We may be living through a pandemic, but we have so much to be thankful for

(Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

I was encouraged to see a cartoon on Facebook the other day telling me that the building was closed but the church is still open. I liked that. It was a timely reminder that the word 'church' should refer to a group of people, not a collection of bricks and mortar, however beautifully crafted and historically important they might be.

I've seen so much evidence of that over this strange first "lockdown week" as I watched church services streamed from Pembroke Dock and Pontypridd to Ghana. I've sung songs of praise with Baptist friends in Croatia and even as I write these words, a Christian friend in Northern Ireland has just got in touch to recommend a Christian song that will lift our spirits.

We have so much to be thankful for. The wonders of modern technology have allowed me to talk face to face with my family, even though they are scattered from London to Malaysia. And then there are those who continue to service us, whether they work in the health and caring professions or behind a cash desk at our local supermarket or shop.

Like the apostle Paul I quietly thank God for them, and many, many others, every time I think of them. Indeed, the research shows that we'd all be a little bit happier too if we spent a few minutes every day expressing our thanks for all the acts of kindness we've benefitted from.

I'm especially thankful for the Book of Psalms, too. I've spent an enormous amount of time working my way through this section of the Old Testament again, and I've been sharing my thoughts with quite a few churches and groups that I'm in regular contact with. And the response has been amazing.

I shouldn't have been surprised though. The Psalms are among the most intensely personal, down to earth writings you'll ever come across. In fact, I have often said that the Psalms can be summed up in three words: pain, perplexity and praise.

Pain because so many of them were composed in times of turmoil and danger. Psalm 46 for example talks about those times when the world can come crashing down around us, and Psalm 5 talks about a time of terror affecting every nation on the planet!

There's plenty of perplexity too. The writers of these amazing poems were not afraid to tell God that they were frustrated and terrified. Indeed, the Psalm I have been looking at this morning - Psalm 13 - repeats the question "how long?" four times in the first two verses.

The Psalmist can't understand why God is allowing him to go through such turmoil, and even worse, God seems a million miles away (an experience the medieval mystics named "the dark night of the soul").

I recall listening to a nun reflecting on those words.

"Never forget," she said, "all sunshine makes a desert."

Words worth pondering as we go through this dark period in our history.

But the Psalms are also full of praise. The Psalmist would want us to know that God is not like a supermarket online service (thank goodness, as they're all booked up for the foreseeable future). He is always ready to help, especially when we're in trouble.

That's why the church, even if its physical doors are closed, must stay 'open' for business. It's God's business, and He wants to give people "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow". When you come to think about it, that's not a bad business to be in is it?

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.