A few weeks ago, I was in Washington DC and had gotten sick of my rather scruffy complexion in the mirror. Hence I found myself thinking: “I need a haircut!” Not that I had a clue where I would get one, but I had taken the notion so set about finding somewhere that looked decent and trustworthy in terms of my beard. I eventually found somewhere to tidy my hair up and trim my beard. Everything was good, bar the price. As I left slightly grumbled and trundled down the street looking at the conversation rate of Dollars into sterling, I found my self-pity interrupted by a very loud:
Good Morning, Sir!”
I did not know anyone, nor was I going to someone, so I assumed the loud greeting was not for me; Strolling on a bit further, I heard something like: With the new Beard!” Bemused, I stopped and replied: “Good morning” I was neither desiring nor intending to have a conversation; I was hungry and determined to get some lunch. However, I found my interest in food waning by the strangeness of the man’s reply. No sooner had I responded through a strained smile than he said to me something like:
“Thank you, and Thanks to God because you had the decency to respond to me.”
I found myself thinking, “what a strange thing to be thankful for,” and no sooner had I stopped than had a conversation with a man I had never met who was telling me how thankful he was to God for the day and the fact that I had stopped to talk with him. He was just very grateful. It was a strange moment of contrast as I grumbled to myself about the cost of a haircut and was now chatting to someone expressing gratitude and thanks to God because he was stuck talking to me. He was not fawning thankfulness: he was overflowing with it, to the point where he asked me if he could perform a spoken word (“poem”) about gratitude and faith for me.
Harvest A Season of Thanks
I do not like Harvest as a “church” event. I never really got the point of it growing up. I am not sure if it was because growing up on a farm, I saw enough of harvest throughout the year; Or if the harvest was so typical for me that the idea of making it in Church Service seemed somewhat particular. I have often wondered what the point is in celebrating the harvest, especially since becoming a Minister. So then, what is the end of Harvest? Thankfulness! There is beauty in pausing and giving thanks in those everyday movements: picking up milk from the Tesco Fridge or bread from the Asda Bakery – these are profound reasons to be thankful. To give thanks to God for his goodness to us in those moments of Common Grace through simple provisions.
What should harvest be for us today? Thankfulness! GK Chesterton sums it up as he writes: “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” Harvest as a season reminds us in this life and everything in it is a gift. Namely, all things are a gift from and dependent on God, considering the numerous factors that come into play with gathering food from the land or the planning and logistics of getting fruit around the globe. Whether it’s even as we think of the state of the world and that we can access fresh foods even amid rising costs. Harvest calls us to stop and give thanks to God. Yet, our Psalm tonight challenges us that while we should be thankful for the good things in our lives, our thankfulness must not be limited to simple provision or common Grace.
What Are We Thankful For?
As our Psalm shows us this evening, the Christian knows the reason for deep thankfulness: foundational reality and truth should flow from our hearts and affect our lives regardless of our circumstances. The deep gratitude was so evident in the man I found myself talking to on Washington street. If we confess Christ as Lord, then that deep gratitude should be apparent in the normality of our day if we truly follow Jesus. The Psalmist shows us that this deep gratitude is not just a reason to be thankful: but the foundation of all our thanksgiving and all our living because of its very nature. Think of that overused Harvest Hymn, which refrains and reminds us that we might toil, but it is God who produces:
” We plough the field and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty Hand”
“All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.”
Let me ask you this: What are you most thankful for in this life? We are challenged tonight to consider amid our plenty and want, with all the good things we enjoy in God’s Common Grace, to make sure that we have grasped the greatest revelation of his Grace – Jesus Christ.
Psalm 65 marks the beginning of a section of Pslams that is referred to as the “Songs,” since Psalm 51, the songs have been honoured with biography and individual expression. Now the Psalmist moves to the plural form of expression – we. It is an amplification of the universal implication of Salvation that Psalm 64:9 introduced:
” Then everyone will fear and tell about God’s work, for they will understand what he has done.”
That theme of everyone is central to our thanksgiving tonight as Psalm 65 outlines several reasons why the people of God should worship Yahweh with gratitude and thanksgiving because of His heart and what He has done for the world. The people should be in awe of God the Father and worship him with Thankfulness because:
- It is by his Hand Atonement comes, and people can Worship in the Temple (65:1-4).
- It is by the hand of God that Order is established in a world affected by the Chaos of Sin (65:5-8).
- We might plough the fields and scatter seeds: God’s hand provides the waters and makes the lands fertile (65:9-13).
Thanks in the Temple Courts (1-4)
“Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you, our vows will be fulfilled. 2 You who answer prayer, to you all people will come. 3 When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. 4 Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” Psalm 65:1-4 NIV
The structure is always essential: Buying a house without seeing it is never wise. The Structure of something tells us something about it; you do not buy a home without getting a survey done. Psalm 65’s Structure for me is interesting because while the Psalmist points to God’s hand in every detail of human existence, thus calling us to be thankful; he does not start his exploration in the Macro (big picture) sense; he withdraws it in the Micro (Small image) sense.
We do not begin with the God ordering the Cosmos to bring our world into existence. No, we start in the tangible sense in the minor locations at the Temple of God (4). Why? Because it is from this micro-location that eternal consequences are made known by God to his people and the world.
The Structure of this Psalm shows us the most important thing before getting to all other things. We might rejoice at the God who has ordered the world; we may even express gratitude for providence through common Grace in our lives. All of that is good, yet, in comparison to God’s greatest act, it pails into evaporates like the morning mist. The Psalmist’s point? Unless we are genuinely thankful forthis then nothing else matters
The Beauty of Forgiveness (1-3)
The goodness of God is tangible in that we can experience it, yet, incomprehensible in that we will never master it – it is always something we can discover and delight in. Like a galaxy to explore, we will never run out of discovery when it comes to God’s infinite goodness and mercy. Hence the beautiful opening: “Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion” (NIV) or as the ESV renders it: “Praise is due to you….” Why does it await Him; Why is God due our praise? Because, as one commentator notes: “God’s goodness to his people is such as to afford constantly new matter of praise. It is diffused worldwide, but specially shown to the Church.”1
God is good to all people, but the eternal implications of his goodness are made known not via common grace but specific grace. Specifically to those who are his children, in this case: those who worship at the temple courts. Today we know that reference to mean those who are children of God by faith because the temple is those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.
A God Who Can Be Approached
Firstly, because he is available to those who approach Him, Yahweh is not some far-off deity removed from his world. No! God is close and open to all those who come. Nor is it that God is selective in his hearing and partial to favouritism. No, the Psalmist names God as the hearer of all prayers because this open ear is part of his Goodness and Glory. Yet, even more profoundly than the thought that God hears prayers is that he is willing to! Willing in that he desires his children approach; it is not out of need nor loneliness that God is open but because he is merciful and good. Thus the Psalmist cries out:
“All of us must come to you.”2
The Psalmist cries out in trust of who God is and hopes that all might, but there is also a warning as much as there is something to be thankful for here. Calvin notes in his commentary:
“The hypocrite and the ungodly, who pray under the constraint of present necessity, are not heard; for they cannot be said to come to God, when they have no faith founded upon his word, but a mere vague expectation of a chance issue.”3
The first thing we can give thanks for and delight in is the beautiful truth that God because he is merciful and good, is approachable and concerned with us. So worried that he will hear the prayers and so open to our approach that the Psalmist longs that all might come to him.
Yet, while the Psalms live with longing hope, he is no fool as he expands on the “how” of the approach. How can anyone approach the throne of God? Because when “we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.”4(3)
The Psalmist might long that all might be drawn to come to God in prayer, but he is no fool, nor is he universal in assuming that all will: it is the forgiven who can intercede in confidence and trust God because they know already the great goodness of God: Grace.
To God, we look and give thanks for every aspect of our lives, yet there remains an act of His grace that stands alone, unique in the course of human history and in terms of its impact on the individual and the world: God’s forgiveness of sin. God’s forgiveness of sin is the thing we should be most thankful for because it is our most significant issue. The world may sway from disaster to conflict, the cost of living might rise, and we might worry daily about family and friends.
Understanding How Thankful We Should Be – Sin
All the details of life are essential. Hence God will hear them as we bring them to him in prayer, and often with hindsight, we will see God at work and give thanks. Yet, as beautiful as that is, it negates our most significant issue – sin. Why is sin our most important issue? Because we are eternal beings, as the senior devil Screwtape writes to his nephew Woodworm: “The humans live in time, but our Enemy (God) destines them for eternity.”5 It is our sin that keeps us from living eternally with God.
We might strive to ride ourselves of it; we may try to live moral lives, to do things that please God, even to take part in religious rituals that we think may catch his eye and please him; yet, the more we strive, the more we will learn that none of it matters, our sin is something we have brought upon ourselves but not something we can deal with ourselves. A politician was asked what it was like leading their political party:
“I was helpless. So helpless that I couldn’t convey my helplessness… But all the time, it was churning within me because of what was happening….”6
What is sin? Our helplessness in light of eternity. It is the transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and active rebellion against God as we worship created things instead of the creator (Deut 9:7). Sin then is anything that we prefer over God, instead of or put between ourselves and God. The BCP puts it captures both the weight and effects of sin:
“We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us”.
7Tim Kellers puts it more succinctly: “Sin isnʼt only doing bad things; it’s more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a perfect thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.” To put it bluntly, we are so helpless that we cannot even begin to fathom or convey our helplessness: We are overwhelmed by sins! The Psalmist knew nothing could be done individually nor collectively by the people of God to make right this eternal debt; it required something beyond the collective capability of all humankind. Hence, no sooner have we seen the peril of our situation do we see the beauty of our hope, our reason to be thankful. As no first has the Psalmist “referred to the subject of guilt, than he recognises the prerogative of God to pardon and expiate it:”8
You forgave our transgressions! (3)
The structure of everything is essential, and here we get to the most eternally beautiful thing of which the children of God must know and express eternal thankfulness in worship: The forgiveness of God granted to his children, not by merit, effort, title, nor striving but by faith.
So good is God that he not only creates us so that we might dwell eternally with him but makes our eternal dwelling possible by dealing with our most significant problem – Sin. How? by the saving work of Jesus Christ, who in his dying destroyed our death and in his rising restored our life:
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds, you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
The Beauty of Dwelling (4)
There are many things to be thankful for in life, but only one thing that affects us eternally: Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Hence, we must ask this above all else tonight; is this the thing for which we are truly thankful?
“The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection is the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. The crucifixion marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. Since the resurrection is God’s mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event ever. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the contradiction and shame of the cross in this present life; rather, the resurrection ratifies the cross as the way “until he comes.” – Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.
It is by Grace through faith that we are saved! Even more beautifully, this Grace is extended to us not by the wisdom of our own choice but by the gracious hand of God: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts” (4) “Grace” is all of God, and if is all from God. Thus if it is all “of” God and none of us: and all form God and nothing to do with us, then when it becomes real in our hearts through faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, it is a gift that we can never worry about losing.
Hence enabling us to enjoy it all the more as, regardless of context or circumstance, we know the enteral security of our relationship with God and all the good things of his house, the Holy Temple. Where is the temple of God today? Where ever his Holy Spirit dwells! Where does the Holy Spirit dwell and work? In the hearts of those who are genuinely thankful for the forgiveness of God through the saving work of Christ.
Thanks for God’s Sovereign Rule (5-8)
“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, 6 who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, seven who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.8 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” Psalm 65:5-9 NIV
There is much to be thankful for in the goodness and provision of God. The Psalmist has made clear that above all the wonders of the world and providence of God we might marvel at in our lives, the one thing we must make sure we are thankful for is that we can approach God in prayer and abide in his courts all because he is a gracious and forgiving God. Forgiveness pointed to by the Sacrificial system, then made know the wonder of the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate display of divine power, glory and grace. However, it is not the only way God’s grace is made known, for we see the Grace of God around us in the world that God has made. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that God’s eternal power and divine nature had been perceived since the world’s creation in all the things made (1:20-21).
Look at the Beauty of the World Around You
This is not a tremendous apologetic for belief because of creation; I will not give you stats about how we are the perfect distance from the Sun, that the moon is the ideal size and length from the earth not to cause gravitational devastation. No, Paul’s point and the point of verses 5-8 of this Psalm is not about convincing your mind; it is much simpler: Have you ever opened your eyes to the marvel of the world around you? Have you ever smelled the flowers, not marvelled at the ocean that shapes cliffs?
If you have, then you have seen the hand of God and the Grace of God at work because God is not far from the world he made. He draws near and is at work in his world. God is our saviour because nothing can stand against his power and goodness. His power forms the highest mountains because he has armed himself with strength. The rain and uncontrollable sea that humankind could never tame, and that in Jewish imagery was the ultimate picture of chaos (think in terms of the book of revelations where the beast comes out of the ocean); the God of heaven stills their roaring because he is sovereign and over all things.
King of Kings
God’s Grace is made known in his rule over the natural world that he created; thankfully, it does not just end there. The Psalmist tells us that: God answers “us with awesome and righteous deeds” over the mountains and the raging seas, and then where?
“And the turmoil of the nations..”
What a peaceful truth in a world where turmoil seems to be the currency of the day and Chaos the norm. Prime Ministers going in six weeks, American Presidents claiming elections are stolen from them, war on the continent of Europe for the first time in 70 years, energy bills soaring, cost of living biting, and health epidemics rising. In all things, the Psalmist challenges us to know and be thankful for the truth that God is sovereign and working all things to his good purposes.
Thus, when we look at the world around us, we see glimpses of the Grace of God; even when we look upon the turmoil of our governments and the difficulties of our society even there, we catch a glimpse of the Grace of God. As one author put it:“ Creation will never stop declaring the excellencies of our King, and we will never exhaust all that makes him excellent.“9 So as we give thanks for the Grace of God made known through forgiveness, we also give thanks for the Grace of God made known in the world around trusting that he is sovereign over all things and through all things. We join with earth in expressing awe and calling forth songs of Praise (8)
Thanks for God’s Gracious Provision (9-13)
“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. 13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”Psalm 65:9-13 NIV
We have seen the great Grace of God made known through Jesus Christ; then we have been challenged to see the Grace of God in the world around us; hence its only fitting that lastly that our Psalm finishes with imagery that is perfect for the season we find ourselves in – Harvest. What do these last five verses point to us in terms of thankfulness? What we have often sung about in the great harvest hymns of old: “God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied.”
Tonight the Psalmists call to give thanks for one more application of God’s Grace – providence. In that we might enjoy the toils of the land, we may even labour to see seeds become fruit, but God’s hand provides all that seeds require to become bounty from the ground. It is God who provides all that seeds need to become sustenance for humankind; the streams of God are filled with water for the grain of the people! Why? Because that is what God ordained/decided so. It is God who provides the rains waters for crops, who then adds the work of human hands by drenching the furrows they have dug and softening the soil with rain, which increases the abundance of the wild plains and watching the flocks of hills. Bluntly, it is God who provides for all the earth’s needs; thus, “they shout for joy and sing.”
As they shout for Joy and sing, we give thanks for goods, goodness in common grace and providence. So gracious and giving is God that even the grasslands of the wilderness and the hills overflow with gladness (12). The Psalmist close this corporate hymn of praise by reminding us that there is always a reason to be thankful because God is a God who graciously provides for all humankind in the normality of their every day, thus the truth and beauty of that great refrain:
” All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. We thank you, God, we thank you, God, for all your love.”
Conclusion: There are lots to be Thankful For
Yes, give thanks for “all things” for, as it has been well said, “Our disappointments are but His appointments.” AW Pink
Back on that street in Washington DC, my conversation with Robert continued as he espoused to me how thankful he was to talk to me, as he listed the difficulties he had gone through, homeless, heart attack and the mental scars of war. He told me about a conversation with someone who told him to wise up the week before! What did he have to be thankful for? They questioned him: “What good God would leave you in such a position, and What God would use someone like you?” They asked him. Robert looked at me and started to shuffle his roller away from himself as he seemed to be readying himself, then placing both hands on the top, he stood up and said:
“The God who has kept me above the Ground because he has a purpose for me, provided for my health and looks out for me every day, and the God who has forgiven someone like me, Lady! That’s why I am thankful! That God is the good who will use someone like me and can even use someone like you!”
So the challenge this Harvest is simple: to stop and ponder in your heart what it is you are most thankful for. Perhaps for the first time, it might be seeing the beauty of Grace and forgiveness earned not by merit but by faith in the saving work of Jesus. Or it may be about renewing that Grace in our lives and knowing that regardless of our situation, our eternity is secured. It may be appreciating the goodness of God in the beauty of the world around us and the common grace we enjoy in our everyday normality.
Today let us give thanks to God for his grace made known to us in many ways. As we consider and give thanks for the Harvest and think of the providence of God as an example of his grace in the simplest of things and the commonality of our days; may we consider and give thanks for the Sovereignty of God as an example of his grace, He who forms the mountains by his strength and calms the chaos of the sea, who is ruling and working even over the turmoil of the nations; and, as we think of the God who is sovereign over all things and working all things to his purposes; finally, as we consider the sovereign rule of God who is in control over all things may we rejoice that his Sovereign Grace has been at work since the beginning of time to deal with our eternal problem – sin – that through the Cross we can be certain of forgiveness.
- John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 451. ↩
- Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ps 65:2. ↩
- John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 452. ↩
- The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised (1984), electronic edition. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984), Ps 65:3. ↩
- Cs Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. ↩
- from “The Prime Ministers We Never Had: Success and Failure from Butler to Corbyn” by Steve Richards ↩
- Book of Common Prayer 1662 ↩
- John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 454. ↩
- https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/nature-is-anything-but-natural ↩