Praising God in the Darkness
We've all been there. Those times when you think 'what the on earth is going on in my life?' The moments of deep despair and grief. When God seems far away and you don't know how to close the distance. They are the 'why?' moments:
-- Why am I suffering?
-- Why has this happened?
-- Why has God left me?
-- Why do I have to be alive?
These questions come from the deep pain we are suffering. When times of despair fall on us we turn inward. We look at ourselves and we think we are being punished for something or that there must be a reason for it. There isn't. God created the world to be perfect and without suffering. He also loved us so much that he gave us the free will to choose; and humanity doesn't always make the best choices. Sin and suffering came into the world because of the fall of man. I am sure God weeped that day; for his lost children and for our pain and struggle in life that he knew would come.
Suffering isn't limited to those of us bumbling through life today. You only have to read a small portion of the bible to realise that suffering was part of the most holy of lives; in fact you would be hard pushed to find someone who never suffered at all! So what can we learn from the trials of those who God chose to do great things? David, Paul, Job and Elijah are just four that come to mind. When I look at these names I see not only great suffering physically and mentally but men of faith who had hearts that were true to God's own heart. In their lowest moments (though they often cried out to God in despair) they still managed to praise God.
David was prolific in his praising of the Lord. The Old Testament is full of his songs of praise. Admittedly he also felt utter sadness at times but even after he has lamented in one breath he is praising in the next. Much is true of Elijah the prophet. One moment his faith in God is so certain that he wets the wooden pyre that the priests of Baal have failed to set fire to with the help of their Gods and commands the God of Israel to reign fire from heaven....to which He obliges. In subsequent chapters we then find him full of woe!
The book of Job hinges on suffering and remaining faithful despite it. It is a beautiful conversation between the creator God and fallen angel Satan. Job refuses to believe his suffering is a punishment and God restores those things in his life that Satan has destroyed.
Whilst I admire the strength of faith in all these men, I must confess to Paul being my favourite. His rant in 2 Corinthians 11 is just marvellous!
-- "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches."
For some reason when I read this catalogue of disasters I want to add the words 'So there!' emphatically on the end! Paul is boasting in his suffering and weakness to show how God's power can be made perfect. In writing to his planted churches he frequently tells them to rejoice in their circumstances.
-- "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
-- "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4)
We know deep down that whilst we are assured of our salvation, we are not promised an easy ride. So how do we cling on to that hope of seeing the light once more? How do we free ourselves from a 'dark night of the soul' experience? A wise man once told me that in times of doubt and pain the best thing to do is to praise God even more. I have to admit to initially thinking he was bonkers! I could barely stand to go to a church service, much less sing the hymns or pray. After having a moment much like Jacob and wrestling with God I eventually found myself giving in. The result was that, instead of focussing inwards on my pain and emotional suffering, I found myself thinking of the victory already won by Christ on the cross. Of the amazing sacrifice God made for me and of the true value of Grace.
When we are suffering with mental illness, whatever the precise diagnosis, our minds make it even more difficult to overcome negative thought pattens. I find it hard to know sometimes if my reaction to a situation is rational or irrational when measured against what society considers normal. If I feel upset by something I take time to stand back before I react. This helps me to see things from all sides and discern what are my paranoid thoughts and what is ok to be upset about. When I can't seem to see the wood from the trees I find it helpful to read a psalm.
Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
-- praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
-- praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
-- praise him with the harp and lyre,
-- praise him with tambourine and dancing,
-- praise him with the strings and pipe,
-- praise him with the clash of cymbals,
-- praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
God never leaves us in our suffering. He uses it all for His ultimate glory. We may think he has left us but instead it is at these times that he holds our hands and guides us. When we can no longer go on, we can fall in the arms of Jesus and know that we are loved. So friends, we must take heart that we no longer travel alone in our troubles. I implore you to lay your suffering at the foot of the cross and praise God in all circumstances. Lift your eyes upwards and fix them on Jesus.