In just a few days, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, one day that is set aside every year to give thanks to God as a nation. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but it appears to me that, in the stores, it’s gotten where Thanksgiving has become completely overlooked. We no longer see any cut-outs of pilgrims that used to decorate the stores not too many years ago. Now, as soon as the push to buy costumes and candy is over, out comes the commercialization of Christmas, and we are bombarded with Santa Claus and snowmen.
But, as God’s people, it is appropriate that we focus our thoughts, not only on this day, but throughout the year, on the goodness of God and offer our gratitude to God for who he is and for all that he has done for us.
Just a few moments ago, we read through Psalm 103 together. Someone has referred to this psalm as David’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, but I think it might be more accurate to say that David was singing the ancient Hebrew version of “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Because, in this psalm, David praises God for all that he has done.
It is a prayer filled with nothing but praise to God. There’s no supplication, no request, no petition in this prayer. It is pure unadulterated praise to God. David took the opportunity to look back over his life as he realized just how much God had done for him, and he counts his many blessings. Out of the depths of his heart comes this prayer of praise, this song that expresses his gratitude toward the Lord.
In John 4:23, Jesus tells us that God is looking for people who will worship him in spirit and in truth. We must worship God in spirit. Our inner being, our spirit, must be right with God so that the outer motions of worship flow from the inside out. God doesn’t want us just to go through the motions, but he wants us to have hearts that overflow with love for him. I think that’s part of what it means to worship God in spirit. Worship is similar to love. It’s not based on feelings, but if it’s genuine, feelings will always be involved.
But Jesus said that we’re also to worship God in truth. Worship must be based on the truth that God has given us in his Word. Part of what that means is that you can’t properly worship God until you have an understanding of who God truly is.
Steven Cole has made the observation that there are two key elements that must come together in our worship – we must have an understanding of who God is; and, we must have an understanding of who I am. And those two things go together, because as you come to realize who God really is, you can’t help but become painfully aware of who you are in his holy presence.
And so, in Psalm 103, David focuses on who God is, and over and over he recognizes that God is good. David looks at the abundant goodness of God, and he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”(Psalm 103:2). Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” David invites us all to join with him in remembering all the things that God has done for us, because we need to be reminded. It’s human nature to forget what God has done.
When I do premarital counseling, I will ask couples to list five positive things about their potential mate, and then I will ask them to list three negative things, three things they would like to change about their fiancé. And I find it rather humorous that, most of the time, they will very quickly fill in all five blanks telling what they like about their fiancé, but they can’t come up with three things that they don’t like. All they can think about is, “He is so wonderful, so kind and considerate!” “She is so beautiful! She has such a sweet disposition!”
But then, after a few years of marriage, they may come back into my office saying, “He doesn’t care about anybody but himself!” “She’s such a nag! She complains about everything!” Their focus has completely changed. They no longer see the good in one another, and they find themselves eager to look for the bad.
It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually. In the Garden of Eden, God blessed Adam and Eve with so many good things. It was a beautiful, perfect environment. But there was one restriction: “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” So, in the midst of all those good things, what did Satan get Eve to focus on? That one negative! And he used it to cast doubt on the goodness of God: “God is trying to keep something good from you. If he really loved you, he’d let you eat from that tree. Go ahead!” And, of course, Eve did and the human race fell into sin.
Satan found a strategy that worked and he’s been using it ever since! He uses the trials that come upon us to get us to doubt the goodness of God. He promotes the idea that God’s commandments are harsh and that God is out to deprive us of pleasure. And if we believe that lie, we’re sitting ducks for temptation. We need to resist Satan’s lie and the way we do that is to focus on God’s great goodness toward us.
David shows that God is good, and that God’s goodness stems from his nature. In verse 1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” God’s name refers to the totality of his attributes. It refers to all that God is. Notice some of the attributes of God that David emphasizes in this psalm:
(1) God is gracious (vv. 7-17).
(2) God is loving (vv. 4, 11, 17).
(3) God is compassionate (vv. 4, 8, 13)
(4) God is forgiving (vv. 3, 12).
(5) God is sovereign (v. 19).
After acknowledging who God is, David goes on to list all the blessings that God had poured out on him – healing (both physical and spiritual), forgiveness, deliverance from death, and so many things that gave him a good life.
After we recognize who God is and after we see all the ways that God in his goodness has blessed our lives, our response should then be heartfelt worship.
And so, David ends this psalm like a conductor ends a great symphony, calling in all of the instruments for a great climax of praise. He affirms the absolute sovereignty of God (v. 19), and then he calls in all the angels to bless the Lord (v. 20). And then he calls in all the heavenly armies to praise God. And then he extends the call to worship God to all of God’s creation (v. 22). But then, to make sure he doesn’t get lost in the grandeur of it all, David closes this psalm by bringing it back to where he started: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
I see three elements of worship in this psalm:
1. Worship is a response of praise
“Bless the Lord, O my soul.” (Psa. 103:1, 2, 20-22).
That’s what it means to bless God: to respond to God’s blessings in your life with heartfelt praise. When my kids were small and they used to buy me a Christmas present, where do you suppose they got the money? It was from me! But when they gave back to me what I gave them, they were blessing me. We do the same thing with God. Whatever we have to offer him, it’s what he has given to us. But we offer it back, seeking to bless God. We give to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips that give thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15).
2. Worship is a response of fear
“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” (Psa. 103:17)
To fear God is not to be afraid of him, but it means to live with the awareness that you are responsible before God for everything you think, say, and do, and one day you will have to give an account to him. That’s a sobering thought.
I like the way Paul Sartelle has put it, “In our home, I was taught to love my father. But, in that same home I was taught to fear my father. This was not a morbid terror; it was a fear that reflected a reverential awe. He was my father and I was not his equal in position. I was under his authority and dependent upon his provision. I had to have his permission to be engaged in certain activities.”
I think that describes well the kind of fear that we should have for our heavenly Father. There’s nothing wrong with us having fun, but it should always be tempered with reverence.
3. Worship is a response of obedience
“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those….who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psa. 103:18)
You see, God isn’t impressed with our worship if we aren’t obedient to his Word. If you sing God’s praises on Sunday morning but you live in willful disobedience to him throughout the week, those praises don’t really mean much.
Worship is a response to God: a response of praise, reverence, and obedience which comes from an understanding of who God is and who we are. God’s great goodness should cause all of us to respond to him in heartfelt worship.
The story is told about Reuben Donnelley, a company that handled magazine subscriptions for a number of different publications. Years ago, before computers, they had a machine that sent out the notices to people whose subscriptions had expired. One day, the machine broke and a rancher in Powder Bluff, Colorado, received 9,734 notices that his subscription to National Geographic had expired. It is reported that he drove ten miles to the closest Post Office, sent in his money, along with this note: “Send me the magazine! I give up!”
God has flooded our lives with far more than 9,734 notices of his love and blessing. And he wants us to respond by giving up our self-seeking ways and turning our lives over to him. God wants you to be filled with heartfelt worship every day as you think about his great goodness.
As we count our many blessings and name them one by one, may that lead us all to worship God through praise, through reverence, and through obedience to his commands.