Psalm 30 takes us on a roller coaster of joy, praise, hubris, panic, prayer and gratitude all in the span of just twelve verses. It begins at the end, letting us know that everything has turned out for the better. God has come through for the Psalmist, providing healing and restoration. “O LORD my God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me.” (30:2) And this personal testimony overflows into a public call to worship. “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Praise and thanksgiving must pour out of us as the natural response to God’s overwhelming desire to bless and heal and give good things. Is God ever angry? Sure. (We’d expect nothing less from a just God who must confront injustice.) But scripture testifies again and again that God is slow to anger and quick to get over that same anger. The endurance of God’s favor and desire to bless is the experience that lasts a full lifetime. How could we not praise and thank him?
Now Psalm 30 returns to personal testimony. “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.'” (30:6) This is where the story begins, in a state of equilibrium. The problem, the inciting incident, is about to happen, and quite abruptly. “By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.” Everything is right and suddenly nothing is right. There is no transition, no warning, just God’s sudden disappearance. Panic ensues, terror that erupts in prayer. Of course this is the appropriate response, although the Psalmist’s prayer isn’t exactly what we would call humble. “What profit is there if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” This is a prayer of negotiation. If God is deserving of praise (as this psalm has already enthusiastically affirmed), then it must be in God’s best interest to preserve the life of the Psalmist so the praise may continue. The dust of the ground isn’t exactly opening up the hymnal to sing, is it?
Even as peculiar as this prayer is, it works. “You have turned my morning into dancing. You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.” What are we to think when prayers go unanswered? It’s hard to say; it’s not a question Psalm 30 is prodding us to ask. Psalm 30 is solely concerned with praising the God who does answer prayers, who allows weeping to last no longer than the night, bringing joy with the sunrise. For Psalm 30, joy is found not in autonomy, but in utter dependance. Psalm 30 celebrates how small and dependent on God we are. Joy is found when we abandon ourselves to his mercy.
There is a correct response to the saving, healing love of God, and that correct response is “Thank you,” although not merely a polite thanks or one spoken out of obligation. The “Thank you” with which we answer the saving, healing love of God is one that sings and dances and shouts. God’s desire to heal and bless ought to turn us into squirmy children who can’t sit still, who have too much energy and excitement for our bodies to contain and so must run and jump and make noise. That’s what gratitude is trying to make of us, people who make the final line of Psalm 30 our constant prayer: “O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”