A Psalm for Giving Thanks
A Psalm for Giving Thanks
Psalm 100 reads:
A psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
This is the word of God.
The superscription above verse one reads, in the ESV, "A psalm for giving thanks," and I want to use those words to label the message this morning: A Psalm for Giving Thanks.
Imagine that you are a Jew who lives in the Ancient Near East. The time for one of the Jewish annual feasts has come. You make the pilgrimage from where you live to the holy city of Jerusalem in obedience to the Torah. Your ultimate destination is the temple, your purpose is worship, and your motivation is thanksgiving for all that God has done for you and your people. You leave home focused, determined, and expectant, but something changes along the way. The journey is long and the sun is hot, the path is unyielding, the animal that you are bringing to sacrifice is burdensome, and the caravan that you are traveling with is noisy. You left home focused but now you are frustrated, and you keep asking yourself, "Why did I leave home again to go through this?" You can't answer that question because you have lost sight of the reason you are headed to Jerusalem in the first place. You would go home but you have traveled this far, you might as well press on.
So you press on until you begin to draw near to Jerusalem. You hear a noise, a joyful, beautiful, harmonious noise. As you reach the gates of the city, you see the source of this joyful noise. There are greeters there waiting for you. They do not greet you with a handshake, instead they lift a song. As the words of the song sink in, your frustrations melt away. You regain focus for worship. This would be the experience of many pilgrims who would travel to Jerusalem for worship. They would make their way losing sight of why they were going along the way until they would hear the greeters lifting a call to worship. The call to worship is what we know as Psalm 100.
Psalm 100 is one of the most beloved psalms of the psalter. It is only rivaled in popularity by Psalm 23. It has been a regular part of Jewish worship since antiquity and it has been central to Christian worship throughout its history. In fact during the 16th Century, reformers paraphrased this psalm and set it to various metrical tunes, and all around the world English-speaking churches regularly sing Psalm 100 to remind us that we must worship and why we must worship. The heading above verse one tells us that Psalm 100 is a psalm for giving thanks. It is the only psalm, of the 150 psalms, so labeled. Of course, there are other psalms that focus on thanksgiving, but this is the only psalm that is labeled as a psalm for giving thanks. It's as if the writer is saying, "If you want to know how to thank God, let me show you the way." It is a psalm of giving thanks, and as you move from title to text, the first verses of the psalm are made up of five commands, orders, or directives to offer grateful praise to God. The point of the whole message is this: It is your duty to give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done for you. Thanksgiving is a duty. It is not about a day on the calendar, a set of circumstances, or a particular mood you are in at any given time. You have a duty to give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done for you.
The joy of worship
Psalm 100 issues a two-fold call to worship. First, in verses one through three, we are commanded to be joyful. The fact that we are commanded to be joyful tells us something about the nature of joy. Joy can be ordered, and that fact means that joy is not happiness. Happiness is based upon what happens. Happiness is thing-centered, people-centered, or event-centered, and that's why happiness is so fickle because if you lose your stuff you lose your happiness. But joy, real joy, is not thing-centered, people-centered, or event-centered; it is God-centered. This is why I can have joy no matter what I am going through, because no matter what shifts, changes, or alters, God's nature, character, and ways remain the same. If God is who God is, if he is still alive and in charge and cares for me, I have a reason to rejoice no matter what I am going through. So the text commands us to be joyful.
These verses also tell us how to be joyful. In verses one and two we are told to worship joyfully. Indeed, worship is a serious, sacred, spiritual business. In worship you have an audience before the Creator, sustainer, and ruler of heaven and earth. In worship, the creature comes before his Creator, the finite addresses the infinite, the weak comes before the omnipotent, the foolish come before the all-wise, and the sinful come before the holy. Worship is serious business. But note that the psalmist does not say, "In light of how serious worship is, when you come before God you ought to have a somber attitude." To the contrary, he says, "When you worship God your worship ought to be marked by joy."
What does that look like to have joy in God? The first imperative of the text is this: Shout. Verse one says, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord." The first four words of that verse, "Make a joyful noise," render one Hebrew word that can be translated simply as "shout." It is to make a loud and joyful announcement of triumph, like a soldier who has won a victory on the battlefield. He is saying, "Church, worship shouldn't be like sitting in a doctor's office. You should not sit in worship like you're stuck in traffic or attending a funeral. When you come before God, you ought to come before him with joyful shouts of praise." It's a sad indictment, that if somebody shouts in church we look at them like something is wrong with them. But the text here declares that there is something wrong with you if you know who God is and what God has done for you and you can't at least open your mouth. Something ought to well up on the inside, overflow in your heart, and come out as joyful praise to the living God. You ought to shout to the Lord.
Notice the text says you ought to shout to the Lord all the earth. I think the Holy Spirit put that in there for some of you who say, "That's just not my style, that's not my culture, that's not my background." God is not interested in any of that. In fact, the text is so emphatic that it is commanding that pagans who worship false gods should denounce their dead idols, come to Jehovah, and joyfully praise him as the only living God. It doesn't have anything to do with your education, your sophistication, your context, your culture, or your background. It's what your mama told you. Your mama said if somebody does something good for you, you ought to at least say thank you. And if God has been good to you, you ought not to be ashamed to tell him, "Thank you, Lord." Shout.
The service of worship
Then verse two says serve. Serve is a synonym for worship. To serve the Lord is to worship the Lord. The emphasis of the word here, "serve," means that God expects you to be an active participant in worship. Worship is not a spectator sport. You do know that just because you sit through a worship service, it doesn't mean you actually worship. This easily happens on many Sundays. You sit through a worship service and later somebody asks you how worship was, and you start rating other people's worship. But the command to serve the Lord means the key thing is not how the preacher did or how the choir did. It means you have a personal responsibility to offer service to the Lord.
This is not lip service. Anybody can act spiritual for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning. Real worship is life service on a day-to-day basis. The Bible says in Romans 12:1 that "In light of the mercies of God, you should present your body as a sacrifice that lives holy and acceptable and pleasing to God which is the least you can do in light of all that God has done for you." You ought to count it a privilege to serve the Lord. I don't know how you feel about it but I'm at a stage in my life where I don't care where God puts me on the field. I just don't want him to sit me on the bench. It's a privilege to do whatever the Lord would have you to do. When the Lord asks you to serve him, the psalmist says, "Don't do it complaining, ritualistically, grudgingly, or mechanically." You are to serve the Lord with gladness.
The divine invitation of worship
The command in the second part of verse two is to come. This is a divine invitation. God invites you to come to worship him. God wants your presence, fellowship, and communion. That's the privilege of worship. I want you to think about that. God has puny people like me and you on his mind, and he says, "Come in to my presence." Most of us will likely never get a White House invitation to meet with the President in the Oval Office. We just are not on that level. How much more are we not on God's level?
When you woke up this morning, the living God was bidding your heart, "Come into my presence." What a privilege. Maybe that's why the psalmist says, "I was glad." Just the invitation to be in God's presence one more time is a blessing for which you ought to rejoice. God says, "Come into my presence." And he says, "I've only got one stipulation as you come. When you come, come into my presence with singing." You ought not to rush into God's presence with questions, complaints, and requests. He says, "You ought to come into my presence with songs of praise." You can see how generous and good God is. He doesn't even care if you can't sing. I thank God for choirs and all of the ensembles, but don't let singers do your worshiping for you. This is not a show for somebody to entertain you. These people on the platform and in the choir are exhorting you to join in the praises of the living God. Don't let somebody else do your praising for you. If you know what the Lord has done for you, you might not be able to sing but you ought to have a song. You ought to come before his presence with singing. The text says, "Worship joyfully." But then it says, "Witness joyfully."
The God of our worship
There is another command in verse three. It is a command to know. Verses one and two say if you're going to worship right you've got to feel something: joy, gladness, and a heart that has a song. Now verse three says that worship isn't just about a feeling, you need to know something. To worship is to ascribe worth. How can you ascribe worth to a being that you don't know? The psalmist says if you're going to worship God right, you need to know him. More emphatic is the Hebrew, you need to not just know him in an intellectual, theological, or even experiential sense. You need to acknowledge him. It means more than just to know, it means to act like you know.
Frederick Buechner in his book, Wishful Thinking, defines what a Christian is. He says, "In the final analysis, Christians are not necessarily nicer people than everybody else, we're just better informed." That is why you can hold it together when people around you are falling apart. If you are in Christ, you know some stuff that the world doesn't know. The text says you ought to act like you know who your God is, and he says you don't even have to have a systematic theology. But there are a few things you need to know about God.
You need to know that God is God alone. Know that the Lord, he is God and he is emphatic and the force of the statement is to know that he is God alone. This is why you can thank God no matter what is going on, because God is not on a board of gods, negotiating the outcome of your situation. He is God all by himself, or as they taught me to sing when I was a boy: He's got the whole world in his hand. God is the one and only true and living God. Exodus 20:3 says, "You shall have no other gods before me." Deuteronomy 6:4 says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one." And then Isaiah 42:8 says, "I am the Lord, that is my name. I will not give my glory to another or my praise to carved idols." God is too great of a God to share his throne with anybody else. So the psalmist says, if you want to learn how to be grateful in whatever season, then you've got to recognize that God is God all by himself.
But not only that, God is your Creator, "It is he who has made us and we are his." He made us. You didn't make yourself. There is no such thing as a self-made person. I know that you work hard, you've got your degree, you put in your tenure, you are smart, and plan well, but you didn't get where you are on your own. Just mess around and let God not wake you up in the morning and you'll be reminded that our lives are not in our hands. We are just a vapor that is here one moment and gone the next. Do you know the only reason you made it this far is because of God?
"He made us and not we ourselves," says the King James version, but there is a textual variation because in the Hebrew the words for "not" and "his" are very similar, so the translations render it based on one reading or the other. I grew up in a reading that read it "not," that says that "he has made us and not we ourselves." But the more accurate and now more common rendering is that the word there is "his," meaning "he that has made us and as a result we are his." This is our culture's problem with creationism. If God made us, then we are his. We don't want the thought of a Creator because if we have a Creator it means we have an authority greater than us that we have to answer to. We're so determined to be our own god that we'd rather believe we evolved from monkeys than to believe that an intelligent being fearfully and wonderfully made us by his own creative power. This is why I'm convinced that there is only one difficult verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1—"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." If you really believe that verse you will have no problem believing any other verse in the Bible. Yes, I believe God made a fish that swallowed a man and kept him for three days. Yes, I believe that God made the sun stand still so that Joshua could finish winning a battle. Yes, I believe that he cooled off the fire in a fiery furnace. Can I tell you why I believe it? If God made it, he controls it. He controls the sea, he controls the air, he controls the wind, he controls the fish, and—before you get too big—he controls you as well. You belong to God. And that's good news, "Know that the Lord, he is God. It is he who has made us and we are his. We are therefore his people."
God takes care of what belongs to him. You want to know how God takes care of what belongs to him? The text says we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. God is a Shepherd, we are his sheep. Sheep can't feed themselves, they can't provide for themselves, they can't protect themselves. Sheep are doomed without a shepherd. But when you run to the cross and trust in him who declared, "I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep," the good news is that God will be your Shepherd, which means he will feed you, he will lead you, he will watch over you, he will protect you, he will care for you.
David says, "The Lord is my Shepherd." Meaning that I know what he's done for me. He's my Shepherd. And because he's my Shepherd, I shall not want. Everything I need, my Shepherd provides. When I get hungry, he makes me lie down in green pastures. When I get thirsty, he leads me beside the still waters. When I stray away, he restores my soul. When I don't know which way to go next, he leads me in the path of righteousness for his name's sake. When I'm in a dark valley, I fear no evil because my Shepherd is with me. His rod and his staff, they comfort me. So with all due respect for whatever you are going through, God commands you to be joyful. Even James says, "My brethren, count it all joy. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials." Count it all joy. Be joyful.
The thankfulness of worship
Then the text says, "Be thankful." There is a simple structure to Psalm 100. It is a call to worship in verses one and two, and then there is the reason for that call to worship in verse three. Then that format is repeated again in verses four and five. There is a call to worship in verse four, and the reason for that call to worship in verse five. Here in verse four, as the writer commands us to be thankful, he orders us to approach God with grateful praise. Enter the gates of the city of Jerusalem and the courts of the temple precinct. Again God is inviting you into his presence, but note that with the invitation there is a stipulation: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise." This is not how we enter into worship. You know how we enter into worship? We come to worship down, frustrated, and mad; we drag into worship and we sit there with our attitude and our arms folded, waiting on something to happen to get us in the mood to praise the Lord. Do you hear what the psalmist said? You should not come to worship and then decide if you feel like worshiping. You ought to enter with thanksgiving and praise. You do not need a worship leader, choir, musician, preacher, deacon, devotion, prayers of worship, mood music, or "Shine on Me." You ought not to need any of that. You ought to be able to come in to worship with praise on the inside.
You say, "Well, that's easy for you to say, pastor, because you don't know what I'm dealing with. You don't know what I'm going through. You don't know what I'm facing. With all that I'm carrying how can I come in to worship praising God?" Glad you asked. Verses one through four record seven imperatives: shout, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, and bless his name. Verses one through four tell us how to worship. And now in the final verse the psalmist says, "Let me tell you why to do it. I have three reasons." Reason number one: For the Lord is good. Reason number two: His steadfast love endures forever. Reason number three: His faithfulness is to all generations.
"Pastor, what do I have to praise God for today?" I'll tell you, because in spite of what you are going through, the Lord is good. Good is a statement of God's character. There is no spot nor blemish nor flaw in God. Everything about God is good. But not only is his character good, his ways are good. Everything God does is good. His plans are good, his purpose is good, his providence is good, his provision is good, his protection is good, and his pardon is good. All that God does is good, meaning he is the source of everything you need for life. James 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, and it comes from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." Which means God is good all the time. That's how you made it.
"Well, I can't tell." Well, "taste and see." That's what Psalm 34:8 says. You can't just sit at the table and watch what is in other people's cup and expect to know how good God is. You've got to get in there for yourself. "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good, and blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." The Lord is good. You ought to praise him because the Lord is good. You ought to praise him because his steadfast love endures forever. "Steadfast love" translates hesed, which is the covenant love of God. The New King James calls it "mercy." The NIV calls it "unfailing love." The New American Standard calls it "loving-kindness." The ESV calls it "steadfast love." The various versions don't know how to translate this word. It's such a wonderful, gloriously indefinable word. It means "loyal love." It's best described in Malachi 3:6 where God says, "I am the Lord and I do not change, therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed." Meaning, if God changed his ways they would all be wiped out. He says, "But the reason why I haven't checked you out of here is because I don't change." Loyal love, steadfast love, means God will not change his mind about you when you change your mind about him. You may know what it's like to stray away from God and get out there so far you think you can never get back. And if you make it back you feel like he'll never accept you after what you did and how long you've been doing it. At some point you make a U-turn in your life and come back to the place where you walked away, and you found out that while you walked away, God had been standing there waiting on you the whole time so he can give you another chance. That's how good God is. "His steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations."
This is a summary of the character of God. This is a succinct statement of Jewish theology proper. A summary of what they believed about God's core nature is that God is good, God is love, God is faithful. If they were content to praise God for those three reasons how much more you and I should praise God. For know that God's love, goodness, and faithfulness are not just theological propositions, they are a living person. God's goodness has a name. God's love has a face. God's faithfulness became pierce-able. He chose to die rather than give up on you. So we praise God for Jesus Christ, who lived the life we could never live and who died the death we should have died so that by his blood and righteousness we can be restored to a living God.
My pastor was here a week ago and he told me about a woman in church. Every week she prayed the same prayer: "O Lord, thank you Jesus." Every week that was her prayer. "O Lord, thank you Jesus." Kids laughed because they knew what she was going to pray every time: "O Lord, thank you Jesus." Finally somebody asked her, "Why do you pray the same little prayer?" She said, "Well, I'm just combining the two prayers that I know." She says, "We live in a bad neighborhood and some nights there are bullets flying and I have to grab my daughter and hide on the floor, and in that desperate state all I know how to cry out is, 'O Lord.' But when I wake up in the morning and see that we're okay I say, 'Thank you Jesus.' When I got to take my baby to the bus stop and she gets on that bus and I don't know what's going to happen to her while she's away, I cry, 'O Lord.' And then when 3:00 P.M. comes and that bus arrives and my baby is safe, I say, 'Thank you Jesus.'" She said, "Those are the only two prayers I know and when I get to church God has been so good I just put my two prayers together, "O Lord, thank you Jesus."
God be praised for his word.
H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.