Thanksgiving 2021 Service - Day of Thanksgiving - Psalm 86
Last week, Mindy and I watched a documentary about grizzly bears. One of the main focuses of the show was on an old mother bear and her two young cubs. They were less than a year old and winter was fast approaching. One of the cubs seemed to stay close to the mother bear and the other seemed to be more adventurous and would often walk farther away to play and explore.
At one point in the show the mother bear seemed to get anxious. She began to walk around in circles. Then she would go over to the cliff and look down at the water as if she had lost something. It was then that it became evident that she was missing a cub. One of them, the adventurous cub, had wandered off and was no where to be found. She would call out but there was no response.
The person doing the documentary said that that cub would probably not survive because there were two things working against the cub. First, the cub could not provide for himself and winter was coming. Secondly, without the protection of his mother he would be easy prey for other bears. In that moment, Mindy and I both were sad to think of what might happen to that cub.
Thankfully, however the cub was found two days later by its mother. He was noticeably thinner and seemed to be in some discomfort but he was alive and safe now. Interestingly, he still seemed to be prone to wonder off even after these events.
I tell you that story because if that bear could write a psalm I think that he would compose something similar to Psalm 86. This psalm can easily be divided up into three main sections.
The day of trouble (1-7). The emphasis here is on prayer.
The day of teaching to walk in the truth (8-11). The emphasis here is on praise.
The day of trials and God’s turning to protect His child (14-17) The emphasis here is on petition.
As we read through this psalm notice these main emphasis’.
The Day of Trouble
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God. 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
The Day of Truth and Thanksgiving
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. 9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. 10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
The Day of Trials and God’s Turning to Protect
14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. 17 Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
As people consider Thanksgiving you can often hear it lamented that they wish that we would be more thankful all the time and not just on this particular day. They desire to see thankfulness that is applied to the whole heart and to all of life all of the time.
A couple things stand out to me when I hear this desire verbalized by people.
First, I realize that I fall far short of that standard in my own life. In fact, I don’t even think I approach Thanksgiving with the type of thankfulness and gratitude that I should.
Secondly, I begin to contemplate those people that I may know who have expressed a type of consistent gratitude that honors God.
Thirdly, I wonder how I can reflect this more and more in my own life.
Perhaps this is why this psalm has captured my attention. Let’s consider two things about this psalm:
First, The day of thanksgiving is right in the middle of two other days: the day of trouble and the day of trial.
Secondly, Let’s notice that David expresses the thankfulness that we long to express and the thankfulness that we long to see at Thanksgiving.
Notice that David’s ‘Day of Thanksgiving’, which is recorded in verses 12-13, is right in the middle of two other ‘days’: ‘The day of Trouble’ (1-7) and ‘The day of Trials’(14-17).
The ‘Day of Trouble’ is characterized by a realization that one has a great need to be preserved and saved (1-2). ‘The day of Trouble’ is characterized by a growing dependence upon God and our need to pray to God for grace, gladness, and goodness. ‘The day of Trouble’ is when we realize we can only approach God in prayer by remembering our great need and God’s gracious nature. He is good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love (5)
In the ‘Day of Trial’ we see that we become aware of our enemies. We used to wander off from the protection and proximity of God, but now we realize that there is danger in doing so. David describes them as ‘insolent men’, a ‘band of ruthless men’, ‘men who do not set the LORD before them’, and ‘those who hate’ David.
As a result, David needs God to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (15). David needs the LORD to turn to him and be gracious and to give David strength and save him in this moment (16). David needs the LORD to give him favor, give him help and comfort.
My friends, we must admit that for some this holiday is more of a ‘Day of Trouble or Trial’ than it seems to be a ‘Day of Thanksgiving’. Some have lost loved ones. Some have lost jobs. Some communities are encountering lawlessness, riots, and crime. Some are facing health issues and relational issues. Some are dealing with emotional pain and depression.
Surely it is some comfort that in these seventeen verses most of them are dedicated to troubles and trials. In fact, 11 of the 17 verses fall into these two categories. And we would also do well to see that David’s ‘Day of Thanksgiving’ falls in the middle of these two things. His ‘Day of Thanksgiving’ is expressed, not after these things, but in the midst of these moments. By realizing his great need, through prayer, by relying on God’s grace, by considering the sovereignty of God, and the works of God, David is moved to a profound expression of heartfelt thanksgiving.
Consider verses 8-13. In these verses we see how David is not only expressing thankfulness with his lips, but he is expressing a thankfulness that has overwhelmed his heart. Every thought, every emotion, every action, and every affection that he has is being overwhelmed with thankfulness. Grace is the only thing that can do this in a person.
Consider again what David says,
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
David can express this type of thankfulness because God is a gracious God, a giving God, a benevolent and loving God towards sinners. David has prayed for grace, received grace and still expects to receive even more in the future. (3,6,15, 16).
v.3 – Be gracious to me, O LORD, for to you do I cry all the day.
v.6 – Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.
v.15 – But you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
v.16 - Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant...
David can express this type of thankfulness because God is loving, merciful, forgiving and good to poor and needy people who have looked to Him and who have put their trust in Him.
This is the kind of thankfulness that each of us desires to have. We all desire to possess a thankful heart that glorifies God forever and ever. We want to express eternal gratitude for the grace of God that we have experienced in a very personal and profound way. God has delivered us from the depths of Sheol!
David’s explained the reason for this in verse 13 when he says, “For (because) great (in magnitude, in extent, in intensity) is your steadfast love (devotion, mercy, graciousness, loving kindness, faithful love) toward me…”
The result of this great love and mercy is seen in the fact that David has been...delivered from the depths of Sheol (grave, hell, pit, where the dead reside, from the place of no return, from where there is no praise of God).”
As we prepare our hearts to celebrate this Thanksgiving Weekend it is good for us to reflect upon the words of David in Psalm 86:8-11,
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. 9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. 10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
By Christ’s sacrifice for us we have received grace upon grace. And though, like that little cub, we often wander off from the protection and provision of our LORD, our hearts cry out, ‘Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.’
We are like that poor and needy cub who could not provide for himself or protect himself. Christ is like that cub who always stayed next to the parent. Christ always listened to the Father and obeyed Him. Christ then took our place, was taken by the godless and killed, so that we might live. That is something to be thankful for!