One of the most striking, shocking, and enlightening texts of Scripture which should cause us pause is found in the book of Romans. It speaks of the heart that is turning away from God.
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.[i]
Those are haunting words, ‘…they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him.’ The sin of ingratitude is a most deadly trap that the enemy of our souls uses to destroy us. In Ernest Howse’s book Spiritual Values in Shakespeare, he shares how the great Shakespearean play, ‘King Lear’ is really the tragedy of Ingratitude.
Where most of Shakespeare’s heroes are admirable and likeable men, King Lear character is different. In the others [tragedies-Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello], good men degenerate; in King Lear a bad man is redeemed.[ii]
It begins with a bad tempered, entitled older king who has three daughters. He decides to divide his kingdom by distributing it to these daughters and their husbands or future husbands, but first they must tell him which loves him most. The first two daughters resort to flattery though there is no real affection toward their father. The third daughter Cordelia, is made of different stuff. Disgusted by her sisters’ insincerity, she says simply to her father ‘that she loves him according to the duty of a daughter, nothing more and nothing less.’[iii]
Annoyed by her response, King Lear tells her to mend her tongue. She responds by telling him that her love is richer than her words. Angry, King Lear disinherits her and divides his kingdom between the other two daughters and their spouses. Cordelia ends up marrying the King of France and moves away. As soon as the other two daughters gain power, they drop their pretense and we see their true colors. They actually show how much they despise him.
Shakespeare writes: “He gives his daughters the estate: The daughters then give him the gate.”[iv] Howse writes: “Quickly Lear learns that the winter wind is not as cold as the heart of a thankless child.”[v]
Finally, the old king’s strength snaps at the relentless cruelty of his two daughters and then one night during a terrible storm, flees; a broken-hearted, tormented, penniless, unrecognized and dishonored wanderer in his own domain. Eventually, Cordelia, now queen of France, returns with an army to right the wrongs, and a doctor to treat the unbalanced mind of her father. The doctor succeeds but the army is defeated. Cordelia and her father, King Lear, are captured. Cordelia is executed. King Lear dies of a broken heart.
But with a startling touch of drama at the last, Lear, in the very moment of death, is seized by a wayward fancy that Cordelia lives; and he dies in the midst of tragedy with a burst of joy upon his face.[vi]
Ingratitude is a monstrous sin that leads toward a downward path. It affects the soul like a growing, deadly cancer spreading and infecting and affects not only the patient but the lives of others. How often we become angry and embittered toward God for the difficulties of life and yet back in that Shakespearean play so true to life, we discover that the good are growing better through suffering and that all the bad are growing worse through success.
In King Lear, Shakespeare turned the admiration upon those characters who through trial and tribulation developed inner integrity, humility of mind, compassion for the poor.[vii]
The great issue is the condition of our heart: Is it filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, or has it grown hard and callous so that we resist God’s word and workings in our lives? Is our heart tender or tough? We can determine this by our attitude toward God.
Three thousand years ago a very significant event happened in Israel. David finally became the King of a united people and the first act of leadership was to bring the ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, his new capital. The Ark represented the actual presence of God. In David’s mind the most important decision was to make sure that God was at the center of his administration and the nation. In the midst of that incredible celebration, David wrote a song that is recorded in two places, the first in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 and the second in Psalm 96. In writing this psalm or song for this event, David is celebrating that fact that Yahweh is the real and ultimate King. This was a moment of great joy for David and the people of God.
The idea is that when God comes there is great joy! We celebrate a day called Thanksgiving. It is a day to express our appreciation for all that God has done for us throughout the past year. It is a day to declare the faithfulness of God to us as a people. So how should we respond to God when He comes to us? In Psalm 96, we discover three responses to God which allows us to live life to its fullest. It is amazing what happens to a person when we move from a self-centered and earthly vantage point to a God-centered, heavenly perspective. We immediately see things differently. Our attitude swiftly shifts from frustration, despair, doubt, and discouragement to hope, delight and joyful expectation. We can cultivate a deeper appreciation for what God has truly done for us and how we ought to express that.
THE FIRST RESPONSE TO GOD WHICH ALLOWS US TO LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST IS TO EXPRESS THE GLORY DUE HIM
How can we express the proper honor and adoration that is due to God? The Hebrew word for glory is kabod, “which literally means ‘heavy’ and indicates that God is a God of substance and great reputation.” He is worthy of our worship, praise and adoration.
David begins by encouraging us to sing.
One of the highest forms of expressing joy is through song. Something happens to our souls when we sing. ‘Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.’[viii]
Derek Kidner relates that this is more than just new words.
The new song is not simply a piece newly composed, though it naturally includes such, but a response that will match the freshness of His mercies, which are new every morning.[ix]
Tremper Longman explains the idea of the new song in the Old Testament.
They are to sing to God a new song, a phrase that normally occurs in warfare contexts and implies that it is a shout of victory. …A new song is a hymn of victory sung after God has made all things new by his defeat of the forces of evil.[x]
It is a moment of joy because of deliverance from the attack of the enemy upon our lives. We have a new song because God is blessing us a new mercy. We are reminded that God’s mercies are new each and every morning.
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.[xi]
What is the Psalmist saying? When we reflect upon the Lord and His goodness it should bring joy and a song to our hearts. When we become a new creation in Christ, we will have a new song within our soul. N. T. Wright gives this summation of these texts from Psalm 96.
Do not let a day go by without reminding each other of God’s grace, otherwise we will get worn down with the cares of this life. We need to declare God’s glory to the nations. We need to verbalize this not just through our lifestyle. There is a warning to the nations regarding idolatry. The distinction is that Yahweh is the Creator, idols are human made. Don’t look for glory or strength elsewhere other than God, Himself.[xii]
B. To praise is to speak highly of.
‘Sing to the LORD, praise his name;…’[xiii]
Do we speak highly of God? What do we have to say of God? Not only are we to sing, but we are to praise God. We are to speak well of Him. When we complain about the condition of our lives, we are actually complaining about God’s care and love for us. Far too many people are tempted to complain about their state in life. The apostle Paul reminds us that this has negative consequences within our soul.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.[xiv]
Here the apostle shows us that a state of complaint or having an argumentative nature is a sign of immaturity or worse an attitude of ingratitude. Notice the expression that when we stop complaining and arguing we can become blameless and pure. What was the problem with the children of Israel as they were journeying through the wilderness? All they did was complain. When we complain about someone, we are not speaking highly about them. This is true also when we direct it toward God! When we are constantly complaining about our situations in life, we are actually complaining about how unfair God is. Notice God’s response to the children of Israel as a result of their constant complaining.
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.[xv]
The apostle Paul warned against this behavior to the Corinthians.
And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall![xvi]
It is interesting that when we complain it impacts our soul in a negative manner. Notice how the Psalmists describes what happens.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused [KJV- I complained] and my spirit grew faint.[xvii]
The Hebrew word means to ponder, but to converse with oneself out loud. Other words to describe this action is to utter, complain, to declare, or to meditate. It is the idea of thinking about what is wrong, rather than what is right and it only brings us down. Our spirit wilts under this kind of thinking. The Psalmist states that our soul faints. In other words we give up.
So what should we do when life is difficult? How should we speak about our situations? Is it wrong to share our hurts and pains? It is wonderful to have people to help shoulder our burdens, but one of the dangers is that we can fall into self-pity, which is a deadly and crippling spiritual illness. Listen to some of the commands of the Bible in dealing with life regardless of the situations we find ourselves in.
Be joyful always;
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.[xviii]
While Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial he wrote to the church in Philippi with the following instructions. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’[xix]
But what about the things that bring anxiety to us? How do we handle those things? Ever the realist, the apostle Paul goes on to say.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[xx]
Where did Paul come up with this antidote for life’s difficulties? From God! From the Word of God. Listen to the Psalmist.
I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.[xxi]
We will never bless people by our unbelief and misery. What encourages people is that we are a fellow sufferer who is trusting God in spite of what is currently happening in our lives. We have learned to praise God. We have learned to be content in our current situation through the strength that Christ provides. That is the context for the beautiful verse found in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’
Earlier the apostle Paul had said that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances (cf. Philippians 4:11).
C. We are to communicate God’s grace to others.
We are not only to praise God, but also proclaim and declare His salvation, His glory and His mighty deeds to others. Why does God ask us to speak on His behalf? What we say is really a reflection of what is in our hearts.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.[xxii]
The gospel is the clearest revelation of Himself, salvation outshines creation and providence; therefore let our praises overflow in that direction.[xxiii]
D. We are to give God the credit.
When we are ascribing things to God as the Psalmist is telling us to do, it means that we give credit to where credit is due: to the Lord.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.[xxiv]
When we speak of offerings we immediately think of money, but it is so much more than that. It begins with what we say about God. We are talking about expressions of worship and praise from our lips. God has already provided for our salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the writer to Hebrews is expressing.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of our lips that confess his name.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.[xxv]
THE SECOND RESPONSE TO GOD WHICH ALLOWS US TO LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST IS THEGIFTS DUE HIM
Though we verbally express our praise to God, we also must move beyond that expression of worship. We must bring an offering and enter into His presence. The greatest offering is us and all that wholehearted devotion entails, such as our time, energy, and talents.
When assembling for public worship we should make a point of bringing with us a contribution to his cause, according to that ancient word, ‘None of you shall appear before me empty.[xxvi]
Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.[xxvii]
So what is the firstfruits? It is the first part of their crop an expression of their labor. God expects that we will give to Him first, above everything else we spend. This speaks of giving God our best. In this text which is speaking to an agrarian society, they were to give of the results of their lives, their time, their energy in essence the best of themselves to God. That meant they came and gave the first part of their crops to the house of the Lord.
Though we are not primarily an agrarian society, our giving is an expression of our time, energy, and work which translates into dollars, we are to give God the first part of our income. Why? Money represents time, energy, effort and service to acquire. When we give, what we are saying is that this is a part of us. We are giving the best of ourselves to God. This is an expression of what true worship is the giving of ourselves in totality to God. It is our response to His gift of Himself to us.
Evelyn Underhill has defined worship as ‘the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God self-revealed in time.[xxviii]
We do not worship God for what we get out of it, but because He is worthy of worship.[xxix]
Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God, God will not be used.[xxx]
True worship isn’t the genie in the bottle idea, where we only come to God with our agenda and demands. It is true that we are needy and we also come to God just as we are, including our needs, but real worship is that we love and adore God for who He is, not just what He does and will do for us. So not only is worship expressed with our lips ascribing to the Lord the glory due His name. Not only is worship expressed in our giving of the resources that He has blessed us with for His causes, but we now see that how we live is an act of worship.
B. Holiness is an expression of worship.
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.[xxxi]
What does it mean to be holy? It means to be set apart for God’s purpose. When we are living for Him, we are becoming like Him. Worship is actually a lifestyle. It is how we live in light of God’s grace revealed to us. The apostle Peter states it this way in his first letter.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.[xxxii]
THE FINAL RESPONSE TO GOD WHICH ALLOWS US TO LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST IS THE GLADNESS THAT COMES TO US
There are only two responses to God’s coming to us: joy or dread. It all depends on whether we are looking forward to His coming or not. To the believer, when God comes it is a time of joy. Can you imagine what it will be like when He returns? Ultimate joy! However to the unbeliever, disobedient, and lazy person, this is a time of accountability and reckoning.
Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns. The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.[xxxiii]
N.T. Wright in his lectures on the Psalms relates that “judgment means putting things right. God is coming back to sort it all out.”[xxxiv]
A. Even the creation is awaiting for Christ’s return.
What joy comes when deliverance from all the effects of sin are removed! Even now the creation is groaning awaiting the coming of the Lord.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.[xxxv]
What is Paul talking about here? He is explaining that since the fall of man through sin, the whole creation has been impacted and death is tainting our world. Everything has been affected. Creation itself is now awaiting the Lord’s coming. That is when the children of God will be revealed. That is when the glorious and total freedom will come to God’s children who are still subject to the fall of man: namely death and decay.
Our full redemption has not yet been experienced. We still see the effects of the fall and sin every day in our world. We see death, we see broken relationships, we battle with sinful desires. But all of these will come to an end when Jesus returns.
B. Mankind’s response to Christ’s coming.
For those who are not believers it is a time of dread. Those who lived in rebellion to God will cry out for the rocks to fall on them.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
For the great day of their wrath has come, and who withstand it?[xxxvi]
Yet in stark contrast we find in the very next chapter the response of those who are God’s children.
Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.[xxxvii]
No more suffering, no more sorrow.
What should our response be? Worship and praise; gratitude and thanksgiving! Though life has difficulties, disappointments and sorrows; let us not allow our hearts to grow cold and hard. Let us not murmur and complain. Let us not find fault with our God in the hour of testing. Let us not be filled with ingratitude and thanklessness. No! Let us sing a new song. The song of victory over evil, over sin and death! The song of victory over disappointment and trial. The song of Christ our glorious redeemer! Let us sing of his love that is over us each and every morning and faithfulness every night! Let us declare our praises and declare His salvation day by day.
[i] Romans 1:21, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] Ernest Marshall Howse, Spiritual Values in Shakespeare, (New York, N.Y.: Abingdon Press, 1955), 61.
[iii] Ibid, 63.
[iv] William Shakespeare, King Lear, as quoted in Ernest Marshall Howse, Spiritual Values in Shakespeare, 65.
[v] Howse, Spiritual Values in Shakespeare, 65.
[vi] Ibid, 71.
[viii] Psalm 96:1.
[ix] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 347.
[x] Tremper Longman, Psalms, TOTC, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2014), 341.
[xi] Lamentations 3:22.
[xii] N. T. Wright, Lecture on Psalms, Logos Study.
[xiii] Psalm 96:2.
[xiv] Philippians 2:14-15.
[xv] Numbers 11:1.
[xvi] 1 Corinthians 10:10-12.
[xvii] Psalm 77:3.
[xviii] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
[xix] Philippians 4:4.
[xx] Philippians 4:6-7.
[xxi] Psalm 34:1-3.
[xxii] Psalm 96:2-3.
[xxiii] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Vol. 2, (McLean, Va: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), 181.
[xxiv] Psalm 96:7-8.
[xxv] Hebrew 13:15-16.
[xxvi] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Vol. 2, 183.
[xxvii] Exodus 23:15-16.
[xxviii] Evelyn Underhill, Worship, (London: Bisbet and Co., Ltd., 1936), 61 as quoted by Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, (Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson Books, 1986), 21.
[xxix] Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, (Nashville, Tn: Oliver Nelson Books, 1986), 22.
[xxx] A. W. Tozer, The Dwelling Place of God, (Harrisburg, Pa: Christian Publications, 1966), 57; as quoted by Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, 22.
[xxxi] Psalm 96:9.
[xxxii] 1 Peter 1:13-16.
[xxxiii] Psalm 96:10-13.
[xxxiv] N. T. Wright, Lecture on Psalms, Logos Study.
[xxxv] Romans 8:19-22.
[xxxvi] Revelation 6:15-17.
[xxxvii] Revelation 7:15-17.