How Can We Praise God During the Hard Times?

If you ask most people, they will tell you it is easy for them to thank God when things are going well, but it’s not so easy to praise God when life throws them a curveball. If I am honest with myself, it is much harder for me to thank and praise God when I have suffered loss, persecution, or hardship as well.

Realizing the difficulty of thanking God in the hard times is what makes Habakkuk’s words so amazing. 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)

So Habakkuk vows to thank the Lord, even during times of hardship. In fact, he promised not to allow anything to get in his way of praising and rejoicing in the Lord. How can Habakkuk make that promise? How can he promise ahead of time to rejoice in the Lord when everything around him comes crashing down? 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 be thankful 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 be thankful in difficult times because God is unchanged (v.17)

As Habakkuk begins his promise, he paints a picture of loss for us. Specifically, he envisions losing things that are vital to the economy. The fig trees are not going to blossom. Fruit will not be found on the vine. The olive trees will cease production. The fields will yield no harvests. 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. Several years ago our country experienced an economic disaster when the housing bubble burst. During that time people not only lost their homes but many lost jobs as well. All that loss resulted in the economy tanking because no one had any money to spend.

All the changes that happened during that time not only had an effect on the economy but also people personally. Some went without food and other basic necessities. Others saw their marriages eroded. Still others experienced strained friendships. While others experienced loss when their houses were taken or they had to move away from friends and family to other parts of the country to find work. Surely, all of this caused stress, worry, anxiety, and tension.

I am sure Habakkuk would have felt that as well. But even so, in verse 18 Habakkuk promises to give thanks to the Lord. How can that be? How can Habakkuk promise to be thankful during such difficult times? Habakkuk new a crucial truth about the Lord, he knew God was unchanged. While things in this world will change, God won’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)

And in Hebrews 13:8, we learn:

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

Since God and His promises will not change nor fail us, we can promise ahead of time to be thankful even during the worst of times. One promise we can count on is that God will provide a way for us to experience salvation, which leads us to the second reason for why we can be thankful in difficult times.

(2) We can be thankful 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.

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.

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.

You see life isn’t as stable and certain as we think, but there is one thing that is certain – our salvation. 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)

You see, those who have repented of their sin and believe in Jesus, as their Lord and Savior, no longer have to fear God’s punishment because Jesus has taken it for them. Of that, we can be certain not only because God’s Word tells us, but also because God is unchanged. There will never come a day when God will change His mind about how we are saved or who is saved. For that, we can be thankful even while facing hardships.

(3) We can be thankful 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)

In penning that verse, Paul doesn’t mean for us to think everything will work out just hunky-dory for those who are Christians. Nor was he trying to tell us that every bad thing actually has a “silver lining”, or that every terrible thing is somehow actually a good thing if we learn to look at it properly. That is not what Paul is saying. Instead, Paul is telling us God will ultimately use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation. The only way God can use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation is if God is sovereign, which means He must be and is in control of everything. Since God knows and is working everything out according to His plan and purpose, we can praise and thank God 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 then, 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. So 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

So 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.

Admittedly praising God in the difficult times is not easy, but by remembering our God is unchanged, He provides us with salvation, He is Sovereign, and He causes us to be triumphant in Christ, 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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Post developed from my sermon: How can we praise God during the difficult times?

4 Reasons Vacationing is Important

Savannah

Thanksgiving was a time of rest and relaxation for me. I traveled back home with my wife and 7 month old son. It was an adventure. An ice storm threatened to keep us grounded and Camden’s first flight. Did I mention he is 7 months old?

When I started my vacation, I decided I was actually going to vacation. I wasn’t going to work remotely. Instead I would leave my work at home, avoid emails, and let my blog go dormant (you might have noticed).

For the most part, I succeeded. There were a few odds and ends I had to take care of. A bit of forward planning for my Christmas series. But mostly I vacationed. As I did, I realized how important it is to take time off. With that said, I want to give you 4 reasons vacationing is important.

4 Reasons Vacationing is Important

(1) It gives you time with your family.

The demands of work, especially work as a pastor, can easily monopolize your time. Vacation gives you an opportunity to put your family first, catch up on what’s been going on, and be there to enjoy every moment with your family.

(2) It provides time for some much needed fun.

Having fun is important and some could even argue necessary. Reports have shown those who laugh live longer than those who don’t. What better time to laugh and have fun than on vacation.

(3) It recharges you.

I love what I do. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Even so, pushing hard week in and week out can be draining. It wears on you, which is why you need time to recharge.

(4) It allows your mind and body to recuperate. 

Preparing sermons, writing, and counseling take a toll on your mental faculties. It wears them out, which is why vacation is important. It gives your mind and body time to rest and recuperate, allowing you to work at 100% again.

Question for Reflection

  1. What reasons would you add?

Respectable Sins: Unthankfulness | Part 1

Do you thank God on a regular basis? When you do is it nominal or heartfelt? Do you see every circumstance as a reason to give thanks? Unthankfulness is common. So common we don’t really pay it much attention, which is why it is considered a respectable sin, and one we must deal with.

Unthankfulness Defined

When I say someone is unthankful, I mean that they do not show appreciation for the things they have been given.

Why is it a sin?

Unthankfulness is a sin because by not thanking God for all we have, we show we do not recognize everything we have is from God. Our lack of recognition and thankfulness means that we believe all we have is from our own hand. When we believe we have obtained in our own strength everything we have, then we are living ungodly lives, forgetting He is the One who has given us everything.

This is the attitude that Moses counseled against in Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-20. There he writes,

Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

Moses explicitly tells the Israelites that they should not forget the Lord, who has given them everything. They were to remember:

  • The works of the Lord, which He performed when He brought them up out of the Land of Egypt and led them to the Promised Land.
  • As well as they were to remember that the Lord has given them their power and ability to accumulate wealth.

This means that nothing is gained apart from the hand of the Lord, and we should thank Him for everything we have.

It Can Lead To

The sin of unthankfulness can lead to:

(1) DESTRUCTION – In the above passage, after reminding Israel of the works of the Lord, Moses makes it clear that those who do not remember the Lord’s provisions are prone to go after other gods, which will result in their destruction. So instead of forgetting the Lord, they are to remember Him.

We are to do the same:

We are to remember that everything we have, all our abilities and possessions, are the result of the Lord’s hand in our lives.

For we too are prone to chase after other gods, trusting in them, or even in our own selves, instead of the Lord, which will ultimately result in our destruction unless the Lord intervenes and saves us.

(2) MORAL DECLINE – In Romans 1:18-32, we are told that those who forget the Lord and do not give thanks to Him (vs 21) have their foolish hearts darkened and they are given over to the lusts in their hearts. The result is the heinous list of sins that follows in verses 26-31. Not only do these sins cause a lot of heartache and trouble, but they also ultimately result in destruction.

Looking Forward

In my next post in this series, I will look at when we are to give thanks, and offer some Scripture to memorize to help with unthankfulness. Until then, reflect on the following questions.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have you thought in the past that unthankfulness was a sin?
  2. Can you think of things in your life that you have not thanked God for giving you? If so, want you go ahead and lift up thanks to God right now.
  3. Do you agree that unthankfulness is closely related to ungodliness? How does knowing that change the way you think about the sin of unthankfulness?
  4. Do you agree that the sin of unthankfulness will lead to destruction and moral decline?

Resources

Post adapted from Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges, 79-87.

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Thanksgiving: A Reminder To Give Thanks For Everything

Thanksgiving is almost here. As I gear up to travel back to my home town to visit with friends and family, I am thankful for all the Lord has given me in my life. Even though I am thankful for what the Lord has done, my thoughts of thankfulness might just be too fleeting and ordinary. As I sat in church yesterday listening to the sermon, our pastor read a quote by G.K. Chesterton that caused me to see my fault in lifting up thanksgiving to the Lord. Chesterton says,

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Chesterton says grace before all these events because he recognizes the Lord is sovereign over all things, and provides him with all things, even the ink in his pen. It was then that I realized I do not always thank God for everything I have or participate in.

Challenge

So let me challenge you, and myself as well, to not just lift up a thanksgiving prayer before the meal the Lord provides, but to lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for all the Lord has done in your life at all times. Give thanks to the Lord always since:

He sustains the seat you are seated in because He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, He allowed you to be born into the family in which you are apart, He provides you with the job you so often take for granted, He has given you your beautiful wife and children, He provides you with the church you attend, the car you are driving, the clothes on your back, the turkey you are going to set on the table, and even the coffee you are going to drink, while eating the dessert He gives the provisions to purchase. He also provides you with the ability to exercise, play sports, and even watch your rivals play football.

Instead of thanking God once over our Thanksgiving meal, we should thank Him always for everything He has graciously and mercifully given us, including the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins; thus, making a way for us to be reconciled to God.

Praise and Thank the Lord Like the Psalmist

Since the Lord provides for us in every area of life and at all times, we should lift up praises to Him like the psalmist in Psalm 100:

Psalm 100: A Psalm for giving thanks.
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.