Sing when your heart is breaking

As I said yesterday I am struggling with feeling close to God right now. God seems far away from me.  When God seems far away, I go to the Psalms because the Psalmist struggled mightily with the same feelings.  The way he handled his struggle becomes my guide to handling my own.  For example read Psalm 13:5,6: “My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

These words were penned at a time when David felt more like crying and singing.  As I look at the context of these few words and meditate on them I began to “get” David.  He was clinging to what he knew to be true and acting on it rather than clinging to what he felt to be true and acting on that.  I have learned that this really works!  I have learned that clinging to what I know to be true despite my feelings to the contrary is an incredible spiritual discipline.  So when I am feeling alienated from God I remind myself of the things God has done for me, and rejoice in them rather than give in to my feelings.

I think of all the things I know to be true acts of God in my life, and offer them up to God. I pray prayers like, “Lord, You’ve made such a difference in my life. You’ve given me joy.  You’ve provided for me and my family.  You’ve forgiven my sins. You’ve given me eternal life.  You’ve answered my prayers.”  I name as many specific answers to prayer that I can think of!   As I remind myself of the things Jesus has done for me, and as I offer them up to God in prayer, I  find myself strengthened in Him in spite of myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I pretend to feel something that I don’t really feel.  God knows how I feel; if I can’t be honest with him or He is not much of a god.  What I am saying is that I search my heart for those things I know to be true acts of God in my life and, by faith, I rejoice in them.  I cling to them by faith.  I refuse to be ruled by these false feelings of alienation from my Father.

When I feel like God is far away I sometimes think about where my life would be if I had never become a Christian.  Based on where I was before I met Jesus, what would my life have been like if it had followed its logical progression?  What kind of career would I have pursued?  What kind of person would I have married?  What kind of father would I have become? What kind of grandfather would I be?   Every time I think these things through, I am overcome with gratitude for God’s sovereign mercy in my life.  Even when he seems far away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has made an incredible difference in my life, and I cling to that.  And I thank him for it.

I believe that love isn’t a feeling, it’s something you do.  What I sometimes forget, though, is that praise (or worship) isn’t a feeling either; it’s something you do.

Praise is often an emotional experience.  Sometimes when your heart is “bubbling” you overflow with praise, and you can’t help but sing to God what you’re feeling in your heart.  When that happens, it’s wonderful.

However, even during those times when our heart isn’t “bubbling,” we should continue to worship God.  Even when David’s heart felt like it was breaking, he lifted up his heart to God.  Even when God seemed far away, he continued to sing his praise to Him.

David begins this Psalm by admitting that God seems very far away. And he ends it by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

David isn’t saying this because he suddenly experienced an emotional turn-around (in the time it took him to write these six verses!) and was suddenly back on top of the mountain. He’s saying it because he understands that praise is an act of faith, not of feelings. He’s saying, “I will sing to the Lord, regardless of how I feel.”

Some people say, “Isn’t it hypocritical to sing praise when you don’t feel close to God?”  I guess it is hypocritical if you believe you’re supposed to praise God only when you feel good.  But that’s not what the Bible teaches. We are to praise him all during the day, regardless of how we feel.  Our feelings will come and go; our praise to him should be consistent.

I’ll take it a step further.  God knows how we really feel, and I think he is more pleased when we praise him during those times we don’t feel all bubbly inside.

Think of it this way. Back when my daughters were teenagers they often wanted to borrow my car(and I often said no!), so when I let them drive they were overcome with joy, and would say something along the lines of “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you, I love you, I love you!” And, no doubt, the words were sincere. But suppose right after I had made one of them mow our lawn, and in the midst of the sullen grumpiness that teenagers develop to the point of an art form, she suddenly said to me, “You know, Dad, I love you. And I want you to know that I am glad you are my dad.” Wouldn’t those words, spoken in those circumstances, carry more weight than the others?

It’s easy to praise God when we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, but if we continue to praise Him even when He seems far away, He is especially pleased.  I believe we often worship our emotions more than we worship God.  To worship God instead of our emotions means that our worship of God is independent of our feelings at any given moment.

Whatever we put first is what we worship.  David shows us the path of true worship by writing “I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” when he felt distant from God.  If we do what our feelings tell us to do rather than what God tells us to do, which are we worshipping?

I would love to hear your comments.

Daily Time with God

I don’t watch the news in the mornings. In fact, except for the Weather Channel, I seldom even turn on the TV in the mornings. I also don’t listen to the radio, or read the newspaper in the mornings. Why not?  I quit watching the morning news or reading the morning newspaper because it so rarely lifted my spirits. Think about it: Do you really believe Good Morning America can get your day moving in the right direction?  Do you really want to begin your day armed with depressing news and mindless chatter?

There’s a better way to get your day up and running. Now, I realize you need to know what’s going on in the world, but you have the rest of the day to hear about it.  Whether you’re a morning person or not it is important how you start your day.  It is important to fill your mind with things that will empower you. Listen to music that inspires you. Read something that uplifts you. Make sure that you start your day by putting into your mind things that will strengthen you and make you receptive to God.

If you are a music person, spend some time each day listening to good music — whether quiet, peaceful, reverent, uplifting, worship music, or loud, joyful, celebrative, uplifting, praise music – it will make you receptive to God.  Iam not much of a music person myself, especially when it come to Christian contemporary music. (The O Band that my son in law Eric leads is an exception!)  So listening to Christian music seldom has the desired effect on me.  For years I felt guilty about that.  Then I realized that what I needed was not to learn to appreciate Christian music but to find something that would make me receptive to God.  So now sometimes in the morning but more often in the afternoon or evening I read something that I know will inspire me.  Sometimes, I get out my Bible and read a Psalm or a Proverb to myself.   Psalm 23 is one of my favorites.  So is Psalm 16, and Psalm 30.  No doubt as you read through the Psalms, there will be some that speak especially to you.  After I read the Psalms, I usually read a passage from the New Testament.  I usually read a few verses each day as I work my way through a book of the Bible. Right now, I’m reading one of my favorite epistles Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  As I read the short passage I’m reading that day —usually 6 or 7 verses— I ask these questions:

What is this God telling me to do today through this Scripture? Is He using it to pointing out a sin in my life?  Is He using it to  challenge me to step out in faith? Is He using it to tell me to take a certain action? It never fails: when I read the Bible God teaches me something.   He shows me something I need to do, or something I need to know.   As I close my Bible, I know God has something in mind for me to do THAT DAY.  Maybe it’s to spend time talking with my wife or calling my daughters or emailing my grandsons.  Maybe it’s to call my mom or dad.  Maybe it’s to apologize to someone I’ve offended.  Every day, through reading Scripture I receive God anew into my day.

Sometimes I turn to the Gospels and read an incident from the life of Christ or one of His teachings.  Sometimes I read a familiar section from one of the many writings of C.S. Lewis.  I love reading C.S. Lewis!

What you need to do is find what makes you want to praise the Lord.  If music, great; if reading Scripture, great; if watching a video, great; if listening to a podcast, great!  The idea is each day to do something that makes you want to  praise the Lord.

I am not a morning person but I do have a morning prayer that I’ve said each morning for probably 30 years — almost every day I pray this same prayer before I leave my bedroom:     “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.  Take me today and make be totally Yours.  From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet fill me with your Holy Spirit today.  Help me to overcome the Evil One and to stand as a covering for all those whom You place under my pastoral care. Father, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as much as I love myself.  Please let others see You because of the fruit of the Spirit that you bring to maturity in my life today. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Often I end my day by reading (and praying) an old prayer that dates back to the fifth century.  I find its words to be a great blessing to me.

“This day I’ve called to me: God’s strength to direct me, God’s power to sustain me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s vision to light me, God’s ear to my hearing, God’s word to my speaking, God’s hand to uphold me, God’s pathway before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s legions to save me:  from snares of the demons, from evil enticements, from failings of nature, from one man or many that seek to destroy me a near or afar.”

This prayer reminds me that not only my day but my life are entirely in God’s hands.

During my priority time with God I don’t want to see anyone or to talk to anyone. Whether it is in the evening or in the morning I want to spend it entirely alone in the presence of God.

Time with God to speak my mind and fill my heart  is one of my core values. Try it and it will become one of yours!