Last Sunday, the service was a day of prayer for persecuted Christians. We considered that persecution against Christians is not new, but is troubling nonetheless. We prayed for those currently facing mistreatment because of their faith, that they would be able to remain strong in their faith. We also prayed for ourselves that we will be dedicated to spiritual growth so that if persecution experienced elsewhere in the world begins to affect us, we will be able to be strong in our Christian faith. We also prayed for the ones doing the persecuting, that that they would change and follow Jesus.
Until then, troubled times will continue. That is the theme in today’s message as we consider the call to praise God in troubled times. A call that features some benefits of praising God when times are tough.
There are five benefits to be mentioned, each with a Biblical example. The first is that God will fight for us when we praise Him.
A thought behind this benefit is that God will fight for us when we place our full trust in Him. To do that, we have to stop worrying and trying to fix our problems on our own. But doing that allows God to step in. We need to be ready to give the glory to God and praise His power and faithfulness, trusting that God is working for our good in all things.
A Biblical example of that is recorded in II Chronicles 20. In that chapter, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, was about to face a great army. He and his army were to be up against a very strong force.
The situation caused Jehoshaphat to fear, which led him to pray and call a fast, the purpose being to seek help from God.
God’s answer came through a religious leader, who announced that Jehoshaphat and the people he led were not to fear because the coming battle was not theirs, but God’s.
God’s plan was that the next day, the army with Jehoshaphat would move toward the approaching enemy, which would cause the enemy to come faster. The battle would soon begin. However, added the one stating God’s plan, the people of God would not do any fighting. Instead, they would simply stand and watch God take care of the enemy by Himself.
The report of course sounded strange, but after praying a prayer and then getting some rest that night, the next day Jehoshaphat led his army toward the enemy force, whereupon he did two things. He encouraged his people to believe the word of God, promising success if they did. And he appointed singers to go before the army with the lyrics, “Give thanks to God, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
Verse 22 of II Chronicles 20 records that when the choir began to sing and praise, God set an ambush against the enemy, which was routed. The enemy army and a nearby town were destroyed. There were dead bodies all around. The spoils of the battle - a battle God had waged by Himself - included cattle, clothing, and precious things. There was so much loot it took three days to carry it all away. For Judah, there was rejoicing and a renewed desire to follow God.
Remember the point. When we praise God, He will fight for us. That is what happened in II Chronicles. That is what happens even now.
Of course, maybe God would have helped Jehoshaphat anyway. But we know God did help His people when they did praise Him, which is a challenge even now for us. Even in difficult times - even when we are faced with enemies - may we praise God, including with the words, “Give thanks to God, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
God will fight for us when we praise Him. Second, God will protect us when we praise Him.
A thought behind this benefit is that God wants to be our shelter from whatever storms we face. He wants to be our refuge in all our times of trouble. The challenge is for us to turn our hearts to God, trusting Him and praising His name, thereby finding spiritual peace that passes all understanding.
That teaching is found in Psalms 5 and 64.
Psalm 5 begins with the request from David that God hear his pleas and his groanings, that God not listen to liars and other evildoers, but reward him and others who love the LORD.
Here is verse 11. “But let all who take refuge in You [in God] rejoice. Let them ever sing for joy. Defend them, that they may exalt You.”
Verse 12. “For God blesses the righteous [those who, among other things, praise Him, no matter what]. God covers the righteous with favor like a shield.”
Psalm 64 is another Psalm of David. Another request for God to hear his prayers. The word he used in Psalm 63 is “complaint.” A phrase he used is “dread of the enemy.” The word and phrase suggest a troubled time for David.
David continued that thought, referring to “secret plots,” “a cunningly conceived plot,” “evildoers,” “scheming,” and “ambush.”
But he then acknowledged God’s protection. “God will shoot His arrow at the evildoers and wound them. God will bring them to ruin.”
Verse 10. “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord.” Remember the benefit God promises. That God will protect us when we praise Him. “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in Him.” How good to have God as our protector. How good to rely on Him as a place of safety. “Let all the upright in heart glory.”
We are to praise God, even in difficult times. When we do that, He will fight for us and protect us. Third, praising God will refresh and renew our spirits.
Here is the thought behind this benefit. When the trials of life leave us worn out and weary, singing God’s praises will fill our hearts with joy. That will not take away our problems, but it will help us put them in perspective, as in knowing they are no match for God’s power, which should refresh and renew our spirits.
How can we praise? Maybe listen to a worship song or hymn. Maybe sing along. We will do that at the close of today’s service. Maybe pray along with a favorite Psalm of praise. How about looking around and praising God for all the beauty you see?
A call for that is found in Psalm 28, which is another writing of David.
In the Psalm, David again asked God to hear his prayers. He added that he worshiped God, which was a point in his favor.
In verse 7, David explained what it means to rely on God for refreshment and renewal. He wrote, “God is my strength and my shield. In Him my heart trusts, so I am helped [refreshed and renewed]. My heart exults.” That could not and would not happen without refreshment and renewal. “And with my song I give thanks to Him.” Giving thanks is part of praising God, even in troubled times.
When we praise God, even in difficult times, He will fight for us. He will protect us. Our spirits will be refreshed and renewed. Those are three benefits we who are Christians will receive.
Another benefit goes to God. Praise gives God a gift and an offering, which is based on this thought. Praise is not only a command, but a gift we give to God. It is a sacrifice we make, especially when we do not feel like praising. But get this. The more we praise God - the more we give him that gift - the more we will benefit. The more we will be filled with God’s love. The more we will want to share Him with others, which is also a gift to Him.
The call to do that is given in Hebrews 13.
In the last half of the chapter, there are several instructions.
For instance, obey and submit to church leaders. There is a reason. Church leaders are responsible for keeping watch over souls. That is also a challenge to church leaders to keep watch. We who are leaders will give account.
Those who first read the Book of Hebrews were also to pray for the author of the letter. Perhaps that can be extended to church leaders, that all leaders will have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
But listen to verses 15 and 16. “Through Him [Jesus] let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” In addition, “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Remember the benefit. Praising God, even in difficult times, is a gift and offering to Him. That is a teaching in Hebrews 13.
But guess what. As mentioned, honoring God promises rewards for those who do the praising. As the chapter draws to a close, the rewards include peace, being able to do God’s will, thereby pleasing Him, and grace.
We are to praise God, in easy times and difficult times alike. When we do, He will fight for us, protect us, and refresh and renew our spirits. In addition, our praising will be gifts to God. Sacrifices to Him. Gifts and sacrifices that will provide us yet another benefit. It will open our eyes to God’s blessings.
When we are under fire, it can be difficult to notice the blessings of God because our focus is so easily on our problems. However, if we will take at least some time to go ahead and praise God, He promises to help us see His blessings. If not current blessings, then future ones, which was the case in Deuteronomy 8.
Deuteronomy tells of part of the time the people of God were in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The people had escaped slavery in Egypt, which was a good thing, but they had traveled for quite a while, which at times had been a struggle. God had always provided for the needs of His people, but they were tired of the journey.
Listen to verses 6 through 10 of Deuteronomy 8. “You shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God.” That included all His commandments, including the Ten Commandments He had, just a few chapters earlier, given to Moses to give to all the people of God.
Keep His commandments by “walking in His ways and by fearing Him.” That includes praising Him. For those at the time of Deuteronomy, doing so even in the wilderness. For us, even in difficult times.
Listen to the reward. “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land.” It had not happened yet, but it would. That was the promise. A land of “brooks of water and fountains and springs.” A land of crops of “wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey.” A land in which they would “eat bread without scarcity.”
Going on, “You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God [you shall praise Him] for the good land He” will have given you.
For us, we will not receive a new land. We already have a land. But everything we need to prosper? Those blessings are all around us. When we praise God, we will be able to see and give thanks for the Lord’s blessings. It is therefore worth praising God.
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Praise God, even in difficult times. That is what we are called to do. The benefits of doing so are many. God will fight for us, protect us, and refresh and renew our spirits. Our praises will be gifts to God. Sacrifices to Him. And our praising will open our eyes to God’s blessings.
In a moment, a couple praise songs to close this service. Before that, a story to remind us who the audience of our praises is to be.
The story is about a famous violinist who performed at a concert hall. As he stood before the packed house that night and played his violin, he mesmerized the audience with his great skill. As he lifted his bow off the string on his final note, the hall erupted with thunderous applause and he was given a standing ovation.
The violinist looked at the crowd for a moment and walked off the stage, only to return to play an encore performance. To the amazement of the masses gathered there that night, his encore performance was even more beautiful and flawless than the first number.
The violinist looked to the audience and left the stage for the second time, but was beckoned back by the deafening roar of the multitudes that once again stood to their feet. He gave yet another encore number, leaving the audience fumbling for words that could describe what their ears had just experienced.
This sequence was repeated several more times until finally the great virtuoso finished his piece, looked to the audience, nodded his head, and walked off the stage while the loud cheering could still be heard long after he left.
Reporters pressed outside the violinist’s dressing room, waiting to catch a word from the man who had just given the performance of a lifetime. As he emerged from the room, one reporter asked the question, “Sir, why did you give so many encore performances? You could have stopped after the first and everyone would have been amazed.”
The violinist replied, “For the very first time in my career, my master, the one who taught me to play the violin, was in the audience. When I finished my performance, everyone stood - except for him. I played again, and everyone stood to applaud - except for him. I continued to play. On the conclusion of the last encore, I looked into the seats and I noticed that everyone, including my master, was standing and applauding. It was only then I was satisfied that I had done a good job.”
When we praise God, who are we - who are you - who am I - trying to please? May our focus never be on impressing other people. May we instead strive always to satisfy God.
Let’s sing a couple praise songs, a couple verses each, doing so to please God. We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer and O How Glorious, Full of Wonder, the first and last verse of each.
We praise Thee, O God,
our Redeemer, Creator;
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring.
We lay it before Thee,
we kneel and adore Thee,
We bless Thy holy name,
glad praises we sing.
With voices united
our praises we offer,
And gladly our songs of true worship we raise.
Thy strong arm will guide us,
our God is beside us,
To Thee, our great Redeemer,
forever be praise.
O how glorious, full of wonder
Is Your name o’er all the earth;
You who wrought creations’s splendor,
Bringing suns and stars to birth!
Rapt in rev’rence we adore You,
Marv’ling at Your mystic ways,
Humbly now we bow before You,
Lifting up our hearts to praise.
O how wondrous, O how glorious
Is Your name in ev’ry land!
Your great purpose moves before us
Toward the goal that You have planned.
’Tis Your will our hearts are seeking,
Conscious of our human need.
Spirit in our spirit speaking,
Make us one with You indeed!
For today’s benediction, one more song. Doxology.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.