It’s pretty easy to praise when something good happens. You realize that God protected you from an accident, or that He made things line up just right to get a better job. Or you just feel happy and blessed and that bubbles out in praise.
But what about when things don’t make sense and you’re studying and trying to find answers in the Bible but they don’t seem to be there? Or when something bad is happening and you know that there are commands to be joyful even in trials but you just don’t feel happy? Or when something happens to a friend and you don’t know the full story, but you’re upset along with them? Maybe praise is the farthest thing from your mind and instead you just feel confused, angry, or betrayed.
Or what about the times when you take an objective look at your life, everything seems to be going well, but you still feel anxious or depressed? Sometimes the things we’re struggling with are inside our heads, and from the outside it looks like everything’s going great. How do you praise God in those moments, when you’re not sure why you feel terrible and when you might even feel guilty for struggling because God has blessed you so richly?
When we feel confusion, hurt, anger, or anything else that makes it hard to praise God we often also feel distant from Him. God didn’t go anywhere, so it’s up to us to reach out to Him and ask Him to help us feel His presence again. I touched on this topic years ago when I wrote about a breakup and MercyMe’s song “Even If” and also in another study about Lamentations 3. But those were more about hope and trust, and today I want to talk about praise when things don’t make sense to us.
Right now, I’m not in a season of my life where I feel super confused about what God is doing. Rather, I’m in a place where I can look back at times where I was confused and realize, “Oh, that’s what was going on.” For years, I’d been going through cycles of praying to God for a husband, going to Him for comfort with a broken heart, and asking if I should give up that dream because it didn’t seem like He was going to work things out for me to get married. And now here I am, getting married in just a few weeks and buying a house and talking about having kids. God didn’t work this out on the timeline I was expecting, but He worked it out better even than I expected; I still catch myself marveling at how good this relationship is and how happy I am with him.
It’s interesting looking back on how hopeless and confused I felt sometimes, knowing now how God was going to work things out. I do believe God allows us free will, and I’m not sure how much of this He had planned exactly, but it sure seems like He was working things out for me and my husband to be together. I want to remember this the next time I wonder what God is doing and why He hasn’t fixed things yet.
Then I thought, “I will appeal to this:Psalm 77:10-12, WEB
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember Yah’s deeds;
for I will remember your wonders of old.
I will also meditate on all your work,
and consider your doings.
Over and over in the Bible, we’re admonished to remember. “Remember all Yahweh’s commandments, and do them,” “remember all the way which Yahweh your God has led you,” and that “your God redeemed you” (Num. 15:39; Deut. 8:2, 15:15 WEB). “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus,” “remember the former days, in which, after you were enlightened,” and “remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets and the commandment of us” (Acts 20:35; Heb. 10:32; 2 Pet. 3:2 WEB). Our memory of God’s goodness and faithfulness thus far gives us the hope needed to trust and praise Him when we’re in a season where we don’t know why He’s working the way He is.
We Don’t Know The Full Measure
I feel like a lot of times, we can trace our fears, anger, confusion, and frustrations back to not understanding what God is doing. Deep down, we might feel like it’d be a whole lot easier to trust Him if He’d just explain Himself clearly. But God didn’t design us to be all-knowing; I doubt our human minds could handle a fraction of the information we’d need to truly understand things. When we realize that, sometimes we can flip the feeling of frustration with not knowing everything over into awe of the God who does know everything.
But I will always hope,Psalm 71:14-15, WEB
and will add to all of your praise.
My mouth will tell about your righteousness,
and of your salvation all day,
though I don’t know its full measure.
Psalm 71 is a prayer for protection, asking God not to disappoint you when you run to Him for refuge. There are people in the psalmist’s life hinting that God has forsaken him, but he calls on God to prove them wrong. Verse 15 caught my eye (and gave me the idea for this study) because of the psalmist’s promise to speak of God’s righteousness and salvation even though they don’t fully understand it.
The topic of voicing truths about God when you don’t understand what He’s doing makes me think of Job. God described him as a righteous man at the beginning of the book, but Job still went through horrible trials and the people who should have comforted him instead wanted to diagnose his moral failings. Job and his friends all missed that there was something else going on in the background that they didn’t understand. In the end, Job didn’t get answers to the questions that he’d asked God. Instead, God showed up in person to tell him that he didn’t know the full measure of what was going on (see my post “The Central Question of Job: A Broader Perspective On Suffering“).
Much like Job, we might not always understand why tough things are happening. We might go back and forth trying to figure out possible reasons. Sometimes it might actually be because we did something wrong and we need a wake-up call to change (which is what Job’s friends thought was going on there). Sometimes we might be trying to force our own will on a situation where we need to let go and let God work it out in His timing. Sometimes bad things happen because we live in a fallen world that’s imperfect and is full of other imperfect people who hurt us, intentionally or accidently. And sometimes there might be something going on in the background that we’re ignorant of (which is what was actually happening in Job’s story). No matter what the root cause, it’s important to seek God during these times.
Your hands have made me and formed me.Psalm 119:73-76, WEB
Give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments.
Those who fear you will see me and be glad,
because I have put my hope in your word.
Yahweh, I know that your judgments are righteous,
that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Please let your loving kindness be for my comfort,
according to your word to your servant.
We can echo this psalmist in praying for understanding so we can obey God’s commandments, hope in his word, and trust in his righteousness. But we also need to make peace with the fact that we won’t always understand everything. That can be challenging for those of us whose relationship with God is largely intellectual, but it’s a truth we need to acknowledge if we’re going to make it past our own egos and have a humble relationship with God.
Balancing Humility and Knowledge
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, one of the things he addressed in his first letter was a debate they were having regarding whether it was okay to eat meat that had been sacrificed in an idol’s temple, then sold in the market. The reminder he gives his readers for that topic is a good one to keep in mind for other situations as well.
With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know.1 Corinthians 8:1-2, NET
Because God is working with us, we have a certain amount of knowledge. We can even say with accuracy that we know more than most people in the world, at least about the things of God (Ps. 119:99). We certainly shouldn’t devalue the knowledge we have or give up on deepening our knowledge of God (for example, Paul tells us to worship and sing praises with our understanding as well as our spirits/hearts [1 Cor. 14:15]). But we still only “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12, NET). We need to let the understanding God has blessed us with remind us to be humble before Him.
We need to strike a healthy balance between humility and knowledge. It shouldn’t really be all that difficult; the more we really know about and understand God the more our relationship with Him should inspire true humility in us. And this isn’t just something Paul talked about. Peter’s letters also remind us that humility is vital before God and that He grants deep knowledge to His people.
And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:5-7, bolt italics a quote from Prov 3:34
May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.2 Peter 1:2-3, NET
It can be frustrating to feel like things aren’t going the way you hoped or planned. It can be equally frustrating to feel like you don’t know what’s going on or aren’t sure what you should do next. It might even make us angry (if you’re struggling with anger or have in the past, I recommend checking out this thought provoking Truth Be Told podcast episode). Through whatever it is we’re struggling with or that we’re questioning, we need to remember the big picture.
God is in control. He is trustworthy now and in the future, just like He’s been trustworthy since the beginning of time. It’s okay for us not to know the “full measure;.” We don’t really need all the answers now. Let’s do our best to balance our knowledge (and our desire for knowledge) with humility to obey and trust God while also hoping in His promises and praising Him with all our hearts and minds.
Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns