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NOVEMBER 22 2015

Giving Thanks

 

  It was September of 1620 when a small, wooden ship set sail from England to make its way across the Atlantic so that they could experience freedom to worship the Lord and still own land. The name of that ship was the Mayflower.

  The story starts before that month, however. The Pilgrims had fled to Holland because they were being persecuted for worshipping God outside the Church of England. After deciding to begin a new life in the New World, they sailed from Holland to England in July and then planned to take two ships to America: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Those ships set sail for their transatlantic journey on August 5th, but there was a storm and The Speedwell began to leak. So they had to turn back. After a week of repairs they set out again . This time travelling 300 miles before the Speedwell again started leaking. They had to turn back again.

  The Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy while at port, so only one ship could go. They had a disappointing start, using up vital supplies on two failed attempts to set sail. Many had to stay behind.

   The food during the voyage was terrible: brine-soaked beef, pork, and fish, and stale hard biscuits which they shared with the insects and rats.

   Conditions were miserable. Cramped quarters, people vomiting often because of seasickness, no toilets, and the hatches had to be sealed most of the time because of the severe weather which plagued them most of the trip. So, lack of fresh air and foul odors added to their misery.

   To make matters worse, the crew were not believers and mocked and taunted them. They called them “psalm-singing puke-stockings” and worse names.

   One sailor was particularly cruel, cursing the sick pilgrims and telling them that he couldn’t wait to throw their dead bodies overboard when they died. Shortly after that remark he became gravely ill with a fever and died just one day after getting sick! They had to throw his body overboard. God is sovereign and cares for his own even in the midst of adversity. The other sailors ceased their mocking after this incident.

   Four weeks out at sea they met with a ferocious storm with winds at 50 mph and waves towering fifty feet and more. The vicious pounding of the waves opened cracks in the wooden hull and icy seawater began to leak in.

   The storm raged for days and was so intense that even the blasphem-

ous sailors prayed. All through the storm the Pilgrims continued to pray for deliverance and they sang psalms.

   The cross beam supporting the main deck cracked because of the stress of the high winds. The sailors thought they were going to perish. The Pilgrims prayed all the more. They remembered a Jack Screw they had brought along in the cargo bay to help them lift heavy beams for building. They used this to crank up the beam to its original position. The Pilgrims gave praise to God.

   God had protected the Pilgrims on the journey. Only one passenger died, because he refused drink a spoonful of lemon juice each day.  There was even a birth at sea and the baby was named, appropriately, Oceanus.

   After nine weeks at sea, though, the passengers began getting ill with fever, chills, and swollen limbs. Many wondered if they would even make it to the New World. Then, on the 65th day, they caught a glimpse of land where they could worship God freely and where freedom would one day flourish.

   Shouting for joy and falling to their knees in prayer, they celebrated by reading Psalm 100.

   Why don’t we read that together now, in unison with that reading from 391 years ago.

   READ.

Psalm 100

 1Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

 2Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

 3Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 4Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

 5For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

 

I would like us to consider together the importance of giving thanks in the light of this psalm as well as some other passages that we will look at.

 

Vs. 1: Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

 

   “Make a joyful noise!” It is good to make a noise to the Lord. This is not singing. That comes in verse 2. Some versions have “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth!” Now, I suppose it would be too much to ask people to shout to the Lord in the assembly. For one thing, it is very hard to change habits of many years. Secondly, new things tend to make us uncomfortable, so there is the problem of discomfort. So, I’m not going to ask you to do that. But, if you feel so inclined please don’t hold back.

   But what you will find less uncomfortable is shouting to the Lord when you are alone and no one can hear you. I challenge you to try it and find that it is a blessing. I have to be honest and say that, for the past year, I have done very little of that. But I will relate my experiences of the past.

I used to go into the woods for long prayer-walks. I would go far enough in where I knew that no one could hear me. And I would call out to the Lord in a loud voice, sometimes for help, and sometimes just to joyfully praise Him for all that He has done for me. There is something exhilarating and encouraging about that that gets beyond routine prayer. There is a connection that happens and God becomes more real. Yes, it is good to shout joyfully to the Lord!!

 

Notice also that it says “all ye lands” or “all the earth” in some versions. The Lord is the Creator of all people, not just Israel. And Israel exists to bring light to the entire earth, although they, by and large, failed to do this. Similarly, the Lord is the Lord of all people, not just the church. And the church exists, in great measure, to bring light to the entire earth.

 

 

 2Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

“Serve the Lord with gladness.” When we serve the Lord, it should not be with a heavy heart, merely thinking of our obligations. Rather, it should be with an attitude that we have the privilege to do something for Him. If he did not redeem us we would be living only for ourselves, as we once did. It is because of His favor upon us that we even have a desire to serve Him. That is something to be glad about in itself: that God chose you out of many to be with Him for eternity.

 

 3Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

He made us. Therefore, we belong to Him. However, we belong to Him not merely by creation, but by adoption. We have been made His children by being in Christ. The idea of adoption is a legal concept that the writers of the NT used to picture our familial relationship with God. We are not only creatures, but children of God. This is a more intimate relationship than the Israelites had with the Lord.

 

Because God made us, and because we are His children, we belong to Him and we have a duty to obey Him.

 

The truth that we have a duty to obey God brings with it mixed feelings among God’s own people. There is a rejoicing within us at the mere thought of obeying God, is there not? We love God and desire to please Him in all that we do. At the same time, and especially if we are not in spirit, the thought of obeying God sometimes stirs up feelings of rebellion. How can this be? God is our Father and our Friend.

 

It is because we still have a sinful nature, even though saved, washed, and redeemed. If you asked your own children if they loved you they would certainly say “yes” and they do. It would only be an excessively rebellious child who would say no. But do they not occasionally disobey or ignore your advice? It is usually later in life that they start listening to you more often.

There is a marvelous quote by Mark Twain that speaks to this:

 

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

 

Of course, it wasn’t Mark Twain’s father who had gained wisdom, but Twain himself, recognizing that his father was right most  of the time. And so with our own children, they finally figure out that we know more than them, maybe not in science of computers, but in the practical and moral issues of life.

 

 This is the way it is with God. Only we don’t have to wait until we are old to finally recognize that God is always right. We can trust Him by faith now. The commands that he gives to us are for our own good.

 

Following them will bring us the greatest fulfillment and joy. We can learn that by trail and error and have much suffering, or we can trust Him and have joy now.

 

Knowing that he gives us commands for our own good goes a long way to quell the rebellion that remains in our hearts.  We come to one of those commands in verse 4:

 

“Give thanks to Him.”  He commands us to give thanks to Him. Why?

 

1. We should be thankful because God commands it. If that were the only reason to be grateful, that would be enough. Because we are his creatures we ought to do what He says.

 

Why might He command us to give thanks? God is a person, not some kind of force as in Star Wars. I am certain that God enjoys getting thanks from his children. But that is not the primary reason that he tells us to give thanks. It is because it is so good for us to give thanks.

 

2. We should be thankful because it is good for us.

In the May, 2010 issue of Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, says that gratitude has

 

“a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. … researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.”

 

People who express gratitude to others and to God are happier and better adjusted. They are better able to handle difficulties in life when they come. Do you want to be happier? Let me ask this: How many of you want to be less happy than you are?

 

If you want to be happier, give thanks. Give thanks to others and to God.

 

According to an article in WebMD, gratitude both reduces stress and strengthens your immune system, thereby being a positive factor in physical health. Do you want to be healthier? Let me ask it this way: How many of you want to be sick?

 

If you want to be healthier, give thanks. Give thanks to others and to God.

 

Now, let’s look at verse 5:

 

 5For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

 

It is a continuation of verse 4; give thanks to him and bless his name

Because the Lord is good

Because his mercy, or as some translations have it, his steadfast love endures forever.

Because his truth, or as some translations have it, his faithfulness to all generations.

 

So this is a third reason to give thanks:

 

3. We should give thanks because it the right response to the goodness of God.

 

Let us return to the story of the Pilgrims. They landed in Plymouth and began their settlement. Because they had arrived in the new world so late in the year, winter was upon them before they could build many buildings. Food was scarce and shelter was lacking: some had to sleep on the Mayflower which delayed its return to England in order to help the Pilgrims survive. Others had to sleep in the church building which was the first building they built. Because of the poor conditions a sickness spread throughout the settlement which claimed nearly half the lives of the settlers. But they didn’t give up hope.

 

As Spring drew near, on March 16, 1621, a lone Indian boldly strode to the meetinghouse door and cried out “Welcome!” in English! They were surprised to say the least. They had seen a few Indians now and then and they always ran away. His name was Samoset and he was the chief of a tribe further north on the coast. He told them a strange story. The land where they lived was inhabited by a tribe known as the Patuxets. They had murdered every group of white men who had landed there before. But just four years before the Pilgrims arrived the entire tribe died of a mysterious plague.

If the plague had not come four years earlier they surely would have slaughtered the Pilgrims, each one. As it was, the place where the Pilgrims landed was a good place with:

 

  • Fertile soil
  • Four spring-fed creeks (fresh, clean water!)
  • And a large area of ground which had been cleared by the Patuxets ready for planting.

 

This is called the sovereignty of God. And the Pilgrims thanked God for His oversight.

 

David expressed thanks for God’s sovereignty eloquently in I Chronicles 29: 10-13. 

 

 

 

4. We should give thanks because God is sovereign over all our circumstances.

 

Let us look at Psalm 116:16,17:

 

16O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.

  1.  I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.

 

What is a sacrifice? A sacrifice is something that you would not under normal circumstances want to give up. We do not always feel like giving thanks.  The same thought is expressed by the author of Hebrews in chapter 13:

 

15By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

  1.  But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

 

And this brings us to reason number 5 which incorporates a principle:

 

5. We should give thanks whether we feel like giving thanks or not

because it pleases God.

 

Our last reason is the best reason of all:

 

6. We should give thanks to God because it brings the presence of God. Psalm 140:

 

 12I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.

  1.  Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.

 

This is Hebrew parallelism.

 

Let us summarize then:

  1. We should give thanks because God COMMANDS it.
  2.  IT IS GOOD FOR US.
  3.  RIGHT RESPONSE TO THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
  4.  BECAUSE GOD IS SOVEREIGN.
  5.  WHETHER WE FEEL LIKE IT OR NOT.
  6.  BRINGS THE PRESENCE OF GOD.