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The Original Thanksgiving Hymn

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 100

Gratitude is a distinguishing mark of a follower of the Lord. We should strive to make thanksgiving to God for who He is and what He has done central to our thinking, our actions, our attitudes, and our speech.


The Original Thanksgiving Hymn

Psalm 100


Has it ever occurred to you that the believer has been commanded to be thankful? In fact, one of the leading distinctives of believers is that—no matter what—we give thanks to God.

No wonder the Lord modeled this for us in His own life. At the time of His greatest crisis—in the hours leading up to His crucifixion—He took that bread and wine, representing His body and His shed blood, and what did He do? He gave thanks. He took the elements that represented His agony and suffering and gave thanks.

That would be like a man or woman going back to the cancer center where they first heard the news and giving thanks. That would be like going over to the bank that foreclosed on your home and giving thanks or going to that intersection where someone you love was in a terrible car accident and giving thanks.

You’re probably saying, “Stephen, that would be unnatural.” And yes, I would agree it is unnatural; frankly, I would say it is supernatural. In fact, I believe that giving thanks about anything is more supernatural than we typically think. That is why the world is described as ungrateful in Romans 1 and the believer is marked by a spirit of thanksgiving. There is something supernatural going on inside the believer’s heart.

Now we come to Psalm 100, where the heading reads, “A Psalm for giving thanks.” This is the only psalm, by the way, designated as a public song to be sung for thanksgiving. You could call Psalm 100 the original thanksgiving hymn.

This psalm, even to this day, answers two questions for believers: How do we give thanks to God, and why?

How do we give thanks? Verse 1 begins to answer with the first of three key phrases: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord!”

That might describe what you sound like when you try to sing—it’s a joyful noise. Well, keep singing. This is a call to raise our voices with songs of thanksgiving. No matter how dark the world is around us, thanksgiving interrupts the darkness like fireworks that turn the dark sky into blazing color.

The second key phrase is in verse 2: “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Now again, this is not natural. It is one thing to serve the Lord, but here we are told to be glad about it. In fact, we are commanded to be glad!

Can you command something like gladness? Sure, you can. You tell your children, “You better change your attitude right now and put on a happy face. Stop pouting and start smiling!” I can still hear my mother saying, “Young man, you had better adjust your attitude.”

Evidently attitudes can be adjusted. The psalmist does not say here, “Serve the Lord whether you are glad about it or not.” Rather, he is calling for an attitude adjustment: “Serve the Lord, and be glad about it.”

The apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God.” Evidently, adjusting our attitude is the will of God. Let me put it this way: a thankful spirit is not a personality trait but an act of the will; it is choosing to obey the will of God.

The third key phrase regarding how we give thanks is also in verse 2: “Come into his presence with singing!” Can you imagine coming into the presence of God pouting? Of course not. Well, we live every day in His presence. We have access at any moment into His courts, so let’s come with grateful singing.

John Phillips, the British expositor, captured this joy when he told of a young boy who was standing in London in front of Buckingham Palace, tugging on the guard’s jacket, saying, “I want to see the king.” Of course, the guard didn’t flinch. A policeman was walking back and forth, moving people along. The boy said to the policeman, “I came to see the king.” “Can’t help that, sonny!” the policeman answered. “You’re not allowed in there.”

About that time a well-dressed gentleman arrived and overheard the conversation. He held out his hand and said, “Come with me.” The guard sprang to attention and presented arms as the policeman unlocked the gate. In they went, down the corridors and eventually into the presence of the king. The little boy had taken the hand of the king’s son.[1]

Beloved, we have access to God the Father because we are being held by the hand of God the Son. Let us come before His presence with singing.

Now the psalmist moves on from telling us how to thank God—with joyful singing and the right attitude—to reminding us of why we should thank God.

Notice verse 3: “Know that the Lord, he is God!” In other words, God is to be praised simply because of who He is—God.

And what kind of God is He? Verse 5 tells us, “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” He will not change His mind about you, and He will not forget His promises to you.

Verse 5 goes on to say, “His faithfulness [endures] to all generations.” Generation after generation after generation after generation, He remains the same. He is not fickle; He is faithful.[2]

We thank God because of who He is. But that’s not all. We also offer thanks to Him because of what He has done.

Back in verse 3 we read, “It is he who made us, and we are his.” God is the one who crafted and created us.

He wove you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He designed you; He wired you and gifted you. He gave you every ability you have and every disability you have.

The truth is, you are not going to be able to joyfully praise God until you accept the fact that God designed you according to His divine plan. Every strength you have and every weakness you have is according to His design. Your abilities give you reasons to declare His praises; your disabilities give you reasons to depend on His power.

And here is something else. God not only made you; He also plans on keeping you. That is the next part of verse 3: “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

I am so glad this doesn’t say, “We are the thoroughbreds in His stable,” or “We are the eagles soaring in His heavens.” No, we are His fearful, timid, ignorant, helpless, prone-to-wander sheep. But here is the good news: the psalmist says we are His sheep, the sheep who belong in His pasture.

No matter where you are today, beloved, remembering who God is and what God has done for you gives you reason enough to be grateful.

I read a modern-day parable of a man who came across a large barn where Satan kept seeds ready to be sown in human hearts. The man found that the seeds of discouragement were more numerous than any other seeds. There were bags of them stacked everywhere.

When the man asked about it, he learned that the seeds of discouragement were a favorite of Satan because they would grow almost anywhere. But one of the demons he questioned admitted there was one place in which these seeds were not able to take root and develop. “And where is that?” the man asked. The demon answered, “They won’t grow in the heart of a grateful person.”[3]

You know, it really is impossible to be, at the same time, anxious and grateful, selfish and grateful, proud and grateful, materialistic and grateful, bitter and grateful, or hateful and grateful.  Maybe that is why gratitude really is one of the distinctive characteristics that sets us apart from the rest of the world, a world that is anxious, selfish, proud, materialistic, bitter, and hateful.

So, let’s make up our minds to make this supernatural adjustment today as we depend on the Spirit of God. Let’s make a joyful noise to Him. Let’s serve Him with gladness. Let’s sing to Him this original hymn of thanksgiving.

[1] John Phillips, Exploring the Psalms: Volume Two (Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), 101.

[3] Robert Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2000), 735.


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