Last week I talked about giving thanks, and how Psalm 100 was a great guideline for us as to how we should give thanks to God as a community through praise and worship. Whether your worship is through contemporary praise choruses, or formal liturgy, when it’s done right, it is a beautiful thing to behold, because ultimately what you have is a group of believers coming together to say, “Jesus, I love you,” and “thank you.”
I was originally going to say that “in our culture we have an abundance of things to be thankful for.” But the reality is, saying “our” culture isn’t really sufficient. Just on this website, people from 40 different countries and Canada (kidding,) have visited, so in that regards I think it would be rather unfair to not include them in on this. So rather than just talking about my culture (America,) or Western culture in general, let’s see if we can’t come up with some universal truths that we might experience when it comes to giving thanks to God.
Sometimes giving God thanks is hard. I’m not talking about “I have a hangnail and I’m angry at God,” hard, or “West Ham got relegated” hard. I’m not even talking about the kind of hard that is born out of the Sci-Fi channel deciding to change their name to Syfy and subsequently airing MMA and wrestling. No, I’m talking more along the lines of cancer. Or bankruptcy. Or homelessness. Or the premature death of someone close to you.
So how prevalent is this the problem of pain? According to the Mayo clinic, “about half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis at some time in their lives.” Worldwide that translates into about 13 million new cases every year. In 2005, a report from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, estimated that worldwide, over 100 million people are homeless. Winter’s coming here in the Northern Hemisphere. Time to roll up the windows and turn the heater on.
Now I’m not trying to be a downer, and if these things I mentioned, the hard, gritty realities of life don’t relate to you in any way, if you’re not hurting, then this probably isn’t the post for you. Tune in next week; I’ll try to bring something cheerful.
Experiencing pain is not new, nor is anger or confusion at God as a result. Read this psalm and ask yourself if you can relate to anything the author says:
1 O Lord, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief
I call to you, O Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, O Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, O Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.
That’s pretty dark. There isn’t much joy or thanksgiving there, but it’s honest, and I like that. The author is experiencing the closest thing to Hell on Earth you can: he feels rejected by God, despite his constant prayers. He is alone in the world; darkness is his closest friend. There are 150 psalms, and this is by far the most depressing. But even so, there is still something we can take away from this, something very positive that has a practical application in your relationship with God.
First off, it’s okay to be angry with God. There is nothing wrong or blasphemous with airing your complaints and grievances. But if you’re sitting there seething, about whatever flood is engulfing you, know that you’re not hiding anything from God, who knows your heart. Instead of being clever or sneaky, what you’re actually doing is building animosity between yourself and God. C.S. Lewis said to “Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.” So while prayer is important to maintain that relationship, honest prayer will keep that relationship legit. Even if you feel like there is nothing left on this earth to thank God for, thanking God through your pain, for Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, keeps that relationship from becoming cold.
Second, the reality is we are not promised an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite! The floodwaters will come, and while not everybody’s challenge will be as devastating as others, perseverance, prayer, and recognizing the sovereignty of God will allow you to overcome those challenges, regardless of the outcome. Some of us will suffer the devastating effects of cancer. Others will lose their job. Some of our persecuted brothers and sisters will even lose their lives for their faith. The point is, sometimes those floodwaters are going to be severe. They might even overtake you to the point that you’ll feel like you’ll never experience another breath of the fresh air of grace. But despite any pain and suffering in your life, know that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in good company that spans back at least 2,000 years.