Tag Archive | faith

Keys to the Heart of God by Jaylin Palacio

Thanksgiving and praise…two crucial keys to the heart of God.  What is the difference between thanksgiving and praise?

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!  (Psalm 30:11-12 NLT)

What is thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is thanking God for what He has done.  He blesses us all the time.  There is always something for which to be thankful.  Much like a parent gets joy from hearing heartfelt appreciation from their child, God gets joy from our heartfelt appreciation.  How do we gain access to His heart?  “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).

Thanksgiving is important in the life of a believer.  “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT).  I am reminded to be conscious of what comes out of my mouth.  We are in this world, but not of it.  Rather than copy the customs of this world, we should use our words to thank God for what He has done.

We express our thankfulness to God because everything He created is good:

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks” (1 Timothy 4:4).

Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are easy when things are going well, but we are called to do them at all times:

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Whereas thanksgiving is thanking God for what He has done, praise is honoring Him for who He is.

What is praise? 

Many Christians respond when something good happens with the term Praise God.  The word praise can be defined as to give thanks, confess, honor, or commend.  To praise God is to thank Him and to honor Him because of who He is.

Like me, you may have experienced times when your prayers seem to hit a wall and you wonder if your petitions are being heard.  During those times, I have found that if I take a step back and spend time praising God, telling Him how good He is and what He means to me, and then thanking Him for what He has already done, I get an immediate sense of closeness to Him and my faith grows stronger.  This is when I know I am touching His heart, and there is joy and peace in His presence.

When we ponder the great compassion that the Father has toward us in making a way of redemption through Jesus, it becomes easy to understand why all praise belongs to God:

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation” (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).  The Blood of Jesus Christ gives us access to God, “Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name” (Hebrews 13:15 NLT).

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12 NLT).

What about you?  What can you thank God for today?  How will you praise God today?

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Praise God in the Storm

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.

The Fiery Testing of Faith

There is a belief among many Christians that God’s ways are easy and that Christians are somehow exempt from the pain and suffering that those who do not know Christ face. Nowhere in Scripture is this belief supported. In fact, James reminds Christians that we will face trials and tribulations. He tells us that our faith will be tested and tried (James 1:2-4, 12). The apostle Paul supports the words of James when he mentions that we are persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9). Jesus said that we would face troubles in this world (John 16:33). Throughout the Bible, there are countless stories of men and women of faith who faced tremendous struggles; who experienced pain, despair, hurt, and disappointment; who asked God many of the questions we ask God today; and who came to their own crises of faith. With this evidence, the question, then, is not whether Christians will face trials, but how Christians are to respond to trials.

I had no control over the trials I was facing, but I could choose how I was going to live during the trials. If I learned nothing else from these terribly painful struggles, I do know this: Doing the right thing, obeying God, is not always easy. In fact, doing what is right in God’s eyes is often very difficult. This truth goes against everything our natural man is seeing, thinking, and feeling. It goes against our human reasoning and understanding. But our human limitations do not change the truths of God. Living out what God told me to do during this time in my life was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Standing on his promises and remaining obedient to him were hard. A lot of people did not understand; I don’t think I  fully understood. But, the part of me that is alive in Christ knew that despite the opposition and obstacles, I was doing the right thing. I was doing what God was asking me to do; I was obeying him to the best of my ability, but it was by no means easy. Easy times, though, do not produce much fruit in a believer’s life. Easy times don’t require us to lean on God and trust him. Easy times don’t help us grow and become more like Christ. Those things come about by the trying of our faith (James 1:2-4). They are forged in the fiery struggles of our souls. These things, the tools God uses most, are the things that make our faith more mature, perfecting in us the image of Christ.

In yesterday’s post, I recounted the story of the apostle Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water. Peter’s faith was tested then, but it was tested much more severely later. Before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples that all of them would deny him. Peter, who was a little proud and thought he knew what was in his own heart, firmly stated that he would never deny Jesus. Jesus, however, knew what Peter was going to face, and he responded, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Peter thought he knew himself; he thought he knew his heart. He thought he would never do what Jesus was saying he would do. But he was wrong. He did not know himself as well as he thought he did.

There are two things about this passage that I want to point out. First, everything that happens to us has to go through God’s hands first. Satan cannot touch those who love Christ without getting permission from God. So, nothing we experience ever takes God by surprise or off guard. Nothing we experience is beyond God’s control. He remains sovereign. Second, because God is all-knowing, He sees the past, present and future. He knows what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and even allows things that we consider terrible to happen to us. Because of God’s omniscience, Jesus knows what to pray and how to pray for us. He told Simon Peter that he had prayed for him (and all the disciples) so that his faith would not fail when it was tested. Jesus is constantly making intercession for us before God the Father (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He was already praying for Peter before Peter’s faith was tested. He goes before us and prays for us, long before we can see any storm clouds. He prays for us so that our faith will withstand the trials. He prays that we will continue to hold on to his hand, even when we cannot see him and do not understand. What an awesome revelation: Jesus is always praying for us—he never stops. He knows that if our faith can withstand the storm, we will be stronger and have more of his character reflected in us, which ultimately brings glory to God.

There is another person in the Bible who Satan asked God to let him test. This man was righteous, blameless, revered God and hated evil, but God allowed him to be tested. We read this story in the Book of Job. Satan was convinced that if Job lost all he had, if God allowed terrible things to happen to Job, then Job would turn his back on God. God granted Satan permission to take all Job had, except Job’s life. Job lost everything—his wealth, his home, his children, and his health. He wrestled with questions about why such trials were coming upon him. He was accused of sinning by his friends, who thought that he had done something bad to bring God’s punishment on him. Job was even told by his wife to curse God and die. Everyone around Job was asking him to turn his back on God. Although Job was experiencing pain, despair, and confusion, he refused to listen to those who encouraged him to forsake his faith. The calamities that occurred happened rapidly, and Job had no warning. In the first chapter of Job, things seem to go from bad to worse to worst. Yet, look at how Job chose to respond in the face of the trials. In Job 1:20-21, we read: “Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.” (HCSB, emphasis mine). Through all the loss, suffering, pain, and despair, Job never sinned and he never blamed God for what was happening. In fact, during the darkest period of his life, Job made the decision to continue to praise God and to place his faith in God. He continued to worship God. He continued to live righteously and revere God. What an awesome legacy to leave! God honored Job’s obedience by not only restoring what Job had lost, but also by giving Job more than what he had before the trials.

So, why am I telling you these stories about Peter and Job? Because the Truth has not changed. God has not changed. God allowed Satan to do everything he could to destroy my marriage, my family, and my faith. But, there was one thing that Satan could not do. He could not get me to abandon my faith in God. That was his goal, but even though my faith was shaken, it was not destroyed. The very thing that Satan intended to use to destroy my faith was the thing that God used to increase my faith. But, the choice was mine—I could turn my back on God or I could turn to God. God was able to use the events in my life for my good and His glory because I remained submitted to His will. I chose to embrace what God had for me, regardless of what I was seeing and feeling, because I knew that God was holding me. Even when my world seemed to be spinning out of control, God was always in control.