How can someone be happy in trouble? The first Thanksgiving Day was a time of praise to almighty God in the midst of great trouble. Nearly three-fourths of the original group that landed at Plymouth had died. The weather had been cruel. In a time of deep adversity, the God-fearing people came together to give thanks.
In Psalm 56 David praises God under pressure. Here is an expression of praise from one who was anointed to be king, but is not yet on the throne. He is being hunted by Saul, the reigning king of Israel, like a rabbit by hounds. He can find no rest for his feet. Saul sent spies throughout lsrael to find David. Finally, David fled across the border into Philistia and came to Gath, Goliath’s home town. The people said: “Isn’t this David of whom Israel said, ‘Saul killed his 1000’s, but David his 10,000’s?’” It was in fact, the singing of this song that aroused Saul’s jealousy against David. The heading of Psalm 56 is: “When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.”
In this troubled situation, what does David do? He lifts up his song unto the Lord. In this dark night of testing, his faith does not fail. He cries out: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (v.3,4). David did not do this in his own strength. It was God who gave the songs in the night.
He could sing in the misery because he had the Word of God. The almighty, covenant-keeping Jehovah had told him that he would be king of Israel. God will keep His promise. David says: “This I know; that God is for me” (v.9). He has chosen me; He has anointed me; He will surely care for me!
This is the wisdom of faith which is foolishness and absurdity to the world. The world does not understand this song of praise from one who was seized by the enemy. The world does not understand the first Thanksgiving either. But the Word of God is the Rock on which we stand. This is why the prophet Habbakuk could sing, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Habukkuk 3:17–19).
But why must David go through all of this? Why must he be hunted by Saul? He has no answer to that. Why must the prophet Habakkuk go through the trouble he talks about? There is no answer to that either. Why must we have cancer?
Or an accident? Or financial woes? Or family discord? Or church discord? Even though we have no answer to these specific questions, we know with absolute certainty what David and Habakkuk knew: God is with us. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
Jesus Christ is the great Son of David. He took our sins and paid the atoning price of His blood. He arose from the dead. He won the victory and proclaims reconciliation through faith in His blood. Praise under pressure is only possible in HIM. This is how it is possible to give thanks in everything and in every situation. May we have a blessed Christ-centered, God-glorifying Thanksgiving Day.
Rev. Vanden Heuvel is pastor of First CRC of Byron Center, MI and co-editor of The Outlook.