Psalm 118 was Luther’s favorite Psalm. Luther praised this Psalm saying, “This is my own beloved psalm. Although the entire Psalter and all of Holy Scripture are dear to me as my only comfort and source of life, I fell in love with this psalm especially. Therefore I call it my own.” Luther loved this Psalm because it was a great helper to him; a great comfort in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this life. When no one could aid him, the Lord used this Psalm to bring the blessed Doctor peace: “When emperors and kings, the wise and the learned, and even saints could not aid me, this psalm proved a friend and helped me out of many great troubles. As a result, it is clearer to me than all the wealth, honor, and power of the pope, the Turk, and the emperor. I would be most unwilling to trade this psalm for all of it.” Clearly, the Reformer believed that this Psalm was invaluable when it came to pastoral care.
Regarding Psalm 118 Luther says, “This psalm is a general statement of thanksgiving for all the kindnesses God daily and unceasingly showers on all men, both good and evil.” Its relationship to thanksgiving relates the opening verses of this Psalm to the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In his Small Catechism Luther says that in the fourth petition means that, “God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
The opening verse of this Psalm teaches us what it means to give thanksgiving – both what the content of that thanksgiving is, and why this is important pastorally. Verse 1 is a declaration of general thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done for us. It is thanksgiving for all the good things Luther lists in his explanation of the First Article of the Creed. Verse 2 is a specific thanksgiving for temporal government and peace. Verse 3 is “a prayer of thanksgiving for a particular gift of God, namely, spiritual government, including priests, preachers, teachers, in short, the precious Word of God and the holy Christian Church.” Verse 4 is a prayer of thanksgiving for all genuine Christians.
What do these opening verses have to do with pastoral care? Since all Christians live as one who is at the same time sinner and saint, it is quite easy to become indifferent to the blessings of the Lord. This can be the case in good times and in bad. The Old Adam is blinded and cannot see that all that he has is from the Lord. It is arrogance that leads one to be indifferent towards the blessings that our Heavenly Father bestows upon us. Luther says, “If we human beings were not so blind and so smug and indifferent toward the blessings of God, there would not be a man on earth, no matter how wealthy, who would trade an empire or a kingdom for them; for he would surely be robbed in the deal.”
This attitude of indifference and arrogance leads us to doubt God’s goodness and mercy. This leads to worry, fear, and an ungodly striving after the things of this world. This is especially true in a culture marked by affluence. People come to expect these blessings as something that is owed to them. Slowly they become dull to how truly wonderful the daily blessings are – family, food, shelter, clothing, etc. These great gifts become so common that they become despised and no one thanks the Lord for them. This is no minor thing either. This is the work of the devil who is seeking to destroy happiness – and ultimately faith. Luther says regarding worry and indifference, “Instead, they hinder us in the happy and peaceful enjoyment of the common blessings, so that we can neither recognize them as such nor thank God for them. This is the work of the devil, who will not let us use or recognize the goodness of God and His abundant daily blessings, lest we enjoy too much happiness.”
The Christian must be reminded of these blessings daily. This is one of the reasons for daily praying the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s morning and evening prayers, and the prayers for meal time. These prayers reorient our focus, directing the eyes of faith to the Giver of all good things. Through these prayers the word of promise concerning God’s fatherly care for us is set constantly before our eyes.
This is why Luther can say that verse 1 “serves to comfort us in all our misfortunes.” This comfort comes when one is deprived of some of these good things, these blessings. When this happens then our faith is tested. Regarding this point Luther says, “The good God permits such small evils to befall us merely in order to arouse us snorers from our deep sleep and to make us recognize, on the other hand, the incomparable and innumerable benefits we still have. He wants us to consider what would happen if He were to withdraw His goodness from us completely.”
When there are minor irritations we still ignore the multitude of blessings bestowed upon us, but when small evils and misfortunes befall us we are driven to prayer and to an acknowledgement of God’s good gifts. It is through these misfortunes that we come to see God as the fountain and source of all goodness. These misfortunes, viewed in light of God’s Holy Word, are put into their proper context. Thus we come to see God’s mercy as “His goodness in action.” As Luther says:
We also are to look at our misfortunes in no other way than that with them God gives us a light by which we may see and understand His goodness and kindness in countless other ways. Then we conclude that such small misfortunes are barely a drop of water on a big fire or a little spark in the ocean. Then we understand and love the words.
So then, these opening verses on thanksgiving can be utilized by the pastor in a variety of situations. They can be used with those who struggle with blindness and indifference to the blessings of God. They can be used with those who are in the midst of trials and tribulations as a source of comfort and solace. And they can be used with all Christians to teach them how to give thanksgiving and praise (that is to pray and worship rightly), for this good work is pleasing in God’s eyes:
“This very verse teaches us which sacrifice pleases God most. We cannot perform a greater or finer deed, or a nobler service to God, than to offer thanks, as He Himself tells us (Ps. 50:23): “He who brings thanks-giving as his sacrifice honors Me, and this is the way I show My salvation.” Such an offering pleases Him beyond all gifts, endowments, monasteries, or whatever. He says (Ps. 69:30–31): “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” This will please the Lord more than a bullock with horns and hooves.”
The proper teaching concerning thanksgiving, and the role it has in a believer’s life, cannot be ignored by the faithful pastor. To ignore this issue can allow bitterness, indifference, and pride to destroy faith.
 Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 14: Luther's works, vol. 14 : Selected Psalms III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (45). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
 LW 14:45.
 This Psalm addresses a multitude of issues. These two were chosen because they appear to be the focus of the first 18 verses of the Psalm.
 LW 14: 47.
 See especially the Large Catechism. The explanation of the their echoes Luther’s insights on Psalm 118 very closely.
 LW 14:55.
 LW 14:48.
 See for example- Matt. 6:8ff; Phil. 4:6;1 John 1:15-17; 1 Peter 5:7 .
 It is quite interesting in this regard that while many will pray Luther’s prayer for blessing before a meal very few pray the prayer of thanksgiving afterwards. This could very well be a symptom of what is being discussed here, as well as part of the cure.
 LW 14: 50.
 Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio
 LW 14:50.
 LW 14:51.
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