1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This week, these two passages have been teaching me something very important about faith in Christ: We can’t wait for our circumstances or our “feelings” to change so that we can praise the Lord and trust in His power.
Last week contained a particularly challenging day for no particular reason, and it was really hard to feel God in those strange moments. The next day, I had a wonderful, uplifting conversation with a friend, and one thing that we talked about was the verse in Romans 7. We talked about how Paul deeply felt his sin and his despair, but immediately acknowledged hope and praise in the Lord. He knew he was unworthy, but also knew that his deliverance is through Christ! And he didn’t hesitate getting from the “I’m terrible” to the “Thank you God for being great!” To imitate Paul (he talks throughout many of his letters about imitating him) means to see our sins but to see Jesus as greater than our sins AND praise Him.
Often times, I wait to praise God until I feel “ready”, either emotionally ready or ready based on my circumstances. I think many people don’t go to church, read their bibles, or pray when they don’t “feel” like doing it, and don’t worry, I get caught in this trap frequently, especially with regards to reading my bible. We don’t praise God or give thanks in the midst of hard times or bad moods because we aren’t “feeling” the positive energy. And yet, Paul didn’t say “and then I felt Jesus’s power and felt like praising him, so I say…”. No, he just does it.
Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” He doesn’t give any qualifiers there about the mood we should be in when we rejoice, pray, and praise God. We should be doing these things always, but it isn’t saying we should always be in the perfect mood for it! Instead, we should be doing it always, regardless of our mood or how we feel in the moment.
[I also want to add the excuse of “I’m not feeling God right now”, because I think it is in the same camp sometimes. I think it’s very easy to not pray or stop praying because our prayers aren’t helping us “feel” the Lord. But just because we don’t FEEL God’s presence doesn’t mean He isn’t with us; He promises throughout scripture that he is with us always, and that means when we feel him or not. See a quote from The Screwtape Letters at the end].
Early this week, I was reading through some of the Psalms, and I read through the short Psalm 13, and I realized the Psalmist (David) has the same attitude as Paul. David sounds like he is not feeling God’s comfort, he is distressed about what is happening in his life, and he wants to hear an answer from God. But the Psalm doesn’t have a verse that says “Then David heard God and he praised him…” or “But David felt up to…” or anything like that. No, David praised God regardless of what he was feeling. He acknowledged his salvation was from the Lord and he praised God for his goodness and unfailing love, even when it was difficult to do so in his situation.
I want to be the kind of person who turns right to trusting God in every circumstances, especially when turning to God, praying, and thanking Him is the last thing that I feel like doing. I want to be like Paul, David, and so many others who didn’t wait for their circumstances to change to praise God and trust Him. I’m thanking God now for His goodness (in the relatively easy moments), and I pray that I can always and constantly be rejoicing in Him in EVERY situation.
*The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is a collection of letters from one of Satan’s men to another to coach the younger devil (his nephew) into being more effective at keeping people from God, who is referred to as the Enemy in the letters. This is what he tells his nephew about prayer. (This is the whole book online for free, if you are interested: http://www.truechristianity.info/en/the_screwtape_letters.php)
The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love” and indulged “a sense of supplication”. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.