What’s to be Thankful For?

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Part 9: Gladness

We cannot hear the word ‘glad’ without thinking ‘Pollyanna’—that is, if we’re into watching old films, reading novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or studying psychology. Pollyanna is the main character in a story of an orphan girl who chooses to play the ‘glad game’ with situations in her often-difficult life. Prior to his death, the child’s father teaches Pollyanna to find “something glad” in every situation life brings. The story describes Pollyanna’s influence for good not only in her own optimistic attitude but also in encouraging the lives of the people around her.

Pollyanna makes her way into psychological research too. The ‘Pollyanna Principle’ studied by researchers Matlin and Stang, states that “people (other than those suffering from depression or anxiety) process pleasant information more accurately and efficiently than less pleasant information.” In other words, we are wired to observe and remember the positive aspects of experiences over the negative aspects. We are designed to be resilient even in difficulty, and we all have the potential to be influenced by simple gladness.

But life isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy to be glad in some of the situations we find ourselves. We struggle with degrees of anxiety and depression. Is it relevant or even reasonable for the writer of Psalm 16 to even suggest that gladness is germane to our situation?

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;” David observes.

He seems authentic; it’s not just a mask of cheeriness hiding sorrow or anger or frustration underneath. He says the gladness is heartfelt. It’s deep inside him and finding its way out in his speech and maybe even in song. that’s something we all could use. Our society is dying to know where that comes from, and how to access it. Look at the facts.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada explains, “Mental health (or well being) is an ideal we all strive for.” It goes on to say that the chances of having a mental illness in our lifetime in Canada are one in five. By that they mean depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other more complex disturbances that affect day-to-day functioning. One in five sounds unnerving. It could mean you or me. They go on to say that mental health is about “learning the coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs.” This is the relevant connection to the psalmist’s phrase in Psalm 16. The psalmist is actually showing us coping skills the Spirit of God has helped him discern.

Here is what David observes: he is finding that his gladness is an effect brought about by a series of earlier events in his life. We know this because he begins his observation by saying, “Therefore.” Have you heard that whenever we see the term therefore, we need to look to see what it is there for? The term therefore means, ‘for that reason’, ‘consequently’, or ‘as a result,’ so we need to go back a step and find out what it is that precedes and initiates the psalmist’s gladness. He’s human. He needs as much reason to be glad as the next person.

So we go back a verse to remind ourselves what we discovered in ‘Part 8: Dependable Presence.’ Psalm 16:8 reads, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Remember? When we choose a mindset of focusing on God’s dependable presence with us, we are strengthened. Mentally. Emotionally. Morally. And more than that, we are gladdened.

It’s all about God’s presence. Accepting it, welcoming it, depending upon it for every breath we take, every decision we make and every challenge we face is the path to gladness. And gladness is not intended to be an addendum to life. It is designed to be at its core. It is the atmosphere in which God intended we live when he first placed us here on this planet, and it is the promise He will ultimately fulfill in our lives when we leave this life and move into eternity with Him.

We cannot access this gladness on our own. We’ve all tried. We’ve grasped moments of it, to be sure, but we’ve all felt it slip away like water between fingers. We can’t have sunlight without the sun itself. We can’t have true gladness without God, because God is Gladness itself.

So take a step toward God. We all need to. As we open our minds to think on His presence today, this minute and the next throughout our day, see if a deep gladness of heart doesn’t begin to bubble to the surface. It’s not dependent on our situation but entirely on His awesome, overwhelming, loving presence. Thank you, Father, for your gift of gladness.

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What’s to be Thankful For? Part 5

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Part 5: Security

Family. Physical and Mental Health. Career. Finances. Happiness.

Make a mental checklist. How many of the above spheres of your life are performing at one hundred percent their optimum? Which of them could take a turn for the worse and begin a downward spiral at any moment, heedless of your most determined efforts to the contrary?

If we’re honest, we will admit that while we have some control over the circumstances of our lives, things can go south all too quickly. Marriages struggle. Health fails. Worries plague our psyche. Unforeseen events sidetrack careers; finances plummet. Regardless of our best attempts at making our one chance at life work well, security seems to elude many of us. Life is a precarious and shaky arrangement at best and nothing is really secure against the wind and tide of the unexpected.

David, the psalmist, speaks hope into our situation by penning some simple but profound words in the fifth verse of Psalm 16.

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”

Did we catch the first and last words of this statement? ‘LORD’ and ‘secure’. They stand like solid bookends bracketing his life. David, king and mighty protector of the Hebrew people camped on Promised Land surrounded by mightier nations wanting the land, recognizes where his security comes from. It comes from God.

“LORD” he addresses God. That is an English word for the Hebrew name Yahweh. It was a name expressed by God half a millennium before the psalmist, designating God’s eternal existence and being. It means, “I AM WHO I AM”, or just “I AM” for short.

This somewhat incomprehensible name speaks of the vast self-determined nature of God who cannot be fully understood by His creatures; so He simplifies His name to the most basic of tags, “I AM” or LORD.

But how does God’s name affect or effect our security?

There are two parts to it. “You have assigned me my portion and my cup,” begins the psalmist. In other words, ‘The food on my plate has been grown, cooked and served up uniquely for me, as has the drink in my cup’. God, the all-powerful and compassionate One knows exactly what conditions and situations make us most prone to turn to Him and rely fully upon Him. For some it will come within a tender and loving home environment. Others will need to experience the tough knocks of life before they are ready to see God as their loving Father and accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The point is, becoming bitter with our portion in life is counterproductive. Using it for our ultimate and eternal advantage by letting it turn us toward God is what God intends for our good. It’s who He is. It’s embedded in the name “I AM”. Take note, God does not make anything bad happen—He is the giver of only good and perfect gifts—but He is uniquely capable of transforming bad situations into settings that bring eternal good. Just look at the cross.

The second part of the psalmist’s observation is, “you have made my lot secure.” We are prone to think our lot in life is up to us. ‘Be born with it or work hard to get it,’ says our culture, ‘but don’t be surprised if someone stronger tears it away.’ God’s gift of Himself for us is very different. We cannot earn it, nor can we be too far-gone to receive it. And once we have it—that is, the forgiveness and new relationship He offers through His Son and His Spirit—it is eternally secure. “No one can snatch them out of my hand,” promises Jesus.

This verse is amazing, really. It has the power to transform our thinking and our living. The confidence inspired by God’s direct participation in our lives gives us a peace and comfort nothing–absolutely nothing—else can provide. Who wouldn’t want that? That kind of security is surely something to be thankful for.

Thank you, Father, LORD, the Great I AM, for assigning each of us our portion and our cup. We trust that You know exactly the portion and cup we need to be drawn to you. Thank you for making our lot secure. We entrust our lives and our eternal well-being to Your care.