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Based on I Chron. 16:1-36
Almost everyone has heard of Leo Tolstoy the author of War and Peace, but few have ever heard of his grandfather Prince Nicholas Volkausky. This old man took 8 of his slaves on his country estate and formed them into an orchestra. He taught them how to play the finest classical music in the world. Every morning at 7 o'clock this slave symphony was set to go off like a modern clock alarm. They assembled under the master's window, and when the signal came that he was awaking they began to play this beautiful music. There hands were rough like sandpaper, but they produced an atmosphere of loveliness. Then they went off the slop the hogs, spade the garden, and fix the fence.
They were just 8 men of humble origin, but because the master chose them and gave them instruction they had this great privilege of creating beauty. They pleased their master and then went to their labor with a spirit of joy because they were partakers in the beautiful. This is the picture we have in the Old Testament of God and His people. He called them to develop the gifts of praise and thanksgiving. The best music in the world to God's ear is the voices of thanksgiving. God's taste has never changed in this regard, and we read in Heb. 13:15, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess His name."
The sound of praise and thanksgiving is the best offering you can give to God. Not only does such music please God, it sends us into life with thanksgiving power. When David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, the first thing he did was to appoint Levites to make petition, to give thanks and to praise the Lord. To give momentum to this goal he wrote a Psalm of Thanksgiving himself, and he gave it to his worship leader Asaph. There are not many songs that are repeated in the Bible, but this one is repeated in Psa. 96. It teaches us many things, but there is just two important truths about thanksgiving that I want to focus on.
I. THANKSGIVING IS VITAL.
Vital means essential to the existence of something. It is so basic to the life of the spirit that to remove it is equivalent to removing the heart from the body. A spirit without thankfulness is a dead spirit. If you feel down and spiritually lifeless, there is a good chance that you are low on thankfulness. You body can get lifeless if you lack potassium, and your spirit can get lifeless is you lack gratitude. Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing." And so when we feel like we can do nothing it is because we have pulled the plug that links us to Christ, and we are trying to operate on our own power. When we are plugged in and we are worshipping our Lord we are capable of saying with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That is thanksgiving power.
The degree of our optimism and thankfulness is easily seen. The fruit of the spirit is not hidden. It hangs on the tree where it can be seen. If we are gripping and complaining, it is rather obvious that we have quenched the Holy Spirit and have decided to govern our own life. If we are letting the Holy Spirit guide us the fruit will be conspicuous, for love, joy, peace, and all the others are positive things that can be easily seen in a person's life. Thanksgiving then is a vital ingredient in the Christian life. It is the means by which we measure our obedience to God's will. If you find yourself being less and less thankful, then you are going to the wrong direction. If you are seeing more and more for which you are thankful, then you can know you are walking with God in the right direction.
When people are thankful and praise God they look on life with a perspective that lifts them up and enables them to see all of life from a heavenly viewpoint. One of the purposes of worship is to get our eyes off self and the world, and get them focused on God. He is the one who can give us a hopeful perspective whatever the circumstances we face on earth. You will observe that this Psalm of thanksgiving is God focus from beginning to end. It is His works and wonders for which we are to be persistently thankful. Verse 34 says we are to give thanks to the Lord because He is good and His love endures forever. The things we will never cease to give thanks for are permanent, but the things for which we gripe and grieve are often merely passing and trivial things in comparison. If our lives revolve around the passing we will have a pessimistic perspective that robs us of the spirit God wants us to have.
The spies who went into the Promised Land saw giants and odds they felt they could never overcome. They took their eyes off from the God who brought them out of Egypt, and they looked at their own puny resources. The result was they became thankless pessimists, and they paid for it by 40 years of plodding through the desert going nowhere until they died. But Joshua and Caleb had a different perspective, and they went into the land and gained a great victory. The difference was that they looked up to God and were grateful for what they had done for them. Their optimism pleased God and they became the leaders God used to lead His people into the Promised Land.
When we cease to look up to God and remember what He has done we lose a thankful spirit, and that is the beginning of the end. That is why the Bible is so full of songs of thanksgiving. We need to be constantly pulled back from a self-centered view of life to a God-centered view, and there is no more powerful agent for doing this than thanksgiving. Even thanksgiving can be perverted if it becomes purely self-centered. The Pharisee stood in the temple saying, "I thank God that I am not as other men." He had an I problem. I thank God that I-he had two I's where he put himself in the first place and last place. This Psalm has just the opposite view point. It is all about who God is and what He has done for us. If you look to self you soon loose your optimism but if we look to God we see one who offers assurance that we can be optimists.
C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia has the majestic lion Aslan representing Christ. In the second book the children return to the enchanted land where everything has so changed they become disoriented and lost. After a dreadful series of events Lucy finally finds Aslan in a forest clearing, and her heart is filled with joy. She ran and threw her arms about his neck and buried her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane. Aslan said, "Welcome child." Lucy responded, "You are bigger." Aslan replied, "That is because you are older little one." She said, "Is it because you are?" Aslan, who represents Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever said, "I am not, but every year you grow, you will find me bigger." The point of Lewis is that Jesus can't get any bigger than He is, but He can grow in all ways in our experience as we mature. God gets greater and greater as we get more thankful. That is why thankfulness is so vital to the Christian life.
If you find you are not thankful for life, you are living a wilderness life and just marching in circles until you die. This is not God's will for any Christian. We are to recognize that thanksgiving is vital and begin to use tools like this thanksgiving song, and get our eyes on God and His wonders. David says by his actions here in our text that thanksgiving is not a secondary issue, or a fringe item in the agenda of God's people. This is a starting point, and if you do not start here, wherever you go is not worth being, for you have gone without a thankful heart, and without that you just as well have not gone at all. God cannot be pleased without this vital ingredient. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is the ability to see the unseen, and then have a thankful spirit even when the visible is not encouraging. Faith is thanksgiving power.
II. THANKSGIVING IS VERBAL.
Thanks is a word, and words need to be verbalized to give them life and power. Thanks is to be a word that we make a part of our vocabulary on a frequent basis. Thankful people say it to God, mates, to others. It is word that does not hide in the deep inner caverns of their minds, but it is on the tip of their tongue and ready to fly instantly to bless others. It is a sin of omission not to verbalize thanks when it is in order. That leaves most of us guilty. There are Christians who are thankful but seldom say it. We are all too much this way. This is a defect. You cannot be over thankful, for Paul says, "In everything give thanks." We tend to get weak in this area and begin to take our blessings for granted.
We need to get a thanksgiving recharge. David's song of thanks was designed to do just that for God's people. There is a constant reference to the need to verbalize our thanks. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so," is the point. Tell the world what you are grateful for says David. Tell the nations about the nature and work of God in the world that makes you thankful. How often do you tell somebody that you are so thankful for the universe and the way God made it? Sure it is a fallen world with more problems than we can measure. That is all the more reason why the world needs to hear people who can verbalize thankfulness for the positive side of reality. In verse 8 he says, "Make known among the nations what He has done." Verse 9 says, "Tell of all His wondrous acts." God is a God of history and He has done so many wonders. There is always good news when we focus on the works of God.
In verse 12 we read, "Remember the wonders He has done-His miracles and His judgments." Tell your own testimony of what has done, and of your gratitude. Tell of what He has done for others. The world is filled with the wonders of His grace that we are to verbalize. Verse 27 says, "Proclaim His salvation day after day." The news is never so bad that there is no good news of God's salvation. God never ceases to work for good with those who love Him. Most of us think of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood has kid's stuff, but there is more to it than that. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister with the special charge to minister to children and their friends through the media. His calling is to verbalize the love of God for people, and to help them realize they have self worth.
Back in the mid-eighties Lauren Tewes, who was the cruise director on Love Boat was making a million dollars a year. She was on top of the world, but she was a loser, for she had no sense of self-esteem. She tried to escape her insecurity through drugs. She lost her job and her fortune for her drug idol. One morning she flipped on the TV in a state of despair. She was feeling worthless and hopeless, and there on the screen was Mr. Roger's in his red cardigan sweater singing, "I'll be your friend. Will you be mine?" This young actress broke down in tears and pathetically answered him out loud, "Yes!" That verbalization of friendship caught her at a turning point where she could choose life or death, and it gave her the strength she needed to choose life. She conquered her cocaine habit and got her life back together. She said, "Mr. Rogers saved my life." By the power of positive verbalization of love and good news people can be saved for time and eternity.
People need to hear the good news, and it is only people who are charged up with thanksgiving power who will verbalize this good news. If we do not tell people the good news of God's love, and of how it is manifested in His Word it is because we are ourselves have forgotten it. We have come to the point where we take all the wonders of God's salvation for granted, and we just don't even think of sharing it with a grateful heart. Lack of thanksgiving is the primary cause for Christians being poor witnesses of the grace and glory of God. When we are truly thankful we are full of enthusiasm to tell of what He has done. But when we forget and take it for granted we can no more generate the fire of enthusiasm.
If your fire has gone out you can generally assume that you have lost your spirit of thanksgiving. There is no more fuel to keep the furnace burning. When this happens we become negative thinkers and do a lot of complaining. This is a valley that all of us travel through from time to time, but it is folly to settle down there. We have an obligation to get out of that valley, and one of the key ways of doing so is to verbalize the positive. One of the best examples I have ever read of verbalizing thanksgiving is the letter of a 28 year old woman dying of leukemia. She wrote this letter to Ron Davis, who was the leader of the Bible study for Minnesota Vikings. I will share just a portion of it. "Many people have asked me if I feel any bitterness about my long illness and imminent death at a young age. No, I feel no bitterness or anger. Many people would demand to know, "Why me?" But I can't help but ask, "Why not me?" ..................... My life has been permeated by a faith in the resurrected Christ. He has been my purpose in life. He has been my peace in death. So mourn for those I leave behind, but don't mourn for me. I'm not afraid to die because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just some doctrine to me; it's my reality. I've settled the matter of my own death, and that sets me free to truly live."
Here is the thanksgiving verbalized. She has a grateful heart rejoicing in God's goodness even though she is dying with a dreaded disease. It is folly when we become depressed over so many matters that will soon pass away. We do so because we have stopped looking up to God and giving Him thanks. When you stop giving thanks you deprive yourself of the very oxygen of life. If you cannot see much to be thankful for, it is because you have let the fog of forgetfulness blind you. If you begin to verbalize your thankfulness, that fog will lift, and you will see that you are blessed with many riches. It is sure to be dark if you close your eyes to God's goodness, but it is sure to be light if you open your eyes and look at what God has done.
It is by verbalizing thanks that we come to feel the joy in what we have. The more we express it the more we possess it. Thanksgiving is a paradox, for the more we give it the more we have of it. By verbalizing it we possess what we already have to a greater degree. Paul and Silas were in prison, and this is not a typical setting for celebration, but the began to verbalize their gratitude to God in song. The other prisoners listened to their praise, and God responded with an earthquake. The jailer and his family were won to Christ because of it. That is a lot of good things coming out of a very bad situation. Had Paul and Silas not verbalized their thankful spirit that whole victorious story may never have happened.
Thanksgiving moves God, motivates men, and changes history. Paul was not just filling in space when he told Christians to rejoice always and in everything to give thanks. He meant it, and he practiced it, and the result is he saw the worst of settings become the best opportunities for God to gain victory in this dark world. The Old and New Testaments are in complete agreement, for David's song and Paul's song teach us the same lesson. Pessimism leads to powerlessness, but praise leads to thanksgiving power. Does your heavenly Father give you Many blessings here below? Then on bended knew before Him Frankly, gladly, tell Him so.
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