May, 2019, somewhere in Cedar Lake near Ontario, Canada. I was on my first Canadian fishing trip with my son and a group of friends. It was one of those mornings I had seen on TV and read about in magazines. Yet, I was unprepared. We glided across the clear, calm water. The north wood pines stood at attention. Their ranks dotted only with the early spring green-yellow leaves of the birch trees. The clay-red and multi-shaded brown boulders framed the lake. We motored into the narrows and were greeted by tall rock formations standing like guardians both to the port and starboard sides. I could see the final set of guardians in the distance. The final sets were shorter and seemingly bent over, kneeling in reverence to what lie ahead.

The river banked left and ushered us into the sanctuary. The bay to the east was bordered by tall grass, glistening in the first rays of the morning sun. Beyond the bay, the lake widened out in a full circle that filled my field of view. Three small islands sat on the water, cedars raising their boughs in praise. Paradise.

I felt welcomed but unnoticed. The worship service had already begun! I had been praying as we made our run to paradise but now, inside the sanctuary, all I could do was join the choir of nature in praise of our Master Creator. I was caught up in praise of the one, true, living God, bathing in His radiant glory. Any doubts about where this natural beauty came from disappeared and I was full of wonder, joy, and a deep sense of peace.

Have you had such a moment?

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about stones (Luke 19:37-40). As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds and His disciples praised Jesus, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd asked Jesus to rebuke his disciples. “I tell you,” Jesus responded, “if they keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.” I believe this. I’ve heard stones cry out in praise of the Lord!

I’ve been blessed by other moments when I was caught up in praise: holding my newborn grandson, surrounded by brothers at Christian retreats, at one particular concert listening to voices raised to God in four-part harmony.

But there are other times when praise does not come so easily nor so positively uplifting. Praising God after losing a job is tough. Lifting our eyes to the Lord with praise can be the last thing on our mind after an argument with our partner or the loss of a loved one.

As we get caught up in Christ, we learn praise is both intellectual and emotional. By the grace of God, believers, at some point, are moved by the reality of God and persuaded by the truth of who Jesus Christ was, is and always will be. From this mindset it is possible to praise God in all situations. Even during desperate times, fearful times, and painful times, we can lift up our eyes to the Lord and praise God. Granted, this intellectual praise might be shared well after we’ve raised our voice to God pouring out our anger, resentment, confusion and pain, but, praise prevails. Our questions, doubts, and heavy emotions do not change the nature of God, how much He cares for his creation and how much Christ longs to help us.

Psalm 46:10 calls us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Notice that the psalmist encourages us to be still and “know” that I am God. The psalmist does not encourage us to be still and “feel” that I am God. Why focus on the mind, rather than emotions? Would you agree with me that emotions can be fickle, ever-changing, untrustworthy, and even disloyal? Pick a day this next week and track your emotions. Watch how they come and go. Assess the situations and how emotions drive you to make one decision while your mind pulls you in a different direction. Our emotions are real and valid and have great purpose. However, they can also lead us astray if we are not careful. Greg Koukl says it well, “Emotions make life delicious, but reason makes life safe.”

Situations where we are moved to offer intellectual and uplifting emotional praise are unforgettable! But, over the course of our life, we are likely to experience more situations when we know that God remains present and worthy of praise, but we may not feel like praising God. I’ve noticed that in good times, I generally address my praise to Christ Jesus. I feel a certain closeness, fondness, child-like trust, and peace. In challenging times, however, I find it hard to call out the name of Jesus. Instead, I address the Almighty, simply, as God. In these times, the intimacy is replaced by a feeling of distance and unworthiness, and perhaps even anger at an oppressive authority. I think it’s much like how I addressed my parents in different situations: Daddy, Pop, or Dad; Mommy, Mom, or Mother. My emotional reaction to situations did not change who my Mom and Dad were, nor diminish how much they loved me and wanted the best for me.

The psalms showcase moments when King David praised God both intellectually and full of joyful and peaceful emotion. There are also examples when he was stuck in challenging times. In these circumstances, David, like us, struggled with his emotions toward God but he offered intellectual praise to the Lord.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages us, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Please notice, Paul says “In everything, give thanks,” not “For everything, give thanks.” As we grow in faith, we learn the power and priority of praising God.

In my book, we uncover the awe and intimacy of a personal relationship with Jesus. I invite you to read the book and join me as we get caught up in Christ.