Praising the Lord in Our Grief

How do we comprehend the arrogance of humans, whose lives are but a wisp of smoke, who rebel against the eternal truths set by a loving and all-knowing Creator, a self-existing Creator who lives outside the dimensions of time and space? Yet, when troubles come, and they will in this life, He is our only refuge, our only solid ground. How marvelous it is to know the Creator as friend and savior, to walk with Him through this life as He prepares us for eternity with Him.

Job said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” (Job 1:21 GNT)

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11 NIV)

Praise the LORD, because he heard my prayer for help. (Psalms 28:6 NCV)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

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MANY OF US KNOW THE STORY behind the Christian song, “Praise You In This Storm,” by Casting Crowns. It’s the story of a young girl who loved the Lord Jesus, but her life on earth was cut short by a painful battle with cancer.

The band’s lead singer and chief songwriter Mark Hall talks about praying with the 60. Sick-Young-Girlfamily for Erin’s health only to face repeated heartache. He wrote  the song for her. It begins: “I was sure by now, God,/that you would have reached down/And wiped our tears away,/Stepped in and saved the day.”

It didn’t work out that way. Erin left her earthly mother and father for the loving arms of her Lord. While Erin was at peace, those left behind grieved, yet, as children of the living God, they knew without doubt that He felt their pain.

The closing words of the song express this faith: “And though my heart is torn/I will praise you in this storm.”

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IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, CHAPTER 18, JESUS shares with His disciples what the NIV headnote calls “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.”

Luke prefaces the story with these words: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (v. 1)

The point of His story is that prayer is not a one-time thing, a one-off request to the Great Genie in the Sky who then snaps His divine fingers to bring our wish to us, no matter how noble the request or selfless it might seem.

60. Faith-in-Jesus-ChristJesus emphasizes this point when He ends His story with this question: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v. 8)

Jesus was assuring us in the parable that the Father loves His creation and longs to do good things for us, but what He wants more than fulfilling our Christmas wish list is to grow our characters to be more Christ-like, and that is a process that takes a lifetime.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL acknowledged that by saying we should take “joy” in our troubles, “because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character.” (Romans 5:3-4 NCV)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, echoed that thought when he encouraged us to “Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3 ESV).

“Steadfastness” is another word for “character,” or “faith in God,” which is God’s goal for our lives.

Finally, the apostle Peter encouraged his readers, who were facing persecution, to remain strong in their faith. “The purpose of these troubles,” he said, “is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God.” (1 Peter 1:7 GW)

How important is our faith to the issues of “prayer” and “troubles”?

Listen to the writer of Hebrews, who sums it up this way: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)

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HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO PRAY?

Seriously, how can we really give thanks when we’re hurting, when a loved one is suffering, when we’re feeling down, lost, confused — when quitting looks like the only reasonable way out.

60. Depravity-GenicideOne of the great strengths of the Bible is that the LORD allows so many  passages showing human weakness, evil, cunning, disobedience, and irreverence. We know the reason why: He’s showing us how we appear to Him, not the wonderful exemplary individuals we see ourselves to be. We also are to see how desperately we need a Savior.

The writer of Psalm 107, for example, lists several items of distress, where people were “hungry and thirsty,” or were “prisoners suffering in iron chains,” or “became fools through their rebellious ways,” or “reeled and staggered like drunken men.”

In each case, the writer assures us, “they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.” What was the LORD’s response? “He saved them from their distress.” (all quotes from NIV)

Yes, Jesus became man and walked among us, feeling what we feel. In one passage, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 ESV)

There’s another story Jesus told, where the punch line was yet more assurance of God’s mercy: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11 NASB)

These are just a few of the many biblical examples demonstrating the LORD’s amazing patience, love, and mercy with His creation.

That does not mean He will make all the pain go away immediately — or, even at all — in this world. It means only that He walks with us if we allow Him, and our reward will be a blessed eternity with Him.

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YOU JUST KNEW THIS MEDITATION would circle back to “faith.”

The whole point of God’s goodness — His love, His mercy, His forgiveness — is to teach us to depend on Him, to believe in Him, to rely on Him to walk us through the storms of our lives.60. Faith

It was never about healing in the moment. The moment vanishes like a wisp of smoke.

It was never about our happiness. Temporal joy vanishes quickly.

It was never about our satisfaction. We don’t know what’s good for us.

It was always about God remaking us in His image to become the men and women He purposed us to be.

The prophet Jeremiah says God has a plan for our lives. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 TLB)

The psalmist tell us that God knew us even before we were born. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NLT)

Our role is to believe and to go to the LORD in prayer, even when, as in the song by Casting Crowns, He hasn’t taken our pain away.

As difficult as it may seem, He calls us to find the joy in all circumstances when we cast our cares at His feet.

“Give thanks in everything,” the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CSB), “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

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44. Cross_on_BiblePRAYER: Our gracious and merciful Heavenly Father, Your love for us is greater than we can fathom. Your joy in our growth is more than we can imagine. Your sadness at our rebellion would break our hearts if we had even the smallest portion of understanding. Occasionally, we see glimpses of Your majesty, and we’re in awe. LORD, love us and hold onto us. Keep us against Your bosom through the storms of our lives and deliver us onto the peaceful shores of Paradise. We pray in the Master’s name. Amen

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QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you find it easy to give thanks to God for His many blessings in the midst of your pain? Do you see that He might have a plan that is for your good even though it eludes your understanding? Can you believe that?
  2. When you pray for healing, do you expect an immediate response? What is it? Healing? Or do you think He might be growing your faith?
  3. How do you comfort someone in their pain when you fight your own doubts? Can you be authentic with them?
  4. Do you pray for God’s will to be done, even while telling Him your wants and desires?
  5. Is this a hard lesson for you to learn? Do you struggle with this? How do you handle the struggle? Do you seek His help?

LORD, Teach Us How to Pray

Prayer is a privilege bought by Jesus’ blood. The Father grants us the right to come to Him in conversation, to praise His holy name, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to thank Him for all of His blessings to us, and to ask Him for additional gifts … all of which He wants to do. If we don’t see the privilege for what it is, we should ask Him to grant us joy in our prayer life, and He will do it.

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. (John 14:13 NLT)

“We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18 ESV)

“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3 NASB)

What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words. (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)

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HERE’S A QUIZ.

GOD TELLS US TO PRAY.

59. John 17-Jesus Prays for UsOne of the most endearing images among the Bible’s 66 books is recorded in John, Chapter 17, when Jesus, the Christ of the living God, prays to God.

The Bible tells us the mystery of the Trinity, in which each of the three components of the one unity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — are God, yet here we have the Second Person of the Trinity praying in the Third Person of the Trinity to the First Person of the Trinity.


What does He pray about? Well, in verses 20 and 21, He prays for us!

Yes, He also prays for Himself as He’s about to be arrested, flogged, spit upon, mocked, stripped, and then nailed to a Cross for our sakes; and, yes, He prays for His disciples, those men who soon enough will begin to spread the message of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world.

But He also prays for us, those of us who were to be born more than 2,000  years later.

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IN LUKE CHAPTER 11, JESUS’ DISCIPLES asked Him to teach them how to pray.

This is such an amazing request because, as we’ve seen, the disciples have watched as their Teacher finds a quiet spot to pour His heart out to the Father and to seek guidance. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NKJV)

59. Jesus-Praying-to-GodThe disciples at this point realize there is something special about Jesus, but they cannot fathom that He is God, and that when He prays, He prays to God.

There is such mystery in the Trinity!

Jesus gives them a prayer template, which we call the Lord’s Prayer, but Jesus assures them that they should pray in His name and that He will answer their prayers (John 14:13). This means that the One who kneels before us in prayer also promises to answer our prayers when we pray to Him.

Later, after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected and then returns to Heaven, his younger half-brother James, one of the new church’s pivotal leaders, picks up this theme of praying in Jesus’ name.

James says in James 4:2-3 that we do not receive answers to our prayers, in part, because we never come to God in prayer and ask … and, in part, because when we do ask, we pray with selfish motives.

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IT SEEMS SO HOPELESS SOMETIMES.

How are we, as unworthy as we are, to approach the throne of the Creator of the universe and make known our petitions? What do we do when we are told that most of our prayers are self-centered?59. Woman-praying

In his best-selling book on prayer, Circle Your Prayer, Pastor Mark Batterson says that if we’re honest with ourselves, “most of our prayers have as their chief objective our own personal comfort rather than God’s glory.”

That means that when we approach the throne of Grace, we treat the moment like young children waiting to sit on Santa’s lap at the Mall with our list of toy demands.

Pastor Rick Warren, in his classic book, The Purpose Driven Life, reminds us that we are made in God’s image, and that “God designed your spirit to communicate with him.” God wants us to pray to Him, Warren says, noting that “worship is your spirit responding to God’s spirit.”

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DANIEL GOT PRAYER RIGHT.

Everyone remembers Daniel as the dude in the Lion’s Den. Because he  refused to bow down to worship an image of the king, he was thrown into a den with several very hungry lions and lived through the night because God kept the lions at bay.

Humble-Man-PrayingWhen Daniel prayed daily to God, he did not do so out of pride or entitlement or obligation, nor did he waste God’s valuable time on a grocery list of selfish wants and needs. He prayed for forgiveness of the sins of his people and for God to refresh his soul.

“We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness,” Daniel says in one prayer, delivered on his knees in deep reference and humility, “but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18 ESV)

In other words, Daniel humbly told the LORD he was using the moment to ask for grace, not because Daniel felt he was deserving of God’s blessing but because he acknowledged that God alone is good.

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SO, HOW DO WE USE OUR MOMENT?

How do we come to the Creator, who grants us access through the blood of His Son, to present our petitions, to seek forgiveness, to ask for healing, to give praises and thanks?

Pastor John Piper offers various thoughts based on Scripture, leading with these: we should pray that God would exalt His name in the world, that God would extend His kingdom in the world, that God’s holy Word would triumph in the world, and for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in each of our hearts.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with petitioning God for a better job, or help in marriage, or healing from affliction, or children who are better behaved, or even that God will help us find our car keys — all of those are warranted — but it does mean that somewhere in the prayer we should recognize the need for God to proclaim His glory throughout the world … and that such proclamation should start with us.

59. Standing-At-CrossJesus modeled that prayer, starting with “hallowed be Your name” followed quickly by “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then, Jesus said we should ask the Creator for personal benefits.

In fact, the Bible says that God will place in our hearts the very desires He wants us to pray for, then when we pray for them, He grants them.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV) leads to “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4 ESV).

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ASK YOURSELF THIS ABOUT YOUR PRAYERS: If your prayers were answered, just as you asked God to answer them, in the manner and timing you wanted, to accomplish the goals and objectives you set, would the answer benefit anyone besides you?

If not, do you (we) need to make any changes in our prayers?

Here is a prayer request offered by the apostle Paul: “This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love.” (Philippians 1:9 ERV)

The apostles Peter and John, when released from prison, led the other disciples and followers of Jesus in a prayer for continued boldness in witnessing: “Now, Lord … enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29 NIV)59. Girl-praying-with-dolls

When was the last time you (or I) asked God to increase our love for other  people and that God would increase our knowledge and understanding along with that love? When was the last time you (or I) asked God to increase our boldness for the Gospel?

Yes, asking God to provide safety for our wife when she’s out shopping during a sudden rainstorm, or help in preparing for a new business presentation, and health and healing for an aging parent are all wonderful prayer requests — and so is seeking divine revelation to locate those car keys — but God may well be calling you (and me) to join Him in something greater.

Perhaps He is calling us to ask to be part of His glory, to play a role in His goal for our lives. Paul said this 2,000 years ago to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:11 NCV), but the words apply equally to us today, “that you will be filled with the good things produced in your life by Christ to bring glory and praise to God.”

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44. Cross_on_BiblePRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, let us not hold our precious prayer time with You to be something of drudgery or something we fear. Help us to realize the incredible privilege You afford us, You, the Creator of the universe and all of life, created us in Your image and then gave us — even after we rebelled against You — the privilege of coming to You in prayer. LORD, may prayer change our lives, and may You use our changed lives to change the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Blind to Our Sinful Nature

Thankfully, our LORD takes us to the mountaintop from time to time, that lofty place of rest, where we can fellowship with other believers and just feel good all over, bathed in the Holy Spirit; but God, in His wisdom, never leaves us there for more than a moment. The real work is done in the valleys, where conflict reigns. We need to leave the mountaintop and engage in Kingdom-building. He strengthens us for the task and reminds us to abide in Him and He will abide in us. Once He shows us the sin in our hearts and our total dependence on Him, then and only then can He use us to be His ambassadors.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? — Jeremiah 17:9 WEB

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. — Mark 7:21-22 ESV

You say, ‘I’m rich. I’m wealthy. I don’t need anything.’ Yet, you do not realize that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. — Revelation 3:17 GW

All of us are dirty with sin. All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth. — Isaiah 64:6 NCV

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WE DON’T STAY AT THE MOUNTAINTOP FOR LONG, DO WE?

Nothing is more energizing than to join in Christian community in a weekend retreat. Without fail, retreat centers are strategically placed along mountain ranges, or beside pristine lakes, or shaded by a forest of bright leaves.

58.Men-Spiritual-HuddleThe joyful sounds of praise and worship ricochet off the walls, as celebrants eagerly jot down telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of newfound friends and pledge to keepin touch, just to encourage one another in their faith walks.

It’s all great stuff.

But a few days later, if that long, the bubble bursts, and we’re thrown right back into the midst of real life.

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ON THE MOUNTAINTOP, we can forget our sin for awhile. Sin takes a back step when we’re feeling alive in the Holy Spirit.

But Satan is watching our drive home, just waiting for his chance to pounce. We won’t see it coming; we’re still resonating to the joy of our holy huddle.58.Ways_Satan_Attacks

Temptation will creep in, and we’ll be a little slow in batting it away. Then it will grow and sprout its evil leaves, and we’re thrown into a head spin.

What happened?

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LIFE HAPPENED.

The Bible is clear that since the Fall — meaning the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3 — when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin has encased our hearts. We are driven by our love of sin … and we’re usually blind to it, even as it eats holes in our soul.

Sin is so much a part of who and what we are that Jesus, Himself God in human form, told us 

that what defiles us is not the food groups we  should avoid or whether we wash our hands or cups before eating, but what comes from out of our hearts, our minds, our 58. Sin-Stained-Heartinner selves.

God sees the filth that we hide, or at least try to hide, from ourselves and from one another, even while we recognize — at some conscious level — that it resides within us and that we’re not being honest with ourselves when we deny its existence.

The apostle John hit this one hard when he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV).

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IN HIS BOOK THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS, Jerry Bridges says “One of Satan’s most powerful weapons is making us spiritually blind—unable to see our sinful character.” Bridges goes on to describe the cure that God has provided for us: “No one can understand it [sin] and expose it except the Holy Spirit.”

Yes, it is God’s Holy Spirit that exposes our sinful selves to us and stirs within us the desire to be holy, to be Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions.

It is God’s Holy Spirit that convicts us of our disobedience, whether it’s  the commission of an immoral act, a casual conversation that slips into a slanderous or judgmental remark, or even a careless thought or fantasy.58. Holy-Spirit-Shines

As Bridges says, “The Holy Spirit opens the inner recesses of our hearts and enables us to see the moral cesspools hidden there. This is where He begins His ministry of making us holy.”

It’s an uphill climb, but the “good work” that Christ has begun in us will continue until the day Jesus returns or calls us home (Phil. 1:6). Bridges notes that our sinful natures, combined with the evil powers of spiritual warfare, “are too strong for us to persevere unless the Holy Spirit” is alive and working within our souls.

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GOD IS SO MERCIFUL.

The immortal, merciful, invincible God could, if He wanted to, blot us all out as a horrible experiment gone wrong from the first. He washed away the first bunch of humans for their unrestrained evil (Genesis 6:5), so He could do it again.

How fortunate we are that He promised not to resend the floodwaters to wash mankind away (Genesis 9:15). Instead, he sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the evil we do and thereby give us the promise  of reconciliation with Him (John 3:16; Romans 5:9).

We’ve seen this “mountain top high leads to valley low” before in the Bible.

58. Golden-CalfRemember Moses, spending 40 days and 40 nights on the mountaintop with God, who gave him the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets? When Moses began the long trek back to the Israelite community, as recorded in Exodus Chapter 32:7 (NIV), God said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”

Moses returned to the camp to see his countrymen dancing drunk around a golden cafe they made to worship. He was so angry, he smashed the two tablets.

Then, in Matthew 17, we see Jesus take three disciples with him to the mountaintop to witness the Transfiguration, where the LORD’s appearance was changed to reflect His glory. When He and the three disciples began their descent, it was to find a commotion among his remaining disciples and a man who had brought his epileptic son for healing.

Jesus was so distraught, He said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, … how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17 NIV)

58. Spiritual-GrowthThe mountain top may be where inspiration and emotion reign, but it’s only in the valleys that we encounter real life — that’s where the growth occurs.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL TELLS US that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, counsels us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV)

God gives us those blessed moments on the mountaintop to reassure us, to comfort us, and to pour His love and peace on us in an unhindered way. It’s really the closest to Heaven we experience in this world. It’s just a sample of what lies ahead.

God will take us to the mountaintop, but He doesn’t leave us there. He has work for us to do and work He has to do in our hearts to prepare us for those tasks that lie ahead. Paul tells us, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of  Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)58.Witnesses

Paul goes on to encourage us. “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?” (Philippians 2:1 NLT)

If that’s the case, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit from your time on the mountaintop, then go, you believer in Christ, as He calls you to minister to a world hungry for His message.

Leave the mountaintop and mingle with the world. “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4 CSB)

God wants us to leave the mountaintop and do the Kingdom work to which we are called: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8 GW)

Once He can show us the sin in our hearts and our total dependence on Him, then and only then can He use us as His ambassadors.

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PRAYER: Heavenly Father, too often we are content to stay on the mountaintop, where we can huddle with fellow believers, hear inspirational testimonies, praise You in song, and engage in spirited discussions, when the real work of Kingdom building is done in the valleys after we descend. Forgive us our hesitation to leave the good feeling of that peace — and thank You for allowing us that respite. Please quicken our hearts to engage the world with our witness with eagerness and humility. In Jesus Name, Amen