“I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call on the name of Yahweh.” Psalm 116:17
How easy thankfulness can be when times are good. You know those times. The times when your heart is overflowing with gratitude because you feel abundantly overwhelmed by God’s goodness. I have those moments too. Sometimes they happen in the oddest of situations due to the strangest of things. I like those times. Partly because, in those moments, I am living fully aware of the graces I have been given. And partly because I like the way gratitude makes me feel. When I am thankful, my heart feels lighter, as though I have been freed from some unknown burden I had been carrying. Yet life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Life is hard. Many of us have felt that more so this year than any other. We reflect on last year at this time, and we think, “If only we knew. We had no idea what was coming. We never could have expected life as we know it to change.” I can say with all honesty that I didn’t realize just how much I took for granted. I never imagined that church doors would close for months, taking for granted each time I entered God’s house. I never imagined movie theaters would close down, taking for granted the pleasure of watching a movie on the big screen. I never imagined that my kids would not be allowed to attend school, taking for granted their access to human interaction, live instruction, and friendships. I never imagined that life as we knew it could change so abruptly, taking for granted what I had in those moments that have long since dissipated. What a tidal wave of emotions and experiences we all have encountered this year. I am reminded again of the Israelites wandering around in the desert, initially grateful for their freedom from the bondage and oppression of Egypt. But then their new reality set in, and they found themselves longing for the way life once was–they longed to return to the oppression that they knew. It’s easy for me to shake my head at them, both curious and frustrated at their response. But we also resemble them in so many ways. They grumbled and complained. They didn’t know where they were going, and when they reached their promised land, they let fear overtake them, ultimately preventing them from ever entering. God had provided for them food from heaven along the way. God provided guidance to them. He met their needs. He was offering them a better way of life, and they complained and grumbled. They quickly forgot how far God had brought them and from what He had freed them. In their minds, what they knew was more comfortable and it is what they longed for rather than anticipate where they were going.
What a parallel to life in 2020. I have found myself lamenting life right now, wishing for the way it once was. Yet how many blessings have been abundant this year? Has God not graced us with more of Himself in our lives during this pandemic? While life has changed for all of us, and while there is no going back, God is taking us to new places with Him. God has a destination in mind for us and it is for our good and His glory. 2020 did not occur by happenstance. It has always been slated on the kingdom calendar. We are faced with two options: look back with grumblings and yearnings for how life once was or look forward with the sacrifice of praise on our lips and the expectation of what God is doing and what is to come. I may miss a lot of things about life before 2020 but I don’t miss where I was in my faith. God has taught me much about Him and much about me during this year. To go back to before would lose the lessons learned.
As a nation, sadly, we have moved far away from God. But this time-out from the insanity of life has been a gift to us. We needed the reminder of what was most important in life: faith, family, loving God, and loving our neighbor. Busyness had become akin to godliness. Yet, the writer of Psalm 116 noted that sometimes, thanksgiving is the sacrifice we bring. We are such a culture of do, do, do, go, go, go that we have emphasized and idolized busyness. We mistakenly think that we must do for God and our relationship with Him can quickly become about works. Perhaps, God is asking us to slow down, to stop, and to offer Him the sacrifice of simple thanksgiving, even when life looks glum and bleak. From the belly of the fish, Jonah said, “but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving” (Jonah 2:9a). When Job learned of the great loss of his children, possessions, servants, flock, and herds, he stated, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away: Praise the name of Yahweh” (Job 1:21). Thanksgiving and praise were a sacrifice for both of these men. It cost them something to offer thanks to God in the midst of hardship. Jonah’s was at his own expense and Job’s was at the hand of Satan. Yet they were both sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving offered to God. Man’s natural inclination in those circumstances is not to be thankful. But when God is involved, we are able to look above our circumstances to the God of our circumstances and bow our heads, bend our knees, and praise Him. He welcomes, honors, and longs for our sacrifices of praise. It’s all about Him and for Him. The comfort is found in knowing that God acts for our good and His glory. Our suffering and our successes both serve a purpose. May we find the strength, the courage, and the humility to offer thanksgiving in both.
God has brought me a long way in 2020. He has turned my woes in rejoicing. The circumstances have not changed. But God has changed me. As this year draws to a close and we are offered a day to focus on thankfulness, may we look for more than the silver lining of 2020. May we ever be aware of the explosion of grace upon us through the person of Jesus Christ. He is the scarlet cord in the tapestry of our lives–may our eyes be on Him.