On July 27, 2004 I finished a book after a few days of reading: Prison to Praise. Upon putting it down, I determined that it would be wise for me to put into practice what I had just contemplated upon. (although I didn't agree with EVERYTHING written in the book) It was time to be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only! Hence, I embarked upon the goal of applying the principle I had gleaned from this book: Praise God for the good, the bad, and the ugly! (my paraphrase!) Often we have difficulty cultivating a thankful heart even in the midst of backbreaking trials.
Sometimes we can even forget to praise God for the good things in life if we allow hardness to affect our hearts. We must not become calloused to the goodness of God: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17) Be intentional about praising God for the good things in your life, even if they aren't immediately obvious. At that time we had recently moved to a new city in order to be a part of Grace Church. Thankfully we were able to connect with an amazing small group and with several significant friendships that have continued to this day. There was much to be thankful for.
Do we honestly believe the promise of Romans 8:28? – And w know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God is able to work out ALL things, which includes the bad, for the good of those that love him and are called according to his purpose. I had the previous month before reading Prison to Praise, lost my driving license due to a degenerative eye condition. I could never drive again unless my eyes were supernaturally restored. This abrupt change was quite a sudden shock, which seemed to highlight all else that I felt was unraveling in my life at that time. I was working as a legislative assistant for an organization on Capitol Hill that fought for conservative values – yet, my heart longed to be preaching the Word and pursuing intense discipleship with young adults. I had taken the advice of our pastor to step out of any ministry in order to allow the Lord to do a deeper work in my own heart. To say the least, I felt immensely discouraged and far from God.
Yet, this was the hardest to swallow. My own ugliness. My own sin that I had intentionally committed. And how could I even thank the Lord for the ugly stuff, I mean the sin that I had commited? Well, I started thanking the Lord for His forgiveness for the sin that I had previously committed against Him. I thanked Him for restoring my relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son. I even thanked Him for allowing me to go through some of the darkest hours of my life when I had rebelled against Him and for His mercy. I thanked Him for His love for me despite the ugliness that had pervaded my heart. At that time in my life, all that I could discern was the pain that somehow I had forfeited God’s calling. I can recall even writing in my journal about the pain of Esau who forfeited his birthright for a bowl of stew. It was to me the pain of nothingness that seemed more real to me in that state than the reality of my Father’s abiding Presence.
In the ugliness of sin is potentially found the beauty of brokenness – for this, He is worthy of our utmost praise! The Cross swallows our ugliness! I could continue to sin by dwelling on myself, or I could chose to focus upon the One who was worthy of my praise in spite of my ugliness. It isn’t about me, it is all about Him!
Back to the book that I was reading on that hot afternoon.
I decided to lock myself in the bedroom with no possible distractions so that I could simply focus on Jesus and cultivate a heart of praise concerning all the stuff that was going on in my own prison. At first I found it rather awkward and difficult to thank the Lord for things that, well, seemed to be causes of such heartaches in my own life. Yet, I persevered and found the stream of grace to focus my affections upon Him. After three hours I was able to genuinely thank Him even for the difficult, painful things in my life. Although I didn’t “feel” different, I could discern in my spirit that something had shifted.
It was obvious that from that day forth, many new things being to bear fruit in my life, which was once a barren wasteland.
This seemingly small, insignificant, obscure change in my life generated a life-altering pathway for me in the years to come. The “Prison to Praise” breakthrough is a shift that was preceded by the willingness to praise God even for what I perceive to be negative circumstances in my life. What is happening in your life right now? What seemingly negative situations can you praise God for in your own life? How can you cultivate a heart of thanksgiving even in the midst of hard times? What are some of the insights that you have learned concerning praising God in the midst of the good, the bad, and the ugly that you could share with us?