Have you ever heard a story about a loved one being saved from a near death experience, and then someone almost instinctively says, “praise God!”? God is certainly to be praised in this situation, but I wonder if there is more too it. Namely, what are we supposed to say when the loved one actually dies? Should we not praise God during the tragedy? (Not for it though!) Near death experiences are far from the only occasion when you hear the phrase, “praise God!” It often comes about when a person gets a promotion at work, or when a student does well on an exam. Once again, God should be praised during these moments, however, what is to be proclaimed when the person actually dies, the promotion never comes, or you fail the test?
There have been so many instances in my journey with my wife over the past year which are “praise worthy.” We saved enough money to move to Belgium, I successfully completed the pre-doctoral year near the top of my class, earned acceptance into the PhD on a topic concerning ecumenism with an amazing promoter…it all sounds amazing, right? But then came the bad news, I did not get the funding stipend I was hoping for. How deflating! Talk about a shock to your pride. We went through an incredibly difficult journey only to now be faced with the hardest financial burden of our marriage? I ask a question to myself: if I had gotten the funding, would I be saying “praise God!”? If so, my faith is pretty shallow.
My financial burden is not my own, it is also my wife’s. When we got married we said, “for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse…” What would our marriage be if we only loved each other during the rich, healthy, better moments? Love is more than an emotion in the high times, it is a choice in the low times of poverty, sickness, and bad times. Is it not the same with God? As my pastor during college told me time and again, “our joy should never be dependent upon our circumstances” (Retired Lt. Col. Rev. Dr. Jerry Malone). I am so thankful that when I first became a believer, I had Pastor Jerry to help train me in the faith. Our joy does not depend upon our circumstances, our joy depends upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in having lived faithfully, going to the cross, dying, being raised, and ascending to the right hand of the Father so that he may continually mediate for us.
Am I saying that we should stop praising God? Heaven forbid! I am saying that we should praise God all the more, and not merely when life is going the way you wanted it to. Sara and I are still praising God, even though we did not get the funding stipend we were hoping and praying for. God is still faithful.
At this point, my wife and I have very little money and in all honesty, we are considering moving back to Portland where I teach HS, if we are not able to afford living in Belgium. This is difficult because we love Belgium and serving the church here. This dilemma of moving or staying reveals a major tension in my own vocation: on the one hand I love pursuing Christian reconciliation and pastoral work, and on the other hand I love teaching students. I am a theologian and an educator. Both are fantastic options and need not be mutually exclusive or be dependent upon my future career. We love Belgium and we love Portland. Your prayers for our direction and other funding opportunities are greatly appreciated.
There are many songs by Jeremy Camp which describe what it means to praise God in all things. He has experienced some very difficult times in his life, having experienced the death of his first wife to breast cancer and the death of his youngest child. Yet he remains a faithful believer in Christ. Here is one of my favorites and I pray it gives you hope: