This Thanksgiving week, many of us will sit down around a table and thank God for the blessings that He has given us this year — and we should. The Bible repeatedly commands us to give thanks to God for His blessings. But we should also do more than that. We should also ask ourselves the question, WHY has God chosen to bless us the way that He has? Because He loves us? Sure. God does love us. But is there a purpose greater than that for the way that He has blessed us? We find the answer to that in our text for today: Psalm 67. Fittingly enough, many Bible scholars believe that Psalm 67 was written for a thanksgiving celebration of harvest. Look at :6 where it says: “the earth has yielded its produce.” The setting is harvest time — what we would call “Thanksgiving.” So Psalm 67 is a perfect Thanksgiving Psalm — not only because it celebrates what God has given us, but because it gets us to think about WHY God has given us the things He has. It shows us “The Purpose of God’s Blessings.”
I. The Source of Our Blessings
The Psalm begins, “God be gracious to us, and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us.” If this sounds familiar, that is because it is a quote from Numbers 6:25. There God commanded Moses that when Aaron and the priests blessed the people, that they should say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”
So for several hundred years, from the time of the Exodus and the giving of the Law, these words had been familiar ones to Israel. Everyone knew it — it was like the 23rd Psalm, or the Lord’s Prayer is to many of us today — it was a very familiar blessing to them, and to many of us today. And it’s important because it conveys several foundational lessons to us:
A. GOD is the source of all blessing.
The first word is “GOD.” God is the subject of all of the verbs in the verses: “GOD be gracious to us … GOD bless us … GOD cause His face to shine upon us. It makes it clear that God is the source of all the good things that we have. James 1 says “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father …”. Anything good you can think of in your life, you can thank God for it, for it was HE who was the ultimate source of that for you. It should cause us all to respond to God with gratitude and service.
I am currently reading a biography of Walt Disney, and it tells how Roy Disney, whom Walt had to manage his finances, was very devoted to his brother. Late in his life, someone asked Roy about that, and he said, “My brother has made me a millionaire, do you wonder why I want to do everything I can to help him?” If Roy Disney was grateful, and devoted to his brother for all he had done for him, how much more should we be to God, who has literally given us everything we have?
B. We don’t DESERVE the blessings He gives us.
“God BE GRACIOUS to us and bless us …”. He doesn’t say, “God, give us what we deserve.” That would be a HUGE mistake!
The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” So you want what you deserve? The fact is, you deserve to punished in hell for your sins! So the Psalmist doesn’t ask God to give us what we deserve; he asks Him to be “gracious” to us.
To be “gracious” means to be good to someone who doesn’t deserve it; to treat someone better than they deserve. This is just what God has done for us in salvation. The Bible teaches us that salvation is of GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9) — that means we didn’t earn it or deserve it; God was just incredibly gracious to us, and sent Jesus to die for us when we didn’t deserve it, so that if we would repent of our sins and trust Him as our Savior & Lord, we could be forgiven, and given a home with Him in heaven forever. But salvation is all of His grace, not what we have earned or deserved, the Bible teaches us.
And what we need to realize is that it is the same way with everything we receive from the Lord. I think some of us have the attitude that salvation is of grace — and everything else we earn and deserve! No, every blessing God gives us is of His grace. God doesn’t “owe” us anything.
This is one of the most crucial attitudes we can have. If you realize that whatever you receive is a gift, then you are grateful for everything. But If you have the attitude that you deserve everything, then you aren’t grateful for ANYTHING — you think you deserve it all anyway!
I remember when we lived in Louisiana there was a man who came to our church for some help with some bills and groceries. Our Missions Pastor helped him with a whole box of food from the church. Somehow this guy got the phone number to the parsonage, and he called Cheryl to complain. Cheryl said, “I thought Bro. Jack gave you some food?” And the man responded: “Yeah, but would it have killed him to give me a pound of hamburger?” He wasn’t grateful for what he had been given; he thought he somehow “deserved” even more.
This is why I just cringe when I hear commercials on tv talk about “the kind of car you deserve” or that kind of thing. Or even a news story the other day that talked about a woman in Charlotte who was trying to get a meal together for people in a certain neighborhood there, so that, in her words, “They can have the kind of Thanksgiving they DESERVE.”
We have to be so careful with that. It is NOT what we “deserve.” We don’t “deserve” a meal; we don’t “deserve” a certain kind of car. We don’t “deserve” anything, except to immediately die and be thrown into hell. And if we have the attitude that we “deserve” everything, then we won’t be satisfied and grateful for anything; we think we “deserve” it all anyway!
But when you realize that you deserve NOTHING, then whatever you receive, you are thankful for. You can go around with a continual attitude of thanksgiving, for you know, as Dave Ramsey is famous for saying when he is asked how he is, that I am “better than I deserve!”
Having this attitude would revolutionize so many different areas of our lives: our attitude towards our circumstances, our attitude towards our spouse and other relationships — and our walk with God. It is not a matter of what we “deserve”; whatever God gives us is of His GRACE. “God be GRACIOUS to us” is the prayer here. And He is! We should be thankful for that.
C. God is the source of a VARIETY of these undeserved blessings.
The Hebrew word for “bless” here is translate from the He word “baraka”, “blessing.” The word is used to indicate many different types of blessings:
— In Genesis 1 God “blessed” Adam & Eve and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and subsequently they were “blessed” with children.
— In Genesis 24:35 Abraham’s servant told Laban that God has “blessed” his master so that he became rich, with flock & herds, and silver and gold.
— In Genesis 26:3 God blessed Isaac and told him that He would give him the land
— In Genesis 27 Isaac blessed Jacob, and gave him the inheritance
— In Genesis 39:5 the Egyptian’s crops were blessed because Joseph was with him.
— In Numbers 23 Israel was blessed with military victory and their enemies could not curse them
— In Deuteronomy 15:10 God said He would bless their work, and whatever they put forth their hands to do.
So the word “baraka” here can refer to many different kinds of blessings. The key thing is that we realize that ALL of the blessings we have, whatever they are, come from God.
This Thanksgiving season, many of us can testify that what Psalm 67 says is true for us: God HAS indeed been gracious to us; He HAS blessed us; He HAS “caused His face to shine upon us.” God is the source of our many, and undeserved blessings.
II. The Purpose of Our Blessings
:2 “THAT Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.”
It is as if the Psalmist is meditating on the Aaronic Blessing as he walks away from the festival: “God be gracious to us, and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us …”. He is just pondering that, and wonders as he is thinking, “WHY would God do that?” Why would God bless US the way that He has? And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he answers that question: “THAT Thy way may be known on the earth, Thy salvation among all peoples.” The word “that” means this is a purpose clause: it tells us the PURPOSE for which God did what He did. He blesses us with all these blessings SO THAT, FOR THE PURPOSE THAT, His way and His salvation may be known on the earth.
In fact, this PURPOSE STATEMENT is so important to this Psalm, that you see that the whole content of this Psalm is SANDWICHED with this purpose for God’s blessings:
— Here in :2 near the beginning of the Psalm it says, “THAT Thy way may be known on the earth, Thy salvation among all peoples”
— And then at the very end of the Psalm it says basically the same thing in the last part of :6 and :7, “God our God blesses us; God blesses us THAT all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” Again here we see that purpose: God blesses us SO THAT people around the earth may know and worship Him.
So the Psalm both begins and ends with this purpose statement for our blessings: God does not just sit up in heaven and cast random blessings on us. He blesses us for a specific purpose: and that purpose is that His glory and His salvation may be known to all the people of the earth.
EXAMPLES: This is what God always does with His people. He doesn’t just indiscriminately bless us; He blesses His people for a purpose, that they may BE a blessing to others by making His name known.
— For example, one of the keynote passages in the Old Testament is God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12. God spoke to Abram in that chapter, and He told him in :2 “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you.” But He didn’t stop there. God added: “and so you shall BE a blessing … (:3) “and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” So God didn’t just call Abram to bless him and make a great nation out of him. God called him and blessed him so that the nation He was raising up from him would BE a blessing to the world — by eventually producing the scriptures, and the Messiah who would save the world.
— We see this again later in Genesis, when Jacob’s son Joseph was sold into slavery. God blesses everything that Joseph put his hand to: whether it was as a servant in the Potiphar’s home, or in the prison, or as Pharaoh’s right hand man. Everything Joseph touched was blessed. But WHY? It wasn’t just for him; God blessed Joseph so that he could save his family from destruction in the famine — and ultimately, again, to bless the world through the Messiah that their family would produce.
— The same thing was true of Esther, some years later. Why had God raised her up to this prominent place as queen of Persia — just to bless her? Not at all; God blessed her for something much more important: that He might use her to save His people, as Mordecai observed: “… you have obtained royalty for such a time as this.” God had blessed her with the position she had, so that she could be a blessing to others.
We see this repeatedly throughout scripture. God does not just bless us, to bless US. He blesses us for a PURPOSE: that His ways may be known on the earth. We see that all through this Psalm. Look how many times the words, “people” and “nations” and “earth” are used:
— :2 “that Thy way may be known on the EARTH; Your salvation among all NATIONS
— :3 “Let the PEOPLE praise You O God, let all the PEOPLES praise You.”
— :4 “Let the NATIONS be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge (lead) the PEOPLES …”
— :5 again “Let the PEOPLES praise You, O God; Let all the PEOPLES praise You.”
— :7 “God blesses us, that all the ends of the EARTH may fear Him.”
So Psalm 67 makes it clear that God blesses us for a PURPOSE — and that purpose is to make God known in the whole world. God is not just blessing US. He blesses us so that we will be able to share our blessings with the world, to glorify Him.
In the 2005 movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, when the second daughter, Jane is proposed to by a rich man, her mother, realizing that their whole family will now be lifted out of poverty, cries out: “I knew she did not be so beautiful for nothing.” She felt like God had given her daughter that beauty for a purpose: to bless their family.
In a very real sense, that is the attitude that each of us as Christians should have. Why has God given me the blessings He has? It is not “for nothing” — He has a purpose in it. And His purpose is more than just blessing US. God blesses us so that we can impact the world with what He has given us.
This is one of the places where the commitment of the biblical Christian varies from what we might call a “traditional” understanding of Christianity. Traditionally, many Christians have had the attitude: “God has really blessed me, so I tithe 10% of whatever God gives me — and now I can do whatever I want to with the rest.” But the genuine disciple of Jesus has a different attitude. He or she also realizes that God has blessed them; and like the first person, they too will automatically give their first 10% to the Lord, as we should. But then they also realize that everything that they have has been entrusted to them by God, and they will ask themselves: “What is God’s Kingdom purpose for giving me what He has?” How does God want me to use what He has given me to impact the world for Him?
This is true of every blessing God gives us — and it is certainly true of our material blessings. Why has God blessed those of us in America with such riches? (Now you may say, “Bro. Shawn, I am not RICH!” But the truth is, you probably ARE! Did you drive a car to church this morning? Because do you know that if you did, you are wealthier than over 90% of the people in the world? Even if you think it’s a “clunker” — if you have a car, you are rich, by world standards! The question is, WHY has God given you the riches He has?
Did God bless you so that you could have a bigger house?
Did God bless you so that you could get a new car every year?
Did God bless you so that you could get the next tier on cable tv?
Or did He bless you with a higher purpose in mind — to expand His kingdom, so that His name might be known on the earth? I think we know, from Psalm 67, what that answer is.
Unfortunately we have not been putting that understanding to practice. For example: Southern Baptists on average give only 3% of their income to the church, and even less than that to missions, and as a result, God’s name is not being made known among the nations.
Some of you may know that for the last century, the Southern Baptist Convention has had the largest evangelical mission force in the history of the world — at one point we had over 5600 missionaries, with plans to expand up to 10,000. But for the last 4-5 years, our International Mission Board has operated at a deficit: to the tune of $20 million last year. Our missionary force has dwindled down to 4800, and now, our new President, David Platt, indicated this year that the reserves are drying up, and they can’t continue to operate at a deficit like that any more, so the IMB is in the process right now of cutting 600 more missionaries from the field. We are cutting 600 missionaries, at a time when we need to be DOUBLING, not cutting them!
But we can’t blame David Platt, or the IMB. It comes back to us. It comes back to individuals who are not tithing to begin with; it comes back to churches who are budgeting more on their own comfort than they are on missions. It used to be very common for churches to give 10% of their budget to the Cooperative Program; now it is typically 3-5%. And it comes back to people like us who have not given to the Lottie Moon mission offering, which supports our missionaries overseas.
This is why this year I want to encourage you to do something very specific, and very simple. I want to challenge you this Christmas season to give the biggest gift you give to anyone, to the One whose birthday it is. It is Jesus birthday, right? Nothing pleases His heart more than when we give to reach the nations through missions. So let’s determine that we will not give anyone in our family a bigger gift than you give to the Lord. If the biggest present you buy anyone is your family is $100, then give the Lord $200. If your biggest gift is $200, then give the Lord $300, and so on. II believe if we all did that, we would have by far the largest mission offering we ever had.
Psalm 67 tells us that God has blessed us like He has, so that we can BE a blessing to reach the world for Him. Part of our spiritual self-evaluation is to ask ourselves if we are doing that financially. I think you could make the point that God’s not getting much of a return on His investment in many of us!
Charity Navigator is an organization that reports on the percentage of money that is given to a charity that is used on overhead and expenses, and how much actually goes to the charitable work. For example, they report:
— The American Red Cross spend 92% of its money on actual charitable work, only 8% goes to overhead. Similarly, Samaritans Purse gets 87% of the money given to them to the field, after advertising and office expenses. Some others are not as good:
— The American Cancer Society, and The Wounded Warrior Project both spend over 40% of what is given to them, on overhead and advertising, and 59% of contributions actually go to their programs.
I think all of us would agree that this kind of information is good to know as we evaluate where we want to give our money. But I want you to think of it in this light: if God blesses you for the stated Biblical purpose of reaching the world, how do you think God would evaluate His investment in you, monetarily? What percentage of what He entrusts to you is He getting back, to His church, and to His kingdom causes? Is He getting even the minimum 10%? Is He getting more than that because of how much He has blessed you above & beyond?
Let’s make this even more personal: Based on what you are giving God right now — WHY should God bless you financially in 2016? Are you tithing? Are you giving to missions and other Kingdom causes? Just from a “Heavenly Investment” standpoint: should God be gracious to you and bless you and cause His face to shine on you — based on what He has seen you do with His blessings this year? I think that’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves. If God has blessed us for the purpose of giving to reach others for His kingdom — then what are we doing with what He has entrusted to us?
And listen, it’s not just all about money, either. Our financial blessings are just ONE type of blessing that God gives us. As we have seen, “baraka” refers to all kinds of God’s blessings. He gave us all the blessings we have, so that we could USE them to be a blessing to the world and expand His kingdom on earth.
For example: if your wife, husband, gives you a set of tools for Christmas, what do you think she wants you do do with those? She wants you to USE those gifts to DO something, right? Well that’s the same way with the gifts God gives us. He wants us to USE them to further His kingdom here on earth.
So with every gift God gives us, we should ask ourselves: WHY did He give me this? What does He want me to DO with it to spread His kingdom here on earth:
— Why did God give you the blessing of a voice to sing — so that you could entertain yourself in the car? NO! So you could sing His praise in the choir and make His glory known.
— Why did God give you the blessing of a good mind, and an ability to communicate? So that you could make a lot of money — or so that you could teach others His word?
— Why did God give you health in your senior years — so that you can take all kinds of personal vacations, and “enjoy the American Dream” — or so that you could go on mission trips and share the gospel?
— Why did God bless you with children — so that you could keep them all at home — or so like Hannah in I Samuel you can dedicate those children back to Him as pastors or missionaries?
And on and on. God gave you every blessing you have for a specific purpose, Psalm 67 says, to make His glory known on earth. So whenever you have a blessing from God you need to ask yourself, “How does God want me to use this to further His glory on earth?”
This is no abstract theological sermon to me. God has been very gracious to me and to my family this last year. As many of you know, in the winter of 2012 I lost the blessing of my health. I had just about everything taken away: I could not stand for more than a few seconds without becoming violently sick. I could not work or preach. I had to resign from my pastorate, and we had to sell our home, and most of our possessions. After many attempts at treatment, there was no human hope of getting better, and my doctor signed off on an application for permanent and total disability as we left Louisiana to convalesce in Oklahoma.
But God was gracious to me; He blessed me; He caused His face to shine upon me, and He raised me up. Last Sunday marked 8 months of my service as pastor here at Pleasant Ridge — 8 months that just a couple of years ago, I thought I would never have had again. God has blessed me. So my question has to be: “WHY?” WHY has He been gracious to me; WHY has He blessed me; WHY has He caused His face to shine upon me? God didn’t make me well so that I can retire, or so that I can sit around the pool, or so that I can dedicate myself to some meaningless hobby. I see the answer here in Psalm 67: He blessed me so that I can make His way known on the earth; so I can preach His word and make disciples.
I hope you see that this isn’t just MY story; that the same thing is true for YOU. Why has God given YOU the blessings you have received? Why do you have the health, and the abilities, and the time, and the money, and the other blessings that you do? Your answer is right here in Psalm 67: it is so that you can make His way known on the earth.
So, as you meditate on God’s blessings in your life this week — which I hope you will do — make sure that you also ponder WHY God has given you those blessings: so that you can make God known in the earth. The only question for you now is: how specifically does He want YOU to do that? Would you spend some time praying about that, this week?
— Some of us need to really adopt the first part of Psalm 67, and realize that God has been GRACIOUS to us. You need to stop complaining about what you think you “deserve” and start being grateful for what God has blessed you with. Spend this invitation time giving thanks.
— Others may have never received the gift of God’s grace for salvation, and you need to talk to someone about doing that today …
— Many of us need to think about the gifts God has entrusted to us: gifts of health, money, abilities, time — and ask the Lord to show us what He wants us to do with those gifts to spread His gospel to the nations. Pray about your giving: are you even tithing the minimum? Are you giving even more to missions and special causes as a good steward of what God has given you? Pray about giving the Lord your biggest gift this Christmas season.
— And then, others of us ought to use Psalm 67 this morning to pray for people you love, or for a church. Pray through the words of this Psalm and ask God to be gracious to them, and bless them, and cause His face to shine upon them — THAT His way may be known in the world through them.
There are a lot of ways to respond to this Psalm; you pray and respond as God has spoken to your heart …