One of my favorite cartoon writers is Charles Shultz and his lovable Charlie Brown. Shultz was a Christian who often used humor to relay some incredible truths.
In one Charlie Brown cartoon strip we find Lucy asking Charlie Brown to help her with her homework and she tells him: ‘I’ll be eternally grateful.’
‘Fair enough’, says Charlie Brown ‘I’ve never had anyone be eternally grateful before. Just subtract 4 from 10 to get how many apples the farmer had left.’
Lucy’s response is: ‘That’s it! That’s it! I have to be eternally grateful for that? I was robbed! I can’t be eternally grateful for this; it was too easy!’
With his blank stare, Charlie replies, ‘Well whatever you think is fair.’
‘How about if I just say thanks, bro!’ replied Lucy.
On his way outside, Charlie meets Linus who asks, ‘Where have you been, Charlie Brown?’ ‘Helping Lucy with her homework.’ Linus asks, ‘Did she appreciate it?’ Charlie answers, ‘At a greatly reduced price’.[i]
Appreciation and gratitude for others reveals something about the person expressing it. Cicero, one of Ancient Rome’s great statesmen once said: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
It would seem that the Bible would agree. The most derisive term in the Jewish religion is kafuy tov, the term for an ingrate [a non-thankful, non-appreciative person]. He is not large enough to attribute credit to another party. His world is too small, his ego too brittle. He is imprisoned by a deprivation mentality. For the ingrate, the whole world is a small pie, and his only objective is to get the largest possible piece. To give another person credit even a small crumb is to infringe upon the already inadequate piece the ingrate has grabbed for himself. The ingrate sees all men and women not as brothers and sisters but as belligerents, not as companions but as competitors. He can’t give others their due because he isn’t convinced that the world is big enough for the two of them. He feels weakened whenever he attributes his success to someone else’s influence. His heart is too undersized, his ego too brittle, to thank others for what they have contributed to his life.[ii]
What is true about giving gratitude to and for others is especially true as it relates to our relationship with God. We must realize just how much He has done for us, and express our gratitude to Him. I love thanksgiving. It is an opportunity to reflect and give God thanks for all He has done for us. Ingratitude is one of the foundational sins. Paul, in addressing the core of sin from the book of Romans, states that ingratitude is really turning our backs on God. It is the first step away from Him.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.[iii]
When we celebrate Thanksgiving we can turn our hearts toward the words of the ancient psalmist calling us to bring more than just thanksgiving but praise and adoration to God. I would also add that this ought to become a daily celebration, a way of life, not just an annual celebration. Claus Westermann explains the difference between modern gratitude and biblical praise.
But our word thank, which has no corresponding word in the language of the psalms, cannot really express what is meant in these psalms. (The Hebrew word often translated as ‘thank’ means ‘praise’ or ‘confess’; instead of ‘narrative praise’ one could ‘confess praise’). Yet the difference between the two types of psalms of praise is easy to understand and recognize. Narrative or confessing praise is the echo of a specific act of God which has just taken place. It is the liberated, rejoicing sigh of relief by a person who was rescued, who now says ‘thank God’ for the rescue. Its basic structure is always ‘God has acted![iv]
Westermann suggests that the concept of “thanks” (as we use it) is not a natural one, that
Praise is more spontaneous and genuine. As he states: praise makes the object the subject of the sentence, whereas in thanks the speaker is the subject (so praise involves looking away from oneself); praise is a lavish description of that which is spontaneously enjoyed, whereas thanks can be a fixed duty. Praise involves a genuine appreciation, and praise is public, whereas thanks can be private or silent. Praise then is encouraging and edifying to others.[v]
Praise requires concentration on the thing, person or deity being praised. Thanks tend to be focused on what the speaker has received, and thus may become rather narrow and perfunctory [superficial]. In the expression of thanksgiving the self may become the primary subject, but this is much less likely to happen in praise.[vi]
In Psalm 66, we find that the Psalmist is calling the community of faith to praise God. They needed to publicly express something even deeper than gratitude possibly because of God’s faithfulness in a recent crisis. They needed to celebrate the Lord in praise. In Psalm 66, we not only hear the collective community of faith rejoicing, but we also hear the personal testimony of the individual.
On the large scale, the church bears witness primarily to the once-for-all acts of God, and calls men to His kingdom (5-7); while at the personal level the individual adds a testimony to God’s continuing and intimate care.[vii]
Here in Psalm 66, we find three reasons for praising our awesome God.
THE FIRST REASON GIVEN FOR PRAISING OUR AWESOME GOD IS FOR HIS POWERFUL DEEDS
When we consider all that God has done for us, all we can do is praise Him. He is worthy of our gratitude. The more we know Him, the more our hearts will overflow with praise and thanksgiving toward Him. Here we have an explanation of how we should praise God and gives the reason why. We are called to shout and sing. Our worship should be done in a glorious way.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!
Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.[viii]
David knew what it was to worship God and praise Him with all of his being. In a glorious moment when he was bringing the ark of God [which represented the Presence of God] to Jerusalem, we read in 2 Samuel 6:14 a description of how David worshiped before the Lord.
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would![ix]
A couple of things stand out here in this biblical text. First, Michael, is called the daughter of Saul rather than the wife of David. She was obviously her father’s daughter. Her heart was unlike her husband in regard to worship. Secondly, she criticized her husband as he was worshiping the Lord. Notice David’s response when confronted by his wife regarding his extravagant behavior in worship. “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes (2 Samuel 6:22a).” It amazes me how people can get so enthusiastic about many things in life, from concerts to sporting events, but when we are in church, that’s a different story. If there was ever a place to get excited and celebrate, it is here in the presence of the Lord. I’m not advocating an unrestrained emotionalism, but rather a heartfelt focus and praise toward God in which we are connecting with Him
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament believers are commanded to “offer unto God the sacrifice of praise.” The fact that it is commanded means that it is a binding responsibility, and the fact that it is called a sacrifice means that it is a form of worship, an offering to be given to God. In Israel believers were by duty bound to praise the LORD, and it always cost them to do so.
But praise, in the biblical sense of the term, has fallen on hard times. Too often it is ignored completely, both in the assembly and in the daily life of the believer, simply being replaced by music. And frequently it degenerates into a forced duty, or a boasting in which the self is exalted. Most true believers would say that they are genuinely thankful for all that the LORD has done for them; but genuine, individual praise in the congregation is rarely a part of their experience.[x]
A. In this Psalm, we are told to shout and sing with joy to the Lord.
Why? Because God’s deeds are awesome! His power to save is great. We are invited to come and see what the Lord has done for His people.
Come and see what God has done, how awesome his deeds for mankind.
He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come, let us rejoice in him.[xi]
Here the Psalmist refers to the great moment of Israel’s experience as a nation. This was the moment of her deliverance from slavery. It is the story of the exodus to the land of promise. God made a miraculous provision for the people’s escape by causing the Red Sea to open, and her enemies destroyed. This is a declaration of God’s saving power. Notice how the Psalmist celebrates a past historical event hundreds of years later as if it had just happened. This was a defining moment in the life of the nation of Israel. Without this miracle there would have been no Israel as they knew it. It was the place of her birth. Every year the Jewish people celebrate this event in their Passover celebration. So, how does that relate to us as New Testament followers of Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 5:7b
…For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
The great historical moment of our new birth, our salvation from the slavery of sin took place two thousand years ago on Mount Calvary where Jesus was crucified. Without the cross, we would still be in our sins. When we participate in the Lord’s table, we remind ourselves of that moment. It is not just a historical event, but must be personalized it in our lives daily. Lord you have and are saving us.
In Psalm 103:1-2, we are called to praise, to bless the Lord and not forget all His benefits. Claus Westermann explains the significance of praising or blessing God and not forgetting.
The coordination of ‘bless’ and ‘forget not’ expresses a profound truth: only those who praise do not forget. One may indeed speak about God, and still have forgotten him long ago. One may reflect upon the nature of God, and still have long since forgotten him. Forgetting God and turning away from God always begins when praise has been silenced. The secret of praise is the power it has to make connection with God; through praise one remains with God.[xii]
We praise God for His amazing provisions of grace.
THE SECOND REASON GIVEN FOR PRAISING GOD IS FOR HIS PRESERVATION IN TIMES OF TESTINGS
In this earthly life we are confronted with evil and times of testing. But what we may think is designed to destroy us, God uses to refine and conform us into the image of the son. Here the Psalmist gives another reason for praising God: He preserves and sustains us in our darkest hours of trial and testing.
Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.[xiii]
We are reminded of the words of the British preacher Charles Spurgeon.
All saints must go to the proving house; God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial. Why should we complain if we are subjected to the rule which is common to all the family, and which so much benefit has flowed to them?[xiv]
Spurgeon is simply pointing out that trials are our lot in life and they are designed to refine us.
Too often we try to use God to change our circumstances, while he is using our circumstances to change us.[xv]
Every child of God will be disciplined by God, even as a loving father will discipline their children. We are reminded that God’s purposes for our trials is a for our good to help shape our spiritual growth and maturity.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.[xvi]
The Psalmist gives us a powerful reason for praise and thanksgiving. It is God that preserves our lives and keeps us from slipping. We are kept by His power. That is why we pray, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. It may be from this Old Testament psalm that Peter may be referring to when he writes in his first letter.
who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.[xvii]
It is God that is shielding and keeping us. Our responsibility is to continue to trust Him, to look to Him, to rejoice and praise Him.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.[xviii]
Trials reveal what is within us, and in what and whom we are trusting. God often uses this vehicle to bring about our eternal salvation.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.[xix]
We not only praise Him for the work He does in our lives through the storms, challenges and difficulties, it is the process that enables us to become a more godly, patient, and caring person.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.[xx]
Not only do we praise our awesome God for His provisions (He saves us!), as well as shielding or keeping us but the final reason is very personal.
THE FINAL REASON GIVEN FOR PRAISING GOD IS FOR PERSONAL ANSWERS TO PRAYER
It’s incredible to think that God responds to us in a personal way. It is amazing to realize that God cares for each of us personally.
The final word of gratitude is not only for the answer to prayer, but for the reality that this answer reflects an unbroken relationship to God.[xxi]
We don’t lose ourselves in community. We share a similar story of God’s goodness and deliverance, but each of us needs to share our own personal experience with each other of God’s goodness. We come to the community to share our praise to God and share our testimony to each other.
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you— vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats.
Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me![xxii]
Here we find the personal response to worship and praise God for answered prayer. God had heard the psalmist cry and now there is a grateful response. Think of all the times you have cried out to Him, and He has answered. Seasons of distress, times of misfortune, moments of reversal. The enemy attacks the work of God, and then when the work keeps progressing, His attacks become personal. What sustains us in our walk with God is our personal cry to God.
The Psalmist tells us that the only thing that impedes our prayer is if we cherish sin in our hearts. What does it mean to cherish here? It is the idea of delighting or gloating in sin. Sin is always an impediment in our relationships with God, and God will not allow that kind of arrogance to grow in responding to us. He concludes the Psalm by stating that God has neither rejected his prayer, nor withheld his love. The word there in Hebrew is Hesed. His covenant obligations toward us.
Let us come to praise our Father. Let us worship Him with all of our beings each and every time we gather. Praise moves us from our self-focus toward God in a profound way. It changes us! Most of us are familiar with the story of David and Goliath. What made David able to address the giant, when his nation’s military was trembling in fear because of his taunts and threats? While they saw the challenge and their own inabilities, David only saw that the giant had defied God. David realized that the real conflict was between Goliath and God and that Goliath was no match for God. David saw himself only as God’s tool to deal with the problem. While Goliath came against David in his own strength and power, David came against Goliath in the name of the LORD Almighty, whom he had defied. David was confident that God would destroy this giant. When we come and truly praise God and connect with Him, we begin to see ourselves and our challenges differently. We see that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Let us move beyond simple thanksgiving to praise in order to truly connect with Him.
[i] Preaching Today Illustrations, Submitted by J. R. Love, Rushton, Louisiana.
[ii] Shmuley Boteach, The Private Adam, (New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 198-199.
[iii] Romans 1:21-22, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1980), eBook, Loc. 231-236.
[v] Allen Ross, quoting Claus Westermann, ‘Praise and Lament in the Psalms’, Bible.org
[vi] Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, Tx: Word Publisher, 1990), 151.
[vii] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, TOTC, (Downers Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), 235.
[viii] Psalm 66:1-4.
[ix] 2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20.
[x] Allen Ross, Bible.org
[xi] Psalm 66:5-6.
[xii] Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message, location 22-26.
[xiii] Psalm 66:8-12.
[xiv] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 2 (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing House, n. d.), 111.
[xv] Dr. David Osborn, director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Denver Seminary, quoted in Compass, a periodical of Quiet Waters Ministry (April 2003).
[xvi] Hebrews 12:7, 10-11.
[xvii] 1 Peter 1:5.
[xviii] 1 Peter 1:6-7.
[xix] 1 Peter 1:8-9.
[xx] Helen Keller, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 4.
[xxi] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, TOTC, 236.
[xxii] Psalm 66:13-20.