… In Hard Times.
When we think of worship, different traditions will have a different idea of what that word means. Worship to ultra-traditionalists may involve a series of rituals and citations that represents God’s holiness versus our uncleanliness. At the other end of the spectrum, to some ultra-charismatics, worship is singing and dancing with abandoned passion that celebrates God’s grace to us.
But worship is more than all of that. It’s how we devote ourselves to God throughout our life. If worship was just how we honour God when we come together but not when we are on our own, then when things, inevitably, get tricky in our lives, we don’t feel that our God is near. We feel utterly alone. The bible is clear that worship isn’t what we do in our church services. During our services, we may express our worship to God, corporately, in many different ways. But these are just expressions of our worship. Worship is our way of life. Our devotion, not just for 90 minutes each week, but 10,080 minutes each week.
It’s important to understand what worship is and isn’t in order to explore the reasons why we worship. And to challenge ourselves – Am I worshipping when I am not being watched? Or is it a mask that I wear?
In this this part, I want to look at the most difficult time to worship – When we are going through hard times!
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Fear and anxiety can be crippling for some people. No one is prepared for suffering. We try to avoid it, if possible. Especially in the West, where were are free to practice religion without fear of persecution. But Jesus was very clear when he said to his disciples “pick up your cross and follow me!”
The phrase “we’ve all got a cross to bear” misleads readers on this issue. We, in our comfortable lives, relatively speaking, think that life comes with certain burdens, responsibilities, that we must tolerate and deal with, but ultimately God makes everything fine if we believe it. It is a fallacy. Unfortunately, preachers have and continue to mislead Christians with this way of thinking.
The truth is, Jesus was not being metaphorical. He was warning his disciples to expect hardship and suffering as Christians. Some of us will, and do!, die because of our faith. So, if we are to expect suffering, then why does it surprise us and casts anxiety when it comes? The idea that Christians don’t go through hard times is foolish and immature. And it is often a reason that people stop coming to church – or refuse to try coming to church. That somehow they aren’t sorted enough to come to church. Or, that they thought that becoming a Christian would erase all their problems. People blame the Church for their difficulties. Some times the blame is due, but in all cases there is a really simple solution. Worship the Lord!
Paul, to the Philippians, says that we should bring all of our requests to God, in “thanksgiving”. How do I do that? How do I praise God in the hard times? What does that do?
Paul raises three points about how we are to face hardship, here.
1) be open and honest to God about what you are going through: In everything by prayer and supplication.
2) Praise God, regardless: with thanksgiving
3) Be specific with what you are asking: let your requests be made known.
A mistake that Christians make is we believe that we have to be happy when we worship God. We can’t approach him if we are sad. Utter nonsense! Jesus did not hide himself when he was suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, knowing what was to come, cried before the Father. Pleaded that “the cup should pass” from him – but he worshipped nonetheless “your will be done”! What followed was brutal suffering – suffering that few people in the history of Mankind has every experience. But Jesus stayed close to God and was devoted to see the will of His Father be done. God knows our hearts, He knows what we are going through. David writes in Psalm 139 “Lord, you have examined me and know all about me”. You can’t wear a mask, where God is concerned. But He calls us to worship regardless. Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
Another mistake we make, when we are going through hard times, is thinking that God has forsaken us. That He is not with us and we are on our own. There is so much scripture to refute this thinking! Here is just a few:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:9-10
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Finally, God doesn’t promise an easy life. He doesn’t promise that life on earth will be a stress free, painless, paradise. On the contrary, as we have seen. But he does promise “peace… [that] surpasses all understanding.” He also promises:
- to be “a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9)
- that there will come a day when all pain and struggle will end (1 Peter 5:10)
- but until that day, if we press into Him, he will instruct and guide us (Psalm 32:8)
So keep worshipping the Lord! Seek Him, read scripture, sing songs and honour Him. Remember that hard times are temporary. But, we can face hardship with God’s peace and protection. He is with us!