There are a few verses in the Bible that I struggle with. My struggle occurs when I either try to understand or embrace these verses with my natural way of thinking. (I guess this is one of the reasons the Bible doesn’t make a great deal of sense to people who don’t have a personal relationship with its Author). When I do this, the verses don’t always make sense. What about you? Are there some verses of scripture that you struggle with too?
In the first chapter of his book, James the brother of Jesus gives some advise that at first glance seems almost impossible to act on.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4 The Message)
I don’t know about you, but when I am faced with challenges – especially when they seem to be coming at me from every angle – the last thing I want to do is dance for joy. More often than not my first instinct is to try and make sense of what is happening so that I can determine the right way forward. I also search scriptures to discover what the Bible has to say about the situation. But dance for joy? Not usually. If we are to adhere to James’ advice though, the first thing we ought do at the first sign of trouble is let out a ‘whoop whoop!’ And the bigger the trouble, the bigger the ‘whoop’ ought to be.
The reason trouble often comes in twos or threes or even fours, is because the enemy’s ultimate plan is to take us out. The more trouble he sends our way, the more chance he actually has of succeeding. The temptation is to respond to him with guns blazing. Or crawl into a hole somewhere hoping that if we are quiet enough he might just leave us alone. Neither of these is generally the right response. You see, the time to celebrate is when there is no victory to celebrate – yet.
There are many stories in the Bible that demonstrate this concept well, and the one in Acts about Paul and Silas in jail is one that fits well. How hard was it for them to sing songs of praise at a time when the threat of death or at the very least imprisonment for a long time hung over them? How easy was it to focus on God’s goodness and faithfulness rather than on the coldness of the jail room, or the taunts of other prisoners? Would praying and crying out to God for deliverance been a more appropriate response? That might have been our response. Instead they sang.
When the Israelites were faced with the near impossible situation of capturing a city that was so fortified no one could get in or out unless you had permission to do so, God gave them a strategy no general worth his salt would recommend. Sing songs of praise and march round the city (Joshua 6). Similarly when a large army threatened the Israelites, King Jehosophat had sense enough to declare a fast and seek God’s direction (2 Chronicles 20). After the fast they were given a strategy that could only have come from God. Put your musicians ahead of the army and sing praise to God.
It is easy to celebrate when you are surrounded by the spoils of victory. It takes maturity, discipline and a deep love for God to praise Him when the vultures are hovering around waiting for you to draw your last breath so they can pounce. I know this is a rather graphic picture but sometimes life can feel a bit like that. What do you do when you have fasted and prayed and yet the pressure is still on? What do you do when you don’t know what else to do? What if you decide to lift up your voice praise God for who He is and all He has done in the past?
The reality is that sometimes your praise will be laced with tears of grief, disappointment or pain. That’s why it is called a ‘sacrifice of praise’. No sacrifice was ever painless. And this is precisely the sort of sacrifice that gets the attention of heaven. The reason praise is so powerful is that God himself has promised that He will make our praise His habitation.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3
Nothing ushers His presence in quite like praise and worship from the lips of His children. And where His presence is, you can be assured of victory, whatever the circumstance. Yes, it may take time, and the outcome may look different from what you envisaged. But when you look back at that situation, you’ll see where God fought for you and gave the victory. Everytime. I have seen it happen again and again in my life. When I have decided to praise God no matter what, His presence has been magnified to the point that sooner of later the giants that had come against me have no choice but to retreat. They cannot stand the presence of the Most High God. No evil can. That’s why praise is one the greatest weapons we have been given with which to fight the enemy.
I know it’s hard to celebrate when there doesn’t appear to be anything to celebrate. Celebrate who God is.
I know it’s hard to celebrate when you may be weary of fighting and have little strength left for the raging battle. Celebrate anyway.
I know its tough to sing when your voice may be hoarse with crying or lamenting. Celebrate the victory that is ahead.
It takes faith to do this, but we are wired for faith. Faith sees in the spirit what the physical eye cannot yet see. The song of victory is inside you, you just have to reach deep and pull it out. It may start like a mere wobble, but as you fix your gaze on the One who loved you so much He gave everything for you, that wobble will eventually become a full throated roar.
Let praise be your battle cry. Let it be the sacrifice you bring to the altar of God. Then stand by and see the Egyptians in your life drowned in the Red sea.
It’s time to celebrate!