Remembering to Give Thanks unto the Lord
“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord and to sing praises unto Thy Name, O Most High; to show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night.” — Psalm 92:1-2
It is a sad fact of life and a reflection of the perverse times in which we are living that people by-and-large are, more than ever before, interested in themselves, in what they want, in what they can get, and in how quickly and with the least effort possible they can satisfy their own selfish ends. The “goals” they set for themselves and for their families are, for the most part, economic goals; for they are determined to have always more of “the meat which perisheth” (John 6:27) on their life’s plate and to be materially “better off” next year than they were this year. And, coupled with that Mammon-driven appetite is, particularly in our prosperous country, a deplorable lack of gratitude for just about anything at all! The word “thanks,” common in just about every other country in the world, is fast fading from everyday American English, not just as a polite form of courtesy and etiquette, but even as an expression of genuine appreciation for a service rendered, a favor done, a gift received, a kind word uttered, or a compliment offered. “Why thank a person for what you have coming or for what he owes you as part of the service you’re paying for??” That’s the prevailing attitude; and it’s sad indeed to see and hear even many Christians caught up in it, as if they didn’t know better!
And when people are so ungrateful to other people, think of what that means in terms of their gratitude to God! “God doesn’t draw my paycheck, pay on my mortgage, and make my investments! I do!” —“My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth,” they say with the wicked in Deuteronomy 8:17. —Further on in the psalm chosen as the title-text of our article, the Holy Writer calls such people “brutish”—no better than the animals, who at least lick the hand of their masters who feed them— and “fools” who don’t have the common sense to recognize the source of their daily bread! That’s not surprising, however, given the rank ingratitude with which they treat their fellow men here in this world; for the Apostle John writes in his first epistle chapter 4: “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen??” (v. 20)
Now, as we observe again our national Day of Thanksgiving here in the United States, a day on which precious little thanks is being rendered to anybody, much less to God, it behooves us to consider the admonition of the Lord’s Psalmist just under the title of our article, as he points us in the very opposite direction from the ways of the world and shows us that it is GOOD for us Christians to show forth on a daily basis our gratitude to God — first of all, our “thanksgiving” for all His benefits, particularly His “lovingkindness” to us poor undeserving sinners; and likewise also our “praises” for His mercy and grace, His “faithfulness” to us in the covenant of His precious Gospel.
“It is a GOOD thing to give thanks unto the Lord,” the Psalmist writes. What makes it a “good thing” anyway?? What makes it more than just a perfunctory courtesy which we can exercise or not exercise as we choose? —GOD says so in His Holy Law, for starters! “Thou SHALT love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind!” (Matthew 22:37) Thus reads the summary of our duty to God; and in full accord with Holy Scripture in all those passages which require thanksgiving to Him, we confess with Luther concerning the use of God’s Name: “We should fear and love God that we may … call upon [His Name] in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
But a “good work in the sight of God” is much more than a mere act that appears to conform with the letter of the Law. For the Bible in Romans 3:12 says: “There is none that doeth good, no, not one!” (Also Psalm 14:3; 53:3). And so, a mere recitation of thanks to God as an outward act is not the “good thing” of which the Psalmist speaks in our title-text, as if an unbeliever, an unconverted sinner, could perform it! For “they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Paul writes to the Romans chapter 8 verse 8; and in Hebrews 11:6 we read: “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” Even the “righteousnesses” of Christians are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) in God’s sight because of their imperfection, and because no good work (even on the part of a Christian) counts before God to merit his favor (Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:11a; 20a).
What makes it “a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord” is the fact that the thanksgiving redounds solely to the glory of God, and in not to any credit of our own. It is His work alone that we are converted to faith in Christ Jesus as our Savior. It is His work alone that we humbly recognize our unworthiness of all His blessings. It is His work alone that we appreciate with sincere gratitude all that He has done for us. And it is His work alone that we are willing and able to express that gratitude by “giving thanks unto the Lord,” thanks that is due Him for all His “lovingkindness” in bestowing upon us so richly from day to day His matchless benefits, which we never deserve at His hand (Genesis 32:10).
Moreover, brethren, (and the let us mark this well in our title-text), “it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord” not only in our hearts (as some would like to imagine), but openly and demonstrably in clearly tangible ways. The Psalmist exhorts us to “show forth (the Lord’s) lovingkindness” —as a testimony to others, not of how grateful we are, but of how lovingkind He is. The prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 63 verse 7: “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord… according to all that the Lord hath bestowed upon us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.” And the Lord Jesus says in Matthew chapter 12, verse 34: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” so that, with the apostles, we must confess: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:12). That’s one of the chief reasons we gather regularly in the House of God, that we may “enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise!” (Psalm 100:4). Even on our national Thanksgiving Day, we are a tiny minority among our countrymen and even among professing Christians who actually take the time to assemble together to thank and praise our God! “Where are the nine??” Jesus asked that leper in Luke 17:17, the Gospel Lesson traditionally read on Thanksgiving Day. The majority of those whom the Savior healed never bothered to return to say “thanks” for His “lovingkindness” to them!
But our thanksgiving should be even more demonstrable than mere words! Our thanksgiving should be a veritable “thanksliving,” as we “let [our] light shine before man that they may see [our] good works, and glorify —not us, but— [our] Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Do we “show forth” our gratitude to God by what we do from day to day, “liv[ing]…unto Him which died for [us] and rose again?” If not, then perhaps our works are belying our lips, and we need quickly and sincerely to repent of our ingratitude, lest, continuing in such contradictory ways, we become those who call Him “Lord, Lord” but do not the things which He says from believing and grateful hearts! (Luke 6:46)
Now, all of what has been said thus far pertains to our gratitude for both temporal and spiritual blessings, both of which flow from the Lord’s “lovingkindness” to us and to all men for Jesus’ sake, and “for all which it is (our) duty to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him”… “with hearts and hands and voices” (TLH 36, 1).
But there is special praise to be rendered particularly for the Lord’s mercy and grace toward our souls in all those things which He has done for our salvation! The Psalmist writes: “It is a good thing…to sing praises unto Thy name, O Most High,”… “to show forth… Thy faithfulness….”
“Singing praises” is not an optional mode of worship, as some people in their ignorance would like to think, as if only good and talented musicians are expected to sing unto the Lord. For no such artificial limitation is placed on singing to Him, any more than on thanking Him! Not only here in our title-text, but in many other passages, the Lord exhorts His Christian people to “sing” unto Him, regardless of the musical quality of their voices. This is why the Lord’s church is a singing church, and why God’s people love to gather together in His house to “sing praises unto [His] Name.” Why is singing so special?? Oh, it is because, as so many of the passages clearly show, singing is a form of communication that comes from deep within the spirit of a person, “from the heart” so to speak. A person can mumble when he speaks; he can even be quite detached and uninvolved while in a conversation and still be heard; but “singing praises” is an emotional exercise involving “joy” and “gladness” and “exultation” and “pleasantness” and “wholeheartedness” and “glory” and a “joyful noise!”
And that is very particularly why the Lord refers to singing as the “praise” that His Christian people render unto Him for His mercy and grace to poor sinners, for the covenant of the Gospel of salvation, and for God’s faithfulness to that covenant in rescuing us from “our enemies” and from “ all that hate us” (Luke 1:71) —the devil, the world and our flesh! And let’s face it, brethren, we have a lot to sing about in that regard. —By God’s grace, we Lutheran Christians in particular have such a treasure-house of hymns as our heritage which makes our singing easy —hymns, all of which are based upon passages of Holy Scripture and teach or confess some Biblical truth— unlike so many songs, even religious songs, that express subjective sentimentality and “feelings” and nothing more. “It is [indeed] a good thing to sing praises” unto the Lord, “to show forth [His] lovingkindness and [His] faithfulness” to poor sinners in His plan of salvation:
“He saw me ruined in the fall, yet loved me notwithstanding all! He saved me from my lost estate! His lovingkindness, oh, how great! …When I was Satan’s easy prey, and deep in debt and bondage lay, He paid His life for my discharge! His lovingkindness, oh, how large! …Awake, my soul, from sin’s malaise, and sing thy great Redeemer’s praise! He justly claims a song from thee: His lovingkindness, oh how free!” (TLH 340, 2, 3, and 1 adapted).
As we ponder anew all the blessings we have received at the Lord’s gracious hand, all His lovingkindness to us poor undeserving creatures, and His faithfulness to His promises in the precious Gospel, which by His grace we still have in its truth and purity in the congregations of our precious fellowship, let each one of us ask his own heart with David: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12). And let us then, one and all, resolve, with the help of His Holy Spirit, henceforth to render Him due thanksgiving and praise in accordance with His will —not because we have to, but because we eagerly want to— and not just on Thanksgiving Day, not just on Sundays in the worship services of His House, not just at hymn-sings that we may arrange in our local congregations, but every day of our lives in our homes and along our way, as we work and as we play; for “it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O Most High; to show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night!”
Hallelujah! Let praises ring!
Unto our Triune God we sing!
Blest be His Name forever!
With angel hosts, let us adore
and sing His praises more and more
for all His grace and favor!
“Holy, holy, God is holy; spread the story
of our God, the Lord of glory!”
(TLH 23, 4)
— D. T. M.