With Thanksgiving


From R. A. Torrey, Dwight Moody’s hand-picked first president of Moody Bible Institute, and, sadly, one of the most-overlooked of the fin de siecle Christian writers and teachers:

There are two words often overlooked in the lesson about prayer which Paul gives us in Phil. 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

The two important terms often overlooked are with and thanksgiving.

In approaching God to ask for new blessings, we should never forget to return thanks for blessings already granted. If any one of us would stop and think how many of the prayers which we have offered to God have been answered, and how seldom we have gone back to God to return thanks for the answers thus given, I am sure we would be overwhelmed with confusion. We should be just as definite in returning thanks as we are in prayer. We come to God with most specific petitions, but when we return thanks to Him, our thanksgiving is indefinite and general.

Doubtless one reason why so many of our prayers lack power is because we have neglected to return thanks for blessings already received. If any one were to constantly come to us asking help from us, and should never say “Thank you for the help thus given, we would soon tire of helping one so ungrateful. Indeed, regard for the one we were helping would hold us back from encouraging such rank ingratitude. Doubtless our heavenly Father out of a wise regard for our highest welfare oftentimes refuses to answer petitions that we send up to Him in order that we may be brought to a sense of our ingratitude and taught to be thankful.

God is deeply grieved by the thanklessness and ingratitude of which so many of us are guilty. When Jesus healed the ten lepers and only one came back to give Him thanks, in wonderment and pain He exclaimed, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? (Luke 17:17).

How often must He look down upon us in sadness at our forgetfulness of His repeated blessings, and His frequent answer to our prayers.

Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and I thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith waxes bolder and bolder, and we come to feel in the very depths of our souls that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. As we reflect upon the wondrous goodness of God toward us on the one hand, and upon the other hand upon the little thought and strength and time that we ever put into thanksgiving, we may well humble ourselves before God and confess our sin.

The mighty men of prayer in the Bible, and the mighty men of prayer throughout the ages of the church’s history, have been men who were much given to thanksgiving and praise. David was a mighty man of prayer, and how his psalms abound with thanksgiving and praise. The apostles were mighty men of prayer; of them we read that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Paul was a mighty man of prayer, and how often in his epistles he bursts out in definite thanksgiving to God for definite blessings and definite answers to prayers. Jesus is our model in prayer as in everything else. We find in the study of His life that His manner of returning thanks at the simplest meal was so noticeable that two of His disciples recognized Him by this after His resurrection.

Thankfulness is one of the inevitable results of being filled with the Holy Spirit and one who does not learn in everything to give thanks cannot continue to pray in the Spirit. If we would learn to pray with power we would do well to let these two words sink deep into our hearts—with thanksgiving.

Discouragement & Thanksgiving


I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the LORD.
—Psalm 27:13-14 NKJV

My wife and I received more discouraging news Tuesday evening. I don’t know why disappointment seems to gather around the holidays like a flock of morbid moths to a Christmas candle, but I’m getting accustomed to it.

We hear all the stories how more people die in December than any other month of the year. (I lost my Dad six Decembers ago, so I can point to my own experience of that truth.) And for every Jolly Old Saint Nick, there’s some Scrooge ready with a “Bah, Humbug!” CornucopiaBad seems to lurk around good for no other reason than sheer spite. Still, I think Job—who had leeway to talk—said it best: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)

We Americans aren’t very good at being grateful in times of trouble. I think we used to be, but perhaps our decadence snuffed our thankfulness. I pray that’s not the case. Still, we have a strange karmic approach to thankfulness that says that as long as the good outweighs the bad, we’ll be thankful. If things slide the other way…well, all bets are off.

So we’re going into another Thanksgiving carrying a load. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s still a bitter pill. I thought we’d avoid eating bitter pills on our menu this year. One snuck in with a day to spare, I guess.

I’ve generally thought of myself as a thankful person, though not perfectly. The one thing I’ve tried to instill in my son is gratefulness for even the smallest gifts God gives. Or as Habakkuk so ably put it:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
—Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” I love that little flourish at the end. Music in the midst of discouragement. Think Paul and Silas in stocks in prison, singing hymns into the wee hours. I wish more modern worship songs said something about praising God when hell burst against us. That’s the kind of strong Church I long to see. “You can flog us to our skin hangs in ribbons, but we’ll go down singing the praises of Jesus Christ.”

(That may come to that sooner than we think.)

Faith is thankfulness for goodness put on hold. Like Psalm 27 says above, Wait for the Lord. Perhaps that’s why so few of us are truly thankful: we don’t know how to wait for anything. “We’ll take the despair now, please, but don’t bother us with thankfulness.” Sometimes, I think we believe thankfulness lives for another day. But it can’t wait, can it? Thankfulness embodies what we are in Christ, every minute of every day.

I hear people saying that Easter is one of the holiest of Christian holy days, but I’d like us to give almost as much attention to Thanksgiving Day. Because as much as we’ll be enjoying the fruits of Christ’s resurrection, we’ll be spending eternity thanking Him for it—and for every small gift we failed to appreciate this side of heaven.

Better practice now.

Have a truly thankful Thanksgiving.

That Strong Hand


This is a break from the “Hidden Messages of American Christianity” series.

I’m at that age where I think about mortality more readily. There’s something about reaching your forties that the aura of invincibility has totally worn off. I turned 43 a few weeks ago and my middle brother joins me in that fifth decade this weekend.

I seem to like a lot of dead authors and musicians, especially those that shuffled off this mortal coil before their time. Keith Green has long occupied my pantheon of greats, Rich Mullins and I attended the same church for a while, and Mark Heard penned the one Christian song that I wish I had written. Dry Bones DanceGreen never made it to 30 and Mullins and Heard were barely into their 40s.

After a long while searching for a pristine example of Heard’s Dry Bones Dance, I was able to find an unopened copy. Evidently it’s in print again—lucky me. This makes the second CD I’ve purchased in the last three years. (Note to young guys: You won’t believe me, but you start getting burned out on music. Somewhere along the line you’ll be fifty and playing nothing but old Coldplay albums, harkening back to your youth. Trust me on this one. I’m still stuck in that era from 1976-1991. I hear “More Than a Feeling” or “Wheel in the Sky” and start getting all misty-eyed.)

My copy of this outstanding zydeco/country/pop/folk album from 1990 arrived today and I can’t stop playing it. I never got into all of Heard’s stuff, but this collection is superior. My hard drive is just about fried from looping through it all day—I burned it to iTunes almost immediately.

Why such passion? Like I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, this album contains what I consider to be the best lyrics ever written in a CCM song. That song is “Strong Hand of Love”:

Down peppers the rain from a clear blue sky
Down trickles a tear on a youthful face
Feeling in haste and wondering why
Up struggles the sun from a wounded night
Out venture our hearts from their silent shrouds
Trying to ignite but wondering how

We can laugh and we can cry
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
We can dance and we can sigh
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

Young dreamers explode like popped balloons
Some kind of emotional rodeo
Learning too slow and acting too soon
Time marches away like a lost platoon
We gracefully age as we feel the weight
Of loving too late and leaving too soon

We can laugh and we can cry
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
We can dance and we can sigh
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

Mark Heard – 1990 Ideola Music

I told my wife that I want this song played at my funeral. I can promise you that even if I go at 109, I would still want to have others know that the Father’s Strong Hand of Love is always there, even in the shadows.

Too many of us love too late and leave too soon. God knows how much of my life has been lived with regrets. All those years consumed by the locusts and still I’m picking them off me.

Far too maudlin for the Christmas season? Jesus was born to die and so are we. What gets us through to the end is seeing the Strong Hand of Love hidden in the shadows.

May this season be filled with us noticing that Strong Hand more than we ever have before.

Have a great weekend.