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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gather 'Round to Give Thanks

Treasured friend,

In honor of Thanksgiving, I share one of my favorite chapters from the new edition of Praying Like Jesus--"Gather 'Round to Give Thanks." I love it because it reminds us of the way we humans expect to receive good gifts from God--even demand them. And then when we do, we tend to forget to give the return gift of gratefulness to Him for what He provides--mercies (undeserved gifts) new every morning.



Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
—C. S. LEWIS

We devote a day of every year to our next subject in prayer, but Jesus never directly mentions it in John 17. That subject? Thankfulness. In two of His other recorded prayers in the Gospels, Jesus begins with the words, “I thank You, my Father, that...” (see Luke 10:21; John 11:41). In truth, Jesus’ thankfulness for the gifts of the Father is implied, if not overtly stated, throughout the high priestly prayer. His tone expresses gratitude to the Father for the gift of glory, the work assigned to Him, the provision of means to do the work, and the followers who would soon take on the mantle of fulfilling the work.

In the now-clichéd prayer acronym ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), a thankful heart takes the third place in the prescribed pattern of prayer. This may be, in part, because many times in the Epistles, prayer is coupled with the companion principle of a thankful heart. “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” Paul told the Philippians (4:6). And when it came to advising his protégé, Timothy, Paul said, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:1). Similarly the psalmist wrote, “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:2). Go ahead and pray, but be sure to include thankfulness and appreciation as you proceed.

As we opened this study, we focused our prayer on adoring God for who He is. In thanksgiving, we focus our prayer on appreciating Him for what He does for us. It is a subtle difference. Where worship leaves our needs out of the picture, thankfulness (sometimes called praise) calls attention to God’s mercy and kindness in His dealings with us.

Apparently, thankfulness is yet another godly characteristic that doesn’t come naturally. I’d like to think if I had been one of the children of Israel traversing the wilderness behind a pillar of fire, I would have been thankful for every time He provided manna from heaven, for the fact that He saw that my shoes didn’t wear out on the journey, for every time He routed an enemy before my eyes. I’d like to think so. But it is unlikely. Instead of thankfulness, God received from the Israelites grumbling that the manna was too bland in comparison to the aromatic spices of Egypt, unfaithfulness in worshiping golden non-gods, and greediness in taking for themselves forbidden spoils from God’s victories.

I think too of the ten lepers who begged Jesus for pity.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-18)

Do you feel the grief in Jesus’ words? Can you empathize with the broken heart of the Healer—that His gift was received but not acknowledged with thankfulness by nine of the ten lepers? Which leper would I have been?

We like to think we are independent, self-sufficient, in control of our lives. If we amass our own fortunes and maintain our own welfare, we have no one to thank but ourselves. But as believers in Christ, we have, by definition, acknowledged that Someone greater is in control. That Someone deserves our constant gratitude.

Earlier I mentioned the holiday of Thanksgiving, a day supposedly set aside to be thankful to God. In actuality (I’m not preaching to anyone if not myself here), it is a day when we women slave from the wee hours to stuff a bird, to dice and mash and bake and boil all the requisite fixings, while the family-room television blares the Macy’s parade and a succession of football contests. I’m thankful, all right! Thanksgiving evening when it’s all over I’m thankful this holiday comes only once a year.

When President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day (to bolster morale during the Civil War), I’m certain this isn’t what he had in mind. Throughout the history of the United States, days of prayerful thankfulness were declared by presidential order. In times of drought or emergency, they were declared for fasting and prayer. (Fasting, not overeating.) This is consistent with the biblical model of presenting our requests to God with thankful, expectant hearts. But today Thanksgiving is just another excuse for a day to take off work, to watch sports, to overeat, and to shop enticing holiday sales.

It’s not that thanksgiving can only take place on Thanksgiving. Quite the contrary. Paul says, “In every thing give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). Not necessarily for everything—our hearts cannot be grateful for everything that happens in this life—but in every circumstance keep giving God thanks, keep doing what the old-time hymn writer suggests: Keep counting your blessings.

Prayer coupled with a thankful heart is pleasing to God. We come to Him, acknowledging our dependence on Him, asking for favors, and appreciating all the favors He already has bestowed on us. Let’s be like the Samaritan leper, rather than the wandering Israelites. Let’s place thankfulness to God for what He has done in its proper order in our prayer lives.

Personal Prayer Starter

Gracious and giving Father,

If I began to list all the gifts You have bestowed on me, I would need all of eternity to express my gratitude. But too often I grumble about the things I don’t have rather than being thankful for what I do have. Please forgive me for this sin.

I set aside time, today, to thank You especially for...

Even as I ask that You would give me... so I thank You for every blessing You already have given.
 
Julie-Allyson Ieron, Praying Like Jesus: Discovering the Pattern of Godly Prayer, , Updated 2nd Edition ed. (Park Ridge, IL: Joy Media, 2010), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Section Seven. Postlude to Prayer".

Thanksgiving Blessings to you and your loved ones,

Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pietà

Treasured friend,

In keeping with the "artsy" theme of my previous entry, I'd like to share with you another Italian Art inspired devotional: this one jumps off of Michaelangelo's amazing sculpture, Pietà. It's from the pages of Names of Women of the Bible.

CALL HER “WOMAN”


Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:22–23)
The year was 1498. A twenty-three-year-old artist made a 150-mile trek from Rome to Carrara, an almost nameless village on the Ligurian Sea. According to his own word, he had been commissioned to sculpt “the most beautiful work in marble which exists today in Rome.” Only the highest quality of marble would do. And that meant Carraran marble. He would make the journey himself to assure its quality.


The artist worked with great intensity on the huge block of marble. Relentlessly, he chiseled away the excess to uncover the exceptional beauty locked within—a man and a woman. A woman of stunning delicacy, her facial features lovingly created, the detail amazingly lifelike, down to the wrinkles in her garment, the helpless gesture of her left hand, the angle of her bowed head that depicted her grief.

And the man. A symbolic representation of the shed earthly shell of the man of sorrows, intimately acquainted with grief. Eyes closed in death. Full-grown but—reminiscent of days gone by—cradled one last time in his mother’s loving arm.

Michelangelo toiled tirelessly for three years to fashion this life-sized depiction of the Savior in the arms of Mary. Arguably one of the most distinctively beautiful works in marble ever created, his Pietà (translation: pity or compassion) resides in St. Peter’s in Vatican City.

A woman and a man—lifelike yet lifeless—were formed of the finest marble with tender care by the hands of an artist, who was gifted to be a “cocreator” in the tradition of the only Creator capable of breathing life into His work.

God spoke many things into existence. Day. Night. Air. Seas. Land. Countless living creatures to be fruitful, multiply, and fill His creation. But when it came to the crowning achievements of His world, when it came to the creation of man and woman, He became intimately involved. Forming them with His own hand, breathing into them His own life. His touch created a deep and spiritual connection with them.

And from the Creator’s perspective, it wasn’t just good, it was “very good.”

As with everything in creation, these two creatures each had a special purpose to fulfill. Together. And separately.

The man, He created out of the “dust of the ground”; the woman, He created out of the man’s rib. As Matthew Henry notes, “The woman was made out of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

The woman’s purpose was to be partner and companion with the man. She was to have her own identity and make her own choices. She had an intrinsic value, having been created in God’s image as had the man.

God gave her a tender, nurturing heart. Because of her tragic choice to sin, her heart was to be pierced by pietà, even as His own would be pierced by her pietà at the Cross—yet another connection between mankind and the loving Creator.

God’s work through the women of His creation is [worthy of study and celebration.] ... We will learn to know by name women who alternately display His grace or show the desperate need for His pietà in this fallen, groaning world.

And in so doing, we will honor the Creator, who not only chiseled and caressed our bodies, but conceived a way to redeem our souls.


I hope and pray you enjoyed this reminder of how very much God, your Creator, loves and values you. It's one of my favorite word pictures that illustrates for me how intimately Christ relates to our painful circumstances.

Blessings and prayers, Julie


Excerpted by permission from Names of Women of the Bible, © 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

For you Kindle users, click on the link above to learn how to get a copy of the entire Names of Women of the Bible ebook (updated, including a brand-new Bible study guide) on your device; for Nook, Sony, and Kobo users (I'm one of you!), you can order a copy of the ebook and study guide in PDF or EPUB format from http://www.joymediaservices.com/. These ebooks make great Christmas presents for your loved ones--or yourself!






Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mona Lisa

Patient friend,


I’m in a petulant mood. I blame my mother for it. She never let me sulk when I was a child. So I have a lot of it simmering inside—and after forty-never-mind-how-many years, it’s getting close to boiling over, like my overfilled pasta pot likes to do all over my flat-burnered stove.

With the exhaustion of not being able to sustain sleep for very long at a time (last night I was awake every 20 minutes replaying events of recent days) and the dulling sadness over diagnoses Dad has been getting (not to mention the un-tally-able count of conversations I’ve had with doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and their various and sundry assistants over his prescriptions and his restrictions), I think I have the right to a little self-indulgent petulance.

Even a search of the Psalms for words of comfort has done little to quell my bitter swell. Which is why for more than a week, now, I’ve been avoiding writing a God-is-on-your-side devotional to share with you. I know it to be true, of course. But I don’t feel it. What I do feel is, well, petulant. Or as my trusty Yahoo dictionary puts it:

Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish. …
Or, to put it another way, I feel any number of the emotion’s trusty synonyms:

miff: a huff … offended or annoyed.
pout: To exhibit displeasure or disappointment; sulk. To protrude the lips in an expression of displeasure or sulkiness.
They’ve got it exactly—it’s like someone painted my picture with words. And even in my peevishness, I must admit it’s not the prettiest of pictures. Which, I suppose is why Mom tried to break me of the pouty habit early in life. Mona Lisa she used to call me, whenever I’d sulk. I always hated that!

So somewhere around 3 a.m. today I brought my sulk to the Lord and laid it out. It was as well-rehearsed as Elijah’s conversation with God in 1 Kings 19:9-10, and restated in vv. 13-14.

In Elijah’s case, both times it went,

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

In my case, it went:

God: What are you doing here, Julie?

Me: Life stinks, God. I’ve done it your way—and more importantly so has my dad (mom, too!); and this is where it lands him, where it lands all three of us? In a medical holding pattern with an orbit that seems to be degrading with each rotation around the sun? It’s not fair, God. It’s not fair!

Have you ever had that conversation with God? I suspect every exhausted caregiver has reached that boiling point on more than one occasion (if you haven’t, you will).

Here’s how God responded to me … He didn’t speak audibly, didn’t point me to a specific verse of Scripture. Instead He brought to mind a song I hear almost daily in my Pandora mix: “More Than Enough” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. It speaks the names of God, that taken together assure us of His all-sufficiency for us, no matter our circumstances. So, my fatigued mind spent the wee hours rehearsing what I could recall of these names:

Jehovah Jireh: That one’s easy to remember. It’s the God who provides. (This brought to mind the one time where this name appears in Scripture—when God provided a ram for sacrifice just as Abraham was about to offer Isaac on the altar--I wrote about that one in Praying Like Jesus, so I know it well.)

Jehovah Rapha: I know that one, too: the God who heals.

Jehovah Shalom: That’s easy: God, our peace.

Jehovah Shammah: That one I had to look up. (The Lord is present)

Any one of these powerful names of God--indicators of His character and nature--would be “more than enough” to sustain you or me. But I camped out on the one name I had to look up. Once I learned its translation, I examined it, prayed it, and used my trusty Bible software to find how it’s used in the Word.

I found it one of the more frequently used compound descriptors of God, woven through both Testaments. It is the name that will one day appear on the City of God (Ezekiel 48:35, where the city is inscribed with the name YHWH is Here—talk about sufficiency, that’s the place I want to live).

And it’s the name God gave to Moses when he interceded for the people of Israel, while they were in the dire straits of the wilderness (a setting to which I can relate emotionally). Moses asked God to send someone to walk beside him in the difficult journey that was ahead (Exodus 33:12). “You have not let me know whom You will send with me,” Moses complains. And God’s reply in the next verse is the essence of Jehovah Shammah: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Because God Himself volunteers to walk beside Moses (and to do so visibly in the Pillar of Fire and the Cloud of Glory), the victorious result is sure. And so it is with us. Jesus volunteers in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always.” The writer of Hebrews assures us that the Father promises us, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And so, in my ebbing petulant mood, I returned to God’s words to Moses. He didn’t only promise His presence—there was even more to the guarantee: “… and I will give you rest.” The Hebrew word there means that in His nearness God will settle us down, comfort us, give us soul-rest. That’s what I need, today: the full assurance of Jehovah Shammah making His way through my day alongside me; settling me down and allowing me to rest in the middle of the desert. Maybe you could use that assurance, too. Practice hearing Him respond to your complaint that way: "I'll be right there with you--I, Jehovah Shammah! And I will give you rest."

If you feel like being a little vulnerable—you’re among friends, here—I’d love to hear how God has spoken words of sustaining grace and comfort to you in your boiling-point dialogue. So, if you’d like to post a reply to this blog, with a Scripture God uses to sustain you, I know it would be a comfort to me, and to other readers.

Thanks for allowing me to do a temporary name change to Mona Lisa this afternoon. Sometimes it helps to talk it out—with each other, and more crucially with God.


Blessings and prayers,

Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com