Give Thanks to the Lord
Topic: English Passage: Psalm 103:1-22
This Thursday, most people in this country are going to gather with friends and family, and they are going to eat. As that day approaches, people are making decisions about who they will be with and what will be on the menu. Everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner is unique, but there are some general commonalities.
In an attempt to understand the trends in Thanksgiving dinner, one company decided to look at which Thanksgiving side dishes are searched for the most in each of the United States. The assumption is that if the number of Google searches for a side dish is significantly higher than the other sides, more people are probably eating that side dish.
So, for each of the fifty states, the study listed the most popular Thanksgiving side. Not surprisingly, the top side dish was mashed potatoes, with nine states indicating it as the favorite. Second place was the dinner rolls.
Whatever you put on your plate, though, the most important thing to make sure you have this week is not turkey or any other side dish; it is thanksgiving. Even if you can’t spend the time you’d like with friends and family, even if you have to work, this is a day set apart to give and express thanks.
Setting a day in the calendar is a way to remind us about the significance of something. God did that when He instituted feasts in the Old Testament. But a national feast on the calendar never meant that was the only time people were supposed to remember something.
Multiple people have pointed out the irony or the tragedy that we, as a culture, have set apart a day where people express gratitude for everything they have, only to be immediately followed by a day where people will fight and trample one another to get something new. Those are two very contrasting images. And if we could play back an average day in our life, maybe we’d see a similar contrast, even if not to the same degree.
We battle to have thankful hearts. It’s a struggle because gratitude is not part of our fallen nature. The heart of sin is a heart of ungratefulness and pride. That’s why, in Romans 1, when the Apostle Paul describes mankind’s downward spiral into immorality and wickedness, he starts by saying that the people knew God, by “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
One of the primary evidences of a sinful heart is a lack of thanksgiving. The other side of that coin, then, is that if we cultivate gratitude, we will cultivate other godly qualities as well. And that makes God’s commandments to thanksgiving all the more important. It is foundational to the Christian life.
We are commanded by God to give thanks every day.
Ephesians 5:20 tells us that being filled with the Spirit means we are “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 4:6 says: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Colossians 3:17—Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Thanksgiving is not an optional add-on to the Christian life. It’s a vital part of it. Thanksgiving is a recognition that apart from God, we would not be enjoying His blessings. Thanksgiving is an expression of humility, and it’s set against the pride and the self-centeredness of this world.
This morning, I’m not going to spend the time trying to convince you that we need to be more thankful. The brief list I just shared should be plenty for that. My goal this morning is to help us give thanks better and more frequently. If we want to give thanks to God, how do we do that?
Psalm 103 is a good way to answer that question. So, let’s turn our attention to it now, and in doing so, I’m going to frame our time around 4 characteristics for God-honoring thanksgiving. These aren’t going to be groundbreaking. These are reminders for us.
Number 1: Thanksgiving ought to be intentional. It should be intentional. What I mean by that is that giving thanks is not automatic. It doesn’t happen all by itself. We need to be reminded.
Psalm 103 starts with David, the author, talking to himself. The opening two verses say: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Typically, we use the word “bless” to speak of how God treats us, but when the word is directed toward God, it means worship and praise. It’s an act of adoration. In fact, the Old Testament word that usually gets translated as giving thanks is just another word for praise. Praise and giving thanks are basically synonymous.
David is talking to himself saying: “Don’t forget to praise God.” He is worthy of all our praise. And every part of who we are is supposed to remember that. That’s why David says, “all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
The end of verse 2 is David’s personal reminder not to forget God’s blessings. And that helps us recognize that very often we forget to praise God. We’re not intentional enough.
As parents, you might point out to your child how forgetful he or she is. As a husband, I have had to admit to my wife many times how forgetful I am. Well, all of us, need to admit to ourselves that when it comes to praising God, we are forgetful. Giving thanks to God is not automatic.
When a kid opens up a gift and then wants to run outside to play with it, Mom and Dad might stop him and say, “Don’t forget to say, ‘Thank you.’” Well, we need that same kind of reminder. Our natural tendency is to start our day and go through the motions forgetting to say thank you.
Most of us, myself included, are more likely to complain than to give thanks. “It’s too dark. It’s too cold. I didn’t sleep enough. My body hurts. We’re out of milk. We’re out of eggs. I’ve got too many dirty dishes. Etc.” There is a time and a manner to address those concerns, but we still need to remind ourselves to give thanks. Giving thanks is not automatic. To give thanks properly, we need to be intentional like David was.
Now, if you’re going to be intentional, you also need to know what exactly you should be doing. And that brings us to the second characteristic of faithful thanksgiving. Giving thanks should also be historical. It needs to be historical. What I mean by that is that we need to take our minds to what God has actually done. Thanksgiving isn’t intended to be theoretical. It should be historical.
We don’t give thanks to God in a generic way; David understood that principle. So, in verses 3-5, he gives himself a list of what God has done. This is the God, David tells himself, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Culturally, I know we’re not the kind of church that usually has a lot of vocal responses to the sermon. But given the call of this song, I think it’s appropriate at this time. So, in just a moment, I’d like you to let the rest of us know if these applies to you. And you can do that with an “Amen” or a “Hallelujah,” or a “Glory to God,” or anything along those lines. Okay? Just a couple questions.
Have you ever sinned and confessed and repented and experienced the forgiveness of God? ... ... He forgives all your iniquities, and for that we give Him thanks.
Here’s a second question: At any point in your life, have you ever been sick or injured and experienced the healing of God? ... ... Any time you recover from any sort of illness or injury, praise God for what He’s done. And don’t forget those times. That healing might come on its own. It might come through the aid of doctors or medication, but behind all that is the sovereign mercy of God.
David isn’t saying that every disease is going to be healed, but when healing comes, you need to recognize that it came from God. You need to give thanks.
So, verse 3 tells us we can thank God for spiritual restoration and for physical restoration. Verse 4 puts it all together and it even looks toward the future. It says God redeems your life from the pit. That could mean he saves you from dying, but in this case I think David is talking about the future, promised resurrection of God’s people. That’s part of God’s faithfulness and love and mercy. God will not abandon His people. Those who trust in Jesus Christ will be resurrected in glory and in victory over sin, death, and disease. We will be in a new creation, completely free of any pain. Amen?
And in the meantime, we still miniature versions, we might say, of God’s future grace. This world is under a curse because of sin. This world, and our bodies, are now characterized by pain. And the older we get, the more we realize it. But in the mercy of God, many times He grants us temporal relief as well. Like verse 5 says, He satisfies us with good and renews our strength like the eagle’s.
An eagle is a picture of strength and energy. It soars over everything. And God has given us the truth of His word and the blessings of life which strengthen and satisfy us.
Some of you wake up in the morning, and you have a desire for coffee. So, once the pot is brewed and your cup is ready, you bring it your mouth and you are strengthened for the day. That’s a gift from God.
Breakfast is a gift from God. Donuts are a gift from God. Grandkids are a gift from God. A kiss from your spouse is a gift from God. A delicious meal is a gift from God. A warm blanket is a gift from God. A hug is a gift from God.
Anytime you feel yourself being comforted or energized or strengthened, emotionally or physically, tell yourself, “This is a good gift from God.” He is renewing my strength. That should be our attitude toward the blessings of God in this life. Don’t take them for granted, accept what God has given you with thanksgiving.
The Apostle Paul had to respond to false teachers who were telling people that experiencing pleasure was a sin. They wanted Christians to intentionally avoid some of God’s good gifts. In First Timothy 4, Paul says they forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Anytime you righteously enjoy something good, remind yourself that it is God who has given it to you. Giving thanks ought to be historical. It’s based on the specific actions of God.
Now, remembering God’s goodness doesn’t have to be limited to your own life. Starting in verse 6, David steps outside his own life and remembers the goodness of God in Israel’s history as well. Look at verse 6 and 7—The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
What were those acts? What did God do for Israel and for Moses? He redeemed them. He rescued them from a famine by sending them to Egypt. He prospered them and preserved them in Egypt. And then, He saved them out of their slavery in Egypt. He made His power known through the plagues and through the parting of the Red Sea, and through his provision in the wilderness.
David had, and wanted his readers to have, some very concrete images of what God had done for His people. And you should do the same as you thank God. Think about what God has done in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, and in the history of your own family.
Let’s move on now to our third reminder for today. First, we said giving thanks should be intentional. Secondly, it should be historical, and now, number three: giving thanks ought to be meaningful. It should be meaningful. What I mean by that is that it needs to look past simply the external. We don’t want superficial worship.
Our second characteristic was aimed at God’s actions. This third characteristic is a reminder that we need to focus on the attitude of God behind those actions. The actions reveal an attitude. We need to focus on God’s heart.
Let’s say your neighbor brings you homemade cookies as a gift this week. You might say thank you for the cookies, but that’s not all that’s happening. Your neighbor had to buy the ingredients. She got her kitchen and her utensils dirty. Then she had to scoop them out, one at a time, and then walk it over to you. She didn’t have to do that. Why did she do that? Because she wanted to express her kindness and her love. That’s the characteristic behind the gift. Does that make sense?
David didn’t just acknowledge what God had done historically; he looked through that to see the heart of God. He focuses on God’s character. And that actually takes up more space in this psalm than the historical portion. Look at verse 8: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
David understood that Israel, including himself, was not worthy of God’s blessings. But he also knew that everything that God had done for him and for the nation was not done begrudgingly.
Imagine a child with a toy he really enjoys, and when visitors arrive, Dad tells him that he needs to share it with his guests. If that child is unwilling to share his toy, but he doesn’t want to get in trouble, he will share his toys begrudgingly, reluctantly. He doesn’t really want to do it, but he HAS to. It’s not really from the heart. He’s not motivated internally, out of genuine love. He is motivated externally. He’s under compulsion.
That’s not how God gives. James 1 says that God gives “without reproach.” God doesn’t bless His people reluctantly. He does it from the heart. He does is because He’s a God of mercy and grace, as verse 8 says. He is a God of patience and compassion. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Some of you know this already, but whenever you see “steadfast love” in the ESV or “lovingkindness” in the New American, that’s the Hebrew word “hesed.” It’s only one word in the Hebrew. Other translations might say “faithful love” or “loyal love.” It’s different than the usual word for love, and it highlights the loyalty and the faithfulness of God. He shows loves because He is faithful. He keeps His promises. He has lovingly committed Himself to His people. We serve a faithful God. That’s the heart behind the goodness of God.
In verses 9-14, David wants us to see God’s heart toward us who have and continue to sin against Him. Do you understand that you sin against God? I hope so. But you also need to understand that in Jesus Christ, God receives you. God is patient and gracious and compassionate.
Let me read verses 9-14, and I don’t want to hear it in an intellectual sense only. This is poetry, and it’s written in a beautiful way to help us appreciate the beauty of God’s heart.
Verse 9—He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Did you disappoint God this week? Did you disobey Him in your thoughts or in your words or in your actions? We all did. And we did it more than once. That’s because we’re weak. That’s because we’re tainted by sin. And God knows that. God knows your frame. He remembers that you’re just dust. You’re going to fail. You’re going to mess up.
But each and every time you come to Him in confession and in repentance, your heavenly Father picks you up. He wipes off the dirt, and He shows you compassion. He restores your soul because He loves you and you belong to Him. That relationship between a heavenly Father and an adopted son or daughter is restored. Your sins are wiped away. He doesn’t take it into account anymore.
In Jeremiah 31:34, God is speaking about the New Covenant He would make with His people. And He says: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
God is all-knowing. He cannot forget anything. But His promise is that He will not remember our sins. Not remembering is different than forgetting. Forgetting is like erasing a file, and then clearing the trash bin; it’s gone, and you can’t get it back. But saying “I will not remember,” is like saying, “The file is there, but I’m not going to access it anymore.”
Most of you probably haven’t forgotten what you had for dinner last night, but until just now, you probably weren’t remembering it either. It wasn’t in your mind. But when someone says, “Let’s have fried chicken for lunch,” you might say, “No, I had fried chicken yesterday.” You brought it to mind. You remembered it.
God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean He completely forgets what we’ve done. It means that He doesn’t bring it to His mind anymore. It doesn’t stand between you and Him. It doesn’t affect the relationship anymore. Again, verse 10 says: He does not deal with us according to our sins.
Incidentally, this is the kind of forgiveness we are called to show one another. Even if we can’t forget what the other person did, we can commit ourselves to not dwelling on what happened. We can commit to not bringing the incident up and using it against the other person. We can commit to not telling other people about it. Like any other sinful thought, we fight to push it out by focusing on God’s truth. We don’t allow the past to come between us in the present. That’s forgiveness.
We don’t forgive perfectly; it’s difficult. But God’s forgiveness is perfect. It’s the standard for forgiveness. We serve a gracious, merciful, and compassionate God. He knows we’re sinner, but He also knows we are dust.
So, when you give thanks to God, think about the specific things He has done, and then look past His actions and focus on the heart behind that. What does God’s gift say about who He is? What’s the character trait being expressed?
God looks down on us weak and wimpy creatures, and He shows us compassion. And thinking about our own human weakness doesn’t make David depressed. It heightens his praise for God, because it increases the contrast. In verses 15-19 David reflects on the differences between us, as human beings, and God. We are temporary. We are limited. But God is infinite, and so are His attributes. His love is eternal. His grace is eternal. His kingdom is eternal.
Verse 15—As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Even when you are distinctly aware of your weaknesses and your imperfections, you can praise God because He is perfectly faithful and perfectly loving and perfectly mighty. Your sin and your weakness only highlight how gracious and merciful and loving your God is. Our God is worthy of praise, and we give Him thanks for who He is and what He’s done.
Well, as we finish up our time together today, we have one final reminder. And, like the rest of them, it’s very simple, very basic. Giving thanks ought to be universal. It should be universal. That is to say, God intends everyone to give thanks.
The final verse in all the Psalms, Psalm 150, verse 6 says: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
And that’s the same sentiment we get in the closing verses of Psalm 103. The opening words of this psalm were a personal reminder. But now David calls on all of God’s creation to join in worship and praise. He calls on the angels in the spiritual realm on all people here in the physical realm.
Verses 20-23—Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
This is not David commanding the angels. They already bless the Lord. It is David publicly recognizing that every angel and every person ought to give worship to God. Everyone is to praise Him. That is the proper response of the universe. May the angels praise Him! May kings and queens and presidents praise Him. And may every man, woman, and child praise His holy name.
If you’re going to be around non-believers this week, especially on Thanksgiving day, it might feel awkward if you decide to take time to publicly thank God. You might feel like you are stepping past some acceptable line; you’re disrupting the event. But do, you know what a greater transgression is? Do you know what is a greater disruption to things? It’s when a person or a group do not give thanks to God. Because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. All creation in heaven and on earth are to give thanks to the God who made us.
And so, whatever you’re doing at any time of the day, your prayer ought to be: Bless the Lord, O my soul. Let all that is within me, bless His holy name.