Sanctuary’s Work, Thanksgiving’s Reward
In our sacred space, God counsels our soul.
by BRENDA POINSETT
JUST BECAUSE A HOLIDAY arrives on schedule doesn’t mean we will be in the mood to celebrate. Our feelings don’t always correspond to the holiday! And yet the observance will be more meaningful and enjoyable if they do.
Thanksgiving is a case in point. We may not feel thankful as the fourth Thursday of November draws near. Oh, if someone asks us what we are thankful for, we could give a generic answer such as health, family, or friends. We would miss out, though, on the joy of the holiday. One way we can correct this is to make use of the power of sanctuary, something Asaph did when his feelings needed changing.
Asaph was a psalmist who was disturbed by what he observed. Wicked people were being blessed, and yet he had always believed God rewarded good people. This discrepancy “seemed hopeless” to him until he “entered God’s sanctuary” (Ps. 73:16b-17a). His sanctuary could have been the temple because he was a Levite and a chorister, or it might have been a special place where he felt God’s presence. For me, a sanctuary is a place where I can commune freely and honestly with God without being interrupted.
In the sanctuary of God, Asaph outlined all the awful offenses he noticed wicked people getting by with and how God was blessing them anyway. This simply wasn’t fair! Good people should be the ones God rewarded.
But — and this is important — he also expressed confidence in God. Confession cleans out our inner space, and if we want to maintain that change, we need to fill that space with something positive and affirming about God. Asaph did this by acknowledging that God was with him, holding his hand. He said to Him, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me up in glory” (Ps. 73:24). Asaph admitted that his flesh and heart might fail, but God would be the strength of his heart. (See Ps. 73:26a.)
I’ve needed sanctuary times like this in my life when my feelings didn’t line up with God’s Word. One time was when I stopped believing God had a purpose for my life. I concluded this after experiencing a number of bizarre, hard-to-handle, too-close-together happenings that didn’t make sense. Without a purpose, there wasn’t any reason to get up anymore, and I became depressed. Eventually, with professional help I recovered from the physical symptoms of depression, but I couldn’t seem to regain my zest for life until I spent time in my sanctuary. There I confessed my disbelief and acknowledged God had a purpose for my life.
Asaph’s experience sounds like he only had to confess his feelings one time and a change occurred, but I had to pray multiple times over several days until I was ready to once again embrace life. The evidence for a purpose wasn’t any greater than it had been, but I was transformed spiritually and emotionally just as Asaph was. Nothing changed outwardly for him, but he changed.
Another time I needed a sanctuary experience was at midlife when I started experiencing pangs of jealousy, something unusual for me. I sloughed off the feelings, thinking they weren’t causing any harm until our small church’s adult Sunday School class studied Psalm 73.
As I listened to the teacher outline Asaph’s gripes, I started complaining. Out loud, to the class, I said, “Here we are trying to make a living, keep our bills paid, and hold our little church together, but we never seem to get a break. We’re trying to do what God wants. Why doesn’t He bless us?”
An awkward silence followed. After a while, the teacher went on with the lesson, and I was left wondering if I was losing ground like Asaph. He said, “My steps nearly went astray. For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2b-3).
I didn’t want to lose my foothold, so I headed to my sanctuary place where I worked at confessing my feelings to God. I say “worked” because unlike the depression, I didn’t know why I was experiencing pangs of jealousy. This time, using pencil and paper, I wrote out my thoughts and my feelings. As I did, I discovered other feelings were present. Intertwined with jealousy was envy, anger, resentment, sadness, and disappointment. What surprised me the most was the disappointment, and there in my sanctuary, I realized I was disappointed in God.
During my 30s and my 40s, I had tried conscientiously to live the way God wanted me to live, even when I was depressed. I had assumed that I would be rewarded just as Asaph had believed good people would be. But at midlife, I saw others being rewarded and blessed — people who in my opinion hadn’t been as faithful or as conscientious as I had been, yet life turned out well for them and even better in many cases!
Realizing the cause for my feelings was disappointment in God, I felt liberated. My reaction was, So that’s it. Now I knew why I felt the way I did. It was such a freeing experience that it would have been tempting to do nothing more. But I wanted to keep those feelings from returning, so my sanctuary work included setting goals and thanking God for what He was calling me to do. This helped me to focus and kept me from comparing myself with others.
Now you would think with those two sanctuary experiences, I wouldn’t need one when the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, but sometimes I do. When I see Thanksgiving as something to be done, another item on the schedule, or something else to demand my time, I seek out a place to be alone with God. There I reflect on life, God’s graciousness, and His blessings. I write down my reflections, and then I say what I’ve noted out loud to Him. As I express my feelings and affirm my gratitude, the refreshing joy of the holiday flows over me, and I am ready to wholeheartedly celebrate Thanksgiving. I’m able to exclaim with Asaph, “God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do” (Ps. 73:28).
BRENDA POINSETT works with women who want a new lease on life and older adults who need encouragement through writing, speaking, and teaching. She’s the author of 22 books including her latest You’ve Got It, I Want It, which is available through Amazon.