Your version may use the word “hallelujah” to begin Psalm 135. Hallelujah means “praise the Lord.” While it is synonymous with giving thanks, it means to laud a superior quality or act, to acclaim and express joy in doing so. What is so noteworthy is that the psalmist does this in very specific ways, recounting times in history when God demonstrates His power and glory on behalf of His people. As we walk through the psalm, we see this. Why is He to be praised?
HIS CHOOSING OF HIS PEOPLE (4)
HIS NATURE (5)–Great, Above All
HIS WORK IN CREATION (6-7)–Heaven, Earth, Seas, All Deep, Vapors, Lightning, Wind, Rain
HIS DEFEATING OF THEIR ENEMIES (8-11)–Egypt, Amorites, Canaanites
HIS BLESSINGS (12)–Gave His People A Heritage (Possession)
HIS POWER (13)–His Name And Remembrance
HIS PROMISES (14)–Compassionate Judgment
HIS SUPERIORITY OVER HIS RIVALS (15-18)–Deaf, Dumb, And Blind Idols, Just Like Humans
The writer calls on God’s people to praise and worship Him in song, expressing their adoration (1-3). He ends with a threefold call to “bless the Lord” (19-21). May I suggest that you work through something both in your daily life and in your preparation before every time you assemble to worship? Call it setting the table for fellowship with the Divine. Either meditate on the specific works and ways of God that are worthy of admiration, praise and honor or pray to Him, expressing these matters in specific terms. Focus on how He’s demonstrated greatness in blessing your life and the lives of those around you. Perhaps it’s answered prayer, providence, deliverance, or relief. Focus on His power and might in the affairs of our nation, in the activities of our congregation, and the occurrences within your family and personal life. Let the worship flow as you look around at all you see in nature, from the universe to right out your window. Think about the gift of Jesus for your sins. All of this will surely cause you to echo the writer in Psalm 135 and call out to others, “Praise the Lord!”
I wonder if Kathy felt like she was living with Briscoe Darling and the boys (imagine them if they were talkative) through the years they were growing up. She is refined and genteel, words that are not usually connected to our three sons and me. One thing she impressed upon us was the importance of timely, thoughtful thank you notes. Gratitude, though it can be expressed with very little time and expense, is telling. It acknowledges the kindness and generosity of the giver.
One of the elements of worship, generally, and prayer, specifically, is thanksgiving. Our songs call for it: “Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart,” they express it: “Thank You, Lord,” “For All That You’ve Done,” “How Great Thou Art,” “10,000 Reasons,” and “He Has Made Me Glad.” Though that songwriter, Leona Von Brethorst, apparently wrote the song from Psalm 100, she includes a line from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
Five times in Psalm 118, the psalmist says “give thanks” (1,19,21,28,29). He urges others to do so, but also expresses his resolve to do the same. Why?
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GOODNESS (1-4)
“Good” is a general word that takes in pleasantness, desirability, and beauty. The good quality specified here is His everlasting mercy (lovingkindness). The writer moves from the broad to the specific–Israel, house of Aaron, those who fear the Lord. Everyone is the object of God’s lovingkindness. The righteous freely express their thanks for it.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DELIVERANCE (5-13)
There is a sudden, dramatic shift in tone in verse five. From an upbeat, positive tone, he turns to thoughts of trouble and difficulty. Distress, hatred, being surrounded, and violence threatened him, but God was there for him as protection and help. This kept him from fearfulness. It gave him refuge.
It is an amazing thing to think of all the ways and times God has been with me, but those are just the instances I’m aware of. How many trials has God spared me from, disasters has He caused me to avoid, and troubles has He averted for me that I won’t know about on this earth? Just what I do know humbles me, and it should fill my heart with gratitude.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GREATNESS (14-17)
The writer turns to the Giver. He is strong, a Savior, valiant, and exalted. Summarizing God’s qualities, the writer says, “I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord” (17). Awareness of who God is for me, physically, materially, and spiritually, will drive me to grateful thanks.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DISCIPLINE (18)
Though it is almost a parenthetical phrase in the middle of this song of thanksgiving, it is important and an additional reason for gratitude. He writes, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.” Who is brave enough to say that with the psalmist? He implies gratitude for God’s severe discipline. Hebrews 12:7-10 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls His children. It is for our good and allows us to share His holiness. Can I thank Him for the trials and challenges that refine me and grow my dependence on Him? Or do I just plaintively ask, “Why?”
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS PROVISION (19-29)
He uses the imagery of a city here–gates, stones, and chief corner stone. Then, he ends with a temple analogy, with the house of the Lord, festival sacrifice, and the horns of the altar. Saved inside God’s walls of protection, we are free to offer worship which He accepts. We marvel, we rejoice, we are glad, we prosper, and we extol. He has given us light. The primary thrust is not material, but spiritual. However prosperous or impoverished you are, financially, however strong or weak you are, emotionally, we have the greatest provision of all in Christ. Eternal salvation, the hope of heaven, fellowship with God and the saved, the church, strength to endure, the list is endless.
Today, as you go through the day, why not stop and spend time in prayer to God thanking Him categorically: physical blessings, relationship blessings, emotional blessings, national blessings, and spiritual blessings. No doubt, there are things in your life right now that are dissatisfying and disappointing. You may be struggling mightily. Perhaps those are ways God is disciplining you in His love. Whatever is happening in your life, choose to give thanks and know God is trustworthy! It’s more than polite. It’s righteous!
–I have taught a Bible study in the hut of a woman in a jungle village of southeast Asia. She had no furniture and only a couple of cooking vessels and utensils. Her one-room house was thatched in a place that averages an inch or more of rain each week. Her lifestyle reflected that of nearly all of her neighbors.
–I have stayed in the house of a faithful, fruitful gospel preacher in west Africa. One night, the temperature in the house was 91 degrees overnight. The interior walls were made of styrofoam, thin enough to hear the rats scurrying around and scratching behind them. They were actually better off than most in their village.
–I have stayed not far from the Bay of Bengal in a crowded city across from a leper colony. Taking a bath/shower consisted of using a large cup from a single spigot in a “bathroom” where the water ran a light brown color. Within a hundred miles of there, at least 100,000 people were living under cardboard boxes and old tarps.
–I met a man at a church service in east Africa who made his living working in a gem mine. He and his wife had four children of their own. Their neighbors both died of AIDS, leaving their three children orphaned. This Christian and his wife adopted them. He made $2 per day and Sunday was his only day off. He supported a household of nine on less than $15 per week.
In every one of the examples above, I was only there for a couple of weeks and returned home to hot water, running water, reliable shelter and automobiles, and a thousand other amenities.
Many of the people in our world, before the current pandemic, struggled to survive through subsistence farming, poor nutrition, virtually non-existent healthcare, and little access to education. This sets up a cycle of poverty and disease that lowers life expectancy to middle-age at best. Sports, vacations, retirement plans, and insurance are, for many, a pipe dream if even a concept they have ever entertained. I once drove past a slum in a capitol city that was part of 2.5 million homeless people living in what was essentially a trash dump.
The current crisis is real and impactful. It has required adjustments, changes, and sacrifices. Yet, from a medical, monetary, and material standpoint, we still find ourselves at the top of over 200 nations in just about every earthly way things can be measured. This is a time for us to pause and humbly thank God for His abundant blessings, to ask forgiveness for complaining in the face of such generosity, and to seek His guidance in how we can use this time to focus on others’ needs and helping those who are truly unfortunate. Matthew 25:31-46 is a convicting text, where the Lord tells us He watches how we respond to the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, and imprisoned among “the least” of the world. Perhaps what we are going through now is a door of opportunity, to sharpen our perspective on what is essential and what is extra. Let it begin with me!
I’ve never known a day when I didn’t live in a “preacher’s home.” “Preacher’s homes” are very much like every other home–problems, inside jokes, traditions, hobbies and interests, sin, laughter–except the chosen profession of the father is to serve either full-time or part-time as a proclaimer of God’s Word. At times, the home I grew up in was made of figurative glass, meaning I was occasionally subjected to unfair favoritism and criticism.Kathy, also a lifetime resident of a “preacher’s home,” knows that feeling, too. Then, we subjected our sons to the exact same thing!
Whenever we are asked about what it is like to live this unique life (and lifestyle), different words would be appropriate:
Challenging–There can be elevated expectations and unrealistic assumptions about the preacher’s personal life, marriage, parenting, and the like. What Shakespeare’s Jewish character says of his people in the “Merchant of Venice” applies: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” Life’s pressures and temptations visit our homes, too.
Lonely–Occasionally, we feel alone and stand alone because of the message we preach. Usually, it’s not others who make us feel this way, but an innate part of the life.
Ordinary–Most preachers probably love to hear church members and those in the community say, “You’re just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.” To be genuine and real is, in my view, a worthy aim. See the opening paragraph.
But, please understand that the most fitting, usual words used to describe the life in preaching are positive, superlative words and phrases–“important,” “exciting,” “fulfilling,” “full,” “rewarding,” “humbling,” “meaningful,”and “uplifting.” Yesterday, we said “so long” to one of God’s greatest churches as we prepare to move to work with another one. I asked Kathy to describe a one-word assessment that best described how she felt in light of the generous words and acts from our spiritual family throughout the day. She used words like “Overwhelmed,” “grateful,” and “touched.” But then, scanning her brilliant mind as if to find that perfect summary word (as she usually does), she simply said, “Blessed.”
We’ve been blessed by a lifetime of living the “preacher life.” Blessed by 27 years of full-time preaching. Blessed by 13 years of preaching at Bear Valley. Blessed by the opportunity to preach in this “next chapter” of life at Lehman Avenue. Blessed, as cracked pots (2 Cor. 4:7), to be used by the Master Potter. Far from a perfect life, it is certainly a blessed life.
Jesus asked a lone, appreciative soul, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine–where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). They were terrified (13), terminal (12), transformed (14), but they were not thankful. They were saved, but to what end? They were selfish and not spiritual. God made them whole, and what did they do? They blended into the world when they should have blessed The Word.
Ingratitude increasingly characterizes man’s interaction with man–the etiquette of thank you cards is rarer, the feelings of loyalty and appreciation for the American military and first responders is waning, and many have forgiven themselves of the debt owed to generations past whose sacrifice has led us to national plenty. This is not all-inclusive and at times there are spikes of improvement and pleasant, positive change toward greater thankfulness.
Yet, since the time when Christ’s sandals kicked up dust in Palestine, people have failed to show gratitude to Him. that the ingratitude comes from those whom He saved from the devil’s disease and death is remarkable! Yet, we all struggle with that sin.
New Testament writers point out how grave an error ingratitude is. Paul warned about the “ungrateful” (2 Tim. 3:2) who would ultimately make no spiritual progress. God rejects as foolish and futile those who “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). Someone may ask, “Why make such a big deal about something so seemingly minor?”
Is it minor? If we’re not thankful to God, one or more things have occurred. (1) We are convinced there is no eternity and it’s all about here and now. (2) We have forgotten how it felt to be forgiven. (3) We believe that everything is about us and nothing is about anyone else, let alone God. (4) We have come to believe that sin is just no big deal. (5) We think we owe everything we have and are to no one but ourselves. No doubt, more answers could be postulated, but here is the bottom line. A failure to thank God for His abundant blessings makes one in more dire condition than any leper ever was. We may not be losing our extremities, our hair may not be turning bleach white, we may not have painful sores, and we may not be social outcasts. But, here is what has happened. Our heart is cold, our soul is endangered, we’re in denial, and we’re blinded to the realest of realities.
Won’t you say with David, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 100:4-5)? Stop and think how much you owe to God. Translate that gratitude into godly servitude. Give Him your best. Give Him yourself. Give Him your thanks.
Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11). They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10). Their giving flowed from that recognition.
The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.
But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!
“Three babies are crying across the auditorium… Somebody dropped a songbook… Everybody has a cough today… Oh, good… brother So ‘N So sure prayers nice prayers… My big toe sure is bother me… I think I forgot to write out the check for the giving again… Better do… Wow! Are we done already?”
That scenario probably happens in many a mind more frequently than we care to admit. The greatest memorial of all time can also provide one of the greatest mountains to climb– concentration and distraction. The Lord’s Supper is a congregational activity, but it is participated in by individuals. What does it take to maintain concentration on the significance of this feast?
Examination. See 1 Corinthians 11:28. We should examine our state of mind, taking care to dwell on Christ’s suffering sacrifice, His triumphant resurrection, our debt to Him, the depth of heaven’s love shown in this sacrifice, and the joyful hope we have through His act. We should examine our lives and see where we can live better and eliminate sin–checking our motives, morals, and mindset. Self-examination should mark this time.
Forgetting. We should forget the daily, mundane affairs of life. We are focusing on something of much greater and eternal significance. Other things should be shut out of the mind. This is the Lord’s time.
Fellowship. We take the Supper with every other saint present. This is a special moment of fellowship (Acts 2:42). In a sense, we are also taking it with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The communion provides a bond of fellowship that has special meaning and ties together all baptized believers in fellowship with Christ.
One. We commemorate the Lord in the one body according to the instructions of the one Spirit with the one hope that Christ’s atonement saves us and gives us access to the Father. We honor that one Lord and follow the one faith in obedience to the will of the one God. the Supper unites us with God as well as each other (Eph. 4:4-6).
Remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is a time to reflect on the cross with its manifold significance. Until He comes again, the Lord’s Supper is an appointed, weekly, and mental trip back to His death (1 Cor. 11:26). One remembers, with the help of the gospel writers, the body wounded on the tree and the saving blood flowing from the body of God in the flesh.
Thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper is a time for deep appreciation and gratitude. Because He suffered, we can have peace. Because He died, we can have eternal life. Because He arose, we can rise from sin to newness of life.
Paul had to remind Corinth that the Lord’s Supper was not just another meal (1 Cor. 11:20-34). Modern Christians, too, need always to keep that fact in mind when we lose focus and concentration or forget why we’re partaking. What we need, despite the distractions, is EFFORT! May the Lord’s Supper never grow old for any of us!
Those who address us prior to our giving often make a statement like this, that we are giving back but a small portion of what God has blessed us with. In other words, if you could owned and could contribute all the world’s wealth, week after week, how would that compare to the sacrificial gift of Christ (cf. Mat. 16:26)? In fact, how could it compare with the many additional blessings besides atonement—a body equipped with the ability to perform involuntary actions (breathing, blood flow, cell regeneration, etc.), an environment conducive to life (air to breathe, photosynthesis, etc.), a planet in harmony with sun and moon making life possible, and the list is endless. It is not only impossible to out-give God, it is impossible to come anywhere close.
The Bible does not dictate a percentage for the New Testament Christian giver. The inferior covenant (cf. Heb. 8:7-8) required a tenth of all (Heb. 7:5), a pretty good benchmark for those of us having access to the better covenant established upon better promises. It is impossible to know what anyone might be thinking who hears the well-intended, if well-worn, statement, “We have the opportunity to give back a small portion of the many blessings we have received…” It does not mean, “A small proportion.” Nowhere does the Bible sanction stingy, leftover-style giving. In fact, it condemns such (read Malachi). Instead, Paul writes, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7).
Giving involves a monetary, financial exercise, but it is a distinctly spiritual activity. It is an act of trust, a faith that the God who has provided will continue to provide and bless the one who bountifully shares what he has been given. When we, like the Macedonians, give beyond what we believe is beyond our ability (2 Cor. 8:1-5), we open up an exciting door in our walk with Christ.
If you are one who gives a small proportion of your income, may I challenge you to increase it? See what happens in your life. You are not giving to manipulate or coerce God, but you will experience a growth not possible on the “small proportion” side of generous giving. Trust Him! He has never broken a promise yet (read Mal. 3:10 and Luke 6:38).
Unavoidably, you do! And consider what hinges on what kind of attitude you have. Often, the difference in winning and losing is attitude. Happiness and sadness is a matter of attitude rather than circumstances. Failure and success is determined, many times, by what kind of attitude we have toward the task. Even one’s attractiveness and repulsiveness are, many times, gauged by his or her attitude in life.
You, the Christian, have an attitude! You can be a sour-faced, negative, paranoid, bitter, fearful, stressed out, unhappy, grouchy, withdrawn, depressed, whiny, angry, hypercritical, pessimistic, suspicious, and therefore poor specimen of a Christian. Or, you can be a hopeful, interested, enthusiastic, peace-filled, joyful, bright, forgiving, compassionate, holy, pure, winsome, righteous, smiling beacon of light in a world filled with tons of negative, disgruntled, and chronically unhappy people.
Since your sins are forgiven, your Lord and Master is unmatched, your life is blessed, and your future is exciting, isn’t it natural that you should have a good attitude? A good attitude can transform the people around you, positively impact your circumstances, win the hearts of rivals and enemies, transform your own inner trouble, and give pleasure to the God of heaven. You didn’t know you had that much influence, did you? But you do! Use it for good by wielding a good attitude.
Salvation to restore a sin-sick soul, forgiveness for a guilty heart, and acceptance from a loving God despite our unworthiness are often more unbelievable to folks than any physical feat to attain. If our attitude reflects the consequences of having received those things, we can appeal to untold others to achieve the same state of life by following our lead. So, how’s your attitude?