Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)
What do you have to be thankful for? This is a wonderful time of the year when we are supposed to stop and reflect on being thankful for all that God has done for us. Unfortunately, in our world of consumerism and convenience, our day of Thanksgiving as marked in American calendars has turned into a way to beat people up at Walmart for cheap televisions. Rather than being thankful to God we see our society using the day for greater greed. It is so easy to forget all that God has given us. It is so easy to take for granted all that we have been given from God. God wanted us to live lives of thankfulness. God has called us to have an attitude of gratitude for all of life. Notice that the apostle Paul said in Colossians 2:6-7 that we walk in Christ “abounding in thanksgiving.” Sometimes our thanksgiving can only focus on the physical blessings we have. This is a natural tendency of ours because we are physical people and we thank God for what we can see in our lives. So we are grateful for our wealth, thankful for our jobs, and thankful for our families. But there is so much more that God wants us to give thanks for. Turn in your copies of God’s word to Psalm 138 where we have a psalm all about the giving of thanks and what we should be thankful for.
Give Thanks Wholeheartedly (138:1)
The psalmist begins by simply telling the Lord that he is giving thanks to the Lord with all his heart. Think about the last time we truly did that. Think about the last time we poured out our thanks to the Lord with our whole being. We did not hold back but passionately proclaimed our thanks to the Lord without reservation or regard. This is the picture of verse 1. In every audience I want to give thanks to the Lord. I give thanks to the Lord. I sing praises to the Lord in the presence of the heavenly assembly, before the whole spiritual court.
It is this thankfulness as to why we sing. Did you see the psalmist say that? I will sing your praises before the gods, the heavenly assembly of spiritual beings. Thankfulness is why we sing. Singing is not an act of worship as if we have an obligatory act on Sundays. It is not like God is upset on Sunday if we do not sing five obligatory songs. God wants the praises of the heart. We can easily forget that worship involves thanksgiving. Where does our singing come from? Where do our prayers come from? What is to generate our singing and prayers? Our thanks to the Lord is what generate our songs and prayers. Worship and praise are not halfhearted but comes from the depths of our hearts. Singing is the overflow of thanksgiving. The words we sing are plucking our hearts and we praise God with our whole being. This is what the psalmist says he is doing. He gives thanks with his whole heart and sings the praises of the Lord before all audiences. Now what is the psalmist praising God for?
Give Thanks for the Lord’s Steadfast Love and Faithfulness (138:2-3)
The psalmist says he bows down toward the Lord’s holy temple. We know from 1 Kings 8 that bowing toward the temple is a call of repentance. You can see that this is the idea in the rest of verse 2. The psalmist is thanking the Lord for his steadfast love and faithfulness. He is thankful for the Lord’s salvation and the Lord’s forgiveness. He is thankful for the Lord’s restoration. This is the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord. God is faithful to us. God is faithful to us through our difficulties and trials of life. God is faithful to us even in the midst of our sinfulness. Reflect on 2018. How has God been faithful to you this year in the midst of your difficulties, pains, and trials of life? How has God shown you steadfast love even in the midst of your failures and sinfulness? How often has God forgiven you this year?
Look at verse 3 and see if this is true of your life.
On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. (Psalm 138:3 NRSV)
Think about the times you have called on the Lord and he has answered you. Think about when you were in the pit of life or on the mountaintop of glory how the Lord has answered you. Think about the strength that he gave you in those dark times. Think about the help he gave you when all hope appeared to be lost. This year there have been many times where I have been broken and crushed. It has been a trying year. How has God strengthened your soul this year? How has God been your support? Where was your life at the end of 2017 and now where is it in 2018? We need this kind of perspective so that we will give thanks to the Lord and praise him for his steadfast love and faithfulness.
Notice how this centers the prayer of the psalmist in verse 2. He gives thanks “for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.” In our study of Exodus we learned that “the name” is a representation of the individual’s character. It is a reflection of who the person is. The psalmist praises the Lord for exalting his own name and word above all things. Think about the name of the Lord. What do we learn about the name of the Lord? Exodus 34 tells us what his name is all about. Listen to what God says:
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7 ESV)
The exaltation of God’s name and word is a wonderful grace to us. His name reveals his mercy and gracious, his patience and overflow of steadfast love and faithfulness. His name shows his love and forgiveness, as well as his justice. God’s glory is always for our good. We must praise the character of God. We should think about praising God, not only for what we have received from God, but also simply for who God is. We have life, hope, and confidence simply because of God’s character. Do you know why God has increased the strength of your soul and answered when you called on him? God did that because that is who he is.
Call For People To Give Thanks (138:4-6)
The psalmist turns and calls for the rulers of the earth to give thanks to the Lord. The text can be read one of two ways. One way to read the Hebrew text is the psalmist is saying that the kings of the earth will one day give thanks to the Lord, which is possible since we know that every knee will bow before the Lord (Philippians 2:10). The other way to read the Hebrew text is that the psalmist is calling on the kings of the earth to give thanks to the Lord. I believe verse 6 informs us to read this as a call for all peoples, even the kings of the earth, to give thanks. They need to hear the decrees of the Lord and give thanks. They need to sing about the greatness of the Lord. Notice why even the kings of the earth must do this in verse 6. The reason why is because even though the Lord is high and exalted, he looks kindly upon the lowly. He brings the lowly near him. But the arrogant and haughty he knows from afar. God keeps his distance from the proud. Though the Lord is great he cares for the humble.
How sad when rulers do not give thanks to the Lord because they refuse to see that the reason they rule is because God has given them the position to do so (cf. Romans 13:1; John 19:11; Daniel 4:32). The more that rulers refuse to give thanks to the Lord and praise him for the position they have been given, the worse they rule and the further leaders and nations fall from God. Please notice that God knows every person: the lowly and the arrogant. But God is near the lowly and the arrogant are kept afar. Please think about how amazing this is. Even though the glory of the Lord is very great, this does not mean that he keeps his distance from the humble. He distances himself from the proud, but not the humble. God is worthy of our praise and our thanks because he comes near the humble, even though he is high and exalted. We should praise the Lord and give thanks because God has come near us.
Give Thanks For Our Lives (138:7)
Even in the midst of the troubles we face and the sins we commit, God has preserved our lives. God has delivered us. God has given us success against our enemies. God’s unfailing love is always there for us. We are able to walk confidently into the future because the Lord will remain with us to the end. God is for us. Sometimes we do not think of life in this way. Sometimes we fail to realize that the reason we live is by the power and word of God. Nothing is outside of God’s control. No one is outside of God’s control. We need to thank God that we are even alive today. How sad that we simply take this for granted! We just assume that we will have tomorrow. We just assume that we have next year. We just assume that we will have 20-60 more years of life. We act like we have control over our lives. We act like we are the ones who have power over our lives. We simply do not have it. We cannot control if our body is going to continue operating for us today. For all of our dieting and exercise and change of life behaviors, we cannot change the day we will die. We need to wake up and thank God that we have the day rather than assuming that it has been granted to us. We need to wake up and kiss our spouse and children, grateful to the Lord that God has given us to them yet another day. These things are not promised to us. Life is not promised to us. Death is promised to us, not life. For all that happens to us in life we need to be far more thankful to God for our very lives and that we just took another breath.
Give Thanks Because God Accomplishes His Purposes In Us (138:8)
Finally, the psalmist gives thanks to the Lord because “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” God is going to do his will. God always accomplishes his purpose. God is going to accomplish his purposes in us and through us. We are part of God’s plans and are to be his instruments that are at work in the kingdom. Our prayer to the Lord is for him to make us a servant. Make me a servant. Make me the work of your hands. We must be grateful for this. God is changing us so that we can be useful servants to him. We are called to present ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and to present our bodies as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13). I find the picture of 1 Peter 2 so amazing. Listen to it:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5 ESV)
Friends, I am a stone with a terrible shape that is not useful for building anything. I have all kinds of rough edges and bad cuts because of sins. But God is cutting off those terrible edges and refining those rough spots so that I can be a living stone built up into this spiritual house that Jesus is building. This is what I believe the psalmist is proclaiming at the end of the psalm:
Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (138:8)
O Lord, do not stop working in my life for your glory and purposes. Do not give up on me but keep refining me, molding me, cutting me, and changing me. We have to love the three things given to us in verse 8. Our confidence is that the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. The reason we have this confidence is because God’s faithful love endures forever. Therefore, I cry to the Lord in prayer based on this confidence: Do not abandon the work of your hands. You are shaping me. Please do not stop. We must be thankful to the Lord for how he shapes us and changes us to be in his image.
We have so many reasons to be thankful. I hope that we are heartbroken when we have a hard time coming up with reasons to praise and bless the Lord. Look beyond all the rich physical blessings we have received. Look beyond the pleasures of life and think about how much God has done for each of us. Give thanks to the Lord wholeheartedly for his faithfulness to you in trials, suffering, and even our sins. God’s steadfast love is shocking. He is faithful and forgiving. Give thanks to God for how he has answered your prayers and carried you through this year. Give thanks to the Lord because God comes near the humble even though he is high and exalted. Give thanks to the Lord because he has preserved our lives yet another day. Give thanks to the Lord because he accomplishes his purposes in us. God is using us to accomplish his will as we are living stones being built up into a great spiritual house for him.