Psalm 30 – Psalm of Thanksgiving
As we have moved through this series we have discovered that the Psalms speak, give us a language of faith. They are the words of our conversation with God. So much of scripture gives God's words to us, but the Psalms are our words, our side of the conversation. Throughout the Psalms we find examples of all the many things we might want say to God. The Psalms even give permission for doubt and to question God, by giving us the very words that we so often find deep in our hearts, when we are struggling with pain or sorrow. But they also give us word for thanksgiving and praise.
This morning we find the Psalmist speaking words of Thanksgiving; words of thanks and praise to God on account of the wondrous ways God has moved in his life. He recounts the ways in which God has been faithful in the past and calls for us to join him as he gives God thanks and praise for what God has done in his life, for how God has acted on his behalf to right life's wrongs, to heal what was broken and bring restoration to what has been lost.
The writer of this Psalm is on the other side of a personal tragedy. He has suffered, has endured, has found himself in one of life's dark valleys, has gone into a long dark tunnel and has come out the other side. Through the words of this Psalm he recounts what happened and the faith journey he took as he went through his struggle. This Psalm bears witness to the struggle, to the hardships, and calls for us to join the Psalmist, as he gives God thanks and praise for how God provided restoration and carried him through his this difficult time.
The Psalmist says he was already in Sheol, that he was restored from among those who had already gone down to the Pit. The Pit and Sheol are ancient metaphors to talk about death. He feels that he was already in Sheol; he had already gone down into the Pit. He felt like he was on the brink of death, but he was not overcome by death, his life was restored. When the darkness was just about to close in; when he felt that all was indeed lost, he found that it was not. It is because he came to the point where all was lost, it is because he came to the point where he faced death and then, he found God has rescued him. He speaks to us, shares his story with us and calls for us to not only rejoice with him, but to give God praise for once again proving to be faithful, even when he felt it was about to be consumed by darkness.
The Psalmist felt abandoned by God. The Psalmist felt the God had turned away from him, felt that his pain, his illness, the struggles he was going through were because God was angry with him and was refusing to help him. But the anger was temporary, the feelings of being lost from God, of God being gone from him, were temporary, like the night. When the darkness has closed in all around, when the moon is hidden and one is unable to see the stars, the night seems to be unending, but it does end. The darkness never lasts forever, the morning comes, and with it light and with it joy. Although the struggles the Psalmist was going through seemed they would go on forever, they did not. There is always an end to suffering, just as there is always end to the night.
When we are struggling the Psalmist speaks for us what it feels like to be in that place. We feel God is angry with us; we feel God has turned away; we feel that we are on death's door. When our struggles seem to overwhelm, when our pain is too great, when we feel that all might be lost, that we might be swallowed up by the darkness that is in our lives, it good to hear the words the Psalmist has to say here.
When we feel that there is no way out, that there is no end, the Psalmist tells us that there is a way out, there is an end. Sorrow lasts only for the night, joy comes with the morning. No matter how dark, no matter how cold, no matter how long or how dangerous the night might be, the dawn always comes. There will be an end. ‘This’, whatever 'this' is cannot and will not go on forever.
Then the Psalmist remembers a time when all was going well; a time before his struggle; a time when all was right and good; a time when he was prospering in life. And he recounts how easy his faith was then. In times of prosperity, when things are going well, when life is going generally in the way we would wish, it is easy to express our faith in God. It is easy to say, “I will not be moved.” When life is as it should be faith is easy. When we have enough food, when all our loved ones are safe; when there is enough money to pay all the bills, when we and all those we love and care for are healthy, it is easy to trust that God takes care of us. It is easy to trust God to provide, when you are being provided for.
The Psalmist trusted God when all was well, he felt his faith was unshakable, but when prosperity was not at hand, when all was not being provided, when all was darkness and he felt he was on the brink of death, he found trusting God to be a bit harder. His faith waivered, his trust in the Lord faltered. When the world is dark, it is hard to believe in the light. When life is a stormy sea, it hard to imagine that will be calm again. When you are experiencing the deepest pain, it is hard to remember what it was like before the pain, must less trust that the pain will subside.
When our faith falters, when we struggle to trust that God is there for us, the Psalmist's words are here remind us, that we are not alone in our struggle. The Psalmist's faith waivered, just as ours sometimes does. He began to doubt that God was there, that God was listening to him. He wondered if God had abandoned him.
The Psalmist tells us that even as his faith faltered, and his his trust was troubled he still called out to the Lord. The Psalmist pleaded with God. The Psalmist argued with God. The Psalmist spoke logically with God. Who will praise God if he died? He can not speak of the wonders and the goodness of God, if he has gone down to the Pit? The dust he will become cannot give praise to God. Only he can speak of God's goodness, only he can tell of God's greatness. Only, those who have known the hand of God in their lives; only those who have been restored; who have tasted of the good fruit that is God's work in their lives, can share of God's greatness. Only those who have known God's presence in their life can speak of who God is and what God does. If God spares the Psalmist's life, he can bear witness to God's greatness; he can give God thanks and praise, but if he is not, there will be no praise; he will not be able to speak of God's greatness. The dust cannot do this. Only a human who has known the goodness, the greatness, the mercy, of God is able to do this. God should rescue him, so that he can speak of how God has worked; of God’s holy character; of God’s ability to bring salvation. God heard the Psalmist's plea and responded. The dawn broke, the tunnel came to an end; healing and restoration were found. God is good, God heard the cries of his heart and came to the Psalmist's aid.
When we are struggling to see God's face, even when we feel God has turned from us and we feel abandoned by the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake, we can call out to God. Even when our faith falters, God will hear; even when we are unsure of our trust in God, God will listen to our pleas. Some may say that God, responding to our cry is a measure of our faith. God hears, no matter how deep our faith, God responds even when our trust is weak. No matter how thick the darkness, no matter how deep the pain, no matter how far we feel from God, when we call out, God will hear us.
The Psalmist's cries were heard and God came and brought restoration and healing. Even when his faith faltered, even when he felt there would be no light, the dawn broke and the Lord God proved once again to be faithful. God heard his impassioned cries and came to the Psalmist's aid. Therefore the Psalmist will sing praises to God, and will give thanks to God for the mighty things God has done in his life.
Psalms like this one give voice to our words of thanks and praise that we lift up to God when God has rescued us from the darkness. They are the words we have for God when God has worked miraculously in our lives. We were in pain, we were sick, we were struggling psychically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually and we feared that we might be lost. We thought that this was the end, but then it was not. We saw the hand of God at work, the darkness gave way to light, the storm let up, the seas parted and we found that we came out on the other side. A little bruised, a little battered, a little worse for wear, but we came out just the same. God proved God's goodness, God's greatness, God's mercy and salvation, continues to be true. This is when we bear witness to what God has done for us, this is when we join with the Psalmist this morning and give God thanks and praise.
Psalms of thanksgiving are not only the words we give to God in the dawn after a long night, but Psalms like this are also our words to ourselves and to others that remind us, of God's goodness, and greatness while still in the darkness, when are continuing to struggle; when we feel that death is coming for us. Psalms of thanks giving are Psalms that give hope to us when we are struggling. They are remind us to have compassion on those (and perhaps even ourselves) who may be struggling, when we are not, and they remind us that God is good. And they serve as models of how we give thanks and praise to God. They tell us how God is at work; how God has worked in the past so we can be assured that God will continue to work in the future and they are blue prints of how to give thanks to God.
They are also blueprints of how to bear witness to what God has done for us. They show us how to speak words of thanks and praise. When we give thanksgiving it is easy to focus on ourselves, we can get the impression that God has empowered us and we feel that we have done something great (with the help of God). It is easy to fall into the trap of giving praise to God for how we have done wondrous things. Instead our focus should always be on how God has worked, on what God has done, on how God lifted us up when we were struggling or close to death.
True praise recounts how we doubted, how we failed. It brings to light our faults and gives glory to God for working anyway; give glory to God for working in ways we would never expect; for working even in the midst of our own weakness. Thanksgiving gives thanks to God; praises God for what God has done, for how God has worked. The focus is always on God and never ourselves.
When God has worked in our lives, when we have known the goodness of God, when we have known the darkness and have once again found the light, giving thanks and praise to God is our natural response. We do this to give God the glory God deserves. We do this so that when we find ourselves surrounded by life’s struggles that we will remember how God has worked in the past. And we do this, so that we can bring encouragement to those around us. Our thanks and praise are vital parts of our faith. They are the natural response to the wondrous ways God has worked in our lives. The Psalmist reminds us this morning how important it is to share, to speak, to give thanks and praise to God, before the people of God, about how God has worked on our behalf, about how God has saved us, rescued us, was our strength when we had none. Words of thanksgiving and praise bear witness to the character of God and are to be a part of our lives.