I WILL GIVE THANKS
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How are you at saying “thank you”? Do you find this something difficult to say? One great thing about the internet is the ability to find out what people are thinking on a topic like this. “Why is it hard to say thank you” in a search engine brought me to an article by a leading British authority on emotional health – self-described but I thought some good things were said. “General lack of interactional skills in dealing with praise” was the first thing. People don’t know how to respond to “Thank You” so they are slow to give them. A thank you requires reciprocity in appreciation and is open to misinterpretation. Ok I don’t even want to get into that one. Finally – feeling of embarrassment or obligation. I think that one’s good. To put it simply – saying “Thank you” can generate a feeling of obligation to someone else. “The minute one is thanked, there is a new channel open between the giver and the recipient that leaves people feeling vulnerable to future actions and expectations, as they are not quite sure what to expect after that.” I think that’s true to some extent. I think that’s why often when we go to people’s houses for dinner and say thanks for dinner we often add “We’ll have you over sometime really soon!” We don’t like to feel obligated do we? We like to be self-sufficient.
Yet we have a whole category of Psalms, including the one that was read this morning, that have do to with giving thanks to God. With saying “thank you” to God. Why should this be? What might we have to learn about God and about ourselves from Psalm 30? Let us take a look at our text this morning and see what God may have to say to our hearts.
We’ve been talking about the Psalms as Israel’s prayer book and Israel’s song book. At the beginning of this Psalm we learn where it was sung – the Temple. I like to say there’s often so much we don’t know about texts. Who wrote it? Does “of David” mean by David or about David or in the style of David? Is it pointing to an episode in David’s life? How could it be a Psalm of David and been used for the dedication of the temple when there was no temple in David’s time? What temple are we talking about? There’s no reason to believe that David couldn’t have written a song in advance. One thing we can confirm is that it was sung once at the dedication of the temple. We know from Maccabees that it was sung at the consecration (or Hanukah) of the Jerusalem temple when it was rededicated by Judas Maccabeus.
How appropriate that a song of thanks and praise was central to the dedication of a place at which God would be worshipped. Central to our relationship with God is our gratitude. Someone has said that gratitude is the basis of worship. Worship of God is to be the foundation not only of our gathering together on Sunday mornings, or whenever we gather together, but it is to be the foundation of our very lives, because this is how God has made us. Paul talked about presenting our bodies – our very selves, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (made holy in Christ), which is your spiritual worship. This spiritual worship needs to be based on our giving thanks and praise.
Because thanks and praise go together like two things that go together very well go together. The praise and thanks that is being offered in this Psalm is for a very specific purpose – that God is a deliverer. That God changes things. That an encounter with God changes things. That an ongoing relationship with God saves us – redeems us – restores us – reconciles us – which are words we use to try and describe what it means to be brought back to God. It changes our situation. Look at how the psalmist sets two things in opposition to each other to signify this change throughout the song – I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. His anger is, but for a moment, his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Let me thank and praise you!
What is the foundational thing that we have to thank God for? One thing that applies to everyone who is a follower of Christ? You have drawn me up. You have healed me. You restored me to life. “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” For the original Psalmist the praise and thanks here is for recovery from grave illness – illness that was leading to the grave. To Sheol, to the Pit. What is this Sheol place? In Hebrew thought it was the place of death, of nothingness. The place of no light, no remembrance, no praise of God, no sound even. For the Psalmist the thanks and praise is based on God’s saving act – the psalmist has been saved from the place of death, the place of darkness, of silence.
I liked Pastor Abby’s story she did with the children here where she talked about connecting the dots - seeing for Jesus in Old Testament texts. Jesus was still to come when this song was written, but how can we read these verses and not think of the one who defeated death itself? I will extol you O Jesus, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. Who are our foes? The powers of darkness. The powers of hate and fear and greed and oppression and self-sufficiency and pride. If you can say “O Lord my God I cried out to you for help, and you have healed me – you have restored me to life” then the fitting and proper response is praise and thanks. If you haven’t said this then the invitation is there before you every day. It’s there before you this day. This morning. The invitation is there to join in this song and prayer of praise and thanks.
Which is what the psalmist does in v 4 – invites others to join in. “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.” This is something that we do together. It makes God’s nature known. It makes God known as a deliverer. I think there’s another element to why we’re called to praise and thank God together. I said during our Hebrews series that we’d like the Christian life to be us soaring like eagles all the time as we wait on God. Oftentimes it’s not like that is it? The Psalms are nothing if not honest about what our lives are like. Oftentimes it feels more like we’re barely able to walk or crawl. Oftentimes it might seem that we’re still on this Way solely because Jesus is dragging us along! We suffer. Things befall us and those whom we love. Get together and sing praises and give thanks to his holy name? Why? Because oftentimes we need to be reminded and we need to remind and encourage one another, that God’s anger – God seeming to hide his face from us – is not a permanent state. God’s anger is not an attribute of God – it’s a divine response to sin. Have you ever felt far from God? I have. Have you ever felt that God was hiding his face from you? I have. What do we learn from these experiences? That God doesn’t coerce us. That God gives us the choice to go it on our own. That God was waiting. That God was there the whole time. We come to know that a moment of God’s anger is nothing compared to a lifetime of God’s favour – of healing, of restoration, of being made whole.
People suffer. Every week when we gather together know that there are those among us who are suffering. We need to be reminded together that suffering is not a permanent condition. Weeping may linger for the night. It may linger. It may linger a long time. Suffering does not have the last word, however. Suffering is not living here, it’s only spending the night. With the morning comes joy.
So we praise and we thank. We do this to remind one another. We also do this to give our answer to God’s answer. In thanks we give our “Yes” to God’s “Yes” to us. Thanksgiving should always be part of our prayers, whether individually or corporately. We can sometimes get caught up in asking for things of God. There’s nothing wrong with asking things of God, of course, we call these prayers of supplication or intercession. “Lord help me” or “Lord have mercy” are two. The psalmist has described what he prayed for – I cried to you for help – and is now giving thanks for the answer. One write puts it like this – “Our engagement with God is truncated and aborted unless the help we receive in answer to our supplications is made the subject of praising thanksgiving. Nor is our corporate or individual relation to God perfected except as we learn and say in prayerful praise how the Lord has met our neediness with his grace.”
Prayer changes us, you see. Prayers of thanksgiving change us. We often talk here about spiritual formation – about being formed in the image of Christ or being made like Christ. Such formation is impossible unless we are engaging often and meaningfully in prayers of thanksgiving to Christ for the grace which has been given us.
This involves looking at ourselves honestly. Examining ourselves. Confessing. This is how we leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit doing this transforming work in us. In his book Purity of Heart Soren Kierkegaard writes of confession like this – “… do not raise the objection against the confession that there is no point in confiding to the all-knowing One that which he already knows. Reply first to the question whether it is not conferring a benefit when a man gets to know something about himself which he did not know before… The prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who offers it.”
The Psalmist makes a confession in v 6. “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” The Psalmist became complacent. He forgot that is was by God’s favour that he had been established like a strong mountain. He cried out “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” This is not some sort of bargain making with God as in “You need me to praise you because the dust can’t do it”. It’s a recognition that a failure to respond to God’s goodness and grace to us is death – it is separation from God. To praise God and to tell of God’s faithfulness and to give thanks is the right and fitting and proper response to what God has done for us and does for us and one day will do for us. It’s a recognition that all we have, all we are is of and from God. That God has created us to live in loving communion with him, with one another, with creation. That we are unable to do this on our own. That in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. To all this we cry out “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
What a great prayer. We should pray that every day. I know it would change us.
God would change us. You have turned my mourning into dancing, the song ends. You have taken off my sackcloth, and clothed me with joy. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…bear with one another, forgive each other… Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The overcoat of love. Years ago we did a VBS here and it was a guitar camp. We used this verse from Colossians and changed the metaphor, playing off that “harmony” thing – instead of clothes, guitar strings for compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Plug them into the amp of love. Being thankful changes us. Being thankful leaves ourselves open for the Holy Spirit to do one of the things the Holy Spirit does. Why should we want this? So that our souls may praise you and not be silent. The place of silence was the place of death. The place of praise and thanksgiving is the place of life and love.
May we then say confidently and joyfully with the Psalmist – “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” May this be true for us all.