I love to sing. I look forward all week to meeting with my Grace family on a Sunday when we all sing out praises to God together. I find it easy to wake up in the morning and immediately start warbling away, singing and humming my way through the day. But what about when things are difficult?
In the first century, the writer to a group of Jewish Christians exhorted his readers to ‘continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God’ (Hebrews 13:15). They knew all about life being tough; they were being persecuted and hounded by the authorities. Some were in prison for their faith and others had had their possessions vandalised. The first century was a dangerous time to be a Christian, not unlike some places of the world today…. Sometimes it can feel like a sacrifice to offer up praise to God. But if we’re in a dark place with no end in sight, it is vital that we still praise God. Let me share why painful praise is so important.
When first century missionaries Paul and Silas went to Philippi (Acts 16) they taught good news about Jesus. At first people listened quite happily. But then God used Paul to heal a slave girl who was demon-possessed. The girl’s owners were furious because the demon had enabled the girl to tell fortunes, which had made them a lot of money. When this source of easy-income abruptly ceased, they caused trouble for Paul and Silas. The two missionaries were unfairly accused, humiliated by having their clothes stripped off them in public, and then brutally beaten. They were thrown into jail and had their feet fastened in stocks, which would have forced their legs apart, causing maximum discomfort and muscle cramps. Incredibly, instead of blaming God for the mess they were in, or groaning over their painful bloody backs and cramping legs, Paul and Silas began to sing hymns and pray. Amazing.
Praising God affected Paul and Silas: fear and anger can’t dwell in the positive atmosphere of praising God. As darkness flees when we open the curtains and let in the light, so darkness in our lives can’t remain when we are praising God. Last year I was very ill with cerebellar ataxia and ME. There were times when every ounce of concentration and energy went into simply breathing, and the darkness threatened to overwhelm me. But every day I chose to praise God. Often I could only sing slowly in a faint, shaky voice one verse of a hymn. But because I chose to rejoice in God and to sincerely declare aloud: ‘Your lovingkindness is better than life’, I experienced impossible joy and peace and God’s loving presence. Painful praise made a huge difference to Paul and Silas. And it made a huge difference to me, too.
Praising God affected the other prisoners: as Paul and Silas encouraged each other in the Lord, their hearts were filled with supernatural courage. The other prisoners were so impacted by this – after all they were in the same situation but hadn’t acted as Paul and Silas did – that even when an earthquake struck that night, breaking open the jail, no one tried to escape. Paul was able to reassure the despairing jailor that all the prisoners were safe. This had a huge impact on the jailor; he had a revelation that night of God’s power and grace on his life. If we will praise God through painful circumstances, it will impact those around us. It’s in the times of pain that our faith is seen to be authentic.
Praising God affected God: Paul and Silas’ praises and prayers brought a response from God – an earthquake. God delights in our audible joy in Him, and praising Him brings forth His mighty power from heaven to break into impossible situations and set people free. As I praised God through last year’s illness, I experienced a gradual healing until I was finally free of it. God lavishes grace and blessings on us when we pour out our praise to Him, especially when praising Him costs us.
This post is based on a sermon preached on 17th April 2011 by a friend of mine, Jon Mead. Listen here.