From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Reflections magazine
by Elizabeth Head Black
The following is an excerpt from Hand in Hand, Walking with the Psalms through Loneliness, by Elizabeth Head Black. Though written in response to a personal circumstance years ago, it speaks to the way praise changes our perspective in difficult circumstances.
“Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night” (Psalm 134:1).
All hell was breaking loose. Every sure foundation in my life seemed to be crumbling at the core. What could be shaken was shaking. What could be broken was breaking. Our own version of the American dream lay crumbled on the floor. It was all so public! The disintegrating shell of our lives was on display for all to watch. Some were just curious oglers. Others were judgmental head-waggers. Even those close to us just had to turn their heads to stop from watching the carnage. Was it any surprise that we retreated to a sanctuary – a quiet, private place to pray and to be safe with God?
I remember the day at the altar I prayed Job’s prayer, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). Though He slay me. The words reverberated in my heart: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” My prayer was not one of petition, nor angry tirade, not one of doubt, nor desperation. But strangely, it was filled with trust and praise. Simple, humble, trusting praise. Not for my circumstances, but for God’s power and sovereignty—for who He was. The more we praised, the more our darkness was being transformed into a sanctuary of light. It seemed the only way through our pain. I did not know at the time that our praises were ushering in a new way of life.
“Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night,” says the psalmist (134:1). In our personal darkness, when the night is too long, when the shadows have overtaken us, praise the Lord. We servants of the Lord, we servants who tiptoe through the night, waiting in the wakeful watches when all the world is asleep. Quietly we sit, with our arms wrapped around our knees, and our chin tucked in low. We minister to the Lord with our praises, whispered softly without inhibition. These are our offerings to the Lord, the praises that drip from our lips along with the tears.
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:6-8).
It is easy for bitterness to creep into our soul in the dark hours of the night. It is an infestation that, once taken hold, will sap the strength, the joy and eventually the life from its host. It latches onto our ego and our pride, and fills us with dizzying thoughts of our rightful due. And when we are finally sick of the ugly, wild-eyed child that is feverish within, we look for the door. Where is God’s sanctuary? How are we to find peace and rest in the midst of our turmoil, when we so desperately need it?
King David knew. He wrote: “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live” (Psalm 63:2-4). David knew to combat bitterness with praise. We can slip through the narrow, unadorned door to God’s refuge anywhere. We find it on the roadside. In traffic. While folding clothes or jogging. While washing dishes or pruning roses, in the city and in the country. In praise, we appropriate God’s word of love and sovereignty in our lives and it shifts our perspective from the world around to the foot of God’s throne. We are ushered into the throne room of God’s presence, into his glorious light. This is power about which the world knows nothing. It is freedom from the tyranny of circumstance and a witness to the transformative power of Jesus Christ. The psalmist exclaims, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). It is praise that breathes life back into us.
So we servants of the Lord who wait in the watches of the night — we who wait in the darkness of our circumstance, let us praise the Lord. The morning hours are not far off, and the Morning Star has already risen. As the psalmist says, Let us awake the dawn with praises to You, O Lord (see psalm 57:8-9).
Elizabeth Head Black is the author of Hand in Hand, Walking with the Psalms through Loneliness and blogs at The Daily Bread, both available through her website elizabethheadblack.com. Elizabeth is a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi and is married to the Rev. Milton E. Black, Jr.