Instructions from the Psalmist on How to Give Thanks
Study Guide, November 18, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
Many of you have enjoyed trips over to Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. While we were there last weekend I picked up a guide to the stories of historical sites and homes of Ocracoke. And one story in particular was really fascinating. It told of a landowner that needed to have an old schoolhouse moved off of his property. So he hired several men to do the job. The thing is, the job was rather difficult. And as the men were doing the job he was listening to them complain about the conditions, with one man in particular who seemed really good at grumbling. So he picked out a stump and gave instructions for that man to do nothing all day but to sit there and be the designated grumbler for all of them. Really! It was his job to grumble and gripe about the heat, the mosquitoes, the strenuous work, the low pay, and the mismanagement of the whole deal. That way the others could just work while he did the complaining. And, of course, he would get his pay like all the rest.1
Now, that’s pretty clever! Just assign somebody to be the designated grumbler, and that takes care of it for everybody! The rest can just get on with the work. Maybe that should be a new position in business and government offices and such: ‘Designated Grumbler’. Well, most people don’t need instructions on how to grumble or gripe. We all have had some practice in that! But evidently we do need instructions on how to give thanks. In fact, King David, the Psalmist, recognized this need and then compiled some of his counsel on that very thing, which we find, interestingly enough, in the book of 1 Chronicles. So since we can always use some help on sharpening our gratitude skills, let’s explore.
Before we get into 1 Chronicles chapter 16, it’s also fascinating to find that this passage was actually compiled by David from three of his previous writings, or previous psalms. It’s like these instructions on this skill or discipline for faithful living was so important that he took time to do some research on some of the previous counsel that God had given him about it in order to get it just right. And so here are the passages that correspond to what we have in 1 Chronicles. 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 corresponds with Psalm 105:1-15; 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 goes with Ps. 96:1b-13a; and 1 Chronicles 16:34-36 goes with Ps. 106:1b-c, 47-48.
And notice this surprising thing right off the mark: 1 Chron 16:4- “He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel…” 7 – “…on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the Lord.” NASU How about that? What we find here is that this practice of gratitude or the giving of thanks was such an essential skill for faithful living that David assigned the Levitical priests with this duty at the tent of meeting where the Ark of the Covenant was located, which of course, signified the presence of God in their midst. This offering of thanks and praise was not just an aside that the priests or people were to do whenever they thought about it or felt particularly thankful and such…no, this was a required assignment, a commanded activity for these Levites who were appointed to do it, and for this to also be an example to the rest of the people on what God required of His people for faithful living. One of the things to realize about the practice of praise and thanksgiving is that it has the power to change your life, especially change how you ‘do life’.
Notice some of the instructions: 1 Chron 16:8-14- “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth, O seed of Israel His servant, Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones! He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth.” NASU
Do these sound like suggestions? No, these are both instructions and commands to the Levitical priests on ‘how to give thanks’ to the God of the Universe and Judge of the Earth. And before we notice some of these instructions in particular, it’s also a bit surprising to many people to find that in most instructions throughout the Bible on how to develop a deep devotional relationship with God, as well as how to develop a healthier mind and a more faithful walk with God, that most of these instructions are ‘heavy on praise and light on petition’. They are ‘Praise heavy and Petition light’. Now, of course, God wants us to pray about everything and to bring our petitions before Him. He cares about our every need. But central to even the very well being of our soul and mind is this deep need of going higher and growing deeper into the very life and reality of our Creator and our God. And the gateway to going higher and growing deeper into experiencing the reality of our God and a relationship with Him is through these gates of praise and thanksgiving. The higher you go in praise the deeper you will also go in the knowledge and understanding of the Person you are praising. That’s the thing about gates: gates open up the way to places beyond where you are, or where you were. Try thinking of praise and thanksgiving as ‘gates’ to a higher knowledge and deeper understanding about God and the real world and then watch what difference it makes in your life, and in dealing others and with life itself.
Throughout these ‘instructions’ for giving thanks are great revelations about the One to whom we are thanking. For example: King David calls us to delve further into areas like: the wonders of God’s creation; and God’s deeds among the nations; and into the marvels of God’s attributes; and into His judgments in the Earth. We are also called to ‘recall’ His covenants. Many Christians do not understand much about God’s covenants with His people. And as a result, they then tend to have a confused understanding about God’s plan for His people and about this world in general.
We are also instructed to dwell more on our great inheritance as heirs of God in this world and in the coming Kingdom. King David is basically instructing us to learn more and more about our Creator, and in our learning, to then praise and thank Him more and more in our daily fellowship with Him and then carry that attitude of gratitude with us as we deal with those in our world around us.
Which, right there, this is something that is very striking, because the Psalmist strikes at one of the central stumbling blocks of human nature; that is; that people tend to default to wanting to learn more and more about themselves and less and less about the One who made us all. Recently my daughter Beth pointed out an article to me from Newsweek that claimed that humans are still evolving. However, when it comes to ‘evolution’, I like the old question of: “If monkeys evolved into humans, then why are there still monkeys?” Good question. Anyway, much of the argument of the article sounded like they were describing basic adaptation instead of evolution. Yet, many people still have their hopes set on this hope that mankind will evolve into a better and better version of itself, and, of course, a better version of themselves. But the reality is that this ‘hope’ is a completely ‘false hope’, because not only is mankind not evolving into some better version of themselves, they are actually devolving into a more rebellious version of themselves. The sinful human nature of mankind is devolving into further arrogance about themselves and into further rebellion against their Creator and their only Savior. In fact, it’s no coincidence that in the Apostle Paul’s citation against the worsening rebellious hearts of mankind he points out one thing in particular that especially characterizes the unrepentant heart. Notice this: Rom 1:21- “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” NASU
Do you see how crucial both honoring God as God and giving thanks to God is for even those not yet converted to Christ as their Savior? Even the unconverted have no excuse to not recognize that mankind has a Creator, and that they are to be thankful to their Creator for the very life they have! And if they do not honor Him as God nor give thanks to Him, then they will continue to devolve in their thinking and affections.
Here’s an announcement to all who do not honor God as God nor give Him thanks: “You will continue to become more and more futile in your speculations about life and your foolish heart will continue to become darker and darker.” Thus, saith the Lord through the Apostle Paul!
But now back to the Psalmist’s instructions for God’s people, for us, concerning this daily discipline of praise and thanksgiving. Let’s go to 1 Chron 16:23-27- “Sing to the Lord, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and joy are in His place.” NASU
It’s very important to note how much the Lord talks about ‘joy’ knowing that we all live in a world of hardship and struggles that often just go on from one to the next. And that doesn’t mean that we ignore the hardships, or assume that those going through these hard times aren’t handling them rightly or that they are against others around them, and so on. A very wise lady that I live near to – actually in the same house with, said, “Sometimes you’re just having a hard time with hard times. It’s not against anybody. You are just having a hard time. That’s all.” And that’s true. That’s good insight. And fortunately, God not only understands how hard these ‘hard times’ of life can be, but He also is ready to give us some ‘secret strength’ to help us deal with the hard times of life. And this ‘secret strength’ is ‘His joy’!
In the midst of Jesus’ ‘high priestly prayer’ in John 17 to the Father about the hardships His followers would face He said this: John 17:13- “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” NASU You see it? The joy that Jesus can infuse into us is our secret strength in handling the hardships of this life. But every day, day by day, the choice is ours as to whether we will draw from Jesus ‘well of joy’ or not.
In a great article called “How giving thanks benefits your brain” it pointed to a physiological wonder in the human brain. It stated that the emotions of joy and the senses of anxiety or worry both travel the same pathway in the brain, albeit not at the same time. The point was, if you choose joy or choose to focus on the complimentary components of joy, like praise and thanksgiving and such, that there is literally no room on that pathway in your brain for worry and anxiety. In other words, joy crowds out worry. It’s like joy saying to worry: “There’s only room for one of us on this path…and it’s not going to be you!”
Think of it this way: Things like worry, ungratefulness, cynicism and such never just stop with themselves…no they always produce something. Like cynicism turns people into miserable curmudgeons.2 A ‘curmudgeon’ is a cantankerous and critical person. Well, we certainly don’t want to produce that mess in our lives, right? On the other hand, gratitude lightens our spirit and produces that secret strength – joy! In fact, the habit of gratitude is actually central to having a well developed mind and life. Thankfulness is really therapy for the mind and soul.
And, as we pointed out earlier, the practice of praise and giving thanks falls under the heading of ‘the basic disciplines of life’. In other words, praising God and giving thanks go way past the notion of being tied to whether we feel thankful or waiting on things to work out for us in order to then praise God. No, this discipline is so crucial to the very development of our character and our relationship with God and our work for God in this world that it is part of ‘God’s will’ for our lives. Note: 1 Thess 5:18-19- “…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” NASU And, of course, the command is not to give thanks ‘for’ everything, but ‘in’ everything, because in everything God is still to be honored as God and given thanks for all the unchangeable and immovable things that the Psalmist was pointing out to us in his instructions to us on how to give thanks.
And to help us out further in knowing how to give thanks King David concludes his instructions with this: 1 Chron 16:31-36- “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord; For He is coming to judge the earth. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Then say, “Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks to Your holy name, And glory in Your praise.” Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord.” NASU
Thank you King David! Remember, as New Testament priests, we have also been assigned to walk through these gates of praise and thanksgiving each day into the presence of God. It’s one of our daily assignments, as priests and servants of the Lord. Plus, there are parts to God’s world that you can only get to through these gates of praise and thanksgiving. So, happy trails, and Happy Thanksgiving.
- Ocracoke Guide, Ocracoke Walking Tour, 2018/19 edition
- Susanne Maynes, How giving thanks benefits your Brain, Christian Healthcare Newsletter, November 2018