Thanksgiving: The Essential Ingredient to True Christian Worship

We are all thinking about cooking this week. Some of us will cook and others just consume! But we also need to think about the ingredients we will use to cook up Thanksgiving. And that is what the Bible will teach us in this sermon.

The following message was delivered at my beloved First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. I loved Thanksgiving services there. And this message was given in the context of one of those enchanted Thanksgiving mornings. I shall never forget those sweet days or those dear saints of God. I pray that this message may now be used to stir some preacher to prepare for that day and to also enjoy the time that God is giving you with the sheep of His flock.

Our reading for this Thanksgiving Day service is a Psalm that is entitled  in the King James, “A Psalm of praise.” But the Hebrew word for Praise here, is the same word that is later translated “Thanksgiving.” It is the Hebrew word “Toda.” In many ways it is hard to beat the good old Authorized Version, but for pure language sake, I think the ESV, the NIV, and NASB and many other versions do better. This is a Psalm of Thanksgiving.

Let us hear the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.


Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!  Know that the LORD, he is God!   It is he who made us, and we are his;   we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving,   and his courts with praise!   Give thanks to him; bless his name!  For the LORD is good;   his steadfast love endures forever,   and his faithfulness to all generations.

Thinking about Thanksgiving in Psalm 100

A teacher from the city was sent to a small rural area of the hills to help a little community that didn’t have a teacher. She began teaching phonics in helping 1st grade children to read. After a while, she gave her little students the words, “Thank you” in print for them to try and read. She went to this one little girl, hoping the student would use some of her newly learned reading strategies, The teacher gave the girl plenty of time to work out the words herself. After a few moments, though, the teacher decided to tell her the word: “thank.” When the child didn’t respond, her teacher said more emphatically, “Thank.” The little girl responded in her native dialect, “I AM thanking. I AM thanking!”

Well today let us think about Thanksgiving as we turn out attention to God’s Word.

I want to make just two main propositions about this majestic Psalm 100:

Worship is the will of God for the whole earth and Thanksgiving is the essential ingredient to True Worship.

True Worship is the will of God for the whole earth

First, in verses 1 and 2 we are admonished to worship, to serve him, to come into His presence with singing.

Thought this was written for the people of God, to call them to worship, we must note that God calls for His worship by all the peoples of the earth. It is God’s will for men to worship Him and Him alone. Moreover, we see that we are to worship Him in a certain way: with joy and with gladness.

But like all of God’s law, these admonitions are fulfilled out of the overflow of what God has done for us. I mean you can’t make a joyful noise without joy. You can’t serve God with gladness unless you are glad. It is like trying to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich and be depressed. You can’t do it! It is like the cook yelling, “OK! Come to the table!” That is a command that is easily obeyed for we are all looking forward to that dressing or cranberry sauce or sweet potato pie or string bean casserole. You don’t have to call twice. We’re ready! And true worship is beautiful because of what God has done for us.

So for the whole earth, much less Israel, to truly worship this God, something must happen in their lives for them to have this joy and gladness that leads to such worship. I believe that Martin Luther was right when he wrote of this passage:

“This Psalm is a prophecy concerning Christ. It calls upon all to rejoice, to triumph and to give  thanks; to enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts and sanctuary with praise: because, by the gospel and the preaching of he remission of sins, that Kingdom of Christ is established and strengthened, which shall remain and stand forever.”[1]

A.W. Tozer also wrote:

“We are saved to worship God. All that Christ has done for us in the past and all that He is doing now leads to this one end.”[2]

So worship is what we were made to do. And worship should be spontaneous. Worship happens, we could say. And it happens because of something.

The great Puritan, John Owen, wrote:

“Unless men see a beauty and delight in the worship of God. They will not do it willingly.”[3]

And that getting at something is the second and main point of this message.

The essential ingredient of true worship is thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving to God is what empowers worship. Thanksgiving is the heart’s response to what God has done. Verses 4 and 5 now unfold the power that creates worship that is made in beauty by the peoples of the earth.

We are shown where it happens, first. Then, we are shown to whom this thanksgiving is given. And at last we see, why we give Him thanks.

First, where are we to give thanks?

We are told to come into his gates, and into his courts. There are some who see Psalms 96-99 as the Royal Psalms ascribing covenantal kingship to the One True God of Israel. And thus Psalm 100 is the crowning Psalm, the conclusion of this set. And thus, David writes of God’s presence as a place where there are gates and a court for this great King.

All of this could be put, spiritually, in two ways. We are to come into His gates and into His courts privately, through prayer in the name of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. For thus we are told:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4.16

So worship happens privately, in your devotions, at your family gatherings, as you come into the Royal Throne room of God through Jesus Christ. When Jesus was crucified, the veil that separated the people from the Holy of holies was rent in twain, for Christ our sacrifice and our High Priest had entered for us. Now, we may keep this Psalm personally through our Savior Jesus Christ.

But the main thrust of this passage, my beloved, is public worship. We are to come and give thanks to God publicly.

I thank God that we have this national holiday. For it is a living testimony to the fact that this nation is a nation, at least in her history, that acknowledged God and acknowledged the necessity of going before God in public thanksgiving. Our pilgrim forefathers called for days of thanksgiving to worship God. In 1623, during a severe drought, the pilgrims gathered to ask God for rain. The next day God gave them a long, steady rain. So Governor Bradford, who was also a ruling elder, called for a Day of Thanksgiving worship. I thank God that he invited Indian friends, and so do we invite those who know not Christ to our services. We long to tell the story of His love to others, even as we acknowledge Him. My beloved Thanksgiving is an act of evangelism. For when you declare that you are dry of soul without him, no hope of life without God’s help, and then go to Him to thank Him for Jesus, and invite unbelievers, that is evangelism. May God always make this hallowed place a place of evangelism in worship. In December, 1777, the 13 colonies together declared a Day of Thanksgiving after the victory over the British at Saratoga. And the father of our country, after the birth of our nation, called for public worship and thanksgiving in 1789. And finally, Abraham Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month in 1863 and every president since then has done so.

So, it is right, that today, we come into the house of the Lord, to worship and give thanks for His blessings.

And this leads us to another question:

Second, To Whom do We Give Thanks?

We are told:

Give thanks to him; bless his name!  Psalms 100.4

His Name is the Covenant Name, the Holy name that the Hebrew scribes would not even read out loud, the name pronounced Yahweh. In every instance of the word LORD in this Psalm, it is the holy covenant name of the Lord, which is used. The Hebrews met to bless the name of the One True God who led them out of slavery and into freedom, who made promises to their fathers that from them would come blessing to the whole earth.

John wrote the purpose of His Gospel:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20.31 NIV

And Paul proclaimed:

for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10.13 NIV

And Peter joins with Paul to tell us about that name:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4.12 NIV

Let us make no mistake about it: the pilgrims did not give thanks to the Indians, but gave thanks to the name of Jesus. The colonist made their thanks in the name of Jesus. The Father of our Country called Jesus His Lord and gave his thanksgiving to Him. Abraham Lincoln, likewise, called on our Heavenly Father and signed his name, as did Washington, with “in the year of our Lord.”

The essential ingredient of worship is thanksgiving and the thanks is to be directed to our great God who covenanted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and fulfilled His promises through the Mediator of that Covenant, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, then, we have seen that true worship in beauty is the will of God for all men.

We have seen that Thanksgiving is the essential ingredient, and we have found how to give thanks, where to give thanks, and to whom we must give thanks.

But what is the reason for Thanksgiving?

We all know we give thanks for blessings. But what blessings? The things themselves? Our families, our homes, our health, our country? No we thank God for Himself, for from God flow these blessings. It is clearly and majestically revealed in the last verse:

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  Psalms 100.5

The goodness of the Lord is that attribute of God that allows sinners to have an opportunity to hear the Gospel and be saved. His goodness is what sent the rain to our forefathers, and brought this nation into being though we were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. His goodness is what preserved a nation in civil war, and His goodness is what preserves us today, though we have sinned against the Lord. His goodness is what gives you food and water. His goodness can be seen in the eyes of a child. His goodness is seen in the beauty of a field ready for harvest. His goodness is the ingredient in everything you eat today. That you get to relax and fall asleep is due to the chemical, L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is used in the body to produce the B-vitamin, niacin. Niacin, in turn, is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that exerts a calming effect and regulates sleep. And you just thought it was the Detroit Lions that made you fall asleep! Beloved, the goodness of God is the common blessings that we all have. There is no creature on earth who is exempt from the goodness of God and that is why we should all worship Him with Thanksgiving.

And then there is His steadfast love. Those of you who have sat through any amount of sermons here know that this is my favorite Hebrew word, “He-sed.” This is the special love of God that is expressed through His covenant promises. And we are driven to gratitude in worship because of the promises of God.

This week, I prayed with a dear member of our church who lost her sister. And we prayed the promises of Scripture. This week, I counseled someone about God’s will for their lives. And we clung to the promises of God. Yesterday, I heard the testimonies of a beautiful couple led to join our church. They told me of how God’s covenant promises came true to their parents in their own salvation. This Sunday I will baptize a baby and we will claim God’s covenant promises for this child. My beloved, we worship because we are thankful. We work and seek to do good works because we are humbled and thankful. We worship because we are thankful for the “he-sed” love of our Savior. Oh praise His name.

And finally, we are told that His faithfulness continues through all generations. There are some churches who have this little liturgical saying: the minister says, “God is good.” And the congregation says, “All the time.” Then the minister says, “All the time.” And the people respond again, “God is good.” I love that. He is good. All the time. Through all time.

And that brings us to today. But I wonder if it has to really just be one day a year?

In Donald Davis’ book, Ride the Butterflies, the storyteller tells about a kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Rosemary who believed in celebrating holidays more than once a year. She liked a good celebration, and saw no reason to wait until a holiday came along before celebrating it. In fact, every Monday morning Mrs. Rosemary’s class celebrated a different holiday. In an average school year, the children might celebrate Memorial Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Easter two or three times each. Every child in Mrs. Rosemary’s class also had his or her birthday celebrated at least three times each year. Mrs. Rosemary’s spirit of celebration made that year magical for her students.[4]

Let’s make this year magical in our lives. Let’s make this year the year that Thanksgiving comes every day. For

“God is good…

(All the time…)

All the time…

(God is good.”)


Davis, Donald. Ride the Butterflies : Back to School with Donald Davis. Little Rock, Ark.: August House, 2000.

The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Compiled by Mark Water. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Plumer, William S. Studies in the Book of the Psalms. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust. Reprint, 1978.


[1] William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of the Psalms (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust; reprint, 1978).

[2]The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Compiled by Mark Water, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Donald Davis, Ride the Butterflies : Back to School with Donald Davis (Little Rock, Ark.: August House, 2000).

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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