November 25, 2009
The Hansen Report: A Thanksgiving Meditation
More often than not, I struggle to stay focused during prayer, so it helps me to follow the pattern of biblical examples, especially the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus (Matt. 6:9–13). After each line I pause to praise God for some element of his character and bring specific requests to the Lord. It’s natural at Thanksgiving to praise God for providing our daily bread. But this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer almost always brings to attention material goods I thought I needed but realized I could live without. So as I thank God for providing for my family, he reminds me of my neighbors’ needs.
There is no greater act of thanksgiving than returning to God the honor and glory due his name. In Psalm 96, the psalmist highlights the privilege and purpose of worship by focusing on the public proclamation of God’s sovereign glory to all the nations. This psalm reminds me that God’s people worship in public view of their neighbors. We worship God as we tell these neighbors about God’s salvation (96:2) and his marvelous works (96:3). Indeed, we have a responsibility to declare among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” (96:10)
Idolatry is another prominent theme in Psalm 96. The psalmist declares, “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols” (96:5). But the God of Israel made the heavens, the seas, the fields, and the forests, and he reigns over them still today (96:11–12). When this psalm was composed, worshipers brought their offerings into the temple courts (96:8). Today we sing praises to the Son of God who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Yet we must also remember God as Creator. The one true God was not made by human hands; he existed even before time began. If we don’t vigilantly examine our lives, idols will steal the worship that God alone deserves.
Finally, Psalm 96 impresses on me the reality of God’s impending judgment. He created the world, and he exercises the right to judge it (96:13). This judgment certainly incites a measure of fear as we consider that God will lay all things bare (Heb. 4:13). But we also worship the God who will vindicate his name on behalf of his people. We can rest in the hope that God will one day right all wrongs. We need not fear anyone who can merely kill the body. Rather, we fear the one destroys the body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). Pastors in particular know this fear, because we will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). But even our fear may lead to thanksgiving, because reverent fear protects us from idolizing praise or fearing reproach.
One word sticks out in 1 Chronicles 29:1–20: willingly. The repetition reminds me that God desires for me to worship him with a whole heart, not merely out of obligation. And worship offered freely takes the shape of rejoicing. As the older of two sons, I inherited a strong sense of responsibility, which makes it easy for me to fall into routines and neglect their original, higher purpose. So I need to frequently ask God for a heart that longs to worship and rejoice in him.
This passage also displays the progression of praise. David cannot contain himself as he tries to describe God. To God belong greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty (1 Chron. 29:11). Indeed, everything in heaven and earth belongs to the Creator God. When I recognize this, I am more likely to be generous with my time and talents. This also strikes at the heart of pride. After praising God for these traits, King David asks, “Who am I?” (1 Chron. 29:14). Even God’s chosen people, including the king of Israel, are mere strangers, sojourners, and shadows (1 Chron. 29:15). We should be comforted to know that we owe everything to God. He demands everything from us, but he gives us far beyond anything we can ask or imagine. This is great cause for thanksgiving in prayer.
One word that sticks out in Revelation 4–5 is worthy. The Lord God is worthy of praise because he created all things (Rev. 4:11). There is continuity, then, between this passage and the praise offered by David and the assembly in 1 Chronicles 29. But we see a new dimension of worthiness emerge in Revelation 5. John weeps because he sees no one worthy to open the scrolls. Then an elder comforts him: “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scrolls and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5).
The Lion who is the Root is actually a Lamb “standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). The Lamb has conquered through death; he is worthy of praise and thanksgiving precisely because he has been slain (Rev. 5:9). His blood sacrifice has ransomed people for God from around the world. Not only that, but these people have become priests who reign in God’s kingdom on the earth. How can we respond except with awe? This passage makes beautiful music by pulling together such a diverse collection of biblical motifs. And it leads us to give thanks and long for a day when we will sing a song of praise to this God forevermore.