Three times a year the people of Israel traveled to Jerusalem to worship God and on their way they would use the Psalms of Ascent as a tool to prepare their hearts and lives to give thanks once they got there. These Psalms reminded them that it was important to listen to others, learn from history and laugh at themselves if they were going to arrive at the Temple with a heart filled with gratitude. We have also seen the importance of listening, learning and laughing to our own lives of gratitude and today as we come to the end of our journey, we are going learn the most important lesson of all because without this we will not be able to give thanks. Gratitude requires time and space to reflect and so today we learn from these Psalms the importance of lingering with God.
The word linger means to stay in a certain place longer than is usual or expected. It means being slow to act and slow to move on from what we are doing. To really thank God the people of Israel needed to linger in the presence of God. They needed to spend a few more moments in the Temple, a few more moments in prayer, a few more moments with God’s people singing God’s praise. If we are going to learn how to give thanks then we also need to learn how to linger in God’s presence because living lives of gratitude requires this kind of unhurried time and space. Being thankful requires us to reflect on what we have and who we are and how God is working in our lives and this not only takes time but it takes some quiet space so we can focus our minds and center our hearts on God and not us.
Whether it is our worship together on Sundays or time we spend together in small groups and bible studies or just our own personal worship, prayer and study of scripture, we need to learn how to linger. We need to learn how to be slow to speak, slow to act and slow to move on so that we don’t miss what God has for us. If we neglect time with God or rush through that time we will miss hearing and seeing what God has done for us which means not seeing all those things that make us thankful. So gratitude requires time and space to linger but the theologian Thomas Merton said, remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him and being attentive to Him requires a lot of courage and know how.
It really does take courage to linger because slowing down goes against the pattern of our world. We are told to go faster and get more accomplished every day which is why we learn to multi-task and create unsustainable schedules for ourselves and our families. Many people are afraid to say no because we have been told that the only way to get ahead and the only way to get the most out of life is to do it all. Too many times we buy into the lie that our children need to be involved in some kind of sport and activity in every season of the year. We teach them to take part in everything which leaves no time and space for reflection and thanksgiving. Since we are defined by what we do we tell ourselves that the more we do the better we will feel about ourselves, but the more we do the more our focus in life is on us and when we are no longer able to keep it all together we don’t feel good or grateful, just discouraged. So it takes courage to say no to the pace of our world and to say no to ourselves and linger with God.
It also takes some know-how. We need to learn how to linger with God and here the Psalms of Ascent have something to teach us. To learn how to linger we need to learn just one world – SLOW. To linger means that we go S.L.O.W. – we STAY, we LISTEN, we OBSERVE, we WAIT.
The first thing we have to do is STAY. We need to stay in the presence of God and stay committed to our connection with God. Psalm 130:5 begins, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. The psalmist has placed himself in the presence of God and now waits. He is staying in place until he receives all that God has for him. Now staying in God’s presence assumes that we are already connected to God and that we have some kind of worship and prayer life on which to build. The good news is that we all have this. You may not think you are connected to God but I am here to tell you that you have a spiritual life on which to build because you are here. You have been courageous and left the world behind for a few moments to listen, learn and even laugh at yourself, or humble yourself before God. You are here to connect with God so the foundation for all of us has been established.
The people of Israel used the Psalms of Ascents on their yearly trips to Jerusalem and they took those trips to stay connected to God. Three times a year the people would be courageous and leave their homes to set out on a long and sometimes dangerous journey so that they could stay connected to God through worship and the giving of their offerings. Staying connected to God was so important to them that they even collected and used these psalms as a way of staying connected to God along the way. Their commitment to worship teaches us the importance of staying connected to God through worship.
Each week we need to set aside this time to leave the world behind and refocus our hearts and lives on God. This time is important because it reminds us that life isn’t all about us and what we can do and who we can become, it is about what God can do and who God helps us become. Each week we need to stay connected to God through worship and as life get’s more hectic and our schedules get full we need to protect this time more and more. Over the next four weeks the temptation might be to pull away from worship so that we can get everything done that needs to get done – but the truth is that as we get busier we need to work harder at staying connected to God. The busier we get the more we need to guard this time and commit ourselves to worship and prayer. So we need to stay with God so that we can see God’s goodness and grace which lead to gratitude.
As we stay we also need to LISTEN. Look at the end Psalm 130:5, and in his word I put my hope. As we stay with God we need to place our hope in his word and that only happens if we are willing to listen to God’s word. The more we listen, the more hope we have and the more we have to be thankful for become because God’s word tells us about everything that God has done for us. Look at Psalm 130:7-8. With God there is unfailing love. With God there is forgiveness of sin and full redemption which means that God’s grace brings us back into a relationship with God. God’s word is full of messages of love and power and redemption and strength which are given to us by God. Look at Psalm 121:5-8.
God watches over us which means God is present with us and cares for us no matter what we are going through. So the more we listen to God’s word the more involved we see God is in our lives and the more gratitude we feel towards God.
Not only do we need to listen but we also need to OBSERVE. We need to be alert and attentive to what God is doing in our lives and in our world, or as the psalmist says we need to watch, Psalm 130:6. A night watchman has one job and that is to watch. They watch for danger and they watch for the morning. As the people travelled to Jerusalem they went through wilderness areas and the watchman would keep an eye out for any wild animals or attacking armies. They would also keep watch for the first signs of dawn so they could get the people up and ready so they could travel through the cool of the morning and not the heat of the afternoon.
A night watchman could watch during the night but they really didn’t have much power. They might be able to drive the animals away once they arrived, but they couldn’t keep them from coming. They could look for the dawn, but they couldn’t do anything to bring the dawn earlier. In many ways a watchman doesn’t have a lot of control; they just observe what is going on and then respond to it. To be truly grateful we need to understand that while we often don’t have a lot of control in our lives, God does and we need to observe all that God is doing.
How is God at work in our lives? How is God at work in our hearts and in our minds? Where can we see God’s grace and mercy working in us? Where do we see forgiveness at work? Where do we see healing at work? Where do we see God giving us strength in relationships and in our families and at work? In those areas where we don’t feel like we have any control, can we observe ways where God is in control? And where do we see God at work in our world? Today it is especially important to see God working in our world because there is so much beyond our control and so many problems that seem to have no answers and so we need to observe how God is at work so that we don’t lose hope and grow bitter.
The world may be tearing apart around us, but look at what God has done through us this morning. More than 500 children will have a better life, maybe a life changing experience because of what God is doing. 300 families in our community will have food for Christmas because God has moved in us to help feed them. If we look around, while the world is at war we also see that families have found peace, people have grown in their faith and children were born and baptized and it’s their lives that give us hope. The world might be increasingly negative but God’s grace is still giving and forgiving. And for all of this we can’t do much except say thank you God. The more we observe the more gratitude we experience.
So as we stay connected to God we listen and observe and then there is one more thing we need to do, once again we need to WAIT. We need to wait in God’s presence a little longer because there is always more God wants to give us. We are too quick and too eager to leave God’s presence and when we don’t linger we miss out on what God has for us. Too often we come here and then can’t wait for worship to be over, we can’t wait for Sunday school to end, we can’t wait to get home. When we are in such a hurry, we fail to experience the fullness of God. So after spending time in God’s presence, when we are ready to get up and go let’s try to wait another few moments so that we don’t miss out on anything God has for us. It takes courage to wait, but we will be rewarded and grateful if we do
I wonder if that is how the people of Israel felt after they arrived in Jerusalem. After all the worship had taken place, did they want to wait a little longer, stay another day in this holy city to give thanks. Is this how we will feel this coming week? Will we want to linger with family and friends to listen and observe? Will we take a few extra minutes at the table to simply share love and faith? This week we have the opportunity to go slow and linger. Can we slow down on Thursday and before we gobble down the turkey take a moment to stay connected to God through prayer? Can we linger and listen to one another and observe the hand of God that is working in us? Can we go slow and stay connected to God, listen and observe and then once again simply wait in God’s presence?
This morning we are going to practice this last step of waiting. You think the sermon is over, but before we go to the final hymn and run out into the busy day and our busy world, we are going to take a few minutes to linger in God’s presence and wait with God and listen for God to speak to us one more time.
Living the life of Gratitude ~ Lingering with God
To give thanks this week of Thanksgiving – Go S.L.O.W.
STAY connected to God.
• Thank God for one thing every day this week.
• Commit to being in worship each Sunday from now through Christmas.
• Thank God before dinner on Thanksgiving Day.
LISTEN to God.
• Listen to God during 5 minutes of quiet each day
• Listen to God by finishing the Psalms of Ascent. Read Psalm 121, 130, 134, and then read Psalm 135 & 136.
• Thanksgiving Day take time to listen to family and friends give thanks.
OBSERVE all God is doing.
• Identify 5 things in your life for which you are grateful.
• Identify one way God is at work in your life.
• Identify one way God is at work in the world.
• Identify one way you want God to use you in the world.
WAIT for God to speak and act and love.
• Wait one more minute in prayer and listen for God.
• Wait a few minutes after reading the Bible to listen for God’s personal voice and direction.
• Wait a few moments before leaving worship to feel God’s presence and power.
• Wait at the table on Thanksgiving Day for a few more moments to simply thank God for family and friends.
Give thanks to the LORD for He is good,
His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1