Hard-Won Thanks: “Delivered from All My Fears” Excerpt

The following is the first essay from my new eBook on the Kindle format, Delivered from All My Fears: Devotional Readings on Psalm 34.

Hard-Won Thanks

Delivered from All My Fears CoverThe stories, prayers, and poetry in the Bible overflow with the theme of salvation. God lifts people out of danger and oppression and transports them to safety and freedom. God brings people home from exile. God forgives sin and sets people on a new path. We love these stories because we long to see salvation brought into more areas of our lives and our world. We have also experienced similar deliverance and can relate to the need to express gratitude to God. While the Bible describes salvation in exceptionally beautiful terms and we know its sweetness, we cannot neglect the dark side of salvation, the fact that there is some evil or injustice from which we need to be saved. In the Bible, the thanks to God for salvation never comes easy—it is hard-won, emerging from a place where defeat and death seemed assured.

This little guide will help you prayerfully read through Psalm 34 in twenty-two days. The people of Israel and the Church have used the Book of Psalms as their prayer guide and hymnal throughout history. The Psalms have much to teach us about prayer if we simply slowed down and allowed their poetry to usher us into a world that deals directly with the joys and sorrows of life as well as the God who is immediately available.

There are psalms that praise God when life is good and ordered (e.g., Psalm 1). Then there are psalms—laments—that cry out to God when things go wrong (e.g., Psalm 88). There are also psalms that thank God for deliverance from evil or harm. These thanksgiving psalms do not deny the tragedies, losses, and disappointments of life. They follow lament, but only after the speaker has been rescued. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann calls these Psalms of thanksgiving or testimony, “Psalms of new orientation.”[1] I like the term “new orientation” because deliverance does not necessarily return the world to what it once was—the loss and pain still happened. Instead, God reaches into the pain and establishes something original, creating an altogether new order in which that pain is redeemed, not eliminated. Psalm 34 is one of those psalms of new orientation. It is an incredibly powerful and beautiful psalm born out of an experience of deep terror and magnificent rescue. Yahweh serves as the hero and delivers the psalmist from fear and trouble. Psalm 34 does not deny the reality of terror. Rather, it vividly recalls the fear the writer felt and praises a God who rescues people.

As you read and pray, bring your whole life forward. Bring your memories and plans, your doubts and certainties, your fears and hopes, your losses and victories, your questions and conclusions. Like the writer of Psalm 34, place them before God with honesty. If you have been rescued from trouble, let thanksgiving flow. If you long for the ability to thank God again you could prayerfully allow Psalm 34 to shape your desires, or perhaps it would be more helpful to spend time with a psalm of lament. The Psalms invite us to be real before God. So come, pray with God’s people, giving praise to the God who saves us from fear and trouble.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function,” in The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 13ff.