Every Friday morning during the school year back in the 1950s was an all school assembly day at the Jackson Avenue Elementary School. Each assembly opened with the reading of a Psalm, a non-sectarian prayer and hymn. It was during one assembly program that I was first exposed to the 100th Psalm. Over the years it has become one of my favorite Psalms. I like how it translated in the English Standard Version. It is entitled as in the Hebrew Bible,
A Psalm for giving thanks.
100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his
gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
The One Hundreth Psalm is the one and only Psalm out of 150 Psalms to be called a Thanksgiving Psalm. Notice how it’s titled, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks.” This is how it begins in the Hebrew Bible.
And just how are we to give thanks? The Psalmist declares, “Serve the LORD with gladness!(v.2)” Sure, some translations read it “Worship the LORD with gladness” but the Hebrew verb ( עָבַד ) ordinarily means “to serve,” “to do work,” or “to labor.” What the Psalmist wanted us to understand is that giving thanks to God is not only expressed by our voices in joyful praise, but by our labor or service dedicated to God alone. Thankful people understand that all our labor, all our service while it may be offered to others, is ultimately for God and God alone.
Too often, we think of serving the Lord in terms of Sunday services, or things we do at church. Not so! Serving the Lord has to do with what we do every day of the week, even when we feel stressed and divided in our loyalties. We need to step back and ask ourselves this question, “For whom am I really working?” “For whom am I serving?”
Without sanctioning slavery as some misguided souls have argued, the apostle Paul writes to those saints who struggled to know how to honor God in their ordinary work and service done under the scrutiny of those who often didn’t value them, those who took them for granted.
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:17, 23-24 ESV
Paul’s counsel sounds almost counter-intuitive, but it was very much in keeping with what our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son did for us. For our sakes He took on the form of a bondservant, made in the likeness of human beings, humbled himself and became obedient to death, the death on a cross. He was the same One who said He did not come to be served but to serve and give Himself a ransom for many.
James Mars was a slave sold in his youth to a frail but cruel man named Munger, in Norfolk, Connecticut in the early nineteenth century. He endured mistreatment and lashings from Mr. Munger, as a young man. In spite of his sharp inquisitive mind and hunger for good literature, James was denied formal schooling. Fortunately however, he was legally emancipated in his early 20s, and subsequently as a free citizen he exercised his voting rights, voting in two important elections for the late President Abraham Lincoln.
Later in life, James Mars returned to Norfolk, Connecticut to care for a dying man, the same man who sorely treated him in his youth, the elderly Mr. Munger. And as it turned out, he also cared for Mr. Munger’s daughter who predeceased him in death. How did he care for them? Why did he care for them, serving those who once had harmed him? I think something he said later nearer the end of his life says it all.
I was under the watchful care of a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. He has thus far provided for me, and I feel assured that He will if I trust Him, with all my heart and soul and strength, and serve Him faithfully, which is my duty, the few years or days that are allotted to me, and it is my prayer that I may have grace to keep me, that I may not dishonor the cause of Christ, but that I may do that which will be acceptable in the sight of my Heavenly Father, so that I may do good to my fellow-men. [James Mars, Life of James Mars, a Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut, pp. 37-38]
The question we must ask in all of our labor and work is, “Who am I serving?” Too often we secretly grumble and complain under duress at home doing menial tasks, or at the office picking up the slack for lazy co-workers. We all need a change of perspective! What elevated the service of James Mars ought to elevate us in much easier circumstances. I like what a wise pastor and author, Oliver Price once said,
“For the dedicated believer, all of life is elevated to the level of divine service. (Yes, even) at the kitchen sink… Wash dishes as a service only to God.” And, that applies to men and children, as well! Amen?