A Pollyanna-ish Psalm?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Praise the LORD! How joyful are those who fear the LORD and delight in obeying his commands.

Psalms 112:1

When we refer to someone as a Pollyanna, we don’t usually mean it as a compliment. Pollyanna-ish people always look on the bright side, so much so that they seem to ignore the genuine pain and unhappiness of life. In fact, our words “Pollyanna” and “Pollyanna-ish” are based on a character from a popular children’s novel written in the early 1900s. This book by Eleanor H. Porter, appropriately entitled Pollyanna, focuses on the experiences of Pollyanna Whittier, an orphan who overcomes life’s trials and disappointments by playing the “glad game.” No matter what happens in life, Pollyanna finds something to be glad about. Though the character of Pollyanna was not immune to suffering, we tend to label people as Pollyanna-ish when their view of life is so optimistic as to seem naïve and unrealistic.

Is Psalm 112 a Pollyanna-ish psalm? It might seem to be, at first glance. It begins by proclaiming: “How joyful are those who fear the LORD” (112:1). Other translations prefer “blessed” for "joyful," because the Hebrew original ashrei refers not only to people’s emotional state, but also to the quality and goodness of their lives. According to Psalm 112, those who fear the Lord will act in godly and generous ways. They will also receive rewards for their obedience to God. “Their children will be successful everywhere” (112:2). “They themselves will be wealthy” (112:3). They “will not be overcome by evil” (112:6). When the wicked see how the righteous are blessed, they “will grind their teeth in anger” (112:10). Sounds pretty much like Pollyanna, doesn’t it?

Taken by itself, Psalm 112 paints a rosy picture of life, one much rosier than life often turns out to be. In fact, sometimes those who fear the Lord suffer, while those who reject God succeed. We know this to be true, not only from personal experience, but also from the Psalms. Psalm 10, for example, observes that the wicked are too proud to seek God, “yet they succeed in everything they do” (10:4-5). Psalm 94 wonders “how long” the wicked will be allowed to crush God’s own people (94:3-6). Taken as a whole, the Psalms are far from a Pollyanna-ish view of the world.

Thus, Psalm 112 is not meant to be the last and only word on the blessedness of those who fear the Lord. It is one word among many in the Psalms. And it is a word we need to hear. This particular word reminds us that earthly rewards often follow from right living. When we seek to do God’s will, when we live according to his commands, we will experience goodness in this life, even as we look forward to the life of the future. Yes, we will also know sorrow. But the joys and rewards of seeking the Lord and his ways will sustain us.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: As you think about your life, how has your obedience to God led to blessing in your life? As you read about the actions of the righteous in Psalm 112, which of these are found in your life? Where do you need to grow in your obedience to God?

PRAYER: O Lord, thank you for the reminder of Psalm 112. Thank you for encouraging me to fear you and to delight in obeying your commands. Thank you for the promise that my life will be better if I walk in your ways.

Yes, to be sure, there isn’t a simple formula for blessing, as if you owe me every time I do something right. Yet if I make your ways the pattern of my life, I will surely benefit.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace, which stands behind every good thing I experience in life.

All praise be to you, O God, giver of all good gifts. Amen.


The Power of Storytelling

A note from our managing editor: When my children were young, telling stories at bedtime was always one the best parts of our day. I usually read stories straight from a book. But, my husband made up stories to tell the children and those stories continue to show up in conversations, even now that our children are adults. Stories are powerful, and we may tend to forget that as we grow up and move on into board rooms and classrooms and carpool lanes.

What can a story provide in a board meeting that facts and figures alone can't accomplish? How has storytelling improved relationships among coworkers, especially coworkers whose faith is different from mine? What are some of the best stories ever told in the workplace, and why did it make a difference? Why is it important to be able to tell a good story and what is a good story anyway? In the series at The High Calling, we take a look at The Power of Storytelling in the workplace. Pull up a chair and join us in the conversation.

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