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A Heart of Gratitude

Christians can bless the Lord by concentrating on all of the benefits we receive from him, and by giving him praise.


Stone Mountain is a very large, naked hill of solid granite that is located about 15 miles northeast of Atlanta. If you've been there, you know the site very well. Back in the 1920's, it was dedicated as a Confederate memorial, a place that would be used to honor those who fought in the South, and gave themselves in that terrible battle in which our country was fighting for its life.

As you approach the mountain, you notice something that is terribly impressive. On the north side there has been etched, in bold relief, a massive mural. In the background there are hundreds of soldiers sitting on their horses, going to war.

And in the center of this mural, that by the way has resulted in several lives being lost as the work of sculpturing was completed, in the center of it there are three large characters: Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These three represent the Confederate high command.

It was my privilege sometime ago to have a wedding in Atlanta. And this wedding was a delightful experience because, not only were bride and groom Christians, but every member of the wedding party was also born again and very much alive and in tune with the Lord.

The afternoon before the wedding, all the men from the wedding party took a trip to Stone Mountain. I'll never forget it. It was a memorable three-hour experience. We took the tram up to the top and then we walked over to the side of this immense granite hill for that commanding view of Atlanta in the distance, and we sat down. And then before long, without anyone telling the other what to do, we began to share verses of Scripture that had meant something to us.

One fellow shared, "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. With the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first." Well, I thought sure Jesus was coming right then. And I held my breath, but he didn't come.

And another fellow began to respond with another verse from the book of Revelation. And then from the letters of Paul and from the portions of Genesis that had meant so much. And one from Jeremiah. And back and forth. And then we began to sing. And then we began to share spontaneously God's marvelous goodness and bounty to us.

As I remember, we covered three areas in our praise to God. First we covered our own personal lives and how grateful we were that God had invaded us and changed us from rebels into his own children.

And then we turned to our nation. And sitting, in fact lying, on that historic site, we began to think of the beautiful plan God had arranged in allowing us to be born in this, the greatest of the nations. And then looking into the sky, we claimed praise for his goodness in the universe. In hanging it all together and making it work so perfectly and beautifully.

I don't know if David was in a historic site like that when he wrote the 103rd Psalm, but he might very well have been. Because it fits the same structure that struck us as we were there that afternoon. In the first five verses, he thinks of God's relationship to himself. And so he says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name."

And then he goes on and says the same thing, and then adds, "Forget none of his benefits." The beginning of verse 19 through the end of the chapter, verse 22, David turns to the universe. And it's the Lord in the heavens.

So first there is the Lord in David, a personal part. And then there is the Lord in the nation, the sons of Israel. And then finally there is the Lord in the heavens. And it concludes just as it begins, "Bless the Lord, O my soul."

It occurred to me as we are facing the Thanksgiving week, that we who live in the lap of luxury, when the cream of the cup of prosperity seems to flow into our homes and our lives, it is easy for us to wonder, as we think of praising our God, wonder, "For what should we praise him? What should be rendered to his name as an adequate thanks for his work in our lives?"

It seemed important enough to me to stop our regular series and to sit alone on the mountain with God. Especially as we think along the first few verses of the psalm. We can't cover it all. So let's look at the first five verses, where the psalm is made extremely personal.

Now, it begins with a phrase that is the continued theme all the way through. That's the way hymns are. You see, the book of Psalms is a book of hymns. It is filled with the melodies of Israel. It's the ancient hymnbook of God's people. And so every hymn has a theme.

The theme of this song, or hymn, is "Bless the Lord." You notice it occurs again and again. Verse 1: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." Verse 2, the identical phrase. Verse 20: "Bless the Lord, you his angels." Verse 21: "All you his hosts, bless him." Verse 22, it appears twice. Six times in a very significant way, the psalmist brings to the surface the theme of this hymn.

We bless the Lord by praising him, by exalting his name

What does it mean to bless the Lord? Well, it means to praise him. It means to exalt his name. It means to be lost in wonder, love, and praise, as the hymn writer put it. It means to be so occupied with him, that you yourself are absent from the scene; you're out of the picture.

The ten or twelve of us that were on our back there at Stone Mountain did not refer one time to ourselves. We were lost in the Lord and in his bounty, in his provision. We blessed his name together.

We bless the Lord by "forgetting none of his benefits"

But David gives himself another command in verse 2: "Forget none of his benefits." Literally it reads, "And do not forget all his awards." There's a difference in forgetting none and do not forget all. You see, we are only human, and we are going to forget some. And so the pen of David put it down in a more realistic fashion, "Do not forget all." Forget not all of his benefits.

But what do you say of a person that forgets good things that are done to him by someone else? What are you if someone does a number of things for you and you forget about them? What is the word we use for that? We use the word "ungrateful." Ungrateful.

Look at the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 3. This verse came to my mind when I was thinking of forgetting the benefits of God. And I was wondering, "Is this something that is common to our day?" And I find that it is.

2 Timothy chapter 3 is a commentary on the 20th Century. Paul, who writes the letter, gives us nineteen sad, serious characteristics about our day, which he calls the last days. In the last days there will be things that are hard to handle—terrible, treacherous, perilous things. Men will be lovers of self. They will be lovers of money. They will be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents. And then early in the list: ungrateful. Ungrateful.

The root of the word that is translated "ungrateful" is the word that means, "to be thankful," ironically. But the prefix of the word is the little letter "a," which negates the whole word. A-thankful, or in our terms, "unthankful," ungrateful. William Barclay has said, "The strange characteristic of ingratitude is that it is the most hurting of all the sins because it is the blindest of all sins."

Probably, if you are an ungrateful person you're not even aware of it. It's amazing how we could become so blind to our characteristic of ingratitude. Why are we like that? Why are we so ungrateful?

I think there are a couple of reasons that are born out in Scripture. First of all, it's because of God's continued kindness. Luke 6:35 says, "He is kind even though we are ungrateful." So God's continued bounty makes us increasingly dull to our ungrateful spirit.

But another reason is because of our prosperous lives. Prosperity has a way of dulling our senses. C.S. Lewis, in his work Screwtape Letters, picked up this thought when he said, "The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil." The long, monotonous, prosperous years are campaigning weather for the devil. I would say that for most of our lives we have known prosperity, which is perhaps why we've never known it. So I ask myself, "For what should I be grateful? What are the benefits from God?"

Five benefits from God

And I find five of them in Psalm 103. Notice them in order. First of all, God is the one who pardons all your iniquities. You ever stop to think about that? Ever thought of what it would be like for you to confess a sin to God and for God to come back and knock on your door and say, "You've gone too far. No more forgiveness." It's easy to forget the pardoning hand of God.

Look at verse 10. "He has not dealt with us according to our sins." Praise God for that. "He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities." Verse 12, "As far as the East is from the West," that's a long ways, friend, an infinite distance that he has removed our transgressions from us. Forgiveness is first in order, as you cultivate a grateful heart. You think of the good, forgiving hand of God, or at least you should.

I want you to think back. Think back this past week. Then this past month. Think of what life would have been like if the Lord had not forgiven you. If it helps, just let your mind play the record of your past for a few minutes. Choose the whole year, since last Thanksgiving. He pardoned all your iniquities.

P.P. Bliss put into music the writings of a close friend of his, Horatio Spafford, who said, "My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin—not in part, but in whole—is nailed to the cross. I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, oh my soul." Let us never forget what it was like under the guilt of sin. We've been pardoned.

Then he says, "He heals all your diseases." Were you sick this past year? Chances are some of us were very sick in the year. What is impressive to me is that the Psalm does not say, "He diagnoses all your diseases." The doctor can do that. There are some specialists who can do a bang-up job of putting their finger on the disease and say, "That's the cause." But they cannot heal. Neither can any man. Only God.

But it isn't really talking about diseases of the body, is it? What is the antecedent of the word "your"? Who "heals all your disease"? Is it the body? No. To whom is David speaking? To his soul. "O my soul, bless the name of the Lord." He's healed all the diseases of my soul, that's what he's saying. The inner diseases of hatred and strife and malice and stubbornness and bitterness. The feelings of revenge, of harboring that "I'll get you back." He's healed me, says the psalmist.

You remember the healing that God has done in your life over this past year. I'll tell you, he has come into my life and done a number of inside jobs that only the Lord and I know about. And when Thanksgiving dawns, that's something that I remember.

Then he turns to the third. "He redeems your life from the pit." The reference to the pit, literally, is a word that means, "to be in ruin, to be in destruction or corruption." He redeems your life from corruption, from the pit.

I think it has two references. First of all it has a reference to the moment of salvation. Remember when you were lost? The Bible says that you were in the pit. One of the prophets writes that we are never to forget the pit from which we have been dug. The pit. What a perfect picture of the lost estate.

I was praying with a close friend some time ago and he said, "And O Lord, help me never to forget what it was like outside of Christ." Some of us have been saved for so long, we can't remember what life was like outside of Christ. That's a shame. You need to have that constant reminder. I think some of the newer Christians among us in God's family are a help for us because they bring to our vivid memories the past, the pit.

The psalmist says, "I waited patiently for the Lord and he inclined unto me, heard my cry. He lifted me up from a miry clay, from the pit. And he set my feet upon a rock and he established my going. He put a new song in my mouth." Remember the old songs? Remember how vulgar and obscene they were? Remember the things you used to laugh at? That's all the existence known as the pit. Remember those days? The psalmist says I've been redeemed from it. He crowns you with loving kindness and compassion.

Look at verse 8. "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness." Look at verse 13. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him." He himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust.

That's not much of a commentary on our lives, is it? You can put us all together in one four-letter word—"dust." And God has never forgotten it. But you know the marvel of grace? He brought us into his family without probation. You can hardly find an individual who can hire into a company without a period of probation. But when you come into God's family, there's no period where you must prove yourself. What if God had placed you on probation back then? I know you're like me, you're grateful that he didn't. But what if he had? All right, you can come in, but you're going to have to prove yourself. You're going to be on trial for a while and then we'll let you come a little further. None of that. When you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and become a member of his family, the probation period is gone. You're a member of the family. He crowns you with this: loving kindness and compassion. Loving kindness and compassion.

And I'll tell you, when Thanksgiving comes, if you forget everything else about God, don't forget that. Oh, his loving kindness and compassion crown our lives.

And then I think it's just sort of a cherry on top of the beautiful banana split, as he says in verse five, "He satisfies your years with good things." But it doesn't say that. David didn't write that. You know what David wrote? David wrote, verse 5, "He satisfies abundantly your ornament with good." What in the world does that mean?

Let's think about that. The "your" is a reference to the soul. "O my soul, bless the Lord." That's the theme of the psalm. And verse 5 he says, "He satisfies your" - that's the soul - "the soul's ornament with good." What is the ornament of the soul?

Well what is an ornament? An ornament is something that adorns. Something that embellishes, something that adds beauty that is needed. Something that gives flavor and freshness to something that would otherwise be dull and drab. You wear at times an ornament to embellish your attire. You place an ornament upon a wall to embellish or adorn it. The cross is an ornament, as it were, that embellishes this chancel area of our place of worship.

Well, what is he saying? He satisfies your spirit, the ornament of your soul, with good. The idea is that he provides what is enjoyable and satisfying so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Study the eagle. One of the few creatures of the sky that seem to grow stronger with age. And often in the Old Testament, the eagle is used with reference to the old life becoming fresh and vital all over again, and frequently with the word "renewed."

What is he saying? He's saying that it is the Lord, God, who is praised in this passage, who continues to make your inside enjoyable, satisfying, free, and enthusiastic. That's the thought. How is that true? The Lord! The Lord keeps you excited and fresh and vital and real and all of those things that you can't describe. It's the Lord.

Alexander Whyte loved this passage of Scripture and put it together in a neat little nutshell. He said this, "in these verses, we have the law court. 'He pardons all your iniquities.' We have the hospital. 'He heals all your diseases.' We have the slave market. 'He redeems your life from the pit.' The throne room. 'For he crowns you with loving kindness and compassion.' And the banquet hall. 'For he satisfies your spirit with good things.'"

Now in this Thanksgiving week, I'd like to give you a piece of homework. I would like for you to climb your own imaginary Stone Mountain. And as you climb, I want you to notice first of all the etchings of people on the mountain. People in your past who have invested in your life and laid their mark upon you that will never be removed. On Stone Mountain, it is so important. It is a mile long and 800 feet high, that mural. It's important as you review history, to have a large, clear picture of people because history is people. You remember, in your past, the people.

And then, when you get to the top of your mountain, and you're before the Lord, think about your life. Think first about the people who have built into you and your life. Etched into the granite of your memory are certain things that God has done. And then you think of your Lord and his vast, marvelous, unending, endless blessings to your life. Then you stop all your activity. Get away from all the noise. If necessary, take a drive, take a walk. And all alone, you give him thanks.

It will turn your Thanksgiving into something else. Should I add, you give him thanks for your country. This the greatest of the nations, you thank him for that. May we bow our heads together please?


We have reviewed the benefits of God. Not his benefits, but our benefits because of God. And I am convinced there are some here that have never known life out of the pit. You know nothing of being crowned with loving kindness and compassion because God is distant to you; he's foreign. You have built a straw man of God, and he is a brutal enemy, not a friend. And my friend, here today, I want you to know that your concept of God is all twisted.

The Lord God of heaven sent to this Earth the Savior, not a savior, not an option, not someone that you should think about, but someone who demands a decision. You cannot remain neutral concerning Jesus Christ. I joy to announce to you that our great giving God, thanks be to his name, has given his Son. He opened heaven and let him come to this Earth. And he died in your place to pardon your sin.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Charles Swindoll is pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, the Bible teacher on the radio program Insight for Living, and a best-selling author.

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Sermon Outline:


I. We bless the Lord by praising him, by exalting his name

II. We bless the Lord by "forgetting none of his benefits"

III. Five benefits from God