Sometimes God speaks softly in your life. Sometimes He speaks loudly. Anytime that trials come, He is getting your attention. This past week or two God has been really driving a point home for me. The life of a Christian is a life of joy, contentment, and praise.
I met with a friend for lunch and we were discussing our prayer requests. She asked me what she could pray for me about and I answered with whatever the current emotional/medical drama du jour was. "So, you need prayer for joy, huh?" she asked. Yeah. Joy. That was what I was thinking. No, it wasn't. Joy was even on my radar screen as something I was lacking. But the Lord gave her discernment, and through her words, started me thinking a bit about Christian joy. But being human, those reflections didn't last for too long.
This past Friday I was at a graduation party for one of our friends who was finishing up Knox. The house was very crowded and I seemed to be in the way wherever I stood, so I headed for the backyard hoping to find a resting place. I opened the back door to find myself alone with an elderly man who was obviously a relative of the grad. This is going to be awkward, I thought. I sat down and the man started talking right away. He asked if I knew the grad through Knox. I said I did, and he immediately said " I hope you aren't going to be a preacher!" I laughed and shook my head no. Right away the conversation shifted from the mundane to the spiritual. He didn't even introduce himself. He just started talking about the goodness of God, and how there is always a reason to praise Him. "Look at the flowers, look at the trees, there is always something to be thankful for. Stop focusing on yourself and look at God. Then your problems will seem small. God is in control of all of the events of the universe." I didn't know anything about this man, and he didn't know anything about me, but he was speaking words of truth and they fell into my heart like precious balm. How pleasant it was to sit in that garden and feel the breeze and listen to this wizened sage share stories of the goodness and power of God. I thought it was so sad that conversations like this should be so rare when I have so many Christian brothers and sisters in my aquaintance. So often we are content to talk of the mundane, drab world we live in, instead of the beautiful hope that we share. I know that I do not feel bold enough to just speak the truth of God. I am always worried of offending someone-- what if they don't share my interpretation of Scripture? How foolish of me. It is so encouraging to speak of the goodness of God! I was convicted by the "chance" words of this man, and God was speaking to me through him.
Then I go to church on Sunday and the guest preacher preaches a sermon on suffering from Romans 8. Here's a sampling: "For God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God... if God is for us, who is against us?.... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us... For I am convinced that.... no created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord." Slow me, I'm beginning to see a theme developing. Are ya tryin' to tell me something, God?
Then my husband preaches on Psalm 113 in the evening service (It is an incredible blessing and privilege to hear my own dear one in the pulpit expositing the Word of God profoundly and truly. To be yoked to a man one loves the Word and loves God and seeks to honor him is a blessing. I always thought that it would be strange and distracting to have someone you know preaching, but I really have not found it to be so. He doesn't preach them to me beforehand, so although I usually know what text he is working through, it is a fresh sermon for me. It is a very sweet thing to be led and encouraged along the path of your Christian faith by one so close to your heart. Anyway, enough of that bunny trail.)
Pslam 113 is all about giving God continual praise everywhere because of who He is and what He has done. No matter what my circumstances, I can always praise God honestly for His character and attributes and for the work that He has done in creation, in redemption, in my own life, and what He has promised to do in the life to come. I wholeheartedly reject the idea that when tragedy strikes, the Christian is to praise God at that moment for that pain. Instead, I believe that the Christian's praise in those times is to be God-focused and not circumstance-focused. He is good all the time, our circumstances are not, though He does use them for our ultimate good.
At any rate, I say with David:
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above the nations
His glory is above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God
Who is enthroned on high
Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with princes
With the princes of His people.
He makes the barren woman abide in the house
As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
May the Lord grant that I learn more about contentment, joy, and praise through this illness and barrenness then I learn about longing, sorrow, and petition. He is good, the very definition of good, and is alone worthy of praise. Praise the Lord!