By Deacon Walter Sweeney
Third in a Series of Articles
(www.deaconden.org) The Easter season is a good time to focus on the reasons we have to thank God. It is a good time to consider the Psalms of Thanksgiving. How have we been, or are we being at this very moment, delivered by God from trials, dangers and threats to our wellbeing spiritual and material? Consider the new, resurrected, life we now live and let us give thanks in words, and in deeds. These particular psalms may help.
In my own particular case I feel thankful that I can still minister in some ways and that my life is extended somewhat after the devastation of a serious cancer diagnosis. I could have written a psalm of lament and abandonment but I find myself able to be thankful for the Lord’s presence and assistance and I will try to write a psalm of thanksgiving. And I will encourage you to do the same.
There are “psalms of lament” that either commiserate with us and express our pleas for deliverance, or remind us we may need this divine assistance at some unexpected time. There are “wisdom psalms” that express directly divine wisdom for us to imbibe. There are “psalms in a worship setting” that are more obviously part of liturgical celebrations and liturgies, perhaps an entrance rite or procession. And there are “psalms of praise and thanksgiving” that express gratitude for deliverance from difficulty and our times of lament.
The “Psalms of Thanksgiving,” according to one author, are Psalms 9, 10, 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 41, 65, 75, 116, 118, 124, 136 and 138. You might at some time feel inclined to pray through them. You will be richly rewarded.
You may have noticed that on Holy Thursday the Psalm was Ps.116, a psalm of Thanksgiving.
How shall I make return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call on the name of the Lord….
I am your servant,…
To you I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving…
My vows to the Lord I will pay
in the presence of all his people. (Ps116)
The institution of the ministry of service, a clergy that washes the feet of those they serve, occurred here. Psalm 116 is a good way to focus on all we do as deacons in thanksgiving for the call we have received to minister after the model of Jesus.
After we consider a few of the thanksgiving psalms we should be able to write our own particular psalm of thanksgiving. Really, I’m not kidding. I am challenging you to sit down, consider, and write out what you find in yourself. What all have you received from the Lord? For most of us that includes the vocation to matrimony and parenthood, work in the world, as well as our call to ministry and the graces of ordination. I challenge you to gather up your abundant blessings and compose a prayer, a psalm of thanksgiving, to our bountiful Lord. I will try to write mine at the end of this article as a way of inviting you to attempt to write your own Psalm of Thanksgiving.
The format of a Psalm of Thanksgiving is in three parts:
- A statement of praise or gratitude to God for having saved me.
- A description of what happened. How I called on God and how He answered my prayer.
- A conclusion describing how I will respond to God’s saving acts, sometimes calling on the community to join me in thanksgiving.
You and I will have our own situations and reasons for giving thanks but the psalmists have listed many already. They include the wonderful works of creation, and its fruitfulness; for saving His people; for saving the psalmist from his enemies and difficulties; for saving the poor; for saving an individual from death; for forgiving our sins; and, in particular and mostly for His steadfast love for us.
More than other types of psalms these thanksgiving psalms go into great detail about what the psalmist (you if you are writing it!) will DO in response, to give thanks.
What shall I return to the Lord for all His bounty to me? (Ps 116:2)
So we can look at a few thanksgiving psalms before we try to detail our own “return” to the Lord.
Psalm 116 offers more:
Death’s cords were tightened round me,
distress and anguish gripped me,
I invoked the name of the Lord:
The Lord defends the simple,
He saved me when I was brought to my knees.
Return to your resting place, my soul,
the Lord has treated you kindly.
He has rescued me from death, my eyes from tears
and my feet from stumbling.
I will walk in the Lord’s presence
in the land of the living.
The author of Psalm 34 offers to give witness to God’s saving acts and encourage others to turn to the Lord. He will teach others how to live in a right relationship with the Lord especially by sharing what he has learned from his own experience.
My soul glories in the Lord,
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Every face turned to him grows brighter
and is never ashamed.
A cry goes up from the poor man, and the Lord hears,
and helps him in all his troubles.
The angel of the lord pitches camp
round those who fear him; and he keeps them safe.
How good the Lord is—only taste and see!
Happy the man who takes shelter in him.
Malice must be banished from your tongue,
deceitful conversation from your lips;
never yield to evil, practice good’
seek peace, pursue it.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
He helps those whose spirit is crushed.
While the Lord himself ransoms the souls of his servants,
and those who take shelter in him have nothing to pay.
The writer of Psalm 40 will keep an open, listening heart and a longing to do God’s will rather than rely on “burnt offerings,” formal practices and animal sacrifices. He will witness to God’s saving action and assure others of God’s steadfast love for them.
In the scroll of the book am I not commanded
to obey your will?
I have never kept your righteousness to myself,
but have spoken of your faithfulness and saving help;
I have made no secret of your love and faithfulness
in the Great Assembly.
Psalm 118 calls blessed the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Perhaps that can be our greatest return to the Lord for all he has given us and for saving us, to be one who comes to others in the name of the Lord doing his will and bringing some experience of His love and salvation to those we live with and serve in ministry. And by living each day of our life in the Resurrected Christ to the fullest, one day at a time.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
This is the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
If you spend some time with the other thanksgiving psalms you may be moved even more deeply into gratitude, an essential virtue.
Here is my attempt at a Psalm of Thanksgiving.
When death approaches, you stand near, with us.
You raise us to meet its challenges and
draw us free. You give us life always.
Told a cancer was consuming me, you prepared me
for life with you, forgiving my sinfulness and
the bitterness I harbor.
You sent friends to put my spiritual life in order.
But you also strengthened me to continue on in this life
and in your ongoing works.
You answered prayers for my healing and we continue to live
in hope for return to “tip-top” condition. Called upon,
you are here and are comfort, joy and my integrity.
Without making any cheap bargain, and knowing life with you
is preferable to life here, I will walk on in doing
what you are asking of me in service. Until
you let me know it is time to commend my spirit unto you, I
will return all my energies in ecclesial and human service to
you, to the Body of Christ, in particular my family, and all
your people and creation.
Your Providence we gladly and thankfully own!
Now, your turn. Do you have the courage to post your psalm for the edification of readers of deaconden? And, of course, wives can post here as well.
And thank you for being my brothers and sisters in the Lord.
(Though I didn’t attempt to footnote formally where I found certain ideas, many of the ideas and some quotes came from The Spirituality of the Psalms; Prayers for all Times, by Margaret N. Ralph, 2015.)