thankful. Every good and perfect gift comes from me.”
I used to think that if I was somewhat good that meant I should get good. But that’s not true. None of us deserves anything. We live in a fallen world where sin and death are real and rampant.
Our very lives are gifts.
I stopped thinking of God as some divine dictator who owed me something when I was good enough and instead started looking to Him as the good Creator for whom all things live and move and have their being.
And suddenly, the struggle? Yeah, it’s still real. But I can remember who He is and even when I don’t know what to do, if my eyes are on Him, I know He’s got me- no matter what happens.
When trials or detours come, we can surrender to the one who holds our hand just as the Christ Alone song says,“through every high and every low. “
Friend, do you trust Him today? Are you choosing gratitude for Him, today?
Do you believe He cares about you?
So, last week, I had a little unexpected disappointment.
I found my new favorite pen in my kids’ bedroom. This new shiny, heavy, pen was a gift for becoming a member with Oregon Christian Writers and it was symbolic to me. It was the nicest pen in the house. I had never seen a pen quite like this. No one but God knew the sentimental value that little pen held. Nevertheless, one of my precious children had taken it, bent part of it, torn off the top stylus and left bite marks on it.
I was mad about this pen. Then I was mad at me for being mad about a stupid pen. Then I was kinda mad at God for allowing my favorite pen to get ruined and allowing me to be mad about being mad about it. Then I wanted to surrender, but inside, there was still part of me who felt frustrated.
I was frustrated over a pen.
Then I got over it and moved on... eventually.
A few days later, Brian came into the house with an unexpected package addressed to me. I love packages but I rarely get them. Inside, there was a brand new pen for me! It was the same unique kind as the shiny, fancy, broken pen. It was a pretty color with my old business info on it. Those details didn’t matter. I hadn’t told anyone about my broken pen. Nobody but God knew. Nobody but God could have given me that simple gift.
All I could think was, “God cares. And HE SAW ME.”
God sees you, friend. He loves you. He has a plan for your life. And your plans may not be His plans. There may be some detours and broken pens along the way. But if we respond in love and gratitude for who He is and what He’s done?
Maybe He replaces what we think we’re losing with something better.
And just maybe the misery of a broken world gets drowned out in a praise song.
Lord Jesus, make us people of praise and thanksgiving. Especially in this season of holiday preparations, high expectations, and craziness, help us to stop and reflect on your worthiness every day. Help us praise you even when— especially when, things get in the way of our plans. Help us remember this battle belongs to you and nothing else can satisfy. Your words are true. Help us believe it. In your name, we ask these things. Amen.