Today we’re spending some extra time in church to stop and tell God, “Thank you!” Today is Thanksgiving, a day when all Canadians are called to stop and give thanks for what we have. For followers of Jesus, we turn to God to give thanks, knowing that everything we have comes from God. It’s easy to think that we’ve earned what we have, that our hard work has gotten us to where we are at in life, but the reality is that there are always others who have worked harder than we have, are smarter than we are, have more skills and talents than we do, and yet we still have more. God, for his reasons, has blessed us with what we have, no matter how much or how little, and we’re called to be thankful.
But there’s so much more to be thankful for than simply stuff. Psalm 136 is a psalm that simply rings out in thankfulness, repeating over and over again, “His love endures forever,” reminding us of the reason of our gratitude, a refrain of praise that, by the end of the psalm, is firmly planted deeply inside our hearts and minds. We give thanks to God for he is good and his love endures forever. This first verse sets the tone for the rest of the psalm. The word for good in Hebrew is ‘tov’ and means morally good, desirable, pleasant, kind, and merry. Think of a person you know who is kind, happy, morally good, and friendly and you have a tiny glimpse of what God is like. This is someone that most people are attracted to, someone that you want to know and have in your life. This is why sharing your faith doesn’t need to be scary, because Jesus is someone that most people want to know, want to have in their life.
Our God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, there’s no one greater than God, no one who can do more, or love more than God. God’s great love is especially shown in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sin. Imagine what Jesus took on himself, all the sin and brokenness of the world, just because he loves you so much that he wants to be with you for eternity. His love endures forever! The God who made the heavens and the earth, the artist who created all the flowers, the night skies, the seascapes and landscapes, all the beauty and wonder in the world, loves you enough to die for you because he wants you to be with him forever.
God saves his people out of slavery and oppression. The psalmist is referring to the time Israel spent as slaves in Egypt and the oppression they faced there under their Egyptian slave masters. God hears his people’s cries and he responds. God still hears the cries of those who are slaves and oppressed, whether it’s young girls and women enslaved for their bodies in our country, or slaves in other countries around the world, and he still responds and calls us to be his presence in working for freedom for the slaves in the world. God can save you from the things you have found yourselves a slave to, he can save you from the brokenness in your hearts and lives, he can restore you again. Through Jesus’ death on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we’re saved from our slavery to sin, to addiction, or to the lies of Satan that keep telling us that we’re not worthy to be saved or loved. Psalm 136 reminds us that God’s love endures forever, his love for you never comes to an end and his love can free us, renew us and restore us.
God protects his people. The psalmist here talks about how God protected his people during the time right after God led them out of slavery from the nations around them who wanted to destroy the Israelites. As God led them out of slavery, God guided them, showing his people where to go and when to go, even dividing the Red Sea so they could get through the sea on dry ground, and then protecting his people by swallowing up Pharoah and his army in the water when he closed the path through the sea back up over them.
God has given us his Holy Spirit to protect us from our sin, addictions, anxiety, and all the other things that can break us and hurt us by reminding us of everything that Jesus taught, by praying for us when we’re unable to pray and talk with God. When we feel that we are being attacked by fear, worry, anxiety, and more, God doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, but, as Jesus promised his disciples, he will never abandon us or leave us alone. The Holy Spirit is not only God with us, but is God in us because his love endures forever, and he will protect us. And when we fall, when life gets hard and feels like we’re alone and forgotten, when we’re at our weakest, Jesus is there.
We’re reminded that God provides. He remembers us in our low estate and frees us from our enemies. He gives food to every creature because his love endures forever. Today is Thanksgiving, a day where many of us will eat an extra special or large meal with our family and loved ones. We often measure our thankfulness by how much food is on our tables and in our freezers, and sometimes we believe that the more we have, the more God loves us, but we need to hear this verse a little more clearly, “he gives food to every creature.” God’s love endures forever, but is also too big to keep only for only his people, but his love extends to every creature. Often God provides through us and the wealth and abundance he has given to us to share.
As followers of Jesus, as children of God, we’re called to live lives of thankfulness and gratitude. Ann Voskamp writes, “Practicing gratitude means being thankful, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It is learning to live as if everything were a miracle and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we’ve been given. Living a life of gratitude does not mean that life is perfect. It also does not mean that we live in denial of the burdens that we carry or somehow rise above the challenges that we face by choosing blissful ignorance. Rather, it is simply affirming that there is good to be found in our lives even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. It shifts our focus from what life lacks to the abundance that God has given us.”
Ann Voskamp also shares some of the benefits that come from living with a sense of gratitude and keeping a gratitude list, writing down 3 things every day you are thankful for. These are based on different studies, “It’s habits that can imprison you and it’s habits that can free you. But when thanks to God becomes a habit — so joy in God becomes your life. And with this habit of keeping a gratitude list? You:
1. Have a relative absence of stress and depression. (Woods et al., 2008)
2. Make progress towards important personal goals (Emmons and McCullough, 2003)
3. Report higher levels of determination and energy (Emmons and McCullough, 2003)
4. Feel closer in their relationships and desire to build stronger relationships (Algoe and Haidt, 2009)
5. Increase your happiness by 25% — (Who wouldn’t want a quarter more happiness!) (McCullough et al., 2002)”
Faith and thankfulness go hand in hand and impact our daily lives, which is why we show up here on Thanksgiving, not just because the government gives us a day off, but because God’s love endures forever, it flows into us, out of us, and into the world, and back to God himself. Go from here with hearts filled with thankfulness and gratitude and may it flow into the lives of those around you.