More Than a Thankful Heart

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“I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.” (Psalm 35:18)

INTRODUCTION: This Thursday is Thanksgiving, which is one of the major holidays here in the United States. Out of all the holidays, probably Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two which most bring families together. In fact Thanksgiving usually involves gathering with more extended family than even Christmas.

The history of Thanksgiving here in the United States is interesting, and it also ties in with our theme this morning of giving testimony to God’s goodness. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated back in 1621. Two years later in 1623 Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts made the following proclamation:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest … and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He … has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

“Now I, your magistrate do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and your little ones, do gather at the meeting house, on the hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th … there to listen to your pastor and render thanksgiving to Almighty God for all his blessings.”

It was 166 years later, in the year 1789, that President George Washington made the first official Thanksgiving Day Proclamation:

“Whereas, It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor;

“Whereas, Both the houses of Congress have … requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God …’

“Now, therefore, I do recommend next (Thursday) to be devoted by the people of the states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of this country.”

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, discontinued Thanksgiving as a national holiday, although various states continued to observe it on various dates. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November as the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” This day was finally ratified by Congress in 1941. And so we have a wonderful heritage as a nation as we approach Thanksgiving this Thursday.

However, I want you to notice this morning that the name of the holiday is “Thanksgiving,” not “Thanksfeeling.” Thanksgiving is not just a time for feeling thankful. It is a time for giving thanks, a time for verbalizing and vocalizing our thanks to God.

In our text for this morning, Psalm 35:18, David talks about thanking God publicly in the great assembly. The word that is translated “give thanks” in this verse (Hebrew yada) is a word that means to confess or praise as you give thanks. It’s a word that means to publicly proclaim, to declare God’s character and his works in thanksgiving and praise. It is a confession or declaration of who God is and what He does. (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, I, 847)

It’s important to remember that the praise of God in the Old Testament was public, whether among the nations (2 Samuel 22:50) or among God’s people. We read in 1 Chronicles that the Levites stood morning and evening to render praise and thanksgiving to God (1 Chronicles 23:28-31). They also assisted those who came with sacrifices of public praise.

So why is it so important to give thanks publicly? Well, it’s certainly appropriate. For example when we give out awards at an awards ceremony or at the Olympics or we give someone a plaque for their service, we do these things publicly. The public acknowledgment is an important part of the appreciation expressed.

Some things need to be spoken. They need to be verbalized. Ever hear about the wife who asked her husband, “Why don’t you tell me you love me anymore?” And her husband responded, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day. If I ever change my mind, I’ll be sure to let you know!”

Well that doesn’t fly in marriage, and it won’t fly with thanksgiving either. Putting our thanks into words breathes life into our appreciation. It makes the appreciation actual and real. It authenticates and verifies what we feel.

And so it’s important not just to feel thankful but to show appreciation, to speak words of praise, to give thanks, to give testimony concerning God in our lives. And so that’s what I want us to talk about this morning – the importance of giving testimony to God’s goodness in your life.

True thanksgiving means more than a thankful heart. It involves giving public testimony of your thanks to God. As such we are going to look at three aspects of your public testimony this morning. We are going to talk about the presence, the purpose and the power of your public testimony of thanksgiving to God.

I. The presence of your testimony
   – Job 13:15; Matthew 12:34; Colossians 2:7; James 1:17

So first of all, the presence of your testimony. Before you can give a testimony, you must first have a testimony.

James 1:17 says that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from God our Father.” (James 1:17) The Pilgrims and the forefathers of our nation recognized this truth. The early proclamations of Thanksgiving unanimously gave glory to God as the giver of all good gifts.

David also recognized this in our text in Psalm 35 this morning. Psalm 35:18 is actually a thanksgiving in advance! Throughout the Psalm David speaks of a situation where he is being treated unfairly. His enemies pursue him and seek his life. They return evil for good. David mourned and prayed for them when they were sick, but they gather in gleeful celebration now that he has fallen.

However David expects deliverance from the Lord and therefore speaks these words of thanksgiving in advance: “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.” (Psalm 35:18) David’s thanksgiving here in Psalm 35 teaches us that faith recognizes God as the giver of good gifts even when circumstances seem otherwise.

Do you have a testimony this morning? Has God changed your life through his Son Jesus? Is God working in your life today?

Can you speak his praise even in the midst of trials? It’s safe to say in a crowd this size some of us are definitely going through trials this morning. And whether your trial is sickness, or unemployment, or depression, or heartache, are you still able to thank God in the midst of your circumstances? Job in the Old Testament spoke those truest words of faith: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” (Job 13:15) Can you speak those words about God?

And then how about all the good things in your life? How about your health and family and friendships and provisions? Do you recognize that all this comes from God’s kind and caring hand?

And then what about salvation? Have you received the greatest gift of all – God’s free offer of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ his Son? If so then you have a testimony.

A person who has experienced God’s blessing in their life through Jesus Christ and who has true knowledge of what God has done for them through Jesus will have a truly thankful heart. Colossians 2:7 says that as believers we should be “overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7) And Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

And so yes, as a believer you should have a heart full of thankfulness, but once again thanksgiving means more than a thankful heart. It means giving public testimony to God for his goodness. It means putting the thankfulness in your heart into words. Your heart should be overflowing with thankfulness, and that thankfulness should overflow into speech.

So that’s the first aspect of your testimony we want to look at this morning – the presence of your testimony. Before you can give a testimony, you must first have a testimony. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, then yes, you have a testimony to give.

II. The purpose of your testimony

Secondly, we want to look at the purpose of your testimony. Now it’s important to remember what we mean by the word testimony here. Sometimes the word testimony is used in the narrow sense of sharing how you came to faith in Jesus Christ. That is also important to share with people, but we are using the word testimony today in the wider sense of giving public thanks to God for anything he has done for you.

So what is the reason or purpose for publicly giving thanks to God for what he has done in your life? There are at least three reasons or purposes for giving testimony.

   A. Your testimony affirms the truth for yourself
      – Romans 10:9; Acts 16:31

First of all, your testimony affirms the truth for yourself. Let me illustrate this for you by comparing two Scripture verses. Acts 16:31 says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

So which one is it? Is it believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved or is it confess with your mouth and you will be saved? Which one is right? Well both are! The person who truly believes in their heart will also confess with their mouth.

That’s why the early church adopted as their basic creed “Jesus is Lord.” We still proclaim those words verbally as a congregation. We do the same with the Apostles Creed. Why? Because it is important for us to verbalize our faith.

And God will bless that verbal proclamation. When you share your faith with others, it affirms the truth about God in your own life. I remember one of the first times sharing my faith with someone else in high school. It was winter in Massachusetts, and I was so filled with joy and excitement afterwards I went outside and just started flinging snowballs everywhere.

So that’s the first purpose for your testimony. Your testimony affirms the truth about God for yourself.

   B. Your testimony encourages others
      – Romans 1:8, 12:15; 2 Corinthians 1:4; 3 John 4

Secondly, your testimony encourages others. We talked about trials earlier. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, but we always need to hear how God is working in other people’s lives.

In fact sometimes that’s why God allows trials in your life. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) Sometimes God allows certain trials in your life so that you can encourage other people dealing with the same concerns in their lives.

Just a caution here, you still need to be sensitive to others going through trials. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) God may have worked miraculously for you in a certain area, but he may be allowing another to walk the path of suffering. You need to make sure that you share your testimony in a way that encourages others and does not discourage them in their suffering.

When you give public thanks to God for what he has done in your life, your testimony brings great joy to other believers. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” (Romans 1:8) The apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)

That’s the second purpose for your testimony to God’s goodness. Your testimony encourages others.

   C. Your testimony brings glory to God
      – Psalm 35:18

1) Your testimony affirms the truth for yourself. 2) Your testimony encourages others. And 3) Your testimony brings glory to God. That’s what our theme verse is all about his morning – bringing glory to God through your testimony. “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.” (Psalm 35:18)

Our greatest desire in life should be to bring glory to God. And what better way to bring glory to God than to give public praise and thanksgiving to God for what he has done?

Granted, sometimes we’re shy or afraid of speaking up. We’re like a river that’s frozen over. Growing up in Massachusetts I always enjoyed hiking by a river in the winter in the snow. The river was frozen over on the top, but underneath the water still flowed beneath the surface. And that’s the way we often are as Christians. As the water flows beneath the surface, so flows our silent thanksgiving to God.

Now it’s not that silent thanksgiving to God is a bad thing. Thanksgiving to God is always a good thing, even when it’s just in your heart. But you know, when you break open the ice on top of the river, the river only flows that much swifter and fuller. And sometimes we need to break open the ice in our lives and let our thanksgiving flow publicly to God. Let me assure you, God will always bless that step of faith.

What is the purpose of your testimony? Your testimony affirms the truth to yourself. Your testimony encourages others. And your testimony brings glory to God.

A good example that combines all three of these purposes is singing songs of praise to the Lord in church. Singing is one of God’s great gifts to the church. In the Old Testament and in the New Testament we find God’s people sing to him. Why is that? Because it is a verbal and vocal proclamation of God’s goodness. When else in a worship service do we all have opportunity to vocally praise God out loud together? For many believers, the majority of their vocal giving of thanks over their lifetime will likely come through singing!

When we sing praise to God, we affirm those truths for ourselves, we encourage others, and we bring glory to God! Remember this when you sing in church. Focus on the meaning of the words and joyfully proclaim God’s praises! It is part of your public testimony for God.

III. The power of your testimony
   – Psalm 105:1-3; Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:8

We have talked about the presence of your testimony. We have talked about the purpose of your testimony. Finally, let’s talk about the power of your testimony.

Back to Palm 35:18, David spoke of giving thanks “in the great assembly.” This word “assembly” is the word for church in the New Testament. David is talking about testifying to God’s goodness in front of God’s people. We’ve already seen how this can be a powerful encouragement to other believers.

But then David goes on to say: “I will praise you in front of throngs of people.” (Psalm 35:18) Now this phrase simply means numerous people, too many people to count. And although it may be a dual reference to the assembly of God’s people, I think David is referring to all people here. He is talking about the power of extending your testimony beyond the assembly of God’s people to all people everywhere, to both believers and unbelievers alike.

Certainly other Scriptures talk about speaking God’s praises before others. We sang that song from Psalm 105 earlier in the service today: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.” (Psalm 105:1-3)

Psalm 105 talks about making known among the nations what God has done. It’s not enough just to speak your testimony in church. We need to share our testimony with other people as well.

There is power in sharing your testimony, especially when you share how God saved you through Jesus Christ. Paul said in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) The word for gospel comes from a verb meaning to preach or proclaim good news.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul shares how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9) And why did they do that? Paul says: “… because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:10) That’s why Paul later tells Timothy: “Don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord!” (2 Timothy 1:8)

Don’t be afraid to testify for God at work or at school or in your neighborhood. If God has done something good in your life, be bold! Speak up about it! Give God the credit for his goodness. That will attract people to Christ and the gospel.

Not all will respond, but some will, and they will want to hear more about this amazing God who acts and answers prayer. They will want to learn more about your faith in him. There is great power in your testimony. It takes faith to speak up, but God will bless that faith every time.

CONCLUSION: So what is Thanksgiving? A time for feeling thankful? Yes! But also a time to give thanks, to publicly thank God for all that he has done.

Growing up I attended a Thanksgiving service similar to the one we will have later this week at our church. There was singing and prayers and Scriptures and special music. And there were testimonies. There was a designated time for people to stand and give thanks for what God had done in their lives that year. People would stand up and say, “I am thankful for my church.” Or “I am thankful for my wife.” Or “I am thankful for my family.”

I remember one Thanksgiving when a gentleman gave the funniest testimony I’d ever heard. He stood up and said, “I’m thankful today that I’m not a turkey!” Of course we all got a good laugh out of that one. But then he went on and said, “Let me tell you my definition of a turkey. A turkey is someone who has opportunity to publicly give thanks to God and fails to do it.”

He went on, “Many times in my life I’ve been a turkey. I’ve had the opportunity to tell others what God has done for me, but I didn’t speak up. So today, I’m thankful that I’m not a turkey, because today I’m speaking up.” Then he said, “Now I want to give everyone here the opportunity not to be a turkey today. Will you repeat the following after me?” And so he said, and we repeated, “Thank you God for giving me life.” “Thank you God for sending Jesus to die for me.” And then he said, “Now you can thank God you’re not a turkey, too.” And he sat down.

How would you like to not be a turkey today? Will you repeat after me? “Thank you God for giving me life.” “Thank you God for sending Jesus to die for me.”

This Thursday at our Thanksgiving service we will offer a time for public sharing and thanksgiving. Now obviously not everyone can share due to time. But if you feel God is leading you to share a testimony this Thursday, I would encourage you to go for it. It’s a wonderful experience to publicly thank God.

And I would encourage all of us to be bold and wise in our daily lives, looking for those opportunities every day to give testimony about our great God. Because the Thanksgiving holiday is a good reminder that true thanksgiving means more than a thankful heart. It involves giving public testimony of your thanks to God.

© Ray Fowler

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