Near the end of 2020, my mother took a bad fall and broke her hip. Because of COVID, we were not allowed to visit her while she was recuperating. Thankfully, she had her cell phone and was able to make and receive phone calls. My mom is a very independent sort, but she loves to be “in the know” about all that is happening in the neighborhood and among our family members– births, deaths, hospitalizations, relocations, etc.. But, for all her interest in “what’s new,” Mom is completely computer-illiterate. She doesn’t text, she doesn’t have e-mail, and she knows nothing of social media. She relies on her phone and her desk calendar and notepad. Being trapped in a nursing home for six weeks was torture for her, even though she needed to recover and do physical therapy there. I tried to call her every day, and each time, she would ask, “Do you have any news?”
Sometimes, I had “news” for her; someone had tested positive for COVID, or a new baby had been born. But most days, I had to tell her– “I just called to say I love you, and I’m thinking of you.” And I could “hear” her smile on the other end of the line as she replied, “well, that means a lot. I just love to hear your voice.”
I don’t know why, but it struck me the other day how often we pray about circumstances– we “call” on God because we have “news”– situations that we want to bring to His attention– as if He didn’t already know! We pray because we want to lift up someone who is ill or suffering; we pray because we need to make a confession and ask forgiveness; we pray because we are facing an unknown future, and we desire God’s guidance and wisdom. Other times, we pray because we have a specific praise or thanks to offer. These are all legitimate reasons to reach out to God in prayer, and we certainly SHOULD pray in all circumstances, but how often do we call on God just to say, “I love you and I am thinking of you!” In fact, how often do we take the time to disconnect from social media and all the other distractions of our day to really focus on spending time with God?
Mom is back in a nursing home at the moment…she fell about six weeks ago and broke her leg! She still has no access to the internet, and still doesn’t text, so I call her nearly every day– with or without “news.” And I marvel that God is every bit as eager to hear from me– even me– every day, “just because.” I’m so glad that I still have the ability to talk to Mom; to hear her voice–and yes, even to share the “news.” How much greater my joy that I can talk to my creator; that I don’t have to worry about a busy signal or dropped call; that I can read His words to me any time of day; that His presence–even though I can’t see Him or hear His voice–follows me everywhere. And that He sends special people to call me, or text, or e-mail– “just because.” And no matter how I feel about my circumstances, God is so very glad to hear from me. And you!
This isn’t a hymn, but the music was running through my head as I wrote this. How often to we hear a ballad or a love song, and suddenly realize that God sings love songs over us?! (See Zephaniah 3:17!)
I love to cook. And it occurred to me that praying can be a lot like cooking:
Prayers are made up of different ingredients–worship and adoration, confession, requests and supplication, thanksgiving, even questions..
Sometimes what we pray for, and the “finished product” of what God chooses to do don’t look or taste the same. But if we don’t “follow the recipe,” sometimes we end up with a disaster. Sometimes our thoughts and prayers are like adding a cup of salt, where we were supposed to add a cup of sugar! God knows the difference, and He adjusts accordingly!
There are many different “cooking” methods for prayer. Some prayers need to simmer–they take time and dedication; others “sizzle”– they are more immediate and urgent. There are even “raw” prayers– tortured cries of the heart. Some prayers are “cock pot” prayers– we give the matter to God and let it stew for quite awhile, only to see results much later.
Some prayers involve “heat”–we are either in hot water, or we are in a pressure cooker; maybe we’re half-baked! God doesn’t always turn down the heat– He knows just the right temperature for each situation, and He also knows when to remove us from the heat!
Prayer is much more than a recipe or a even a good meal. But I hope we all take some time to “cook up” a healthy, satisfying prayer time today.
This morning, I woke up. I took a breath of clean air. I opened my eyes. I heard my clock ticking. I took another breath. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up inside– protected from the rain and wind and cold. I woke up in a bed. I woke up with blankets for my body and a pillow for my head. I woke up, and moved my head, my hands and feet, arms and legs. I sat up and wiggled my toes. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up to hear my husband’s breathing. I woke up to the knowledge that I am not alone. I woke up to the knowledge that I am loved. I felt safe and comforted. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up knowing that even if I had none of the things I just mentioned, that I still have reasons to Thank You– Things I take for granted; things I haven’t even noticed; things I have not yet seen. Thank You for who You are. Thank You for Your Faithfulness; Your Majesty; Your Sovereignty. Thank You for the beauty of sunsets and snowflakes; for the seasons and the centuries; for family and friends; for triumphs and even for the tears that sometimes come my way. Thank You that you are greater, and deeper, more powerful and more tender than all that I know or imagine.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving across the U.S. Many families enjoyed a large dinner, surrounded by family or friends. Traditionally, this dinner might include turkey (or ham or both!), vegetables and fruits (potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, baked beans, corn, squash or some kind of greens, cranberries or cranberry sauce, apples or fruit salad), dressing, stuffing, rolls, and/or bread, and some dessert, such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, apple pie, or cake. It’s a holiday which focuses heavily on food and eating.
Because of this, it is also a holiday that carries the risk of food poisoning. Turkey and other meats, if not cooked properly or long enough, can make people sick. So can leftovers that are left out too long or not stored properly after the big meal.
But there is another kind of poison that can ruin Thanksgiving. It may not make us immediately physically ill, but it is not less dangerous. It is the poison of ingratitude. Like salmonella or other types of bacteria, ingratitude can be invisible. It can hide, waiting to attack without warning, causing everything to have a bitter aftertaste. It may cause violent reactions, such as rage, or lie dormant, causing depression, apathy, or a general dissatisfaction. And just like food poisoning ruining a holiday built around food, ingratitude is a natural problem to have during a time set aside for thankfulness.
One of the most insidious forms of this holiday poison comes through comparisons–we gather to be near family we love, only to compare ourselves with them. Which one is happier? Wealthier? More popular? More intelligent? Better looking? Is the host’s house nicer than mine (or is my house “good enough”)? Did I work harder? Did my contribution to the meal taste “better”(or was it passed by– again)? Why am I still sitting at “the kids’ table?” The list is endless of the petty grievances that we allow to overwhelm our intentions to be thankful and live in peace. Someone says something to “push our buttons,” or they seem to ignore us completely.
Another form of holiday poison spreads from person to person–complaining, venting, sounding off, moralizing, criticizing, blaming…what began as a thankful, joyful gathering becomes a snake pit of biting, poisonous talk. And we react. We take the bait, become defensive, get sucked into that political discussion we vowed to avoid, or we revisit old wounds we thought we had put behind us.
But unlike food poisoning, bitterness and ingratitude are choices. We can’t always choose our circumstances, nor can we choose what others say or do. But we DO choose our reactions and our attitudes. I can blame someone else’s anger or selfishness for my bitterness, but they didn’t MAKE me succumb to their poison. I can compare myself to others and feel arrogant or inept, but no one forces me to live someone else’s life or measure up to their circumstances.
God has given each of us life and breath, and a purpose. Some of His gifts to us are universal and exactly the same for each person. He has given us each 24 hours in each day; He gives sunshine and rain, day and night, and air to breathe. But some of his gifts are unique to each individual. Our response should be to open our unique gifts, so we can enjoy them and use them, NOT waste time coveting someone else’s gift when we have neglected even to open our own.
I wish I could say that “holiday poison” was easy to avoid– it’s not. It is human nature to grumble and whine and wish for what we do not have. But it IS possible to get healing. It starts with humble confession. We DO wish for what we do not have–and the more we deny and try to bury our failings, the more susceptible we are to the poison they can bring. If we confess our feelings of inadequacy, our desire to have “more” or “better” in life, we can turn to God freely and let Him give us a better perspective. Suddenly, we “see” blessings where we used to see burdens, we can see hope where once there was only grief, and we see opportunities where we only saw obstacles before.
And God’s power to transform our attitude is just one more wonderful thing to be thankful for!
I am very thankful for my refrigerator. It’s used…we picked it up at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It still works well, except for the ice maker and water dispenser. But it has plenty of space, and it keeps things cold and/or frozen, as needed. Right now, we have some milk and plenty of eggs, cheese, and some leftovers, a jug of water getting chilled, some celery, and some fish thawing out for dinner later this week. There are also some random jars of condiments– catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce, some diced garlic, a few pickles, and some jam. There are things that probably wouldn’t need to be refrigerated, but there they sit, nice and cold, ready if we need them. There are even a few leftovers that need to be taken out of the fridge and thrown out. Even the refrigerator can only preserve food for so long. There is a freezer, as well. It contains meat and veggies, and some blueberries I froze from earlier this summer. It is nearly full, and that’s another thing to be thankful for.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through notes left by my great-grandmother. She was born before people had such luxuries. She started her married life with a cellar. Later, she had an icebox. Before she died, they had gotten an electric refrigerator, but it didn’t look much like mine. It was small, and had a small freezer, but it had to be defrosted regularly, and it didn’t have special drawers for vegetables or meat. Reading about her life has made me conscious of how easy my life is in comparison. I’m grateful for modern appliances, and conveniences– even as I often take them for granted. The stove, the microwave, the slow cooker (Crock Pot), the rice steamer, a food processor; they all save time and effort as I work in the kitchen. I still wash the dishes by hand, but even that is made easier with non-stick fry pans and plenty of hot water from the tap. My great-grandmother had to pump her water from the well and heat it over the fire!
I’m not only thankful for what is IN my refrigerator, though. I am thankful for what’s ON it. I have dozens of magnets– some homemade, others souvenirs from various travels– here in Michigan, out West in Washington and Oregon, from the Dominican Republic, etc.. And each magnet holds something precious– photos of my grandkids, of nieces and nephews, of families serving on the mission field; drawings, Bible verses, business cards from favorite restaurants, memo pads, and inspirational quotes. It’s almost impossible to find the original surface of the fridge under all those important reminders! This is deliberate. The Bible tells us to keep His word in our hearts– to memorize it, and talk about it daily with our family.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
It’s “just” a refrigerator. But it is also a place of worship and thanksgiving and remembrance. Every time I open the door, I can be reminded of God’s power, love, and mercy; how much God has done for our family, and how we’ve been blessed. I am reminded of dear people, and reminded to lift them up in prayer. I am convicted of my need to be a better steward of the food and other resources we have been given. And I fill its shelves and drawers with love in the form of good food to share with my husband, and with our friends and neighbors. That refrigerator has been the repository of pies and deviled eggs, of fruit salads and 7-layer salads, of barbecued chicken and leftover corn pudding, and a hundred other dishes meant for family meals, potlucks, and simple dinners with my husband. At times, the shelves have been a little bare, but never empty. God provides! He blesses! He sustains!
God can speak through something as simple as a kitchen appliance. Sometimes, we just have to take a moment to look and listen.
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job 1:20-21 ESV (via biblegateway.com)
The book of Job presents us with a startling picture. Job is a godly man; a righteous man; a man of faith and good works. And yet, God allows him to experience loss upon loss– Job loses everything, short of his life and his nagging, bitter wife. His first response is praise and worship! But as the losses sink in; as the pain and agony and grief continue, Job questions God’s justice and wisdom. Job, like us, wants answers that make sense. He is willing to suffer– even greatly–IF he can see the purpose of his suffering, and justify it to himself.
We are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow in the U.S.– a day when we celebrate what God has given us. We normally celebrate family, health, good food, material blessings, etc. We celebrate abundance and comfort; peace and plenty; family and freedom. But his year, our celebration will be quite different. The Lord has taken away…
Some of us have lost jobs, or we’ve lost our good health to COVID or related factors, or we’ve lost loved ones, often without the chance to say our final “goodbyes”. Millions of us have lost the ability to move about freely and conduct “normal” errands and activities. Schools and businesses are closed or operating from a distance. Families and friends have been kept apart. Much that gave us comfort and happiness has been “taken away” this year. And God has allowed it all to unfold. He has not “taken away” this disease or its consequences. He has not “taken away” floods, or fires, or hurricanes. He has not given us answers or explanations.
Job’s initial praise turns to questioning. While he does not “curse God and die,” as his wife suggests, Job spends his time wondering, “Why me?” His friends try to find answers– “you must have done something to deserve this, Job.” Because God does not “punish” the righteous. It isn’t logical; it isn’t fair; it isn’t just.
Except that God laid on His own Son– on Himself– the guilt and punishment for all those who are unrighteous. What Job went through–unknown and unseen to him and his friends–was a glimpse into what God Himself would suffer. Christ lost everything–INCLUDING his life– in order to bring salvation to all those who are willing to believe and receive it. Christ was willing to give away His dignity, His power, His friends and family, and His life. And the Lord allowed it all to be taken.
Many people read the story of Job– his loss and all his questions and complaints–and conclude that God is not fair or just. They find Him to be capricious and unwilling to ease Job’s suffering or answer his questions. They conclude that God is wicked and unworthy of Job’s praise or trust.
Loss and grief still exist in this world; disease and suffering and hardship still plague us this year. But we have SO much to celebrate at Thanksgiving. When the Lord “takes away,” it is not because He is capricious, or jealous of our wealth or happiness. It is not because He is unkind or uncaring. At just the right time, and forever more, the Lord will Give without end– lavishly, extravagantly, abundantly. Nothing He takes away in this life– even a cherished love one–is beyond all hope of comfort, redemption, or restoration. Our losses cannot compare to the riches of His Grace and Love. This is a great mystery, but as Job discovered, God WILL DO IT!
Blessed be the name of the Lord! Let us Thank and Praise His Holy Name!
I hope that today will be filled with peace, joy, and blessing for anyone reading this. But I know that today will bring bad news for some, pain for others, and hardship for many. Life is filled with struggle, disappointment, failures, and loss. Our first reaction is often to worry, which can lead to more worry, and a sense of urgency, even panic. In many cases, we have neither the resources nor the wisdom to overcome our struggles–even sustained effort or a “lucky break” may leave us without much hope. And the more we worry, the less we accomplish. But telling ourselves (or others) to simply “stop worrying” doesn’t banish worry; sometimes it increases it! Now we worry about worrying too much, or we find new things to worry about.
But there is a time-honored and proven pattern that can help. Jesus spoke of it in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 6, He gives us this advice:
“So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Philippian believers. He told them to be anxious for nothing–that regardless of our situation or circumstances, we should not panic, but pray (seek God’s grace, righteousness, wisdom, and help). But more than that, we should present all of our prayers, petitions, and requests with thanksgiving and praise!
This is not the same as pretending that our struggles don’t exist, or that they are not important, or that we are glad about the pain, uncertainty, or hardship that they bring. Instead it is lifting our eyes to Heaven and finding that God is bigger than it all; that His grace, His strength, His wisdom is sufficient for the next step– for today’s worries–for today’s battles and burdens.
This doesn’t happen naturally or automatically–we must seek, pray, pursue righteousness, ask for help, and continue to stand firm. There are some who point to the words of Jesus, or of Paul as a kind of “magic formula.” If we repeat a few promises from the Bible, or if we pray certain prayers, or convince ourselves and others that we have “enough” faith, God is obligated to change our circumstances and give us the resolution or relief we want. God is not primarily interested in our relief– He is interested in our redemption, our renewal, and our eternal reality. In following this pattern of turning our panic into prayer, and our prayer into praise, He promises that we will experience His peace. Our panic will be transformed–even if our situation stays the same; even if it gets worse before it gets better!
So how do we practice this pattern; how do we train for this transformation?
Here are a couple of suggestions:
Start by seeking God with abandon–pursue Him with your whole heart– thank Him for who He is, and for all He has done. It can be helpful to review some of the names of God–I AM, Almighty, Creator, Lord, King of Kings.. Or read a Psalm or find a song that reminds you of God’s character and power. Think of the times when God has been faithful in your own past.
Find something about your situation for which you can be thankful– genuinely thankful. Years ago, when I was young and single, I was laid off from my first full-time job after nine months. Was I worried? Yes! Where would I find another job? How would I pay my bills? But I resolved to start being thankful about all I had learned on the job– I had met new people, learned new skills, purchased a car…God knew my needs for the future, and even though I had to wait another eight months before I found a full-time job, I was able to find temporary work and interview for other jobs in the meantime. And I had friends and family who offered good advice and encouragement along the way. I know some situations are more painful and perplexing than the loss of a job. When I my father died, nothing made the pain less, but I could thank God for Dad’s life and the time we had with him. This is NOT easy, nor is it meant to be…It may not happen for days, or weeks–don’t give up!
Cry out to God– in praise, but also in petition, pain, confusion, confession, and raw emotion. God wants a real relationship with us, and that includes walking with us in the “valley of the shadow of death.” We don’t have to fear evil, or worry about the future, not because it holds no danger or dread, but because we never have to walk alone and defenseless!
Remember this is a pattern to follow, not a pill to swallow–none of this comes easy, and God’s peace is not an instant “fix.” Instead, it is a growing conviction that God is who He says He is– faithful, loving, victorious, eternal, and sovereign. Such peace defies our panic and erodes our worry, leaving us ready to face the battles before us, and move forward through the struggles.
It is not will power or a change of circumstances that brings incomprehensible peace. It is not magic– it is Majesty!