# 35 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#3) Psalm 30 – ‘at the heart of what it means to be a Christian’.

In my posts about psalms of thanksgiving so far, I have used the example of Psalm 30 and quoted some verses from that psalm. But, let’s have a good look at the whole psalm, which has so much to teach us. In fact, Longman suggests that, “As we turn to this thanksgiving psalm, we need to realize that we are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It surprises us to realize this. We sometimes think that what makes Christians different from non-Christians [or maybe, so-called ‘athiests’] is that we know that God exists. Certainly that’s crucial, but Romans 1:19-21 teaches us that everyone knows God [“…what may be known about God is plain…For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities  – his eternal power and divine nature – has been clearly seen…so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”].  Strikingly, Paul here tells us that the real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the former gives thanks to God…With this in mind, read this thanksgiving psalm of David.” (see references # 1)

The following is from “The Passion Translation – The Psalms – Poetry on Fire” by Dr Brian Simmons (Broadsheet 2014). If you are interested in this translation go to http://www.thepassiontranslation.com/

Psalm 30

King David’s poetic praise to God

A song for the Feast of Dedication of the dwelling place

1 Lord, I will exalt you and lift you high, For you have lifted me up on high! Over all my boasting, gloating enemies, you made me to triumph. 2 O Lord, my healing God, I cried out for a miracle and you healed me!  3 You brought me back from the brink of death, from the depths below. Now, here I am, alive and well, fully restored! 4 O sing and make melody, you steadfast lovers of God, Give thanks to him every time you reflect on his holiness! 5 I’ve learnt that his anger is short-lived, but his loving favour lasts a lifetime! We may weep through the night, But at daybreak it will turn into shouts of ecstatic joy.  6-7 I remember boasting, “I’ve got it made! Nothing can stop me now!  I’m God’s favoured one; he’s made me steady as a mountain!” But then suddenly, you hid your face from me.  I was panic-stricken and became so depressed. 8 Still I cried out to you, Lord God, I shouted out for mercy, saying: 9 “What would you gain in my death, if I were to go down To the depths of darkness? Will a grave sing your song? How could death’s dust declare your faithfulness?”  10 So hear me now, Lord, show me your famous mercy. O God, be my Saviour and rescue me! 11 Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing  Into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise! He has torn the veil and lifted from me The sad heaviness of mourning. He wrapped me in the glory-garments of gladness. 12 How could I be silent when it’s time to praise you? Now my heart sings out loud, bursting with joy –  A bliss inside that keeps me singing, “I can never thank you enough!”

A remarkably intimate prayer. A friend of mine suggests that reading the Psalms is like reading someone’s personal journal and this psalm is no exception.

Here David commences with praise to God for his miracle of healing (1-3); then exhortation to other ‘steadfast lovers of God’ to also praise the Lord (4-5); followed by a recognition of the foolishness of ‘boasting’ in one’s own abilities (6-7); and a lament to God for him to ‘show…your famous mercy…and rescue me” (8-10) and finally thanksgiving to God for graciously transforming his life from “wailing into…ecstatic praise” (11-12). As previously mentioned, this is a psalm that moves from orientation (6-7a), to dis-orientation (7b-10), to new orientation (11-12).

There is no doubt in this psalm who deserves to receive both the praise and the thanks. It is “the Lord”, Yahweh, the One to whom the psalmist initially credits the following action verbs when he says, “you…lifted me up on high” (1); “you healed me” (2); “you brought me back from…death” (3) and “you brought me…from the depths below” (3). Then later, in verse 11, he again celebrates “the decisive transforming actions of Yahweh” (Brueggemann). He says, you “broke through and transformed” and to Yahweh he concludes, “I can never thank you enough!” (12)

Because we are purposely left in the dark as to the circumstances of the psalmist’s dilemma and just how God delivered him and turned things around, we can make this psalm our own when we find ourselves in a similar situation. May we too recognize God’s “decisive transforming actions” in our lives as we call to him for help, and then when he answers our prayer, do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus, and that is, “give thanks to him” (Romans 1).

# 34 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#2) Divine transformation

‘Transformation’ seems to be the word that describes best what has happened in the lives of the writers of the Psalms of Thanksgiving. Often, the psalmist does not reveal how his situation was transformed, only that it was and that it was God who was the agent of this transformation. This being the reason why he then turns from lament to thanksgiving, from the problem to the resolution, from disorientation to new orientation.

Brueggemann suggests that “Israelite praise characteristically comes out of the depths, out of the Pit from which [he/she] is surprised to come, because the situation seemed unresolvable…[and so] the psalm of thanksgiving…is often a lament recited…from the side of resolution, but with the remembered trouble still quite visible…Israel sings songs of new orientation because the God of Israel is the one who hears and answers expressions of disorientation and resolves [these] experiences of disorientation…[they speak of] the intervening action of God to give life in a world where death seems to have the best and strongest way. The songs are not about the ‘natural’ outcome of trouble, but about the decisive transformation made possible by this God who causes new life where none seems possible.” (see references # 2)

I guess most of us who are followers of Jesus have experienced this in our own lives. I remember one such occasion some years ago when one of our students had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her leg. She was from overseas, in her mid 20’s and had only recently married. The staff and other students prayed together and poured out our hearts to God for his healing touch in her life and for him to transform this situation for his glory. It was a particularly powerful and moving time of prayer for her. The next time she went to the doctor there was no sign of the cancer! Certainly, following this, our conversation with God concerning our young friend turned from “mourning into dancing” and thanksgiving. (Psalm 30:11). We were able to say with David, we “will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted [her] out of the depths…[we] called to you for help, and you healed” her. (Psalm 30:1-2) Together we moved from a place of disorientation to new orientation and there was no doubt it was the result of a “decisive transformation made possible by…God who cause[d] new life where none seem[ed] possible.” Hallelujah!

# 33 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#1) From “wretchedness to joy”!

So, back to the types of Psalms as per Longman’s suggestion that there are “roughly seven basic types”,  these being “the hymn, the lament, the thanksgiving psalm, the psalm of remembrance, the psalm of confidence, the wisdom psalm and the kingship psalm.”

So far we have considered, even if only briefly, the first two. Although, if you have been following my posts you may think that I had a lot to say about the Psalms of Lament. I was tempted to continue but decided to move on. The reason for the time I did spend on these psalms was that I have found them very inspiring and relevant, and maybe as Brueggemann suggests, “because that is the part of the Psalter that has been most neglected in church use.” He also considers that in the present situation we find ourselves in, in the church and in the world around us, “it may be the part of the Psalter that is most helpful, because we live in a society of denial and cover-up, and these psalms provide a way for healing candor.” (see references # 2)

So let’s now consider the third one mentioned, the psalms of thanksgiving. A nice change from lamenting, although, generally, they follow on, and the thanks are usually related to having come through a time of trouble and lament. Brueggemann refers to this as moving from a place of disorientation to new orientation, and I’m sure we have all experienced this at certain times in our lives.

Longman suggests that “the thanksgiving psalm is a response to answered lament…to answered prayer…[and in] thanking the Lord for answered prayer, [the psalmist] bears witness to God’s great work in his life. He even calls on the rest of the congregation to join him in thanking the Lord.” (see references # 1)

Psalm 30 is a good example:

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths…I called to you for help and you healed me…you brought me up from the grave…to the Lord I cried for mercy…You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

In fact, in this psalm, the psalmist’s experience has been that he has moved from orientation – “…I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken’…you favoured me, you made my mountain stand firm.” (vs 6-7); to disorientation – “but when you hid your face, I was dismayed…to the Lord I cried for mercy…O, Lord, be my help.” (vs 7,8,10); and finally to new orientation – “You turned my wailing into dancing…I will give you thanks forever.” (vs 11,12).

I get the feeling that there have been times in all our lives when we could identify with this psalmist. In fact, I am presently somewhere between disorientation and new orientation. At least, at this time in my life anyway, I am heading in the right direction! The reason for this in my life is related primarily to the changes that are happening all around me where I serve in ministry. We have recently gone from a College fully accredited and soon to celebrate 60 years of training and ministry, to finding ourselves no longer able to operate in the way that has proved effective over this last decade. It’s time for a change, but a change that is inevitable (i.e. not what we would have chosen to do at this stage in our history). Yet, we have seen that God has provided the right people to enable that change, and we are moving on, but we are not there yet. There are still some hurdles to leap over before we reach the finish line. But, we sense God’s leading us on into new and good things, and as we depend on Him, we will undoubtedly be saying in the near future that He “turned our wailing into dancing…and clothed us with joy.” And to Him we will give all the thanks and praise. He is an awesome Father.

It is an interesting thing about life with God, and that is, as I have said many times, ‘He is full of surprises!’ And in these psalms of new orientation, they “regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected”, as Brueggemann puts it. The reality is, life and the psalmist are never the same again. Have you found that? Each time we have a situation in life when things have been difficult and we have lamented before God and then he has surprised us with provision of grace abundant to meet our needs, we grow a bit more, mature a bit more, are transformed a bit more into the person God desires us to be. That is the way it is supposed to be, if we cooperate with the Spirt at work in our lives.

In the words of Brueggemann, “That new orientation is not a return to the old stable orientation, for there is no such going back. The psalmists know that we can never go home again. Once there has been an exchange of candor, as there is here between Yahweh and Israel, there is no return to the precandor situation.”

So, the thanksgiving psalms move from “wretchedness to joy”, from the problem to “the resolution, culminating in praise and thanksgiving.” Although at times, we are not told what the resolution was or even how it occurred, only that it was “wrought by the inscrutable power and goodness of God.” And so the psalmist testifies in amazement and gratitude, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.” (see references # 2)