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Wholehearted Thanksgiving

By Mark D. Roberts | Friday, November 23, 2007

Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.

Psalm 111

After an opening salvo of praise, the Psalmist says, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart” (v. 1). This isn’t the first time we read this sort of thing in the Psalms. Psalm 9:1 says: “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Similarly, Psalm 86:12 proclaims, “I give thanks to you, O LORD my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”

So here’s my question: What does it mean to thank God with my whole heart? Then I have some follow up questions: How can I give thanks wholeheartedly if, in fact, my heart is heavy? What if I’m not feeling very thankful today? Surely I’m not supposed to fake gratitude, as if I could pull the wool over God’s eyes. How can I be authentic before God and still give Him thanks with my whole heart?

We’ll be able to answer these questions if we understand the Hebrew conception of the heart. We translate the Hebrew word leb as “heart,” and there are places in the Old Testament where leb is associated with emotions. Psalm 13:5, for example, says, “My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Yet leb in Hebrew means far more than “heart” in English. The leb is not merely the seat of the emotions, but also of the will, even the mind. The leb is the whole inner person: thoughts, feelings, choices, purposes. In particular, the leb is that which guides our actions. It’s what we usually speak of in English as the will.

So, when the Psalmist says, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,” he’s saying more than, “I will feel very thankful.” Rather, he means, “I will choose to offer thanks to the Lord. I will choose to acknowledge God’s goodness to me, and I will do this with all of my inner strength.”

Thus, ironically, if you’re feeling down, if you’re not feeling thankful, then you’re in a perfect place to thank the Lord with your whole heart, because you can choose to do this. Indeed, you must choose to thank the Lord, because your emotions alone won’t get you there.

Now let me be clear. This doesn’t involve pretending. When we say, “Thank you, Lord,” we’re not necessarily saying, “Oh, Lord, I feel so thankful today. I have all sorts of warm fuzzies inside.” Warm fuzzies, lukewarm fuzzies, or no fuzzies at all, thanking God is saying “You did this, and it’s good, and I acknowledge this.” You may or may not feel anything at the time, but you can always choose to thank God by telling Him the great things He has done.

Psalm 111 gives us plenty of help in this regard. Verse 2 reads, “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” If you want to give thanks – indeed, if you want to feel grateful – begin by studying God’s great works. Remember all of the wonderful things He has done, not only in your life, but also throughout history.

We will thank the LORD with all our hearts when we remember, not only what God has done, but also who He is. Verse 4 makes this clear: “He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” Did you see the transition there between what God has done – His wonderful deeds – and God’s character – He is gracious and merciful. So we thank the Lord because of who He is, especially for His grace and mercy.

This points us to the center of our reason for wholehearted thanksgiving. As verse 9 reminds us, “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.” The Psalmist was no doubt looking back to God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and to His establishment of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai shortly thereafter. When we read Psalm 111:9 as Christians, however, we have more to go on than the events of Exodus. We remember the redemption we have through Jesus Christ, whose death brought us out of bondage to sin and death. We celebrate the new covenant in the blood of Christ, through which we have forgiveness and eternal life.

Sometimes we feel joyful because of our salvation in Christ. That’s one of the reasons we gather for worship, to remember so that we might rejoice. Yet no matter what we may be feeling at any given moment, we can always choose to thank God for what’s true. And what is true? Because God is gracious and merciful, He has redeemed us through Jesus Christ. Moreover, it’s true that God’s mercies are new every morning as He continues to shower us with His good gifts.

And so we give thanks. We choose to say “thank you” to the Lord. Sometimes we do so when our hearts are soaring with gratitude. Sometimes we do so in the depths of despair. Wholehearted thanksgiving means choosing to remember what God has done and who He is, and to acknowledge His goodness no matter what we feel. Yet, as we do this, even when our hearts are heavy, the act of thanksgiving itself often lifts our hearts. But, even if it doesn’t, we can still thank the Lord with our whole hearts because He deserves it, and because we need it.

Topics: Thanksgiving |


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