How much is thankfulness part of your life as a follower of Jesus? How much, in our current situation, are you tempted to grumble? How much do you focus on the negative and lose sight of the positive? These questions are significant because giving thanks to God is the mark of a follower of Jesus. Or conversely, the mark of a pagan mind is a lack of thankfulness. See what Paul says in Romans 1:21a: “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him….” It is for this reason that I think Psalm 136 is such important teaching in our current climate. Knowing that thanksgiving is our bread and butter as Christians, the psalmist gives us four reasons to be thankful.
1. God is good
God is both a good and a powerful God (v1-3). He is God of gods and Lord of lords and so he is powerful – and yet he is the good God whose steadfast love endures forever. This is significant. We know from human experience that goodness without power is impotent, and power without goodness is terrifying. But in perfect combination, God who is all powerful and perfectly good is most worthy of our thanks. And so, give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
2. God creates
Not only is God good and powerful, but his steadfast love is always there to be seen in his creation (v4-9). He made heaven and earth, the waters and the lights. This sort of beauty that God created from nothing testifies to both his lovingkindness and his power. When you gaze into the clouds, remember that God’s steadfast love endures forever. When you watch the rhythmic crashing of the waves at the beach, remember that God’s steadfast love endures forever. When you wake in the morning to a sunrise or fall asleep with a picture of the stars in the sky, it is obvious that God is worthy of praise as we are reminded that his steadfast love endures forever. And so, give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
3. God saves
As if it isn’t enough to praise God because of his character and his creation, we praise him all the more because he saves us (v10-16). The psalmist gives Old Testament examples of God judging his enemies, the oppressors of his people. But even the iconic example of the Exodus, as good as it is, is only a shadow of the greater Exodus where God did not spare his beloved Son, but sent him to die at a great cost, so that we might live (Rom 8:32). And if God would send his beloved, only Son, there is nothing he would not do for us. Rather, his mercy and lovingkindness are from everlasting to everlasting. And so, give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
4. God sustains
We should rightly praise God for saving us, but his steadfast love means that he also sustains us, lifts us and keeps us persevering to the end (v17-22). After leading his people Israel out of slavery under Pharaoh, God struck down the great kings who opposed his people, and gave his people land as an inheritance, for their very own possession. He didn’t just save them, he also sustained them afterwards. How much more for us! Not only did Jesus die and rise again to win the victory, but his Spirit is with us, helping us when we do not know what to pray, inclining our hearts towards Christ and given as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance when the Lord Jesus returns on that final day. And so, give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
The psalmist teaches us clearly that as followers of Jesus, we are to be thankful to God for everything. This is the bread and butter of the Christian. We see these examples of God’s love for us in Scripture, and it is a worthwhile exercise thinking through how much God loves us in all the incidental things as well. As the old Sunday school song goes:
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God has done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
It is no accident that Psalm 136 is bookended by the clear imperative to “give thanks”. This command is repeated in verses 1, 2 and 3, and this command finishes the Psalm. So are you a bread and butter Christian? Give thanks. Why? Because God’s steadfast love endures forever.