Thanksgiving: Reflection and Resolution
Scripture: Psalm 65:1–13
There seems to be something magical about the turning of time from one year to the next. Maybe it is the time one tries to forget a pain from the previous year; maybe a new journal is broken open; maybe a resolution or two – or seventeen – are made, only for some to be left behind before the end of the month. Advertisements promise a new you in the new year if you just buy their products. Personal coaches promise this year will finally be different if you commit to their plan. Horoscope experts – AKA charlatans – promise that finally this year Venus will be in Jupiter and your life will be transformed. Satisfaction is always promised to be right around the corner, but as you turn that corner, she seems to have gone another corner further, evading you until you buy that next product, or two, or seventeen.
Resolutions are great! You, believer, know that well. You want to take this time as an opportunity for more sanctification. You want to honor your vows to the Lord, and the covenants you have made with his people. Maybe this is the time you finally commit to forgoing that sin you’ve been nurturing. Maybe this is the year your ministry will see a breakthrough. Maybe this season will bring with it more tangible signs of God’s faithfulness in your life. But in reality, we are all surrounded by what seem to be guiding bridles that keep hastening us to look forward, push ahead, seek the next thing, do more, achieve, excel, and rise; from one thing to the next, with barely a breather in between, and no time for reflection. Perhaps some of these endeavors carry in themselves the marks of sanctification, while others merely wear it as a cloak. After all, our environment seems to have perfected the appearance of true things, yet manifests them sometimes only as shadows. But I might be digressing.
We are people of the Book. We look forward with great hope to the consummation of the kingdom of God. Yet as people of the Book, we know this Book to be a historical document that constantly reminds us of the faithfulness of God. He will be faithful to bring us home; he is faithful to keep us now; and he has been faithful to his promises since he made us for himself. Our Book by its nature engraves in our minds the necessity both of honoring God and of giving thanks to him. To be honest brother and sister, I think we fall short. We not only fall short in honoring him, but we tend to fall miserably short of giving thanks to him.
Perhaps that’s the reason Romans 1:21 stands as a poignant judgment from Paul when he says: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Dear Christian: are you listening to the two reasons Paul is citing for God’s wrath to be revealed? The dishonor of God, and the lack of gratitude toward him. People do not have any lack of things for which to be thankful, but they seem to utterly ignore the One to whom they must be thankful to. Are we better than them? If we had truly understood the breadth of God’s mercy, the depth of his grace, the height of his power and the length of his wisdom, we would be constantly prostrate on our faces before him incessantly repeating the words “thank you” till those around us thought of us merely as delusional. Our worship and our dispositions would be completely transformed and renewed, full of unspeakable joy in the realization that our Father cares for us more than we can ever think or imagine.
In meditating on this psalm together today, I am yearning for us to resolve that we end not one day without reflecting on God’s mercy, celebrating his grace, and giving thanks to him for his person, attributes, word and works. This is a psalm that is dear to me and has a tradition behind it. Every New Year’s Eve in Lebanon, my church gathered to have dinner, fellowship, and games; to sing songs, to give testimonies on God’s work, and to reflect on his goodness. Then we would spend time together in prayer through midnight, after which we would sing this psalm, with the refrain being centered on v.11: “You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The whole heart sings your praise and the whole soul rejoices in jubilance.” The song was a reminder to give thanks and praise to the God who overflows with abundance to people who had been redeemed in the middle of war, opposition, and poverty, from death and darkness to life and light. The song came from hearts that knew the extent of God’s providence and grace, that because of the Lord’s mercies and steadfast love we were not consumed (cf. Lamentations 3:22). The soul that has tasted of the goodness of the Lord will delight in his sweetness, commit to honor him, yearn to thank him, and scuff at the fleeting pleasures of this world, even as it seeks to live and bear fruit by the vibrant power of the Holy Spirit. Such a soul does not see God and his works as a dessert or an afterthought, but the main meal that satisfies hunger and quenches thirst in a dry and weary land.
In our time together, I will first lay out the context and main themes of this psalm, then remind us of the importance of reflection, and exhort us toward a resolution of thanksgiving.
Context and Themes
Psalm 65 comes after a series of psalms of lament and yearning for God, and begins a series of psalms of thanksgiving. It is a lyrical poem that can be either spoken or sung. It is not clear when David wrote it, but it probably came after a period of transgression against God that he punished with drought and duress, leading them to repent and to return to him in worship, at which point he mercifully forgave their iniquities and graciously blessed them with abundance. As we study our Old Testament, in particular of late as we had been going through Ezekiel, this pattern seems all too familiar in the narratives we come across.
As we study our lives, this pattern does not seem to be foreign to us either. V.1-4 tell us that God wants to be honored. He is worthy to be worshiped by his people. He is worthy to receive commitments and resolutions from his children. He is worthy to be the recipient of vows of obedience, of love, of thanksgiving. When we fail to honor him, if he were to measure our iniquities, none of us could stand before him (Ps 130:3). But being the only living God who hears all petitions, he manifests an eagerness to grant the ultimate and highest blessing in his divine election of his people, in redemption and atonement, in drawing them near (i.e. sanctification), in bringing them into community, into his people, into his fold, into his own house where they can find rest and dwell in peace. His bounty satisfies more than the sweetness of honey and more than the richness of treasures. Not only that, but his children will find his holiness the ultimate fulfilment of their desire, and the community of faith their enduring family. These first 4 verses tell us that God is worthy to be praised because he is merciful and gracious in welcoming sinners back as his own, where they find that his holiness is not a fearsome danger or awful terror, but a delight to be in its presence and a pleasing aroma that revives the soul and satisfies it with joy. The soul then yearns to come to him, to be in his presence, to pray, to make vows, to confess, and to delight in him.
V.5-8 then describe that the one who has known restoration to fellowship with God will not regard God’s righteousness or any attribute as an entirely separate entity from God’s being and purposes. You see, his works, his holiness and his might flow out of his being and are therefore unmatched as they manifest together in creation, sustenance, and salvation. His eternal purposes toward the world have not changed in these verses (v.5,8): all peoples must hope in him; he is not the last hope: he is the only hope. His might is hidden from none. His attributes are clearly seen so that no one has an excuse (cf. Romans 1:20). Even the phenomena of created nature, whether regular or eccentric, normal or abnormal, natural or supernatural, all testify to God’s manifold greatness and bring glory to his name in the entire created order. He is more awesome than the sum of them all.
Yet even more, what brings the highest glory and leads the ends of the earth to come to our Lord is when the people whom he has chosen for himself extend the blessing he has given them to those who have not yet received it. You see, when God blesses his people, the expectation has always been that the blessing would extend through his people to all nations of the earth. That’s how his fame grows; that’s how his glory is known; that’s how the ends of the earth would seek him out to worship. For all should come to him, in the words of Isaiah 66:23b: all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.
David could have ended this psalm at v.8, with the beautiful image of nature rejoicing in God’s work. But after celebrating God’s grace toward his repentant people, I am so glad he included the next 5 verses that proclaim God’s providential care for his creation, both human and non-human, and the increase of abundance and value he gives to all that he has made. His grace overflows. His providence is unmatched. Like a master gardener he beautifies the land he made and prepares it for growth and harvest. These verses invite meditation on the works of the Lord that should lead his people to delight in his abundance by seeing that the land itself is pregnant with fullness and plenty under God’s blessing. It wears the blessing of his care as a beautiful crown, springtime and harvest. Once more we have a reminder of the promised covenant blessing, leading all of creation to sing, from the first creation declaring his greatness, to the future new creation announcing his eternal glory and salvation.
The end of a season and the beginning of another always invite reflection. I find myself writing the most in my journal at the end of a year. There is something unique about the turning of time and date. Even the psalmist recognizes it. But how often should one reflect? If we take a closer look, we find reflection at the center of major parts of the word of God, with festivals and times set apart for this purpose. Prophets call people to remember the works of God; priests call on them to remember the covenant and the vows; songs call on people to remember his faithfulness. Gospels and letters call on us to remember Christ’s works, his promises, and our faith. Reflection and retrospection invite thanksgiving.
Maybe a lack of reflection is the reason people do not honor God, or at least not the way they should. Honoring looks forward; thanksgiving looks backward. And I offer us this concept: that thanksgiving based on reflection is a steppingstone toward honoring God. In this psalm, the people had gone astray and had suffered for it, yet God led them to repentance, showed them grace, and gave them abundance. It was fitting for them to reflect on his mercies, to give thanks to him, and to praise him from hearts that knew the depth of his mercy.
Reflection may not always be focused on the positive. You’ve heard it said: “hindsight is 20/20.” I think sometimes hindsight is 20/100. People - including us - seem to have a selective memory the longer time passes by. The people in the wilderness quickly forgot God’s salvation and mis-remembered their time in Egypt as if it was full of cucumber, meat, bread, and yogurt. Their reflection was ill which made their thanksgiving nil and their praise dim. Instead, they should have been reflecting on God’s salvific works and looking forward with anticipation to the coming hope, with eagerness to honor him and keep the vows. They had many reasons to give thanks for: salvation; freedom from slavery; freedom to worship; exodus; manna; water; clothes that did not tear; shoes that did not wear; the law; good leaders; the temple; the sacrifices; a fertile land; abundance; God himself dwelling among them as their king and giver of promises. And the story repeats itself throughout history until today.
If we reflect on the past year or any past period, we are sure to find a multitude of reasons that make it hard to be positive. Our minds might be starting even now to recall some of these things: accidents; anxiety; broken car; broken promises; broken water pipe; conflict; confusion; death; delays; dementia; depression; difficult coworkers; distance; disobedient children; harsh parents; illness; inflation; insecurity; isolation; joblessness; lack of rest; lies; loneliness; morning sickness; pain; pandemic; sin; toil; unrealized expectations; war; weird neighbor; and many more reasons to look back and feel sad.
But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says: give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. So if we reflect with the purpose of finding reasons to celebrate and to give thanks, we might be surprised at the hope our memories can find: adoption; baptism; celebration; children; clarity; clean water; easy coworkers; delights; family; forgiveness; friendship; good neighbors; good memories; growth; healing; hope; kind strangers; love; meals; new life; obedience; recreation; repairs; resolution; rest; safety; transportation; truce; truth; unexpected blessings; warmth; work; and many others. We might have to work a bit harder looking for these things, because I think we have been conditioned in this age to wear negativity as a badge of honor. But I hope we all resolve to reflect on God’s goodness every day of this year, leading us to give thanks and praise. He not only crowns the year with his bounty, but he also crowns you with glory and honor (Ps 8:5); he crowns you with steadfast love and mercy (Ps 103:4); he crowns the humble with salvation (Ps 149:4). He will give you a crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8), the crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev 2:10). And hear this from Isaiah 28:5: he himself will become the crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to his people. The King eternal himself is our eternal crown.
One of my practices the past couple of years has been to ask myself every evening: what has been a moment of God’s grace in my life? That led me to reflection and to thanksgiving, even when I had thought there was no reason to be grateful. Like most other rhythms, reflection and thanksgiving are to be exercised regularly, or we might risk losing our aptitude in doing them. You see, thankfulness is the language of gratitude. It’s also the language of realizing our dependence. The word “please” indicates future dependence; the word “thank you” makes us realize a past dependence being expressed in a language of gratitude. A good reflection, dear believer, should lead us to abundant thanksgiving. Who of us has not experienced the Lord’s mercies and grace, assurance and joy, care and delights in this past year? Here’s a warning: I think as we are hearing this, our minds are immediately dusting off the scales and trying to weigh the positives against the negatives, to see where the balance stands. But what if like David here, we simply remember God’s goodness and break out in thanksgiving and joy, casting aside any negative experiences we might have had? I do not want us to simmer down our joy or balance our thanksgiving; I want us to express them to their fullest.
For some reason we have learned to blunt our God-given emotions. We’ve toned down the mourning of sin, the grieving of death, and the expressing of lament. Friends: we of all people better mourn and grieve when a loved one dies. We better do it well. Not without hope, but well. What good does it do to show strength in public, but then being left to mourn and grieve and sorrow alone for months and years afterwards? Sister, brother: when you grieve, do it from your heart; when you mourn, do it deeply; when you cry, get dehydrated; when you lament, ask why? How long? When you are struggling, let the body of Christ bear your burden. When you are fighting sin, fast and pray and let your TEAMS fight with you. The Bible clearly invites us to give full expression to our human emotions before the throne of God. Read Job and the psalms: the Bible gives us freedom to express all these things.
But also, it calls on us to give full expression to our praise, our joy, and our gratitude. So when you rejoice, do it like God is watching you. Sports players love to give full expression to their joy before an audience of people. And their joy is but for a moment. Why don’t we give full expression to our eternal joy before the throne of God and in the assembly of his holy ones? Do it like king David who danced before the ark as if no one was there. Or more accurately, as if God himself was the ultimate audience (2 Sam 6:14). When you worship, worship with all your being. And when you give thanks, overflow with gratitude to the one who has made you his own, united you with him, called you his son and daughter, brought you incomprehensible peace, given you eternal joy, and guaranteed you life everlasting.
Is there supposed to be a cooling down period between one or the other? Between lament and praise? Asking why and giving thanks? I don’t think the Bible prescribes that. Paul would often start his letters with wonderful thanksgiving and then move on to mourn sin and address difficult matters. I’m not saying we should go about acting schizoid, or having wildly swaying emotions from one minute to the next, but I think it is perfectly possible for one to mourn or lament at one point during a day, and then come to the end of the day and find reasons to give thanks, if for no other cause, then for the steadfast love of the Lord that endures forever.
Conclusion and Application
In obedient response to the word, I like to make: “I will…” statements. I exhort you today to make lasting commitments, such as: “I will reflect daily on the works of God;” “I will find a reason every day to give him thanks;” “I will meditate every evening on how he has been gracious to me;” “I will make vows and keep them;” “I will seek to obey and be holy;” “I will praise him with all my being before my brothers and sisters and a cloud of witnesses.”
Many of the people of faith who came before us made vows and resolutions that helped them in their walk with the Lord. For example, Jonathan Edwards is known to have written 70 resolutions for his Christian walk. I invite you to review them and learn from them for they are delightfully puritan and good for the soul. But I admit I was slightly disappointed that none of his resolutions mentioned giving thanks. People who seek to obey God would be well served by reflecting on his kindness and giving thanks for his goodness, because the gratitude of the heart would lead the believer to abound in praise. And this psalm reminds us that it is good to give praise to the Lord. The literal translation of v.1 is: praise awaits you in silence, O God. When one reflects on the works of our Lord, I imagine the believer sitting there in silence, stunned, in awe, even with difficulty finding words to initiate praise, but then overflowing with a desire to give thanks and lift praise. The desire then swells into a sense of honor in making vows to him. A thoughtful reflection with a desire to praise him gives us a disposition of delight in his kindness, thankfulness for his care, joy in his fatherhood, and peace in each and every situation.
In renewed reflection on v.4 which says: blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts and be satisfied with the goodness of your house: our Lord sovereignly chooses and elects to bring us near. He made a feast and called sinners to come to the table; to come and buy without silver or gold; come and enter his rest and be satisfied with his goodness. In his courts is fullness of joy. His house is the most hospitable. His table is always full. His temple is overflowing with the aroma of the incense of his holiness rising with the songs of praise and worship of his angels. Who is like the Lord our God?! Awesome in glory; majestic in holiness; merciful in his forgiveness; gracious in his redemption! There is no god like him. No! There is no other! And he has decided to share of his own self and of his goodness and grace with us. He has lifted our heads and given us seats of honor. He has entered our toil so that we may enter his rest. He has walked into our pain so that we may walk into his comfort. He has girded himself to make war in our fight so that we may receive his peace.
The soul that is satisfied with him delights in his hope. When it gives thanks, it overflows with a proclamation of his hope to the ends of the earth so that all peoples come to worship him. A resolution of gratitude to our God is a resolution to make his name known and his glory shown through all the earth. So let him find none else who is more thankful than we are! If nature leaps for joy and sings with all its being, let us outdo it with resolutions of obedience, praise, godliness, holiness, delight in honoring him, and eagerness to thank him.
Many are making New Year resolutions today. I wish to tell you that this next year will be better than the past, but the truth is I don’t know. As we look back, we can see that in many ways, things get worse from one year to the next. But we can also see that in many ways, God is making things better until the day when he will make all things new. We are living in bad times. We are also living in the best of times because he who is with us is stronger than he who us against us, and is faithful to bring us to glory, having sealed us with his Spirit. I pray we resolve to remember the mercies of God and give him thanks every day, in all circumstances, because it is the will of God and because it is good to give thanks to the Lord our God and King and to praise him, for his steadfast love and his kingdom endure forever.
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