A Divine Recipe for a Transformative Thanksgiving: An Exposition of Psalm 100

I want to bring you a message taken from the Psalms that forms the core of our hymnody—the old 100th—“A Psalm of praise.” But the Hebrew word for Praise here, is the same word that is later translated “Thanksgiving.” It is the Hebrew word “Towda.” As the English Standard Version and other versions put it, this is not just a Psalm of praise, his is, most appropriately, a Psalm of Giving Thanks, or a Psalm of Thanksgiving. And I believe that today the Lord will grant us insights into His Word which will guide us to finish our feast—not just with cold leftover turkey sandwiches—but with a life well lived.

Give attention then to the reading of the inerrant and infallible word of the living God.


Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!  Psalms 100.1
Serve the LORD with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!  Psalms 100.2
Know that the LORD, he is God!   It is he who made us, and we are his;*   we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Psalms 100.3
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,   and his courts with praise!   Give thanks to him; bless his name!  Psalms 100.4
For the LORD is good;   his steadfast love endures forever,   and his faithfulness to all generations.  Psalms 100.5

Thanking about Thanksgiving in Psalm 100

A teacher from the city was sent to a small rural area in South Louisiana, where I came from, to help a little community that didn’t have a teacher. She began teaching phonics in helping 1st grade children to read. After a while, she gave her little students the words, “Thank you” in print for them to try to read. She went to this one little girl, hoping the student would use some of her newly learned reading strategies, The teacher gave the girl plenty of time to work out the words herself. After a few moments, though, the teacher decided to tell her the word: “thank.” When the child didn’t respond, her teacher said more emphatically, “Thank.” The little girl responded in her native dialect, “I AM thanking. Ma’am! I AM thanking!”

Well today let us think about Thanksgiving as we turn out attention to God’s Word.  In fact, we should do some “thanking” for Thanksgiving as well! Because Thanksgiving is a gift of God within the soul of the believer which releases our hearts and minds to the highest privilege of humankind: to worship Almighty God and his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

In one of my pastorates, we held a midmorning Thanksgiving Day service. We were a historic, downtown church and while our Sunday services were packed, you had to leave the suburbs to drive downtown to get to this service. It was never packed but it became of my favorite services of the year. For those who did make the trip, it was one of theirs’ too. One day lady was driving by our church on Thanksgiving morning in search of something—cranberry sauce, or a last can of pumpkin filling, or maybe just meaning in life—and saw the people going into the church. Something, Someone, made her decide to park and to go into church. As she heard the expressions of gratitude and she joined in the singing and worship on that Thanksgiving, by her own testimony afterwards, her life was changed forever. God has guided us all into this service today. You may have come for some other reason, but I pray you leave with the transformation that God gives to those who know how to thank Him.

Now let us think for a moment about the matter of Thanksgiving and ingredients.  That is, after all, a big deal at Thanksgiving! Each and every one of you have your own secret home recipes. You got this recipe for preparing your turkey brine from Grandmother Jones. You got the ingredients for that gooey stuff that goes in the pecan pie from Aunt Nellie. And you, little one, you already are looking forward to the same dish that mother makes every year: that’s right, brussels sprouts with bacon grease! Oh, you don’t like that? Actually that is one of my favorites each year (although it probably has another name—sorry Honey!) But the real favorite around our home— other than the big bird itself—is this wonderfully mysterious, simply sumptuous, delightfully fluffy, cold and creamy, cottage cheese–pineapple-and-other things, pretty and pink, salad-thing, stuff. I have no idea what all goes into it! All I know is that my son and I ask every year, “Mom, do you have that pink stuff again! It is not Thanksgiving without that pink stuff!” We are working on three decades of marriage, yet I still have no idea what  to call the pink stuff other than the pink stuff, much less to recite the recipe! Then again, I am not allowed in the kitchen!

Sadly, there are many who gather around their tables and give no thought whatsoever to the Thanksgiving that our first president George Washington commanded after our great struggle for Independence, or that Abraham Lincoln reinstated after our great national trial. Many will give no thought that the pilgrims were not thanking the Indians; and they were not thanking their lucky stars—they did not even believe in lucky stars! They were thanking the Lord God. What is needed today in our  nation—what is needed today in our hearts—is the right recipe for reverence before God: to know the divine ingredients of a God centered Thanksgiving. When we know what God wants us to know, we will follow Him into a Thanksgiving that Transforms.

Happily, God has given us his Word which will transform any who come to it for Truth. We do not have to go through life wondering  about a secret recipe. God has opened up his recipe book in Psalm 100 so that we can see—and taste—these marvelous ingredients of praise and worship which will constitute for us the most glorious Thanksgiving ever and which brings abundant life and eternal life! And that is better than going to sleep watching a football game and talking politics on an overstuffed stomach!

Psalm 100 is given to us to show us how to give thanks to God and therefore how to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

Now what, according to this passage, goes into a proper Thanksgiving to God?

1. Start with a jigger of joy (verse 1)

This is precisely what David commands the people of God to do in verse 1. Now I know that there are many of you who joke about the fact that you can’t join the choir because you sing so off-key and the director of music will always remind you of this verse that you are only told to make a joyful noise!

The joyful noise of the believer is not an option but it is an essential ingredient to a God ordained Thanksgiving. It is good that we notice again that God not only will command us to worship in the instructs us how we should worship. We should do so with joy we should do so with the noise that comes from the vocal cords that he gave us, articulated with the language that we are able to speak because of his glorious construction of the mind and the tongue; the cognitive and the physiological working together to bring praise to the creator.

But like all of God’s law, these admonitions are fulfilled out of the overflow of what God has done for us. I mean you can’t make a joyful noise without joy. You can’t serve God with gladness unless you are glad. It is like trying to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich and be sad. You can’t do it! It is like your mother yelling, “OK! Come to the table!” That is a command that is easily obeyed for we are all looking forward to that dressing or cranberry sauce or sweet potato pie or string bean casserole. You don’t have to call twice. We’re ready! And true worship is beautiful because of what God has done for us.
So worship is what we were made to do. And worship should be spontaneous. Worship happens, we could say. And it happens because of something.

The great Puritan, John Owen, once said:

“Unless men see a beauty and delight in the worship of God. They will not do it willingly.”

CS Lewis, regardless of many other good thoughts about God and about ourselves, taught us that there is a difference between being happy ending joyful. Happiness is fleeting. It comes, like sadness, the way the tide comes and goes. One moment we are happy. The next moment we were sad. Happiness is altogether dependent upon the circumstances around us. Joy—ah, that is another thing altogether! Joy is  the deeply embedded gift of God in Jesus Christ.  This joy is steady, stable, immovable, irreplaceable, unaffected, and everlasting. When CS Lewis wrote his book Surprised by Joy he wrote about the love of his life, his wife, Joy. Joy came into his life in Lewis’s autumn, not his spring year. The old confirmed bachelor, CS Lewis, was in his 50s before he was ever married. He was not married long. For the Lord took Joy, his wife, home. But what CS Lewis learned through his grieving was that nothing could touch the joy that he had received in Jesus Christ. For CS Lewis had received—also late in life—the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. He would never be the same again.

My beloved, the first great ingredient that goes into a God ordained Thanksgiving that transforms is a joyful noise. But here’s the thing: no one is going to have to teach you how to make that joyful noise. It will come out as naturally as a child cooling for his mother. It is the response of a spirit deposited grace in the soul of a repentant sinner. Maybe you can make a little noise now. Deep down in your heart or even with a hearty “Amen!” But let’s start our Thanksgiving together with a joyful noise.

Well it’s time to the 2nd ingredient  in our recipe for reference, our divine guide to a God ordained Thanksgiving:

2. Mix in plenty of people! (verse 1)

You see that David says that we are to make a joyful noise to the Lord, but he is not simply addressing the Jews who were gathered for worship. It is not simply addressing his subjects. He is addressing the entire earth. This may strike some liberal Old Testament scholars as strange. And so it should! Several have foolishly said that Israel was only concerned about its own cultic religion.  According to some liberal scholars,  Israel  understood Judaism, what some have called the cult of Yahweh,  as a badge of ethnic identity. But nothing could be further from the truth. From Genesis 12 and the covenant God made with Abram to this passage and all the way to Acts chapter 2 and the story of Pentecost; and all through the Bible to the very last verse of Revelation, the promises of God were intended for all ethnic groups all over the earth.  It is in Isaiah that we hear the prophet remind Israel of this very fact:

“He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49.6 ESV)

One of the most unforgettable spectacles I’ve ever witnessed was the closing worship service at Lausanne 2010 Congress on Global Evangelism at Cape Town, South Africa. The service, which included around 6,000 people, all worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ, from all denominations, from all nations, from all races, were gathered in an auditorium in Cape Town that had been on that night transformed into a sanctuary of the living God. The Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi,  conducted this Book of Common Prayer service which was marked by joyful singing, rich biblical worship, fervent public prayer, expository preaching, but was also marked, most visibly and audibly, by the sights and sounds of the peoples of the earth. I shall never forget watching the processional at the beginning of the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” There, in the line were children from South Korea, dressed in traditional costume, processing to the rapturous strains of All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. Behind them was an African man, it might have been a tribesman, as I recall, from some small African country, playing a brightly painted, primitive drum that was hung from around his neck. Behind him with someone else, from some other country, a Dutch Lady in her traditional Dutch costume, and behind her a Iranian pastor, clothed into his clerical covering of choice, which he could never wear in his own country at this time. And so there was the Iranian minister in his clerical collar from Iran followed by the Jewish believer from Jerusalem followed by a South Pacific islander with some sort of strange musical instrument that I’ve never seen before! On and on it went! And I thought to myself, “This must be what heaven is going to be like! All of these people from all over the earth and all of these songs and all of these instruments and all of these lives and all of these stories mixed together in this glorious moment, all channeled through this narrow, singular end: the worship of Jesus Christ!”

Today in this sanctuary, we may not have that much diversity.  We may have only a small representation of the ethnic groups of the earth. We may have only a small representation of the nations of the earth. But I thank God that this congregation is open to receiving all the peoples of the earth and moreover to living out your mission to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

It was a theologian by the name of Leslie Newbigin who wrote that if the church  ceases to be about God’s mission in the world, it ceases to be a church.

The command is clear: “Make a  joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” Love God. Love His Word. But we have to love and be thankful that God loves people. He loved you didn’t He?

3. Next, add some salty service and sweet singing! (verse 2)

In verse 2 we are told to serve the Lord with gladness and to come into his presence with singing.  We must see that God wants us to sing to Him and to serve Him. To serve Him is to do His will in the world, to be, according to Jesus in Matthew 5, “salt” in the world, and to fulfill His Great Commandment of loving one another and His Great Commission of loving others with His Gospel. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And when you salt with service you will sweeten with singing!

This past week I was giving the paper at the 63rd annual meeting of the Evangelical theological Society in San Francisco. While I was there my wife called me, crossing the three-hour time zone, to alert me to an article in the Wall Street Journal. There in the section that appears on Fridays dealing with religion, she had spotted the name of my former assistant minister, Rankin Wilbourne. Rankin is pastor of Pacific Crossroads PCA church in Santa Monica, California. Aaron Belz penned a fine article that the Wall Street Journal published about how Rankin and Pacific crossroads church were reaching out to others in Christ’s love. The title was arresting because it spoke about How Calvinists will be Celebrating Thanksgiving! Now, the ordinary, secular Sam may read this and have an impression that Calvinists celebrate by being dour if anyone smiles on a holiday! But here the author told of how this congregation saw serving God as serving others. Their song is a song of witness to what God has done for them and sharing that with others.

You cannot help but sing if Christ has saved you. And you cannot help but love others if you have known His love in your life.

What would be written about you this Thanksgiving?

4. While the ingredients are cooking in your life, baste with fellowship! (verse 3)

In verse 3 we are commanded to “Know that the LORD, He is God!”  Furthermore, the Psalmist links the knowledge of God to our own creation and thus His own possession. King David uses the metaphor of sheep and a shepherd to describe God and His people. This is a metaphor that is repeated by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus in that great self-identification passage of John 10. There we are told that He is not only the good shepherd but He knows His sheep and His sheep know him.

Part of the joy of Thanksgiving is the fellowship that we have with others: our family, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Jesus., This Thanksgiving, as with most other thanksgivings in our marriage, Mae and I will host some family, friends, students, and even another whole family. I will enjoy being at the head of the table looking out at this fine collection of fellow believers and worshippers of Christ gathered around the fine presentation of my wife. My joy will be in my wife and family and in those around my table! (Then I will turn my attention to eating) And so it is that we are commanded to know God, and to therefore know that He knows us. We are united to Him as we come to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving brings about fellowship with our heavenly Father who delights to be known by His children, the sheep of His pasture.

Don’t get so busy this season that you miss the One we are to thank. He desires that you come to Him. He welcomes you to His table even now.

5. Now come and have your Thanksgiving in public worship! (verse 4)

We are told to enter His gates with thanksgiving. To do so is to worship, not just in your prayer closet, or in your home, but in public! We are called to worship with other believers.

This past week I was with a pastor from a Communist country in East Asia (that we happen to owe a lot of money to) who has invited us to be a part of preparing pastors in his country. He told me about the underground house church movement. But they only worship in houses, like the early saints, because they cannot go out into worship by law. But within their houses, they gather multiple families as well as those who are “God fearers” and want to know more about Jesus Christ. Even in the worst conditions in the world today and throughout history you will find that believers gather for worship—because this is the will of God.

When people come to me for counseling, I want to ask them some diagnostic questions to me understand whatever spiritual disease may be afflicting them. One of the questions I ask is about their attendance in worship. It is not that I am wanting them to check off a box that they have fulfilled their holy obligation. No! It is that the believer who denies himself from the public worship of the Church denies himself the ordinary means of grace—Word, Sacrament and Prayer—that can bring healing and hope to the human soul.
I am thankful for Thanksgiving. And I am thankful that it is that one civic holiday in our national life where we are commanded to pray!

Thanksgiving, in America at least, is a living testimony to the fact that this nation is a country, at least in her history, that acknowledged God and acknowledged the necessity of going before God in public thanksgiving. Our pilgrim forefathers called for days of thanksgiving to worship God. In 1623, during a severe drought, the pilgrims gathered to ask God for rain. The next day God gave them a long, steady rain. So Governor Bradford, who was also a ruling elder, called for a Day of Thanksgiving worship. I thank God that he invited Indian friends, and so do we invite those who know not Christ to our services. We long to tell the story of His love to others, even as we acknowledge Him. My beloved Thanksgiving is an act of evangelism. For when you declare that you are dry of soul without him, no hope of life without God’s help, and then go to Him to thank Him for Jesus, and invite unbelievers, that is evangelism. May God always make this hallowed place a place of evangelism in worship. In December, 1777, the 13 colonies together declared a Day of Thanksgiving after the victory over the British at Saratoga. And the father of our country, after the birth of our nation, called for public worship and thanksgiving in 1789. And finally, Abraham Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month in 1863 and every president since then has done so.
So, it is right, that today, we come into the house of the Lord, to worship and give thanks for His blessings.

Now, the final part of the recipe:

6. Enjoy the lingering love of the Lord with your whole family (verses 4 and 5)

We are told:

Give thanks to him; bless his name!  Psalms 100.4

His Name is the Covenant Name, the Holy name that the Hebrew scribes would not even read out loud, the name pronounced Yahweh. In every instance of the word LORD in this Psalm, it is the holy covenant name of the Lord, which is used. The Hebrews met to bless the name of the One True God who led them out of slavery and into freedom, who made promises to their fathers that from them would come blessing to the earth.
John wrote the purpose of His Gospel:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20.31 NIV

And Paul proclaimed:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10.13 NIV

And Peter joins with Paul to tell us about that name:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4.12 NIV

Let us make no mistake about it: the pilgrims did not give thanks to the Indians, but gave thanks to the name of Jesus. The colonist made their thanks in the name of Jesus. The Father of our Country called Jesus His Lord and gave his thanksgiving to Him. Abraham Lincoln, likewise, called on our Heavenly Father and signed his name, as did Washington, with “in the year of our Lord.”

The essential ingredient of worship is thanksgiving and the thanks is to be directed to our great God who covenanted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and fulfilled His promises through the Mediator of that Covenant, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, then, we have seen that true worship in beauty is the will of God for all men.
We have seen that Thanksgiving is the essential ingredient, and we have found how to give thanks, where to give thanks, and to whom we must give thanks.
But what is the reason for Thanksgiving?

We all know we give thanks for blessings. But what blessings? The things themselves? Our families, our homes, our health, our country? No we thank God for Himself, for from God flow these blessings. It is clearly and majestically revealed in the last verse:

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  Psalms 100.5

The goodness of the Lord is that attribute of God that allows sinners to have an opportunity to hear the Gospel and be saved. His goodness is what sent the rain to our forefathers, and brought this nation into being though we were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. His goodness is what preserved a nation in civil war, and His goodness is what preserves us today, though we have sinned against the Lord. His goodness is what gives you food and water. His goodness can be seen in the eyes of a child. His goodness is seen in the beauty of a field ready for harvest. His goodness is the ingredient in everything you eat today. That you get to relax and fall asleep is due to the chemical, L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is used in the body to produce the B-vitamin, niacin. Niacin, in turn, is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that exerts a calming effect and regulates sleep. And you just thought it was the Detroit Lions that made you fall asleep! Beloved, the goodness of God is the common blessings that we all have. There is no creature on earth who is exempt from the goodness of God and that is why we should all worship Him with Thanksgiving.

And then there is His steadfast love. His steadfast love is the Hebrew word, Hesed. It is a word that means grace or covenant love, unending love grounded in God’s name and His acts on our behalf. This Psalm of Thanksgiving brings us to Jesus and to the cross and to His presence and power right now.

That is the message of the fifth verse of this Psalm. That is the message of this sermon. And that is the message of Thanksgiving: we thank God for His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose love lingers through all the generations.

I have often said that the vision I have for the seminary is the vision of seeing souls saved and lives transformed so that there will be a multitude of souls safe in the arms of Jesus when He comes again. Well, that is the purpose of this Psalm. More thanks and more thanks-givers down through the generations.

The greatest family recipe you can give those who come after you is not just a recipe for pecan pie, or even that wonderful pink, fluffy stuff that my wife makes so wells. No. The greatest Thanksgiving recipe you can give is to know how to give thanks. And that only comes with a life of thanksgiving lived before others. And that only comes when you are thankful for what God has done for you in this life and in eternal life through Jesus.

What else could you possibly be more thankful for this Thanksgiving? Those are the ingredients. Let’s have a feast. But first let’s say our prayer.

Thank you Lord! Receive the songs of our hearts for what You have done for us in Jesus Christ. Receive our worship, not only as we come to you as families, but as families from around the world, and in public worship this day. Receive our blessing on the name of Jesus our only God and Savior. Thank you for your steadfast love—your hesed love—which goes on and on and was demonstrated to us in the love of Jesus on the Cross. Help us to keep a good Thanksgiving and to then to share the reason for our gratitude with those who come after. In Jesus’ name. Amen.