Kyle D Christensen, DC
I have a friend whose life is graced with joy. She smiles, laughs and carries with her, each time I see her, a radiance and lightness exuding her joyful countenance. Her life has not been an easy one. Her life, like yours and mine, fraught with ups and downs, challenges and setbacks, heartaches and disaster. I used to think maybe something was wrong with her. Maybe she was oblivious to all the negative swirling around her. Perhaps she was “touched” and just didn’t get it. Last month however, she shared with me a book – Power in Praise by Merlin Carothers, and now I get it. And I want what she has.
You see, too many of us Christians are not radiating the sweetness and joy that the gospel can bring. Too many of us (and I’m speaking primarily of myself) are so busy with our ‘nose to the grindstone’ and ‘our shoulder to the wheel’ that our enduring to the end is with gritted-teeth and grimacing faces. I look out at our worship services and I don’t see a sea of beaming happy faces. I see people who are tired, stressed, worried, anxious, and grieving. Yes, we love each other and happily greet each other, but we (me) perhaps are not experiencing the quality and quantity of joy that we could or should.
After all, the message of Jesus is that we have been redeemed from the Fall. Our sins and shortcomings can be forgiven. We can have put into us a new heart – one filled with peace, comfort, satisfaction, and joy. I know that I (personally) take life too seriously. I absolutely believe and strive to have Christ in my life and honestly desire to do only that which is right and pleasing to the Lord. But in so doing, (I’m too often) not enjoying my family, my relationships with others, and life as I should be or as I would like to. Like many of you, I’m TOO BUSY. Too busy doing too many good things – trying to provide for my family, trying to help my patients, trying to serve others.
In this marvelous little book, a well-hidden secret was revealed to my heart and soul. And like most mysteries from God, it is hidden in plain sight. The secret is that joy is only found in praising and thanking God. And not just for our blessings and the things that are good and right in our lives; but thanking God in all things. Yes, that means we should be thanking the Lord even for the heartaches, disappointments, and setbacks. Maybe, especially for those things.
We say we believe in God, but do we really believe He is mindful of the details of our lives? Or do we think He is off in some distant galaxy with more important business? The scriptures teach (and I testify and believe) that God is part of our lives, whether we think so or admit it. God really is in control of our lives and this world. This life, this world, is our schoolhouse. It is designed more like a one-room schoolhouse filled with people of all different levels on the continuum of development. Some are just beginning while others are refining their doctoral degrees. And in this setting, we are each expected to not only learn for ourselves, but to assist and help each other.
I believe that God allows or permits bad things to happen in life for our learning and growth, but more importantly to bring us to Him. Most of what we experience is due to, what I tell my kids ‘your own dumb fault’, the consequences of our decisions and behavior. Making good choices results in good consequences. Poor or selfish choices result in pain and struggle. Tragedy, heartache, and sadness should ultimately bring us to our knees and hopefully to God. The scriptures talk of having a broken heart and a contrite spirit. How can that be good?! Well, it is. Because when we come to God in deep humility, it is then that He can forgive us, heal us, and take our heart, change it, and return to us. A heart that is healed and filled with hope, joy, and promise.
If we can understand that joy can come into our lives only through a changed and healed heart, we should be more motivated to get there. As with so many things in life that are worthwhile, it requires persistent effort. The scriptures teach that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). This means that even the bad things are working towards your ultimate good; even the deaths, the disasters, the tragedies – all things. And if that is true, then shouldn’t we in an act of faith, praise and thank God even for, and especially for, those things that we don’t fully understand? Praising God expresses our acceptance for what has happened. Praise is Faith in Action.
To praise God is to express our acceptance of something that God is permitting to happen. Remember God is God and has the power to prevent anything bad that could happen. So if you have faith in God, you must have faith that He sees the bigger picture in your life. As the prophet Isaiah teaches, God’s thoughts and understanding is higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We see life from such a shallow and limited perspective compared to His. So to praise God for difficult situations, such as sickness or disaster, literally means that we have faith to accept what has happened, as part of God’s plan to reveal His perfect love for us.
The very act of praise and thanking God releases the power of God into our lives and enables God to change hearts (yours and others) and circumstances according to His will. The healing power of God that brings peace and joy to your heart, soul, and life is released when we begin to praise God for everything in our lives instead of pleading with Him to change the circumstances, the pain, or the memories and past traumas that have caused so much distress and pain. When we praise God, we thank Him FOR our situation, not in spite of it. As we praise God for our anxiety, worry, depression, and addictions, a sense of peace will slowly replace the old habits of fear, lusts, and unchecked desires.
In practice, you must commit and deliberately set out to practice joy, regardless of how you feel, trusting that God will go to work, transforming your sorrows into pure joy, just as He has promised. The source of joy is not to be found in happy circumstances, but in drawing your heart and mind to the Lord, knowing His commandments, obeying them, and abiding in Him.
Adopting a life of joy that wells up as an outgrowth of praise for most of us is a transitional process. As you begin to praise the Lord for your blessings as well as your hardships, please do not expect your heart and life to magically change the moment the words fall from your lips (yes, you will say it aloud). The prayer of praise is the highest form of communion with God, and one that always releases a great deal of power in our lives. Praising Him is not something we do because we feel good; rather, it is an act of faith and obedience. Often the prayer of praise is done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower; yet when we persist in it, somehow the power of God is released into us and into the situation. At first in a trickle perhaps, but later in a growing stream that finally floods us and washes away the old hurts and scars. Singing songs or hymns of praise are also effects ways to turning your heart and life to God and can open the windows of heavens peace, love and comfort.
When we can praise God with the faith that He is in charge and knows what He is doing in our life, then God’s power can be released not only in our own life, but this power can be infused into situations and circumstances that can bless others we love and care for as well.
I know this is hard doctrine and will be difficult for many to wrap their hearts and minds around. Those who are willing to give it a try and exert their faith really can and do find peace and joy. Far too many of us, as Christians, are not experiencing the joy in life that the gospel of Jesus Christ promises.
The very thing you think is painful proof of God’s absence from your life is in fact His living provision to draw you toward Him – so that your joy may be full.
Look up and praise Him! He loves you, and He dwells in the praises of His people!
Dr Kyle Christensen – May 2017
The principles and concepts shared in this article are expounded more fully in Merlin Carothers books, Power in Praise and Prison to Praise, which I heartily recommend to anyone who is serious about bringing more joy into their lives.