Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4
It isn’t a surprise to God.
That thing that blind-sided you out of left field, that sudden loss, personal betrayal or financial disaster is not a surprise to God. Your ongoing, seemingly never-to-improve condition, situation or trying relationship is not a surprise to God.
Not one crisis or trial that enters our life is a surprise to him.
From our earthly perspective we can’t see over the wall that is our difficulty, but he is looking down and sees all. He knows the outcome. He already has a plan, a purpose, a solution, and a timetable.
So why not praise him in advance?
Several years ago when I was going through one of the greatest difficulties of my life, I was preparing to spend the evening with a prayer partner and mentor. I was looking forward to our time together, sharing a time of praise and worship with this friend. Then I thought to myself, ‘Well, I should wait and see what the news is regarding my difficult situation… if it’s good news, then I’ll have a reason and really feel like praising and rejoicing with my mentor’. Let me tell you, the Holy Spirit brought me up short in my thinking – immediately! He reminded me that my worship of God is not dependent on my circumstances in any way. God is always deserving of my praise and worship because He is God. Period.
I never forgot that moment. And that difficult situation never went my way or improved. In fact, it got worse and more unjust as time went on.
Over time, as one domino after another fell because of this ongoing situation, I learned some hard, but very beneficial lessons. One of them was that I will still be here. When the final outcome was worse than anything I could have imagined – I was still here afterward. And God was still with me. My faith was tested and strengthened. After experiencing such a huge, confusing season of loss, I developed a new hierarchy of what constitutes real trouble. If the car breaks down, gets stolen, my job evaporates, the utilities are turned off…I’ll still be here. When, like Job, you have had your family, finances and physical body touched by cascading trials, you emerge a very different person afterward. I discovered that I may not have a clue, but God already has a plan.
I learned to do a very brave thing and praise him in advance. I would ask for his help, make my request, and then praise him for the solution in faith, knowing and trusting that he did indeed have one and would lead me to it or through it – in his timing. Eventually, I learned how arrogant it is to consider this to be brave. How can it be anything other than the right and appropriate thing to praise him – in advance – or any other time? He is God. How dare I think it brave to trust the outcome to the One who loves me more than anyone else ever will? The One who created the universe? Smart, proper, correct, but hardly brave.
I think most Christians make it a point to thank and praise God for his attributes and character, but I think we too often leave it there. There is tremendous power in developing a habit of praising God in the midst of our crisis, praising him in advance, before he reveals to us the results of his actions on our behalf.
“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up
to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! ” Isaiah 30: 18
God longs to be gracious to us! The Ruler of the universe will rise up from his throne for us!
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Hebrews 13: 15
When we are in great pain, great fear or great stress, praising God within our situation and trusting him enough to praise him for what he is doing about it, feels like a sacrifice. Hebrews 13: 15 acknowledges this, but does not release us from it. David was in fear for his life, being hunted by Abimelek, and wrote the following after humiliating himself by pretending to be insane in order to save himself.
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34: 1-7
“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2: 7
Praising God is sometimes out of the overflow of our thankfulness and comes easily and naturally. Other times it requires a decision, a conscious act of obedience, of our will. When we are in a crisis, and seeking God’s presence during our trouble, remembering to praise him is an essential part of that quest.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150: 6