Give Thanks

Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.”

This is an invitation to give our own historical review of the kindness the Lord has shown to us. It gives our thanksgiving something of a testimonial flavor. If you read the rest of Psalm 136 you will see that this is exactly what the author of the psalm does. He thanks God for his work of creating us, and delivering his people from Egypt, and taking care of them in the wilderness.

But our personal thanksgivings don’t have to be about such grand events. I read a missionary story about a woman in Africa who was eager to have her entire congregation join her in thanking God for giving her a simple pair of shoes. She couldn’t get over how good God had been to her. In our land of plenty, you and I probably aren’t filled with such a sense of appreciation and gratitude over a pair of shoes. That is not because our shoes are any less an undeserved gift from him, or because we owe him any less appreciation for them.

What we pray this Thanksgiving Day, then, involves our own remembering of what God has done for us. That begins with what we call him in our prayer. We give thanks to the Lord. There are many names we could call him, but “the LORD” is the name that reminds us his gracious care for us is free and faithful. He doesn’t let our own behavior stop him.

We are inclined to forget that that is just what our own behavior should lead him to do. We are masters at rationalizing our behavior and downplaying our sin. I once spoke to a man on an evangelism visit who insisted that he was okay with God because, even though he had committed sins, God knew his heart. He was right about the last part. God did know his heart. God knows my heart. That is just the frightening thing, if we are honest. God knows.

And yet, he hasn’t let that change anything. He hasn’t let me turn him away. In Jesus, he has loved and forgiven me anyway. He is the LORD, the God who freely chooses to love us and then faithfully loves us in spite of ourselves. Remembering who God is, the Lord who doesn’t treat me as I deserve, is part of what we pray this Thanksgiving Day.

Our prayer goes on to thank God for his goodness. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good…” That is blunt and to the point. It may also seem a bit wide open. My Hebrew dictionaries suggests a number of different nuances of the word “good” that we can apply to the Lord. Some of them remind us of reasons for thanking him today.

Good can mean “beneficial.” This is “good” as in, “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.” Or “Lady bugs eat aphids. They are good for the garden.” No one or nothing has done more good for us than our Lord. Psalm 103 summarizes them nicely: “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Forgiveness of sins and physical health, more things than we need to enjoy life and strength for that life–these are just a few illustrations of the fact that the Lord is good– a God whose goodness benefits us in every way.

Good can also mean “attractive” or “pleasant.” We enjoy reading a “good” book. When the sun is shining, the air is dry, and the temperatures are warm, we consider it “good” weather. When we like the way something looks or how it makes us feel, it is a “good” one.

Haven’t we all experienced the goodness of God in this way, too? “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” Psalm 34 urges us. If you have ever felt the relief of your guilt lifted, if you have ever known the comfort that God was holding you up in troubled times, if you have ever experienced the joy of God answering your prayers or blessing your efforts with success, if you have ever been filled with the hope for the future and the longing for heaven God’s promises inspire, then you have tasted and you have seen that the Lord is good. This, too, belongs to our reasons for giving thanks this Thanksgiving Day.

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