When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher had us memorize Psalm 100, and after 35 years, I still can quote parts of it from memory. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth, …know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are the sheep of His pasture… Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise….”
And when I am feeling hard pressed on every side, when things are not going my way, when I don’t know which way to turn next, I remember His gate and the way to enter His courts, because that is where I need to find all the answers, and even more importantly, peace. Isn’t that what we all want?
There are seasons in life where things are so hard and answers don’t come easily, when we fail and need forgiveness and to be set back on the right path. And there’s only one way in. If there is anything I’ve seen true in my life it is that I can always turn to God, but I can’t get there on MY terms. I have to go on His terms, which are spelled out clearly in Psalm 100.
The gate to God’s heavenly court isn’t open for everyone, all the time, but it is able to be opened by anyone, at any time; and the way to unlock the gate is to have and use the correct key, of course. Pretty basic, right? So, what does Psalm 100 say about entering the gate?
Enter His gates with thanksgiving. Enter His courts with praise. There is your key!
In the bleakest, darkest moments of sorrow, how do we respond? I know my first inclination is to withdraw, complain, whine even. I might cry, go into a dark room, hide under the covers. You get the idea. I’m a big ‘ole baby. And I don’t usually find God under the covers. I might cry out and I might pray and sometimes God does have mercy on me, but other times, He whispers, “will you praise me anyway?”
I do not ever feel the urge to be thankful or praise God in my darkest hours, yet, from experience I know that when I wallow in my misery, my misery only grows and becomes darker and bigger and deeper. While we think fully feeling the depth of our own despair will somehow help us escape it, that’s a lie. No matter how deep we dig into despair, despair goes ever deeper. There’s no bottom exit strategy; only a top exit gate.
It’s not natural to be thankful and praise God when life is ugly, messy and painful. It’s unnatural to sing praises to God in those dark hours, but, perhaps, that is the point! Perhaps, it is so very unnatural, that it elevates us to the supernatural; and the supernatural is where God is. It’s where His gates are open for us to enter; and, those gates are the very same gates that serve as our exit from misery, and our entrance into His glorious light.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to be thankful in all circumstances. It isn’t a mere suggestion. It doesn’t say, if you feel like it. It goes on to say, “for this is God’s will for you.” God’s will for you. This is what He intends for you.
Several years ago, after my husband left me, and I was wallowing in my own despair and losing sight of that glorious gate, I decided to start dating for fun. I never wanted to remarry, but I needed a distraction, and being less lonely sounded sort of nice in that time and place. The only thing is, I wasn’t trusting God for my happiness, and in that selfishness, I met this great guy who was funny, kind, caring, fun, and who adored me. I totally fell for him.
The other problem was that he was not a believer. I always figured, no big deal if I never wanted to remarry, anyway, but God had other plans for me. One day God spoke to my heart and, seeing my compromising heart, God said, “will you give up what is great, for what is best?” This man, this relationship, wasn’t just good or fun, it was great! But great isn’t good enough when God asks you to give it up. How could I say no to God, Creator of everything!?
Nonetheless, I started to negotiate and complain about this request, but He asked it one more time: “will you give up what is great, for what is best?”
Oh, I didn’t want to, but I humbly said yes. I then phoned him and ended the relationship quickly for fear I would chicken out. And, then I sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. It was Thanksgiving and after friends whom I’d earlier entertained had all left, I had dishes to wash. I filled a sink with soapy water while I continued to weep. I’m sure my tears, that day, made a nice dent in my water bill. Then my mom called, and after I explained God’s request and what had happened, she told me that I should praise God anyway.
“What? Thats crazy! No way!” I replied. I felt that would be a lie, too insincere. Nothing in me was thankful. Nothing in me rejoiced. Still, before we got off the phone she told me to just try anyway.
I was angry by then, still sobbing. My head ached. My eyes were red and puffy. And with my hands in soapy water, I robotically said, “Thank you, God.” I didn’t feel it. My heart ardently disagreed. Yet, I repeated it through tears again and again. Soon, the weight lifted, and I found I was no longer crying; I was truly praising. And then my phone rang.
What had happened to move me from tears of sorrow to full on joy? I had entered His gates and His courts. I left the natural where this break up was illogical and my friends all believed I was “sabotaging my own happiness” as if I was mentally ill, and I had passed through the gate into the supernatural realm where His power changes us. My circumstances were the same. That man was still a steadfast unbeliever; and I, still stood over my kitchen sink with a tear-stained face. Nothing in the natural had changed… but in the spiritual, I had.
Passing through that gate took obedience, the putting to death of my desire, my pride, my will, and choosing to let God rule, but on the other side of that gate was so much good. I gave up the very thing I wanted, but God gave me so much more in return.
When my phone rang, it was a friend, who I met online dating, but for whom had no interest, romantically. I told him what happened, how I ended things at God’s request, how my mother told me to praise God, and how I was still sad, but now more for him than myself.
He listened, prayed, encouraged, and without me even being aware of what had happened God had already given me His “best.”
As it turned out, this was the man God had chosen for me – this man with whom I only wanted a friendship. I could have never seen it on my own, but God revealed it to me over and over again in truly amazing ways, each one a unique and undeniable answer to prayer.
Friends, the good stuff is inside the gates. It’s in His courts where He is worshipped by our lives of praise. We can’t find it anywhere else, and it begins by recognizing that! That there is no substitute for God, for His best, for His gifts, and that He can only be found when we enter in with the correct keys… thanksgiving and praise.
What hurt, what struggle are you facing today that you just can’t imagine thanking God for? I challenge you to go someplace quiet, even over a sudsy sink of dirty dishes, and thank Him, praise Him for it in spite of how you feel. It’s not about conjuring up some feeling. It’s about a step of obedience in the midst of being at the end of yourself and allowing the supernatural to open up before you to change you and bring light. Its about humility and surrendering it all no matter how you feel. And in that place, you find Him.
Choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Be thankful unto him and bless His name. For He is good and His mercy is never-ending. Psalm 100.