Praise God Submissively
Our words and actions always give praise to someone or something. As we walk beside our brothers and sisters, we have the wonderful privilege of encouraging them to live in praise to God. As we speak to them about the glory of their God, we will encourage them to speak to Him and to others about His glorious nature and acts. As we help them consider how their words and actions express praise to the persons or objects of their trust and meditation, we will help them to consider their conduct and live for new reasons and in new ways, bringing praise to God. As we help them praise God in the midst of the changes that crisis and suffering call on them to make, we will assist them to reorganize their lives with the goal of bringing praise to God in the midst of the new opportunities and limitations.
Crisis, by its very nature, demands change. Increased temptations usually accompany the arid regions of life. In addition, suffering frequently comes with new limitations that demand significant life adjustments. Evaluating the praise of our brothers and sisters in Christ means that we will take the time to work with them in order to help them see the increased temptations and evaluate the changes that crisis and suffering demand. We can then help them to develop new ways of living that bring glory to God. What will Christlikeness look like in Pam’s life as she adjusts to life in a wheelchair after being struck by a drunk driver? How should Tim continue to manifest Christ in his life after his traumatic brain injury? In what ways can Ethan bring praise to his God, even as his body is robbed of function continually and increasingly by the horror of ALS? How can Walt bring praise to his God while he is unemployed and searching for a new job?
Listening and Asking Careful Questions. In times of increased suffering and crisis, we must always learn of and consider the temptations, opportunities, and limitations that the new situations bring into the lives of our brothers and sisters. Once again, we must listen and ask thoughtful questions. What did Linda’s doctor say to her about how she should expect to feel when she returns to work following back surgery? How does Jacob feel as he sits in the stands watching his teammates finish the season without him, knowing that he will never play football again because of his knee injury? What are the daily trials Mike faces as he seeks to adjust to raising his four young children after the unexpected death of his wife? What seemingly insurmountable challenges is Carol facing as she seeks to live her life without her husband of fifteen years since his death in the service of his country?
Researching Others in Similar Circumstances. We can learn about the limitations that our fellow believers face by researching the stories and reading the biographies of others who have faced similar circumstances. We can also learn from those who give their lives to study individuals who suffer from a particular limitation or disease. This research will help us ask informed questions and watch with eyes better trained to anticipate possible limitations and pitfalls. Here we can benefit from the descriptions of suffering and limitations that come to us even from secular authors. We can learn from the descriptions while always reinterpreting the conclusions and analyses through a biblical lens. For example, what does the American Heart Association say about people’s responses post heart surgery? What can we learn from the biography of the wife of a husband with traumatic brain injury? How can the Muscular Dystrophy Association help us anticipate what parents might experience as they care for their daughter afflicted by this horrible disease? As we walk beside our brothers and sisters in the midst of the wilderness, we must love them enough to give time to learning from others about their situations.
Encouraging Praise of God
As we assist our brothers and sisters to make the changes that God is calling them to make in the midst of their sufferings, we must hold before ourselves and them the glorious truth of Hebrews 13:15 and 16.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Rejoicing in God’s Work in the Lives of Our Fellow Believers. As we encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to seek earnestly after their God and to capture their thoughts with truth about their God, the words of praise they speak and their acts of praise should not surprise us. When we hear their words and witness their acts of praise, we should rejoice with them at God’s work in their lives. We should point them to the glorious truth that their simple, even at times mundane, words of praise and acts of obedience in the midst of their pain are, in fact, sacrifices of praise that bring glory to God. When Dan greeted his wife’s surgeon with a smile and a thank you even though there were some surgical complications, Dan gave a sacrifice of praise to his God. When Pam, dying of cancer herself, called her friend, Brenda, to cry with her and read Scripture with her after Pam learned of Brenda’s cancer diagnosis, Pam offered a sacrifice of praise to her God. We must be quick to celebrate these humble sacrifices of praise offered by our brothers and sisters to God.
Considering the Words and Ways of Our Fellow Believers. All who suffer face times of uncertainty about how to live in the face of new limitations. During these times, we will humbly and gently help our brothers and sisters to consider their words and their ways. We will hold before them this essential truth—every word we speak and every action of our lives must be done in submission to God and for His glory. We do not speak words of praise and act in obedience to God just so we can receive the benefits of obedience. Otherwise, those benefits will become our new gods and receive the glory from our words and actions. We speak words of praise and act in obedience because God is glorified by this.
As we hold this glorious hope before our brothers and sisters, we will help them connect their words and actions to their meditation. We will help them find words and deeds that bring glory to God, reflecting His attributes and acts. We will encourage them to fulfill the routine responsibilities that are within their ability as acts of praise to God. We will help them in practical ways to answer the question, “How can I reflect the character of my God in this situation, bringing praise to Him?” We will patiently help Janice to see how her life can continue to magnify her God even though she is confined to a wheel chair after being injured in a boating accident. We will spend time talking with Kendra about how she can reflect God’s lovingkindness to her coworkers as together they deal with a new abrasive boss. We will help Alex consider the ways his words can reflect confidence in God’s justice and mercy as he testifies at the trial of the drunk driver who killed his wife and severely injured him.
Prizing Routine Obedience as Part of God’s Work. We will help all of our brothers and sisters to prize routine obedience as a part of God’s glorious work, helping us to look more and more like members of His family. Here all of the pursuits of Psalm 63 come to full expression. We turn from our own desires to seek after and thirst for God alone. We give hearts and minds to learning about and meditating on the character and work of our God. We then offer our bodies as living sacrifices, reflecting the character and glory of God in the midst of our pain and suffering.
Praising God Daily. We should help our brothers and sisters engage in activities that will help them praise God with the whole of their lives. Once again, here are some suggestions.
- Read 2 Samuel 14-18. How do David’s words and actions bring praise to God as he fled from Absalom into the wilderness? How can you follow in David’s footsteps of praise?
- Read the accounts of Christ’s crucifixion in the Gospels. How does your Savior bring praise to God? How does this transform your praise in the wilderness based on His work on the cross for you?
- Write out a brief prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. Seek to use Psalm 63 and other psalms as a pattern for your prayer.
- Where do your conversations with God and others need to change? Make a list of the ways that your conversations should become a better reflection of God. Begin to put your commitments into practice.
- Make a list of the blessings of God in your life. Spend time in prayer each day, thanking God for His blessings.
- What simple responsibilities have you neglected in the wilderness? List two or three and begin to do them again this week as an act of submissive praise to God.
- What acts of love and kindness should you do for others this week? Whom will you serve and how? Plan the person, the act of kindness, and the time.
Concluding Thoughts: Fixing Our Eyes on Christ
Dick sat in his chair looking back at the face of his pastor with great emotion in his voice. “I just can’t take it anymore. I have tried and tried, but it is just not working. Debbie is still threatening to leave me every time she gets angry. Pastor, I have asked her forgiveness for my angry outbursts of the past. I have been trying to love her like Christ loved the church. I have sought to respond to angry words and threats with humble, soft words of love. When she has seen sin in my life, I have confessed it and tried to change, even though she confronts me with screaming and nagging. I have tried to help her around the house, but often times just moments after she thanks me for my help, she turns around and demands more. I’m not sure I can take it any more. It’s just not working.”
Pastor Thune and Dick had met regularly since Dick came to the Lord two years ago. His wife Debbie rejected Christ and continues to reject Christ. At times, she expresses her rejection of Christ in angry outbursts towards Dick. Pastor Thune looked compassionately at Dick with an ache in his heart for this battered and bruised sheep. He spoke with a gentle, but urgent reply.
Dick, I want you to see what I have been seeing in your life. In these last months, I have seen Christ at work in you. I have seen you turn from the temptations to seek escape and control and instead seek after God. I have seen you move from fear to trust as you have given yourself to learning more of your glorious God. Dick, I have seen you show the love of Christ to your wife in ways that can only be explained by the grace of God. I know you are weary. I know you are hurting but, Dick, I want you to know that from my perspective, all of this is working in your life. I know Debbie continues to reject Christ and, at times, yell at you, but I also know that you look more like Christ today than you did when we sat crying in my office two years ago. I see His image in you more clearly than I have ever seen it before. Dick, it is working. In the midst of this dark wilderness as you have hungered for God and fixed your thoughts on Him, I have seen you be like Christ before Debbie. I have seen you be like Christ before me. Dick, you look more like a child of God today than you did in the past. His victory on the cross is becoming your victory, as you die daily to self and live for Him.
The Correct Measure of Success—Growth in Holiness. In this moment of time, Pastor Thune drew Dick’s heart to his Savior and gave him hope to continue to grow in his dependence on God. This hope that Pastor Thune held before Dick carried a beauty and glory even the psalmist David did not know. As believers after the cross, we stand in a privileged position. Christ Himself transformed the very nature of suffering. In Him, we still suffer, but now in our suffering, we share in His suffering and grow to reflect His image and glory as we grow in our dependence on Him.
Christ’s suffering demonstrated His holiness; our suffering, endured with dependence on Him, results in our growth in holiness (Heb. 5:1-10). In suffering, Christ calls us brothers. He walks with us side by side on the path of suffering. We share a common suffering with His brothers and sisters—our brothers and sisters—as we journey through the wilderness (Heb. 2:5-8). His absolute victory over the temptations which are always present in the wilderness qualified Him to be our tender, compassionate, Great High Priest. We no longer must approach God, as David did, through a sinful high priest on the basis of the temporary covering of bulls and goats. But, on the basis of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, the creator God—our God—invites us—His children—to come into His very presence with confidence, knowing He will respond graciously and mercifully with help at just the right time (Heb. 4:11-16). Coming before Him, following Him, and depending on Him always work because, even though our circumstances and the circumstances of our fellow believers may not improve and at times may worsen, together we will always grow to be more like Him when we seek Him alone, capture our thoughts with thoughts of Him, and live our lives as sacrifices of praise to Him.
Finally, Christ’s victory assures us of certain and final victory. Through faith, we share in His victory over the wilderness (1 Cor. 15:1-58). He is remaking us into His image (Rom. 8:18-30). As we encourage our brothers and sisters to glance back across their wilderness paths, they will see the progress that time walking with Him has produced in them. His Spirit dwells within them and us—the guarantee of our eternal abundant life with Him (Eph. 1:13, 14). Even in His discipline, He reminds them and us of His loyal love for us. He is our faithful Father, loving us enough to pursue us until we find ourselves safely at the end of our wilderness journey—in His presence forever (Heb. 12:1-11). Until then, we must give ourselves to Him and to His people, helping His people walk the path of suffering in the arid regions of this life’s wilderness, …
… seeking only Him;
… meditating on Him;
… and living lives of sacrificial words and acts of praise offered humbly before Him.
Jeff Newman, (D. Min., Westminster Theological Seminary) is a professor of Biblical Counseling at Faith Baptist Bible College. He and his family live in Ankeny and are active members of Altoona Regular Baptist Church in Altoona.