Oh Give Thanks to the Lord
Psalm 106:1 - …Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
If you had asked me one year ago where I thought I’d be for Thanksgiving 2019, never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d be in the South of Bahrain on a remote Air Base spending the holidays with approximately 900 of my newest friends. Yet, here I am. The journey from my first notification to today has been a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions.
Anger. This wasn’t part of my life plan. I had other plans that God interrupted with His plans, which resulted in pain I had not anticipated and did not desire.
Fear. This is a dangerous part of the world. While this is a friendly country, the fact remains that I’m approximately 80 miles, as the crow flies, from some very bad actors. Am I prepared for the worst? Will I be able to endure suffering, should it come my way?
Anxiety. Can I live up to the demands of this new environment? Will people like me? Will I fit in? For the love of all that is holy, will I have to lead music in worship?
Excitement. Who gets to go to the other side of the world and get paid to love people in Jesus’ name? A new adventure is on the horizon. It just might include amazing experiences I can’t anticipate. Perhaps there are new relationships I’ll establish that will endure well beyond this brief time away.
Grief. Nine months away from my family seems impossible. We’ve never spent more than a month apart, and that has only happened a time or two. It’s inconceivable to imagine missing the entire 6th grade with my son. Nine months away from church family also brings its own kind of grief.
Joy. This place is way better than I had imagined it would be. There have been times of laughter, fun, and unexpected joys. Stepping outside of the box of personal comfort and doing what God calls you to do, trusting Him to provide and seeing Him do just that, brings a different kind of joy.
As I reflect on the journey thus far, and anticipate the coming Thanksgiving holiday, I’m reminded of how easy it is to allow life’s circumstances to squeeze out contentment and gratitude. I’m reminded of how often in my life gratitude is linked to pleasure. When life is going according to my plans and is pleasurable, I’m grateful. When it is painful, I am not. In the opening verse of Psalm 106, the psalmist calls us to give thanks to the Lord and identifies two attributes of God which form unshakable, unmovable anchors for gratitude. God is good, and God loves us with a steadfast love that endures forever.
God is good. Life’s circumstances are not always fun, nor are we ever promised perpetual pleasure. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen, evil people do harm, and injustice often reigns. In spite of these experiential realities, our God is good. The Bible declares this cover to cover. He is a God who is able to take pain, grief, and injustice and work them out ultimately for our good. I can cultivate gratitude today and every other day, because the God who reigns over my life is working good for me, regardless of the circumstances I currently face.
God loves me with a steadfast, immovable love. Although His ways do not always seem loving in the moment, I can be sure that everything I experience is in some way seasoned by His enduring love for me. When I remember the cross of Jesus, I am reminded that He loved me so much that He sent his only begotten Son to die in my place, pay for my sins, reconcile me to Himself, and secure my eternal reward. There is nothing that can ever separate me from His steadfast love.
The facts that God is good and He loves me with an everlasting love should be enough to anchor daily gratitude in my heart. Sadly, I must admit, I forget and often allow the tide of ingratitude to rise far too high in my life. Maybe you do too. When I do, I’m so thankful that He finds ways to remind me. One of the recent ways He’s done that for me recently, is through my new friend, Rafik.
Rafik is from India, and he works in the galley where we eat our meals. He sits at the front desk, right where I walk in. I’ve noticed that every time I see him, he’s smiling and greets me with a pleasant greeting. It never seems forced. I talk to him every time I come in, and we’ve struck up a sort of friendship. I bring a Chaplain Corps challenge coin, flip it, and he calls heads or tails. If he gets it right, he keeps the coin until the next day, when we will do it again. Currently, he’s destroying me at this game, but we both enjoy it.
Last night I asked about his family. He has a wife and two children, one eleven and the other sixteen. His eyes sparkled as he told me about them. I asked him how often he gets to see them. He told me he is only able to go home one time a year, and he can stay for 25 days. On day 26, he has to be back here, serving people like me. I asked him how long he’s been doing this. His response – seven years. Out of the last 2,555 days, he’s been with his family a grand total of 175 days. He explained that this is what he has to do to provide for his wife and children. It’s the only way his kids could possibly go to college. I was speechless in the face of such sacrificial love and in the fact that he could endure seven years of that and still smile every day, joyfully serving service members, most of whom don’t even notice him. Rafik doesn’t know Jesus, but I sure hope that God will somehow use our relationship to bring him into the kingdom.
Tonight, I’ll go to the galley to eat, flip my challenge coin again and stand face-to-face with God’s smiling reminder to me that I have a million reasons to be filled with gratitude this week, next week, and every week for the next 8 months and beyond. God is good. His steadfast love endures forever, and I am grateful. I hope you are too, particularly this week as you celebrate with your family and friends.
Grace and Peace,