As I reflect on life and especially at this time of year I see how easily my heart is hardened. Oh, not in the obvious outright ways we tend to think of hardness. But in the small details of not thanking God. Only it is not a small thing to God. And so, as I read Psalm 138 today, my heart is reminded again of the basis for thanksgiving. Not in me, but in God himself.
I will give thanks to you with all my heart.
I will make music to praise you in front of the false gods.
I will bow toward your holy temple.
I will give thanks to your name because of your mercy and truth.
You have made your name and your promise greater than everything.
(Psalm 138:1-2 GW)
The key for me is the “because” of vs. 2. Giving thanks and making music and bowing in the presence of God are because…
…because of God’s mercy and truth
God tells the truth about everything. Only by being truthful about all things can God deal with the reality of this life. The truth is my heart often does not want to give thanks. I like to admit that some of this present life is my responsibility. And it is, the sin, the anger that sometimes lingers. The truth is that I have failed miserably.
But there is a greater truth than even my failures. God speaks the truth, acts in truth, and remain true to himself regardless of what happens or what people think or say or do. Ultimately God sends his Son, Jesus Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The truth is that unless Jesus died for that sin and rose again victorious over death, I would be fighting my own battle against sin, death, and the devil. And who could I thank for that?
But Jesus is truth, and brings the truth also of God’s mercy. “Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us” (Romans 5:8 GW). God’s mercy far outweighs out greatest sins, even my not being thankful. And yet because God is merciful and truthful, He extends undeserved blessings upon me, the chief of sinners.
… because You have made your name and your promise greater than everything.
God’s name is greater than everything. His name, “I AM WHO I IAM” (Yahweh, Exodus 3:14) is always in the context of salvation and deliverance. When Moses was wrestling with God about the certainty of God’s presence and his name, we read in Exodus 6 that God speaks to the people through Moses. At the beginning is the phrase “I am the LORD” and then it is repeated at the end. In between God promises seven times what God himself will do.
“Tell the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD. I will bring you out from under the oppression of the Egyptians, and I will free you from slavery. I will rescue you with my powerful arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 Then I will make you my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land I solemnly swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your own possession. I am the LORD.’” (Exodus 6:6-8 GW)
The truth, power, and promise through his name is beyond Moses’ imagination. And far greater than the Israelites could have hoped for. God stakes his own name on his promises. He speaks: “I will…” and there are no more certain words ever spoken.
…and so I will give thanks with a grateful heart
The response of someone who has heard the truth of sin and condemnation but even more heard the truth of what Jesus has done about that is to give thanks. Not in a begrudging way, not with a quick nod to a distant God. But giving thanks with a grateful heart, a heart that has been made alive. A heart that is free from sin, guilt, shame, fear, doubt, …
As the hymn notes:
Now Thank We All Our God
Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours to-day.
O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace, And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills In this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God The Father now be given,
The son, and him who reigns, With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, And shall be evermore.
This Psalm brings me back from my dark moments. Forgive me, Lord. And brings me to the new reality: to one of a grateful heart who begins once again to give thanks to God—because of who God is and what He has done.