Great Things He Hath Done

2 Corinthians 9:15 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

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I love this season of the year–as we approach Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent and Christmas, it is a good time to reflect and celebrate all the wonderful things God has done, and all the ways He has blessed us. But there is also a danger in this season. We are tempted to look around and compare our blessings (and our struggles) with others around us. We are tempted to be envious, depressed, and stressed about our circumstances. Or we look at our blessings and feel smug and self-satisfied, instead of grateful and humble.

What “Great” things am I thankful for? Sometimes I make a list of all “my” blessings–my health, my family, my home or car, my freedom (as though I had done anything to earn such blessings)–and I stop. Sometimes I make another list of all the “Great” things God has done in nature–beautiful sunsets and majestic forests, glistening snowflakes and spring blossoms–and I stop. Sometimes, I even thank Him for the trials and struggles and difficult relationships that He has allowed to refine me and build my character to be more like His– and I stop. Sometimes, I thank Him for the great things he has done for others–miracles of provision, safety, or healing.

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But there is a deeper level of thankfulness– one that takes my breath away and causes me to fall to my knees– one that thanks God for WHO HE IS– truth, righteousness, salvation, mercy, wisdom, power, and boundless, unconditional love. Every great work of God has its origin in God’s Character. Every sunrise shows His faithfulness, every snowflake His infinite creativity. Even tragedy can reveal His tenderness and healing and precious promise that NOTHING can separate us from His love. In giving His greatest gift, God spared no expense; he held nothing back. Jesus defeated sin and death by becoming sin and experiencing death–FOR YOU and for ME! For anyone, for everyone, who will accept His gift and trust in His character. How often do I list all the great things God has done and stop before I let the amazement of the Great I AM to overwhelm me? How often to I celebrate Thanksgiving without ever reaching this level of true Thanks-giving?

Whether we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, or with beans and wienies; whether we celebrate with family, friends, strangers or alone; even if we celebrate on a different day, or in a different way, may we always find ourselves amazed by the Greatness of God. May we truly give God more than just thanksgiving this year. May we give Him all the Glory–Great things He hath done!

A Wasted Day

It rained all day. It was gloomy and wet. All my plans were ruined. I got nothing done. What a wasted day.

Instead of working in my garden, I stayed inside. My daughter was restless and whiny. I was distracted and had a headache. I ended up making hot dogs for dinner, instead of a roast. I snapped at the dog. I didn’t finish my “quiet time,” and I blew off my Bible study. I made a couple of phone calls and “liked” about a dozen Facebook posts. I wasted the entire day.

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Yesterday was different. I worked in the garden, bought a brand new outfit at half price, did Bible study, and two loads of laundry before noon. I baked a pie and made a new casserole for dinner, walked the dog and got in 4000 steps, took my daughter to dance class, and got all my “fall” decorations up in the family room and the porch.

Today was my favorite day! Even though it was rainy, Mommy and I got to spend the whole day together! Yesterday, she was so busy, she barely noticed I was here. She didn’t even smile back when I got out of dance class. I tried to tell her about our new dance, but she was on the phone the whole ride home. She was busy, busy, busy! Today, she was grumpy about the rain, but she made hot dogs! My favorite. She read me a story, too. I know she wasn’t feeling too well, because she made me take a nap, even though it was to early for nap time. She even yelled at Daisy about the noises she made– she made the same noises yesterday, and Mom didn’t even notice! It was so silly, but it was still my favorite day!

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Pamela called me today. I haven’t spoken with her in ages. It was so nice to get caught up. It really made my day. I haven’t been at church lately, and I didn’t even realize how much I miss the people there. When my kids grew up and left, I felt the loss, but now that Bud is gone, it’s so much worse. I spend so many of my days alone. They seem like wasted days, sometimes. But today was different. After talking with Pamela, I thought maybe I should call Jason– not to ask for anything, just to tell him I love him. Turns out he was having a rough day at work, but didn’t want to “bother” his mom. We didn’t talk long, but it left us both feeling better. It rained most of the day, but the sun came out for a little bit…it was a good day.

Colossians 3:17 English Standard Version (ESV)

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.

Some days bring rain, and gloom, and loneliness, headaches, and heartaches. But no day is wasted in which we can touch another’s heart, share the love of Christ, and set our minds on all the Good that God has in store for us!

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1 Thessalonians 5:18 English Standard Version (ESV)

18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

Prayer Brings Peace

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my soul;
When sorrows, like sea-billows roll–
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well–it is well– with my soul.'”

As I write this, all is not well with my life.  I have bills looming, a car that keeps breaking down, a leaky roof, and I’m fighting to stay healthy.  I worry about unhappy customers at work, my husband as he travels and faces danger on the job, about our aging and widowed mothers, and our kids and grandkids.  All is not well with our nation– we have anger, division, violence, and strife; a breakdown of families, moral decay, and corruption.  All is not well with our world–nations are at war, we are destroying our environment, and all the progress that was supposed to make our lives easier seems to have made life more complicated and frantic, instead.

But all is well with my soul–not because of anything I have done or anything I do– peace and assurance are mine solely through the grace of God, which he gives in abundance.

Prayer does not bring peace automatically, nor does its haphazard and occasional practice guarantee instant or lasting peace.  Meditation, solitude, and other prayer-like exercises may bring a temporary calm, a respite, and a relief.  Closing our eyes and laying our burdens at his feet can bring the same feeling.  But prayer is more than just an exercise in making us feel better.  It isn’t meant to take us away from our circumstances, or to hand them off to God while we waltz away from our burdens.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Coming to God in prayer doesn’t make burdens disappear.  But it does mean that we no longer carry them alone, and that gives us rest for our souls.  God is not in the business of making our lives easy, carefree, and comfortable.  But he promises that as we share our lives with him, trusting that his ways are good and righteous, he will not only come alongside and share our burden, he will teach us and give us rest.

This is why the pursuit of prayer is so important.  The discipline of daily and personal prayer teaches us how and where to find peace that lasts– peace that “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7).  Like the cool, refreshing water of a river soothes and gives life, so God’s grace flows into our lives as we walk and talk with him every day.

What? A Privilege?!

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,  all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in Prayer!”

The word “privilege” has taken a beating lately.  A privilege used to be considered a good thing.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor.”  A privilege is granted–given as the prerogative of someone in power or authority– to someone else.  It may be given as a reward, or granted for a limited time and under certain conditions.  But a true privilege is a gift–you can’t make your own privilege, and you cannot own or control a privilege– the terms are set by the giver, not the receiver.

In the past generation, the word “privilege” has become charged with political and societal connotations.  Those connotations, and the issues surrounding them, are worthy of discussion and could fill volumes, but I want to talk about a privilege that should be free of undertones and dubious meanings.

Prayer is a pursuit, and a practice.  It is personal, practical, and powerful.  But it is also a privilege.  Often one that we take for granted.

In pursuing prayer, we are not just developing a personal routine or discipline.  We are not just approaching a powerful supernatural entity.  We are fallen creation entering the presence of a Holy Creator; we are rebels entering the throne room of the King of Kings.

We have the right to approach God; to talk to, converse with, ask favors of, plead with, confess to, and expect answers from the One who creates galaxies with a single spoken word, and designs every unique flake of snow.  This same God grants us the right to draw breath, to experience both beauty and wonder, to question and to create.

Prayer in ancient times was almost universally accompanied by sacrifices, and surrounded with ritual– incense, bowing and prostrating oneself, covering or uncovering the head–in recognition of the horrible chasm, the great separation between God and mankind.  Many traditions still use ritual for prayer, and there is nothing wrong in this reminder of God’s Holiness and Sovereignty.  Yet God talks of prayer in intimate terms.  He didn’t impose ritual and sacrifice for his benefit, but for ours.  Several times throughout the Bible, he makes clear that he does not require the blood of bulls and goats–what he wants most is a humble and pure heart.  At the moment Jesus died, the great veil in the Temple was ripped in half from top to bottom–the most holy place laid open to all who might come into God’s presence.  Christ’s death and resurrection were not just means of saving us from Hell, but the means of bringing restoration of the intimacy God designed from the beginning.  God– Almighty, Omnipotent, and completely Holy–wants to give us the privilege to enter his presence and pour out our thoughts, feelings, burdens, and triumphs; to share intimacy with HIM.  We are not just objects of his care (or his wrath), not just creatures in whom he has a certain fond but distant interest.  We are recipients of lavish love and priceless privileges– forgiveness, power over sin, power to become more Christlike, restoration and renewal, and yes,  the pursuit of  prayer.

The Lost Art of Saying Grace

“God is great, God is Good…”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…”
“For what we are about to receive…”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts…”

Saying grace at the family dinner table used to be a tradition.  So much so, that it has been made fun of several times in the movies and on television.  Some families recited a favorite prayer; others selected a family member to do the honors.  Some families held hands; some closed their eyes; some stood.  But NOBODY touched their plate until the Amen.

Grace has fallen out of favor in recent years.  Some families still practice it for the holidays or special occasions, but many of us have lost the art of saying grace.  In fact, many of us no longer have a family dinner table.  Some of us eat, sleep, and live alone; others share a house, but rarely a meal, and never a grace.  I would like to think that many of us WOULD say grace more often if  we made time and effort for it, but many others actually hold grace in contempt, calling it old-fashioned; a senseless ritual, or a meaningless tradition.

I want to look a little more closely at grace– how and why we say it, and what it means (or should mean) as part of our daily walk with God.  Calling grace a meaningless tradition may sound harsh, but it may also be a valid criticism.  If “Come, Lord Jesus…” could be replaced with “Gentlemen, start your engines…”, then it might be time to rethink the entire practice.  Similarly, if we dust off grace, only to say it for company, or to show that we still acknowledge tradition and have “good manners”, we’re missing the point.  Grace should be more than just a moment to bow our heads, say a few familiar words, and dig in…grace has become laughable and spoof-able precisely because it has become senseless, formulaic, awkward, and grudging.

I read a tragic statement by someone who asserted that saying grace is actually “graceless”– tactless and inane.  The writer suggested that when we thank God for food, we are really thanking him for feeding us, and choosing to bless us, as he allows others to starve– that saying grace makes us feel more special/less guilty in light of social and economic inequities, which he blithely allows.  In other words, saying grace, in this person’s opinion, makes us arrogant and apathetic to the condition of others, while giving an unjust God undeserved thanks.

I would posit that it should be just the opposite.  I suppose there are many who pray with the arrogant mindset suggested above, but their mindsets and their hearts are not mine to judge.  True grace is not about the recipient of the grace, or the other potential recipients of grace, but about the giver–God– and his worthiness to receive our sincere thanks.  If I believe that God is indeed unjust, then it makes little sense to feel “blessed” or “special” at all– an unjust God is also a capricious  and unreasonable God who is not likely to be impressed or swayed by my smug “thank you,” anyway.  So not praying doesn’t make me any less arrogant or apathetic toward others, nor does it move me to be more grateful or more generous than one who prays.  It merely passes the blame for all injustice to God, leaving me off the hook, and making me feel more just than God.

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However, if God is loving and gracious, promising perfect justice in his time, and forgiveness to those who seek him; a God who promises to be close to the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are broken and contrite; I am not thanking him for who I am, for what I have, or for what I think he should do.  I am thanking him for who he is and for what he has chosen to give.  And in thanking him for the very things I would take for granted,  I am reminded that blessings are not given for me to boast about or hoard, but to share with others.  That’s what saying grace SHOULD do–cause us to reflect on God’s goodness, and our call to share it with a needy world.

Grace is also an invitation– asking God to be part of every moment of our day, rather than just on Sunday or during a special devotional quiet time.  According to his Word, he’s always present, anyway.  But grace is a way of acknowledging and welcoming that presence.  And that invitation isn’t limited to Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner with the whole gang.  That invitation can be made anywhere, by anyone, at any meal (or snack, or midnight raid on the fridge!)

Is God welcome at our dinner table?  Does he share in our drive-thru breakfast, or our trip to the deli?  Do we allow him to join us at the restaurant, where others might overhear and find us quaint and old-fashioned?  Does he sit with us in front of the TV or computer as we absent-mindedly munch on a sandwich?  Grace isn’t about our goodness, our riches, or worthiness to enjoy God’s blessings.  Grace is about a gracious God who has poured out blessings on a graceless and fallen world; a God who loves us all equally and offers to give us something more precious than food– freedom, forgiveness, and family–forevermore.

“God IS great; God IS good; Now we thank him for our food.”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest; let this food to us be BLESSED”
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us TRULY grateful.”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, THY gifts, which we are about to receive from THY bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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