This month we are using the Psalms of the Ascent to help teach us about living lives of gratitude. The Psalms of the Ascent are the 15 psalms between Psalm 120-134 that were used by the people of Israel on their yearly trips to Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. It was at these 3 religious celebrations that the people gave thanks for God’s deliverance and provision and so the psalms not only encouraged people on their trips but they prepared the hearts and minds of the people to give thanks when they arrived at the Temple. Today the psalms still have lessons to teach us about giving thanks and one of the lessons they teach is the need we have to learn from our history.
Maybe you have heard this saying, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana), but just remembering our past or our history isn’t going to help us, we have to learn from it. Learning goes beyond remembering. When we remember something we are just calling it to mind, but learning means we take the lessons we have learned and apply them to our lives. Learning from our past means that we take the truth we uncover and use it to think differently and live differently. Let me give you an example from my own personal history.
After I graduated from High School I moved around quite a bit. First I travelled from CT to MI to go to college. After my sophomore year I went from MI to WY for the summer to work in Yellowstone and the next summer I went to CO to work in the Rockies. During the first three weeks in any new location I would often call my parents and talk about how miserable I was. I told them how much I hated being where I was and how I wanted to leave. This continued through Seminary and even into my first church in Altoona and it was actually during my first few weeks in Altoona when my Mom said to me, Andy, do you realize that your first few weeks in any new location is awful, but after you get through those weeks, things improve and you have ended up loving everywhere you have been.
When I looked at my own personal history, I had to admit, she was right. I could remember phone calls from MSU, Yellowstone, Colorado and Duke during my first weeks in those locations and talking about how much I hated each place during those early days, but in the end I loved all those places and all my time there.
After my Mom pointed out this lesson I began to use it to help me live differently. When I moved to a new location I would tell myself that transition is hard and I don’t always like new places. It takes me a while to feel confident and comfortable in what I’m doing, but I always survived and thrived, and I could do it again. The other thing I learned was what helped me during these times of transition. I had to give myself time, I had to take care of myself physically and spiritually and I had to build a network of support and friends. My moves since then have been so much better because I now know those first weeks are always going to feel overwhelming. but they will not destroy me.
To put that experience into the words of the Psalmist, I might have said, If the Lord had not been on my side, the flood would have engulfed me, the torrent would have swept over me and the raging waters would have swept me away. But God was on my side. God was my strength and shield and support and with God’s help I was able to make it through. So I didn’t just remember my past, I learned from it; I took the truth and lessons of those situations and applied them to my life.
This is what we see happening with the Psalms of Ascent. As the people traveled to Jerusalem, they weren’t just telling stories around a campfire at night to entertain; they were passing on the lessons of history. Look at Psalm 124:1-5. Israel had a long history of outside nations attacking them and if the Lord had not been on their side they would have been destroyed. If we read through the books of Joshua and Judges we hear about many of the battles Israel had to fight as they settled into the Promised Land and in those battles God fought with and for His people. This is the lesson learned in the battle of Jericho.
After Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered into the Promised Land they came up against the fortified city of Jericho. God told the people to march around the city for six days and then on the seventh day they were to march around with trumpets and torches and at the sound of the trumpets the people were to shout and blow their horns. When they did this, the walls of Jericho came down. God delivered the city into their hands. God fought the battle for them. Truly, if the Lord had not been on their side the people would have been swallowed alive.
In another battle, a man named Gideon was told by God to march out against a large enemy but first he had to cut down the size of his own army. Instead of marching into battle with 32,000 men, God had Gideon go into battle with 300 men and when he did, the Lord fought with them and they won. This wasn’t just a great story to share with children on a long journey; this was a lesson to learn from Israel’s history. The lesson: we can’t trust our own strength and power – we need to trust God. The lesson: when God is on our side, we can have the strength and confidence to move forward against all odds. The stories Israel shared through these psalms were history lessons that gave the people truth and faith to apply to their lives so they could be victorious.
So these psalms show the importance of learning from history. Whether it is our own personal history, the history of our family, community, nation, faith or world, we need to learn the lessons of history and apply its truth to our lives, but learning from history also teaches us to give thanks because as we look back we also see the hand of God with us and the power and grace of God helping us. Again, look at Psalm 124:6-8.
Praise be to God. Give thanks to God because God was with us and God helped us. History often teaches us to be grateful because when we look back we see how God has helped us. In my own personal history, as I looked back at those difficult times of transition it was God’s hand that saw me through. It was God who gave me strength to endure and the support I needed. If it had not been for God, I don’t know where I would have been, so learning from my own history has helped me give thanks. My personal history has not only shaped how I live but it has taught me to be thankful because God has always been with me and God has always given me what I needed.
The Psalms of Ascent taught history and they helped the people give thanks. Hearing their message over and over again on the journey not only shaped how they lived, but it shaped their hearts so that when they arrived in Jerusalem they were ready to say, Thanks Be To God. The more we learn from history the more grateful we become because we can see God’s grace working in our lives.
And this is true for all of us. If you are here today it is because God has seen you through some challenging times. If you are here it is because God’s grace has been there for you when we were feeling beaten down and beaten up by life. Look at Psalm 123:3-4. This is often how we feel. We have endured much. We have endured contempt and ridicule and heartache and pain. We have been mistreated and misunderstood and suffered injustice but we are here because of God’s grace and mercy and for this we can give thanks.
Learning from history is important so the question is: How can we learn from history?
#1. What lessons have we learn? As we look back at history, as we went through a financial crisis, the break up or a relationship, the loss of a loved one or the shattering of a dream, what lessons did we learn? Write them down. Identify and clarify the truth of what we learned so that we can then move forward and answer this question:
#2. How can I apply this truth to my life today? How do we take the lesson we learned and use it to help us in whatever situation we may be facing today? Maybe the lesson is that we found out we are stronger than we thought we were or that we have more support than we thought we did. That lesson of knowing we have strength and support can give us what we need to make it through our current situation. Maybe the lesson is that we need to be patient or less controlling or more trusting? Maybe the lesson is simply that God is on our side so we can keep going. Those are all important lessons we can use to shape our lives and in every situation we face there are lessons from the past that we can use to help us make wise decisions today.
#3. Where do I see the hand of God? As we look back, where do we see the hand of God? This is important because it is this that leads to gratitude. If we can see the hand of God at work in our lives it is a cause for giving thanks. Seeing that God is on our side leads us to say what Israel said, Praise be to the Lord.
But we aren’t just grateful for God being with us, we are grateful for all the people and resources God has given to help us. Learning from history leads us to give thanks for family and friends, it leads us to give thanks for the jobs we have and the communities we live in. Learning from history even leads us to give thanks for the challenges we face because we know we will learn something through them and they will make us stronger and more faithful. So it’s not just God we give thanks for as we learn from history it is all the ways God has helped us and provided for us. Learning from history leads to a life of gratitude and it shapes us for faithful thankful living.
Living the Life of Gratitude ~ Learning from History
Read Psalm 123 and Psalm 124.
Learning from history and giving thanks calls for us to answer these three questions:
1. What important lessons have you learned in life?
• Write them down.
• Clarify them.
• Share them.
2. How can you apply the truth of these lessons to your life today?
3. Where do you see the hand of God at work in the past?
• Thank God for His presence, power and grace.
This week we celebrate Veterans Day (November 11).
• What lessons can you identify from the battles fought by the United States?
• What lessons can we learn from our Veterans and Active Duty Military?
• How can these lessons help us tackle the problems we face today?
• Give thanks for our Veterans. Send a note to a Veteran you know to simply say “Thank You”.
To read through all the Psalms of the Ascent (Psalms 120-134) during this series, read Psalms 128 and 129 this week.
What lessons of faith and gratitude do you learn from these psalms?