Give Thanks (Even When Life Stinks)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

       his love endures forever.

This simple phrase is the opening header for Psalm 106. And Psalm 107, 118, 136… Such a great verse sounds happy. And sometimes it is.

It’s found word for word in the middle of the praise psalm in 1 Chronicles 16, when King David had just finished building a palace in the new capital, Jerusalem, and had pitched a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant. He called all of Israel together to worship, set up the Levites as musicians, and appointed Asaph and his teammates to praise the Lord before the ark with an incredible psalm of praise.

Life was good. David, Asaph, and other Levites wrote many psalms during that season of praise – many that we still read, pray, and sing today.

But when we look at the Psalms with that opening statement of thanks, we see a full, robust, picture of life as sinful people in a fallen world – the good and the bad.


We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;

     we have done wrong and acted wickedly. (Psalm 106:6)


They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor

     and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

they aroused the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds,

     and a plague broke out among them. (Psalm 106:28-29)


Their enemies oppressed them

     and subjected them to their power.

Many times he delivered them,

     but they were bent on rebellion

     and they wasted away in their sin. (Psalm 106:42-43)


Some wandered in desert wastelands,

     finding no way to a city where they could settle.

They were hungry and thirsty,

     and their lives ebbed away. (Psalm 107:4-5)

Add bondage (Psalm 107:10), bitter labor (Psalm 107:12), depression (Psalm 107:18), and much more, and you start to get the picture. This verse isn’t only for when times are good. It’s hope – an anchor – for when times are bad.

Sometimes life stinks. Pushing that metaphor, sometimes it’s just a dank, dusty odor like in an old mop closet. But sometimes it’s the rank, nauseating, overpowering force like an unplugged refrigerator that hasn’t been opened in a year. (Some of us experienced that during cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.) From frustrating jobs, loneliness, depression, infertility, chronic pain, serious illness… at some point life will knock you or someone you love down, and then kick you hard.

Don’t get me wrong. When life is good, we should give thanks – with joy and singing and feasting and the exuberance of a full heart. Hopefully that will describe Thanksgiving for many of you.

But when life is hard, it’s just as good of a time to read these Psalms. You’ll find desperate prayer and petition right beside hope and praise. There’s hope and confidence from God’s character – for He is good – and his unwavering commitment to us – His love endures forever. That pretty much sums up the gospel – God’s goodness and faithfulness shown to us – fallen, rebellious, stained people – through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. That’s why we can have hope.

Sometimes the desperation seems to overpower the hope, but the glimmers of hope still peak through. That might feel like your life right now. Other times the hope rises up and squashes the doubt and pain – maybe in real time, maybe just in confident expectation of what is to come. That’s what we long for, and only find when we take our real pain and struggles and set them before a loving, patient, wise, all-powerful Father.

So take the time today or tomorrow to not only read, but soak on those Psalms. Or soak in Romans 8, where Paul gives us hope through a powerful application of soaring, hopeful theology to our present pain, suffering, trials, and death. It's not trite.  We're not called to live in denial or ignore the pain and grief of life. But we are called to let the gospel soak into even the most painful cracks and crevices. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

     his love endures forever.

Sure, this can be printed on the sides of mugs with pictures of flowers and happy faces. But it is just as appropriate scratched into the walls of a prison cell – literally or metaphorically – or engraved in a coffin.

These psalms speak of desperate times, but also of deliverance, salvation, restoration, healing, protection, blessing, and victory. Giving thanks to the Lord who is good and faithful isn’t only for when times are good. It’s our hope – our anchor – for when times are bad.