Throughout the struggle there has been one place where I have really found rest. There has been one place where the torment and torrent of thoughts has stopped and been replaced with peace. There has been one place where I have known everything will be OK.
Perhaps to you this would be obvious.
But it hasn’t been in the expected places like my sofa watching a good film with a glass of wine and box of chocolates, or running round the park music blaring in my ears, or even talking life through with a counsellor.
The place of peace has been the place of praise.
I have known God’s all encompassing power as I have lifted my eyes to Him as an expression of His Almighty power in my life, even when it has appeared to have been absent. It has been as I have fixed my eyes on Him and sometimes literally forced myself to voice (unable to sing) the songs of praise that my perspective has shifted, like a mountain coming from nowhere until it fills my vision so that everything else becomes peripheral, and perhaps for a few glorious moments is squeezed out.
Sometimes I wondered if I was lying in acting so, in praising when my heart was struggling, in lifting my hands even as the tears trickled down my cheeks and no words were leaving my mouth. Often I would creep into Church feeling in no place to sing, feeling betrayed and forgotten by God. But there is biblical precedent for praise when it doesn’t make sense, Habbakkuk writes;
Though the fig tree doesn’t bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV).
and isn’t this actually what we sing;
‘Blessed be your name /when I’m found in the desert place/ though I walk through the wilderness/ blessed be your name.’
Catherine Marshall writes of this Biblical response to suffering, pointing out the need to offer a ‘sacrifice of praise’ in Hebrews 13:15:
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. [emphases added]
A ‘sacrifice’ is costly therefore far from it being wrong to struggle to worship, praise should be offered when it hurts. The praise we offer is ‘through Jesus’ who suffered an agonising death for us on the cross, therefore recognising that God is God, is in control and has ultimate victory despite our current circumstances is the only response in light of the suffering He underwent for us.
Paul and Silas understood this principle. They had been falsely accused, arrested, beaten and thrown into jail, but despite their hurt, anguish and chains, Paul and Silas sing ‘hymns to God’:
And when they had inflicted many blows upon them [Paul and Silas], they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:23-26 (NIV))
Paul and Silas have learnt the ‘sacrifice of praise’. No matter the situation and how irrational it looks and feels. They sing loud enough that the other prisoners can hear too. This isn’t the shy, quiet singing you would expect of two men in the middle of the night, for whom every breath must hurt as a result of the beating they had received that day, sitting in stocks on a hard, dirty stone; but heartfelt praise.
And when we reach that place God responds and chains are broken.
In Acts it is literal, but it as I have worshipped God has responded. My perspective has shifted, the things that held me in the place of hurt have been put in their place, and chains have been broken. As a result there has been healing.
Ultimately, the place of pain has brought me closer to God.
Perhaps it is less ‘Even when it hurts … I will praise You’ as Hillsong put it, and more ‘especially when it hurts… louder then I’ll sing your praise.’
*Notes: While there is something specific and biblical about worshipping collectively in song (1 Chron 16:23-31; Psalm 100; Col 3:16 etc), we can and do worship with our whole lives. Infact I would go further and say it is imperative for them to mean anything that the songs we sing on a Sunday pour into and out from the rest of our lives. Like the passage from Hebrews, Romans 12:1 also mentions sacrifice and worship: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” but in this context the worship is lived out in our whole lives rather than simply the songs we sing.
Even When It Hurts (Praise Song) Hillsong United http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/hillsongunited/evenwhenithurtspraisesong.html
Blessed be your Name Matt Redman
Something More Catherine Marshall