Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor of the Reformed Witness Hour.
Are you thankful to God always? Are you thankful at all times and in every situation in your life?
Our God commands us in Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Are there, perhaps, times and situations in your life when thanksgiving is not heard from you in the court of heaven? Is it, perhaps, that your thanksgiving is rooted only in things, rooted only in things going your way? Or is your thanksgiving to God rooted in an overwhelming gratitude to the God of your salvation?
Can you be thankful in the darkest of days? Can you be thankful if a great personal tragedy would happen to you? Would you then be able to say, “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation”?
The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. The Thanksgiving holiday can be a very dangerous time—very dangerous because thanksgiving can be thought of as something that is a matter of a day. Thanksgiving, however, is the life to which we are called in Jesus Christ our Lord. If we say thanks only on Thanksgiving Day, if we put on a thankful appearance just for one day, and if that thanksgiving is not a reflection of the whole of our lives, then we appear as hypocrites before God. If our thanksgiving is rooted only in God’s gifts—that is, in the good things that He gives to us and not in all things—and if our thanksgiving is not rooted in God Himself, then ours is a shallow, superficial thanksgiving. Worse, it is an abomination before God.
A true expression of thanksgiving is found in the Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk, chapter 3, verses 17-19.
Habakkuk’s thanksgiving is an example of true thanksgiving, a thanksgiving that is our duty. Habakkuk’s thanksgiving was not dependent on or conditioned by external things. It was rooted in God. And it was rooted in experiencing the wonder of God’s salvation.
Let us look, for a few moments, at this wonderful thanksgiving.
Habakkuk the prophet is confessing that his thanksgiving will not be infrequent, it will not be shallow, it will not be with starts and stops. It will not be only when things are agreeable. His thanksgiving will be rooted in a profound and personal experience of God’s salvation and in the present assurance that God is his strength.
These verses are really the climax of his faith. If you read this prophecy you will learn that Habakkuk did not begin on this high spiritual note. Very briefly, Habakkuk lived at a time of spiritual decline in Judah—most likely during the time of wicked king Manasseh. Habakkuk was a man greatly troubled by what was happening. He wanted to reconcile what he saw with what he believed. He saw that Judah was in a back-slidden condition. She had turned away from God. She had forgotten Him and given herself over to false gods and to evil pursuits. Habakkuk speaks of sin and violence and vice as being rampant among the people of God, while those who ruled over God’s people were slack and indifferent. The law of God was not being applied. There was spiritual falling away and moral decline.
He goes on to tell us in the prophecy that he cried, he prayed. And God answered him in an altogether unexpected way. God says, “I have heard you, Habakkuk. But this is what I am going to do. I am going to send evil upon this nation. I am going to send a nation (Babylon) to conquer the land and to punish the people of Judah.”
Then, in chapter 2, God goes on to tell him how His ways are always to be reconciled with His holiness and greatness. Now, in chapter 3, Habakkuk is responding to all of this and he is beginning to look back upon the entire history of God’s people. He recalls the great things that God had done. God had dried up rivers and seas. He had destroyed horses and chariots. He had held the sun and moon still. Habakkuk beholds the majesty of God in all of His works, especially that stupendous work in which all His power and wisdom are revealed—the salvation of His people.
Looking now upon Jehovah the God of salvation, Habakkuk makes an amazing promise, a pledge. He says, “Although all around me may be turned into destruction and despair, yet I will rejoice in my God.” We have here a man who wrestled with the ways of God, a man who asked the question: “How is it that God can be just … and yet these things happen?” Here is a man who for a while said, “Nothing seems to make any sense to me.” But now his head is clear. He sees the greatness of God. He looks at the past. And he looks at the present in the light of the past, and he sees that God always saves His people in their distress. He always preserves the honor of His name.
So, standing upon that plateau of faith, Habakkuk makes this bold promise: “I will praise Him. Even though all the external supports are knocked away from me. Even if every visible prop holding me up, if every peg of the stool, is knocked away from under me, yet I will stand up and I will praise the Lord my God. And I will do that because I have seen my God. I have seen that His ways are always ways of holiness and faithfulness.”
Now, consider that. Habakkuk begins to consider the loss of all creaturely comforts. He considers what it would be like if all the supports of his earthly life were taken away. He imagines one of the dreariest and blackest pictures a person could ever know. He says, “If the fig tree does not blossom.” The fig tree was a staple to the people of Israel. Much of their food was dependent on this fig tree. And, Habakkuk goes on to say, “If the labor of the olive shall fail.” The olive tree was to the Israelites what butter is to us. Then Habakkuk says, “If the fields give no meat.” He is referring to the corn, the wheat. There is no harvest and nothing is brought into the bins. And “the flock is cut off from the fold.” What if the sheep would go out into the pastures and never return again, and what if there would be no herds in the stalls, that is, if the barns would stand empty?
Habakkuk is imagining economic ruin and disaster. He is speaking about circumstances leading to famine and hunger, to crying, malnourished children. If we would put verse 17 into today’s terms: Although there be the collapse of the economy, panic in the banks, jobs lost, grocery stores closed, refrigerators empty, pantries barren, savings and investments and property values lost, businesses bankrupt, possessions and cars and clothes gone, left simply with the clothes on our backs. Yet, he says, “I will praise the LORD.”
We can hardly imagine that—because we have so much. And we have always had so much. But that is what Habakkuk is saying. He is saying, Although my job would be gone, my income cut off, my investments lost, my health ruined, and my loved ones departed from me, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Can you say that? That is true thanksgiving. You say, that is impossible, nobody could do that. How could Habakkuk be confident that he would indeed, no matter how bleak his condition, still praise God?
The answer is this: it was because his thankfulness and praise to God were rooted in God’s salvation and in God’s strength. And those can never be removed. “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength.” The ground, the root, the deepest reason for his thanksgiving was in God, and in God’s faithfulness. Oh, he was thankful for the things that God gave to him. But his thankfulness did not end in, nor was it based on, those things, but in the God who was the giver.
Are you thankful to God? Are you thankful to God as your Savior and your strength? Or are you merely thankful for what He gives you in this life? Do not misunderstand. We must be and we are thankful for His gifts, which are so abundantly lavished upon us. All of it is given. All that we have today— not a thread of it is ours. And for all of it we are to give Him thanks. For He has placed it in our hands, and we are to use it all as His stewards. But our thanksgiving, to be true and lasting and victorious, must go deeper. It must be rooted in the One who has given it to us. It must ultimately be a profound thanks for God’s grace. I will rejoice in the LORD, in Jehovah. He is the inexhaustible source of all my joy. I rejoice because God is my Savior. God has saved me, who did not deserve to be saved. Habakkuk was thankful for the grace of God—that God would save one so lowly as himself and bring him to the heights of salvation.
Not only was this God the God who had saved him, but He was also the God who was his present strength. He says, “He is the God of my salvation and the God of my strength.” He has delivered me from the greatest of all woes—my sin. He is the God of my salvation. He planned it. He accomplished it. He gave it to me. He will preserve me in my salvation and protect that salvation for me. And this Lord is also my strength. That is, He is the one who now empowers me by His Holy Spirit. He is the present explanation of my life. He upholds me. He is present in all of His power to bear me up in this life. When I fall, He picks my up. When I am afraid, He draws near to me. He is my faithful Savior.
It was out of a personal, true, and amazing experience of salvation that Habakkuk was able to pledge that he would give God thanks always, no matter the external state. He knew that he belonged to the living God and that he would therefore always have a reason to be thankful.
That is thanksgiving. And that thanksgiving is independent of our external circumstances. We, too, must contemplate the fact that one day we will lose all. We may place our dear ones in the grave. We may walk a dark valley of trial. We may be given severe afflictions: headaches, pains, diabetes. We may tremble in the night of personal despair and desperation: mental anguish and depression. But as long as God is our God, a relationship that depends upon Him and His faithfulness, we will still have a reason to praise Him, to rejoice, to joy in the God of our salvation and in the God of our strength.
And so, Habakkuk is exuberant, he is jubilant. He says that he shall praise God with an abandonment, he will rejoice! He shall be like the young calf or cow that, when let out of the barn after the long winter, runs and kicks up its feet in joy. He shall walk, Habakkuk says, upon the high places. The idea is victory, rest, serenity. He will possess a great spiritual joy.
Sometimes this great spiritual joy is reflected outwardly in song and smile and happiness. Sometimes it is seen in tears of sorrow. But, nevertheless, this joy and this thankfulness are unquenchable. They are victorious because they are rooted in the God of our salvation.
Do you know this God? Do you know His salvation, freely given, of His grace alone? Is He your strength? Do you belong to Him? Then what situation is there in which you cannot praise Him? Even if your situation today be one of pain and trial, and the temptation would be great for you to murmur and complain, you have the greatest reason to praise Him. For He is the God of your salvation and your strength. You may say, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
Let us go back to where we started today. Are you thankful always? Are you thankful in all things? You see, thanksgiving is born in only one place: at the foot of the cross, where God, by His grace, shows you who you are: a fallen sinner. And there He reveals His amazing love and grace in Christ Jesus, His faithfulness and His salvation.
Then you will be thankful, thankful at all times, thankful in every way. Then, no matter the condition of your outward life, knowing God as your Savior and strength you too shall yet rejoice in the Lord your God and praise Him all your days.
May God bless this holy Word to our hearts.