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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Devoted Courtiers Cultivate Thanks


 

'Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—' Psalm 103:2



Being here at Beamsley this weekend very nearly coincides with Riverside’s 3rd birthday. That will be on 25th July - just under a month away.

Many of your faces, I’m looking out on this morning, were not there 3 years ago. And with confidence I say, we are richer for every single one that wasn’t and now is. God has been very gracious!

 

When we started out, we had no idea what would happen - whether we would see out the end of 2021 as a united church or not; whether we would be able to move beyond the painful experiences of the past; whether we would have a venue to meet in long term; whether we would be able to come to a consensus on a constitution; or agree a doctrinal statement; and many other things. The fact that we are here means that we have.

But we only have because of this one thing - the tender loving care and provision of our God.

So, I’m standing here this morning full of thankfulness for 3 years of church life; for this weekend together; for all of you, by name; and for God’s very tender mercy.

 

I knew I was going to feel this way because this kind of life-on-life event in the life of a church makes you feel the benefits you’ve got in Jesus’ blood-bought church even more keenly.

And, since I knew I would feel this way, I thought it would be fitting to preach a message about thanksgiving.


If you wanted to put a title on this message it could be something like ‘Cultivating a heart of thankfulness’.


Here’s a definition of thankfulness which will help to show why I’ve chosen Psalm 103 to focus on thankfulness.

Thankfulness is the expression of gratitude which involves a conscious recognition and appreciation of benefits received from another.

 

It has as its source, a valuing of the kindness, help or generosity of another.

 

And it has as its focus, the person from whom the benefits derive.

 

And it’s distinctly responsive. That is to say it is a backward-looking expression. It is the feeling of being happy because of some benefit received in the past, and that happiness coming to expression in gratitude to the supplier of that benefit in the present.


At the heart of this psalm is an exhortation - a plea - from the author, to himself, to remember the benefits of the Lord. Look at verse 2, ‘praise the Lord, my soul’ he preaches to himself, ‘and forget not all his benefits’.

 

So, just like in our definition of thankfulness, he’s making a call to remember - to look backwards. And, he’s identifying benefits that he himself has received in the past. And he’s identifying the supplier of those benefits - namely ‘the Lord’. All the ingredients of our definition of thankfulness are right here in this Psalm.

 

The Psalm doesn’t have the word ‘thankful’ in it, but at its beating heart is a plea to be a thankful person. A person who looks back and remembers with joy all the benefits - all the good things - the Lord has provided for him.

And since that is what is at the heart of this psalm, I would invite you in with me to see some of the length and breadth of this beautiful exchange between benefactor – ‘the Lord’ - and beneficiary - us - that will hopefully send us all home today with thankful hearts.


First, I’d like you to see that the benefactor is a king. A King of kings. Which means that, we the beneficiaries, are his subjects. The Lord is King. ‘The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdomrules over all’ (v.19). And verse 22, ‘Praise the Lord all his works everywhere in his dominion’. ‘Dominion’ is the sphere of influence that a king has.

In verse 4, he bestows a crown too.

 

He is the king. And he is King of kings, because the author of the psalm was a king himself - king David, perhaps the most notable king Israel ever had. So, he is not only king, but King of kings.

 

Now, how will the subjects of the king encounter the blessings and benefits of their king? I see 5 ways.

First, by observing his kingly ways. That is to say, by examples.

Second, by knowing his character.

Third, by his attitude of heart towards them.

Fourth, by his positive acts on their behalf.

And fifth, by his refraining from executing his judgment on them.

 

So, I want to show you where I get each of those from in the Psalm and apply them.

First, by example. Verse 7 ‘He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel’.

The Psalmist is able to look back at the history of his own people and see that the king was so benevolent towards them that out of all the peoples of the earth, he chose his people to reveal himself to.

That is an infinitely kind thing for God to do. For God to make himself known to people, like you and me, is the kindest thing any being has ever done, simply because God is infinitely good. God has shown us his kindness by revealing himself to others in the past.


Second, we benefit from knowing his character. And what is he like? Verse 8, ‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love’. He is a benevolent king who doesn’t fly off the handle in fits of rage but abounds in love. It is his nature; his character, to give his subjects what they do not deserve.

 

The heart of the king is a spring of love and compassion for his subjects. So much so that if you were to ask one of his subjects what best characterises their king, they would say one word every time - love.


Third, the subjects of the king perceive the benefits of their king through his attitude toward them. Verse 11, ‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for those who fear him’. Verse 13, ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him’. And verse 14, ‘for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust’ - fleshed out further in verses 15-16. And verse 17, ‘the Lord’s love is with those who fear him’.

In other words, the king, who is by nature - love - goes public with his subjects, on an individual, one-to-one basis.

The king’s attitude towards his subjects is not to be aloof, lording it over them from his ivory tower. It is to express his heart in attitudes of love. Attitudes like, relenting in his just anger. Having a father-liketenderness towards his subjects. Remembering that they are not like him - that they are weak; dust-like; fragile, like flowers of the field. His attitude is so tender, his love is palpably with his subjects.


Fourth, his subjects know his benefits by his deeds for them. Verse 3, ‘He forgives all your sins’. They are disobedient to his edicts, but he forgives their indiscretions. And, since he cannot simply ignore them, he provides for them to be erased from their accounts by pouring out their just punishment on his princely Son, Jesus.

Verse 4, ‘who heals all your diseases’. He reverses all the consequences of their breaking covenant with him. Verse 5, ‘who crowns you with love and compassion’. The king exalts his subjects with his love. He sets them apart from all the rest with his compassion for them. His favour forever rests on them. Verse 17, ‘his righteousness is with his children’s children’. His majestic goodness rests with his subjects from generation to generation.


And fifth, his subjects experience his benefits by his deeds of omission. Verses 9-10, ‘He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities’. He’s a king who loves to bestow pardon is place of penalty!


So, the benefits that accrue to us, as subjects of the King of kings, are vast and varied, and rich and we perceive them in lots of ways. That helps us to know where to look to remember his benefits.

Imagine if we knew nothing of our king. Nothing of his past deeds. Nothing of his character. Imagine if his disposition were not for us, but against us.

Imagine if he had not worked for us righteousness and justice (v.6) in the person of his own princely Son, Jesus.

Imagine if he were not gracious towards us; giving us thousands upon thousands of daily blessings we did not deserve.

Imagine if he were not merciful to us, refraining from giving us thousands upon thousands of lashings we did deserve for our lack of fealty to the king; for our rebellion; for our disobedience. Oh how terrible it would be!


The love of the king has been lavished on us in Jesus. Look at how progressive the benefits are from verses 3 through to 5. Forgiving sin, healing diseases, redeeming from the pit - think of that in terms of resurrection life for example.

Even though resurrection life is a future event, because this king is sofaithful and his promises are so effective, there is simply no doubt that he will do what he has promised. And therefore our future resurrection is effectively signed, sealed and delivered now, because of the cross of Christ. So much so, that right now in advance of what is to come, we can give thanks for what has already been won!

 

He satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle’s (v.5). There is no lack of vigour in the wings of the eagle, and there won’t be in a resurrection body either. From cross to new creation the king is lavishing on us benefits in place of benefits already given!


So, what might our thanks look like? I see 5 things also.

One, remembering.

Two, following example.

Three, attitude of heart.

Four, obedience.

And five, praise.


Verse 2 is the Psalmists call to remember all the king’s benefits. Thanksgiving starts with remembering. We might say, meditating on the joy experienced in the benefits the king has bestowed.

Meditating on his plan to save. Meditating on his princely Son, Jesus. Meditating on our rescue; on the beautiful character of the king; on his bountiful providence; on his majestic sovereignty; on his holiness and righteousness; on his church! on; on; on...

Every day, consciously thinking on some benefit from his kingly goodness.


Second, the king provides us with examples who do this and who we can emulate. Verses 20 and 21. Angels and the heavenly host who praise the Lord; who do his bidding; who obey his word; who servehim; who do his will.

Some of the most compelling words of praise recorded in all scripture are from the lips of angels - like those in Revelation 4 and 5 for example.

 

And then there’s the example of the King’s human servants of old - like Moses (v.7) - and their inspiring words of praise which invite us in to their thanksgiving. So, the king has given us examples to follow; both human and heavenly.


Third, the attitude of our heart towards the king. What attitudes are fitting for the King of kings? Verses 11 and 17, ‘his great love is for those who fear him’.

The king is worthy of honour and reverence. And so, the posture of the heart that is thankful for all the king’s benefits is a posture of humility; of unworthiness; of awe and wonder. It is not one of haughtiness; or pride; or self-reliance; or indifference.

The same is repeated in verse 13 - there the king’s compassion rests on those who fear him.


The fourth aspect is that the king’s subjects show their thankfulness in steadfast obedience to the king. They are not deliberately and persistently rogue. Verse 17, the king’s love and righteousness are with those ‘who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts’.

 

Subjects show their thankfulness by being faithful to one king and by remembering to fulfil his edicts and complete his requirements.

 

No king would think a subject thankful who persistently broke their promise to him, or failed to carry out his decrees. A king would think that subject entitled; or self-serving; or disloyal.

 

No, thankfulness to the king comes to expression in happy duty; in joyful servanthood; in wholehearted commitment to the court of the king.

Such that, all the world outside the court has no glamour for that servant but only the beauty and glory of the presence of the king.

So that they can say, they would rather be ‘gatekeepers in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness’ (Psalm 84:10).


Finally, fifth, the thankful heart is a praising heart. A thankful heart overflows in the joy of the benefits received from the king with gushingexpressions. Not fake; but in heartfelt, genuine words. In songs; in prayers; in exchanges with fellow courtiers (like this weekend).

 

This Psalm is saturated with calls for the hearts of all God’s creatures to rise up in thankful praise of their king. Verse 1, ‘Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name’. Verse 2, ‘Praise the Lord my soul’. Verse 20, ‘Praise the Lord you his angels, you his mighty ones’. Verse 21, ‘Praise the Lord, all his heavenly host, you his servants’. Verse 22, ‘Praise the Lord all his works everywhere in his dominion’.

 

He’s calling on all the king’s creation in heaven above - mighty angels; the multitude of the redeemed - and all below throughout every corner of his kingdom, to acknowledge their king in thankful praise. In words that are fitting for a benevolent, kind, all supplying king like him.


Subjects who praise most are those who strain to get closest to the king. Because the closer you get to the king the more you see how different he is from us. You see his power more clearly; you see his glory more vividly; you observe his majesty more thoroughly; you hear the accounts of his deeds for his people more tantalisingly. You are in short more in awe than those who sit at a distance.

And so, your appreciation of the king is more full, and rounded, and complete. And your praise is more full, and rounded, and complete.

The words of the king come back to the king on their lips as their hearts overflow in greater degrees of thankfulness for all that he is for them - especially what he is for them in the person of his princely Son, Jesus.


So, this is a call - with king David - to us to forget not all the Lord’s benefits to us. So that our hearts would be full of fitting praise to our God. So that our lips would be dripping with the glories of our God. So that our lives would be a constant testament to how thankful we are to our faithful and benevolent king – our Father-God.

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