Psalm 116 12.7.20
What one adjective should we put on your burial plaque? “Joe Bloggs, an anxious man?” “A proud man”? “A self-promoting man”? “A demanding man”? Or would it be “Joe Bloggs, a brave man”, or “a generous man” or “a humble man”?
I think there is one good quality that is the key to these and other good qualities … God has written it into the New Testament more than 70 times, and hundreds more into the Old Testament. It’s the one that runs through the whole of our Psalm this morning, Psalm 116.
“Joe Bloggs, a thankful man”.
I remember being in an army officers’ dining room, when we all stood and raised our glasses as a toast to the Queen. You may well have toasted “the bride and groom” at a wedding.
This man toasts the Lord. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” My cup is overflowing with the most wonderful blessings, but I lift my glass in his honour and to his praise.
Is this because he had had a cushy life, full only of nice things? Only joys – no sadness? No – he has been in dark places.
He has been living through something like a horror movie, where tentacles reach out of a cupboard, or a grave perhaps, and wrap themselves around some helpless person, who cannot escape, and squeeze the life out of him.
He says “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol (the grave) laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.” (v3) He had been “greatly afflicted” (v10) and people who said they would help him did not – he had concluded that “all men are liars” (v11).
This man isn’t toasting God because he has coasted through life with only good things and positive stories. His story is that he has been “brought low” (v6).
He can say that in his lowness,
V1 “The Lord has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy”
V2 “he inclined his ear to me”… the Lord bent over to listen to him like a loving father bends low to hear a small child
V6 “when I was brought low, the Lord saved me”
V7 “my soul: the Lord has dealt bountifully with you”
V8 “you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears”
Was he given a day to live, but walked out of intensive care? Did he receive an inheritance when he couldn’t pay his bills? Did his kids turn to the Lord after years off the rails? Did he discover that some of his friends were not liars, but stuck with him in the depths?
We’re not told exactly what brought him low, and how the Lord rescued him. Maybe because we might think his situation was worse than ours – he needed mercy, but we don’t. We might see our situation as worse than his, and therefore what may be big enough for him, is not big enough for us.
Friends, the question is not what brought you low, but whether the Living God hears you and shows mercy in your lowness.
Who of us has not received great mercy?
A meal sometime in the last 24 hours … and the ability to digest the food you ate?
Life in a country of good government, with good healthcare for all, and money for those without work just now?
Freedom to come here this morning, or enough technology to watch this service online?
Police, paramedics and volunteer fire-fighters who want to help and protect you?
Of all people, Australians should be the most thankful.
It’s better than all that when you are a Christian as well … chosen by the Father before the foundation of the earth for adoption … redeemed by the Son … indwelt by the Spirit.
Being joined to Jesus means that it is impossible for the tentacles of the grave to hold you. He will raise that body in which you now live, glorious and whole, to live in the new heavens and the new earth with him, at whose right hand there are only joys for evermore.
The writer of Psalm 116 didn’t have a tenth of what we have in Jesus. If he thought his cup was full, our cup must be sloshing and overflowing everywhere.
Are you a thankful person? Yes? No? Why not?
I can see a couple of reasons why we are not thankful. One is forgetting how big the blessings are that you have. Yes, redeemed and forgiven … but would $1000 be better? Yes, an adopted child of the Living God … but I’d rather have children. A guaranteed place in the new heavens and the new earth, but I’d prefer to have better health … or more success … or be more popular.
Lack of thankfulness is often because we forget the immense and unparalleled wealth we have in the Lord Jesus.
A second reason for not being thankful is that while I see what I have in Jesus is marvellous, I think I’ve earned it all.
In earlier days whilst in the Philippines we completed a four hour trip along a 100 kilometre mostly dirt road in an open bus to preach in a certain church. It could be quite a hairy trip; I doubt any of the drivers had a license.
After one trip I got off the bus, went to the driver’s window and thanked him. Some Filipino friends asked why I did that. I said that he had driven well. “But you paid him”. The payment cancelled the need to be thankful.
Have you paid for what you have in Jesus? Earned it? Traded something for it? Secured it by your efforts? This man is thankful because he has what he has because of mercy (v1) from the Lord who is merciful (v5). He has done nothing to earn his help from the Lord, for he is among “the simple” (v6). Out of all proportion to his deserving, the Lord has “dealt bountifully” with him (v7).
Don’t blame your lack of thankfulness on your temperament (you’re a glass half empty kind of person), or your tough situation. When it is more than likely that it comes from too small a view of the mercies of God? Or too big a view of your deserving?
When you are next in the City of Sydney, walk to the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets in Sydney, just up the rise from Circular Quay. There you will find a memorial commemorating the preaching of the first sermon in Australia.
On February 3, 1788, a congregation gathered on that spot, about 40 metres from the water. There were Governor Arthur Phillip, 20 officials, 213 marines and 750 convicts, and one stowaway named James Smith who must have been the eternal optimist.
The preacher was Richard Johnson, an evangelical, chosen by William Wilberforce and John Newton to be chaplain to the new colony to ensure that the gospel of Jesus was preached here.
What did Johnson preach? He opened up Psalm 116 and read “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
What benefits? All 11 ships arrived safely after an 8 month voyage, without the loss of even one life. They were in a place that presented a thousand great opportunities. Benefits? They were in abundance.
Johnson had even deeper reasons for thankfulness. They come out in a booklet he wrote and distributed to everyone in the colony 4 years later. He wrote:
“I have told you again and again, that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and that there is no coming to God with comfort, either in this world, or in that which is to come, but by him. … Look unto him, and you shall be saved; if not, you must be damned. This is the plain truth, the express declaration of the Bible. Life and death are set before you. … upon your knowledge or ignorance, your acceptance or rejection of this gospel, your everlasting happiness of misery must depend.”
That was not the message Governor Phillip wanted – he had told Johnson to “begin with moral subjects” – tell people how to behave. It is not what Phillip’s replacement, Major Grose and his Rum Corps, wanted when they ran the colony from 1792. Grose reduced church to once a week (6am on Sunday), limited to 45 minutes. They sank the boat Johnson used to go up the river to preach to the convicts at Parramatta. They supported people who pelted him with rocks when they saw him.
What enabled Richard Johnson to keep going, and to establish schools at Sydney, Parramatta and Norfolk Island? What drove him to fund the care of orphans and to befriend the aboriginals, even giving his own daughter an aboriginal name?
He was thankful for God’s common mercies to all, and for his special mercies to those who are in Christ which meant that what he had was greater than what he had lost. His cup overflowed with praise, as he toasted the Living God for “all his benefits”.
How thankful we are for Richard Johnson and for those who sent him here. How indebted are the aboriginals to whom the gospel came, with all the fruits that came from that gospel!
Have you less reason to toast the Lord than Richard Johnson, or more? What, then, will you “render to the Lord “for all his benefits”? Not pay for those benefits. Not pay the Lord back for them. How shall we respond to such huge blessings?
With praise with deep, deep thankfulness. Our cup is flowing over with blessings. As Australians in the ‘more than lucky country’. As believers, blessed with every blessing heaven has.
The writer of Psalm 116 could hardly wait to get to church, to toast the Lord, with others. Not to get his needs met, not to be comfortable but to celebrate the Lord’s benefits with the Lord’s people. “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord, in the presence of all his people” (vv17,18).
Had he gone to church while he was low, he may not have felt he could toast the Lord for his benefits. That was when he needed to be with other people who toasted the Lord:
So that he could see again that what he had was greater than what he had lost.
So that he might remember that there is a God who bends to hear.
So that he could be clear that this world is not the real world … and today’s story is not the last chapter.
It feels counter-intuitive to go to church when you can’t see the blessings, but that is precisely when you need to be with other believers who can. It is when you can see them and be encouraged by them. What a blessing you will be to others who feel they cannot!
However, the picture is bigger than him – or others. The Living God has saved us to be a thankful people – to his praise. He means us to toast the Lord Jesus with glasses so full of thanksgiving, it spills over the sides.
People out there don’t toast him. For the most part, they can’t even see what they have. If they do, they believe they have it by hard work, good management or good luck. When it is the Living God who benefits them with every breath they draw.
What will be the big feature among us? Complaint? Fear? Anxiety? Being demanding or deep thankfulness … in confidence that Jesus’ kingdom must triumph, and can do nothing else but triumph?
Richard Johnson finished his 1792 booklet like this:
This will be my daily prayer to God for you. I shall pray for your eternal salvation, for your present welfare, for the preservation, peace, and prosperity of this colony: and especially for the more abundant and manifest success of the Redeemer’s cause and kingdom, and for the effusion and out-pouring of his Holy Spirit, not only here, but in every part of the habitable globe.
Longing, hoping, and waiting for the dawn of that happy day, when the heathen shall be given to the Lord Jesus for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession: and when all the ends of the earth shall see, believe, and rejoice in the salvation of God (Ps. ii. 8 & xciii.3).
I am your affectionate Friend and Servant in the Gospel of Christ,
Let’s be praying for the same confident thankfulness for ourselves and for it to dominate our life together.
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