Sometimes when we are mad we have many raw and honest emotions we want to voice. Part of growing up is learning how to contain our honest reactions over events and deliberate over them to consider a right response. Sometimes our relationship with God is the same. We find ourselves to be in situations where our honest emotions and honest thoughts are that perhaps God is not good or does not even exist. And we think it is noble to go with what is honest– otherwise we are faking it. So if we feel God is not good because we find ourselves floundering in the wake of another painful disappointment that God should have saved us from– if indeed he exists– than why try to argue against what we honestly feel? Why continue to cling to a belief that is counter intuitive to our emotions? Isn’t that the very definition of fooling yourself?
No it is not. It is a mark of growth. For again part of growing up is learning how to deliberate over our honest reactions to negative stimuli and and weigh the pros and cons before actualizing them as choices or decisions. A crying baby cries honestly whenever it doesn’t get what it wants. But when the baby becomes older we we teach the child to suppress its honest emotions and learn how to objectively consider them and maybe not give voice to them at all. But this doesn’t mean we are teaching the child to live a lie. Rather we are teaching the child that emotions–even honest ones– are poor custodians of truth.
Moreover when our children continue to grow into their teen years and want to throw in the towel on a friendship or quit a school project or give up on a dream, all because their honest thinking is that XYZ is not worth it, we try to encourage them to see their frustration and disappointment in a different light that doesn’t make forfeiture, quitting or accusatory blame a default response to difficulty.
Even as adults we recognize ourselves that sometimes situations offend our honest sensibilities and a right response on our part may require generous amounts of patience, forgiveness and tenacious perseverance. To take this path is not easy because it goes against the grain of honest feelings and thoughts. Yet to those who are mature recognize there is often a difference between honest reactions and right reactions and between what feels right and what is really right.
Someone once said we cant see the frame when we are stuck in the picture, which I take to mean we are often incapable of evaluating external events objectively when our emotions–honest though they may be– are sucking us ever so inward that our perspective becomes overly skewed and our response in turn becomes overly reactionary, defensive, lazy and self-centered rather than measured and thoughtful.
Now lets plug all this back into our initial discussion about God and disappointment. There is no escaping the fact that at times God’s promises will seem to run completely counter to our life experience. To continue to exercise faith in God’s goodness and faithfulness in the face of delayed or unanswered prayers is not easy. But is it worth it in the end? God’s greatest promise to us is, “Yes–in the end it is supremely worth it.” In fact the scriptures seem to suggest that God distinguishes between the unfaithful and the faithful on the basis of people’s response to the storms of life, calling the former “double-minded” who cannot receive anything from God and the latter “over-comers” who will inherit the earth and rule and reign in the age to come.
The greatest lie of the enemy that has infiltrated the Church is that following Christ is a deliverance from all trouble and evil days. Quite the opposite. Christ assures us “In this world you will have trouble but be courageous– for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The scriptures tell us we are in war of attrition and hell will do all it can to bring us into faith quenching despair.
A Christian who has lost his faith in God is a neutered Christian who is so turned inward that he poses no threat. Yet not satisfied with just that the Enemy often seeks to turn them against the Good by underhandedly nurturing their loathing and negativity with the goal of totally replacing their neutered faith with accusatory blame, cynicism and bitterness. In this way he succeeds in taking what used to be a sharpened spear of faith opposing him and turning it into a blunt and crude weapon of bitterness, accusation, cynicism and anger. Such a person has immense influence to then stab and sow similar attitudes in others and in time sour every meaningful relationship they have.
If your first response to reading this section is to say, “Well why doesn’t God do something!What’s wrong with him! Doesn’t he care about us?” Know that you have already begun to succumb to the deceiver’s schemes and lies. And know that you are not fighting “the good fight of faith” or “wielding your mighty weapons for pulling down strongholds” or “casting down imaginations” or “taking captive every thought that sets itself up against God” as clearly laid out for you in Scripture. What we don’t take captive will take us captive. Your mind and heart are in a very perilous place.
If we ever find ourselves in such a place our only way out is to repent and reckon as truth that the fault never lies with God no matter what evidence we’ve been amassing and carting around for years like an attorney ready to prosecute our Heavenly Father whenever the need arises, such as when others get to naively “Christianeezy” around us. All of this must be forcibly renounced daily until we begin to sense our anger and cynicism dissipating and becoming less of a default mindset. Then we must begin to praise God for every conceivable good thing we can think of– recognizing that “every good gift comes down from the Father of lights.” Let the blind man thank God for his hearing. Let the deaf man thank God for his sight.
Once again if your first thought to that last statement was, “Well what is a deaf and blind person supposed to be thankful for?” Know that you truly are perilously close to instinctual cynicism. And once cynicism and negative thought processes become our instinctual default mode, we stop thinking, processing and contemplating. We begin to react reflexively and angrily to situations that require even a modicum of faith or hope. “What’s the use?” becomes our un-spoken mantra we live by. As a result, the world shrinks before us. Innumerable possibilities become closed to us as we seek to play it safe and risk nothing. We become increasingly entrenched in un-teachableness as a spirit of cynicism slowly assimilates us like the Borg. The Bible calls this a spirit of unbelief and it is ruinous to our souls and those around us.
Christ often said “let him who has ears let him hear” right before he said something of great import he knew would be difficult to stomach. Those word are appropriate here. If we value whatever is left our faith and love of the Lord we must be militant in renouncing a cynical spirit daily until we begin to sense our anger and cynicism dissipating and becoming less of a instinctual response. Jesus mysteriously said, “The Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Renouncing, repenting and thanksgiving are our weapons and they are powerful. Eventually the atmosphere of repentance, thanksgiving becomes so toxic and choking to the enemy that he releases his hold and goes off to find easier prey– ones who have the “fight” all out of them. It is critical that we put up a fight when we least want to! This is better understood as “resisting the Enemy and he will flee (James 4:7).”
Let him who has ears let him hear.
The next stage of our warfare, that not only regains lost ground but takes ground from the enemy, is our resolute praise and worship. Praise and worship not only gives to God what he is due, but it also disarms our negativity and carries our spirit man into a place of rest and recharging. I used to play an old Nintendo game where your character had to run around killing the enemy, but when his life-power meter became dangerously low, he had to run into a circle and stay there long enough to recharge his life meter bar. I can’t remember the name of the game, but I can still remember the sound it would make as your little character gets recharged for the fight ahead. I have often have this visual memory return to me in moments of great trial and exhaustion. Like my digital character, we too need to withdraw into the “secret place” (Mt. 6:6) and recharge ourselves for the battles we are in and those still ahead– we do this through praise and worship.
But a little disclaimer, or at minimum a clarification is in order because some have been robbed of an incentive to praise God due to some confusion as to what the scriptures are admonishing us to do. When the scriptures say to “rejoice in The Lord at all times” (Phil. 4:4) it doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to praise the circumstances or praise what happened– or even necessarily praise God for what happened (Though at times that may be appropriate). Rather we are called at all times to praise God– period. In other words we are called to praise and offer thanksgiving to God in spite of what happened, not necessarily because of what happened. Why? Because we recognize that God’s praise worthiness does not rise or fall on the basis of events taking place on earth– or on Proximal Centauri, in the Andromeda galaxy, or anywhere in the universe. His praise worthiness is world independent. This is critical, praise 101 stuff we need to be grounded in. Otherwise our habits of praise become situationally dependent and never transcendent and transformative. Pure praise recognizes that God, in virtue of being God, is simply so awesome that he is deserving of our praise independent of the circumstances taking place around us– whether good or bad.
In numerous places the Bible talks about a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17, Heb. 13:15). The idea of sacrifice revolves around the idea of giving something up, losing something or surrendering something of value for the sake of something greater. King David once had the option of offering a sacrifice to God with animals that were given to him by another without cost. But King David rightly recognized that such a sacrifice would be no sacrifice at all, saying, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).
The question before us today is, how much does our sacrifice of praise cost us? Do we only praise God when it costs us nothing, when there is nothing taxing our hearts? Do we only offer praise and thanksgiving when it is emotionally convenient for us? Sometimes a sacrifice of worshipping God will cost us surrendering up the “why” question and needing to fully understand all that is taking place. At other times the cost may be to our comfort such as sleeping in. Rather than shun them, we ought to intentionally look for opportunities to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving that cost us something. Sadly we all too often forfeit these opportunities because we are too turned inward with bitterness, anger or depression to recognize them.
Lastly love of God is the ultimate goal, the ultimate pursuit of our lives. Someone once said the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the love of the Lord is wisdom completed. To love God more than loving our need to understand and have an answer is the greatest test of faith. For me trust is love and love is trust. The Lord graced my life with wise, impactful parents, and recently they reminded me, “Matt, the scriptures say trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. You can’t have both. You are either trusting the Lord through difficulty, disappointment and pain OR you are trusting your own understanding of that difficulty.”