A complete text of Sunday’s message of October 27, 2019 at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Akron OH:
For audio of this message, click here.
Lynn and I were able to see firsthand the after-effects of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, just over three years ago. We had a planned trip to Savannah/Hilton Head, and because we were to fly into Jacksonville, we had to bite the bullet and take the trip because the storm had already passed through Jacksonville. What we saw, just after the storm blew through the Lowcountry, was a good amount of flooding, trees downed on power lines, and while we were unable to see how homes were affected, we saw the reports from the local newspaper of all of the damage on Hilton Head Island. We had a hotel reservation that was abruptly canceled due to flooding, and we managed to snag a room in Beaufort, which is north of Savannah and Hilton Head, for one night. After learning that access to both Savannah and Hilton Head was blocked due to power outages and damage, we had to divert our trip back to Jacksonville for a couple of days. The storm had passed, and it caused so many dramatic changes that we are refocused on a different area of South Carolina when it is time to retire, and it is about 200 miles northwest of Hilton Head.
I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for the people who live there as recently as 24 hours before we got there. People were told to evacuate, but some chose to stay and ride the storm out. From reports that I saw afterward, many regretted that decision. Countless stories of property damage, flooding, sewer lines erupting, and all with no power. There was no entry back onto the island for about a week, so people didn’t know what they would find when they returned. The hotel clerk where our room was canceled said she lost her home. The storm was devastating, and this was not what anyone there expected. Matthew was a deadly hurricane that lasted for about 2 weeks and caused a tremendous amount of damage in Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Southeastern United States and even the Atlantic provinces of Canada. All told, 731 people were killed or are missing, and property damage totaled $16.5 billion.1
Storms, or even the threat of a storm, can make us anxious and even fearful. We often fall prey to looking at the worst case scenarios in these situations. We can protect ourselves only so much when a storm approaches. In much the same way, there is a reliance on God giving us the ability to withstand and endure the stress of the storms of life. There are a number of instances where all that we can conclude is “but for the grace of God, here I am.”
Storms come and go. We often have little warning when they happen, and there is usually a mess that needs to be cleaned up. There are physical messes, and there are emotional messes, too.
Storms bring about an emotional roller coaster. It’s never fun, and as God allows these storms in our life, they are not meant to be “fun.” They often hurt us. They can hurt us very deeply. They do have a purpose, however, and it is important to go back to the basic tenets of our faith as we experience these storms. Now, to be clear, the purpose of a storm is not necessarily one that can be grasped within the experience. We may only see the purpose days and years after the event. We may not see it at all or begin to understand it until we meet our Lord face to face. It is not important that we know the purpose. We may know the reason for it, and we may not. We may not even come out of the experience as better than we were before. We may come out of it in worse shape. We often simply pray that we can come out of it!
Our encouragement, even during the darkness, is in God’s comforting presence.
Psalm 23:4 ESV
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
His comforting presence is, frankly, what keeps many of us from going completely insane. Faith is a necessary component of dealing with adversity.
Now, even in these moments of difficulty, God has challenged us with words that often may ring hollow. He has challenged us to praise Him.
Understand that the natural response to this is “no way.” “Absolutely not.” “Ain’t no way in the world that I can praise Jesus when I’m going through the worst times in my life.”
There are three things that we need to remember as we utter these words, or even think about them:
1. God loves you.
2. Satan is a liar.
3. Things can, and will, get better—because it is a promise from Jesus.
Let’s file these thoughts away for a moment as we explore the subject of praising God in the midst of, or even the aftermath, of a storm.
Now, we need to first explore the concept of praise. To praise someone requires a fair amount of effort and acknowledgment of one’s goodness or kindness. It is not something that is done lightly. When we praise another person, as an example, it comes with the understanding that the person you are praising has a track record of activity that warrants positive recognition. Well, this certainly applies to our approach to God and His character. It also applies to the believer in Jesus Christ in that praise is a willful act, and it is inherent in the will of God that He receives our praise.
What exactly is praise? (Write these terms down, please.)
Prayerful faithful expression
Reverence admiration, respect, devotion, love, worship
Ascribing bestowing, giving, presenting (your best), assigning to a source
Inherent basic, instinctive, heartfelt
Spiritual religious, otherworldly
Exultation celebration, reveling, rejoicing
To summarize, praise is a prayerful, deep expression of reverence and gratitude to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave us this example of praise in the model prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, in Luke 11:2:
Luke 11:1-2 ESV
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
This entire act of praise has to begin with an appreciation of who Jesus Christ is in your life—in both good times and bad. Until this happens, your life will be stuck. It’s like being stuck in the mud and your wheels are always spinning. No grip. No traction. Nothing moving forward. Sometimes teetering backward. It’s a feeling of helplessness. A feeling that can only be addressed when you learn to trust Jesus Christ.
Learning to trust Jesus takes effort. Jesus is always present. He is always there in your good times and during those storms of your life. He is our Teacher and He wants us to live each moment with Him. He wants you to seek after Him and trust Him.
Jesus doesn’t even ask for you to trust a lot. He just wants you to trust Him a little. A 25 pound bag of kitty litter or sand in the right place where you’re spinning your wheels can move a 2,500 pound car. Trust him in the small things, and He can show you big things. Give Him a place in your heart and He will affirm you ten-fold.
It starts with faith. It starts with you.
Your faith is a result of the understanding of God’s love for you. He loves you. Love is an attribute of God. It is in His character to love you because you are His cherished creation.
1 John 4:8
Anyone who does not love God does not know God, because God is love.
Our ability to give Jesus praise is rooted in the understanding of his loving attributes. They represent His character.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
His love is an eternal love.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus is not a God of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:27).
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus demonstrates this love to us. It requires our obedience to God and following His word.
…but I (Jesus) do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
Suffice it to say that God loves you. He is not a fair-weather God. While we can be fair-weather fans of God, He teaches us to go deeper. He challenges us to seek after Him in the midst of the storm and praise Him anyway.
When a storm approaches, draw nearer to Jesus. When a storm hits, lean on Him.
You are not alone.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
He reassures us that He is always there. And why not? He loves you.
Next, remember that Satan is a liar. He aims to dampen your enthusiasm for Jesus Christ.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Our faith in Jesus overcomes Satan’s deception and our fears. He wants us to look at the worst case scenarios of life.
Here’s a fact: Satan is only as powerful as we allow him to be.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
We can praise Jesus, even in the midst of a storm, because we realize that we still have the victory over Satan, who wants to destroy you. We have the full armor of God’s protection.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Anyone can praise Jesus when times are good.
Your true praise comes from living and learning through adversity.
Your true praise comes with the knowledge that you have an enemy who wants to destroy you (1 Peter 5:8; Luke 22:31).
Your true praise comes when you survive the storm, and all that you can do is get on the floor on your knees and say, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Until the storm passes, we are reminded that things will get better.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Note that these are all promises to help you, encourage you and strengthen you. They are all based upon the present (fear not, for I am with you) and to help you in the future. He wants you to exercise your faith while going through the storm.
1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
He also wants you to praise Him in the midst of the storm because He wants you to see His eternal purpose.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2 Corinthians 4:8
As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Things do get better. There is a calm after the storm. Jesus is our refuge and our rest.
For these reasons, He is worthy of our praise.
Always remember that Jesus is present—in good and bad times. Always remember that Jesus loves you, that Satan is a liar and the father of lies, and that even in the midst of a storm, things will get better. He is worthy of our praise!
Some of us don’t understand the depth of our relationship with Jesus unless we go through adversity. Praise is not just for the good times. Praise is an all-time, every day experience. (Remember that your sincere daily prayers are a form of praise because you are humbly recognizing Jesus as Lord.)
Ecclesiastes 7:14 CSB
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that no one can discover anything that will come after him.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Rejoice in the midst of your trial. God has you in His hands.
Take joy even in your difficulties. He has you for all eternity.
Praise is a prayerful, deep expression of reverence and gratitude to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Just for you. He paid it all on the cross, just for you.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (!).
1 Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 20). Hurricane Matthew. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:15, October 27, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hurricane_Matthew&oldid=922246370