Thanksgiving Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father . . . Oh Lord, my Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!

Thank you for creating this indescribably majestic world as a home for people—for all people—every person who has ever lived, the ones born thousands of years ago, those who live today, and those who will be born in the future. People I know and love, and the billions I’ll never meet on this earth. Thank you for creating us to need each other. Thank you for telling us to love each other and take care of one another. Help me to be kind and learn how to love the way you love.

Thank you for the beauty of this earth. Thank you for creating the seas—awesome! Powerful. Mesmerizing. Throbbing with power. Teeming with life. Thank you for water in all its forms—warm, moist breezes in the spring and frozen stars of ice falling from heaven as winter sets in. For clouds and rain, for streams and rivers, for our tiny lake, and for lakes so huge they look like oceans. For brooks that gurgle, waterfalls that roar, and waves that pound and lull. I feel like I could sit forever beside the sea, just drinking in the scents and sights and sounds. Thank you for water. Water is life to me. Thank you for the Water of Life, too—Jesus . . . that fountain of eternal life you’ve caused to spring up within me.

Thank you for forming the dry land . . . the unending display of beauty in nature seen in the trees and flowers, and the unending parade of curious creatures. Thank you for the astounding variations in topography, the rocks and rifts. Mountains so remote most of us will never stand beneath their shadow. Trenches so deep we could never withstand the pressure of descending into them. Lava flows that would incinerate us instantly should we attempt to walk on them. Icy polar winds that would freeze us solid in minutes if we dared to face them unprotected. Lord, as frail humans, we can only stand in awe of your creation, and of You, the One who has created such splendor and power for us to contemplate, but who is infinitely greater than everything we can see in the world around us.

Thank you for the seemingly infinite sea of stars above us, too. I look up into the night sky and marvel. Finger play? With your fingers you made the moon and the stars? What must heaven be like? By day, we can see the sun, without which we would all die within hours. How like your Son, through whom all things consist and without which nothing would exist. He is the energy that holds all things together and keeps all things from collapsing! The sun: We can see it, and we can’t live without it, but we can’t look at it, because it’s so brilliant we will become blind if we dare to stare at it. How like You! The glory of your radiance makes it impossible to see You! And yet, you have given us Jesus, the express image of your person for us to behold. God in the flesh for us to have and to hold. God become man, who purged our sins by his own blood so that we could be reconciled to God.

Thank you for salvation—that whosoever will may come and receive eternal life as a free gift from your hand. Thank You for giving us your Word, the Word of God—a lamp to our feet and a light to our path to guide us through this life. Thank you for your Holy Spirit to brood over us and rebirth our spirits into new life so that we can see your kingdom, sense your presence, and experience your fellowship. Thank you for your Church and the communion of the saints. May your love flow through us to all those around us. May your kingdom come and your will be done all around the world, even as it is in heaven.

I love you, Lord! Thank you for life. Thank you for allowing me to enter your gates with thanksgiving and come into your courts with praise. May I bless your name and be thankful unto you for as long as I live, and into eternity—forever and ever! Amen.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Is Jesus Calling You?

For those of you who’ve never heard of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling, I want to recommend it. It’s formatted as a 365-day devotional book, but I was so intrigued that I listened to the whole book on one flight. My (publishing house editor) son mentioned that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller, has sold over ten million copies, and is so popular it can be bought at Walmart!

However, Jesus Calling has gotten a lot of criticism for being based on the supposition that we can hear from God and share what we’ve heard with others. Really? Is that strange or wrong? Sarah Young does not claim to be a prophet; her claim is that God speaks to her, and she has shared with others what He has said to her. Does God speak to you? He speaks to me! Do I share what I learn with others? Of course! Don’t you? Her writing is not as profound as the Scripture, and it is not inspired in the way that the Scripture is inspired, but her meditations are filled with Scripture, and I didn’t find the thoughts running contrary to Scripture.

Are her thoughts the very words God spoke to her? I can’t vouch for the complete purity and inspiration of anything besides the Bible, but I do know that I pray daily for God to inspire and direct my writing, and from her book, I believe that God at least inspired and directed Sarah’s thoughts and writing. I appreciated the gentle reminders of God’s love and presence and the continuous encouragements to seek Him, trust Him, and grow in our relationship with Him. As we seek God in the Bible and through prayer, and as we rest in his presence, we will find Him and experience peace: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Is Jesus Calling a replacement for meditating on Scripture? Of course not! I meditate both morning and evening on the Scriptures alone. That is my daily spiritual bread!! But, if you—like me—enjoy reading a quick devotional at some point in the day (our family has devotional books for both breakfast and dinner readings), you might enjoy Jesus Calling. It’s addressing believers, not unbelievers, so it’s not full of the gospel or the need for us to repent from our sins (which believers understand fully already), but my heart was touched and my spirit uplifted by the gentle reminders of God and his everlasting love for us. If you’re looking for a daily devotional for this coming year, don’t be afraid to listen to (or read) Jesus Calling. Because, He does call us, and if we’ll listen, He does speak to us!

Jesus Calls Us
—Cecil F. Alexander, published 1852 (Public Domain)

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (51): One Prayer Worth Repeating . . .

There is one prayer that can never be repeated too often. It’s so simple a young child can learn it but so profound that only those who have surrendered their hearts to God can confess it with sincerity. Through this prayer, we affirm God’s fatherhood, our sonship, and His holiness. We bow before Him in submission to His will, asking for his blessed kingdom to come to earth and for His will to be done on earth. We acknowledge our dependence on Him for the most basic of our needs and ask for His forgiveness based on our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us and are indebted to us. We ask for relief from temptation and deliverance from evil. We confess these truths as self evident: God is the rightful king of the world; all power belongs to Him; all glory is and ever will be His. In this we rest content and live at peace.

This was our Lord Jesus’s prayer, and this is now our prayer! There are no end of reflections that could be made on this prayer. It is a model for us. Do we need to repeat it word for word? No, but why not? Was it intended as a model for what we should be praying for? Yes, but it also encapsulates all that we usually fret about, and all our needs are subsumed under this rainbow. It expresses our faith in God and our eagerness to see His perfect will accomplished. In this simple prayer, all of our material needs are reduced to the only thing we really need for continuing life: sustenance.

Years ago, I met a group of Chinese believers, some of whom had been severely persecuted, and most of whom had suffered deprivation for their faith, as they were discriminated against by the Communist Party. Above all else, I was moved by one of the songs they sang, which said they didn’t need any bread but the manna from heaven (the Bible). It isn’t a song we sing in America, so I don’t even know how to share the lyrics with you, but the message always brought tears to my eyes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oh, to be so focused on the Word of God as that which nourishes our souls! Is it even more critical to our existence than physical bread? Do we treasure the Bible above any other earthly possession?

And, what about forgiveness? My sister sent me this bit of tongue-in-cheek wisdom from Orlando: “A happy home is one in which each spouse grants the possibility that the other may be right, though neither believes it.” Or, how about this rather pompous thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I suspect most of the time, we’re not 100% in the right, but even when we are, God calls us to forgive. That’s one of the hardest things we’re ever asked to do, because we have to absorb the shock of injury and suffering at the hands of another person. But, that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what He wants us to give others as a gift of love from God through us to them. Mercy. Help us to be merciful!

What about this one? “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This isn’t just about keeping us from getting shot when we’re innocently walking down the street. It isn’t only about helping free us from addictions that enslave us and make us miserable. It’s also about resisting that delectable piece of pie that we don’t need after we’ve already eaten an excellent dinner and are full. It’s about avoiding the mall when we don’t need a new blouse. It’s about cooking dinner at home when we’d rather eat out. It’s about visiting the sick or grieved when we’d rather sit at home because we’re tired. It’s about living out the life of Christ when we’d rather indulge ourselves. Are we willing?

What an amazing prayer! Have you learned it? Do you repeat it at church or before you get up in the morning? The prayer our Lord taught us to pray gets right to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what we really need. It’s worth repeating!!

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Combining Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. )

“Our Father Prayer” Sung by Andrea Bocelli at the New York DreamCenter

(Photo of painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (50): A Consideration in Prayer

Do you have a favorite prayer you recite at certain times of the day? When I was ten, my two best friends were both devout Catholics, and one wanted to be a nun. No matter what we did during the evening, Susie would always end her day by repeating a cycle of prayers on her rosary, explaining that if she could fall asleep without sinning after this recitation, she might be able to go straight to heaven without needing any time in purgatory. Being a cultural “Christian” (based on being born in America), I knew nothing about the mysteries of purgatory or rosaries or the meaning of “Hail Mary, full of graces,” but I did admire her devotion and would definitely try to fall asleep quietly (at least most of the time) to honor her wishes.

A few years later, after hearing the best news ever—that Jesus died to save us all from our sins and wants us to turn to him in faith, accepting his gift of eternal life—I began to pray too, although I went to a little baptist church, where we were taught that praying is more about talking to God, who is our Father. Instead of reciting prescribed prayers, we were encouraged to open our hearts and let all our thoughts tumble out, the way a small child pours out his heart to a tender-hearted parent.

I don’t want to deny the efficacy of memorizing or reciting prayers, but I do want to encourage anyone reading this to consider praying to God the way you would talk to your father. (Or, if your father was unavailable or not good to you, then pray to our heavenly Father with the recognition that He is better than the very best father who ever lived on earth!)

If this seems irreverent to you, or uncomfortably intimate, consider that we are instructed in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” If you have never asked God to become your father and Jesus to become your savior, please do! Come to him for mercy and grace! His arms are wide open! No matter who you are, God loves you with an everlasting love and longs to receive you into his family! Last week a friend said there had been just 18 inches between hell and heaven in his life . . . the distance between his head and his heart. Until well into his adult life, Randy had a head knowledge of God, but it wasn’t until he embraced Christ with all his heart as his Lord and Savior that he was born again and on his way to heaven.

On the other hand, if you are already saved by faith and a child of God, then the omnipotent creator of the universe has become your “Abba” Father! According to Strong’s concordance: Abbá – “Father,” “is also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; ‘daddy,’ ‘papa‘.”

So, prayers don’t have to be anything fancy or formal, any more than you’d ignore your two-year-old unless he could speak with the eloquence of an adult! God knows what’s in our hearts, and He wants us to share with him, just the way we long to share with our children . . . even our adult children! My “kids” are now 28 up to 44, but I will never stop wanting to hear “all about” whatever’s going on in their lives! Right?!

I have a girlfriend whose kids sometimes say she’s too nosy about their business. I love her response: “I ask too many questions because I love you too much!” God loves us more than the world’s nosy-est, most loving parent! Please, please talk to Him!! He’s here! Because he’s omnipotent and omniscient, He has all the time in the world for each one of us! He’s not too busy! He can carry on an infinite number of conversations at the same moment! He’s available. He’s knocking at the door of your heart! Have you let him in? If not, will you let him in? May we not only let Him in, but may we make the King of the Universe welcome as the resident King of our hearts as well!

Matthew 6:7-8 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

“Abba Father” sung in Korean (with English subscripts)

(Photo of the painting of Jesus praying by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (49): Where to Pray

Since the essence of genuine prayer is communion with God, we can pray anytime and anywhere. We can pray kneeling by our bed or lying in our bed, while speaking to our boss at work or sitting alone at home, as part of a gathering or as part of a retreat, with arms extended on a mountain top or arms folded in a closet. It’s like eating green eggs and ham. It’s good whether we’re with a fox or in a box. God is here and there and everywhere.

Prayer is like breathing. It’s the spiritual life-giving exchange of ideas with God, like receiving oxygen when we inhale. We don’t have to speak; He can hear the silent cry of our hearts! No one can stop us! We don’t have to move a single muscle. If we’re too tired to form thoughts, we can simply rest in His presence. We don’t need light; we can pray in the dark. We don’t need wisdom; we can ask for wisdom. We don’t even need faith; we can ask for faith too! Whatever we need, we can ask. He invites us to ask, but truly, we don’t even need an invitation!

However, Jesus does give this instruction: Prayer is to be genuine. Pretending to pray isn’t praying. You can pretend to pray anytime and anywhere, but it will get you exactly nowhere every time. Ingenuous prayer may catch the attention of others, but God will not hear: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Prayer must come from a sincere heart, directed straight to the heart of our sincere Father. Honest, earnest prayer from a humble heart offered up in secret will bear spiritual fruit. God will hear us and reward us for seeking Him and His help. What a blessing to have this most intimate and immediate resource available to us every moment of our lives! We can commune with God!

If you’ve never read the little book by Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God, I’d like to commend it to you. Your library may have a copy, or you can buy it for $5.95 on Amazon. It’s short and sweet, and it walks readers through the practice of focusing spiritually so we’re more fully aware of living in the presence of God and can better apply the injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “Pray without ceasing.” Sound good? It’s great! In fact, it’s the greatest thing in life to me!

Text for this Meditation: Matthew 6:5-6 “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (45): “Pray for Them”— Which “Them”?

The “them” is “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I’ll tell you, the concepts Jesus taught are so radical it’s no wonder he was both amazingly popular and singularly hated at the same time!

I just finished listening to an interview between Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson. Prager identifies himself as Jewish; Peterson identifies himself as a “Christian” who does not believe in God. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) So, I don’t exactly agree with either of these men spiritually, because I do believe in God, and I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, despite religious differences, I still respect what they are attempting to do, which is to live out their understanding of truth, and most of their understanding of truth comes from both the Judeo-Christian scriptures (which they believe is corroborated by their research and life experiences).

Although I’m not politically savvy, it was obvious from their discussion that Peterson has come under a lot of fire for his stand against “political correctness” pressuring American and Canadian society to conform to speech regulations that are contrary to “biblical correctness.” I haven’t followed either of these men closely enough to know what all they believe or teach, but one clear message that came out of the interview was that Peterson is both immensely popular and immensely hated. He mentioned that at one time 200 of his fellow colleagues signed a petition trying to have him fired from his position at the university where he was teaching. But, in the next breath, he said that no matter where he goes, people thank him—often with a great deal of emotion—for what he’s taught about the fact that we are individuals who are responsible for our own lives and decisions and need to accept and act on our personal responsibility for self-control and self-improvement.

I definitely agree with Peterson’s understanding of individual person-hood and responsibility, and the great ambivalence surrounding Jordan Peterson helps me understand the tremendous emotional upheaval that Jesus caused. The religious leaders hated him, and the common people—who experienced the healing benefit of his teachings—loved him.

I have no clue if Peterson prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him, but I know that’s what Jesus did . . . and what he tells us to do. Peterson professed being afraid to say he believed in God, because if he truly believed, he would have to live out the Christian faith, which seems impossibly hard to him. In fact, it is impossibly hard, but that is okay. Jesus died to bridge the gap between our best and perfection. We are works in progress. We are challenged to be perfect, but we fall short. Jesus paid the price for our failures. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to become a child of God through faith in Christ. But, just like Jesus, we have the wonderful capacity to find help and grace through God who helps us take responsibility for self-control and self-improvement! Through God we can learn how to humbly “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We may end up dying for what we believe, like Jesus, or we may end up with a thrilling triumph of good over evil (such as I’m going to write about this coming Tuesday). Either way, it is our job to be faithful to the truth as we understand it, to do good and not evil to others, and to pray for (rather than physically bully or attack) those who oppose us.

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:45, “and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Luke 6:27, “Pray for them which despitefully use you.”

(Reproduction of the painting, “Jesus Praying in Gethsemane,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com)