“Well, it’s kind of a winter sport, you know.”
“You mean winter as in ICE???”
“You mean winter as in igloos and Eskimos and penguins and ICE???”
That’s one of my favorite dialogues in the movie Cool Runnings, a story about a bobsledding team from Jamaica. You don’t have to see the movie to know that bobsled and Jamaica don’t usually appear in the same sentence. Well, the story goes that the four unlikely athletes from Jamaica get a former champion to coach them in bobsledding. However, they soon find out that they are not the only ones who have to overcome some difficulties. Their seemingly infallible coach is hiding a regretful secret that makes the team even more the object of ridicule than they already are. Yet on the night before the competition, the coach speaks to the driver of the team and they’re talking about gold medals when the coach speaks from experience and says, “If you’re not enough without it, then you’ll never be enough with it.”
Today has been a very goofy day with my emotions acting like bipolar on steroids. I’m actually starting to think that peace and joy are as elusive as ice is in Jamaica. Sometimes I really wonder if I’m going to actually find lasting relief this side of heaven, or if this roller coaster ride is to be my destiny for life. However, tonight I received a powerful lesson about worship. I still remember how my worship changed the night I got saved. Prior to that October evening, I barely stood during worship, and even though I liked music, I would only mouth the songs that I really liked and enjoyed only the rhythm while the words flew over my head and at times tasted bitter in my mouth. That night however, I could barely contain myself in the bookstore and couldn’t wait to get home where I jumped up and down and sang on the top of my lungs. Since then, my jumping and clapping and singing have been the source of many sermon illustrations and many Sunday dinner discussions, not all of them enthusiastically affirming, mind you. However, soon the style came to be so much of what people expected of me that it became a performance in front of others instead of worship before God. When I went to church, I felt that people were watching for the jumping and clapping and raising my hands like I was a number on a program.
When I came to the church that I now call home, I had been bouncing between so many churches and trying to stay away from suicide that I forgot all about my performance act. By the time I remembered it, I realized that no one here had heard a sermon illustration about my jumping or clapping or off-key singing and so no one was watching me expecting to see a show. I didn’t know it then, but stripping me of the performance aspect of worship really set the stage for what I learned tonight.
As I watched the movie Joyful Noise, I looked into the eyes of each member of the choir. Each of them was no stranger to pain, yet they sung and danced their heart out like it was the last day they were going to be given breath. As the movie ended, I realized in my heart what I had often resented others for saying, that God is worthy of our praise regardless of anything and everything we’re going through. He does not owe us an explanation, though he sometimes gives one out of his patience. He is worthy of our praise simply because he is. I looked at the weird day I had and thought, “if I have a thousand more days like this or worse, God is still worthy of my praise.” If God never did one more thing in my life or said one more word, if I’m out on the street tomorrow and if all my friends reject me, God is still worthy of my praise. In his great kindness he is working in my life and speaking to me. I am not out on the street, I have a roof over my head and friends who love me so much I’ve got to scratch my head in amazement. Yet all these blessings do not make God more worthy of my praise just as the lack of these blessings do not make him less worthy of my praise. He is always and forever infinitely worthy of my praise just for who he is.
That’s where the bobsledding coach came in. I heard the truly infallible coach, the Holy Spirit say, “If you can’t praise him when you’re in want, then you’ll never be able to praise him when you have plenty.” That struck me as odd at first. I thought, of course anyone would be able to praise God when things go well. It would be easy, wouldn’t it? And then I thought back to the times when I’ve been bitter towards God during my suffering. When in his mercy, God brought relief, the last thing on my mind was God during that season of joy and comfort. I became quick to indulge in selfish pleasures and fill my days with activity so as to crowd out any time to think about or be with God. However, when God has led me to praise him during difficult times, when relief comes, the first thing I do is run into his arms with gratitude and praise. What an eye-opener!
During these times when the emotional roller coaster flies between the extremes of heaven and hell, I can rest in the assurance that one thing will never change. God always has been and will always be worthy of my praise. One day, I will be able to walk on that elusive refreshing ice, but whether that day comes here on earth or in my eternal home, I will make sure the doorkeepers of joy see me coming with a skip in my step and a shout of praise on my tongue.