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Praising God in the Midst of Misery

The advice that initially angered me eventually turned my woe to worship.


by Ed Underwood

 

My once-fit fifty-year-old body had morphed into a swollen, purplish red, moon-faced distortion of its former self. I hated seeing my new Jabba the Hutt figure in the mirror and the horror in friends’ eyes when they saw the new me for the first time. Bloated and disfigured from the disease and medications to inhibit its advance, I was, in a word, gross. The only cream capable of sealing my skin enough to retain heat was Eucerin, not the lotion but the cream. Did I say cream? It felt more like paste, and my only remembrance of the stuff was watching my girls use it to take off the ridiculous face paint they experimented with during their excessively made-up adolescent years.

I would steal away into my bedroom, a tub of lard preparing to apply a tub-o-lard to his body. One bath towel to sit on, another to protect the carpet from my gelatinous feet, and a fan I knew I would need sooner rather than later. My wife, Judy, would come in, and we would begin spreading the salve, watching it literally melt into my superheated skin. For about five minutes, comforting warmth would return to my body—only to morph moments later into a suffocating coat of gel that caused sweat to pour. Then out came the fan, for about ten to twenty minutes of pure, unadulterated misery.

Early on in the experience, I called on every spiritual resource and procedure I knew of, but nothing worked. So I sat in front of the fan, weeping as the misery drained hope from my mind and, more dangerously, faith from my heart. The pain was intense, but the misery was more than I could bear on my own. 

Then I received an e-mail from my friend and teacher Bruce Wilkinson, who had graciously agreed to be a mentor to me before he knew I would become such a basket case. Bruce’s advice initially put me off, even angered me. His counsel? Praise God!

Praise God? I remember thinking as I abruptly closed his e-mail. Praise God? Who are you, Bruce Wilkinson, mister Jabez with all your stardom, comfort, and blessing, to tell me to praise God when you have no idea how it feels to be me? When your world falls apart and your skin falls off and the doctors tell you that you have maybe months or at most a few years to live, then you praise God. I need help, and you just rubbed salt into my wounded heart in a way that could not be more real than if you rubbed rock salt into my tender skin!

This was not the first time I had reacted against one of Bruce’s suggestions—only to later discover the wisdom of his recommendation. The Holy Spirit began to whisper reminders of Bruce’s obvious personal commitment to me and past penetrations of the deceptions of my heart that for some reason only Bruce had seen. Begrudgingly opening his e-mail again, I read the entire message.

Bruce had presented four or five specific groupings of reasons to praise God. Some categories focused on my past experiences with the Lord Jesus, some on biblical and theological truths that had become precious to me in my walk with Him, and some looked to my future in Him, the confident expectations the Bible calls “hope.”

As the Lord began turning my heart toward Bruce’s words, in shaky handwriting I scrawled a verse, truth, remembrance, or expectation after each bullet point. This e-mail turned worksheet turned desperate need for deliverance from gloom became my twice- to thrice-a-day antidote to the hopelessness of my misery. Soon I memorized the entire half-hour process.

  • Five truths about your relationship with God that have been most meaningful to you over the years.
  • Four Scriptures or passages that remind you of Christ’s love for you and give you confidence that you are His special concern.
  • Six times in your past that you have seen His hand on your life in dramatic ways that you could not deny, times He has made clear to you that He is there and watching over you with loving care.
  • Three reasons you are sure that no matter what happens to you, He is guiding you toward His loving purposes for your life.

The power of praise lifted my life beyond the misery. Transcending my earthly reality, it called my redeemed heart to all that is eternally true for the child of God. In ways I did not understand at the time but have come to appreciate, praise turned my woe to worship. Remarkably, I found myself actually looking forward to the “greased pig” chapters of my day.

My purpose here is more to recommend this discipline of praise to your miserable moment than to instruct you on the Bible’s teachings on praise. A great resource Judy and I have embraced is the little book 31 Days of Praise by Ruth Myers. Reminding believers that praise is the most basic act of worship, she provides clear biblical evidence of praise’s power to strengthen your faith, help you tune in to God’s enriching presence, activate God’s power, cause profit that overwhelms your trials, cause you to experience Christ in your life, demonstrate God’s reality in this wicked world, overcome Satan and his strategies, and bring glory and pleasure to God.

I’m sure all of this was happening as I sat before that fan with hands lifted high, verbalizing my appreciation of His goodness and His worthiness of my devotion and thanksgiving. As praise filled my heart—a heart that had been drained of all peace and joy—with a connection to the Lord I had never before known, I did not separate the blessing into theological or biblical categories. It just flooded in as a complete package of blessing and comfort.

Since my last knee replacement, Judy and I find ourselves once again “greasing up the old pig.” Though my condition isn’t as severely miserable as it was six years ago, the steroid cream that calms down this drug rash feels eerily similar to the pasty mess back then. When we spread it on, my pores feel dangerously clogged and the heat builds behind the congested mass. I throw the covers off the bed and turn the fan on my sweating body for relief. As desperation probes at the defenses of my soul, I always turn to an old recipe—the discipline of praise my friend Bruce taught me. Familiar sentences buried deep within my heart flow from lips that know the power of praise in a believer’s life:

Father, when You saved me by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), You also told me that You saved me to accomplish specific works You prepared for me in eternity past (Ephesians 2:10). I praise You that no matter what is going on in my body, I will not miss one of these works, no matter how small or great that work might be. There is no way I can be “cheated” by this disease. Praise You for Your precious promise to use my life in exactly the way You had in mind on the day You saved me.

Lord Jesus, Your Word tells me that there is nothing I am experiencing here on earth that is not absolutely and intrinsically appreciated by You. Not because You look down on me with compassion, which You surely do. But more than this, because You stooped down to live life in the physical confines of the human body, the same human body I am trapped in, the very organs, systems, and vital life support that seem to be failing me now. Oh, how I praise You that I am talking to a High Priest who can sympathize with my weakness, because there is no feeling of fear, no threshold of pain, no weariness of body You have not personally experienced. Praise You that You have brought these scars and feelings of my human condition into heaven to Your seat at the right hand of the Father. Thank You that You whisper into His ear, “He is weak and afraid. This is hard for him. He does not know what to do, but he is turning to You for help. I am his Advocate; I died for him and love him so. When You answer his prayer, don’t forget his weakness. He is indeed but dust.”                                               

©2007 Cook Communications Ministries. When God Breaks Your Heart  by Ed Underwood. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

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