As we come to the end of 2019, many of us are reflecting back on the last 12 months. For some, 2019 was wonderful. New life came in. There were new opportunities. For others, it was a mediocre year—nothing grand, nothing terrible. Maybe for you, it was a year of pain and disappointment.
No matter what our year looked like, as we enter this Christmas season, may we remember to have a heart that sings praises to God. God commands us in His Word to praise Him. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
What keeps us from praising God in all circumstances? Many of us have stories of heartbreak, which lead us into an ongoing struggle with complaining. I understand that we have hurt and pain, but we can’t allow that to suffocate our joy. We can’t harbor both joy and complaining in our heart. Philippians 2:14 says we’re to do everything without grumbling or complaining.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, sets a perfect example of how to praise God in all circumstances. Have you ever thought of how Mary must have felt after the angel Gabriel appeared to her? She was a virgin and promised in marriage, but Gabriel told her she would become pregnant and give birth to God’s Son.
We cannot imagine the fear that probably swept over her. How lonely she must have felt, and how scared she must have been to face the next day. Who would believe her? How would Joseph react? What would people do to her? She would be a disgrace to her family.
But Mary, in her greatest moment of uncertainty, surrendered her heart to God. In Luke 1:38, she told the angel: “I am the Lord’s servant.” Mary recognized God’s authority, and she surrendered to Him. She acted in obedience, and with her trust in God, she praised Him.
Luke 1:46-55 records her song of praise. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant … for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name …” (ESV).
Mary’s song reveals how much Scripture she knew. This young girl, a mere teenager, had hidden God’s Word in her heart. Her song reveals how God will bless Israel and what He’ll do through the Messiah. In the midst of Mary’s circumstances, she turned to God’s Word. When we have God’s Word hidden in our hearts, we can praise Him through our storms. His Word is our anchor, bringing much-needed peace.
Mary was content to submit to her Lord, and, oh, how I love that sense of contentment in her life. My grandfather once said, “Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than the true spirit of thankfulness.”
But how do we praise God when our hearts don’t feel like it? For many of us, as we close out this year, our hearts are troubled. We’ve been depleted. We feel destroyed. We have long-standing hurt, that, although it may go away at times, never leaves completely. We have to go back to what is our anchor, and that’s God’s Word. Just as Mary did. And we must remember, our praises aren’t meant to be conditional. Our obedience isn’t conditional. We are to praise and obey God in all circumstances.
Philippians 4:4-6 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything.”
I believe praising God often has to be a choice. We simply do it because He commands us to. There have been times that my heart has been broken, and I’ve had to get on my knees in a quiet space and thank Him anyway. Start with the things that you don’t want to take for granted. Thank Him that you have a spouse who comes home to you at night, as many do not. Thank Him that He’s given you a child. There are many people praying for a child, and there are many who have lost a child. Thank Him for the roof over your head, because there are many people in this world without a roof over their head. When you begin to praise God, when you set your eyes on Him and what He has done, He will heal your brokenness and turn your bitterness into thankfulness.
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” When we’ve given our life to Christ, we are promised it will not be easy. Job 14:1 says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (ESV).
I don’t believe it ever became easy for Mary. She was likely mocked and ridiculed during Jesus’ childhood, and then she would go on to live a mother’s worst fear, watching her son being brutally put to death before the whole world.
As we close out this year, we hold on to God’s promises, and we anchor ourselves in the truth of His Word. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” We know that in the end we win, that one day Jesus Christ will come back, victorious, in His beautiful, magnificent, glorified body.
We just have to keep our eyes and our minds focused on Him, with the eternal mindset that we are here to fulfill God’s purpose, that we are His instruments to use as He pleases. Romans 8:18 says, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
If for some reason, you feel you have nothing to be thankful for, think again about the true meaning of Christmas, that God gave His one and only Son—for you. That will help you sing praises in your heart to God.
Cissie Graham Lynch, wife of Corey Lynch, mother of Margaret and Austin, 6 and 3, is the daughter of Franklin and Jane Austin Graham. She is senior advisor/ministry spokesperson for BGEA.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version. The verses marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.