Matt Redman recounts the story of a time when apathy was widespread in his home church’s musical expression. Songs were sung, but the congregation was simply going through the motions. The pastor decided to get rid of the musicians and the sound system for a season and songs were sung acapella. As they started to sing that way, an interesting thing happened. The congregation was forced to focus on the song’s lyrics and their participation in the singing since the band was not there to carry them. Out of this experience, Redman wrote the now-famous lyrics:
When the music fades, all is stripped away,
and I simply come,
longing just to bring something that’s of worth,
that will bless your heart.
I’ll give you more than a song,
for a song, in itself, is not what you require.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear:
I’m looking into your heart.
The song goes on to speak of the heart of worship and continues, “It’s all about you, Jesus.” Redman came to realise that worship should be all about Jesus. For too long, he and those he led in worship were focused on other things and they needed to return to the heart of worship. Psalm 86 highlights this truth in a slightly different area.
Sometimes, we can make our faith about all sorts of important, but supplementary, things. John Piper has warned of the dangers of this: “If we make secondary things primary, they cease to be secondary and become idolatrous. They have their place. But they are not first, and they are not guaranteed. Life is precarious, and even if it is long by human standards, it is short.”
While we might not do so intentionally, sometimes we can focus so much of the benefits of Christianity—a stable marriage, obedient children, an ordered society—that we miss out on the real centre of our faith: God himself. David highlighted the need to keep God central in our thinking and our actions: “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God” (vv. 8–10). In the midst of his trials and the opposition he faced, he remembered that one thing was primary: for all peoples to come to recognise God for who he is.
Christians are called to make disciples and the essence of making disciples is telling people about God’s character and works. People will be brought to glorify God to the degree that we tell them of his greatness and his incomparable works. If we substitute the primary thing for secondary things we will have preached a different god.
It is one thing to tell of God’s great character and works when providence smiles on us. It is often quite another when providence frowns on us. But we all know the great encouragement it is when Christians praise God in the storm. And we know that we should do the same, as difficult as we find it.
So how do we cultivate an attitude of praising God in the storm? Let me briefly suggest three things.
First, be much in Scripture. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Read and meditate on texts like Psalm 34:1 and James 5:13. This will help build your faith and cultivate your praise in the storm.
Second, actively remember what he has done for you. It is easy to be swept up in the storm of the moment and forget God’s grace to you in the past. But as you reflect on past graces it gives you reason to praise in the present.
Third, reach out of yourself and minister to others. As you take the focus off yourself and your own problems, God affords you unique perspective, which enables your praise in the storm.
As you reflect on Psalm 86, remember the truth that, in good times and bad, it’s all about God. It’s all about Jesus. Allow his praise to roll from your lips in the midst of the storm for his glory and for your good.