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Wednesday Writings

Praising God in the Pain

It was a dark and stormy night.

In my soul.

It had been another day of relentless fatigue, weakness, headache, and other symptoms. I spent the morning in bed, didn’t go to work in the afternoon, and stayed home from the evening Bible study.

I finally broke under the attacks both physical and spiritual I felt I was under, and I cried long and hard in the empty house.

Sometimes in those moments God gives you words to say, for both your ears and your heart to hear, that can only come from Him. That’s what He did for me that night. As I cried, He brought consolation, truth, and powerful lessons to my needy soul.

The Reality of Our Enemy

I have to admit I yelled at Satan. (Not a novelty if you’ve seen this scene in the movie War Room.) I felt like the devil been nipping at me all day, trying to trip me up and push me down, and I was tired of it. So I yelled at him.

“You were working on me today. But so was God. And guess which one is more powerful?” (“Huh? Huh?” *wags finger* “Let me tell you, it’s not you!”)

And it was remarkably uplifting to remember that no matter how much Satan may be at work, so is God. And God’s work is always bigger and more powerful than Satan’s.

In the words of one of my favorite movies, The Two Towers, I also told Satan, “You have no power here!” (In the movie it’s a bad guy who says it to a good guy, but the words were so perfect for my situation.)

“You have no power here!” I shouted at Satan (and reminded myself). “I am bought and paid for already, I’ve been out of your reach since November 29, 2000, and you cannot and will never have me again. Do your worst, take whatever you want, because you can’t touch the most important thing. I have God, and He is all I need.” (Something like that. I don’t remember the exact words.)

Simply reminding myself that I’m in a spiritual war and the enemy is strong, but also that I belong to God and He is the victor, already and forever, helped me understand my place (in all its truth, beauty, and power) and lifted me away from the clay that had been bogging me down (Ps 40:2).

The Power of Praise

A day or two before this I’d read Psalm 57, “A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.” David wrote this psalm during one of the most trying circumstances of his life, with pain that seeps into every word:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.
He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah.
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
My soul is among lions;
I lie among the sons of men
Who are set on fire,
Whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword.

vv 1-4

Can you read David’s fear, his danger, his loss, his pleading?

Look what he writes next, in the smack dab middle of the psalm:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

vv 5

Sorry, what? One moment David is begging God for relief from his trial, detailing in powerful poetic imagery the stress and fear of his situation–the next he’s speaking words of praise to God, the Creator and the Almighty, powerful and beautiful in His glory.

He continues with more lament, more prayer, and more exaltation, concluding with a repetition of the refrain of praise:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

vs 11

This isn’t the only psalm that goes from lament to praise, beginning with lament and ending with praise, but I was struck by the way David included his lines of praise in the middle of his psalm.

In the middle of his trial.

I remembered thinking, when I read this psalm, that if David could praise God during his pain, in the midst of his trial, so could I.

So that night, in tears, through tears, with tears, I said, “God, I praise You.”

I didn’t feel worshipful. I didn’t feel like praising God. But I took a page out of David’s book and spoke the words anyway.

“God, I praise You.”

I repeated the words over and over again, and I found that I believed them, that I wanted to say them, that I could continue from them into worship that went beyond my circumstances, beyond my broken body and empty house, beyond this life and this world to the One above and behind it all.

And I learned three things:

1. I can praise God in the pain. I can look up to Him, even raise my hands if I want, with tears in my eyes and snot on my face and anguish in my soul, and praise Him.

2. Praising God in the pain brings freedom. Freedom from the trial around me, freedom from the turmoil within me, freedom from what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls “the tyranny of circumstances” that wants to see me miserable and angry and despairing.

I gave my praise to God, and in return He gave me a sense of liberty, of transcendence, and of joy I’d never tasted before.

3. Praising God in the pain makes the pain less. My physical condition didn’t change after I copied David. My body still hurt. My house was still empty. My soul was still lonely.

But the sharp pricks of pain were gone. It was like God had plucked the sting from my circumstances, leaving the pressure but without the fear and hurt I’d felt before.

The Heights of Worship

Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.”

I have learned that as long as I have breath I can praise God, no matter my circumstances. (Though some days it’s easier than others.) I invite you to embrace this same lesson, even if God has brought you down a different road to learn it.

If you struggle to praise God in the midst of your pain, or if you don’t know how, here’s a three-step process I’ve found helpful:

1. Praise God for who He is.

God’s character never changes according to our circumstances. So no matter what we’re going through, we can–and should–praise Him for who He is. This is the simplest place to start when praising God in the pain.

“God, I praise You. I praise You because You are God and You are worthy of praise. I praise You because You are good, kind, loving, wise, all-powerful, holy, beautiful, just.” And so on.

If you’re having a hard time finding words, memorize Scripture verses of worship to God or description of God (Rev 4:11, I Chron 29:11-13, Ps 18:1-3, Is 40:12, etc.). Reciting or reading these verses will help shift your focus from your circumstances to your God and will refresh your heart.

2. Praise God for things outside your trial.

This is a good way to start including things from your life in your praise to God. Focus on the things that are good and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8) around you.

“God, I praise You because I’m alive, because I can breathe, because I can move. I praise You for this house I’m in, for the bed I have, for the encouraging book I’m reading, for the friends You’ve given me, for the time I have to rest.” And so on.

Praising God for specific things will help you focus on the positive and will cultivate gratitude in your heart.

3. Praise God for things in your trial.

Sometimes it takes the first two steps to reach this place of being able to praise God for the pain and things related to it. Depending on how long you’re in a trial, it may take years of wrestling before you can open your hands and give God the pain itself in a sacrifice of praise.

“God, I praise You for this trial, for what You’re doing, even if I can’t see what it is. I praise You for the chance to learn more about You and to lean more deeply into You in new, sweet fellowship. I praise You for the weakness that highlights my need for You, for the pain that reminds me of Your Son’s sacrifice, for the exhaustion that makes me look forward to Heaven’s rest. I praise You for the opportunities to minister, to encourage others, and to see You work that I could only have through this trial.” And so on.

Because of the cost involved, this kind of praise for the pain in the pain is one of the most precious forms of worship we can give God. It’s also the surest way to twist the last of our thoughts out of the devil’s clutches and send him packing in God-claimed victory.

Note: reaching this place of praise doesn’t guarantee staying in it forever. We’re human, and our souls will go up and down as often as our circumstances. Whether you’re already here, were here, or have never been here, keep leaning into God’s strength and let Him bring you–or bring you back–to these heights of worship (Hab 3:19).

The night was still dark and stormy, but a strand of moonlight had broken through the clouds, and in that moonlight my soul rode steadily on the heaving waves. Secure. At peace. Full.

Free.

My hands are weak and trembling
But I raise them up to You, Lord.
My voice is broken, just a whisper,
But I raise it up to You, Lord.
No matter where my steps may take me,
No matter what this life may bring me,
No matter how long I lament or cry,
No matter what each stanza holds,
My refrain will always be,
“God, I praise You.”

Can you do what David did and praise God in your pain? Do you recognize His character worthy of praise no matter what you’re going through? Have you experienced the freedom of bypassing your circumstances and offering God your worship anyway?

6 replies on “Praising God in the Pain”

This piece is powerful. You’ve got it here- a real strategy for the battles we face. Thank you!
PS I liked the mental picture of wagging your finger at Satan.

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