The outer gates had already been locked for the night when the doorbell sounded. The five of us looked at each other, startled by the interruption. A second ring quickly echoed the first, followed by a frantic pounding on the gate. Something was wrong.
The missionaries I was visiting rushed to the entry. They found one of their parishioners standing under the street lamp, tears running down his face. His fourteen-year-old daughter had run away from home. Mario and his family had been searching for hours, but they could not find her. Now night was falling on the streets of Mexico City, and despair was rising.
We gathered back inside and began to pray. Members of the small house church began to arrive, pressing themselves into the circle and taking up the burden that was too much for any one of us to bear. Fear reigned. We all knew what could happen to a girl who gambled with a night on the streets.
Then someone started to sing a song of praise. It was almost as shocking as a doorbell sounding in the middle of the night—praise in the midst of despair, praise in the midst of fear, praise when it was hard to be thankful at all. “Tu fidelidad es grande, tu fidelidad incomparable es…”
Your faithfulness is great,
Your faithfulness is incomparable.
Something in the room began to change. Our focus shifted from the hopelessness of the situation to the awesome sovereignty of God. Hope began to drive out fear. Light began to penetrate the darkness. It was as if God came down to meet us there and turned the bitter stuff of earth into holy ground.
It took my breath away. Never had I seen praise used like that before. In my experience, praise was mostly confined to Sunday mornings or an occasional “Way to go, God!” when something particularly great happened. But praise in the midst of darkness? Praise for despair? Praise when there was so much to ask for? That was new.
The psalmist said “God inhabits the praises of His people.” (Psalm 22:3) I had never seen that verse come alive like I did that night in a small house in a barrio of a dark city.
When we praise God, God fills up our praises, dwells in them, and reigns on them. Darkness cannot stay in a room filled with praise—it has to flee to make room for God to come down. When we lift our lips to praise, God bends to receive it. He comes into the midst of us.
If God is here in my midst, then this place where I am standing, this Mexican house or this home filled with sippy cups and board books, of broken promises and heartache—this is holy ground. Neither Satan nor any of his mercenaries can stand on holy ground. The darkness that threatens to undo me must go.
Some days, I feel too broken to praise. Then I remember praise is God’s gift to the broken. It is an anecdote to the hopeless. It is power to those who have no advocate because it speaks the very essence of God into darkness.
Perhaps that is why King David spent so much time lifting holy hands in praise. His wasted his best years running for his life. His beloved friend died. Two of his sons died. His daughter was raped. He had blood all over his hands.
Yet no one in the Bible praised God as much as David. In the middle of the desert, in the dark of a cave, with enemies all around him, David had faith, and David found holy ground.
How I need God to come down on the days when I don’t feel any joy for my calling or any delight in my children! How I need to praise Him.
Not just thank Him—praise Him. The two words are not the same, and they do not hold the same power. It is the difference between saying, “Thanks for the pie!” and “You make the best pie.” One is thanks. The other is praise.
Thanks, or thanksgiving, is temporal. It can be new every day just like the mercies of God. And it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord! We should always acknowledge His gifts to us. But one day, all the gifts will have been given, and all that is lacking in us will have been filled up. There will no longer be any need.
But when the needs have all been met, and the thanks have ceased, the praises will have just begun. Praise is eternal. It is not temporal because it acknowledges the unchanging attributes of God. Praise affirms and proclaims God’s character. It says something about Him, not just what He has done but who He is.
That is what we were created for, not just to respond to God, but to recognize and declare the truth about God even before His hand moves to bless us. That makes praise an offering of faith. When we praise God, we are saying, “Though I have not seen you, I know you.” Thanks is remembering. Praise is believing.
When we step out in faith and praise God even when our circumstances make it difficult, God always meets us there.
Do you want to enjoy your children more, even when it is difficult? Do you want God in your living room, giving you strength in the midst of the struggle?
Please join us for Day 12: Focus on the Good
For further thought
1) Open your Bible to Psalms. How far do you have to read before you come to a command to praise?
2) How can thanks become man-centered? Why can praise never be man-centered?
3) Activity: The next time you or your kids are particularly cranky, put on some praise music and dance! Did God meet you there?