Have you ever wondered how in the world you’re supposed to be able to praise in the middle of the worst of situations? I know I have. When I am struggling, it seems that I pull back to praise only to find that I’m pulled right back into the discouragement again. It’s a strong tug, and it just won’t seem to let me go. I try to find ways to be thankful in the middle of my circumstances or trial, but my mind seems to fall back to the distress that the circumstances are causing. I am hurt all over again by the stinging words. I begin to drown again in the overwhelming situation. I struggle again with the same anger. I fight my way out only to slide right back down again.
Have you ever noticed Psalm 77? David is accredited with many of the Psalms that praise even in the pits of overwhelming situations, but this particular Psalm comes from Asaph, the “choir director” of Israel appointed by David. Many of his Psalms resemble those of David, but this one has an added dimension. This one shows that battle of trying to praise God only to fall back into despair. The tug of war is almost tangible. Read the first half of the Psalm with me:
1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint.
4 You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
6 I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders:
7 Will the Lord reject forever?
And will He never be favorable again?
8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forever?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious,
Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?
In these first verses of Psalm 77 I see a soul crying out to God, but still immersed in the overwhelming nature of circumstances. There is a cry for relief. A cry for God’s presence. A venting of sorts. And, the writer is going to the right place! He’s crying out to God! This is the only place to start – at least the only place that truly brings help. Here we begin to move from lying in the mud at the bottom of the pit, wallowing in our misery. We stand up. We lift up our faces and release all of our emotions to God. We’re talking to the right Person! Instead of complaining to everyone around us, we are pleading with God.
But, if we stay here, we are still not out of the pit. We might not be quite so low in the mud, but we are still trapped. Hemmed in. The circumstances that have grieved us so greatly are still threatening to bury us right back in that mud. So, where do we go from here? How do we claim the completion of relief found only in true peace?
Look at the second half of Psalm 77:
11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw You, O God;
The waters saw You, they were in anguish;
The deeps also trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
The skies gave forth a sound;
Your arrows flashed here and there.
18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was in the sea
And Your paths in the mighty waters,
And Your footprints may not be known.
20 You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Do you see the difference? There might not necessarily be an exuberant delight found here, but there is a change in the praise. There is a shift in focus. Go back and look at verse 10. Asaph suddenly realizes that His circumstances haven’t changed, but His focus has. In the second half of this Psalm, Asaph is no longer trying to praise through his circumstances. Instead, He’s looking at God apart from his circumstances. He’s remembering who God is and what He has done throughout history – his own history. He sees the turbulence that is brought about by the very presence of God because of His might and power. And he is reminded that in the midst of that turbulence God still loves and cares for His children.
The shift Asaph makes is not an easy one. It is a struggle to take our eyes off our circumstances in the first place to lift them up toward God’s hand in those circumstances. Then it can be even more difficult to move our focus from God’s hand in our circumstances to God alone. But, that is the progression that must be made.
Are you overwhelmed in your struggle to praise God in the middle of your circumstances? Be encouraged by Asaph. Lift your face out of the muck and mire and cry out to God, asking that you be able to see His hand around you. But, don’t stop there. Once your face is lifted out of the mire and you are standing and crying out to God, take the next step. Move your focus from His presence in your circumstances to “just” His presence. See Him, and praise Him because of who He is. And, like Asaph, you will see that even if your circumstances don’t change, your grief just might.