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Thanksgiving

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Psalm 66

Introduction

            Recently, on America’s Funniest Home Video’s, there were clips of people who were really excited about something that had happened. One was of a boy who got just what he wanted for Christmas. His face was bright, he was jumping around and flailing his arms. He was so excited and thankful for what he had gotten.

            Have you ever met someone who received some good news, or got a gift and their response was so flat and non-committal that it was hard to tell if they even cared? If you were the one who brought them the good news or gave them the gift, I am sure that you were disappointed at their reaction.

            Today is Thanksgiving. What is our response to all that God has done for us? Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to respond as the boy on the video did, yet too often we respond in a way that it is hard to tell that we are thankful.

            When we get what we want, it is easy to be thankful and sometimes even to express that thanks. When things are tough, it is not as easy to give thanks. How do you come to the Thanksgiving service this morning? Are you thrilled to give thanks or are you here to give thanks out of duty and obligation?

            This morning, I invite you to look at Psalm 66. As we think about God and our response to Him, I trust that our hearts will be warmed as we consider His goodness to us and that there will be a deep sense of gratitude that will arise from our hearts.

II.   Come And See What God Has Done Psalm 66:5    

Although the Psalmist begins with praise, I would like to begin with reasons to praise, which he mentions in the Psalm. Verse 5 invites us: “Come and see what God has done.”

A.  In The Past

Whenever people in the Old Testament thought about the deeds of God, the first thing that came to mind was the experience they had when they came out of Egypt. In this Psalm, the whole experience is summarized in verse 6 when it says, “He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the river on foot.” There is no question that that experience was amazing. There were many people in Egypt who were descendents of Israel, but they were all slaves. They belonged to someone and had no power. Through a series of miracles and through God’s mighty work, they were released from slavery and began to make their way across the desert towards the promised land. No sooner had they left, than Pharaoh changed his mind and began to pursue them. Suddenly they found themselves between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. They were doomed, but God did another miracle before their eyes. He made a path through the middle of the sea and they all crossed on dry land. As the Egyptian army ventured into the path, the sea came back over them and they were all drowned in the sea. How awesome God was that he had given them this great deliverance. It was the greatest demonstration of the power and love of God they had ever experienced.

Of course, the people who were alive when this Psalm was written had not been there at the Red Sea when God did this miracle. The NIV has a very poor translation in the third line of verse 6. New King James and most other translations have the more accurate wording, “there we will rejoice in him.” The word “there” seems puzzling. Why does he say “there we will praise Him” when they were not there? That story was very important in the life of Israel. It was the story that rooted who they were as God’s people. It was the greatest story of God’s deliverance they had ever experienced. Even though they were not there, they still had such a close identification with that event that the Psalmist could say, “there we will rejoice in him.”

As New Testament people, we have another event that is our event that demonstrates the power and love of God. Even though we were not there when Jesus hung on the cross and died for our sins, yet we also identify with that event. It is the event that defines who we are today – a redeemed people who follow a living Lord. So for us, we can also say about the Jesus event, “there we will rejoice in him.”

As we contemplate God and our reasons to praise and thank Him, we must go back to the major events that have defined God’s people. No matter what is happening or has happened in our life, looking back at the two major events in which God has demonstrated His power and love – the crossing of the Red Sea and the death of Christ on the cross are reason enough to give thanks to God for His awesome deeds.

B.  In The World

Another mighty deed which God has done and continues to do is that He is over all the nations. As we look at the evil of some nations, the ungodly power of others, even our own, we sometimes wonder if God even knows what is happening in the nations. In this Psalm, there are two verses which remind us that He not only knows, but is over the nations. Verse 3 says, “so great is your power that your enemies cringe before you” and Verse 7 says, “his eyes watch the nations.” Where do we see that to be true?

            I attended a meeting this week and as we opened the meeting, we were given opportunity to share something that would be a spiritual encouragement to the others. One of the people shared that he had been amazed at two things which had happened on the world stage which could only be explained as an act of God.

            Many of us will remember the terrible fighting and hatred which happened in Northern Ireland. The IRA has been at the centre of fighting between Catholics and Protestants for many years. We have heard of the terrible bombings, murders and other atrocities and have often wondered if it would ever stop. Last week, it was announced that the IRA 'has destroyed all its arms.' I read a BBC news report which declared, “The IRA has put all of its weapons beyond use.” General John de Chastelain made the announcement at a news conference accompanied by the two churchmen who witnessed the process. What is even more interesting is who the two churchmen were. As you may know the conflict in Ireland was between Catholics and Protestants. The churchmen who witnessed the process were Catholic priest Father Alec Reid and ex-Methodist president Rev Harold Good.  They announced, "We are satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA's arsenal." Those of you who have the CD “Revival in Belfast” should have an even greater appreciation for this announcement. On that CD, there are words of prayer for revival in Ireland. In the song “Days of Elijah” Robin Mark prays, “….if 145 nations declare that instead of saying “can no good thing come out of Nazareth,” Lord  but declare that there is revival and there is restoration in this part of the world, Lord, where your name has been sullied, where your name has been brought low, that your name is lifted up in this place… we bless you for that, we bless your name.” This prayer is an indication that the people of Ireland have been praying for peace in their land. The announcement about the arms being removed is an indication that God has answered those prayers. It is a demonstration that God is over all the nations.

I followed up on the other item he mentioned and read in a news article, “The world's richest nations struck an "historic" deal to write off immediately all multilateral debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa, amounting to 40 billion dollars.

Group of Eight (G8) finance ministers meeting in London also agreed nine further countries would become eligible for 100 percent debt relief for an additional 11 billion dollars over the next 12 to 18 months bringing the total amount of debt relief to 55 billion dollars.

Those who work with world poverty have long fought for debt reduction. South African former president Nelson Mandela had earlier said the need for a deal was "urgent" in a letter sent to the G8 members. Christian agencies have prayed for this to happen, but few believed that it would ever happen. It is another indication that God is over the nations and brings us a very current example of His power. This is something only God could have done.

Because He is over all the nations, let us give thanks and praise to God for His awesome deeds.

C.  Through Trial

Today some of you may be sitting here agreeing with the awesome things God has done in history and among the nations, but so deeply troubled by your own difficulties that it is hard for you to praise Him.

In verses 8-12, we are once again invited to “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard.” Why? Because, it goes on to say, “he has preserved our lives.” But as we read on, we see that this preservation of life was not from difficulty and trial, but rather through difficulty and trial. Look at the hard things mentioned in verses 10-12. In verse 11, NIV translates “you laid burden’s on our backs.” More accurately, some other translations, like NASB, have “Thou didst lay an oppressive burden upon our loins.” This speaks of difficulties so great that your insides are in pain and it almost makes you sick. This describes difficulties that touch us deep within. When verse 12 says, “we went through fire and water” it is expressing extremes. Fire and water are opposites, but they have been through the worst of both. How can such experience allow us to “Praise our God?”

The passage has two answers to that question. One is that difficulty can be a testing, refining process, as we read in vs. 10. When God allows us to go through difficult times, we can thank Him because it is not a sign that He has abandonee us, but rather that He is teaching us and drawing us to Himself. This means that although it is difficult, it can also be so valuable that it is worth the price.

The other answer is found in the end of verse 12 when it says, “you brought us to a place of abundance.”

This was demonstrated in the book of Job. After losing everything, we see the grace of God restoring to him double what he had lost.

This was the experience of the people of Israel. Even though they suffered through the wanderings in the wilderness, God brought them into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

This was the experience of my family. Even though they had to go through the terrible experience of being refugees, being pursued by armies and experiencing hunger and poverty, God brought them through to a place of peace and abundance which we are still experiencing today.

This is how God works and even though now it may seem like abundance is far away, God does not leave us in trouble. The time will come when He will bring us to a place of abundance. For those of you who are farming, this has been a difficult year. You have experienced crop failure and it looks pretty dark. I invite you to meditate on these verses about God and be encouraged that He will once again bring you through to a place of abundance.

This is true even for those who are martyred for their faith. We would say they were not brought to a place of abundance, but when we read Revelation, we know that even they were brought through to a place of abundance in eternity in the presence of God.

These experiences help us know that we can give thanks in hope because of how God operates.

III. Shout With Joy To God Psalm 66:1

When we have taken note of all that God has done, how will we respond? This morning, we have seen how God has been at work in history, in the world and even through great trial. How will we thank Him for His greatness and His goodness?

A.  Exuberant Praise

This is a thanksgiving Psalm, but never uses the word thanks, always the word praise. Yet praise is a form of thanksgiving.

Many times in this Psalm we are commanded to give praise God. There are a number of imperatives which command us to declare God’s praise.  In vs. 1 we are told to “shout with joy.” If praise is to be wide spread, it must be vocal. Such exulting sounds stir the soul. In verse 2 we are told to “sing to the glory of His name” and to “offer Him glory and praise.” Singing is the ordering of our shouts of praise to God. In verse 3 we are invited to declare “How awesome are your deeds.” In verse 8 the invitation is to “Praise our God” and to “let the sound of His praise be heard.”

            What is evident from all of these imperatives is that when we have seen who God is and what He has done, we cannot remain silent before Him. There are two things that are very obvious about these commands.

            One is that we must make a noise. Silent prayers in our hearts, not saying anything is not an option! Singing, shouting, declaring, praising are the required and appropriate responses to what God has done for us.

            The second thing that is obvious is that our praise must be directed to God. Perhaps the word thanks is not used because thanks can focus on ourselves. One writer said, “Thanks can diminish to concentration on self, because it begins with self, what God has done for us.” When we focus on what we receive as our motivator for thanksgiving, we are focussed on self. What happens when we don’t receive? When praise is involved, the focus is, as it must be, on God. It is on His awesome deeds, His great power and love for His people. That is the appropriate focus of our thanksgiving, of our praise. So many of these verses that call us to praise have that focus. Verse 1 says that praise must be “to God.” Verse 2 directs our attention to the glory of “His name” and so it is throughout the Psalm. God is the object, the one to whom our praise, our thanksgiving must be directed.

            So, let us do just that. Let us take some time to vocalize our praise to God by singing. I would like to invite Lorne to come and lead us in a few songs.

B.  Giving

But vocalization of our praise is not the only response to who God is. It is not the only way of expressing praise and thanksgiving.

In verses 13-15, the writer suggests other responses to God.

It seems that in a time when he was in trouble, he made some promises to God. Perhaps you have done the same thing. Perhaps you have prayed, “God, if you get me out of this, I will…” The Psalmist’s act of praise and thanksgiving is that he actually keeps the promise made. He fulfills His vows. What a wonderful response to God, to keep the promises we make to Him. I do not think it would be pushing it too far to say that keeping promises – of obedience, of service – which we have made to God are a great way to praise and thank Him.

The other way in which the Psalmist writes about responding to God is to bring sacrifices and offerings to God. There were different kinds of sacrifices in the Old Testament. Some were sacrifices for sin, others were sacrifices related to dedication of self to God and others were simple acts of thanks. From the animals he mentions and the type of sacrifice he speaks of here, it seems that he is talking about a sacrifice that is a dedication of self to God as an act of praise and thanksgiving. One writer says, “The comprehensive description indicates a serious vow. It enhances the total dedication and profound thankfulness of the one offering the sacrifice.”

As an act of dedication of ourselves to God and an act of praise and thanksgiving, we would like to receive the offering now. May it be an act of praise and thanksgiving that comes from our hearts because we realize how amazing and how wonderful God is.

IV.What He Has Done For Me Psalm 66:16-20

Up until verse 12 the language is largely corporate. It speaks of “all the earth” shouting with joy to God. It refers to his works in “man’s behalf” and invites “peoples” to praise Him.

But you may have noticed that the language in verse 13 shifts. It is now much more personal. In verses 16-20, we read, “Come and listen…let me tell you what He has done for me.” It is not about us, it is about me. This is the personal testimony of the writer himself and he is inviting us to join him in praising and thanking God for what He has done for him personally.

Please take note of a few things that come from these verses.

First of all, in verse 17, it is interesting that prayer and praise go closely together. “I cried out to Him” is prayer language. The writer had some specific need and cried out to God. The phrase “cried out” makes me think of a deep cry of desperation. It is not a prayer like some make, “God, if you have time, maybe you could look into this.” It is much more, “God, I am desperate and there is no one who can help but you.” That is the kind of prayer God likes to hear from us. The Psalmist has prayed such a prayer. But, on the other hand, praise is not far away. Even as he prays in desperation, he also says that “praise was on my tongue.” Although perhaps he has not openly declared that praise, it is in his mouth and ready to be declared as soon as He is able and sees what God is doing. May we learn to put desperate need and praise of God close together in our lives.

Another significant point is that in his need, he recognizes that God does not listen to the prayer of a hypocrite or of a person who loves to sin. When he has prayed to God, he has done so sincerely, knowing that God hears sincere prayer, the kind of prayer that is prayed by someone who trusts Him and knows his need of God.

A third observation that is worthy of mention is that He praises God because God has helped him. I like the two phrases which describe how God has treated him. God has not “rejected my prayer” nor “withheld his love from me.” I have wondered if this is one and the same thing or two different things. I kind of like to see it as two different things. In this case, God answered his prayer. In every case, God has not withheld His love.

God is truly amazing and the Psalmists personal experience brings him to realize that and to invite all who love God to hear his experience and to praise God for what He has done.

As we conclude our service, we want to also become personal. What is it that God has done for you? How have you experienced the mercy and grace of God? How has God answered your prayer? How have you experienced that God has not withheld his love from you? Let us share with one another what God has done and give thanks to Him.

V.  Conclusion

            You may notice that three times in this Psalm we have the word “Selah.” Because we don’t really understand it, we often skip over it. It is a significant word. Spurgeon points out that it signifies “a pause for holy expectation” or an invitation to “pause and take time to bow low before the throne of the eternal.”

            That is what this day is all about. We rush through life, but today it is a time to pause and to reflect with holy expectation on what God has done. To think about God, His awesome power and compassion, his mighty deeds on our behalf and to declare in word and deed our praise to Him and our thanks to Him.

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