By: Rob Genin
Recently I spoke with some men who remarked on the uncertainty swirling about in 2023. That uncertainty can generate worry and anxiety. Shaunti Feldhahn (who spoke for our Women’s Business Leaders group last year) quoted a study that clinical anxiety had spiked from 11% in 2019 to 41% in 2021. While the certainty of the exact numbers might be a debate, I believe few would dispute the claim that we are a more anxious country and world than we were five years ago. In that environment, how do we start the new year in a healthy way? When we are concerned about the future, it is a great time to praise God.
Praise might seem like an unusual response to uncertainty, but this is the counsel of the book of Psalms.
Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and prayers to God. Psalms 1-2 summarize that the righteous man will follow God’s path, but that the wicked will ultimately perish. The successive psalms go on to express all of the difficult situations and reversals of fortune that human beings experience as they follow God – even to the seeming disappointment of their hopes in Psalms 88-89. I am grateful that the Psalms give full expression to the confusion and despair that their authors faced. From it we learn that it is appropriate to share our whole heart with God. Even our dark and hard thoughts do not scare Him. The Psalms conclude with 6 songs (145-150) that are full of praise. After all the trials and the uncertainty that the people of Israel endured, this is where the book ends.
Recently, an intriguing secular study conducted with nurses burned out during COVID concluded that spending time reflecting on “a time they felt a sense of awe” actually reduced their discouragement over a period of several months. That is fascinating. Taking time to think of glorious things reduced burnout. That secular study seems to confirm the idea that praise combats discouragement and anxiety.
The problem I see with the study as described is that a self-selected “sense of awe” could either be based in truth or illusion. If the sense of awe is not based on something solid, the problem will return—perhaps even more powerfully with disillusionment. G.K. Chesterton famously said, “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really grateful and has no one to thank.”
Psalms 145-150, in contrast, focus on specific realities. They carefully take time to emphasize objective truth about God and about His world. 145 talks about the might, compassion, trustworthiness, and righteous character of God. 146 contrasts disappointment in the short-lived plans of earthly leaders with God’s eternal wisdom and desire to give freedom to prisoners and sight to the blind, relief to the poor and a home to the alien. 147 celebrates God’s care for His people through simple blessings like rain in season. 148 calls everyone to worship because God is ruler of all things. 149 praises God who carries out justice. And 150 ends in a joyful crescendo, having brought everyone together, calling “everything that has breath” to praise the LORD.
As we begin this year, the Psalms can make us wise. Whatever our situation, however wonderful and sunny, or however bleak or uncertain things look, we should praise God. This focus will put us on the right foot as we face challenges and opportunities. At work and home, at church or City Hall, God is a good and righteous King. He controls all history – even the fall of the sparrow or the hair on our head. He will watch over you.