Years ago, I came across a wonderful little book called "Prison to Praise" by Merlin Carothers. Carothers was in military prison when a Christian told him to stop complaining about his problems and start praising God precisely for those problems.
He and many others who first heard this advice thought it was odd. But after being told that it could do him no harm, he began to praise God for his situation. Step by step, many things began to fall into place, and his life took many incredible new and wonderful turns, including his acceptance of a call to ministry in his church.
An image of a parked car has helped me understand this idea of praising God for our problems. When a car is parked, one can turn the steering wheel, but it takes a bit of effort. In contrast, when a car is in motion, the wheel turns with a flick of the wrist. Similarly, when we are upset, anxious, and complaining about our problems, we are like a parked car. Our Lord can redirect us, but we resist his efforts. However, when we begin praising the Lord for our difficulties, then we are like that car in motion. Praising God for our problems and not despite them does not mean that we necessarily feel elated, giddy, or happy about those problems. We may still feel the same sadness and grief for the difficulty. However, despite our feeling, we make an act of the will to praise God anyway.
That act of the will is what our Lord can more easily redirect. Eventually both peace and joy will return, but they will come not just because we may have gotten what we wanted but because we see God active and present in our lives.
A short aspiration during stress and difficulties can be very simple. “Praise you, Lord, that I hit my thumb with the hammer.” “Praise you, Lord, for the sickness I am enduring.” “Praise you, Lord, because I do not have the money I need to take care of my family.” And this can be repeated each time one considers the problem. At times I even thank God that I feel anxious. That is far better than getting upset with myself for not having trusted our Lord more fully.
With this attitude of praise operative in my mind, I can then say with Paul: “All things work out to the good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). My problems and my failures can even work to the good, even though I may not see how they all work out and I may not appreciate the slowness of God’s timing. However, I trust that with this short aspiration of praise, he will bring great good out of a situation from which I can see no escape.
Biblical scholar Fr. Mitch Pacwa is a popular speaker, writer, and TV host. To read an excerpt from his latest book, How to Listen When God Is Speaking (The Word Among Us Press,) or for more information, visit our bookstore at wau.org.