Look back to bring forth Thanksgiving

Patricia Holbrook of Soaring With Him Ministries

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Patricia Holbrook of Soaring With Him Ministries

The Rev. Alexander Whyte was a Scottish minister and author of the 19th century known by his congregation as a man of an unwavering grateful spirit. Regardless of the circumstances, he seemed always to find something for which to be thankful. One of his parishioners told a story about a gloomy Sunday morning when a friend commented, just before the service started: “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” However, no sooner had the man said these words, the reverend opened the service with a prayer: “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”

The story reminded me of a research I did several years ago for a message I prepared for my first large conference as the keynote speaker. As I prayed about the theme of the message, I felt led to Psalm 42. The first verse of this psalm became well-known inside the Christian community after Seattle-native Martin J. Nystrom launched the song “As the Deer” in 1984.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.”

Both the song and the psalm’s emphasis is on the writer’s trust, love and hope in God, but a study on chapter 42 in its entirety finds a man fighting against the shadows of depression that threaten to steal his peace and his faith.

Scholarly opinions diverge concerning the authorship of this psalm. Some believe the “sons of Korah” wrote Psalms 42 to 49. They were a clan of Levites appointed by King David as the temple’s musicians. According to these scholars, these psalms were during the Babylonian exile when the writers were far from their homeland and their place of worship, fighting depression and reminiscing the days when they worshipped in Jerusalem’s temple.

Other scholars, such as the notorious Matthew Henry, attribute this psalm to King David. As Henry states in his commentary: “(…) we may conjecture that it was penned by (David) at a time when, either by Saul’s persecution or Absalom’s rebellion, he was driven from the sanctuary and cut off from the privilege of waiting upon God in public ordinances.”

We may not be sure concerning this psalm’s authorship, but the sentiment behind the famous words is broadly familiar. As one reads Psalm 42, one finds a man caught between depression and faith, struggling to keep his heart anchored in God’s promises while facing desperate circumstances.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

The author’s pain and sense of isolation are deep and real, and yet, as we read on, we witness his steadfast determination not to succumb to depression:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, for the help of his presence.”

The psalm is, by all accounts, a lesson in thanksgiving during difficult times. And I believe it is a message much needed this year, as many of God’s faithful children have faced incredible hardships or find themselves isolated from their loved ones this Holiday season.

Depression is indeed one of the most common emotional issues during life’s difficult trials. This psalm reveals a man caught in deep emotional pain but who refuses to succumb to its tentacles. His answer is simple yet challenging to anyone in the middle of a personal crisis: He looks back to remember God’s faithfulness in the past and looks forward, by faith, declaring that the same God who was faithful then, is still faithful now. God had not abandoned him, and his deliverance would undoubtedly come. The author proclaimed God’s redemption, even though his eye did not see it coming.

Maybe this holiday season finds you in a similar place. Perhaps like the author of Psalm 42, your life has changed so dramatically that you find your heart’s song wavering between depression and hope, anxiety and trust. Maybe, like a deer panting for water, your soul is dry, longing for God to revive it again.

If that is you, let the psalmist’s lesson on Thanksgiving guide you today. Look back. Remember the countless ways that God rescued you in the past.

And then, just as The Rev. Whyte boldly declared his trust and thanksgiving to God on that gloomy day, dare to say:

“We thank Thee, O God, that it will not always be like this.”

Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com to learn about her speaking ministry, bible studies and book. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com.