But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me.
I will praise God’s name in song
    and glorify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox,
    more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
Psalm 69:29–31 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a renowned Jewish theologian, once said, “It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” This is one of 12 devotions focused on gratitude during this season when families gather to give thanks. For more on praising God for our many blessings, download our complimentary study on the Psalms.

In all my years of being a rabbi, I have never heard the following: “Why me? Why does everything happen to me? Why am I happy, healthy, and wealthy? Couldn’t God have picked someone else?” What I have heard plenty of is the other “why me” — “Why am I the one with (fill in the blank) — illness, money problems, loneliness, etc? Why is it happening to me?”

In Psalm 69 King David reminds us that both of these situations – good times and tough times -- are opportunities to connect with God. In fact, the latter circumstance is actually a greater opportunity than the first.

When things are going well, we are challenged to take notice and turn to God in appreciation. These good times are expressed by the psalmist as “a bull with its horns and hooves.” Horns are a bull’s means of protecting itself or attacking another animal. They represent power. Hooves allow the bull to stand strong on firm footing. They represent independence.

Together, a bull with horns and hooves symbolizes a person experiencing extremely blessed times when everything seems secure and wonderful. And yet those who have a relationship with God will remember that it is only through His grace that their lives are so blessed. Submitting to God and acknowledging His dominance over the world is expressed as offering a “bull with its horns and hooves” to God as a sacrifice. This pleases God.

But there is something even greater.

Have you ever seen the stars out in the daytime? The answer is no. When the sun is shining brightly, we cannot appreciate the light of other stars. It is only in times of darkness that we can appreciate their splendor. In the same way, while it is certainly appropriate to sing God’s praises when everything in our lives is bright and sunny, it’s in the darkness of our lives that we can truly shine. 

In Psalm 69, King David was “afflicted and in pain” (v. 29). Yet David proclaimed, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” It’s one thing to praise God when everything is going right. It’s another thing to be grateful when things seem so wrong. It’s more difficult, but always possible. For every one thing that goes wrong, there are ten other things that are going right. As King David affirmed in this psalm, thanking God during difficult times will please the Lord far more than when things are going well. It is in those times that we can shine.

Take a moment to reflect on your life. No matter how many challenges you might be facing, ask yourself, “What about my life is great?” Thank God for what you do have. Your gratitude will light up your life.

Download our complimentary study on The Psalms of David for how Israel’s greatest king expressed his deepest emotions to God through his words of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and praise.

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