(This devotional is day twenty-one of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
Read Psalm 118
As a kid, one of my favorite things about holidays was how our family would gather and share stories. I would sit back and listen to them spin tales. A new one might be sprinkled in on occasion, but usually they rehashed the same old stories, but we would laugh as we relived the memories. As an adult, it’s still one of the best things when our family gets together. My sister is a good storyteller. She gets very animated and exaggerates stories a little more every year. But somehow, I never get tired of these stories we tell again and again, usually at one of my parent’s expense.
Men and women have always gathered to swap stories late into the night, whether around a fire, a table, or a home. Sometimes they brag on themselves. Sometimes they rip on someone else. They might recount adventures or embarrassments. But we all tell stories that live on in our collective and form our identity as a people.
That’s what thanksgiving is about. I hope the last few weeks of reading Bible passages related to gratitude has stretched your understanding of it in a few ways, including how it’s often a practice done with others. That’s the case in today’s psalm as Israel “recounts the deeds of the Lord” (118:17).
The psalm was often read during Israel’s festivals or feasts. Many believe it was sung by the crowds on Palm Sunday when Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. It’s a story of God’s continued faithfulness and deliverance in Israel’s history, told again and again to give thanks to God (118:1, 19, 28, 29). The story ignites and reflects gratitude for the life they enjoy now through God’s kindness to them.
Part of why stories hit us is they’re not just entertaining—though they can be this too—but they bring up for us important moments or lessons we don’t want to lose. In a family, it might be a beloved memory with grandpa that the family retells out of love for him. It’s one way to keep his memory alive. In the Bible, God’s people share stories that brag on God. These aren’t boring stories. They’re full of adventure and peril. But in these instances, Israel can’t rise to the moment and prove how strong or mighty they are. Instead, God comes onto the scene like a superhero, fighting off their enemies and saving the day.
The stories provide an oral memory where the members of the community find hope in tough days by setting their minds on God. They learned the hard way that you can’t put your trust in any other nation (Psalm 118:8-9), just like we should not put our hope or look for help to anyone or anything other than God. God alone can be our refuge and help. Stories are retold so we remember something, and Psalm 118 seals the memory of God’s goodness, love, and power at work even in dark days.
Praise in Peril
Though surrounded on every side by enemies, ready to sting like agitated bees (118:10-12), they overcome their fear by remembering God is on their side (118:7). God delivered His people from great danger. It wasn’t easy, but they made it, by God’s help alone.
They give thanks and rejoice as they rehearse His salvation (118:14-15). The Lord answered their cries and came to their help. Reliving the episode provides another chance to give thanks together (118:21). They recognize that “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (118:23). By recounting the deeds of the Lord, they know He is good and full of steadfast love (118:29).
The most “famous” verse from Psalm 118 is verse 24. These words have appeared on many coffee mugs and pieces of wall décor. If you grew up in church, you might recognize these words from a familiar song. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It’s a great verse to say, or sing, in the morning. What we learn in Psalm 118 is this can be said not just on sunny mornings or at the end of days that went according to plan (if that ever happens), but we can stamp those words on any day.
The Need for Thanksgiving
We can rejoice, because God is our refuge. We can give thanks, because this day is in God’s hands just like every day before. He will be faithful and deliver us today like He did yesterday. We need the practice of retelling and recounting the deeds of God in our past to fuel our faith in the present. We need to give thanks, not just because it’s a good Christian thing to do, but because our faith desperately depends on it.
I’m convinced the Bible upholds giving thanks and gratitude as essential to following Jesus over the long haul. Thanksgiving isn’t something we tack-on when things are good or in one season of the year. It’s the means by which we plant our feet in the firm footing of God’s steadfast love in the past so we have traction to keep walking forward in the future. We remember and give thanks. And this grateful remembrance builds trust and faith. We bank on God today because He always comes through, and our past gives us evidence.
I have no doubt your life is not trouble free. Some seasons are harder than others, but all of them present trials and temptations to varying degrees. In the stillness of this moment, what burden do you carry? What are you worried about? What causes fear or anxiety to creep up or drags you into the dungeon of discouragement? What obstacle in your sight leaves you wondering how you will get through this time?
Know that you are not alone. God is with you. And as sure as God has brought you through every trial and temptation in the past, He will do it again. He has not changed. He remains full of steadfast love, unlimited power, unending wisdom, and inexhaustible grace. You don’t have to push through with gritted teeth, carrying these burdens on your own scrawny spiritual shoulders. Look back and give thanks to God. Trust in God. Find your peace and power in Him. Believe He can do today what He did in the past.
We know our fear, depression, anxiety, pain, and sorrows need a response and need fought, but we feel so weak. It seems too daunting. Standing in the shadowy base of the towering mountain can paralyze us. How will we make it? Why try? I don’t feel up to the climb. Sometimes our anxiety, fear, shame, discouragement, and sense of being overwhelmed tell us a truth is too small for our situation that’s too big. We don’t try anything because of how trapped and wrapped up in our situation we feel. As weak and as tired as you might feel, start somewhere. Take a first step. Let God prove Himself to you through baby steps of faith.
Give thanks. Give thanks for who God is. Give thanks for what God has done in the past. And give thanks where you know He’s been good and faithful in the present. Never get tired of encouraging thanksgiving by telling the stories of God’s good and great deeds.
“You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:28-29)
 If you’re walking through a trial right now, in addition to remembering God by writing down some past things you can thank him for, read through the song lyrics of either “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “Do It Again.”