In February 2015, twenty-one Christian young men were marched onto a stretch of Libyan beach. They were forced to kneel in the sand while their captors, dressed in black, stood above them with knives in hand. For refusing to deny their faith, they were pushed to the ground and viciously beheaded.
So many details could be brought out concerning this massacre – both horrifying and inspiring. It was an unjust persecution that requires justice; but despite it all, these men our now heroes of the faith. They willingly laid their lives down for their Lord. They are a testimony to us all in more ways than one.
One detail that stands out to me is the way they left this earth. Unlike most people, they did not kneel in the sand begging for mercy. They did not cry out with child-like fear. No words of anger or hate toward their captors came from their mouths. No, it was the beautiful sound of praise to their Savior that left their lips. It was their final sacrifice of worship toward the One for whom they were dying.
Especially in our culture of fleshly pampering and indulgences, our immediate response to hardship is to cry and whine. Our emotions feel gratified as we vent the injustice of a broken relationship or a lost job. All we want to do is pout and complain about our woes to any listening ear. Praise is the last thing from our minds.
God has not commanded us to respond to trouble by indulging in our fleshly desire to whine. His command is to praise Him – not for the problem, but for His greatness. His greatness is most glorified when someone raises their voice in the middle of chaos. It’s so unlikely, so out of the ordinary, that it makes others – the devil included – take notice.
Acts 16 tells the powerful story of Paul and Silas. For casting out a demon they are beaten and jailed. With painful stripes on their backs, singing would be the last thing someone would expect. They knew the power of their worship, however, and lifted their voices: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God …” (Acts 16:25)
Notice what time of night it was. Midnight is not the usual hour to sing. Most people would desire only sleep. Paul and Silas were human. I’m certain they desired to rest should their painful backs allow. I’m sure they had to fight angry emotions toward their guards and the ones who unjustly beat them. Bravely, however, they sang for all the jail to hear. The result? Everyone in the prison heard of the greatness of God. The jailer and his entire family were saved. God sent an earthquake and they were set free. (vs. 26-34)
What if they had not put under their flesh? What if they had ignored their spirits’ urge to sing in their bondage? What if they had sulked in the corner pouting? The result would not have been miraculous. God does not move in response to mournful self pity. It was their praise that created their deliverance, and it was their praise that produced their testimony!
Another example of powerful praise at work is that of the children of Israel under the leadership of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). One horrific day, the king received news that multiple pagan countries were coming against them. Fear was the immediate result. Instead of completely giving into that fear, King Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the Lord” (v. 3). After he and his nation prayed, God sent a prophet to declare the end result of this battle should they move forward in faith: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you” (v. 17).
The next step I believe is crucial. They bowed themselves down and worshiped God, with “voices loud and high” (v. 18-19). They didn’t wait until they were desperate in the heat of battle to give God glory. They spiritually prepared themselves beforehand, believing God was going to do just what He said.
They then assembled the people and instrumentalists together and marched their way into the wilderness. I could imagine their flesh was screaming at them: “Are you crazy? A weapon of worship? You’ll be slaughtered!” Despite the doubts, they continued on . . . and the end result was powerful. God had set an ambush against their enemies before they ever arrived at the battle ground. What lay before them was a mass of dead enemies and so much spoil they couldn’t carry it all (v. 24, 25)!
We would love to experience victory by just sitting down and doing nothing but cry. It is true that God is the one who fights our battles, but there are actions of faith we must take before God can move. One action is that we create an atmosphere of worship. Our victory is won, not by our whine, but by our admittance that God is greater than the problem. That admittance is done through our praise and God’s power in it. Psalm 22:3 says, “Thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” God is where our praise is!
Those martyred Egyptian men on the beach went through far more than any of us have ever had to endure. We’ve never had to leave a country to find provision for our families. We’ve never spent weeks in prison being tortured for our faith. We’ve never felt the hot breath of our captor in our faces demanding that we give up our faith in Jesus. Most of all, we have not been forced to sacrifice our physical bodies at the blade of a knife. These twenty-one young men, all with families, did all this . . . yet with praise on their lips.
The question is this: Can we rise to that same level of worship in the middle of our hardship? Can we praise the Lord, even when our body hurts? Can we lift up His Name while our bank account sits empty? Can we rejoice in our God when a relationship goes sour? Can we worship when those we love reject us? Surely, in light of all Jesus has done, and all these men have suffered, we can make the choice to praise. We can push away our desire to pout at our problems, and choose to make God’s Name glorious in the middle of it all. Like our Biblical heroes in the faith, only then can we see the miraculous.
While the Egyptian mens’ captors gloated over their supposed victory, they did not realize their defeat. Twenty-one men stood their ground, even after grueling torture and the threat of horrific death. The Egyptians couldn’t be bullied into relenting, which was a form of conquering their enemies. Like Jesus, they willingly gave up their lives for the cause of Christ – no one made them do it. They also set a wonderful example to the world of unwavering faith and commitment. They are now heroes, honored world-wide. Finally, they are now in heaven, basking in the presence of the One they love, wearing crowns glistening with jewels only martyrs will ever wear. No one, in light of this, could say they had been defeated. Even their enemies one day will realize that praise had given the men a greater victory – a testimony of their salvation.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)