Heath: It is Thanksgiving week in the United States of America and that is the informal beginning of the holiday season in America. It is a time of families getting together and a time of joy. As Thanksgiving fades into Christmas, it will be a time where we purchase gifts and spend even more time with family members. This week many of us will gather with our families and friends and share a feast for the purpose of giving thanks for the blessings that we have received. This is a glad time in the lives of many people.
But also for many people it’s hard. The holiday season, the time of thanksgiving when we’re supposed to be giving thanks is difficult. For many of us, this will be the first Thanksgiving feast without a precious loved one who has perhaps died in the last year. For others, holidays like Thanksgiving are plagued with bad memories because it was on that date that they lost a precious friend or loved one. Others will struggle through loneliness because they sense that they don’t have friends and family to celebrate with. For others there will be many other difficulties, perhaps a lost job or a difficult financial situation. For many people this Thanksgiving it will be hard to give thanks.
It’s because of that reality that I want to think about this theme of giving thanks when thankfulness is hard as it shows up in Psalm 69. Psalm 69 is a text of Scripture that is about glad thanksgiving to God. Psalm 69:30 says, “I will praise the name of God with a song. I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” This is a psalm of David where he pronounces that he wants to give thanks to the Lord. That he wants to sing a song to the Lord. That sounds very much in keeping with the spirit of our celebrations this week.
Yet when you read the larger Psalm you find out that David is thankful in the midst of a very difficult time. This is what Psalm 69:1-4 says, “Save me oh God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold. I’ve come into deep waters and the floods sweeps over me. I’m weary with my crying out. My throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause. Mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.” When you read those early verses, you find out that David’s thanksgiving in verse 30 has more to it than meets the eye. David is giving thanks but he’s giving thanks in the midst of a great difficulty. It’s some desperate situation. He says the waters have come up to my neck. He sinks in deep mire. There is no foothold and the flood sweeps over him. He doesn’t specify what this difficulty is but it is some overwhelming difficulty that seems to even threaten his life.
More than that, David says that he is surrounded my many enemies. He says “more than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause.” It’s not just that the situation is bad but that he is surrounded by enemies and doesn’t seem to notice any friends as he struggles with whatever this difficulty is. As if all that were not bad enough, it seems as though God himself is distant. He says “my eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” David looks out in the midst of this really difficult and challenging situation and he can’t even see the Lord. The Lord himself seems distant. So we see that David’s expression of Thanksgiving comes in the midst of great pain.
Perhaps that is the case for many of you. As you face the Thanksgiving celebration its hard for you to give thanks as David does. What we need to understand is in the midst of such a difficult situation, in the midst of such overwhelming pain, how is it possible that David is able to give thanks? The reason he is able to give thanks is instructive for us and there are a couple of things we can talk about.
We read in Psalm 69:33, “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.” David can give thanks in the midst of difficulty because he knows that the Lord hears him. In fact, you notice that the Psalm itself is a direct address to the Lord. It’s a prayer offered to the Lord and he has confidence that the Lord hears. The sovereign God of the universe who loves David hears David. The God who loves him enough to fix the problem is not far off from the problem. That is a source of comfort for us when thanksgiving is hard. We can pray to the Lord of glory. We can pray to the God of our salvation knowing that he is full of love and full of care and when we come to him through faith in Jesus Christ he does hear us and is not far off.
Another reason that David can give thanks in the midst of such difficulty has to do with what he says in verses 34-36. He says, “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah and people shall dwell there and posses it. The offspring of his servants shall inherit it and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” David looks beyond the difficulty of the current situation. He has faith in the God who loves him and is strong to help and he believes in verses 34-36 that God will cause this pain to turn out for good. David has hope that the bad things he’s currently experiencing will not be the end of the story in his life. David has hope that a strong and loving God will bring good out of the pain so David can give thanks.
This serves as the fuel for our thanksgiving as well. Sooner or later all of us are going to face times in life where we’re called to be thankful and it’s going to be a struggle to come up with a good reason to be thankful. When that happens we need to look beyond our circumstances to the God who controls our circumstances and hears us. The God who works all things for our good, as we love Jesus Christ and are called according to his purpose. It’s interesting that David, as he expresses the confidence in the God who hears him, and as he expresses confidence that God will bring good out of this bad season, that David utters this prayer before he has seen those good results. That is to say he utters this prayer when it is still a desperate and a dark situation.
David has confidence not because his circumstances have changed but because his God has remained the same and that is a good reason for us to be thankful regardless of our circumstances this year. Whether times are good and happy or whether they are sad and hard, the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us that we need to look to the Lord who loves us. We need to look to the Lord who is strong to help us and to the Lord who hears us when we cry.
So it is in that spirit that all of us here at ACBC can wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and that’s true even and especially if this is a hard time for you to celebrate Thanksgiving.
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