Recently one morning, I found myself tired and cranky. I was quietly frustrated and discontented. Discontentment is a horrible feeling that robs us of so much joy and peace, and our society seems in some ways to be more discontent than it was in previous generations. Rapid-fire technology, busyness, materialism, and consumerism have combined to create a society where we’re evaluated (and praised!) not on who we ARE, but what we DO. This high-pressure way of living naturally seems to have spiked the occurrences of depression, anxiety, and other mental or emotional struggles that separate us from God and from healthy, whole relationships with ourselves and others. This naturally leads to fatigue, burn-out, irritability, and discontentment. Yet Christ wants us to be content, and we will be—when our desires fall in line with His desires.
Proverbs 19:23 says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (NIV). The word “fear” in this passage is translated from the Hebrew word yirah, meaning reverence, devotion, and awe. Fear in our modern-day language relays resentment and discontentment; yirah is the exact opposite. Interestingly enough, as I went to my morning devotions the morning I felt irritable and tired, the question posed on paper was, "When was the last time you praised God?" I knew the answer, and it's not one that I am proud of. I thank God when I remember to, when I am holding my son, when things are settling down in the evenings as we begin to rest and reflect…but the busyness of life robs me as it does others of opportunities to sit, be still, and be grateful.
Even prior to my “morning of discontent,” I had an opportunity to reflect on thankfulness versus praise, though, like most things, I understood it only later. (I am a firm believer that life must be lived forwards in order to be understood backwards.) My office is located in our downtown district in Colorado Springs, and one day a while back, I decided to take an extended lunch. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the temperature was perfect, and I walked a little way down the street to an old, Victorian house that had been turned into a cafe. I sat in the glassed-in patio and watched people on the street meander by, feeling the warmth of the sun through the patio windows on that gorgeous March afternoon. As I ate my bowl of delicious soup and home-made bread and as I drank a cup of excellent coffee with cream as a treat, I felt such peace and contentment, and I thought with gratitude, “THIS is how it is supposed to be!” I remember THANKING God for that simple outing where I spent time with Him in that little restaurant and again later in a used bookstore next door, but I don’t remember PRAISING Him.
Praise is different than thankfulness. Thankfulness is gratitude for what God has done FOR us. Praise is gratitude for who God IS. That cranky morning during my devotions, after reading the question asking when the last time I praised God was, I began thanking Him for what I have. "Thank you for my husband, our son, our home, my career, my clients, my life, my health, my family's health, opportunities..." As I began focusing on what I am thankful for, my irritability and discontentment immediately lifted. But then I recalled that this is not praise. So I began praising God based on the attributes I know of Him (which, in my human-ness, are in direct correlation to what I am grateful for). "Thank you for being merciful, always. Thank you for loving me in ways I cannot comprehend. Thank you for being a generous God. Thank you for always knowing what's best for me...." But this still was not praise and was focused on what God DOES rather than who He IS. So I began, "You are a generous God. You are merciful. You are all-knowing and all-powerful. You are not able to be understood. You are mysterious yet faithful...." THIS was praise. This was how I started my day....and I cannot recall feeling irritable or discontented the rest of that day.
I don’t regret feeling irritable and discontent. I don’t beat myself up when I’m cranky….usually. God can handle it. I feel badly when others sense it or it leaks out, because I know that means I did not do well at managing my emotions. Don’t get me wrong--I’m for authenticity rather than fakeness--rather than pasting on a smile. But we all know that there is a fine line between being genuine with our emotions and dragging down those around us. I know that God can and will always use my uncomfortable feelings in a way that teaches me something….if I am receptive. Look at David. The Psalms are full of his rants and raves, his bipolar switches from vengeful anger (totally not Christian-ly, right?) to lavish love. Yet God loved him as a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 NAS), and we know God does not make mistakes. Therefore, we can deduce that God loves us in spite of our crankiness, our rants to Him, our calling out and our anger, our propensities for vengefulness. He loves us so much that, much like we continue to love our children after they yell at us or tantrum, we know that He will accept us with open arms, ready and willing to receive the love and praise with which He so lovingly covers us, and that it will be all right. David did not always sense God’s presence; the Bible is very clear on this. But David knew God was always there, even when it didn’t “feel” like it. It will, though, “feel” like it more when we take time to praise despite our anger, frustration, and discontentment.
I am fascinated with those who lived through the Holocaust, regardless of their status of survival. Corrie Ten Boom and Viktor Frankl are two of my favorite authors from this period. If anyone had just cause for anger, a Holocaust victim is it. Anyone who has dealt with genocide, starvation, or tyranny knows the feelings of injustice, unhappiness, and despondency in ways that most of us cannot understand. They may know what it’s like to cry out to God, wondering where He is and why He allows these things to happen. They can reconcile the logic of “the battle is already won” with the emotional cry of the heart. I often question why bad things happen, especially to children. In my career, I daily hear the horrible, unacceptable things that others have endured. It’s not fair. It’s so easy to become angry and unhappy when we focus on these very real-life things happening day-by-day. I don’t believe in burying your head in the sand, but I don’t believe in dwelling in misery, either. The only solution then is: praise. Praising God when we don’t understand Him. Praising Him for his everlasting love and faithfulness, somehow trusting that despite all of the horrific things going on in the world, past, present, and future, it will somehow be ok in the end. Praising Him that He is almighty, powerful, and has truly has overcome the world (John 16:33) even when it doesn’t feel like it.
May we always sense God's presence, and praise Him yet when we don't.