Enter With Thanksgiving
One of the great things about our country is that through the years, our leaders have set up little road signs in the year, or holidays, to give us a chance to remember. There are big days like Independence Day or Christmas, and smaller days like Presidents Day or Labor day. These days serve as a time for us to sit back and reflect and remember, and very often it gives us a chance to spend time with the people that are closest to us.
I want to let you in on a little secret. I really love this time of the year, and I truly believe that this Thursday is my favorite holiday. Not because of the turkey, and cranberry sauce, even thought that is a great part of the tradition. He reason that I love this time of the year so much is that Thanksgiving is one of the few Holiday’s that has not succumbed to commercialism.
Sure it is a big time of the year for Butterball, but how do you commercialize a holiday that is centered on being thankful. We get hit with costumes and candy for Halloween, and then Christmas takes everything else, But thanksgiving is a holiday when we are given time to reflect and be grateful.
This Thursday we will continue a tradition that my parents have had as long as I can remember. We will gather around the table, there will be a big beautiful turkey, a pan of stuffing, and all of the trimmings. While the smell fills the air, before my Dad prays we will all have the opportunity to stop and tell what we are thankful for. It is a compelling reminder that we need to stop from time to time and count our blessings.
There is a story told that one day while Abraham Lincoln served as President of the United States, an elderly lady was ushered into his private office. Lincoln noticed that she carried a covered basket beneath her arm, and he inquired, "What can I do for you Madam?"
Placing the covered basket on the table the lady replied, "Mr President, I have come here today not to ask any favor for anyone, nor for myself. I simply heard that you were very fond of cookies, and I came here today to present you with a basket-full which I baked just for you!"
As he listened to the lady’s words, tears welled up in the President’s eyes. He stood speechless for a moment, then said, "My good woman, your thoughtful and unselfish deed moves me. Thousands of people have entered this office since I became President, but you alone are the first to come asking no favor for yourself nor somebody else!"
One of the struggles that we have in this country is that we are so richly blessed that we tend to take it for granted. I don’t know if you ever considered it or not, but we are very fortunate and blessed. We live in a country where the majority of our basic needs are met with a relatively small amount of labor. While there may be folks who live in your neighborhood that have more than you do; there may be wants that fill your christmas wish list; we are really blessed by an overabundance in this world. And to be honest maybe, just maybe we are a bit spoiled.
I say that because when some little cog slips in our regulated, almost perfectly scheduled lives, and we are quick to get upset, angry, and depressed. And we begin to wonder why God has allowed such calamity to occur. Not much of an attitude of gratitude is it?
So today before we get to the turkey, and the table I would like for us to take a few moments this morning to remember just how good God has been to us in the past year. I want us to take a moment to count the many blessings He has poured out in our lives, in spite of the fact that we are completely unworthy of a single one of them. I want us to think about the deliverance we received in times of trouble and sickness. And above all I want us to remember the salvation He has offered us by His grace and received through our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Being thankful is a powerful thing. It forces us to sit back in the midst of everything that is going on around us and count our blessings. That’s why this morning I want to look at how we as a church can develop an attitude of gratitude towards our Heavenly Father.
One of the great things about the 100th Psalm is that even though it was written generations ago God had us in mind when this Psalm was written. Did you notice to whom it is addressed? The first verse says that it is addressed to all the earth, and the last verse says that it is includes all generations.
This message of thanksgiving is so deep and wide that it applies to every person in every era in every stage of life. I think that there is something about giving thanks together to God that breaks down barriers between people and brings about a unity.
But we need to be careful and make sure that we don’t determine our thanksgiving on the basis of how much we have. Do I have enough turkey to gorge myself sufficiently? Is my money in the bank secure? Am I healthy? Sometimes we let these things determine whether we are or aren’t thankful.
The Psalmist says that all of these things may change at any time. They may drift away, or burn up, or someone may steal them. The only thing we have for sure is our relationship with the Lord. And that is what the 100th Psalm emphasizes. Just look at the Psalm quickly. Every verse mentions the Lord. The Psalmist is saying that God is basis of our thanksgiving.
Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, "Why is that there?" Alex Haley answered, "Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help."
That is the basis of thankfulness, to remember that we got here with the help of God, and that He is the provider of every blessing we have. So today let’s look at this wonderful text and see if we can find the five Thanksgiving Commands
The first command we find in verse one is, "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth."
The psalmists directs all believers to "shout for joy”. Now be honest , you know how to shout for joy. I have seen the way that some of you watch baseball and football games. I often wonder what would it be like if we got as excited over God as we do over a football game?
Stop for a second and think, when was the last time you shouted for joy to the Lord? I’d venture to say that most of us can’t remember and even more of us have never shouted to the Lord for joy; in fact if we shouted to the Lord at all, it was more likely out of anger and frustration because He didn’t fix things to suit us or meet some need in our lives in the time frame and fashion which we felt He should!
Maybe you are thinking that to shout joyfully to the Lord sounds like something they do in one of those charismatic churches and its something that just isn’t considered decent and in order.
I believe the Lord is perfectly capable of hearing the prayers of my heart without me yelling them out to Him, and I don’t really believe that the Psalmist is suggesting that we stand on the street corner and actually shout our prayers heavenward. Rather, I think he explains his meaning in the second verse where he instructs us to worship the Lord with gladness and come before Him with joyful songs.
That’s what worship is all about in the first place, returning thanks for all God’s goodness to us. A shout of joy to the Lord comes from the very depths of your being. Maybe God solved your problem. Maybe He has given you the direction to go. Maybe He has provided a blessing, and you realize that it has come from God. So from the depths of your being you proclaim your praise.
And that is what the Psalmist is saying. "Suddenly you realize that God has been so good to you that you can’t keep it inside any more. From the depths of your being you shout your joy unto the Lord."
The second command is found in verse two; "Serve the Lord with gladness."
The most important part of this thanksgiving command is the direction of service. I need you to notice that it doesn’t say serve the church. It doesn’t say serve the preacher, or serve the elders, or serve the organization. It says, Serve the Lord.
The Bible teaches that if we work on behalf of the Lord, if we feed the hungry, if we clothe the naked, if we do the work of the Lord, whatever it might be, we are serving the Lord. Jesus said, Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me. Those two hours of service we have asked you to give a week. Those two hours are not for me, the Elders, or this church, but a fulfillment of this command to serve the Lord with gladness.
I’m not sure that we grasp that, and I know that there are times where I don’t full understand how that works. I know that there are times where we serve out of a feeling of obligation or a fear of guilt if we don’t serve. And sometimes we serve just because we want someone, anyone to say thank you. It’s natural for us to desire appreciation when we do something that is worthwhile.
But look again at what the Psalmist says, "In whatever you do, serve the Lord with gladness." Why? Because the Psalmist knows that nothing ever done for the cause of God and His name has come back empty. It’s the law of sowing and reaping, Paul writes in Galatians 6, “A man reaps what he sows. If we sow gladness and praise we will reap His blessings.
The third command is, "Come before Him with joyful songs."
The Psalmist then instructs us to "enter His gates" (or come before His presence) "with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise." This should be our attitude whenever we come to church. It should not be with the attitude that it’s just another obligation in an already overly-filled schedule, but it’s showing an attitude of gratitude for all the Lord has done for us as we reflect on all His blessings.
Have you noticed? In these first 3 commands, God has said, I want you to be happy. Shout with joy, serve with gladness, and come with joyful songs. Now just take a moment and look at the people around you. Do they look happy? Or are they just sitting there with scowls on their faces? The Psalmist says, Come before Him and serve Him and sing His praise with joy in your heart. Another passage says, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. And that I can do.
Singing is a natural reaction to happiness. When a young woman finds herself in love, she hums to herself. When a man gets a promotion at work he will sing with the radio all the way home. And you know what I have noticed; singing is something that everyone can do. The psalmist doesn’t say that your song has to sing all the right words, be in tune, or use the right tempo. It just has to be a song of joy; joy from realizing how great the God you serve is.
Our Fourth Thanksgiving command is, "Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us”
God took every bone, every joint, and He welded them together with tendons and muscles, covered them with skin, and gave us eyes that see, brains that think, and fingers that can pick things up. God made us, inside and out. He made you the way He wanted you to be. And He made me the way He wanted me to be.
That is a mystery, isn’t it? I don’t understand why, but somehow in God’s providence He decided that He wanted a broad shouldered man with an expanding waistline, not overly handsome, not outstanding in anything, but just a faithful father and husband who would keep plodding along. So He made me. Someplace along the way He had you in mind, and He made you.
And He is still making us. That is important, too. He’s not satisfied with the unfinished product. He’s not satisfied with your temper. He’s not satisfied with the weak areas of your life where you are giving in to temptation. So He’s still making us. He’s still working on our lives. God is your maker, and you are created in His image. Therefore give Him thanks for who you are.
Then He says, we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Most of us want to be shepherds, not sheep. It’s not any fun being sheep, we say. But the problem is, we don’t know where the still waters and green pastures are. And every time we go out searching for them, we invariably end up in the far country. He is saying, you be the sheep. Let me be the shepherd, and I will lead you beside the still waters and the green pastures. Just let me lead.
Being truly thankful requires that I understand how truly feeble I am. Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:8 says:
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. That’s why we can be thankful; the Potter is molding us into His desire for us.
Our final command is this, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise;
In the Old Testament the temple symbolized the presence of God. So whenever the people came to the temple and entered the courtyards they knew that they had come into the presence of God.
Now that temple no longer exists. Some churches call the place where we meet to worship God the "sanctuary," indicating that God is there. But we know that God is everywhere. He is with you as you drive on the highway. He is with you when you work. He is with you as you care for your children. He is with you every moment of your life.
Dwight L.Moody was once preaching a sermon in which he used the 103rd Psalm as his text. Which read Praise the Lord, O my soul; with all my innermost being, praise His holy Name Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, he suddenly stopped and said you can’t remember them all, of course, but don’t forget them all, Remember some of them!
I pray that this will be a meaningful Thanksgiving week for you and all your family. Maybe as you gather with your family before you dive into the food you could take time to read the 100th Psalm again. And hopefully you will be able to remember some of them.
Questions To Consider
For what are you the most thankful?
In verse 3 the Psalmist gives us five reasons to praise God, how hard is it for you to count your blessings?
If you know that the Lord is God, how does that manifest itself in your life?
What type of attitude characterizes God’s people?
Why is thanksgiving a public action?
What is your greatest reason to praise God?
How can you share that joy with others?