Thank God for God

It’s not November, but I’m going to ask you to think about thanksgiving.
T is our next stop on the ACTS acronym, which is a helpful prayer method. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)

Growing up, my siblings and I each had our own special prayer to recite at mealtime. I don’t remember who chose those little sing-songy verses or they how they got assigned to us. Meals didn’t start until dad called on someone to say grace and we all bowed our heads. When it was my turn to offer the blessing, I always prayed this little ditty:

Thank You for the world so sweet,
Thank You for the food we eat,
Thank You for the birds that sing,
Thank You God, for everything.
Amen.

On Sundays, my brother would usually get the nod because his prayer was short enough to get in between plays of the Packer game: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Hut. I mean, Amen.”

I still often find myself rattling off a few generalized “thank yous” that sound like my elementary table prayer.

Thank You for my family,
for my food, clothes and shelter,
and for this good day.
Thank You God, well, You know, for everything.

There’s room for improvement here, but the idea of making a list of everything I’m grateful for is overwhelming. Do I actually put everything on the list? Do I go over the whole list every day? How specific does the list need to be? What if I miss something?

Lately, I’ve been approaching this part of my prayer time a little differently. Instead of thanking God for stuff I have, I’ve been focusing on things He’s done.

God, I thank You for…

  • making me in Your image, capable of knowing, loving, serving and enjoying You.
  • preserving my life thus far, bringing me through injuries, sickness or troubles.
  • Your Son, Jesus, who emptied Himself of His glory for me.
  • Jesus’ death on the cross, paying for my sins.
  • the Holy Spirit, who helps me to understand Your truth, know Your love, be conformed to Christ’s character, and serve others with Your gifts.
  • the Word of God and its wisdom, truth and power.
  • the church, especially my congregation and its leaders who help me grow in faith.
  • the assurance of salvation, that I can rest in the hope of a future eternity with You.
  • the mercies You bestow on me.
  • giving and sustaining my life.
  • ways You’ve helped me change and break bad habits.

Although this list can also go on and on, I feel like these are the kinds of things for which God most appreciates my thanks. I still wrap it up with the same catch-all phrase: Thank You God, for everything.

In other words —
Thank You God, well, You know, for You.

Let your lives overflow
with joy and thanksgiving
for all He has done.
Col. 2:7

Come Clean

People have been making confessions for centuries.
Their words can become our words
when we need help with our confession.

Today I’m sharing four short prayers —
the first from the 18th century,
the second from the 19th century,
a third from the 20th century,
and finally one from the 21st century.

Pick your century.
Choose your confession.
Come clean and then leave clean.

From “The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions”

Merciful Lord,
Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
sins in private and in the family,
sins against light and knowledge.
Pardon all my sins,
known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear;
and hearing, forgive.

From Rev. George Ridding — 1867

Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as you see us.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From pride and self-will,
from the desire to have our own way in all things,
from an overweening love of our own ideas,
and blindness to the value of others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From strife and division,
from magnifying our certainties to condemn all differences,
from all arrogance in our dealings with others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.

From “The Book of Common Worship” — 1906

Gracious God,
our sins are too heavy to carry,
too real to hide,
and too deep to undo.

Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us
a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
open to us a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Scotty Smith: Heavenward — 2012

I’m annoyed, irritated and wound up tight.
I have been for several weeks.
Please gentle and soften my edgy and crusty heart,
by your grace and for your glory.

I can offer explanations, but I won’t make excuses.
I just come to you as the knotted mess that I am.
You are filled with mercy, compassion and patience.
You convict me without condemning me.
You humble me without humiliating me.
You don’t just tell me what to do, you give me yourself.
What would I do without you Jesus?

I repent of keeping a record of others’ wrongs.
I repent of not repenting.

Convict me when my sense of humor reveals a lack of kindness;
when my poor manners show a lack of love;
when my words tear down more than they build up.
I pray in your powerful and holy name.


Pardon Me

I beg your pardon, but I have one more word on this topic of confession:

“The wise prayer of confession always leads to an acceptance of God’s pardon.” George Buttrick

Coming clean before God isn’t simply airing out your dirty laundry.
(There are plenty of day-time talk shows available for that kind of thing.)

It also isn’t groveling in sackcloth and ashes, ruthlessly berating yourself.
(That just leaves us feeling hopelessly worse off than before.)

Doing the dirty work of unearthing our inner stinky garbage must be followed by heaving it into the trash can, rolling it out to the curb, watching the waste management truck squish it to smithereens and waving goodbye. Sure, there will be another load next week — all the more reason to stay on top of it — but God never fails to remove our confessed sins, as far as the east landfill is from the west landfill.

Although God invites us into forgiveness, it didn’t come without cost.
But He prepared and paid for it, so we dare not squander such a gift.

When I am invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, I don’t wait for the bill. I don’t ask her how much I owe her. I don’t leave a few dollars on the table for a tip. She paid for the food and she prepared the meal from a heart of joy for our friendship. Receiving her gift in the same spirit of joy is the only appropriate response.

As I wrap up my confession, I might say something like this:
“Lord, I’m so sorry that it took Your Son’s blood to pay the price for my sin, but since it’s been done and my sins have been completely paid for, I will not insult You by refusing to receive forgiveness. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.”

Then I preach to myself by speaking aloud an assurance from the Word. Any of these would do just fine.

  • There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
  • Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:8)
  • I, I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)
  • If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130:3-4)
  • In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Beset

That thing I did yesterday?
I did it again.
I’m sorry again.
Already today,
I’ve done it again.
I’m sorry again.
There’s a good chance that tomorrow,
I’ll do it again.
I’ll be sorry again.

Besetting sins: sins that we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward; vices that easily entangle us.

We all have besetting sins. Maybe it’s gossip or jealousy or telling white lies. It’s that same-old-same-old thing that gets us every time. We get weary of confessing it because we sound like a broken record and assume God is sick and tired of hearing it on repeat. We hover on the edge of hopelessness. When will we ever get some victory here?

I’ve got besetting sins. In fact, I have a list of ten of them in my prayer notebook. It’s not pretty. I don’t love it. But I have found a way to deal with the sins with which I am beset.

Every personality type has assets and liabilities. Since I’m a sucker for temperament tests, I’ve taken them all. Most of them reveal my preferences, how I like to do things and the areas in life where I thrive. The Enneagram is a little different. One of the insights it offers is a rundown of how each of the nine types function, both at its healthiest and its unhealthiest. Thus, my list of ten besetting sins. There were no surprises, but still, reading through the unhealthy character traits feels like a slap upside the head. Awareness is half the battle, though.

When I am at my healthiest, when I am the best version of myself, these are my strengths:

  • Wise and discerning
  • Realistic
  • Inspiring
  • Conscientious
  • Self-disciplined
  • Strong sense of right and wrong
  • Principled and fair
  • Responsible
  • Strong sense of higher purpose
  • Integrity

When I am at my unhealthiest, when I am the most surly version of myself, these are my weaknesses:

  • Critical
  • Fearful of mistakes
  • Perfectionism
  • Correcting/Nagging
  • Impatient
  • Self-righteous
  • Unemotional/Impersonal
  • Always right
  • Judgmental
  • Self-critical

This makes a perfect prayer list.
I confess the weaknesses that have entangled my heart.
I pray for the Spirit to beef up the strengths.

Dear God,
Let my weaknesses grow weaker
and my strengths grow stronger.
Amen.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses.
Heb. 4:15

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Cor. 12:9

Coming Up: Pardon Me
Looking Back: True Confessions

True Confessions

I confess I’m not very good at confessing.

Confession was not a big part of my faith tradition so I never learned the proper words to use or the correct posture to strike or the acceptable attitude to display. This section of my prayer notebook is thin. I have much to learn.

When it comes to confession, I tend to swing between two extremes:

#1) I think about things I’m really ashamed of and recoil at the thought of rehashing them. Let bygones be bygones. Sweep them under the rug and move on. The past can’t be changed, so don’t look back.

Lord, have mercy.

#2) I can’t think of anything to confess. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs and I don’t sleep around. I go to church, I read my Bible and I’m a really good girl. There’s no sense in drudging up something that isn’t there.

Lord, have mercy.

I know that both extremes of that swinging pendulum are filled with error. Somewhere between beating myself up and puffing myself up, there is a place where God is patiently waiting for honest truth.

So I went looking for help. I needed words I didn’t have. If confession is a cleansing of the soul, then I wanted to learn the language, understand the posture and adjust my attitude.

King David got me started with the scariest prayer I ever prayed:
“Search me, O God,
and know my heart;
test my thoughts.
Point out anything
You find in me
that makes You sad.”
(Ps. 139:23-24)

It’s not up to me to delve into the deep, dark places of my soul to drum up some impressive sins. That’s God’s job. He does a thorough search and makes me aware of what’s lurking there. Once it’s pointed out, it’s my job to look it square in the face, agree with God that I was out of line, and say “I’m sorry”. And mean it.

Many others have written heart-felt confessions
that provide words I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
It’s okay to steal those prayers —
no confession needed.

Coming Up:
Beset
Pardon Me

Looking Back:
Pray to Pray
Adore

Reboot

Remember last year when I posted five days a week all summer long?
Yeah, that’s not gonna happen again.

Remember the 40 days in a row of posts on Eastertide?
Ooph, probably not about to do that anytime soon.

Are you seeing a pattern here?
It seems I have a Feast of posts followed by a Famine of indefinite length.
My “small drop” pours out gallons of ink and then dries up as I recover.

I’d like to change all that.
This small space could use some balance and consistency.

Time to reboot.

I love the first day of a new month. I was born on a 1st so maybe it’s just an innate part of me. The joy of flipping over the calendar page fills me with anticipation. What stories will those 30 white boxes hold? What memories will we make? Who will I meet for the first time? For the hundredth time? What will I learn for the first time? For the hundredth time?

Back in January, I sensed a need to make prayer a priority in 2021. So on this first (unofficial) day of summer, I’m revisiting those New Year’s goals and dreams. I’m going to invite you into my prayer notebook and offer some words from old dead guys as well as living saints who know a lot more on the topic than I do.

And because it’s summer, I might just tell a few stories, share a few pretty pictures and brag a little about my grands. Let’s meet up here a couple times a week and spur one another on, shall we?

Adore

The ACTS acronym has been around a long time. It serves as a method of prayer that includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I remember learning this handy dandy prayer model when I was a kid. So it’s nothing new.

I’ve never had trouble coming up with things to confess — there’s plenty of fodder for that. Thanksgiving is easy — I just have to open my eyes and look in front of my nose. My prayers tend to lean heavy on the supplication side — there’s no end to the list of things I ask God for on a regular basis.

Adoration is my weak spot.

I can’t think of much to say.
“God, You’re adorable”?

According to the dictionary, to adore means to regard with the utmost esteem, love and respect; to like or admire very much; to delight in; to worship.

Perhaps we find it hard to compliment God because we aren’t very good at complimenting each other. We may think things, like “Wow, she looks really nice today,” or “Man, his guitar sounded so good this morning.” But we rarely voice those thoughts. Our inability to communicate admiration to each other transfers over to our relationship with God. “Nice sunset,” we might think, and go no farther. Maybe adoration is just voicing the thought. “I see that artwork in the sky, God. Great job! You really know how mix the colors. I love the way You do that.”

Once when we were on vacation, we noticed a crowd of people gathering on the beach at dusk. Everyone set up chairs facing west, to watch the sky show. When the sun dipped below the horizon, the audience broke out in clapping and whistles. There was a standing ovation. Then they picked up their chairs and went home. That round of applause? I think it sounded like adoration.

So here’s the deal:

If I was at Menards and happened to see a certain HGTV decorating star, I’d go up to her and say, “I love your show! Your style is so warm and inviting and your creativity is so inspiring! I so look forward to seeing your designs each week! You are my favorite decorator!” (Yes, I would use all those exclamation points.) (And I would say “so” three times.)

If I was at the library and ran into an author I highly respect, I’d whisper, “Your books have meant the world to me. I admire the way your stories connect with life. You are so good at putting things in a way that resonates with me. I’m so honored to meet you and be able to tell you how I feel.”

If I had a backstage pass at a concert and had the chance to speak to a musician I’ve always loved, I’d say, “The songs you sing speak right to my heart. I play your albums all the time and know every one of your songs. I think you’re the best songwriter ever.”

See? That’s not so hard.

Adoring God is simply telling Him what we love and admire about Him.

“God, I love Your style, Your creativity, Your words, the way You touch my heart.  You are my favorite — the best ever, and I’m honored to worship You.”

Big hand-claps and hurrahs!
A standing O!
Adoration!

A.S.K.

At the start of a new year, I like to ask God to give me a word to carry with me in the 365 days to come.
This year it went something like this:

Me: “God, I’m asking for a word for this year.”
God: “Ask.”
Me: “Umm, okay. Would You please give me a word for this year?”
God: “Ask.”
Me: “Again? Well, uh, a word for this year, please?”
God: “Ask.”

Then I got it.
My word for 2021 is ASK.

My verse for 2021 is Matthew 7:7.
Ask and it will be given to you;
Seek and you will find;
Knock and the door will be opened to you.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a call to get serious about prayer.
Give me a passage to study and I’ll dig right in.
Give me a class to lead and I’ll set up a schedule.
Give me a worship set to play and I’ll get to practicing.

But give me an hour to pray and I’m 😳

I’ve got a lot to learn.
I’m asking, Lord — teach me to pray.

Spring Cleaning

It’s a little early for spring cleaning.
But I’m not talking about cleaning closets and cupboards,
washing windows and walls,
or bringing out bedding and blankets to blow in the breeze.

I’m talking about spring cleaning my Bible.

There is a zippered pouch in the back of my Bible cover and it accumulates all kinds of treasures over time, like:

  • handouts from a Sunday school class
  • a quote I jotted down on the back of a grocery list
  • a card that was especially encouraging
  • notes from a sermon
  • drawings and love notes from grandchildren
  • excerpts from books that were meaningful
  • Bible reading plans from the last 5 years
  • lists of prayer requests
  • a newspaper clipping
  • newsletter articles
  • birth announcements and obituaries
  • and prayers — so many prayers

Some are on paper yellowed with age,
others are perfectly preserved and laminated.
Some remind me of a sweet memory,
others I’ve forgotten.
Some still speak to my heart deeply,
others don’t resonate like they once did.

But it’s the piles of prayers that have my attention.
They are such good prayers —
prayers that should be prayed,
not stuck in a zippered pouch to be forgotten.

I’m bringing those slips of prayers out into the light
and giving them a place to land where they can inspire
and prod me into becoming a better pray-er.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Upstairs Prayers

“They went upstairs to the room where they were staying.
They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
Acts 1:13-14

The hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” always makes me cringe a little bit.
A whole hour?
Of prayer?
Sigh.

What does that say about me?
I can watch TV for an hour.
I can read a book for an hour.
I can talk to a friend on the phone for an hour.
But an hour of prayer sounds daunting, if not impossible.

Then I read Acts 1 and a mere sixty minutes on my knees didn’t seem like such a big deal.

After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, the eleven disciples walked back to Jerusalem, went upstairs, and prayed for ten days. I did the math. The resurrected Jesus spent 40 days on earth. Before ascending, Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for a special gift. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which landed on the 50th day after Christ’s resurrection.

50 – 40 = 10

The room upstairs must have been big — there were 120 people up there, all of them joined together constantly in prayer. For ten days. Waiting for something. Not sure what.

Which begs some questions:

  • Was it the same room in which Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper?
  • Who owned the house where the room was?
  • Did they use old Jewish prayers or was it extemporaneous?
  • Did somebody lead or did everybody pray at once?
  • Did anybody get testy?

Which begs some more questions:

  • Could I meet with 120 church members in somebody’s attic and pray that long?
  • Would we be able to take breaks?
  • What about eating? Who would feed all of us?
  • How long would I wait around for something to happen?
  • Would I get testy?

“Whenever God determines to do a great work,
He first sets His people to pray.”
~ Spurgeon ~

Something has been stirring in my soul,
telling me to make prayer a priority this year.
Perhaps a great work of God is on the way.
Maranatha!