I’ve been struggling with what to write lately. My time has been taken by back-to-school shopping and the mad rush to complete those procrastinated summer projects. We also took some vacation time recently and I actually let my brain truly relax. Which was great! But ever since we’ve returned home, it’s been like restarting an old chain saw…it’s taking some time to get the ol’ ticker revved up again.
This morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 106. It is a plea for the people of God to give thanks. It recounts the history of the Israelites’ lack of thanks, rebellion, and captivity. One deed leading to the next. First they forgot all that God had done for them, rescuing them from the land of Egypt, only to whine and complain in the desert. Their lack of gratitude caused them to rebel and seek the comfort and thrills of other gods. “They provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds”, and “the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people” (verse 29 and 40). God left them to their ways, which not only enslaved their hearts to sin, but handed them over to their enemies. They came full circle, once again captives.
Thankfully, the Psalm continues: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive” (44-46).
Apparently, it was good news to the people to be pitied. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when people feel sorry for me. Why is that?
I think its because in my own self-idolatry, I expect myself to be better, stronger, and more resilient. To be pitied means it’s obvious to others that I’m doing a horrible job of managing life’s circumstances. And very simply, I don’t like looking less-than, weak, and short-winded. The Israelites must have found pity to be a refreshing balm in the midst of their captivity. In the midst of my idolatry, pity only pours salt on the wounds of my ineptness. Perhaps God has to get us to the depths of enslavement in order for us to find the pity of others a source of release and to free us from our self-worship.
I look at this cycle of behavior: thanklessness, idolatry, captivity, and pity and see why the Psalmist ends with a plea to God for his people.
“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!” (47-48 emphasis added).
It’s an appeal for a return to gratitude! The trouble experienced by the people of God stems from a lack of thanksgiving.
Over our vacation, I reread 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Honestly, I skimmed…reminded myself about thankfulness, but didn’t let the foundational importance of gratitude sink in.
Later, I was reclining on an outdoor lawn chair stargazing with my husband after the kids went to bed. The sky was full dusted with flickering flashes of light against vast cobalt. As we placed bets on the identity and location of Saturn and Mars, Scorpius and Ursa Minor, only my husband saw multiple shooting stars. Multiple. This had been a theme during our week: Paul getting a glimpse of stars in motion, Angie always looking in the opposite direction. The score for number of falling stars caught by Paul: 6 (or something crazy like that)…
I was starting to take it personally. I was drawing massive conclusions and analogies about my life, nothing more than complex intellectual whining. After he spotted yet another, I said something ridiculous like, “You’ve got to be kidding me! See, that’s just like my life, everyone else gets all the good stuff and it’s just never my turn.“
And just then, across horizontal arachnid in a shimmering arc over the ringed planet a meteor shot hot. Through the blazing red supergiant Antares it flashed wild. I screamed a half-laugh.
Then, my wonderful and brutally honest husband said, “It’s like God just told you to shut up.”
I provoked the God of the universe to say, “Shut up”.
And the cycle continues. Yes, I forced His hand and He told me to shut up with my whining self-loathing idolatrous talk and told me to praise His holy name. I, like the Israelites, had forgotten to consider His wondrous works. I wasn’t remembering the abundance of His steadfast love. I was looking in the opposite direction of the Father. How soon I forgot His goodness and birthed a wanton craving in the wilderness.
I forgot gratitude.
Now it sinks in, large rock full of weight and mass, plummeting through gaseous layers of soul atmosphere. It burns blue white as it invades the contours of my heart. Illuminating the dark places, igniting flame against the bitterness and discontent. Gratitude reaches the pit of my stomach in a heavy heap. My body stops dead in the stream of self-loathing consciousness, bowed over at the waist from the knot of indebtedness in my bowels. And as I had forced His hand, He replies by forcing my head in reverence to His holiness and I exhale a single praise while seated in that plastic chair…”wow…”.
I plead for all of us, as the Psalmist does. May our hearts return to gratitude–to thankfulness. Lest we seek satisfaction somewhere else. Lest we rebel against the steadfast love of God. Lest we provoke God Almighty. Lest we return to a land of slavery, only to be pitied by those who hold us captive. May we daily, in every moment, slow to the pace of thanks. Let all the people say, “Amen.” Praise the Lord!