Friends, there have been many things to grieve over in the past year and even this past week. We have much to process, talk about, and work together on, but in the chaos and rapidly changing circumstances, I wanted to take some time to share some encouragement too.
A couple days after Christmas, I was filled with so much hope… for the first time in a long time. As the new year approached, though, I felt like God put it on my heart to praise Him no matter what happened. That whatever was ahead in the new year, I was to praise Him through it no matter what it looked like.
So, here are three examples of times people praised God even when the circumstances around them were difficult. There are some encouraging songs at the end too 🙂
There are a lot of things I don’t know about life, but one thing I know with absolute certainty is that God is faithful. Be encouraged!
1. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah (2 Chronicles 20)
I love this story. King Jehoshaphat had just instituted reforms in Judah and turned the people back to God, then they were faced with an army described as a “great multitude” from other nations shortly after. Immediately, King Jehoshaphat turns to God and proclaims a fast throughout all of Judah, and the people gather together to fast and seek help from God.
Something to keep in mind here: not long before, the people were still worshiping other gods. Sometimes hard or scary circumstances cause people to turn back to their old comforts, but not here. Instead, all of Judah fasted and sought the Lord’s help, crying out to God and trusting Him:
“Power and might are in Your hand, so that no one can stand against You.” – 2 Chronicles 20:6
They also completely believed that God would hear their prayer:
“Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.” – 2 Chronicles 20:9
My absolute favorite part of the whole account is when they pray:
“…For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” – 2 Chronicles 20:12b
I have prayed that so many times over the past year: “Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” I love how much trust they had in God – that even though the circumstances were overwhelmingly beyond what they knew what to do with, they trusted God and were looking to Him.
Now in this case here, God planned to deliver them. I am sharing this example as an encouragement from their trust in God, but this doesn’t mean the outcome of our prayers will always be what we want. Even so, God’s ways are always best.
Judah trusted the word God had spoken to them, and they arose the next morning praising God on their way to face the great army that was headed towards them:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” – 2 Chronicles 20:21
Verse 22 says that when they began singing and praising, God moved on their behalf. The people of Judah made it through because they put their trust in God.
2. Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem (The book of Nehemiah)
The book of Nehemiah starts by explaining the remnant of Jews who had survived captivity were “in great distress” and the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down (1:3). Grieved by this, Nehemiah fasted and mourned for days, praying to God.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, and the king asked Nehemiah why he was so sad. Nehemiah continued praying to God, and the king allowed him and the people to go and rebuild Jerusalem.
What amazes me perhaps most about this story is how many obstacles the people faced as they went to rebuild the wall. There were men who rose up and were angry at their progress, so they mocked the people, they created false stories about the people, and they even sought to harm Nehemiah and those who were rebuilding the walls. They literally paid someone to falsely prophesy in an attempt to scare Nehemiah into sinning (6:10-13).
Each time, Nehemiah turned to God and then encouraged the people to do the same:
“When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome.’” – Nehemiah 4:14a
What also surprised me was that the people didn’t fully understand the extent of their sin and the truth of Scripture until the work to rebuild Jerusalem had already started. In chapter 8, Ezra and others are recorded reading and explaining the law to the people “so that they understood the reading.” (v. 8)
When the people began to realize how far they were and how much they had sinned, they were grieved and started weeping. This is when the leaders stopped them and said:
“Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’” – Nehemiah 8:10 (NASB)
Nehemiah goes on to say that the people confessed their sins, set their hearts back to God, acknowledged that the punishment given to them was done justly (9:33), and praised God for who He is. They chose to follow what God had commanded, and Nehemiah 12:43 says that they “rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.”
3. Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)
Friends, as much as we may want to believe that God being for us means we will escape bondage, captivity, or persecution, we must remember that sometimes the circumstances we want are different from what God has planned – and that’s ok!
Paul and Silas were in Macedonia preaching the gospel after a vision they had received to go there. While they were preaching, a girl who was held in bondage by a spirit continued crying out about Paul and Silas proclaiming the way of salvation (v. 17). Finally, Paul turns to the girl and commands the spirit to come out in the name of Jesus. The girl was free, but those who profited from her fortune-telling were angry and dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities.
Paul and Silas were beaten, thrown into prison, and had their feet locked in stocks… Not exactly the kind of welcome you might expect from a place God led you to go.
Nevertheless, Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns, and verse 25 says that “the prisoners were listening to them.”
Long story short, there was an earthquake that caused the prison doors to open and the prisoner chains fell off. This was much to the dismay of the jailer, who prepared to take his own life when he supposed the prisoners had all escaped. Paul and Silas stopped him, and the jailer asked what he needed to do to be saved.
Paul and Silas were both Romans, which meant the way they had been thrown into prison was unlawful. Even so, the prisoners heard of God and the jailer and his family were saved because Paul and Silas chose to trust and praise God, even while wrongfully in prison. What great examples of what God can do through tough circumstances when we trust Him!
Friends, let’s stay engaged. Don’t try to hide or distract yourself from what’s going on. We have to show people that Christianity isn’t what they are seeing in the news.
Let’s come together, humble ourselves, seek justice – for others, not ourselves – love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Let’s pray for our leaders earnestly whether we agree with them or not. Let’s learn how to serve more deeply, encourage one another, strengthen the weak and fainthearted, and spur one another to good works that truly reflect the heart of our Father. And let’s praise God through it, no matter what things look like around us. He is worthy to be praised regardless of our circumstances.
International friends, if you have it on your heart, please pray for the American church. I realize there are a million and one reasons to criticize us, but there are also many here who are on their knees seeking what God would have them do.
Here’s to our journey, friends.
Let’s praise God together each step of the way. Love you guys. 💛
Music for the journey:
Alive & Breathing by Matt Maher
O Praise Him (All This For A King) by David Crowder Band
Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham
Counting Every Blessing by Rend Collective
Reminders along the way:
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” – Romans 13:1-2 (NASB)
“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalms 46:10 (NKJV)