THE REFORMED WITNESS HOUR
"The Great Thanksgiving"
Rev. Carl Haak
(e-mail: Rev. Carl
Dear Radio Friends,
There are three things that the Word of God tells us about thanksgiving that we ought never to forget.
The first is, we must give thanks always. Thanksgiving is not to be limited to special occasions or certain days. That is, perhaps, the danger of Thanksgiving Day. We tend to think in terms of Thanksgiving Day. But, for the child of God, thanksgiving is for all our life and every day - all the time without exception. The apostle Paul exhorts in Ephesians 5:20: "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The second thing we must remember from the Word of God is that we must give thanks for everything. Thanks is not to be offered just for the things that we call good and not for the things we call bad. But for all things we must give thanks. There can be no mistake. The Word of God says in I Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks." "In everything" means for everything. We are to be thankful always. We are to be thankful for everything.
The third thing the Word of God teaches us is that we must give thanks for God's grace. The heart and the center of all true thanksgiving, as a child of God, must be for His grace, mercy, and love shown to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. II Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." "Thanks, Lord, for Thy Son Jesus Christ."
Then I can give thanks always and for everything, because in Jesus Christ I know that at all times and in everything God is working out the salvation freely given in Jesus Christ. We must give thanks for His grace.
Thanksgiving, you see, is not centered in the thing. True thanksgiving is centered in God for giving those things - good and bad - out of a purpose for the salvation of our soul in Jesus Christ. God uses all things, all the time, for our eternal spiritual good in Jesus Christ. There you have the secret of true thanksgiving.
It is this true thanksgiving which is so beautifully expressed in Psalm 118:1, "O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever." That is true thanksgiving. It is to thank God for His goodness and for His unfailing mercy toward us.
If you look at Psalm 118 you will see that it begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving for God's enduring mercy. That denotes the unity of the Psalm. There is one theme in Psalm 118: Give thanks to God because His mercy endureth for ever.
Those words, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: His mercy endureth for ever," were called by the Jews the Great Thanksgiving. It became a familiar doxology used by the Old Testament saints with frequency. You will find these words in Psalm 106:1, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 136. It was the doxology sung by David when he brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (I Chron. 16:34). It was sung by Jehoshaphat and the armies of Judah when they marched out to battle against the Moabites (II Chron. 20:21). It was a doxology that the people of God would sing from their hearts in praise to God. And so must we, today, and always.
But, you see, it is very hard to do that. It is hard to do that in our day of prosperity. You would think that the opposite would be the case. You would think that today when we, as children of God, have so much it would be easy to be thankful; and in days of depression and want it would be very hard to show gratitude to God. But that is not the way it works. For the people of God, it is easier to give thanks to the Lord for His mercy in days of hardship and tribulations than in the days of plenty and prosperity, because in the days of prosperity we forget the Lord and our hearts find it hard to be thankful. Instead, our hearts become covetous and greedy. We simply have an abundance. We are clothed and warm. And we await a large meal on Thanksgiving Day. And we have so much more than what we need. Our way of life is very comfortable.
Yet, in this day, the Word of God comes to the child of God. Whether this day finds you in prosperity or in poverty, the Word of God calls us all as the people of God to lift up our voice in thanksgiving and give thanks unto the Lord. Why? For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.
We are summoned here to a spiritual activity. We are, from the heart, to give thanks unto the Lord. And so much is involved, when you consider it. Included is the idea of praise to God. Included is also the idea of humbleness, the acknowledgment that it is God, not ourselves, who has given to us all that we possess. Included is the idea of joy and the confession that God is God and the only One worthy of praise and thanksgiving.
You see, when you give thanks to God, you are really doing what God created you to do. We have but one purpose. That one purpose, as we are redeemed in Christ, is to look up to God and to praise Him and to say, "Lord, Thou art good. All that I am I owe to Thee. Thanks, Lord, I bow before Thee to worship."
The Hebrew word "to give thanks," means to reach out and extend the hand. It presents to us a picture. It means that we are to point to all that we have and all that we are, we are to take inventory of everything in our possession and every detail of life, and we are to see them all as gifts. We are to say that absolutely everything has been given to us - our homes, our jobs, our money, our family - all things, the bad things too - sorrow, anxiety, grief, and sickness. We are to take the most exhaustive inventory of our entire life, its details and parts. We are to reach out and extend our hand and say, "Lord, it's all from Thee." It has all been given me of a sovereign God. I point at everything in my life and lift up my hands to God and say, "Lord, of Thee. Praise be Thy name for ever and ever."
You see, thanksgiving is an act of the heart of a child of God. It is from the heart that we thank God for all things and for His unspeakable love in Christ. Your heart is involved. You cannot give thanks to the Lord with just words. It must arise from the heart filled to overflowing with the goodness of the Lord. That means that the wicked, apart from Jesus Christ, cannot give thanks. Thanksgiving is the exclusive activity of God's children on the earth. The psalmist says in Psalm 118:15, "The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous." Although thanksgiving has been declared a national holiday, nevertheless, apart from a born-again heart, you cannot give thanks to God. Man's thanksgiving is always directed to himself and for things. As the rich fool in Jesus' parable said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thine ease and rejoice." Jesus said that such thanksgiving, centered in ourselves and centered in mere earthly things, is the thanksgiving of a fool. Thanksgiving, true thanksgiving, arises from the heart of a child of God.
But that heart, to do this, must be right with God. Your heart, as a child of God, must be in the right spiritual attitude if you are to give thanks to God. It must be right to God, it must be overflowing in the consciousness of the love of God to you. If your heart is secretly bitter against God for what He has done and what He has given to you in this life, you cannot give thanks. If, at bottom, your heart is not saying, "Thy will be done," but rather grumbling and angry, fighting God's way, you can offer no true thanksgiving. If you are selfish, self-centered in your heart, you cannot give thanks to God. Oh, and this is common for us, if you are complacent of His goodness, if you simply go through the motions but you are insensitive to the wonders of His love, you cannot offer thanks to God. Thanksgiving proceeds from a heart which has been softened by God, softened by His grace, which says, "I love Thee, Lord. Thy will be done. How gracious Thou art to me in Jesus Christ."
Are you thankful? Are you filled to rejoicing? Do you praise God? If not, you need to look to your heart; not to your bank account and not to what is on the table. But you need to look to your heart. The amount of thanksgiving you will offer to God depends upon how close your heart is to the living God.
Do you know that the Lord is good? O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. That is why we give thanks. God is good. That means that God is the sum and the source and the fountain of that which is good. He is good in Himself. We give God thanks for being who He is - that He is God, the only good. Man is not good. This life, apart from God, is not good. Money is not good. But God is good - the living and the true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ revealed in holy Scripture. God, in Himself, is good. And thanksgiving is to acknowledge who God is.
But it is more. It is to acknowledge that God is good to us in grace. The psalmist has found that God is good to him. He says that he called upon the Lord in the day of distress, in the day when the wicked compassed him about. He learned that the Lord was upon his side and that the Lord was his strength and song and had become his salvation. He was saying, "Lord, Thou art good and Thou art good to me. Thou art faithful." The Lord is good. He is always good to us. There are no qualifications placed upon the goodness of God. He is always good. There never was a time when He was not good to us as His children in Jesus Christ.
Now, do not say that superficially. Say that from your heart. Yes, sometimes through tears and sometimes through struggles. But the Lord is good. You see, thanksgiving is a wonderwork of grace in our hearts. Thanksgiving is when a believing husband looks upon the coffin of his dear wife, shocked with the reality of death, and yet says, "The Lord is good."
Thanksgiving is when a mother gives birth to a stillborn child in a hospital filled with mothers who have many healthy babies and says, "The Lord is good."
Thanksgiving is when a father receives notice that his job is terminated, his income is lost. Yet, the Lord is good.
Thanksgiving is when the aged grow senile and they do not remember their children or their wife's name and they wither away. Yet, in their soul, they say, "The Lord is good."
Beloved, the Lord is good. He is always good to His people through His grace in Jesus Christ. Through all things He accomplishes a glorious salvation in Christ. Are you filled with thanksgiving today? Give Him thanks. If you are healthy and your family is about you and all is well, the Lord is good. Are you alone? Are you sick? Are you troubled? Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. Say it from your heart: "Thou art good to me, Lord."
It is all by grace, you see. We are sinners. What do we deserve of God except eternal damnation. But He has given His Son, freely, of grace, and chosen us to be in Christ Jesus, promised us to work all things for our eternal well-being. Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.
But if you are not convinced, then listen to this: "for His mercy endureth for ever." Ah, there we see a reason to give thanks to God. This is the reason for true thanksgiving: His mercy endureth for ever. Note that carefully!
The reason for thanking God is not found in things or in what is happening to you. The reason is not found in the things that God has given or in the comfortable life that He blesses you with. But the reason for thanking God is to be found in His attitude towards you - that His mercy endureth for ever. What shall be the reason for thanksgiving? Shall it be our health? Shall it be our prosperity? Yes, we must thank God for health and prosperity. But is that the cause, the deepest reason for that thanksgiving? Shall it be the peace of our land? Shall it be that things are, after all, pretty good for us, so we really should not complain? No, that cannot be the source of our thanksgiving. For God has shown in these last years to the United States that with one swoop He can take that all away. He can replace your health with sickness; your prosperity with poverty; and your earthly peace with depression. Then what? Then we do not thank God anymore if those things are removed? No.
The reason for thanksgiving is that God's mercy endureth for ever. That virtue of God, His mercy, is His desire to show compassion to those who are miserable and to do them good. It looks upon us in our present state as those who are lowly and afflicted. And God, who is mindful of us as He sees us miserable and frail in our sins and as He sees us living our life under the curse of sin, in mercy His heart goes out to us, to His own chosen, to do good to us and to work all things for an eternal blessing and well-being. This mercy of God endures for ever. How beautiful that is. God, there in the Scriptures, is tying His faithfulness to all of His virtues. His mercy endureth for ever. That is, His mercy partakes of the characteristic of His faithfulness. God's love is faithful. It endures. God's grace is faithful. It endures. God's mercy is for ever. He always has and is and will show mercy to us. He is faithful to us.
That means that He will never forsake us. He is faithful in mercy. Every day His mercy is there, every moment, every step, it is constant. Child of God, there never was, there never will be a time when His mercy is not upon you. Do you believe that? It is true. In Christ Jesus He swears it. At the foot of the cross He gives you a solemn oath - His mercy shall endure for ever. Oh, give thanks!
Say that right now. Do not contradict it. Do not say, "Ah, but God's mercy failed me once. I found it once insufficient." Do not say that! Do not say, "I don't believe God has always been there in mercy for me. How can it be when I have these burdens to bear and these sorrows and this sickness? How can it be?" No, silence to all of our objections. His mercy endures for ever! We fall into sin? His mercy endures for ever. We forget Him days at a time? His mercy endures for ever. We go through trial and we ask why? His mercy endures for ever. We in folly focus our strength upon ourselves? His mercy endures for ever. Say it! "His mercy toward me endures for ever." Give thanks unto the Lord, because His mercy endures for ever. That is our calling.
Note with me that God is exhorting us. Oh, give thanks. That is a calling. That is, it is not simply something that is nice and proper. After all, we should have a holiday to express some thanks, lest we be perceived as some ingrates. Oh, no. It is much more than that. It means that, as a child of God, we have a profound responsibility and calling every day to give Him thanks, to give Him thanks for His undeserved mercy in Jesus Christ. No one stands in the back of God's chorus of thanksgiving in the church. No one in the choir of God is to be silent. No one is to mumble. But from your heart today and every day, you are to give thanks. You have reason to do so. It is your calling because you were redeemed by grace to praise God. It is your calling because God, in mercy, has held your soul in His hand and will never, ever, forsake you. He will work everything for your eternal good and well-being. He has blessed you. Oh, give thanks.
Husband and wife, for His mercy to you in your marriage. Parents and children and family, give thanks. Old and aged, near the end of life, give thanks. Widow and widower, give thanks. Young men in your strength and young women in your beauty, give thanks. Children and toddlers, give thanks to the Lord. Teachers, business men, students, factory workers, housewives, secretaries, pastors, elders, deacons - whoever and whatever you are in the church of God - give thanks, for His mercy endureth for ever.
Do so at all times and for all things. Do so with a smiling face. Today, give thanks for the birth of a baby. Give thanks for friends and family. Give thanks for parents who love the Lord. Give thanks for the church of Jesus Christ. Give thanks for Christian schools. Give thanks for food, health, clothing, business, peace. Give thanks! And do so always.
God withholds from you children? Give thanks. God brings troubles and grief into your home and family? Give thanks. Your business is not as good as it was last year? Give thanks. Your body is filled with sickness and cancer? Give thanks. You struggle and your life is difficult and full of trouble? Give thanks. Why? Because His mercy endureth for ever. You see, when it is all said and done, we have one thing to be thankful for - God's mercy through Jesus Christ His Son in our salvation. But that one thing is everything! Therefore, youth, old and aged, parent, child, single, adult - let all the house of Israel say, let all those who fear God now say, "His mercy endureth for ever." Let your voices shake the ground. Oh, give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.
Let us pray.
Father, we render to Thee praise and thanks, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Last modified: 03-Dec-2002