The Fourth Week of Lent
By Marjorie George
OK, here is today’s assignment: Take a sheet of paper and make a list of everything for which you are grateful – your kids, your grandkids, a roof over your head, enough food to eat, a productive job, you get the idea.
Then, get down on your knees and tell God, “Thank you.”
Well, that was easy.
Now here is part two of the assignment: Take a sheet of paper and make a list of everything in your life that is a problem, an inconvenience, a downright disaster, a seemingly-hopeless situation.
Then get down on your knees and tell God, “Thank you.”
That’s what we are supposed to do, according to the Apostle Paul. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” he told the Thessalonians (5:18).
So let me give you a few clichés to help you muster up some thankfulness:
- Adopt an “attitude of gratitude” — which is to say, just keep smiling.
- “Fake it ‘til you make it” – act like you are thankful even if you are not.
- “Count your blessings” – and just ignore everything else, no matter how much it hurts.
Trouble is, I have a hard time doing that with any sense of genuineness. I am not thankful that thousands of Japanese are dead or homeless following the earthquake and tsunami. I am not thankful that my friend is in pain. I am not thankful that a child somewhere will die of cancer today. (And we haven’t even gotten to my life.)
Of course, I am thankful for everyone who is ministering in any way to the Japanese people. And I am thankful that my friend will get better. I am thankful for those who stand beside grieving parents.
But what I am most thankful for is this: I am thankful that whatever the circumstances, I can count on God to be there with me, and with you, and with all who will acknowledge Him — or maybe even those who don’t acknowledge Him. I am thankful that whatever the outcome – joyful or sorrowful – God will shield me from going down to the pit, as the psalmists would say. I am thankful that no amount of darkness has put out the light of Christ.
And I learned this from the psalmists.
Now, the psalmists never hesitated to complain.
“How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
And grief in my heart, day after day?
How long shall my enemy triumph over me?” (13:1)
But the psalmists also never gave up on God. In spite of the unending difficulties, Psalm 13 adds,
“I put my trust in your mercy;
My heart is joyful because of your saving help.
I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly;
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High,” (5-6)
The psalmists understood, as did Paul centuries later, that there is no circumstance in which God’s people cannot find reason to be thankful. Even if that reason is beyond our present reality.
In The Psalms, Meditations for Every Day of the Year, author Joan Chittister reminds us that “The psalmist, unlike us, talks a great deal about the compassion of God, the notion that God is a God who sees our stumbling, suffering lives and suffers our afflictions with us. God, to the psalmist, is a God who feels our feelings and commiserates with them, understands them, knows how they affect us and stands by while we work them through.”
It is for these things, adds Chittister, “we must learn to be thankful” (page 122).
1. Joan Chittister, mentioned above, suggests this exercise: “When you feel besieged on all sides, give thanks for the one thing in life that makes you feel good even under pressure: good music, that special warm hand, the pet that never moves from your side, the child who makes life worth living.” Make a list today of those things. Stick the list to your refrigerator as a reminder.
2. Recall a time when things looked glum, maybe very glum. Recall those who stood by you. Give thanks for them today. You might even call or e-mail them or send a little note.
Notes on the psalms
Few of us realize that the Psalter is actually divided into five books
Book I consists of Psalms 1-41
Book II is Psalms 42-72
Book III is Psalms 73-89
Book IV is Psalms 90-106
Book V is Psalms 107-150
The first two psalms, however, are a general introduction to the entire Psalter and announce the two great themes of the Psalter – the revelation of God’s will in the Torah (Psalm 1), and the dominion of God that will come through the line of David and will one day rule the world.
Many scholars believe the five-book structure purposely imitated that of the Torah, the book of the law and teaching for the Hebrews. Some scholars have categorized the themes of the books — Nancy deClasse-Walford sees in books I and II the rise of ancient Israel under David and Solomon; in book three the story of the destruction of Israel and the exile; and in books IV and V the promise of the day when God will restore the fortunes of ancient Israel. Not all agree with her, but it is interesting to see if these themes can be ferreted out with careful reading.
It is clear, however, that overall the Psalter is the story of the whole people of Israel – their rise as God’s chosen, their destruction and exile, and their continuing hope (rather, belief) that one day God’s reign will return through his anointed one, the Messiah.