How Can We Praise God During the Hard Times?

Most people will tell you it is easy to praise God when things are going well, but it’s not so easy to praise Him when life throws you a curveball. We have been thrown a curveball over these last couple of years.  Many of us have had a hard year. Right now, you might be struggling to thank and praise God. You might be having a hard time thinking about what you are going to voice to your family as you sit around the table and talk about what you are thankful for.

While many of you have most likely had a hard year, while our churches have had a hard year, I want to give you some reasons why you can thank and praise God this Thanksgiving. Habakkuk is probably not a book you venture to too often. He is one of the Minor Prophets, but his message is not minor. It is powerful. It provides several reasons we can praise God, even when life is difficult.

In chapter 3 of his book he says,

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:17–19, ESV)

Habakkuk faced difficulties but he still found a way to praise and worship the Lord. How is that?
How can Habakkuk promise to rejoice in the Lord when everything around him is crumbling? When he is facing hardship and suffering loss, what is it that allows him to take joy in God?

What is it that allows us to praise God when things are difficult? I believe Habakkuk clues us into four truths in these three verses that allow us to thank God even in the difficult times.

(1) We can praise God in difficult times because God is unchanged (v.17)

Looking at verse 17, we see that Habakkuk paints a picture of loss for us. Specifically he envisions losing things that are vital to their economy.

  • The fig tree is not going to blossom
  • Fruit will not be found on the vine
  • The olive trees will cease production
  • The fields will yield no harvests
  • The cattle and sheep will be lost

Losing all these things at once would put a major strain on the economy and the people of the land.

We know this to be true. Over the last couple of years our country experienced economic hardship because of COVID. People have lost their jobs, their homes. Inflation is on the rise.

COVID has not only effected the economy, it has also effect us personally. Some people have had to go without food and other basic necessities. Others have seen their marriages erode. Still others have lost loved ones. Others have lost their homes. Some have had to move away from friends and family to find work.

Surely, everything everyone has faced over these last couple of years has caused: An immense amount of stress, worry, anxiety, and tension.

I am sure Habakkuk felt these things too. But look at how he responds in verse 18: 

“yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:18)

How can that be? How can Habakkuk rejoice? How can he take joy in God? He is able to rejoice, thank, and praise God because God is unchanging.

Habakkuk says he will rejoice in the “Lord” — Yahweh — the great I AM. The One who is eternal and unchanging.

While things in this world change, God doesn’t!

In Malachi 3:6 we read,

““For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal 3:6)

In Hebrews 13:8, we learn:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

God doesn’t change! Since God doesn’t change, we can rejoice!

We can be thankful, even though everything around us changes because we know we can count on the Lord. His promises to us will not go unanswered.

(2) We can praise God in difficult times because we have salvation (v.18)

As much as we would like to think life is stable and certain, it isn’t. In reality, we are never far from problems in this life.

Not too long ago my dad told me about a guy on his softball team who was diagnosed with stomach cancer. One week he was playing alongside my dad in a softball tournament. The next week he was sitting in a doctor’s office being told he had stage 4 stomach cancer for which there was nothing they could do. He died in a matter of months.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

Or take my mom for instance. One day she noticed that one of her fingertips was turning black. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that changed her life and ultimately took it.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

Or consider my grandma. One night she went to bed just as she always did. At some point in the middle of the night, she had a stroke, which left half her body paralyzed and her unable to speak. She lived the rest of her life in a nursing home being cared for 24 hours a day.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

In February of last year, we heard about a new virus that was ravaging China. Eventually it made its way to the States. In March of 2020, life as we know it changed. Most everyone here has experienced some sort of loss because of COVID.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

But God is not fragile! God is not uncertain! Our salvation does not hang in the balance, it is a sure thing.  Everything else can be taken from us — Our job, house, health, ability to communicate, our freedom, and even our life, but our salvation is certain. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 8:1)

Those who have repented of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are no longer in fear of God’s punishment. That’s because Jesus has taken our punishment for us. When Jesus died on the cross, God’s wrath was poured out on Him, and all those who are in Christ no longer have to fear His judgment because there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”

Since God is unchanged our salvation is always certain. For that we can be thankful, even in the uncertainties and difficulties of life. Since our salvation is certain we can and should praise God!

(3) We can praise God in difficult times because God is Sovereign (v.19)

God being sovereign means that He is in control of everything. As the One who is in control, He either causes or allows everything to happen according to His eternal decree. Hearing that might make us uncomfortable because it means there are things that happen that God could have stopped but doesn’t. But while God’s sovereignty may initially make us uncomfortable, it ultimately should comfort us because it means God is in control and He can and will work all things out according to His eternal plan. Isn’t that what we learn God is doing in the book of Romans? In Romans 8:28 we read,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Ro 8:28)

When Paul says this, he doesn’t mean that everything will work out just hunky-dory for those who are Christians. Or that every bad thing actually has a “silver lining” Or that every terrible thing is somehow actually a good thing if you learn to look at it properly. That is not what Paul is saying.

Instead what he is saying is that God will ultimately use everything in our lives to glorify Himself and bring us to salvation. The only way that can happen is if God is sovereign.Is if He is in control of everything. Indeed He is, which is why He can work all things for good.

Even the difficult things we face have a purpose — it is meant to bring us to salvation and to glorify God.
We may not understand how that is the case, but God does. Since God is sovereign we can praise and thank Him even in difficult times.

(4) We can be thankful in difficult times because we are triumphant in Christ (v. 19)

In Christ, we are triumphant over the evil in our lives now because none of it will separate us from God (Rom. 8:31-39). We will be triumphant over our enemies in the future when Jesus returns because He will vindicate us and destroy our enemies once and for all (Rev. 19-22).

Before Jesus returns, we will face difficult situations, but none of them will ultimately defeat us because God will keep us in Christ. In Christ, we will be and are victorious and triumphant. When we face difficult situations, we should thank God because He gives us the strength to continue in the faith, and He will one day free us from those situations, conquering our enemies and ushering in a New Heavens and New Earth where we will live in sinless perfection for all eternity.

Conclusion

When you face difficulties in this life, and you will, don’t run from God, rather run to Him, praising and thanking Him for all you have in Him despite the difficulties and hardship you are experiencing.

It is not easy but by remembering that:

  • God doesn’t change.
  • He provides us with salvation.
  • He is Sovereign.
  • He causes us to be triumphant in Christ.

Knowing and resting in these truths about God, should make it possible for us to stand and say with Habakkuk, 

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:18–19)”

Question for Reflection

  1. What else allows us to praise the Lord during difficult times?

Resources

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We must live in community as a Church

We protect ourselves and others from false Messiah’s and teachers by living “in community” with others.

When Jesus talked about building His church, He didn’t say He would build Lone Ranger Christians. No, that is not what the church is. The church is an assembly of believers gathered together around a common mission to make disciple-making disciples. The best way to protect ourselves and others, the best way to grow as a disciple and help others grow is to be “in community” with one another.

We can’t exist “in community” with one another if we just come to church for one hour on Sunday and then leave out the back door as soon as the service is over. That is not being “in community” with another, that is not seeking to be a disciple who makes disciples, that is someone who attends an event.

Let me challenge you, for your sake and the sake of the people you have covenanted with in membership here at Eastridge Baptist Church, get involved in community. Plug into and become active in a Sunday school class. Gather together with other members throughout the week to study God’s Word. Seek to be “on mission” with others in the church in an effort to build relationships with those in the community and speak the gospel into their lives.

Start seeing your membership in the church more like being a part of a family that loves, cares for, supports, and gets together often with another than being a ticket holder to an event that takes place once a week.

What should we be doing for the kingdom while we await Jesus’ return?

The parable of leaven bread reveals what we should be doing.

“He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”” (Mt 13:33)

If you are familiar with the leavening process, you know leaven is added to the dough and it is left to sit. Over time the dough rises as the leaven works through the dough. Eventually the whole bread is leavened.

In this parable, the dough represents the world. The leaven represents us — believers in Christ. Those who are already apart of the kingdom.

The parable of the leaven teaches us that while we wait for Jesus to return, we are not to wait idle. Instead, we are to spread the gospel, influencing the world and others for Christ just as leaven leavens a whole lump of bread.

This parable teaches us Christians have the ability to influence the world for Jesus.

A lot of time I think we don’t believe that because:

(1) We see how messed up the world is.

We think these people are never going to come to Christ. But you were a part of the world at one time. You came to Christ. Yes, you were actually that bad.

(2) Or we see how messed up we are.

We think God could never use me to reach someone else for Him. But that is simple not true. God’s plan is to use messed up people whom He saves and sanctifies to reach the world for Christ.

Yes, the world is messed up. There are a lot of people who will reject the Christian message, the gospel. But there are also many who will believe. God is preparing their hearts right now to hear the gospel from you. Hearing, they will believe and they will come and be a part of the kingdom.

The kingdom grows as Christians work for the kingdom in the world. While God is patient and holds off His judgment, it is our job to work for the kingdom, to influence the world for Christ.

How do we work for the kingdom?

(1) Evangelize others

We do that simply by speaking the gospel into the lives of others. That might be going door to door throughout the different communities in our city. It might be building relationships with people who you come into contact with on a regular basis with the purpose of speaking the gospel into their lives.

In the past, I spent a lot of time at coffee shops. COVID has messed that up. But in the past I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. I love coffee and the coffee shop vibe. But that wasn’t the only reason I went to the coffee shop. I went with the intention of building relationships with folks in order to talk with them about the gospel. Over the years, I have built a lot of relationships with people at the coffee shop and had a lot of good gospel conversations.

I am sure there are places you frequent. A coffee shop, donut shop, hair salon, playground, auction, cattle show. You also have people at work. People on your kids sport’s team. People that live next door. There are many ways we can meet people, build relationship and talk with them about the gospel.

But here is the point: We have to be intentional.

We have to intentionally build relationships with non-believers and talk to them about the gospel if we want to see the kingdom grow.

(2) Living for God

If we want to be an effective evangelist, we have to actually live out God’s Word. The most common critique of Christians is that they are hypocrites. They say one thing, but they actually live another way. If we want to be an effective evangelist, we must actually live out God’s Word. By living for God, we can be an influence for the kingdom because it undergirds our evangelism.

(3) Working for our City and Community

We can be an influence for the kingdom by helping out in the city and in the community.

  • Serving at the homeless shelter.
  • Volunteering at a school.
  • Helping those in need.
  • Working in government.
  • And more.

We can be an influence for the kingdom by working and volunteering in our city.

(4) Discipling Others

Through the years I have had a number of people disciple me. They have been an influence on my life, helping me grow both spiritually and intellectually.

If we want to be an influence for the kingdom, we can and must disciple others as well. People need others to help them understand God’s Word. Provide them with wisdom and accountability. Encourage them to keep walking out the faith. We need others.

It is our vision here at the church that we would be a church full of disciple-making disciples. That every member would be making disciples, replicating themselves as they live in community with other members.

But I am afraid that is not going to happen unless we throw out a consumer mentality and adopt a disciple making culture. We have to make a shift from seeing the church as being about me to it being about others. We must become more other-centric rather than me-centric.

Unless we change our mentality and understand that the reason we gather together as a church is to help encourage, hold accountable, teach, and care for one another, we won’t be a disciple-making disciple church. Instead we will be like every other consumer driven church. But that is not the type of church we need to be. That is not the type of church Jesus is calling us to be. He is calling us to be a church full of disciples who are making disciples.

As we wait for the kingdom to come, we are to work for the kingdom. What are you doing to work for the kingdom? How are you influencing this world for Jesus?

There are a lot of people out there who need to hear the gospel. Who need to be encouraged, helped, and discipled.
What are you doing to influence this world for Jesus? What can you do this week to influence the world for Jesus?

  • Maybe there is a neighbor or co-worker you can talk to.
  • Maybe there is someone around the corner you can help out.
  • Maybe you can start a discipleship relationship with a friend, co-worker, your kids, or grandkids.

What are you going to do this week to influence the world for Jesus?

God is not working in my life. Is He real? Does He care about me?

God is not working in my life. Is He real? Does He care about me?

We are good at misapplying God’s mercy. We take God’s mercy to mean that we should be free from any difficulty in life. If, and when, we face difficulty we take it to mean that God hasn’t shown up which means He either doesn’t care or isn’t real. In this way, God’s seeming standoffishness is used as an apologetic against Christianity.

However, reading through Dane Ortlund’s book Gentle and Lowly this morning, I came across this passage:

“Perhaps, looking at the evidence of your life, you do not know what to conclude except that this mercy of God in Christ has passed you up. Maybe you have been deeply mistreated. Misunderstood. Betrayed by the one person you should have been able to trust. Abandoned. Taken advantage of. Perhaps you carry a pain that will never heal till you are dead. If my life is any evidence of the mercy of God in Christ, you might think, I’m not impressed.

To you I say, the evidence of Christ’s mercy toward you is not your life. The evidence of his mercy toward you is his—mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned. Eternally. In your place.

If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.”

Dane C. Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly, 179.

We have it wrong. God’s mercy doesn’t mean we won’t face hardship, instead it means He faced the ultimate hardship on our behalf. What comfort it is to know that God is there, not as a genie who makes life easy for us, but as a Savior who sheds His blood on our behalf.

Why does Jesus wait so long to deal with evil? 

In my last post in this short series, I dealt with when God will deal with evil. In short, Jesus promises us that evil won’t continue forever. One day, He will deal with it. Those who are not in His kingdom will be judged and the world will be purged of evil. But that won’t happen now. It will only happen when Jesus returns.

Jesus will deal with evil, but not until He returns. That naturally raises the question:

Why not now?

  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, 13 soldiers wouldn’t have been killed in Afghanistan a few months back. Their parents, spouses, and kids wouldn’t have to grow up in a world without them.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, the war in Afghanistan wouldn’t have been fought in the first place, saving countless lives.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, over 600,000 abortions wouldn’t take place each year.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, there wouldn’t be gangs fighting over turf to sell drugs that destroy families and community, and kill people.

If evil didn’t exit, the world would be a better place, a perfect place.

Why does Jesus wait so long to deal with evil?

The Parable of the Mustard seed reveals why Jesus waits.

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.””

(Mt 13:31–32)

The mustard seed is a small seed. But from that seed grows a big bush that is as big as a tree. It can grow to about 20 ft tall and about 20 ft wide. It is large enough for birds to come and nest in.

What does this parable teach us?

(1) While the kingdom starts small, it doesn’t stay small it grows large.

We can see that growth. The church today compared to Jesus’ day has grown a lot. The number of believers on the earth now verses the numbers of believers on the earth in Jesus’ day is significantly more. There are around 2 billion people who claim Christianity today. That is a significant jump from the 100‘s or 1000’s that believed in Jesus’ day.

We can see with our own eyes that this parable is true. What has started out as a small movement with 12 Disciples has grown to over 2 billion today. That is not counting all the Christians throughout the centuries. The kingdom starts small, from a small seed, and grows large.

(2) The kingdom is still growing as people from every nation comes into the kingdom.

The kingdom will continue to grow until its branches are full. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that God allows evil to continue to allow the kingdom to grow and the nations to come into the kingdom.

I like what one commentator has to say about all this:

“Jesus’ principle here applies in every age to the question of why God allows evil and suffering in the world. His creation can be purged of all evil only through the judgment and re-creation of the universe at the end of the age because evil resides in every person. God’s delay in bringing the end of the world is thus entirely gracious, giving people more opportunity to repent (2 Pet 3:9).”

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 219.

Do you see what he is saying? God allows evil to continue and He holds off judgment for our sake. For the sake of those to whom He has called to be a part of His kingdom. If God did not hold off His judgment until the end, you or I may not be a part of the kingdom.

We might not think about it like this, but God not ridding the world of evil now is actually a gracious act. It is an opportunity for all people everywhere to continue to come and nest in the limbs of the Kingdom of God before judgment comes.

How do you know you are a Christian?

How do you know you’re a Christian?

That’s a simple question but one many answer in different ways.They may say they are a Christian because they walked an aisle or said a prayer one day. Others will look to the time they went forward at Children’s or Youth Camp. Still others will say they are Christian because they attend church each week, teach Sunday school, are a Deacon, or give to the church. These are all activities Christian do, but are they the activities that you should look to for assurance of salvation?

Non-believers can do all these activities as well. It is possible to walk an aisle, say a prayer, go forward as a child or a youth, attend church, give to the church, even teach a Sunday school class or become a deacon and you not be a Christian. If both Christians and non-Christians can do these activities, what other actions can we look to that show we are a true believer?

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus teaches about reconciliation. Specifically, Jesus teaches us how we are supposed to seek reconciliation with one another. He tells us that if someone sins against us, we are to go and tell them how they have hurt us. If they don’t listen, we take two or three people with us as witnesses to the conversation. If they still don’t listen, we are to tell it to the church and the church is supposed to call them to repent and be reconciled to their brother or sister in Christ. If they still don’t listen, we are to treat them as an outsider, as a non-believer.

The process Jesus lays out, teaches us that forgiveness and reconciliation matter to God. It matters so much that He provides step by step instructions as to how we are to seek reconciliation with one another. If a person refuses to reconcile — they show themselves to be non-believers.

What does it mean to forgive someone?

When we forgive someone, we are absorbing the debt a person owes us. We are taking their debt upon ourselves. Someone has to pay the debt. When we forgive someone, we absorb the debt they owe us. Once we absorb it, we absorb it. We stop rehearsing what happened in our minds. We stop talking about it to others. We stop being angry and resentful. We stop seeking revenge.

To forgive means we cancel the debt the person owes us — whether that debt be money, position, status, pain — whatever that debt might be, we cancel it. We “ keep no record of wrongs”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

It is here we have to use some wisdom because forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation revolves around repentance. In the section before today’s parable, Jesus is teaching us to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation revolves around us “gaining our brother” or other translations say “you have won your brother over” (NIV84). Winning over or gaining someone back involves us coming to an agreement that they have wronged us. Likewise, it may also mean that we come to the realize that we have wronged them. We repent.They repent. We both seek to not wrong each other in the same way again. The relationship has been restored. That is great. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.

I say we have to use some wisdom and be cautious here because a lot of people just want to sweep another person’s sin under the rug. They want to forget about it and move on like nothing happened. Certainly, that is part of forgiving someone. We don’t hold their sin against them. We forgive their debt. We allow the relationship to move on.

But what I am afraid is that we are often quick to claim forgiveness not for the sake of the offending brother or sister, but for our own sake. We don’t want to do the hard work of seeking reconciliation. We don’t want to go to another person who has offended us and seek to win them back. We don’t want to have to take two or three people with us as witnesses. We don’t want to have to tell it to the church. That is messy. That requires emotional energy. That requires work. We would rather not have to deal with.

I believe that is why many churches are unhealthy. They aren’t willing to deal with conflict. They would rather sweep it under the rug because it is easy. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do, is it? No, He tells us that we are to seek reconciliation with others. When we or the church stop short of the process Jesus outlines for us in Matthew 18:15-20, we not only do the offended party a disservice, but we also do the offender a disservice. When the church is not willing to walk out the steps of reconciliation, or what you might refer to as church discipline, it leaves things in limbo. It makes it hard for the church to operate in a unified way. It tarnishes the reputation of the church in the community. It hinders the church’s mission. It doesn’t glorify God.

Not only that, but when the church stops short, the church allows the offender to deceive themselves into thinking what they did was right and good. That they are not in sin. While that might be easy, it is not what is best for the person.

When it comes to this idea of forgiveness, we have to use wisdom, we have to be cautious. We shouldn’t just sweep a major sin under the rug because it is easier to do so. Doing so doesn’t actually result in true forgiveness.

When you have done that — I am sure you have — when you have swept someone else’s sin under the rug instead of confronting them, in most instances, you have not forgiven them. Deep down in your heart bitterness, resentment, revenge, and the debt they owe is still there. It hasn’t been forgiven. It hasn’t been cancelled. It still exists. That is why Jesus teaches on the subject of reconciliation before He teaches on forgiveness. That is why Jesus outlines steps for reconciliation before teaching on forgiveness. He knows we must seek reconciliation with someone in order to truly extend forgiveness to another. Yes, reconciliation can be much much more difficult. It is emotionally costly. It is taxing. It can be hard and messy. But it is not an option Jesus has given. It is a command. We are to seek reconciliation as a means to extend forgiveness.

Forgiveness is cancelling the debt someone owes us. It is laying it aside. It is absorbing that debt ourselves.

The forgiveness we receive in Jesus should also spur us on to forgive others.

I like what author Jerry Bridges says regarding forgiveness: “The basis of our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.” (JC Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew, 186.)

When we look at it like that, “Our neighbors offenses against us are [next to nothing] compared with our offenses against God.” The forgiveness we experience, should cause us to forgive others.

When we are unwilling to forgive, we show we haven’t truly understood, nor have we experienced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God. If we had, we would be forgiving people. Forgiven people don’t hold a forever grudge against someone. They will not seek vengeance. They will be willing to not only seek to gain their brother, as Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 18:15-20, but they will also be willing to extend forgiveness to others.

Are you are forgiving person?

I’m not talking about a “sweep it under the rug” forgiving person, but a truly forgiving person. If you are, you can be assured of your salvation. You can be assured of your place in the kingdom because forgiven people are forgiving people.

If you happen to be having trouble forgiving someone for their sin against you, meditate on the grace and mercy of God. Allow it to warm your heart to a forgiving state. If you need to seek reconciliation in order for forgiveness to be real, allow the reconciling actions of God to spur you on to seek reconciliation with others. Jesus left His throne in order to seek reconciliation. Allow that to spur you on to seek it with others.

Church, don’t leave the process of reconciliation undone. Do your part. Help bring others to a point of reconciliation and forgiveness using the process Jesus provides. The glory of God and the salvation of others is worth the difficulty.

Forgiven people are forgiving people. Forgiving people are assured of their salvation