Thanksgiving Day was only a few days ago. It came with ominous warnings from health officials and the government to not meet together for the traditional family meal. To do so would likely greatly increase the spread of the Covid-19 virus, a disease against which we so far have very few defenses.
Of course, Americans being who we are, many are too independently minded to heed these warnings. It has been reported that travel both by air and by car over Thanksgiving has been the highest since the pandemic hit our shores in March.
We have yet to see if the warnings spoken by our government and by health care officials and providers will bring about the great increase of infections, hospital admissions and death. However, if our previous big holiday weekends this year are any indication, all of this traveling and gathering will indeed result on a much greater strain on our hospitals, and will cause many more people to die.
The reason that so many people are ignoring or flouting these warnings usually is not because they do not think that there is no peril in the travel or the gatherings. Some may believe there is no danger, but mostly people are disregarding the threat because this pandemic has other negative effects on us other than to our health.
Isolation is one of these. Isolation in any form is difficult, but isolation from family is the most severe of the strains. That is why when it comes to the traditional times of family gatherings, many people are willing to take the risk of getting sick.
Many people would say that phrase is an oxymoron—contradictory terms. Many would say that this is the most difficult year that they have ever encountered.
We know what 2020 has brought: disease, hospitalization and death. Along with these direct results of the pandemic that came to our shores this year, many have suffered job losses, food insecurity, economic downturns, isolation and loneliness. The list could go on. I have not even mentioned the political and social bickering and accusations, or the fighting and the rioting that we have endured this year. The list of 2020 would also have to include the devastating weather events and fires that have ravaged great swaths of our country.
Thankful? Taking into consideration all that we have had to endure, being thankful seems a bit of a stretch. How can we be thankful in the year 2020?
And yet, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 BSB).
Every circumstance? (We might ask)
He also wrote to the Ephesians, “Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20 BSB).
Patience is one thing. Endurance and survival another—but thankfulness?
A Psalm for 2020
O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us; You have been angry; O, restore us.
You have made the land quake, You have split it open; Heal its breaches, for it totters.
You have made Your people experience hardship; You have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger. (Psalm 60:1-3 NAS)
I read these words in the book of Psalms this week. Many people would say that they describe very well the state of our nation. In addition to us, there are many nations in the world who would also say the same thing. Perhaps even most nations.
Telling someone that they should be thankful is one thing, but it is quite another to be able to be thankful in the midst of severe trial and even great suffering. And yet the Apostle Paul, who wrote to us that we should give thanks in every circumstance, also writes these words: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
A Letter of Joy
That last quote is from a letter that Paul wrote to the people in the church of Philippi (Philippians 4:4). That letter is one of the most optimistic and joyful writings of the Bible. In fact, it is often called “The Letter of Joy.” In that short letter, the word joy or rejoice is found more than a dozen times.
Paul begins the letter in this way: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4 BSB).
Paul speaks so much of being joyful and being thankful that one may think that his life was pretty much trouble free and that he did not know what it was to experience true personal hardship. But the astounding thing is that he did not write this joyful letter while on vacation at some beach resort on the Mediterranean.
Paul follows the joyful and thankful salutation above with these words: “For in my chains and in my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partners in grace with me” (vs 7).
What did he mean—“in my chains?”
He meant that as he wrote this joyful letter, he could hear the clanking of the chains that were about his ankles. He was in prison. His incarceration was because of the invented charges his accusers had brought against him, all because he was teaching salvation through Jesus.
Indeed, it was only a few years after he wrote this letter that he was executed. It is thought that his execution may have been by the sword by the Roman executioner, which was done by thrusting the heavy blade down through the top of the left shoulder, into and through the heart, cutting through also the lungs and sometimes as far as the liver.
Thankful in a Cave
Likewise, David of the Old Testament wrote many of his joyful Psalms not when he was sitting on his royal throne when he ruled as the king of the then greatest nation on earth. His words of joy came from his pen before he was the king and was being hunted down to be killed by a jealous King Saul and his army.
He writes in Psalm 59:
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Set me securely on high away from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from those who do iniquity, and save me from men of bloodshed.
For behold, they have set an ambush for my life;
Fierce men launch an attack against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O LORD,
For no guilt of mine, they run and set themselves against me.
Arouse Yourself to help me, and see! (vss 1-4 NAS)
These words tell of the physical and emotional situation that he was in. They were none short of desperate. But then he closes this Psalm with these words:
But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to You;
For God is my stronghold,
The God who shows me lovingkindness. (vss 16-17 NAS)
Here is another Psalm that David composed while hiding in a cave from Saul:
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy, for in You my soul takes refuge.
In the shadow of Your wings I will take shelter until the danger has passed.
I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me;
He rebukes those who trample me…
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise You, O Lord, among the nations;
I will sing Your praises among the peoples.
For Your loving devotion reaches to the heavens,
And Your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; may Your glory cover all the earth.
(Psalm 57:1-3; 7-11 BSB)
Paul and David—these are men who knew how to be thankful in difficult circumstances. Their joyfulness and thankfulness did not come because they ignored their situations and pretended that all was just fine. They were not living in denial. Their thankfulness came from another source within themselves.
Prayers for Deliverance
In his joyful letter, Paul does not deny that there are difficult circumstances, but neither does he simply succumb to them and say nothing can be done. “Be anxious for nothing,” he writes, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
As we pray and as we give to God our requests, we shift the burden of the circumstances from ourselves and onto God. We take the weight off our shoulders, and give them to God. In turn, God gives us his peace.
Paul continues, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The Lord also gives us freedom from the worrying and fretting that comes with bearing the burdens, and allows our minds to turn on more positive and fruitful thoughts.
“Finally, brothers,” Paul concludes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things” (Philippians 4:6-8).
As for David’s perspective, neither did he simply accept his conditions without asking God for help. In the Psalms, he wrote these words:
When You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
To You, O LORD, I called, and I begged my Lord for mercy:
“What gain is there in my bloodshed, in my descent to the Pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it proclaim Your faithfulness?
Hear me, O LORD, and have mercy; O LORD, be my helper.”
You turned my mourning into dancing;
You peeled off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks forever. (Psalm 30:7-12 BSB)
I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me up from the pit of despair, out of the miry clay;
He set my feet upon a rock, and made my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3 BSB)
It’s Not All About Getting Us Out Of Present Difficulties
God hears our requests. He hears our cries for help, but he also is doing something in us that is much greater than we can presently see. God is working for eternity. He knows that our greatest good is what will be accomplished from what he is doing in us and teaching us through the present distresses we are suffering.
Paul understood this and David understood this.
“We are hard pressed,” Paul writes, “but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16-18).
Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.
I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing…”
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure.
The lines of my boundary have fallen in pleasant places; surely my inheritance is delightful.
I will bless the LORD who counsels me; even at night my conscience instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will dwell securely.
You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. (Psalm 16 selected verses BSB)
Why We Can Be Thankful in the Year 2020
The year 2020 is not one that many will recall with fond memories. Actually, perhaps that is the greatest thing of all for which we can be thankful. If this year has taught us anything, it is that the pleasures that we truly seek will not and cannot be found in these fleeting years that we have on this earth.
2020 can teach us that there is absolutely nothing on earth that is 100% dependable, and that there is no place that cannot be touched by what is occurring in the world. We cannot hide forever.
The year 2020 can teach us that God alone is our refuge and our strength.
Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth.
Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify Your name forever.
For great is Your loving devotion to me; (Psalm 86:11-13 BSB)
 If we are to “shelter in place,” then it is good to take that shelter “in the shadow of His wings.”