Every year at Thanksgiving we are reminded that we have much for which to be thankful. There is a great (and appropriate) emphasis during the time of Thanksgiving on the blessing of family, health, our citizenship in America, and the comfortable lives which we live in comparison with most of the world. It is always quite sobering to think of what our life might have been if we had been born in another country at another time.
It is good to give thanks for these material blessings. However, we must see beyond the material blessings. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. We owe Him our lives. Every breath we take is a gift. Every pleasure we enjoy is a gift. Every satisfaction we derive is a gift. The majesty and beauty of creation is a gift of love from the Lord of Creation.
This morning we want to focus on a blessing that is often overlooked. Yet it is the very blessing that is foundational to every other blessing we know. This morning we want to let the Word of God remind us to give thanks for the character of God.
We will not by any stretch of the imagination probe the depth, the wonder, and the blessing of God’s character this morning. We do want to look at the first several verses Psalm 136 to remind ourselves of some of the reasons we should give thanks to the Lord.
This Psalm was most likely originally set up as a song to be sung. It is known as part of the Great Hallel, the singing of which was a regular part of the observance of the Jewish Passover and New Year celebrations. It is believed that this Psalm was also a part of the daily worship celebration. Let’s look at the specifics.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
THE GOD-NESS OF GOD
The first thing we should notice is the “god-ness” of God. Look at the way David begins each of the first three verses: “Give thanks to the Lord”; “Give thanks to the God of gods”; and “Give thanks to the Lord of lords”. David is not suggesting that we give thanks to some undefined spiritual being that makes us feel safe and secure. He is not advocating that we thank our spirit guide or a spiritual presence or be grateful to some god-concept. David urges us to give thanks to the one true and supreme God.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
Our thanks should be to the true and living God. He is the God who made, sustains, and rules all things. He is the only King. Our praise and thanks are to be focused. The God we thank is the One before whom everyone must bow regardless of religion, race, or nationality. This is the God who has revealed Himself in nature and through the Word of God, and through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If you were a Private in the military and you were given conflicting orders from a host of officers at one time, which order should you listen to and obey? It would, of course, be the order given by the highest-ranking officer. In the same way, there are lots of religious voices in the world. We are to bow to the Highest ranking of the supposed gods . . . the true, and the supreme God.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
The second thing we notice from David is that we are to give thanks to the Lord because He is good. The word “good” is used so often that unless we stop and think about the word means, it is easy for us to miss the point of why we should be grateful. So let’s think about what this phrase, “God is good” means.
God is good and not evil. We all know that there are good things and bad things in the world. God is good in the sense that God’s character is pure, holy, and yes, good. God is not stained by evil. His motives are not corrupt. He is not double-minded or two-faced. He does not compromise His character and He never gives in to that which is evil. In God’s goodness He will judge the wicked that have not hidden themselves in the sacrifice of Christ.
One of the things I value most about people is their consistency. I admire and respect those who are people of character no matter what the circumstance. They are honest when they are given too much change and when they are short-changed. They work hard when others are present and when they are not. They speak kindly about others in their presence and behind their back.
God is perfectly consistent. The Bible says there is “no shadow of turning with Him”. There is not even a hint that God will compromise with evil, renege on a promise, or abandon those He has loved.
God is good in the sense that He is competent. When you have a “good employee” you mean that this is a person who works well. They do their job. They grasp ideas. They are a good team player. They “get it”. When we talk about God being good we mean that He is competent. He is a God who rules with wisdom and excellence.
Aren’t you grateful that God has a plan? In the confusing times of life it is comforting to know that God knows what He is doing. He has a purpose for the things He allows to come into our lives. Sometimes He is teaching us; sometimes disciplining us; other times He is building character or teaching us things that we will need to know for the future. Sometimes God is working in our midst to give us opportunities for ministry and witness. The point is this: God has a plan. He exercises His role as the Ruler of the Universe with wisdom and skill.
God is good rather than unpleasant – He Cares. There are some people you say are “good to be around” and others who are not. There are some people you look forward to seeing, others you don’t. The people we enjoy and welcome are those who show an interest in others. They aren’t always talking about themselves. They are not just “takers” they are also “givers”. God is like that. He cares about our lives. He notices the things that are going on. He “never leaves us or forsakes us”.
THE ENDURING LOVE OF GOD
The third reason for gratitude is the focal point of the Psalm: “His love endures forever”. This phrase is repeated 26 times in this Psalm. In the King James the phrase is, “His mercy endureth forever”. Both phrases are saying the same thing. Let’s look try to understand this phrase “his love endures forever” a little more fully.
First, God’s love is not fickle like much of the love in our world. In sports we talk about “fair weather fans”. These are people who cheer for a team when they are doing well but abandon them when they struggle.
Much of the love in our world is like this. People are nice to us when they want something. They express love when things are pleasant. They are our friends as long as we agree with them. The moment circumstances change, their feelings toward us change.
We see this with our kids. One day our child is included with a group of kids. They are popular, happy, and a part of the group. Life is good. It may be the very next day that they come home in tears. For some unknown reason our child was excluded today; and the focus of whispers and ridicule. Those who were “friends” yesterday turned away today.
This happens so often and in so many ways today that we tend to project this kind of love on God. It is a mistake. God’s love is constant. His love endures forever, day in and day out. Every day we get out of bed in the morning we can be sure of one thing: God loves us.
Second, God’s love is certain in difficult times. I don’t mean to imply that God is not distressed by some of the things we do. Like a good parent, God doesn’t agree with all our choices. He doesn’t like some of thoughts that cross our mind. He hates some of the things we do. However, also like a good parent, He will be there for us when we need Him.
Many people have told me that they didn’t know whom their true friends were until they went through a time of difficulty: a sickness, a divorce, a conviction, an unplanned pregnancy, a financial disaster. Unfortunately, we find that in these times some of the people we thought were our friends are quick to turn their backs. Others, who stood in the shadows in the past now step forward. Your true friends are the ones who will step forward in difficult times rather than step back.
God can be counted on. He will be there to pick us up when we fall and rejoice with us when we succeed. He is committed to us. Even though we are fickle and our faith runs hot and cold; even though the world changes; God’s love is constant; it endures.
Third, God’s love gives us true security which leads to abiding joy. It is a wonderful thing to experience an unconditional kind of love. It is what we all long for and few find. We want to know we can “always go home”.
When you feel secure in your relationship with God several things happen,
- You will stop looking over your shoulder waiting for the bad things in your life to “catch up with you”.
- You will no longer have to be afraid of failure. Do you know one of the biggest reasons we don’t do greater things for God? It’s because of fear. Do you know why we fail to reach many of our dreams . . . it’s fear! We are afraid that if we fail, people (and maybe even God) won’t love us any more. They will think less of us and turn away from us. So, we play it safe. When we understand the security of God’s love we don’t have to be afraid of such things. His love is sure.
- You stop beating yourself up over the past. You come to believe that God means it when He says; “If we will sincerely confess our sin, He will forgive.” When God forgives, the issue is closed. The past is no longer a factor. It has been dealt with. We can let go. We can move on.
- As we learn to rest in His love we find our life is no longer characterized by extreme highs followed by extreme lows. Instead there is a constancy of joy that is anchored to the security of God’s love. The security that says, “God is working all things for His good . . . and His good is ultimately what is best for me.”
Let’s try to draw some practical applications.
First, since God is God, good, and everlasting in His love, we should be grateful to Him on a daily (rather than yearly) basis. It’s a little embarrassing, isn’t it, that we need a yearly reminder to be thankful. EVERY DAY God is blessing us with good things, with His good presence, with His abiding mercy and grace. All of our enjoyments are because of Him. We have become so accustomed to His goodness that we have often taken it for granted. Where would you be today if it were not for God’s mercy and grace?
Second, since God is good, loving and merciful, we should run to Him and hide ourselves in Him for eternal life. Since God loves us and has made provision for our sin through Christ, it only makes sense that we would turn to Him for that new life. Why would you resist the One who loves you in such a way? Why would you put off a true and living relationship with a God that cares for you so deeply? Why would you entrust yourself to the fickle ways of men when you could trust the One who is consistent, good and Loving?
If you are continuing to play at your relationship with God, I encourage you to consider what you are doing. You are keeping the One who loves you with an everlasting love, at arms length. You are toying with Him. You are delaying the joy and life that only comes from Him. So, if you have never turned to Jesus and trusted Him to cleanse you from sin and to lead you into new life, I encourage you to do so today. There is nothing that shows that you are truly grateful more than receiving the love God has given.
Third, since God is good, loving and merciful we should discover new motivation to share Him with others. We have made our faith an intensely private matter. If we did a survey here I think we would be deeply saddened to discover how few people have shared the message of hope and new life with someone in the past month. We would be even more sobered to learn how few people have shared the message of new life with someone even in the last year!
If God is (and He is) good, merciful, and loving, why wouldn’t we want the world to know? Are we afraid that sharing His love with others will diminish His love for us (like a child dreading the birth of a new baby to the house)? Are we ashamed or embarrassed by Him like children who are sometimes embarrassed to be around their parents? Do we really not care about other people? Are we concerned that we might not share the message correctly? I don’t know about you, but if I’m drowning, I want someone to throw me a life preserver, even if he/she is not a trained lifeguard.
Fourth, since God is good, loving and merciful we should find new courage for difficult times. Perhaps you are going through some really hard times. If you are like most people, you feel desperately alone at this time. It feels like the whole world is rushing by you and no one seems to stop to notice the burden that weighs you down. You feel like a person who is injured along the side of the road but everyone keeps driving by you. It can be a very painful time.
What I want you to see this morning is the fact that you are not alone, you are not forgotten, and you are not without the help you long for. The Lord loves you, knows you, and will help you to overcome, endure, or heal. He has not forgotten you in the past and He won’t forget you now, even if you feel like everyone else has done so. Put your confidence in His goodness and love and praise Him regardless of the circumstances.
Finally, If God is good, loving and merciful, we should strive to be this way as well. We should strive for a purity of life because we know it is best and because it pleases the one we love. Spurgeon writes,
He bears with sinners: surely we may. Especially this ought to be so with our relatives and children. A mother’s love must never burn out, and a father’s patience never expire. Hope for the most hopeless. Till they are in hell, pray for them. Till they are in their graves, hope for them. Till they die, labor to bring them to Christ. God’s mercy ever endures: let our tenderness endure. [Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle p. 894]
This Thanksgiving I encourage you to begin early. Instead of waiting until Thursday to give thanks, start today. Make gratitude a part of your daily life. Instead of always complaining to God (and we do this!) make it a point to look around you and try to notice the daily blessings. Be grateful for what you have been given. Take time to think about the character and attributes of God and learn to recognize that these are the things that are the greatest blessings for our lives.
I also encourage you to look for ways (subtle and no-so-subtle) to share the message of hope and salvation with the people you come in contact with. Let others know where your basis for thanksgiving originates. Show love for others by boldly sharing with them the truth of God’s grace, mercy, and love. As you share with others there will be a very real possibility that the person you love might come to faith and be changed eternally. They will have greater blessings to give thanks for this holiday and they will enjoy Christmas in a whole new way. And in the process, you will be showing your love and gratitude to God in a way that extends beyond our words.