3 Ways to Worship God During Tough Times

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

Last year was a tough one for me. It started off great—I went to my first-ever Christian conference in February, and it was amazing. Everything I heard and saw at the conference encouraged me, challenged me, and filled my heart with a deeper realization of God’s love for us. The theme of the conference was “Stepping Season.” Little did I know, I was about to enter into my own stepping season that would test everything I learned that weekend.

From the moment I left the conference to the months that followed, it seemed like anything and everything that could go wrong, did. There were weeks of hospital stays for my brother who had a blood clot in his arm and required surgery to remove a rib constraining his vein, strained relationships with people I care deeply about, as well as sleepless nights, heartbreak, tears, rejection, confusion . . . It seemed like it was never going to end.

I was able to smile when I was around others, but when I was on my own, I couldn’t keep it together. I was mad. I had questions. I didn’t understand. I was scared.

I was feeling a lot of emotions, and quite honestly, did not feel like worshipping through it. I just cried a lot at first and prayed that God would heal and comfort me. It was during that time that I learned to worship God in spite of my circumstances.

While I wouldn’t choose to go through it all again, the experiences of the past year taught me the power and faithfulness of God in even the darkest of times. Worship, I realized, was all the more important in difficult times. Here are three things I did that helped me worship Him:

 

1. Dig into His Word

I had spent time doing devotionals in the past, but now it was a daily necessity. Reading about God’s promises and faithfulness in the stories of the Bible gave me hope. Some of the people went through some really rough stuff, sometimes for years. Think of Joseph, for example—sold by his brothers and eventually sent to prison for two years (Genesis 37-41). Think of the seven years of famine (Genesis 41-45). Or the time the flood filled the Earth (Genesis 6-7). Yet God always remained faithful, even when it seemed hopeless. He would certainly remain faithful in my life.

Not only did I encounter God’s Word in my daily quiet time, but it seemed like wherever I turned, the verse Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, would somehow surface, whether it was in a conversation with someone, reading something random, or even purchasing a t-shirt for a fundraiser.

Even though everything in my own life seemed so out of whack and crazy, this verse assured me that God would somehow use what I was going through for good in the future. Though it hurt at the time, the pain wouldn’t be for no reason at all. God was behind the scenes working, and though it might take time, it will all have a purpose.

Sometimes it’s difficult to open up my Bible and read a story about how good God is, especially when it doesn’t feel like it at the time. However, I am learning to cling tight to His promises. His plans are far greater than any we can imagine. He’s working everything together for our good.

 

2. Turn on your music

Sometimes positive, upbeat music is the last thing we want to hear when we are wallowing in our troubles. It’s worth turning them on anyway. “Mighty Warrior” by David Virgo got me through so many days last year. The lyrics, “Mighty Warrior, You will see that all things work for my good, things work for my good” in particular really spoke to me. It was only months down the road that I realized how the song had helped me declare God’s goodness and faithfulness over my life in spite of what I was going through.

“Walking on Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE was another song that got me through the hard times. During the weeks my brother was in the hospital, my sister-in-law and I heard that song consistently playing on the radio. The lyrics were just what I needed to hear. They reminded me that the Lord was working, and I just had to trust Him through the wind and waves.

Find songs that lift you up, that you can worship through. Put the songs on repeat. Crank it up. Jam out. Look for the truth the song proclaims, and repeat it to yourself until you believe it. Sure, worshipping God might be the last thing we feel like doing. But let’s do it anyway. Worshipping through the hard times brings us new strength and hope. It might be just what we need to get through the day.

 

3. Be honest with God about your emotions

In our hardest times, we need to turn to the Lord. He wants to be there for us, and He wants to listen. Let’s not hide anything from Him. After all, He already knows what we’re feeling, so why not just be raw and real with Him? If we’re angry, we can tell Him. If we’re confused, we can talk to Him about it. We don’t need to have it all together to go to Him. He wants us as we are. Every piece of us. He loves us, and He isn’t going to stop listening just because we’re mad or “yelling” at Him. He can handle it.

David the psalmist is a great example of this. In Psalm 42, for example, he cries out to God, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:9-10). David was discouraged and sad, and He wasn’t afraid to show it. We needn’t be afraid or feel bad about telling God our emotions either.

Let us take our true emotions and feelings to God, and may He fill us with His peace, joy, restoration, healing, and love. This won’t happen overnight—or maybe it will. For me, it’s still a daily process and something I have to choose day after day. Instead of covering up how I feel, I am learning that sharing my true emotions brings me peace unlike anything else.

 

It’s crazy to look back now at all that the ups and downs of last year, and it’s even crazier to say that I am thankful for it. I now call it my year of plowing—plowing deep and digging into a deeper relationship with God. A lot of things I had hoped for and prayed for have turned out differently, but they surpass what I originally had in mind. There are also still things I don’t understand, but I now have a different perspective on them. I have seen God’s faithfulness, and I trust and believe that He always works it for our good (Romans 8:28).

God might not be changing your circumstances how you would like Him to, but don’t lose hope. God is shaping you and molding you into the person He created you to be, and it’s going to be beautiful. No matter how dark things seems right now, hold tight and know that God loves you deeply. Let us keep worshipping Him, trusting that He will bring us through even the most difficult days.

3 Challenges to Worshipping God in a World of Choices

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I love worshipping God and spending time with Him.

Every morning, I try my best to set aside time to worship God through prayer, music, Bible study, and journaling. During this dedicated time, I give thanks to God and meditate on His Word. In turn, God’s presence—His answer to prayers, the mercy and comfort He shows me—fills me with strength, gives me peace, and reminds me that God is always looking after me. When l come out of my time with God, l am strengthened in the assurance of His love.

That being said, making time to worship God and commit myself to Him isn’t easy. The world offers distractions and pursuits that tempt me to take my eyes off God. Hence, l am constantly challenged to choose between spending time with God in worship and what the world offers.

Over time, I have come to recognize the things that are most likely to distract me from God. This helps me work on re-focusing my attention back to God.

Here are three of my most pressing challenges to worshipping God in a world full of choices. Perhaps you might be able to relate to them as well:

 

1. Caught Between Two Masters: Technology or God

I remember receiving my first mobile phone in the late 90s. Before that, l was hightailing it to a pay phone every time l wanted to ring someone when l was on the go. Similarly, l am grateful for the invention of the Internet. Teaching myself makeup application from YouTube tutorials jumpstarted my freelance career as a makeup and special-effects artist (makeup application using prosthetics, face paint and casts).

However, at some point, my life began to revolve around my devices, apps, and social media feeds. I began relying more and more on the Internet for information, as well as the endless possibilities for entertainment.

It is scary how easily we allow the digital world to rule our lives. God says that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). When we can’t stop scrolling through social media feeds, or when we just have to play one more game of “Candy Crush” on our phones, then we’ve become too addicted to technology. Too often, we look to Google for answers to our problems instead of coming to our Father who created Heaven and earth—the God who says that when we seek Him, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7).

When it got to the point where l was tempted to check my WhatsApp messages during church services, l knew technology was becoming more attractive than being in God’s presence. It was time to cut the digital umbilical cord.

These days, instead of looking at my phone when l get up in the morning, l thank God for the day He has made (Psalm 118:24). During my worship time with God, l turn off all my devices. If someone wants to get in contact with me during this time, they can leave a message. In church, l switch my phone off before the service starts. Knowing my phone won’t vibrate or light up during church helps avoid distraction and keeps my focus on worshipping God.

 

2. FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out

Every day when l get up in the morning, my focus is to spend those first hours of the day with God.

However, more often than not, by the time l give my one-eared pussycat his breakfast and start brewing my first cup of coffee, my mind starts formulating a list of all the activities l want to do that day, such as my plans to exercise or meet up with friends. I start to get so nervous at the thought of not experiencing any of these events, that l become tempted to exchange my dedicated worship time for the pursuit of my other endeavors.

Today’s fast-paced society is a result of an oversaturation of choices. Our anxiety at missing out on an experience causes us to run from pillar to post. We’re suffering from FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out.

When I notice myself getting anxious from an abundance of choices and too little time to choose them all, l remind myself to go back to the Bible for guidance. Matthew 6:33 encourages us to seek God’s kingdom first above all things. After that, God will provide us with everything we need. l am learning to fear missing out on my daily encounter with God more than the pursuits of the world.

 

3. The Allure of the Things of this World

One of my favorite recreational pursuits is going to the gym. Although l work out to live a healthy lifestyle, a part of me is very aware of the “body goals” that are portrayed on Instagram and splashed across the pages of magazines. Sometimes, when l lift weights, l wonder whether I should be working toward these goals instead of being content with the body God has given me.

We all chase after different goals—whether it’s a perfect body, the latest iPhone, or exotic holidays. But too often, these “goals” can easily turn into objects of worship, drawing our attention away from God.

Romans 12:2 encourages us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. When l find myself choosing to go down rabbit holes of superficial pursuits instead of spending time with God in His Word, l need to stop and remind myself that the only truly worthy pursuit is that of seeking God’s presence. Meditating on the Word keeps my eyes fixed on the unchanging nature of God in a fad-induced society. It reminds me that God’s opinion matters in my life, not the world’s.

Knowing that I am easily tempted by these goals, I have learned to prioritize my relationship with God. When I spend time regularly worshipping God, I can work out for the sake of being healthy, without worrying that it would eat into my time with God.

 

We are only temporary residents in this world, but our relationship with God is one that crosses into eternity. When we consider that Jesus made the ultimate choice to give His life for us at the cross to purchase our freedom, then making the decision to spend time with God in worship and praise becomes a lot easier, and the choices of the world begin to pale in comparison.

If you find your worship of God challenged by the choices and expectations of the world, l get it. Choosing to put my worship time ahead of my pursuits of this world is something l’m still working on every day.

This doesn’t mean we need to change our entire lifestyle, but can begin by taking small steps at a time. Perhaps we can get up earlier and dedicate that time to God, or maybe we can put aside 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. These small steps add up, daily drawing us closer to God. As we seek Him, He will also give us the desire and will to worship Him.

When We Settle for Less Than Rest

I am as guilty as anyone of cramming way too much into my schedule. It’s not that I have a problem saying “no”—I do that regularly—it’s that I just enjoy living a full life. I had three kids in three years. I’m a pastor’s wife, a writer, an occasional speaker, and a Bible study and worship leader. I own a small business and also try to maintain the organization and peace of my own home. All the while, I’m working my way through graduate school and value living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep, and investing in relationships and my community.

Just writing all of that makes me want to curl up in bed and take a nap. Many of us can identify with this type of craziness, or may have even more than that on our plate. It’s difficult enough to find time to juggle all our different commitments, what more find space for regular rest! However, I’ve found that when I have not made time for rest, I not only see a decline in the quality of what I do, but my soul is left utterly depleted of fuel.

This is because we were created to rest, and to do so in a way which enables us to live with peace and contentment even in the midst of our full lives.

Sounds too good to be true? Then perhaps we need to ask ourselves: What kind of “rest” are we getting?

It is important that we not only make time for rest, but that we get the right kind of rest. Recently, my husband, Andrew, and I realized that we often spend the little amounts of down time we have being sucked into our phones and scrolling through social media, watching a show, or catching up on work.

We reflected on our habits and recognized that we had been pursuing a false rest that checks us out of reality and puts us in a haze—instead of leading us to true rest that refreshes. Not only does this go against the call within Scripture to keep our minds active and alert (1 Peter 5:8-14, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Luke 21:34-36), but beyond that we’ve come to realize that true rest isn’t found in ceasing all activity or not doing anything, but rather ceasing from distraction and finding our strength by dwelling with Christ.

 

Where do we find true rest?

So, where can we, as believers, find truly rejuvenating rest? Scripture talks about rest frequently, and it tells us exactly where to go to find the rest we need. There is a specific way in which humans were created to rest—in the presence of our Creator.

In Matthew 11:28-30, we find this promise:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The very words, “rest for your souls” sound so hope-filled and life-giving to me. I have found rest for my soul when I come to God’s presence by laying my burdens before Him through worship, prayer, diving into Scripture, and reading solid Christian books—all of these things are not passive activities, but active pursuits of Christ which have the potential to usher us before Christ in life-giving refreshment and renewal.

 

Resting as a discipline

We must seek out rest in Christ intentionally, as a matter of spiritual discipline. As a mother of young children, I often hear other moms say they don’t have time to get into Scripture. This breaks my heart. All of us could find excuses—I often have myself—but the reality is that I, and all of us, make time for that which we find important, and that normally means saying “no” to things that aren’t as important.

For example, if having our kids in sports is important, we say no to other opportunities in order to bring them to practice and games. If catching up on a show is a priority, we choose that over other items on our “to do” list. If having time alone with our spouse is important, we turn down other engagements or meetings to make time. Since having time alone with God is important in order for us to get rest, we may have to say no to extra sleep, to a show, or even to time out with friends, in order to make it happen.

After realizing we had been pursuing an empty form of rest for so long, Andrew and I have begun getting up before 5 a.m. every day so that we can spend time in Scripture, journaling, praying, reading good books for (hopefully) an hour or so before our children wake up. This simple change has given life to us both—helping us start our day on a note of learning and leaning into our Lord, and has even led to changes in our attitudes, parenting style, and a new level of depth in our marriage as we have conversations about our readings.

Is this fun? Not always. Do I want to hit myself (or my husband) in the head with a pillow when I hear the alarm? Almost every day. But this is the very meaning of a discipline. We may have to force ourselves to do it at first, but it’s something that we will come to hunger and thirst for eventually, because restful time with God is what we’re made for. It must be prioritized and sometimes, it must be planned.

I’ve learned that life will never slow down. Every season brings new challenges, new excitement and new stressors. If we do not live intentionally, life will pass us by, seasons will come and go, and all of the sudden 10 years will be gone and we will find ourselves just as exhausted as ever and further away from the Lord.

May we find our refreshment and our absolute delight in the arms of our Maker, saying with the Psalmist, “As the Deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You” (Psalm 41:1).

 

Editor’s Note: For more practical tips on how to get the most of your rest, check out this article.

Learning to Trust God in the Desert

Written By Judah Koh, Singapore

When I first started dating the woman who would eventually become my wife, my pragmatic and decisive nature got the better of me, and I declared to her, “I am called to missions, and I will eventually leave; are you? If you’re not, I think we don’t have to explore this relationship further.”

On hindsight, not only was this unromantic, but was actually a rather harsh conversation.

My girlfriend immediately asked me, “What makes you so sure?”

For seven years, I had my heart set on missions, but had never been bothered by such a question. I was always able to rationalize away the need to explain my call. It is a personal call after all, isn’t it? Yet this time round, I had to search deep; I couldn’t say that it was none of her business anymore, since we were dating, and might someday marry.

Thinking back, I remember that my journey towards missions began when I visited a church seven years ago. I was not yet a Christian at the time. I had been reading the Bible for the sake of disproving it, and various friends had invited me to different churches. That Sunday, the preacher of the church I was visiting shared testimonies from different missionaries. Against the logical personality that I prided myself on, I felt my heartstrings tugged by the stories. I did not know it at the time, but that was when I first said “yes” to missions. I was called, period.

Sometime during my exploration of Christianity, I became a Christian myself. That tug on my heart that I experienced became central to my faith journey. As soon as I was baptized, I tried very hard to get involved in my church’s missions. I joined my church’s monthly visits to a neighboring country. I plugged in to longer-term missions and joined the church’s missions committee, eventually taking over leadership of that very committee.

My girlfriend, in the meantime, had arrived at a missional calling in her own journey. When we later got married, she joined my church and helped me run the missions ministry in my church.

Because my faith journey had such a focus on missions from the beginning, I grew frustrated when people did not share my passion for missions. Relying on my own strength, knowledge, and planning skills, I tried to grow my church’s emphasis on missions. I connected with other missions agencies and explored partnership opportunities. I established policies, procedures, systems and structures, all in the name of facilitating missions. I even had a catchy tagline—“Come and be discipled; go and make disciples.”

In short, I saw myself as a savior, one who was responsible for helping others see and catch the heart of missions. In reality, I was being very self-righteous and ambitious. I was running ahead of God. And in running ahead of God, I was actually damaging the work that was already ongoing. My ambitions were causing unhappiness, suspicion, disunity, and grievances: in some corners, people were commenting that “that young punk is up to something new (unrealistic) again.”

For nine years, it felt like I got nothing done. While I never doubted the call to missions, things were difficult and I was beginning to feel frustrated.

But recently, one of the missions organizations I was connected with introduced me to a book, Plum Tree in the Desert. This was a collection of missionary stories. Reading about the successes and failures, the strengths and weaknesses of these missionaries, really encouraged me in my own journey. Here are three particular points I hope to remember as I continue on my path to missions.

 

1. God’s divine plans surpass human failures

The first story in the book was about a missionary couple who had been repatriated from the country they were serving in—right when their service was beginning to bear fruit. In fact, they were ousted from the country several times. Even at the time of writing, this missionary couple did not have an answer for why these things happened to them.

I wondered how difficult it must have been for the missionaries, to leave when such critical work was happening. I tried to put myself in their shoes—I imagine I would have been frustrated, questioning, doubting, lamenting—all natural responses to such circumstances.

And yet, though the missionaries must have been disappointed at no longer being able to serve in the country, there is a church there now. God has been faithful and carried out His own good work.

So many missionary stories that I had heard in the past focused on the successes—the number of conversions, the building of churches. It was almost as if missionary life was all glamor and success. But here was a story about failure, about disappointment.

It was refreshing to be told that the missionary life—in fact, any Christian life—is costly but a beautiful and worthy privilege. As Christians, we are called to deny ourselves, to surrender, to trust, to lean, to persevere, to take heart, to be settled and anchored in the soul and spirit. Our own strength and plans cannot accomplish anything. But even in our own failures and weaknesses, we can testify that God’s strength and sovereignty endures.

 

2. Serving God is about Him, not us

Another story in the book was about the wife of a missionary doctor. While the husband was an active and impactful part of the ministry, the wife struggled with her call and purpose. Women were very limited in their roles in the region these missionaries served in, and the wife had to “settle” for homeschooling her children and largely staying at home.

She writes:

For me, in all those years, the temptation was to think that we were too ordinary, too limited in spiritual power, too few in number . . . What had I actually achieved in those years in the desert, sitting at my kitchen table? But the answer for me is that it doesn’t matter how significant we appear to the world at large, or to ourselves; we are to do what God has called us to do. . . because we never know what spiritual fruit will come, and is still to come, from the friendships we’ve forged and the conversations we’ve had.

Contrary to expectation, the writer arrived at a state of contentment and purpose, knowing full well what it meant to be faithful in all that God has given and purposed for her, all the while striving to only please the Audience of One. I am reminded that God’s definition of greatness cannot be measured by human standards, and what matters most is that I am faithfully serving Him.

 

3. He works all things for the good of those who love Him

The final story I want to share is about a missionary couple who served a secluded tribe for a very long time without seeing any fruit. They sacrificed their finances and even their health with no result—the husband died from medical conditions at the young age of 44. After this, practically everyone warned the young widow against continuing the work, but she returned anyway.

When she returned, the villagers exclaimed, “You see, she loves us. She came back. The God she loves must be real.”

The missionary’s pain and perseverance birthed beauty and fruit. Like Jim and Elizabeth Elliot’s story, this helped me put things in eternal perspective: God makes all things—including deaths and sufferings—work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

 

To sum up, these stories from men and women who were willing to give everything for Christ helped me better understand risk and suffering—not that we seek them, but we embrace them as they come, knowing that the Bible has said they would come, and that God will not waste them.

Right now, my wife and I are candidates with a missionary organization. We are enrolled in some of their courses, and are seeking to be discipled and equipped to serve wherever God might send us. We are learning to rethink everything, from career choices to little daily choices, in light of this preparation.

These missionary stories profoundly impacted me because they are so raw and transparent. Yet, in such rawness and transparency I began to see the heart of surrender and trust, and above all, God’s faithfulness that surpasses all deaths and hurts, disappointments and fears. Plum Tree in the Desert amplifies the tug in my heart, and I strongly recommend it to any aspiring missionaries.