9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations. 10 For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, And thy truth unto the clouds. 11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: Let thy glory be above all the earth. (Psalm 57:9–11)
This Thanksgiving I wonder if some said, “I have nothing to be thankful for; the times are hard.” The interesting thing about that is that Thanksgiving Day is a day that originated in hard times.
Most people remember from grade school that the Mayflower Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass. celebrated America’s first Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621. They were thankful for a bountiful harvest.
But did you know that the previous winter, a few months earlier, half the colony died of exposure and disease? Consider how you would feel if half of us died this winter, of diseases that wasted people away or of being frostbitten and cold?
Or consider that, when Thanksgiving was made an official holiday by Abraham Lincoln, it was 1863. The United States was in the midst of the bloodiest war on American soil, the Civil War, a war that set brother against brother.
How could Lincoln and the Pilgrims be so thankful in times that were marked by trial and adversity? It was not because they had a confidence in the human spirit, but that they had a confidence in God.
How do I know that they had confidence in God? I know this because of what they wrote, for example, Abraham Lincoln in his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863 wrote:
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things [the United States continued to operate and even grow in the midst of war]. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. (William J. Federer, Great Quotations… [St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch, 2001].)
The Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln saw the love, faithfulness, and sovereignty of God in all times, and were thankful. So was another man, this one a king and writer of songs, David. One of those songs is Psalm 57.
In this psalm, David first teaches us to…
I. GIVE THANKS BEFORE ALL NATIONS AT ALL TIMES
Psalm 57:9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.
David says that he would give thanks to God at all times, and we know that he meant the hard times also.
A. At All Times
The title of Psalm 57 reads, “A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.” 1 Samuel 24 tells us about this event. David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel.
The current king, the disobedient Saul would have none of that, and pursued David around the country for a dozen years.
All that time, David was a fugitive, anointed by Samuel to be the king; chosen by God to be the king, but a fugitive none the less. Following God doesn’t mean life will be easy.
When David wrote this Psalm he was held up in the caves of Engedi. Saul had 3000 men and outnumbered David five to one.
Remember, the only reason Saul was hunting David down was because God had chosen David to be the king. God has never promised us an easy life. Listen to what Jesus told his disciples:
16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; (Matthew 10:16–17)
Following Jesus is no promise of an easy life in this world, but we are to thank and praise him while in this world, in this present time.
B. Among The Nations
David also says that his praise to God will be “among the nations.” The plural use here indicates it is to the unbelieving peoples and nations (that is how the Bible uses those words elsewhere, see Deuteronomy 4:27).
What does that mean for us as Christians? One thing that It means that we ought to publicly praise and thank God in other places besides church. It’s easy to praise God in church on Sunday when surrounded by believers, but what about out in the world?
One aspect of our lives that we can examine this week is how we greet people. When someone says, “Good morning,” what is your response?
A grumpy response reflects an unthankful heart. Sure, you might be honest, but your heart needs help nonetheless. And for that sort of heart help we must turn to God.
How do we come to honestly thank and praise God from the heart at any time and in front of all peoples? We can do so when we understand God’s great love and faithfulness. That’s the second lesson David teaches in this psalm, that we are to…
II. GIVE THANKS BECAUSE OF GOD’S MERCY AND TRUTH
Psalm 57:10 For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, And thy truth unto the clouds.
David mentions two characteristics of God.
A. His Mercy
Our greatest expressions of gratitude occur when someone shows us an act of love or mercy. When I can honestly praise and thank God in the midst of trials it is because I am fully convinced of his love and mercy.
When I am unable to praise and thank God in trials, it is because I doubt, at least a little, his love for me.
Thanking and praising God in the midst of trial does not mean suppressing our grief (David often gives thanks and grieves in the same psalm). I have at times found myself crying because of a hurt and because, yet at the very same moment, I was crying because I knew that God loved me.
B. His Truth
The Hebrew word here for “truth” can also be translated, “faithfulness.” Truth and faithfulness are related. If God says it, it is true, and He is faithful to act on that truth.
For many of us, the great declaration of God’s true faithfulness is
22 It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
Did you notice the name of the book that was in? Lamentations. The book of laments. Jeremiah, the author, is grieving over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
He grieves so much that he inherited the nickname, “The weeping prophet.” We see the godly man can praise and thank God while at the same time weeping over great loss.
William Law, a Christian pastor from long ago, wrote:
Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is more [well-known] for temperance, [purity], or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God…who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. (William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999])
Be a great saint…be grateful to God for all things because in all things God is still loving and still faithful and, as David teaches us thirdly…
III. GIVE THANKS BECAUSE GOD IS EXALTED ABOVE
Psalm 57:11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: Let thy glory be above all the earth.
How did David survive his trial of being hunted by King Saul? It was because God is exalted above. God is sovereign and in control, even when we’re not and it seems that he’s not.
The Bible declares God is sovereign. God is exalted. God’s sovereign power is never on the blink. God still God is at all times, even in bad times.
During World War II. Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, had been harboring Jewish people in their home, so they were arrested and imprisoned at Ravensbruck Camp. The barracks was extremely crowded and infested with fleas.
One morning they read in their tattered Bible from 1 Thessalonians the reminder to rejoice in all things. Betsy said, “Corrie, we’ve got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.” Corrie replied, “No way am I going to thank God for fleas.” But Betsy was persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas.
During the months that followed, they found that their barracks was left relatively free [from intrusions by the guards], and they could do Bible study, talk openly, and even pray in the barracks. It was their only place of refuge. Several months later they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas (John Yates, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 110).
I would even call them Sovereign fleas. Fleas from God. Fleas that were under his control, bringing a good thing to Corrie and Betsy. God wasn’t out of control, the very opposite, he was in control, in the midst of their trials.
Perhaps today you feel that you cannot be thankful. Is it because you do not have the rock of Jesus Christ to lean on?
But Jesus is there, waiting for you to reach out a hand in faith and lean on him. Make that decision to trust your life to Christ today and Thanksgiving will have a whole new meaning for you.
If you have already decided that following Jesus is the best course you can take in life, a course of joy despite sorrow, of strength in your weakness, do not let your thankfulness to him slip away between the turkey, sweet potatoes, and the football.
Announce your thankfulness to him this Thanksgiving before all nations.