Gratitude in Tough Times

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, times are tough. Economic troubles affect us all, in addition to whatever other personal struggles we or those dear to us face. We’re reminded almost daily that our faith doesn’t spare us from hardship, pain, grief, or loss.

So how do we give thanks in the midst of troubled times?

The Psalms, the great prayer book of the Scriptures, sets an example for us. Psalm 118 begins, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” And it goes on, testifying to God’s actions, testifying to God’s faithfulness, even in the face of death.

We trust and give thanks because of God—what God has done and who God is. This whole psalm points continually to God, affirming over and over that God is for us and therefore we have nothing to fear and everything for which to be grateful.

Give thanks to the Lord—not because you have so much that you should be grateful for, but because God is good. Give thanks to the Lord—not because of how everything is going for you, but because God’s love endures forever.

Sometimes we need to remember together that God is good and that God’s love endures forever. But we can’t always do this on our own.

The person singing Psalm 118 knew that we need to give thanks together. That’s why in the first few verses the singer addresses the people as a whole. The psalmist identifies the people of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all who fear the Lord; telling them to say together, “God’s love endures forever.”

Sometimes we need each other’s testimonies to remember that God is good. So the person singing this psalm tells the congregation about a personal experience of the enduring love of God. Woven throughout the psalm is the story of God rescuing someone.

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. . . .

The nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord, I cut them off. . . .

I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. . . .

We each have stories of God’s help and God’s care, times when we were in trouble and somehow things came out all right; times when we received help when we needed it most. This is a good time to remember those stories, to remind each other that the Lord is good; God’s love endures forever.

This is a good time to remember what the singer of this psalm knew and what those who have gone before us knew: God is for us.

When we know that God is for us, it’s possible to live in faith instead of in fear, even in the face of death.

And when we know that God is for us, we can have an attitude of trust—an attitude that sees God’s hand at work in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

Everything in this psalm points to what God has done and what God is doing:

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. . . .

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my

salvation. . . .

The Lord has done this. . . .

This is the day the Lord has made. . . .

The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. . . .

In ancient Israel, psalms of thanksgiving like this one were a regular part of worship. People would tell their individual stories of experiencing the goodness of God, but those stories were always understood to be a part of the larger story of God’s goodness to the people of Israel. Stories of personal deliverance were understood to be a part of the larger story of God’s rescuing the people—first from Egypt and slavery and Pharaoh’s army, and later from famine and war, eventually bringing them back from exile.

This is a psalm God’s people used when celebrating Passover, giving thanks for God’s enduring love shown in their deliverance from death.  

You remember the story—death was coming for the firstborn child in every home in Egypt, but God told his people to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so death wouldn’t come to their houses. The people did so, and they were spared. The whole nation of Israel experienced God’s enduring love for them and their children, and they remembered it.

This is the psalm the people sang when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his death on the cross: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is where we come into the picture, where our stories become part of the broader story of God’s never-ending love.

Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, welcomes us into a loving relationship with God. Because of what Jesus has done, we belong to God. God is for us.

We “shall not die but live, and proclaim what the Lord has done” (v. 17). This is where we ultimately encounter the enduring love of God—in the face of death. Because of Jesus these words are true for us. We will not die; we will live and proclaim what the Lord has done. What a cause for thanksgiving and for hope in the face of hard times!

We know, as those who have gone before us knew, that God’s love endures forever because of Jesus. God chose to become one of us and to die so that sin’s worst power over us could be broken—and to rise to new life so that we too will rise. God’s love endures forever.

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing! We can give thanks in these troubled times because we belong to God. As the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us so beautifully, our only true comfort, and our deepest reason for gratitude, is knowing “I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” 


My Story

I have Crohn’s disease, and twice in the past 12 years I’ve had to have emergency surgery. I felt God’s peace and presence during these times. I knew my life was in God’s hands. I am thankful for my health, my family and friends, and all the prayers raised for me. I will never forget God’s grace and goodness in my life!

—Jackie Van Ginkel
Sioux Center, Iowa

My Story

When I read the Banner’s request for thankfulness articles, I scoffed, “Ha!—thanksgiving this year?”With the economic crisis, many people’s lives have been turned upside down. For us, the downturn in the pork industry meant we had to sell the hog farm I grew up on.

This summer was the hardest I remember. We spent it moving not only our home but an entire business, including thousands of pigs, tons of corn, and wagonloads of farm equipment.

I spent many hours power-washing our pig barns and had lots of time to think. I came to realize that I am so thankful for the people in our lives these past several months.

I have been moved to tears many times by the way people have pitched in to help and support us. From friends and family members who volunteered many days of help, to a 16-year-old from another town who helped his uncle disassemble a bin; from those who cared for our children to those who came to share a kind word or bring us a meal or took on church duties for us—God’s love has been evident through the people he has placed in our lives. Thank you all. You have no idea how much your love and care has meant.

—Sarah Haanstra
Listowel, Ontario

My Story

I had just finished up time as a Christian Reformed World Missions volunteer in Tijuana, in the Mexican state of Baja California. I came back to the U.S., to California, to look for a teaching job. Praise the Lord, I was able to work a part-time job along with substitute teaching. But I had to wait a month before I would get my first paycheck. Meanwhile, I had moved in with another girl, and rent was almost due. Having no idea where I was going to come up with the money and feeling quite overwhelmed by my other financial concerns as well, I prayed.

The next day I received a check from a friend at my home church in Michigan who had supported me while I volunteered. The check was exactly the amount due for rent. Along with the check my friend included this note: “Thought you might need some help getting on your feet. Use this with joy.”He had no idea what I needed, but God did.

—Andrea L. Baschal

My Story

I am thankful that our local church is vibrant. We have a small congregation of about 100 children and adults in a small town. Although the building is not large, it has eight classrooms for Sunday school, with the sanctuary occasionally doubling as a classroom too. We have a husband and wife team who serve coffee and juice every Sunday. Two adult Bible study groups. A choir that participates in community festivals twice a year and sometimes leads other community programs. A brass, wind, and percussion band. Another musical group that uses guitars, drums, and vocalists. Several pianists.

One member is a missionary in Kazakhstan. A family directs a Bible camp nearby. Several members have gone on mission trips. Along with five other local churches we provide services to the area’s nursing home and senior residences and contribute to the food bank.

While we recently had members with health problems, they are mostly recovering well. We celebrated 25 years together last summer. This is only part of the story, but wouldn’t that make you thankful?

—John Zylstra

My Story

October 8, 2007. Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I sit at my husband’s hospital bedside, wondering if he will ever come home again. Spinal surgery has robbed him of the ability to walk or to move.

God sees my need. Many church members drive me to and from the hospital. We feel their prayers.

Harry says his goodbyes.

At night I cry out, “Oh, Lord, if it must be so, thy will be done. Give me, give Harry your peace and a good sleep.”

Each day Harry waits for me. He cannot do very much. We are together.

October 20. Harry has lymphoma. He now battles two cancers. He dreams that he is dying. He sails away, while I stay behind. He struggles with God, “Thy will be done.” Peace comes for me and for him.

I find Harry’s rings on the hospital floor. They fell off his fingers, he is so thin.

After the first treatment, Harry comes home. I am so glad. Also concerned. Can I handle this? Four more treatments coming up. Harry falls often, grows weaker each time.

Christmas. New Year’s. We’re glad to be together. We order a spring crabapple tree for our 50th anniversary in May. Harry’s so ill, he needs my constant care. I struggle. I feel for him so, but I am not burdened. God walks beside me—I know this!

Treatments are stopped. Harry is too weak. I watch over him. God watches over both of us.

May 2, 2008. Our anniversary. I feel so blessed; we are treated so well. The next day I take Harry to Emergency. He has congestive heart failure.

The anniversary tree arrives. A neighbor helps me plant it. When Harry comes home, the tree is in bloom. He loves that. So do I.

Summer. I take Harry outside and for rides. The sun does him good. His color improves. He walks with a walker. He even goes for short coffee times with friends. I am delighted about that. Each day is a gift.

October 13, 2008. Thanksgiving. I share our story of God’s faithfulness with the members of our congregation. Ebenezer—God has helped us this far (1 Sam. 7:12). We have just been told no more treatments are available for Harry.

March 17, 2009. My husband dies at home, in my arms, while I sing Psalm 23 to him. I am grateful that Harry is with the Lord. I am lonely but not alone. God is with me.

—Tina SchuldEdmonton, Alberta

FOR DISCUSSION:
  1. What challenges are you or your family facing in this time of economic crisis and global change?
  2. What story can you tell about God’s help and care? What doubts do you have in the face of adversity?
  3. What struck you in the letters from readers?
  4. The Psalms set an example for us of how to pray. What is your favorite psalm in these tough times?
  5. How does the community of faith support you in times of joy or uncertainty? Is it mindful of the needs in the community and in the broader world as well?

About the Author

Rev. Elizabeth Vander Haagen co-pastors Boston Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Rev. Jay Blankespoor. She is also a spiritual director and a thankful mother of two small girls.

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