Give thanks to the Lord for he is good
Some wandered in desert wastes, they found no way to a city where they might dwell
Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them.
Some sat in darkness and deep gloom, bound fast in misery and iron.
Some were fools and took to rebellious ways, they were afflicted because of their sins
Some went down to the sea in ships and plied their trade in deep waters.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children
-Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, and 31
A Psalm of Thanksgiving
As I wrap my mind around observance of Thanksgiving, and enter into the family discussion/debate/kerfuffle/open warfare about which dishes shall be served, I came across Psalm 107, to which I’d never paid much attention. It’s a psalm of thanksgiving, gratitude for deliverance and healing from four different situations. On first reading, they seem time bound, pertinent to another era. But as I sat with them, I was struck again by the relevance of these ancient hymns collected in the psalter, several thousand years old but able to speak loud and clear to our own day.
Here are the four situations described in Psalm 107:
Wilderness: The author notes time spent in desert wastes, marked by hunger and thirst, spirits languishing. I thought about times I’ve been in the wilderness, clueless about how to move forward, feeling a certain emptiness. I’m talking about the spiritual equivalent of the time my phone went dead when I was depending on Mapquest. Some of those times have been when I’ve been leading churches. Go figure. Have you had wilderness experience? Did you come through it? Are you there now? The psalmist gives thanks that God set feet on a straight path. Can you give thanks for times you moved out of the wilderness, a place of challenge but also a place of formation?
Confinement: The author notes the experience of darkness and deep gloom, bound fast in misery and iron. I thought about all the ways that people experience confinement. I prayed for those in prison, millions incarcerated in our country, children detained on our border. And I considered all the ways others know confinement: loneliness, isolation, folks restricted by medical conditions, those trapped in addictive behavior, those in relationships that bring nothing but pain and aren’t good for anyone. Have you had any of those experiences? Did you come through them? Are you there now? The psalmist gives thanks that God broke bonds asunder. Can you give thanks for times you moved out of your own version of imprisonment?
Foolishness: The author notes that often we get in a mess because of dumb things we do: bad decisions; tainted judgment; ascribing ultimate value to things that simply are not worth it; giving our hearts to that which will not satisfy our hearts. The Bible is full of stories of folks who get in a mess for any or all of these reasons. So is the daily newspaper. Have you had any of those experiences? Did you come through them? Are you there now? The psalmist gives thanks that God healed and saved. Can you give thanks for times your own bad choices were somehow redeemed?
Storms: The author notes that sometimes as we set out on our journey, we find ourselves in the midst of storms, waves that mount to the heavens and fall to the depths. A preacher once referred to them as personal tsunamis, those storms that come to us in life, sometimes out of nowhere. Unexpected turbulence, and maybe we forgot to fasten our seat belt. Those storms are real, and maybe that’s why in the gospels, Jesus keeps walking on water, calming the storm. Have you had any of those experiences, a time when you found yourself in the midst of a whirlwind? An accident? A reversal? A sudden loss? Did you come through it? Are you there now? The psalmist gives thanks that God brought calm. Can you give thanks for times you moved out of the tempest?
Take time this week to read and reflect on Psalm 107, a psalm of thanksgiving as it describes these various situations, many of which we know too well. If we’re in them right now, in this Thanksgiving week, perhaps we can take hopeful comfort in knowing that God’s intention is guidance, healing, deliverance, a future, that we are not alone in the storm. And if we’re able by God’s grace to see that we’ve come through them, add those experiences to the list of things for which we are thankful this week.
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