The Blessed Benefits
November 17, 2008
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:1-5).
In his runaway bestseller The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard recommends that leaders develop the practice of the “one-minute praising” in which they “catch them (their employees) doing something right.” We’re all used to bosses who catch us doing something wrong. How rare it is to be praised when we have done something well.
Blanchard’s idea is to “catch them doing something right” and then give them a one-minute praising right on the spot. Don’t wait, he says, because waiting takes away the impact. Tell them right then, right there, how much you appreciate the good job they are doing.
This actually is more difficult that it appears. Most of us are better at criticism than at praise. We’re much better that “one-minute blaming” than “one-minute praising.” Many of us would do well to put this into practice this week.
Catch someone doing something right. And praise them right on the spot. It could revolutionize your marriage, change the way you relate to your children, encourage those who report to you, and in general make you a much nicer person to be around.
But it needs to be intentional. That’s Blanchard’s point. And it applies very much to our relationship with God. Many of us are better at complaining. This morning I read Numbers 10-13, the sad story of the children of Israel complaining against the Lord in the wilderness. After all he had done for them, after the great miracle at the Red Sea, they were griping and complaining and moaning and groaning. God sent manna and they didn’t like it. They missed the good food they had back in Egypt. In Egypt they were slaves, but they were willing to trade their freedom for a better menu. So God sent quail until they choked on it. Unhappy people, those Jews in the wilderness. I would be harder on them but we are like them and they are like us.
A Good Dose of Psalm 103
Sometimes we need to give ourselves a good talking-to. That’s what Psalm 103 is all about. It’s a prayer by David in which he talks to his own soul and reminds himself to “bless the Lord” and “forget not all his benefits.”
Most of us are better at criticism than at praise.
I wonder how many of us could give God a “one-minute praising” for all his blessings. We’re sure good at telling the Lord what we want him to do for us. We need a good dose of Psalm 103 to wash out that complaining spirit and replace it with a heart of gratitude to the Lord. I call your attention to this because we are only a few days away from Thanksgiving. In order to prepare our hearts, I plan to devote three sermons to Psalm 103. Some people consider this the greatest of all the psalms. Spurgeon called it “a Bible within itself” and said it contains “too much for a thousand pens to write.” We know from the superscription that David wrote these magnificent words. I believe he wrote them late in his life when he could look back and speak from experience about the tender mercies of the Lord.
We can outline Psalm 103 this way:
Personal (vv. 1-5) – David reviews the mercy of God to him.
National (vv. 6-18) – David reviews the mercy of God to Israel.
Universal (vv. 19-22) –David calls all created beings to praise the Lord.
He begins by calling us to wholehearted, intentional praise of God.
We need a good dose of Psalm 103 to wash out that complaining spirit and replace it with a heart of gratitude to the Lord.
“Let all that is within me praise his holy name.”
“Forget not all his benefits.”
We must think before we can thank. We must ponder before we can praise. We must remember before we can rejoice. Here are five blessed benefits of the Lord that we must not forget.
“Who forgives all your iniquity.” David begins by reminding us that God forgives all our iniquity. It is not surprise that he starts here because this is the foundation for everything else. Our greatest problem is the guilt we feel because of our sin, and our greatest need is to know forgiveness from the Lord. Note that David says that God forgives “all” our iniquity. That’s good news, isn’t it? Some of us have really blown it big time, and we have messed up over and over and over again. And we’ve done the same dumb things repeatedly even after promising never to do them again. I’m glad the word “all” is included because it means that God intends to forgive my future sins.
Think about that.
Most of us secretly imagine that when we come to Christ, all our past sins are forgiven, but then it’s a footrace race with the devil until the end of life. But when Christ died, all our sins were in the future. And when we come to Christ, all our sins are forgiven, even the yet-to-be-committed sins, ones that would shock us if we knew about them right now.
What a God we serve!
He forgives all our sins—past, present and future. That’s a huge insight because it touches how we see God. He’s more willing to forgive than we are to be forgiven.
He is eager to forgive.
He is ready to forgive.
He wants to forgive you.
“Who heals all your diseases.” This benefit is close to my heart because I have medicine throughout my family tree. My father was a surgeon, and my mother was an Army nurse. They met in Nome, Alaska during World War II when they were both part of the Army Medical Corps. My three brothers are all medical doctors. Two of my cousins became doctors. I’m named for my uncle Clarence, my father’s older brother, who was a physician in the small town in Alabama where I grew up. So I have a keen interest in the “healing arts.” That’s an apt phrase because healing is truly an art and not just a science. After doctors and nurses have done all they can do, and after we have used all the latest technology and taken the newest drugs, healing must come from the Lord. That’s why we pray for the sick. They may be healed by medicine or by surgery or by some other course of treatment or they may find healing through prayer or by a miracle from the Lord. All of those things are possible, and they are not mutually exclusive.
If you were sick and are now healthy, give thanks to the Lord.
If your cancer is in remission, give thanks to the Lord.
If you nearly died after an accident but somehow survived, give thanks to the Lord.
And remember that any healing in this life is limited and temporary. Our ultimate healing comes when we are raised immortal and incorruptible. In that happy resurrection day, when Jesus comes and the “dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), then at last we will be totally, completely, and finally healed once and for all.
People say, “Do you believe in divine healing?” That’s the only kind there is.
Between now and then give thanks to the Lord for every bit of healing you experience. If you took an aspirin and now the headache is gone, that too is from the Lord. Good medicine and good prayer go together.
People say, “Do you believe in divine healing?” That’s the only kind there is. It just comes in many different varieties.
“Who redeems your life from the pit.” To redeem means to rescue from danger in the time of trouble. The “pit” refers to death itself. This benefit may be hard to grasp so think of the speedometer in your automobile. Think of the thousands of miles you have driven with no accident. Yet every day people are killed on the highway, but you were not killed when you could have been. That you are reading these words is proof positive that you are not dead. God has preserved you to this very moment and has protected you every step of your journey. If God willed it to be so, you would die today—and you might die today—but it cannot happen without God’s permission. Satan himself cannot touch you with God’s permission.
When I preached in Reno last year, a woman came by the book table after the final service. While writing a check she said, “If you’re going to die by hanging, you’ll never drown.” I looked up and said, “What was that?” She smiled and said that that was a favorite saying of her father. She hated it when she was growing up, but now she understands it as a profound statement regarding God’s sovereignty.
If you’re going to die by hanging, you’ll never drown so don’t worry about it either way. You can only die one way, and since all our days are written in God’s book (Psalm 139:16), and he alone knows how our earthly journey will end, we don’t have to live in fear of the future. We’ll all die someday, and when the moment comes we may hang or we may drown, but we won’t do both.
If you’re going to die by hanging, you’ll never drown.
So cheer up, saints of God. If you’re going to die by hanging, you’ll never drown.
To me that means we ought to live life with no care for how or when we are going to die. Every day the Lord rescues us in a million ways that we don’t see. His angels encamp around us to deliver us from trouble. When the time comes to die, we will die. We are immortal until our work on earth is done.
Often we are too flippant about God’s protection, as if we were in charge of everything.
“What happened today?”
But think of what didn’t happen. No one robbed you. No one shot you. You weren’t fired. You arthritis didn’t flare up—or if it did, you made it through the day. A truck didn’t hit you. You weren’t rear-ended. No one scammed you on the Internet (though some people tried). Your identity wasn’t stolen (as far as you know). Your wife still loves you. Your husband is still happy to see you. You don’t have cancer—or if you do, you’re not dead yet. You’ve got your health (what there is of it), your friends (most of them, anyway), your money (maybe not as much as a three months ago but you’re not broke), your job (if you don’t get let go tomorrow), and on and on it goes. Think of all the bad things that could have happened to you today that didn’t.
The fact that you think nothing happened today means that God has been doing his job!
I call this the doctrine of “perpetual preservation.” It means that while we are on earth, with all its dangers and troubles, God is constantly at work behind the scenes, working to protect us from trouble, to clear the way ahead, and to give us strength for each new day. The story is told that over a bed in a hospital in England there is bronze plaque with these words: “This bed has been endowed by the savings of a poor man who is grateful for an unexpected recovery.”
If we could only see life as God does, we would make a new plaque like that every day.
“Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” The older translations say that he crowns us with “lovingkindness.” It’s the loyal, unending, unchanging love of God toward us. He heaps up his blessings—and then he pours them out on us.
The fact that you think nothing happened today means that God has been doing his job!
Then he crowns us with “tender mercies.” Why doesn’t he say “tender justice”? There’s nothing “tender” about justice. Mercy implies failure and defeat. Tender mercy means he knows what we are going through and he meets us where we are. If we were to receive what we truly deserve from God, we would stand no chance. But instead of justice, God give us “tender mercy.”
The crown reminds us of our position as the children of God. In our day only kings and queens wear crowns, but it is the privilege of every Christian to be crowned with lovingkindness and the tender mercy of God.
”Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” The text says he satisfies you with good. That means there is nothing on earth that can satisfy us deeply except God himself. The “good” of verse 5 comes from God—not from anything we see around us. One translation says, “He fills my life with good things” (NLT), which is true enough but that might leave the impression that God promises certain material benefits—money or status or promotion or some sort of earthly prosperity if we will only serve him. But the emphasis is not on what we possess but on what possesses us. Eugene Peterson captures this nicely in The Message: “He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.”
To be satisfied means to be so full that you need nothing else. It’s what happens at the end of Thanksgiving dinner when you simply cannot eat anything else. You have had two helpings of everything and even though there is more food on the table, you cannot eat any of it. If you are hungry, to be full like that is a wonderful sensation. But that satisfaction eventually wears off and you have to eat again.
To be satisfied means to be so full that you need nothing else.
Here David speaks of satisfaction deeper than anything the world can offer. In many American households Thanksgiving is a time for three things—food, family, and football. After the meal is over comes the big event. We sit in front of the TV (at least the men do) and we watch the Dallas Cowboys on national TV. Football provides a good reminder of the fleeting nature of earthly satisfaction. In the early 1970s the Dallas Cowboys had a star running back named Duane Thomas who was known to be a somewhat unpredictable. One year the Cowboys made it to the Super Bowl. During the lead-up to the big game, someone asked Duane Thomas what he thought about playing in the “ultimate game.” He replied with an answer that might have come right out of the book of Ecclesiastes. “If this is the Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?”
So it is with everything the world offers. We are here today, gone tomorrow. God says to his fading, frail, perishing children, “I will give you whatever you need so you can soar like the eagle.” All of us need this. I know I need it.
There is a way to renew yourself, your energy, your outlook and your attitude. It’s better than aerobics, cheaper than health food, quicker than dieting, and altogether less strenuous than jogging. And what is this “miracle cure”? Fill your life with God’s good gifts to you. If you will let him, the Lord will give you something the world cannot match. The result will be immortal youth.
That’s what Ponce de Leon tried to find in his quest for the fabled Fountain of Youth. He never found it because it’s nowhere to be found in this world. God says, “I want to satisfy you—not with gold but with good.” Not with that which glitters today and is gone tomorrow but with that which is permanent, eternal, and ever increasing in value.
God intends to give us . . .
Who is the Greatest Saint?
And so we come to the end of this magnificent succession of benefits. They form a perfect summary of Thanksgiving for anyone who wants to wake up his soul and praise the Lord. And what are the “blessed benefits”? There are five of them.
If you don’t know where to begin in praising God, start right here. William Law offers these wise words:
Who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most. It is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice. But it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart ready to praise God for it.
The greatest saint is the one who sees God in everything and everywhere, who understands that circumstances are the fingerprints of God, and seeing him in the best and worst that life has to offer, gives thanks always in all things.
In his sermon on Psalm 103, Clovis Chappell says that on the west coast of England there is the grave of a man who was much loved by all who knew him. When he died, these words were inscribed on his headstone. “Here lies a man who was satisfied with Jesus.” Chappell then adds this benediction: “If that can be said of us, we have sufficient to make all of time and eternity one great thanksgiving day.”
What is the application of all this? It is not hidden or complex, and it seems more important to me today than it did twenty years ago. As the years roll on and life teaches you some important lessons, you learn that not all your dreams will come true. That’s a good thing. The wise among us have learned to thank God for prayers that God never answered and dreams that never came true. It is good to dream big dreams and to imagine all that you might do someday. But living forever in the future tends to make you unhappy where you are today.
The wise among us have learned to thank God for prayers that God never answered and dreams that never came true.
If you don’t know where to begin in applying this sermon, let’s circle back to the beginning and take the advice of Ken Blanchard. Let’s do some “one-minute praising” this week.
Catch your spouse doing something right.
Catch your children doing something right.
Catch your friends doing something right.
Catch your pastor doing something right.
Catch you co-workers doing something right.
When you do, give them a “one-minute praising.”
That alone will do your soul good. Just focusing on the positive will lift your spirits. But then give God a “one-minute praising.” I know that sounds trite. But start there. Try praising the Lord for one minute without stopping. Do it every day for a week and see how it strengthens your heart and brings you closer to God.
There are two kinds of people in the world.
–Those who dwell on what they want.
–Those who dwell on what they have.
As we approach Thanksgiving this year and as we count our blessings and name them one by one, let us join the ranks of those who dwell on what they have and so glorify God and enjoy him forever. Amen.