Often during our darkest, loneliest moments, we see God more clearly. Perhaps it is because in our distress, we come to the end of ourselves and our limited human resources and we begin to look to God. As we focus on God, and get our attention off of ourselves and our circumstances, He is able to reveal more of his heart and nature to us. We begin to experience his strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), his peace in our confusion, and his grace to carry us through the storm. Praise is one of the believer’s most powerful weapons because it exalts God and reminds us of who God is and of his sovereignty. But we do not feel like praising God when our world seems to be falling apart. We don’t feel like lifting up our eyes to the One who can rescue us. However, it is in these times when we least feel like praising God that we need to do it the most. Consider David. Throughout the book of Psalms, David shares his heart and mind. He expresses his fears; his doubts; his struggles. He is honest about where he is and what he is experiencing, and we see that David dealt with the same feelings and thoughts that we deal with today. There is one thing, though, that David consistently does in the Book of Psalms. He commands his soul to focus on God, to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness, and to exalt God. He calls forth his will to surrender to God’s plans and purposes even amidst the storms. David chose to direct his will and his spirit to praise God instead of remaining in the pit of self-pity and fear that he was feeling. He went against what our human inclination is—he chose instead to do the very thing that he felt least like doing, which was to praise God.
I am reminded of Paul and Silas as they were in prison (Acts 16: 19-34). The prisons of those days were horrible, so I am sure that Paul and Silas were experiencing much physical and emotional discomfort and pain because they had been severely beaten. They were in prison, not for something they had done wrong, but simply because they refused to stop preaching the gospel to those around them, and they had cast the demon out of a girl who was being exploited by her masters. As bold as Paul was though, he was human. He wrestled with his flesh and all of its components—feelings, thoughts and attitudes—just as we do. We know from one of his epistles that he had some sort of chronic problem that he kept asking God to relieve him of (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). But, let us examine what Paul and Silas did in very dire circumstances and consider the influence of their choices. They praised God. They willfully put aside their fleshly feelings and thoughts and chose to praise God. They sang songs and worshipped God in spite of the chains that bound them and the prison bars that held them captive. They stopped focusing on themselves and cast their eyes on Jesus. As they prayed and worshipped, the ground began to shake and the prison doors were opened. The chains that held Paul and Silas fell off, too. The guard posted outside of the prison had heard Paul and Silas worshipping God and praising Him, and this choice greatly impacted the guard. Because of the praise that Paul and Silas continually offered to God while imprisoned, God moved. The prison guard asked how he could be saved! What an impact our choices have. How powerful is praise!
God did not change the situation that Paul and Silas were in, but He acted nonetheless. He did not deliver Paul and Silas; He chose instead to use the praise and worship of two men who were unjustly imprisoned to demonstrate His glory and power. Because the glory of God was so mightily displayed, the guard desired to have the same power that lived inside of Paul and Silas. He desired to know the Savior they were worshipping and praising. Paul and Silas could have done what many of us do when we feel that we have been treated unjustly or have been greatly wronged. They could have let their feelings dictate their actions; however, they acted in direct contrast to what they were feeling. What would have happened to the soul of the guard in charge of watching over Paul and Silas if they had given in to their flesh and acted on their feelings, and not on faith? Their willful praise and worship while in one of the worst conditions possible had a powerful eternal influence in the life of the guard. It is somewhat symbolic that just as the physical chains that had bound Paul and Silas fell off, so were the spiritual chains of the guard loosened. He came to a place where he was no longer bound to the flesh and a slave to sin and found true freedom in Christ—all because of Paul and Silas praising God instead of cursing God.
Our choices will either lead us to freedom or they will lead us into deeper captivity. We make the choice. God will not make the choice for us. Like Paul and Silas, I was in a dire situation that I had no part in creating. I felt the heavy chains of strong emotions, such as fear, doubt, and anger, on me. I was in prison in a way, though I did not realize it at the time. I often acted out of my feelings and hurt; I said things out of anger that I should have never spoken. I gave in to fear and depression at times because I just did not feel like fighting my emotions anymore. I was too tired and too weak and too self-absorbed. Instead of looking to God, I was looking at my circumstances, and I was allowing myself to remain in bondage. I know that many, including myself, think that I did what was expected given the circumstances I was in. It was only natural for me to feel as I did and to act as I did at times. But, as a Christian, I am called to walk according to the Spirit, not according to my flesh—or what is natural. Sin is part of human nature, so it is perfectly natural. God was calling me to deny my natural man and surrender to His spirit. He was telling me to do something that was totally opposite of what I was feeling and thinking. I was faced, then, with another hard choice. I could remain in bondage to all the emotions of my natural man, or I could decide to focus on God, to praise Him, to worship Him, and break free of the chains that were binding me.
Obviously, at some point I chose to focus on God and to praise Him despite the awful situation and trying events of my life. When I started praising God, I came to realize that though my circumstances had not changed and the outcome was unpredictable, God had not changed. He remains unchanged and constant. He is “I Am.” He is whatever we need Him to be and whatever He desires to be in order to fulfill His purpose and plans for our lives. I like the way the song, Praise You in the Storm, by Casting Crowns, puts it when it says that God is who He is no matter where we are. God is always there and He is always true to His nature. It does not matter where we find ourselves, because God is who He is and He never changes. So, I could cling to the God who never changes or I could focus on the wild and chaotic circumstances of my life, which seemed to change every day. There was no certainty in the place I found myself, but there was certainty in God. There was hope; there was strength; there was grace—in God. I had to get back to the basics of my faith, to the core of my beliefs, which is all based on who God is. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change my circumstances. I was totally helpless in my own strength, and that is why I so desperately needed to cling to God.
In time, the circumstances of my life would be radically and powerfully changed, but God did not deliver me from the storm immediately, no matter how hard or how long I prayed. His plan was far greater than my human mind could grasp, and He chose to use the most painful and darkest circumstances I had ever faced to demonstrate His power and glory. But, as I realize now, God was weaving together all the sordid events of my life and the unpopular and difficult choices I made as an act of faith and a step of obedience, to significantly influence the lives of others.