Monday, September 15, 2014

Praising God When it is Difficult

If you have never heard the story behind the hymn It Is Well, it is one that will stick with you for a very long time.  The writer was a man named Horatio Spafford.  And he wrote the hymn at a time when it would have been difficult to speak words at all let alone to speak words of praise and endearment to the Father.

You see, Horatio was a well to do man, happily married, and blessed with five children - four daughters and a son.  At the height of their success, Horatio and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their son.  And very shortly thereafter lost most of their real estate investments to the Great Chicago Fire.  In an effort to get some respite, Horatio sent his wife and girls on a voyage to England with plans to meet them soon.  Horrifically, there was a shipwreck and only his wife survived.  On his trip to reunite with his beloved bride, he penned the words to It Is Well (Information obtained and/or clarified from

Can you imagine the state of his soul?  Beaten, crushed, wilted beyond repair - yet he was still joyous, still praising God.  The words he penned hardly seem possible given his circumstance.  This is especially noted in the 3rd verse:

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well (It is well)
With my soul (With my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

David was a man known for praising God through his difficulties as well. 

Psalm 57:7-11
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the [a]nations.
10 For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your [b]truth to the clouds.
11 Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Though I'm unsure of the particular circumstance here, David was constantly dealing with trials and difficulties we could never fathom.  It is clear in the preceding stanza, that this is the case in this Psalm:
My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
They have [a]prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They dug a pit before me;
They themselves have fallen into the midst of it. 
So how is it that these men, men like Horatio and David, can be in the midst of devastating, overwhelming, difficult situations and still praise God?  How are they not crushed and hopeless?

First, I think it is important to note that David knew where the source of his joy was found.  Joy should not and does not depend on circumstance.  Joy is found in the Lord and in the Lord alone.  David shows this beautifully in this Psalm - he "was not only in a happy state of mind when he wrote this Psalm, but in what was called a state of triumph.  His confidence in God was unbounded" even though he was "encompassed by the most ferocious enemies, and having all things against him except God..." (Wesley).  You see, "An eye that has seen God sees little terror in the most terrible things" (Expositor's).

But, as you can see in verses 4-6, David took a little bit to get past his terror.  But he did.  And he found the joy that can only be found in the Lord.  How?  Through prayer.  In verse 7 you can see the change in David's demeanor - "How strangely is the tune altered here!  David's prayers and complaints, by the lively actings of faith, are here, all of a sudden, turned into praises and thanksgivings...This should make us in love with prayer, that, sooner or later, it will be swallowed up in praise" (Henry, emphasis added).  You see, I am a firm believer that prayer doesn't always change our circumstances.  But prayer will always, always change you.  It can change your attitude, your heart, your emotions, and so much more.  Prayer allows God to work on you, allows Him to intervene in your life - it is your only line of communication with Him!   

But in order for prayer to work at all, in order to find that joy that is only available in the Lord, your heart must be in the right place.  It is as simple as this: "The way to keep light articles fixed on deck amidst rolling seas & howling winds; is to lash them to something fixed; and the way to steady a heart is to bind it to God" (Expositor's).  Our heart must have an anchor in the Lord or prayer is pointless.  If our heart does not find its center in Him, then His joy is not accessible to us.  The question is not if storms will come.  They have.  They will.  The question is whether or not your heart is anchored in the right place.  If your heart is anchored well before the storm, then praising God through the storm will be much easier.  David starts this last stanza (7-11) with the words My heart is steadfast, O God.  What does he mean by that?  He means his heart is anchored in the Lord, "it is prepared for every event, being stayed upon God" (Henry).

Over and over again I am reminded of how important my heart is, how important your heart is.  Where is your heart anchored today?  

"But wherever his bed may be he is sure that he will rise from it; and however dark the night, he is sure that a morning will come" (Expositor's).  Do you have that assurance today?

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