Today’s Passage: 1 Chronicles 16:1-36
We just finished another minor prophet, so today we flip back to trying to learn new things about gratitude, or at least to remember things about gratitude that we’ve forgotten or haven’t thought about in awhile. Here’s the scene: David has just come back from victory over the Philistines and brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. There, the citizens make offerings, David distributes food to them, and then Asaph the priest (who also wrote a bunch of the psalms) and his relatives offer thanks to God in the form of a psalm. Welcome back to another installment of our stupidly-named series Totally Hip Gratitude. I have made my bed, and now I must sleep in it. But what can we observe about this passage and what it shows us about thankfulness?
To begin with, the song contains an interplay between the priests, the people, and God. It opens: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him” (8-9). It’s a call to give thanks and to express that thanks by singing to the Lord, but it’s also a call for Israel to declare what he’s done for them in the hearing of those around them. In this context, gratitude entails not only speaking to God, but speaking to each other about God. The priests open the song with an invitation and command to express gratitude, and then the people are expected to join them. And who’s the audience for this song acknowledging the good things God has done? It’s God, the people singing, and the people who can hear them singing, all at the same time.
I can’t speak for everyone on this, but I feel like my own tendency is to thank God in my own head. Sometimes I show up for the music portion of Sunday services, but often as not, I show up late to the first service in order to miss the worship music, and then go to a class or community group or seminar-type thing for the second service. And given the hyper-individualistic bent of American culture, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you suffer from the same tendency, same problem, same dissatisfaction. I don’t know what we can do to solve it. Maybe we should get away from vacuous, entertainment-driven rock-concert-lite worship and sink our teeth into traditional worship liturgies with some history and weight behind them, like this song from Asaph and his fellow priests. But there was a time when this song didn’t exist, and then Asaph composed it and sang it, and then it did exist. He and the people expressed their thanks in a new way.
I can’t help noticing that thanksgiving and praise weave together throughout the song. The word “thanks” occurs at the beginning and end of the song (vv. 8, 34, 35), and wherever it appears, the word “praise” soon follows. Acknowledging and appreciating what God has done for you can naturally lead to acknowledging and appreciating who he is. He gives the Israelites a home in Canaan (18), because he’s generous. He maintains their freedom and protects them from harm (20-22), because he’s loving. Gratitude and worship go hand-in-hand.
Finally, a familiar phrase jumped out at me as I neared the end of the song. You may recognize it too: “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (34). You’ll also find it in Psalm 106, 118, and 136. Imagine if a modern musician kept using the same lyrics for his choruses. And these psalms don’t identify their author, so it’s possible they were all written by different people. Imagine if several modern musicians over the decades kept using the same lyrics for their choruses. Whatever the case, Israel shared these words of gratitude. They built thankfulness into their musical culture and their national identity.
History is unfolding around us. Time flows on, events keep happening; and although some days it may seem like anarchy and catastrophe out here, God’s got a plan for this world, and he’s at work in it. Will we respond to his work with gratitude? And if we do, what traditions and expressions from the past will we repeat, and what things will we say as new expressions of gratitude?