By Pastor David M. Choi
For many of us, we don’t feel like praising God or turning our hearts to Him in worship. Not necessarily because we are directly affected, but because we see no explicit reason to. It’s in such periods of testing that our response of worship, or a lack thereof, reveals the true nature of our faith.
We think we are strong, when in reality we are weak. We think we are healthy, when in reality we are sick. We think we are good samaritans, when in reality we can think little of anyone except ourselves. The moments of crises come so that God would show us the way again. And it’s the moments of crises that God uses, because frankly our stubbornness is such that little else will shake us and wake us out of our indolence.
We are so spiritually dead that oftentimes the best remedy – the only remedy – is for us to learn the hard way. But when we should be tempted to think that God’s contempt for us is being shown in this, we need to understand that it’s not contempt for us but the sin in us. It’s a contempt that we are not holy as God has called us to be. In truth, the Lord disciplines us because He loves us (Heb. 12:6).
It is no evil for God to use and send upon us sufferings whether it be in the form of disease, heartache, or broken dreams. All things are working together for the good of those who love (Rom. 8:28). He chastens us because we are His children. The evil would be for God to not use those things to bring us to towards their good end, namely, Himself. But even that has to be understood loosely since whatever God chooses to do or not do would be totally within His divine prerogative, even if that means leaving us to ourselves and letting us suffer alone and stew in our own misery.
God has no obligation to be good towards those who have consistently violated their calling to holiness and worship. There would be no evil in this. But it’s precisely because God does not deal with us according to our failures that His glory appears so brightly in our lives. He is faithful in an infinite number of ways in every millisecond of our existence.
We tend to praise God only for what can be seen in our lives, like having good health or getting high marks in school. But if we’re honest, we still tend to take the credit for such things, as we credit them to our youth or our intelligence. Thus, praise really becomes lip service because the faith behind that isn’t really faith. We actually have a word for what that is, and it’s called superstition: “I better do the whole religion thing just in case heaven and hell turn out to be real.”
The Psalmist reminds us that God is worthy of all that we are, that is, in any given moment of our lives, because all that we are is because of Him. He is worthy since He has always been faithful to His promises, now given to us through the gifts of faith and baptism. We worship because God will never let us down. What more of a reason does one need than that?
But that doesn’t imply that we have the right to know what God is up to in advance. God has deemed that we don’t need to know these things. Instead, what we are supposed to do is we’re supposed to trust Him. And wouldn’t you rather bank your life on a good God rather than on yourself or anyone else for that matter? Who else can give us a reason to hope except Him? In modernity, we’ve lost all notion of what hope is because we’ve cheapened its meaning. Today, when people say hope, what they really mean is wishful thinking and sentimentality.
The Psalmist tells of God’s faithfulness to Israel, and certainly there were many things they could not see at the time. The thick clouds of suffering veil our perception of divine faithfulness. It was hard for Joseph to see the Lord’s hand in the midst of slavery, false accusation, and imprisonment. Yet, God’s grace resided in the fact that the things which veiled His faithfulness were the very mechanisms by which He came to unveil it. And in the process, to bring His own to greater trust. In a story like Joseph’s, the benefit was his but also for an entire nation. God proves to be a God who can walk and chew gum at the same time.
We don’t need to know advance. But we want to know in advance, because that gives us the semblance of being in control over our own lives. We’d like to know how our boredom and loneliness are bringing us to greater joy. But we don’t have to. It’s enough for us to just know that we are being brought into greater joy. God is true to His promises.
And the great blessing for those who hold onto God and trust in Him in the midst of opaque darkness is that God will eventually reveal all things to us. Just as a child doesn’t always understand why her parents are putting her through certain hardships, she eventually grows up to reap the benefits, for instance, of being musically gifted, of being socially competent, of being intellectually viable, and so forth. Like the child, we may not always like it, and it’s certainly not always our preference, but we, too, come to reap the benefits one day of what the Lord is putting us through.
He is with us through all of these things to save us from our wanderings and our despair. And for those who endure to the end, it is our privilege to see how this comes to fruition on the other side. But even now, there is great joy as we simply learn to trust and obey. In fact, I think obedience is the gift itself, which is why we experience so much joy in faithfulness.
In the economy of God’s grace, there are no scraps. All things will be used for our maturation and for the purposes of Christ’s glory. Worship the Lord, the Psalmist says, trust in His good promises, and be encouraged by what he reveals to you along the way, for what is then totally revealed to us in the end as we are united to God. The Lord knows what He is doing, and we trust in Him, since we know that God knows what He is doing. Therefore, don’t look to what is seen, but look to what is unseen. Cling to Christ in worship. For He has never stopped loving you; He has never left your side.