As I’m sure you know, this week is Thanksgiving and I hope that you will spend some time thinking about the importance of giving thanks to God. Before I begin my lesson, though, I want to share with you a brief video of what Thanksgiving is all about, at least in the eyes of some children.
In the prayers we have recorded in the New Testament, thanksgiving to God is an important part of each and every one of them. In I Thessalonians 5:18, Paul sums up what our attitude should be by saying, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
But I wonder if perhaps we are sometimes tempted to see thanking God as some sort of a business investment. And what I mean by that is that we enjoy all the good things God has blessed us with, and we want those gifts to continue. And so, to ensure that those blessings will continue, we pause every now and then to give thanks to God.
It’s a lot like what I experienced when I was going to graduate school at Lipscomb University. I took a graduate class and received a significant credit toward my bill due to a scholarship that was provided on my behalf. Toward the end of the semester, I received a letter from Lipscomb that said, “Here are the people responsible for your scholarship. You might want to take a few moments to write them a letter of appreciation.”
Then it added one more line which provided some added incentive: “Writing these letters will keep you eligible for future scholarships.” Now, let me ask you a question. Do you think I wrote those letters? You better believe I did!
And that was the attitude of the ancient pagan practice of appeasement. Pagans were concerned only with keeping the gods happy; keeping them appeased. So, from time to time, the pagans would make some sort of an offering. But the whole idea behind their worship was to ensure future blessings; it was a “what’s in it for me” religion.
But, Christianity is not a “what’s in it for me” religion. The Bible views thanksgiving as the sincere overflow of a heart of gratitude for all that God has given to us. Thanksgiving is not at all self-centered; it is intended to be completely God-centered.
This morning, I want to take a look at Psalm 116. We don’t know who the author of this particular psalm was. It could have been David. But, whoever it was, it was a man whom God had taken care of through some difficult times. And as he reflected on what God had done for him, he poured out his heart in thanksgiving.
Psalm 116 was one of six psalms that the Jews sang every year at the Passover meal. And, in fact, they still do. First they sing Psalms 113, 114, and 115. Then they eat! Then they lean back in their chairs, and relax, and talk about the good old days when God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. Then they sing Psalm 116: “I love the Lord.”
The psalm actually has two parts. In the first half, the psalmist pours out his praise as he tells about the love of God and lists the many ways that God has blessed him. Then, in the second half, the psalmist tells how he plans to respond to God’s blessings.
I. The Psalmist’s Reason For Thanksgiving
Psalm 116 begins with the words “I love the Lord because…” In the 19th century, there was young English girl, Elizabeth Barrett, who suffered a spinal injury at the age of 15 which left her a semi-invalid for many years afterward. There was a man whom she loved very deeply and eventually married — Robert Browning. Her love for him was beautifully expressed in her work “Sonnets From the Portuguese’. Now, that title may not sound familiar to you, but I think that the words which she wrote will sound familiar, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” Then she went on to describe the depth of her love for her husband.
And that’s what the psalmist does here. Why does he love the Lord? Let him count the ways.
1. Because God heard him
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2).
What’s he saying? He’s saying, “When I speak, God listens. God pays attention to what I have to say.” The best way I can relate to that is as a father.
As they were growing up, my children often wanted to come and talk to me when I was home. Most of the time, that wasn’t a problem. But sometimes I was in the middle of something really important. You know, like working a crossword puzzle. Or maybe I was watching an important television show, like a football game. And my kids would come up to me and say, “Dad, look at this paper I brought home from school. And I would go, “Uh, huh, that’s real nice.”
Now I tried not to do that, but I know it still happened from time to time. But the psalmist says here that it’s not like that with God. He hears our voice. He inclines his ear to our prayers. He stops what he’s doing and he pays attention to us.
The apostle John put it this way, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (I John 5:14-15)
Giving thanks to God should begin with the realization that God has heard our many prayers, and God has answered those prayers.
2. Because God rescued him
“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me….For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:3-6,8)
As I said earlier, we don’t know for sure who wrote this psalm, but it’s certainly easy to picture David as the author perhaps after being rescued from King Saul. But, whoever the psalmist is, he remembers the problems that he’s had in the past. He’s had some terribly painful experiences. And he did what most of us would do under similar circumstances — he prayed to God. He asked God to save him.
And his prayers were answered. God delivered him. Just like he did the Israelites in Egypt. In Exodus 3, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:7-8)
And the Psalmist realizes that God di the same thing for him. God delivered him. God rescued him. God took care of him. So he gives God the credit. He firmly believes that God stepped into the picture and snatched him from the jaws of death, and he’s very thankful.
3. Because God had richly blessed him
“Return, 0 my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7).
Notice, in particular, those words — God has “dealt bountifully”. The idea is that God has piled gift after gift upon us. We often sing the song Count Your Many Blessings. And the psalmist here is doing just that; he’s reflecting on all the things that God has done for him. And we need to learn to do the same thing.
But many it’s the fact that God has blessed us so bountifully that makes it difficult for us to be truly thankful. Because when you receive gifts on a regular basis, it’s easy to get to the point where we come to expect it.
This is the “entitlement mindset” that has embedded itself in American society at almost every level. We have been blessed to live in a land of plenty. The blessings that we enjoy in this country stagger the imagination. But, as a result, there is a tendency for us all to expect the blessings we have, so that we become complacent and we don’t give thanks to God for what we enjoy.
We read in the Bible about Solomon, the richest man in all the world. Solomon had an annual income of about 530 million dollars a year. We hear that and we think, “Wouldn’t that be nice! I wish I had what Solomon did.” But, for all the gold Solomon collected, he never had electricity in his home. He didn’t own an air conditioner. He never used a flush toilet or took a hot shower. He never drove in an automobile, nor traveled across the world in an airplane.
I suspect that he never tasted a banana or a home-baked chocolate chip cookie. When Solomon got a cold, he couldn’t run down to the store and pick up a bottle of Nyquil to help him sleep better. In almost every way I can think of, I have more luxuries surrounding me, things which I consider very ordinary, than Solomon the richest man in the world ever even dreamed of having.
When we consider the many blessings that we have, we should be driven to our knees in thanksgiving. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.”
II. The Psalmist’s Response to God
The psalmist is thankful for God’s blessings, blessings that he knows he doesn’t deserve. And he needs to find some way to express that gratitude. That’s the reason for his question in the next verse, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”(Psalm 116:12).
In other words: How can I return my thanks? What could I possibly do that would be enough to show my gratitude? God has done so very much for me, how can I adequately render my appreciation to him? How can I possibly repay him? And the psalmist gives a couple of answers to that question.
1. Expressing thanks
“What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord….I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call on the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:12-13,17).
The psalmist simply can’t contain his desire to express his thanks to God.
Harriet Martineau was an atheist. One morning she and a Christian friend stepped out on a beautiful fall morning. As Harriet saw the brilliant sun peaking through the haze, and the frost on the meadow, and the brightly colored leaves falling to the ground, she was filled with a sense of the beauty of this world and she said, “I am so thankful. I’m just so grateful for it all.” And her Christian friend was smart enough to ask her, “Grateful to whom, my dear?”
I think about that often when I watch people on television talk about being thankful. Very seldom does anybody say they are giving thanks to God, they just say in a generic way, “I’m thankful.” But what most people fail to realize is that you can’t just “be thankful”; you have to be thankful to someone.
And there is something inside of each of us that needs to give thanks to God. It’s the same courtesy that should be given to anyone who does something especially nice for us. We’re reminded of the ten lepers in Luke 17 who were healed by Christ and how only one of them bothered to come back to Jesus and thank him.
We wonder how anybody could receive such a wonderful blessing and not give thanks for it, but most of us only have to look at ourselves to understand how that could happen. How often do we fail to express our appreciation and gratitude to God?
In Ephesians 5:20, Paul said, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that’s not always easy to do. We know we should thank God for the good things. But for everything? Both the pleasant and unpleasant things?
I heard of one little girl who refused to give thanks at the dinner table because her mother had put a generous serving of spinach on her plate – and she couldn’t stand spinach. Her mother didn’t force her to give thanks, but she did force her to eat the spinach. When the meal was over, the little girl asked if she could leave the table. Her mother said she could leave, but only after she gave thanks. For a long while she sat there and pouted. Finally she said, “God, thank you for not letting that spinach kill me. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
That’s not exactly the attitude Paul had in mind. As we mature in our Christianity, we learn to thank God even for things that aren’t very pleasant because we have a faith that’s strong enough to believe that “all things” truly will “work together for good”.
To thank God for everything means to give thanks for both the big things and the little things. Things like the forgiveness of our sins. Like warm clothing and good food. Like the love of our family. Like the health that we enjoy. But I think, as we saw it the video earlier, children are best at reminding us of so many things that we ought to be thankful for that we tend to forget about.
The blessings we enjoy are truly bountiful. In another place, the psalmist said, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” (Psalm 40:5). How true that is. And how important it is that we actually express our thanks to God.
Second, the Psalmist shows his gratitude by…
2. Dedicating his life to God
Thanksgiving is more than just expressing our thanks to God. It includes dedication. Twice the psalmist says, “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Psalm 116:14,18).
Thanksgiving requires a person to fulfill his responsibilities to God. Those of us who are Christians made a vow to God long ago, a promise that we would put him first in our lives, that we would serve with all our strength and ability. If we’re truly thankful, we will make every effort to fulfill that vow before the Lord. In fact, total, unconditional surrender to God is the highest form of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is not merely saying something nice to God, or occasionally treating him with courtesy and respect. Nor is it just setting aside a certain day out of the year when we eat more than usual and watch a parade or a football game — and somewhere along the line we say “thanks” to God for the blessings of the past year — and then put him back on the shelf until the same time next year. Rather, as someone has put it, thanksgiving is “the habitual recognition of life as a great obligation.”
We as Christians ought to be aware more than anyone else of the importance of thanking God through the way that we live. As Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that…you are not your own? For you were bought with a price.” Then he continues with the only logical conclusion: “Therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:20).
There is no such thing as real thanksgiving without dedicated living. In fact, thanksgiving isn’t complete unless it leads to thanksLIVING. It’s not enough to merely offer the praise of our lips – there ought to also be the praise of our lives.
III. Ways to Develop Thanksgiving in Our Lives
Before we close, I want to get very practical. I think we’re all in agreement that we need to be thankful. And I think we would probably all agree that we want to be more thankful than we are. So, let me close by sharing three things with you that we can do to develop a more thankful spirit.
1. We need to remember that EVERYTHING WE HAVE IS FROM GOD
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (NIV). When we remember that, then we’re forced to acknowledge that everything we own has been given to us as a loan from God.
The story is told of a poor man who was given a loaf of bread. He thanked the baker, but the baker said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the miller who made the flour.” So he went and thanked the miller, but the miller said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the farmer who planted the wheat.”
So he thanked the farmer. But the farmer said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the Lord. He gave the sunshine and the rain made the soil fertile, and that’s why you have bread to eat.”
Ultimately everything we own, we receive from God and we owe him thanks. As James says in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.”
2. Secondly, we need to AVOID COMPLAINING
Dr. Dale Robbins writes, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I have come to realize that they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better. It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives.” The truth is — complaining makes us miserable.
I recently found a list of questions which serve as a test as to whether or not we are truly grateful people:
#1 Which do you tend to talk about more – your blessings, or your disappointments?
#2 Are you a complainer, always grumbling, always finding fault with your circumstances?
#3 Are you content with what you have, or always dissatisfied and wanting more?
#4 Do you find it easier to count your blessings, or is it easier to count your afflictions?
#5 Do you express thanks to others when they help you, or do you just take it as your due?
#6 Would others around you say that you are a thankful person?
Complaining is the archenemy of thanksgiving. The two simply cannot co-exist in the same heart. Paul says in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” And so, I want to give you a challenge this morning– a challenge to quit complaining for the one week. Just try it. This week, whenever you feel tempted to complain about something, instead of complaining, thank God. I guarantee that will change your life
One last thing we can to do to produce a spirit of thanksgiving is….
3. We need to DEVELOP A HABIT OF GIVING THANKS
There’s a quote that I heard years ago that was being passed around on Facebook — “November is the month where people who have complained on Facebook for the past 11 months become thankful for 30 days.”
I love that quote because it’s so true. But, in order to be a thankful people, we need to give thanks every day. Not just once a year on Thanksgiving. We need to discipline ourselves to find something each and every day that we should be thankful for and express our thanks to God. Maybe keep a written list in a journal or set up a file on your computer where you list the things God has done for you. Thanksgiving needs to become a daily habit.
Again, in Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The key word there is “always”. Not just on Thanksgiving. Not just on Sundays. Every day.
God is good (All the time)
All the time (God is good)
Psalm 116 points very eloquently to the fact that thanksgiving to God is important for each and every one of us. Day by day, may we remember how richly God has blessed each of us, may we daily express our thanks to him for his goodness, and may we in response dedicate our lives to the one who gave his all for us.