Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
3 Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you save them,
5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory with your inheritance.
Thanksgiving: a time to look back and not take for granted what has come our way. As I look back on the past year, I see how much of a whirlwind it has been. Some great and incredible things have happened. Some really terrible things have happened.
I’m thankful that Kirby and I got to lead a team from our church to Honduras for mission work. I’m thankful that we got to live in the house we lived in for as long as we did. I’m thankful that I have been able to see my nephew, Cooper, and my niece, Clementine, so often! They are precious!
But even more than all of that, I’m thankful for what God has done. Of course the big things, like salvation. But, I’m also learning to see the little things more. And between the big and the little, I’m realizing God is at work so much more than I realize. “Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” (Psalm 106.2, ESV). I could spend every moment of my life praising the Lord and thanking him for the things he has done, and I would never run out of things to say.
6 Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10 So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
11 And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
12 Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
13 But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
14 But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
15 he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
16 When men in the camp were jealous of Moses
and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,
17 the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
and covered the company of Abiram.
18 Fire also broke out in their company;
the flame burned up the wicked.
19 They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Even if I never run out of things to say, who’s to say I wouldn’t forget to say them? The Israelites in the Old Testament accounts often get a bad reputation for having a short memory. God does incredibly awesome things among them. He brings plagues upon Egypt, one of the greatest powers of the known world at the time, in order that they be set free from slavery there. He parts the Red Sea, and they walk through on dry ground while their Egyptian pursuers-a trained army, and a good one at that-are all drowned. He feeds them in a desert with food from heaven. He makes water come from a rock. He guides and protects them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. And time after time after time they forget to worship and give thanks because of the great things he has done. They grumble and complain. They turn their focus elsewhere.
But, (there has to be a “but” after all that), do we not do the same thing as Christians today? What’s more, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Yet we, like the Israelites, turn to our own wants, desires, and comforts. We want to put God in our context instead of stepping into his kingdom.
Take the golden calf incident. The people were worried Moses (who had been up on top of Mount Sinai meeting with God) was not coming back down. Perhaps he had died up there in God’s presence. So, they said to Aaron, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exod 32.1b, NIV). And Aaron gathered up gold from all the people and used it to make a calf statue. “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exod 32.4b, NIV).
Notice how he describes the calf; “who brought you up out of Egypt.” The Israelites knew that God had done that. They didn’t think this statue that they had just made was the powerful force that brought them out of Egypt. But they didn’t understand what God was doing, why he was taking so long, and what his future plans were. So they wanted to imbue this object with his power. So that his power and strength and favor would “go before” them on their way to the promised land.
Stepping into God’s kingdom requires that Christ be the King.
Stepping into God’s kingdom requires that he be the king. If he is king, then we desire for him to lead us into his plans. If he is king, then we walk in faith that he is good and trustworthy and wise even when we don’t understand. If he is king, we trust his righteous judgement when he convicts us of sin. If he is king, then we will do the difficult things that demand perseverance and sacrifice because whatever he calls us to is always worth it.
When we try to put God into our context, it’s like verse 20 says, “they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” Why do we take what is infinite and glorious and turn it into something so small and mundane? To take the greatness of God and equate that with a cow is the same thing as hearing the things God calls us to (forgive one another, live in peace, confess your sins, show love to those who persecute you or disagree with you or live differently than you do, stand up for the oppressed) and we respond by saying, “that doesn’t apply to me because…” Surely God wouldn’t ask me to sell my house or change jobs because how will I take care of my kids. Surely God wouldn’t ask me to talk to that person because they just won’t understand. Surely God wouldn’t ask me to be involved in that ministry because there are so many other people more qualified than me.
Do we forget that God can take care of our loved ones better than we can? Do we forget that only God knows the hearts of others, and he works through the seeds we plant? Do we forget that God is the one who enables us for anything he calls us to? He doesn’t ask us to be good enough for any of it. He only asks us to obey. And I think that begins with gratitude.
40 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
41 he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes
and were brought low through their iniquity.
44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
45 For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
46 He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive.
47 Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
48 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord!
“Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin.” (Ps 106.43, NIV). Oh, these human hearts! Time after time we see God’s work in our lives to shape us into the people we ought to be. Time after time he gives us opportunity to walk in faith and declare his praise and his mighty deeds. And time after time we say, “No thanks. I want the calf instead.”
Imagine how our heart would change if we filled them with gratitude toward the Lord. When I have practiced the discipline of gratitude, something amazing happens. I begin to notice more things for which to be grateful.
The Israelites, while in exile-forced to live among other peoples in a land not their home-began to put God first. They made him king of their hearts. They thanked him for what he had done all throughout history, not just in their lives. And what a merciful God we have. Not for his sake did he remember his covenant, but for theirs (v45). He relented from punishing them because of the abundance of his steadfast love. No matter how much we screw up, God’s love is enough to cover it. And that is worth thanks.
“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.” (Ps 106.47, ESV). When we cry out to God for help in order that we may thank him and praise him for it, then our hearts are moving in the right direction.
This Thanksgiving, may we remember that God is worthy of thanks for more than what we see and understand. He’s worthy of thanks for more than the things that bring us comfort or happiness. He’s worthy of thanks for more. As we practice having hearts of gratitude, no matter what, I trust completely that God will work in our hearts to make us more like Christ. And praise God, he will be glorified in that!