When invited by the editors of Tabletalk to write on gratefulness in prayer, my mind flew immediately to Psalm 103. Beginning and ending with the words “Bless the LORD, O my soul,” this psalm sees David talking not to God but to himself. Nor is this an idle reflection; he is giving himself a good talking-to, stirring himself up by engaging “all that is within me.” One can imagine him turning aside from his duties, going quietly into a private room (Matt. 6:6 comes to mind), laying aside his royal robes, and then, before asking God for anything, making sure that he must “forget not all his benefits.”
David begins by reminding himself that God “forgives all your iniquity,” assuring believers that in the substitutionary death of their Savior, all their sins—past, present and future—are permanently wiped out. As Augustus Toplady’s hymn so perfectly puts it: “The terrors of law and of God / With me can have nothing to do; / My Savior’s obedience and blood / Hide all my transgressions from view.”
David then adds that he should be thankful that God “heals all your diseases.” This means so much more than the patter peddled by pseudo-evangelists who prostitute Scripture by falsely guaranteeing that if believers remind God of this statement and Isaiah 53:5, they can claim instant healing. This falsehood ignores the fact that David and Isaiah are referring not primarily to physical disease but to sin. As the eighteenth-century theologian John Gill put it, “Sin is a disease belonging to all men, a natural, hereditary, nauseous and incurable one, but by the blood of Christ; forgiving sin is a healing of this disease.”
None of us will ever be in circumstances in which there are no blessings for which God deserves thanks.
David then reflects gratefully that God “redeems your life from the pit,” that is, the unspeakable horrors of hell. This eternal redemption assures believers that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), a glorious certainty for which they should be eternally grateful.
The king next adds his gratitude for God’s assurance that He “crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” and “satisfies you with good,” confirming David’s earlier testimony that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6).
David’s thanksgiving in Psalm 103 now reaches beyond his personal experience to embrace God’s covenant care for all believers. He “works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed”; He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” which is “as high as the heavens are above the earth”; He shows compassion as “a father shows compassion to his children,” benefits assured because God has “established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” The seventeenth-century theologian David Dickson identified seventeen of these benefits in this psalm.
My home church’s weekly prayer meeting begins with a Bible reading, followed immediately by a time of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, a pattern reflecting the psalmist’s exhortation: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Ps. 100:4). Time and again, the Apostle Paul urges us to mingle our petitions with praise: we should be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20); we are not to be anxious, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6); we are to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2); we should “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Simply put, we should learn to have a gratitude attitude, even in the darkest of days, knowing that even these are in God’s hands. None of us will ever be in circumstances in which there are no blessings for which God deserves thanks. Reeling from a personal tsunami in which he lost all his children and all his livestock, Job “fell on the ground and worshiped,” crying, “Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20–21).
The nineteenth-century hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal once testified, “If I could write as I would about the goodness of God to me, the ink would boil in my pen.” In today’s digital age, she might have written, “My computer system would crash!” Let us take that risk.
Dr. John Blanchard is a preacher, teacher, and apologist who resides in Banstead, England. He is author of several books, including Ultimate Questions and Whatever Happened to Hell?