“The Heart of Thanksgiving”
November 29, 2009
The heart of thanksgiving is in awe of a wonderful God.
I. The wonder of his salvation (Psalm 65:1-4)
II. The wonder of his power (Psalm 65:5-8)
III. The wonder of his provision (Psalm 65:9-13)
So, how’s your heart? As we celebrate Thanksgiving and move toward Christmas, that’s a question we’re going to be asking every week. It’s a tough season for hearts. For one thing, we’re busy and driven, running around like chickens trying to get everything done and there’s not a lot of time to pay attention to our inner lives and attitudes. On top of that, we’re called to be relational with family and friends and relatives, and though some of that is pure joy, not all of it is easy. Finally, we’re expected, somehow, to get something out of the meaning of the holidays.
So, how’s your heart. I can picture of some of our hearts. It’s got to do with fog and cold, dullness and unresponsiveness. This heart is not lively: you poke it and it hardly twitches. It would claim not to be feeling anything, and maybe it would be right. It would claim not to be seeing the world in color, but in shades of gray, and maybe it would be right. It would claim to be hearing in a fog, voices dull, far off, un-penetrating.
Is this your heart? Husbands? Wives? Young people? Do you find yourself walking through your holidays without an awareness of God, without a thrill of hope, without joy, without connectedness, in a mental and emotional fog? Now I’m not saying you might not have good reasons for this melancholy. You may be going through grief, through relational difficulties, through loss of a job, through financial crisis, through loneliness and separation?
But even in these difficulties, your heart doesn’t have to be dulled toward God. Thanksgiving, as practiced in Scripture, is a great time to call your heart back to awakeness and life, awe and wonder. Psalm 65 is one of those Thanksgiving Psalms that can awaken in us a sense of wonder and awe over who God is and what he’s done. As we reflect on it this morning we’ll see that a heart of thanksgiving is one that is in awe of a wonderful God.
I. The wonder of his salvation (Psalm 65:1-4)
Let’s begin with the first four verses: Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. 2O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. 3When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. 4Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.
This psalm of thanksgiving never says ‘give thanks’ or ‘we give thanks.’ Few psalms do. The key word is ‘Praise.’ All through Scripture praise of God for who he is and thanksgiving for what he’s done are wrapped up together.
The dictionary definition of ‘praise’ emphasizes this: “This root connotes being sincerely and deeply thankful for the great acts, and satisfied in extolling the superior qualities of the object. God is the unique and sole object of true praise.” So a heart of thanksgiving, scripturally, is also a heart of praise.
But notice how the first verse is worded: ‘Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion.’ ‘Await’ is an attempt to translate a difficult word that has the root meaning of silence. Very literally translated the first few words in the Hebrew text would be “To you, silence, praise, O God.” I don’t want to make too much of this, but I like the fact that kindling wonder toward God starts with silence. And I wonder if you and I have had any silence in our lives?
But recognizing God’s greatness is not enough. We must also respond, in the same way the psalmist does: “to you our vows will be fulfilled.” We’ll be likely to find a heart of thanksgiving if we accompany praise with obedience. And the obedience pictured is the simple obedience of dependant prayer: “O you who hear our prayer, to you all men will come.” The verse implies that when all else fails, as it will, all people can turn to the one who hears their prayers, hears their cries for help. And only those who have given up on themselves and depended on God can truly experience a heart-felt thanksgiving.
Let me illustrate this: If you were drowning and someone threw you a line, and you grabbed the ring and were rescued, you’d be tremendously grateful to the one who had rescued you. You would give thanks. But if you didn’t know you were drowning, and someone threw a ring at you, you might be irritated rather than thankful. It’s the same thing with God - true thanksgiving comes when you recognize your need, and what he offers you.
What is that need? Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.” Our problem is our sinfulness - our need is forgiveness. The first word for sin in this verse can mean bent or broken, and it describes a bent or broken or perverse approach to life. The road to healing, forgiveness, and ultimately to a heart of thanksgiving begins with the recognition by each one of us that we have taken a bent or broken approach to living.
Isn’t this especially true in relationships? You want to have positive relationships, but you often choose a tone of voice and words that make things worse with your loved ones. When we’re honest we admit this is our own fault. When we’re honest we admit we’ve been selfish: we’ve looked out for ourselves and wanted others to look out for us too. The Bible teaches that this is a bent approach to life, a distorted focus, a point of view which while seeming to seek personal happiness, ultimately leads to personal frustration, isolation, and misery, to workaholism, to alcoholism, to drug addiction, to adultery, to divorce.
Many people in our culture, maybe some here, share the Psalmist’s feeling of being overwhelmed by these things. They’ve prevailed: I’m not strong enough to defeat the selfishness, the bent approach, to get outside myself and love others and God. The Apostle Paul, writing a thousand years later will say “What a wretched man I am: I want to do what’s right but I cannot do it.”
This overwhelming sin isolates us from others and separates us from God. He’s the one who created us for a relationship with him. But the bent approach we take to everything is most apparent in that we have declared independence from him. We want what we want, what we think is best. We do not want what He wants: we are rebels against his rule, traitors to His cause.
But, the Psalmist says, when we are overwhelmed by transgressions, when our own brokenness defeats us, God forgives sin. Actually, its stronger than that: the Hebrew verb translated ‘forgive’ really means to make atonement for sin, that is to cover over sin by paying the penalty. God makes atonement for our sin: he heals our bentness, our brokenness by paying the price.
To the writer of the Psalm, atonement was pictured in the sacrifices of the temple: the sacrifice of lambs and goats and bulls as sin offerings. But for us a true atonement has been made, better than any picture. Jesus is our atonement. He paid the price of our sins. He makes us whole, cures our brokenness, straightens our bentness by himself becoming bent and broken on the cross.
Paul teaches in 2nd Corinthians that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Old Testament teaches that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
So the Bible clearly teaches what the Psalmist says, that God forgives - through atonement, in Jesus. And he calls us to believe. First, to believe the bare facts, that Jesus lived, died on the cross, and rose from the dead on the third day. But then, to believe with our hearts, to trust that this death, and only this death, can heal our brokenness, can awaken and restore our souls.
When we trust in what Jesus has done we receive righteousness - unbrokeness. Romans 3:22 “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are made righteous freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement.”
Psalm 65, verse 4, gives a poetic description of what happens when we trust Jesus: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” Though it’s by personal faith in Jesus that we receive atonement, yet the Bible also says it was by God’s choice that you are saved: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near.” God’s plan since before creation has been to be intimately present with his people. Jesus said “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He promised the Holy Spirit to live inside as God with us.
Now we delight in the good things God gives us - through salvation. He has given us forgiveness, cleansing from our sin, and from its guilt. He has adopted us, given us a true family and called us sons and daughters. He hears our prayers and answers. He gives us eternal life, and the hope of heaven and the promise of resurrection. As Paul said in the book of Ephesians “He has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
This salvation is the foundation, essential to a heart of thanksgiving. If we haven’t been rescued we’ve little to be thankful for and no heart to give that thanks. But if we have Jesus our hearts can find wonder, awe and gratitude in his rescue quite apart from our worldly cares. Let’s pause and sing that awe with ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns.’ Notice that line: ‘Awake my soul and sing of him who died for thee.’ That’s what we’re seeking this morning, hearts that are awake to give thanks for the wonder of what he’s done.
II. The wonder of his power (Psalm 65:5-8)
The heart awakened by salvation is a heart that can see God’s wondrous power in creation. Verses 5-8: You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, 6who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, 7who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. 8Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.
The thankful heart learns to be awestruck by who God is and what God does. So the Psalmist says God is the God of awesome righteousness, the God who defends what is right by his deeds. The Psalmist is thinking of things like God’s rescue of the people of Israel from Egypt, or from his enemies. He knew God to be his Savior, his rescuer. In the same way the most awesome deed of righteousness that God has done for us is our rescue: It is his righteous punishment of sin by his loving substitution of himself. Again, a heart of thanksgiving begins with thankfulness for his gracious rescue.
This is why God is the hope of all the ends of the earth. God is not a God for Israel only, God is not a God for America only, but God is the God of the whole earth, and even King David, back in Old Testament times, recognized and praised God for it. How much more should we give thanks that Jesus is the hope of all the nations, from Africa to Asia, South America to Siberia. Jesus is the hope of all mankind, the one who can save and transform. The heart of thanksgiving is a heart of hope, because salvation is offered to everyone.
Verse 6: “Who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, 7who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.” As those who are the rescued look around they rejoice that God created all they see. This is the Bible’s claim from Genesis to Revelation and is always a reason for praise and thanks. But in a culture filled with evolutionary theory the reality of God’s wondrous creation sometimes dims, even for believers. God’s wonders are attributed to time, chance and catastrophe, rather than the might and wisdom of a loving God.
Furthermore, in a suburban culture, and in an area that exposes us daily to neither the mountains nor the sea nor the sky we easily forget what God has made. We wall ourselves into man-made spaces, and lose the edge of thanksgiving. To combat the dullness of our souls we need to take advantage of these nice days and go outside with our eyes open. More than that, we need to go back to the Bible and grasp the things the Bible authors saw, the inspired pictures they painted of God as creator of all things great, subtle, beautiful, and good.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Also from Genesis 1 “God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. So God created the creatures of the sea, every living thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
Psalm 148 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, 9you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
Isaiah 40:25 "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. 26Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
I could go on, but you get the point - the authors of Scripture had hearts that were awakened to the wonders of God’s creation. Psalm 65:8 agrees: “Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.” Hilda J. Born, a Canadian, wrote a little devotional on this verse, found on the Internet. “It had been a long trip. We'd been on the road ten days before we reached my brother's home. I was ready to stay put. But we had scarcely entered the house when my sister-in-law suggested we go spend the night in their cabin by the Pacific Ocean.
Trying to be a considerate guest, I agreed. After an hour of city traffic, we drove down dusty side roads to the ocean. Eventually we reach their cabin, and walked down to a rocky outcropping. Then, before our eyes the horizon changed. As the sun came to rest at the end of the day, the whole firmament was bathed in color. Vast stretches of water reached out to the setting sun. First it was a huge red ball, then radiant rose and purple. We were awed and scarcely spoke. Bright stars came out and the purple became black velvet night. We slept that night with refreshed hearts of joy and thanksgiving.
Joy - you don’t have to be a believer to know the joy of a sunrise or a sunset, but you do have to be a believer to know the source and meaning of that joy. When he has awakened our hearts as Savior we will be rightly in awe of him as the awesome creator. Let’s pause and sing that truth - God of wonders.
III. The wonder of his provision (Psalm 65:9-13)
God is savior, God is creator, and God is caring provider. Verses 9-13: You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 11You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. 12The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. 13The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.
These verses are the main reason this Psalm is known as a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is celebrated in the fall when the harvest has been brought in and the abundance of God’s provision can be seen. Maybe this Psalm was read at firstfruits, the harvest of winter wheat and barley, which occurs in the late spring. Or maybe it was read at the feast of tabernacles, in the fall, rejoicing in the moment when the fall grain was ready to be harvested.
Either way, this is a Psalm intimately in touch with the land, and exquisitely aware that God is the one who provides, who sustains, who does all the myriad things needed to turn a dead seed into bountiful provision.
Here in industrial America, we’ve lost touch, lost the direct link between God’s provision and our lives. “If God does not provide, we starve” - that’s the attitude of this Psalm, and the attitude of most people in all times, including the Pilgrims, who knew they were just one crop away from starvation.
God’s provision starts with the provision of water. Notice 9 and 10: “You care for the land and water it. The streams of God are filled with water. You drench the furrows and level the ridges, you soften the land with water.” Gentle spring rains are needed at the beginning of the harvest season, to soften the ground for plowing, so the planted seed can germinate and the young shoots grow. For God’s yearly provision of rain we should give thanks.
But do we? Most of us are unaware or take it for granted. We assume that water is coming at the right time and in the right amount, and only when it comes too much or too little do we take notice, and only then if we hear about it on the nightly news. Texas has had a draught for the last two years, which only began to ease this fall. How much did it impact you? If we have no reason to cry out when things are bad, we probably have no appreciation of the provision God has made when things are good. If the lack of rainfall was reflected in your pay check, you’d be thankful for the many times God gives in abundance.
God is the one who provides, first the water, and then the harvest that sustains – in that culture it was appreciated with wonder: “You crown the year with your bounty. Your carts overflow with abundance.” One of my favorite videos is ‘The Harvest’. The story’s purpose is to encourage evangelism and outreach. But the subject is an actual harvest, and how in a time of crisis people can work together to bring in the whole harvest. The scenes of these huge combines combing the fields and pouring forth the wheat in abundance into truck after truck are the high point of the movie. Truly, when God provides the harvest, his carts do overflow with abundance.
So there ought to be wonder and joy in this and all kinds of provision. Look at verse 12: “The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.” The psalmist infers that even the land itself rejoices in the richness God gives. How much more should his people rejoice? “The meadows are covered with flocks, the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.” What a picture: It’s just before that harvest; The fields are ripe. The rolling hills receding in the distance are golden brown; the heads of each stalk abound with grain. It’s an overflow of abundance. The heart of thanksgiving sees these truths, looks for ways God has provided an overflow of abundance.
But sometimes we only notice the abundance by its absence. Do you remember a hurricane called Ike? Think back to the aftermath: the things we missed were the things which have so normally been provided to us in abundance, that we take them for granted.
One of the most notable of course was electricity. Once the power went out, it was out for most of us for a long time – a week, two weeks. And we functioned without it, but those who couldn’t get a generator lost all the food in their fridge and freezer, and nobody had AC. Even with a generator our evenings and our mornings were lit by flashlights and candles.
We are so used to the abundant provision of electricity, always there, pouring out of the outlets like water that we don’t even give thanks for it until it comes back on after a week. And you’ll say to me ‘but electricity’s man-made; God doesn’t provide it.’ Friend, a harvest is man-made too – just ask a farmer - but it’s definitely God who provides.
Think of the shortages after Ike. Gasoline: I remember parking my car and walking to a gas station and essentially cutting in line, asking someone who was pumping to let me buy a gallon for my generator so I didn’t have to stay in that line all morning. We expect abundance – but do we give thanks for it?
How about food? God provides abundantly, but after Ike the stores were closed, or their generators could not maintain refrigeration, or they were receiving no new supplies, and they couldn’t check people out anyway. They tried to make do, but it wasn’t much, it wasn’t fast, and the lines were long. Several of us were thankful for the National Guard arriving with MRE’s. We’re used to abundant provision: are our hearts awake enough to give God the praise he deserves for it? I could go on. Some lost basic shelter – their houses were unlivable. Some lost water and had to carry in jugs for drinking, cooking and eating. Some lost jobs, either permanently or for a long time.
But the absence of those things was a good reminder that God has provided abundantly, just as he provided the Psalmist with the abundance of water in the springtime and the golden harvest in the fall. But the Psalmist had the good sense to be in awe of God’s abundant provision. True thankfulness is not impossible. It requires a spiritual sensitivity we can only receive through salvation. And then it requires a heart sensitivity, a willingness to allow our hearts to see the awe and wonder of who God is and what he provides.