5 Ways to Demonstrate A Thankful Heart

The history of Thanksgiving is interesting.

Although the tradition of Thanksgiving is being attacked like every other tradition in our land, it is still generally recognized that the holiday points back to the celebration of the pilgrims in the New World in 1621. The official holiday didn’t come about until a proclamation was made by President George Washington in 1789, although it was later discontinued. It wasn’t until 1828 that a campaign was begun to restore Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and formalized when it was proclaimed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to be the official National Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November. What a roller coaster!

But even this wasn’t the first thanksgiving. We could go all the way back to the time of King David, found in 1Chronicles 16 to see another Day of Thanks that came far before Lincoln made his proclamation.

Israel’s King David had finally found peace from the homicidal Saul and his foreign enemies. He moved into Jerusalem and had built a house for himself. Life was good for the king! He had finally brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and placed it into a special tent made especially for the worship of the Lord.

In a spirit of great thankfulness and gratitude, David offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to His God. He distributed gifts of food to everyone in the nation of Israel, and along with these national festivities, David brought in musicians and singers to offer songs of praise to the Lord. This song, written by David is also found in Psalm 105.

As we begin to prepare our hearts for this season of thanks, I wanted to take the first five verses of this song of praise (vv. 8-12), and direct your heart, dear reader, to worship the Lord, as David sought to direct the hearts of his people.

As Christians, we are to have a thankful heart on a daily basis, and David would have agreed. But Thanksgiving in the U.S. is a special day set aside so that we might dedicate our hearts heavenward, because of all the people on earth, we as sinners saved by unmerited grace should be the most thankful for his electing grace and mercy.

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you Five Ways Which We as Believers Can Show Thankfulness in Our Lives

1. Depend Upon His Strength For Your Needs (v. 8a)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;”

Part of giving thanks is recognizing that the Lord’s past gifts are a reminder of His future provision. It is interesting how quickly we forget the Lord’s past provision as we grow anxious about our future. Israel struggled with this as well. Look at Exodus 15:11 in what is called the Song of Moses. It says, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Later, in verse 22 it says, “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”

Did you see how long has passed? Three days! Verses 23-24 continue, “When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” What happened to the great God they sang about only a few days earlier?

And we are the same sometimes, aren’t we? We gather on a Sunday and sing “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” And then we go home, and a few days later crumble in despair over our situations, trials, and circumstances.

We need to understand that our thanks and praise must not only look backward, but forward. We must thank the Lord and praise him for what he will do in our unforeseen future. Give him thanks for future grace–those blessings and the strength that you have not yet received, but like manna, we will receive in due time according to his perfect will.

2. Declare How He Has Answered Your Prayers (v. 8b)

“make known his deeds among the peoples!”

We ought to start thanksgiving in how we talk with one another, shouldn’t we? Part of stirring one another up in the community of saints is to share not only our needs but also the glorious ways in which the Lord answered our prayers. We have seen the miraculous deeds of God over and over again. Our living Savior has heard our prayers and satisfied our needs repeatedly. We should have words of praise and thanksgiving constantly on our lips.

But in this song, David was speaking primarily about our testimony to the unbelieving world. “The peoples” is a reference to the nations outside of Israel, the pagan world. Spurgeon wrote, “Let the heathen hear of our God, that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”

Do you remember the name Dr. Kent Brantly? He was the Samaritan’s Purse doctor who recovered from the deadly Ebola virus that he had contracted while working with Ebola patients in Liberia, Africa. In 2015, Dr. Brantly and his wife published a book of their account, and Time Magazine wrote a short story about it. Listen as Dr. Brantly declares how God answered his and many others’ prayers:

“I know that some consider it controversial for me to claim that God saved my life when I had received an experimental drug and some of the greatest medical care available in the world. I can see how these two realities appear to contradict each other. I also feel the dissonance with claiming God saved my life while thousands of others died. These issues are not clear-cut for me. I wrestle with these tensions… Some may call it a grand coincidence, and I couldn’t argue against them. But when I see the unlikely and highly improbable events that occurred—not only during my illness, but also for decades preceding the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—I see the hand of God at work, and I give him the credit.” [http://time.com/3965989/ebola-survivor-brantly-book/]

Most of us won’t ever get that sort of stage to declare the glory of God to the world. But we have a small stage of unbelieving family, friends, and co-workers who are watching and listening. We need to declare to them how God has been working in our lives, so that as Spurgeon said, “that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”

3. Direct Your Praises to Him Alone (v. 9)

“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!”

Now, this might mean that we need to make sure that we don’t do what Israel did in Exodus 32, in redirecting our worship from God to something else, like a golden calf. This can happen the way it did for the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 3:3-5, where there were different factions in the same church, who weren’t really worshipping Christ, but their favorite teachers. That is a real danger for some.

But there is another pitfall that we need to avoid. We can see it in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-12, where Jesus speaks about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Although this is called a parable by Luke, this scenario probably was enacted many times right before the people who frequented the temple. The godly-looking Pharisee prays with arms extended, speaking in pious tones, while the tax collector stood off in a corner looking as guilty as he was before God. To the casual observer or even the so-called worshipper, this looks like thanksgiving and praise. But it isn’t, is it? It’s self-worship and congratulations.

We need to be aware that when we sing or pray or speak about the Lord that we aren’t twisting worship to God into worship of self. We see this when a musician is all about himself, absorbing all the attention and praise–as he supposedly sings to “the Lord.”

Instead, we need to focus all our attention and praise on the Lord alone. Listen to Spurgeon again, “Bring your best thoughts and express them in the best language to the sweetest sounds. Take care that your singing is “unto him,” and not merely for the sake of the music or to delight the ears of others. Singing is so delightful an exercise that it is a pity so much of it should be wasted upon trifles or worse than trifles. O ye who can emulate the nightingale, and almost rival the angels, we do most earnestly pray that your hearts may be renewed that so your floods of melody may be poured out at your Maker’s and Redeemer’s feet.”[C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 88-110, vol. 4 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 336.]

4. Delight Yourself in God More Than Just His Gifts (vv. 10-11)

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Notice the focus here, “Glory in his holy name….those who…seek the Lord (2x)….seek his presence.” Today we will find ourselves giving thanks for many blessings and gifts, and we should. But our love and the thanksgiving that accompanies it, should be more for God and not only for what he can and has given to us.

Remember what it says in Habbakuk 3:17-19? “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, ESV)

Our ultimate joy and thanks should be for receiving Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. That is the best gift we have ever or will ever receive. Everything else is simply grace upon grace. Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37, ESV).

5. Dwell on What the Lord Has Said and Done (v. 12)

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,”

Our struggle with being discontent is usually a memory problem. The root of our discontentedness is most often found in our unwillingness or inability to recall all that the Lord has already said to us and done for us.

I always think it’s a perfect sign of the self-centered world we live in that the day after “Thanksgiving” we have the biggest shopping day of the year. We are thankful, but we must have more! And we as Christians can get sucked up into that same attitude. Instead of dwelling on the eternal blessings and gifts given to us, we look at the flashy bobbles everyone else seems to have and we want to know why we don’t have them. We want to know how we can have them. And it’s not just tangible “stuff” that we crave. We crave prestige, power, influence, friends.

But listen to the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

Our greatest riches are not from the Lord: our greatest riches is the fact that we know the Lord. Let us give thanks for this most magnificent gift!

Discernment in an Undiscerning Age

Several months ago, we added another member to our family. Jack was a yellow Labrador puppy who lacked discernment. It didn’t seem to matter to Jack whether he was eating the inner sole of a shoe, a dirty sock, or the expensive dog food we had purchased for him. It all went down just the same. If a sock went missing, we’d sometimes find it again when Jack would cough it up on the kitchen floor. The reality of Proverbs 26:11 played out right before our eyes. It says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (NASB). Thankfully, our socks and shoes are safe from Jack these days. He’s grown in size, weight and discernment.  

When it comes to making wise and sound judgments, the Bible speaks about the naïve and the fool. The naïve are like children who have not honed their senses to be able to discern what is harmful and what is not. The fool lacks sense because he may know what is harmful, but he still rushes into danger with little fear of the consequences. Both of these types of people, the naïve and the fool can be found in the world we live in, as well as in the Church.

Children and fools lack discernment. The former because of a lack of teaching, inexperience and immaturity. The latter lack it because they will not listen to their teachers, nor will they learn from their experience.

In the wisdom literature, it is the wise person who is discerning, while the transgressor and fool walk in darkness, unwilling to discern the way of the Lord. According to Hebrews 5:14, maturity comes when the senses are trained to discern through practice. This reference to practice is a clear reference to the “Word of righteousness,” the Scriptures (Heb. 5:13). Broadly speaking, this idea of discernment is closely connected to the concept of wisdom and as such is a major theme throughout Scripture.

So how does one grow in maturity so that they are not a naïve babe in their understanding? Hosea 14:9 says, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, And the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them” (NASB). This text speaks about the need for understanding and knowledge of the ways of the Lord. Knowing the ways of the Lord is necessary because they are just and righteous. Therefore, those who strive to be wise, must first know the ways of the Lord and then they must walk in those ways. This is wisdom and discernment. We cannot grow wise and mature in the Lord if we remain ignorant of the ways of the Lord as described in the Scriptures. One who is lacking discernment is this way because they do not avoid the ways that are not of the Lord and may even rush headlong into them. The one who transgresses the Law is the one who will stumble in many ways. He does not care to discern, and so is indiscriminate in how he walks in life.

Philippians 1:9-10 also connect the idea of knowledge and discernment. It says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (NASB). Paul had seen the evidence of the love of the Philippian church, and he prays that it would abound more. But his prayer does not disconnect it from discernment, but rather includes knowledge and discernment so that the love of the Church is approved by God. Sincere and blameless love will be discerning and will withstand the day of Christ because it was not a foolish love of mixed or impure things. There are many people in the church that act as if discernment is unloving. They don’t like it when someone says that the book they are reading is from a false teacher, or that the song they love singing in church or listening to in their car in has bad, unbiblical theology. Like little children who see no problem playing in a pig sty, they want to continue blissfully ignorant of those things that oppose God, while still claiming that they do not themselves partake in the sins of those they promote. But discernment is not unloving. The truth is that willfully remaining undiscerning and immature and gullible to lies and deception is irresponsible and dangerous.

As mentioned above, Hebrews 5:14 speaks of solid doctrinal “food” that can be absorbed by the mature—those who have made it a practice to train themselves as to what is good and evil through their growing sense of discernment. Maturity is a product of discernment. The means to such maturity is knowledge and application of the Word of God. Bible reading is just the beginning, just like putting the food into your mouth is only a means for nourishment to be received into the body. We must begin by choosing the correct spiritual meals, but we must also make sure that it is digested and becomes fuel for the spiritual life through wise practice of the precepts and commandments of Scripture.

For Christians, discernment and wisdom are not spiritual options for a few believers, while all others can remain in a perpetual state of spiritual infancy. Rather, the natural course of spiritual life comes as the result of biblical discipleship that is required by the Great Commission when one teaches all that the Lord has commanded. All Christians are to hear and understand the Word of God, and then are to grow into maturity, which is marked by a proper practice in life that can process daily decisions, questions, dilemmas and scenarios through a biblical grid. This biblical framework of thought will allow the wise believer to narrow down his or her responses and come to one or more conclusions on how to act in a God-honoring way.

This, of course, takes time to develop. Nobody ever grows wise after hearing a few sermons or reading their Bible through one time. Discernment, as all spiritual and natural growth, is incremental and grows over time. A new Christian will have less discernment than a mature believer. The steps to growing in discernment and maturity are: 1. Growth in the knowledge and understanding of the Word, 2. Growth in application of the Word through the empowerment of the Spirit of God in several situations, 3. As success and failure comes in application or failure to apply the Word, the discerning Christian who seeks to grow in biblical maturity will add these successes and failures to his wealth of knowledge so that he can either repeat or avoid them in the future. This process is both linear and cyclical. It is linear in the sense that the steps need to happen in this order. But they are also cyclical in a process that must go through several repeated cycles in which former biblical lessons are built upon newer ones, and each layer of spiritual lessons contribute to a richer life of growing maturity. This process cannot be shortened, although it can be accelerated or slowed. This is what leads to a person who may be chronologically younger being quite mature beyond his or her years and an elderly person who still acts like a fool.

The poor spiritual state of the Church in many places lends itself to the fact that it is largely undiscerning. The Church’s inability to tell truth from error shows that it has lost its discernment. Like the loss of the human body’s immune system, the loss of discernment in the Church means that all sorts of wickedness and false teaching has come to roost in the pulpit of the Church all over the world. The root of this epidemic can be largely traced to the fact that the church has failed to clearly teach the Bible and doctrine. By skipping doctrine and teaching shallow sermons in a desire to rush to application and tips for living, the church has become poorly equipped to handle much of life through a biblical lens. What many have thought was the cure for moral ills has actually disarmed the Church to handle life in a truly biblical way. Additionally, the pablum of what is most popular in many pulpits has ill equipped our churches to handle the growing onslaught of false teaching. The only remedy is to return to a hearty, biblical pulpit that dispenses strong doses of the Spirit empowered Word of God. Watering down messages will only continue to exacerbate the problem as the spiritually starving in our churches continue to feast on cotton-candy sermons when they actually need to be satisfied with the meat of the Word. Warnings are needed, as are large doses of doctrinal lessons.

Where can we begin? First, by admitting our part in this epidemic that has resulted in the loss of discernment. Whether it is the pastor that has taught shallow sermons, the layman that has not spoken up when she is spiritually starving, or those that have purchased the best-selling Christian books that are full of spiritual poison. The reality is, if nobody listened to Joel Osteen, his ministry would die overnight. If nobody purchased Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling or Bethel Music, then they would never be given a chance to produce more of their products filled with bad theology. But the reality is that simple economics are why these books and music CD’s are carried in every retailer all over the world. 

Second, we must go beyond recognition of our own part to prayer. We need to ask the Lord to forgive us in as much as we have been a part of the problem. We need to pray that He will help us as we seek to discern what is edifying and what is not in our homes, churches and schools. We also need to be patient and to have a spirit of grace as those that are more mature guide the less mature into understanding and growing aware of the things that they have net previously seen. After all, who among us does not still need to grow in some area?

Where there is biblical discernment, the Scriptures will guide and direct us. Where it is lacking, another inferior source of authority will take the place of Scripture in informing our understanding. May we seek to live lives saturated by biblical thinking so that in all things, Christ will have preeminence.   

The Use of Scripture for Strengthening Weak Hands

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation— the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who rescued me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from the man of violence. For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.” (Psalm 18:46–49, ESV)

The other day I read a social media post from a Christian who attacked those that use the Bible to teach “piety” or “moralism” in sermons instead of simply pointing to Jesus’ saving work on the cross of Calvary as an act of worship. In other words, the Bible is all about what Christ has done and not about what Christians should do. Another way it is often stated is that we should teach the indicatives of the Bible (what God has done through Christ) and not so much the imperatives (what we should do as Christians). This has led some who teach this view into a dreadful form of antinomianism that gives way to a shipwrecked life.

I understand the failure of some preaching that twists the Bible into a life-manual for fixing our problems. These types of churches and the sermons they produce seem to be a religiously themed self-help motivational courses. Theology and doctrine are downplayed, and God is only taught in the sense that He is the power that you need to tap into to get the life you want. That is abuse of the Bible and the God of the Bible, and make no mistake, this is wrong.

But it is also wrong to say that the Bible is only about what God has done for us at the cross. I only need to point to the book of Ephesians to show that in a letter of six chapters, the first three chapters are dedicated to proclaiming the glorious theology of salvation through Jesus Christ, BUT the second three chapters deal with the implications of that change in the life of a person, including several imperatives. In other words, the Bible is not simply about the indicatives and what God has done for us, but flowing out of the indicatives are some very important imperatives that can only truly be accomplished in a God-pleasing way through the active role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a regenerate person. Christians are called to obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I say all of this because in my reading through Psalm 18 this morning I was once again enamored with the radical change that dwelling upon the Scriptures has in the heart and mind of the child of God. This psalm has a heading, also called a superscription that tells the reader the context in which it was written. In the case of Psalm 18, it was written when David was being hotly pursued by his enemies, including Saul. Knowing how close to being caught and murdered he was, David recalls the terrifying place he was in and how he called out to the Lord desperately, and the Lord heard his cries. It is a wonderful psalm that pictures God rising from His heavenly throne and ascending upon the back of an angel to save His child David with the vengeance of a warrior.

But is this passage simply for me to read and appreciate? Does it not instruct me, and those that I would teach it to that our God loves His own, and that He is moved by our cries to come to our aid and save us? You see, this passage is meant to do more than describe David’s personal experiences. It was put into a song so that the people of Israel would praise their God who saves–but who saves more than just the king. He is the God who saves His people, from the greatest to the least in the kingdom. I can apply this text to myself and others by calling Christians to cry out in prayer in their times of need. God answers prayer! We must be people of prayer!

This is the glory of the Bible. We do not need to choose between what God has done and what we should do in response. The two go together and shouldn’t be separated. And this psalm is a wonderful place to go to strengthen weakened hands when the battle has become too much and the broken and weary need to be reminded that God hears our cries. So, when you study the Bible, make sure you not only teach it accurately, but also make sure you apply the text to the lives of those who need to have their weak hands strengthened.

Boasting in the Lord Might Bite Back!

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23, ESV)

Most of the time we find that our experiences of shame are due to our sin. Like Adam and Eve who recognized their nakedness after the Fall, shame is now an all too familiar part of the human experience. But in Ezra 8:21-23 we see a good outcome of shame–forced dependence upon God in a time of need.

Ezra was preparing to go back to Jerusalem to restore the temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not only would the long trip be dangerous, but the danger would be amplified because their party would be large and they were to be laden with large amounts of gold and precious items of great value. Ezra would have preferred an armed escort by soldiers (the equivalent of our modern armored trucks) to make this journey, but he was ashamed because he had openly shared with the king the goodness and power of the Lord God. Since this was true, he shouldn’t need escorts, should he? How could he ask for protection by men when he has so openly confessed the power and might of God to protect His children?

What a predicament! The lesson here isn’t that God’s people should keep our testimony of the goodness and power of God under wraps–we actually need to become more vocal about it! Instead, we should do as Ezra did; he chose godly men to accompany him in fasting and prayer to implore the Lord to protect them as they knew He could do. The shame Ezra felt wasn’t in boasting, it was in his desire to live as if what he said about God wasn’t true and yet being forced to live by that truth or be ashamed at taking back what he said about his God.

Let us be abundant in our praise and glorying in the works of the Lord. And perhaps as a side effect we will find ourselves “forced” into living as if our great God is as great as we claim. Now wouldn’t that be something!

Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit? (weekend repost)

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

Read the rest of the post here: Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?