Choosing to Praise God in the Storm

In my last post, I talked about the importance of choosing to love your spouse.  Choosing to forgive.  Choosing to express gratitude.  Choosing to cherish each other and to “put in the work” of maintaining and improving relationships.  Love is a choice, not a feeling.

In the same way, we have the choice to praise God… even in the storms.  The Bible not only commands us to praise God at all times, but the act of praise itself draws us nearer to God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!  Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!  Give thanks to him; bless his name!  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-5

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”  Psalm 145:3

Rejoice in the Lord always!  I will say it again: Rejoice! […] Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:4-7   

In my Choosing to Love Your Spouse story, there is a picture of my husband in a butterfly habitat, gently holding a butterfly on his finger.  It reminded me the other day about the “butterfly people” many children witnessed during a devastating EF5 tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011.  It was the deadliest tornado to strike the U.S. since 1947, and the seventh deadliest overall.  After the storm, there were many miraculous accounts from young children about “butterfly people” (or possibly, angels) rescuing them from the tornadic winds, using their “wings” as protective cover and shelter. 

I was born in Joplin, my parents grew up there, and my grandparents were living in Joplin when the tornado hit.  My grandparents survived, thankfully, but their house was severely damaged and deemed uninhabitable.  Just a block away from them, entire rows of houses were completely leveled to the ground. 

Source: Wikipedia
A photo my brother took the day after the storm.  In the background, the cross of St. Mary’s Catholic Church stands unharmed, surrounded by rubble and debris.

My husband is a fire fighter/paramedic, and he drove from Texas to Joplin within hours after the tornado struck to help with search and rescue efforts.  I remember him saying it looked like a bomb had gone off in the town.  Nearly 8,000 homes were destroyed. 

My husband at my grandparents’ home the day after the storm.  Windows were shattered, the roof caved in inside the living room, and sharp metal objects pierced through some of the outside walls.

I remember listening to Casting Crowns’ song, Praise You In This Storm, over and over again during this time, as I prayed for my husband, my family, and for the town of Joplin.  In fact, the first time I ever heard Praise You In This Storm was after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, and my husband (then fiancé) had volunteered with search and rescue efforts for that storm too.

Sometimes it’s hard to praise God in the storm. 

It’s easy to praise God when things are going well.  When we’re healthy, happy, and unburdened.  But what about the times when we’re hit with unforeseen life struggles?  Illness.  Job loss.  Financial insecurity.  Death of a loved one.  Depression.  Tornadoes and Hurricanes.  Pandemics.  It’s a lot harder to praise God during the difficult times.

Yet, during hardship, that is when we need to increase our praise, because 1) God is always worthy of our praise, and 2) Praise draws us nearer to God.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression off and on throughout my life.  My most recent bout of depression hit me last Fall.  It crept up on me, unsuspectingly.  I remember not being able to bring myself to praise God during that time.  I wanted to.  But I couldn’t get the words out.  I couldn’t feel joy. 

If I turned on the Christian radio in my car, tears would instantly flow during every praise song.  Instead of joyfully singing along (which I was in the habit of doing), I could only listen to it numbly and sorrowfully.  I normally sang in the church choir every Sunday too, but during that period of depression, I couldn’t bring myself to participate.  I didn’t want people to know I was struggling.

I remember one Sunday morning, sitting in the congregation with a friend (my first Sunday worship service after having stayed away for two weeks), and I cried through the entire worship time.  I wanted to sing along, out of obedience to God, but I could barely whisper the words.  I wanted to lift my hands in praise, and I even tried a couple of times, but it felt as if a heavy weight was physically keeping my arms down at my sides.

I knew I wanted to praise God, and I wanted to feel His joy again.  But I came up empty.  I couldn’t find the words.  I didn’t have the strength.  So, instead, I cried out to God.  I cried out for help.  Asking Him to take the depression from me.  Praying for deliverance and restoration. 

Psalm 40:1-3 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

Notice how it says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.”  Sometimes we do end up falling into the pit, and sometimes we stay there for a while.  God recognizes that.  Sometimes there’s a gap and a “waiting period” before we can bring ourselves to stand firm and to praise again.

I believe that praising God doesn’t always involve joy; sometimes it can involve sadness and distress.  I believe that when we cry out to God, feeling lost and defeated, it’s a form of praise because it shows Him that we are seeking Him and needing Him.

God hears our cries.  And He heard mine.  Over time, God did deliver me from the (most recent) stronghold of depression.  It wasn’t overnight.  It was a gradual process.  A gradual renewing of my spirit.  My prayers of distress and weakness turned into prayers of praise, gratitude, and hope. 

It wasn’t long before I was able to sing along with the Christian radio in my car again and to sing with my choir.  Even during the hard days, I chose to praise.  I still experienced many tearful moments while singing those praise songs; but, over time, the tears of grief turned into tears of joy.

I relate so much to the Psalmist David, when he wrote:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”  Psalm 43:5

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  […]  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”  Psalm 13:2,5-6

If you’re in a storm right now… whatever storm it may be… I encourage you to choose to praise God and to turn to God.  It doesn’t have to be a joyful praise.  It can be a cry of anguish.  A cry for help.  Letting God know that you need Him, that you need His strength, and that you can’t go through this storm on your own. 

He hears our prayers.  Our prayers of joy and thankfulness, and our prayers of anguish and surrender— both are acts of praise.  Both demonstrate our need for Him and our dependence on Him.  It shows Him that we trust Him, no matter what, in the good and bad, and that we want to be near Him.  Near Him in our joy, and near Him in our sorrow. 

He hears you.  He sees you.  He is with you always.  And He delights in your praise and surrender. 

Amy

** Here are some songs that encourage praising God in the storm:

Praise You In This Storm by Casting Crowns

Yes, I Will by Vertical Worship

Oh My Soul by Casting Crowns

Even If by Mercy Me

Goodness of God by Bethel Music

I Know by Big Daddy Weave

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