“! will extol the LORD at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.” (Psalm 34:1)
There are times when praise comes naturally to our lips: when we hear good news, when we receive answers to prayer, or simply when we are relaxing and looking on the beauties of God’s creation.
But what if… times are hard? What if the news brought to us is of failure, dashed hopes, or even death? What if we have to live day in, day out, with frustration and disappointment? When a child goes off the rails, when a beloved parent is sinking into dementia, when we are simply worn down with the daily grind of life… can we still be as fervent in our worship and our praise? These are the times when we discover what it really means to offer a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).
What makes God worthy of our praise? Is it just what He does for us – or is it who He is? Whether things are going well or badly for us, He is the same; we need to broaden our horizons beyond our own personal concerns and contemplate “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17) .
“Pray continually.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)
“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Whereas it is easier to praise God in the good times, most of us find it easier to remember to pray when we need His help!
But if we are going to cultivate our relationship with our heavenly Father, we need to spend time with Him and share more than just our wants and needs. Prayer should be our ‘default option’. We cannot be praying literally every minute of the day, but we can cultivate an attitude of dependence on God and an awareness of His presence, so that we are ready to communicate with Him at any moment. Every problem, every setback, every cause of anxiety is an opportunity to pray – but so also is every hope, every plan and every success!
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4)
We are not commanded to be happy all the time; our feelings are not under our control. There are times when it is appropriate to mourn (Romans 12:15): even Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:33-35).
Yet we are specifically commanded to rejoice when we are suffering. It is not that we are to find some perverse pleasure in experiencing pain (we are not to be masochists!), but that we are to look above and beyond our present circumstances to eternal realities. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:13).
Paul wrote these words when in prison. He is not advocating escapism, but realism – a recognition that God is greater than our circumstances, and that our relationship with Him is eternal and indestructible. Is that alone not a reason to rejoice?