Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! (Psalm 147:7). In this season of Thanksgiving, it is helpful to consider what “thanksgiving” specifically is, in biblical terms. And in this verse we see at least three crucial elements to godly gratitude. First, thanksgiving above all involves communication with God.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4). What does the psalmist mean when he tells us to enter the gates of God with thanksgiving? If I might put it so simply and colloquially, it means “Don’t even think about coming into God’s presence without praise on your lips.” God’s goodness is infinite, and God’s blessings are abundant, and so thanksgiving is the only appropriate response.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (Psalm 139:1) Notice two things from this brief statement. First, it recognizes the fact that God knows us, is intimately acquainted with us. Second, it is a prayer. It is a prayer from the psalmist, talking to God, and recognizing God’s ever-presence with him. This is the essence of walking with God.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:14-15). The psalmist is worshiping God for all his creative acts and wonders. And among the things God gets credit for, according to Scripture, is the results of human labor!
Give thanks to the Lord of lords … to him who alone does great wonders (Psalm 136:3-4). The authors of Scripture are unanimously in awe of the God about whom they are writing. And here the psalmist explains why: God alone does great wonders. “To him who by understanding made the heavens … to him who spread out the earth … the sun to rule over the day … the moon and stars to rule over the night” (Psalm 136:5-9). God is the God of creation.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20) When we open the door of communication with Jesus, Jesus himself describes this event as being like dinner with a dear friend. Do you come to your dinner table with a to-do list of things to cover in conversation? Are you nervous or hurried when you sit down to have dinner in your home with a dear friend?
We live in a mobile, global society. I am reminded of this as a pastor, with people who constantly move into our city for school or work, and simultaneously others who move away for the same reasons. Yet, as a pastor, I feel an obligation to help those who are leaving our church in Ohio to find a healthy home for their soul in whatever new place they may be landing. Just in the past year, I have tried to help people transition to Japan, California, China, Florida, Texas, Germany, and South Korea.
Imagine you are about to move to a new area. Not just a new location, but a whole new part of the world—surrounded by a new culture and new faces, and without any familiar friends or contacts. Besides the personal, emotional challenges of such a move there would obviously be some significant spiritual challenges to anticipate. Whatever spiritual habits you have in place will be changed or challenged; the fellow Christians by whom you’ve been encouraged and to whom you’ve been accountable won’t be nearby to help you.
We know that “an idol has no real existence” (1 Corinthians 8:4). Paul, while addressing an immediate problem related to Christian liberty, simultaneously addresses a vital overarching point regarding idolatry. Idols are nothing; they are not just false gods, they are no gods at all. Of course the material, physical stuff from which the idol is made is real, but the god it represents does not exist. There is no need to fear idol gods, and there is certainly no reason to worship them.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me“ (Psalm 23:4). We too often talk about God, without talking to God. We can give mental assent to certain Bible teaching – Jesus is Lord, Jesus is a Shepherd, Jesus is awesome – but not say to Jesus, “Rule my life as my Lord, be my Shepherd, help me to walk in awe of you!”
Worshiping God is both our duty and our privilege, no matter who we are. Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation with the biblical command, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). If Jesus would quote this command even to Satan, surely there is no one exempt from the force of its demands. This is because, as Psalm 95:6 reminds us, the call to worship our Lord God arises from the reality that he is “our maker.” Every creature owes the one Creator their worship.
I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:30). At first glance, the psalmist’s declaration may seem strange. How does one “magnify” the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God who holds the universe in his hand? In other words, how can anyone make an everywhere-present God bigger?
When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). It is doubtless true that the Lord’s Prayer is routinely abused around the globe every day, mouthed by people who neither think about its meaning, nor would mean it even if they did. This is why Martin Luther referred to the Lord’s Prayer as “the greatest martyr on earth.” It is, as it were, butchered by thoughtless, soulless prayer on a daily basis. However, the other extreme, into which many evangelicals today have fallen (and it’s just as bad) is this: we have largely neglected it!