And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

hummingbird moth - sphinx mothThe men from the church were enjoying their monthly breakfast at their favorite diner. The new minister, Pastor Tim, decided to join them. Wanting to get to know the men better, he asked who would like to offer grace before the meal. John, a retired farmer from Iowa volunteered. After taking off his cap, he stood and said loudly, “Lord, I sure do hate buttermilk!” The old farmer then added, “And, Lord, I don’t care much for lard.” Pastor Tim wasn’t sure how to react but decided to see where this prayer was leading. Then John continued with, “Tell the truth, white flour doesn’t taste like much either and baking powder sure is bitter.” Pastor Tim started to stand up and take over saying grace when, in his booming voice, John added, “But, Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I truly do love those fresh biscuits! Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon with which we are blessed this fine morning. Amen.”

Of course, this is just a bit of humorous and anonymous Internet fiction but it makes a good point. Lots of events will occur in our lifetimes that we’re not going to like very much. We won’t understand what God means by such difficult circumstances nor are we able to see how anything good can come out of such unpleasant, sometimes tragic, events. Even when things seem chaotic and inexplicable, we must remember that God is in control and He knows what He is doing. Just as John had to trust the biscuit baker, we must trust God for the end result. By themselves, challenges and difficulties can leave a bad taste in our mouths. After God is done mixing them all together, however, they can turn into something quite wonderful (and much better) than fresh buttermilk biscuits!

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen [Ephesians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

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Peacocks - albinoThey [the Levites] are to stand every morning and evening to thank and praise the Lord. [1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLV)]

Several years ago, when my daughter and grand visited, we had a fun-filled day with excursions to both the botanic gardens and a private animal preserve. When offering grace over dinner, we thanked God for our meal and the many plants and animals we’d seen that day. Later that evening, I realized it wasn’t just the abundance and beauty of God’s creation for which I was thankful. I was grateful for the look of amazement on my grand’s face while petting an iguana and feeding a zebra, for the volunteer workers who make places like botanic gardens and animal refuges possible and for the donors who fund their cause. I was thankful for the people who rescue mistreated and abandoned animals and the grocery stores that donate food to feed those animals. I was thankful for Legos and the talented artist who created the delightful Lego sculptures at the gardens, the GPS that led us to the remote refuge, seeing peacocks with their beautiful plumage, and our laughter as we played silly card games after dinner. As the list continued, I realized how incredibly blessed we were, not just that particular day, but every day. After all, every day with which we’re blessed becomes an extraordinary day! The Levites were required to give thanks at least twice a day but twice a day hardly seems enough.

Father, forgive us when we fail to properly thank you for the many blessings in our lives. A few words are never enough to express our appreciation for the way you make our ordinary days so very extraordinary.

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A. W. Tozer]

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and sing praises to Your name, O Most High. It is good to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning, and of how faithful You are at night, with harps, and with music of praise. For You have made me glad by what You have done, O Lord. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. [Psalm 92:1-4 (NLV)]

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Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. [Psalm 37:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. [Psalm 20:4 (NLT)]

oxeye daisy
What is it your heart desires? A photo safari in Africa or a river boat cruise along the Rhine? A paid-off mortgage or an enormous IRA? A private chef, personal trainer, maid or someone to chauffer the kids to their assorted activities? To be free of physical ailments or pain? A better paying job, longer vacation, or nicer boss? Better behaved children, a more loving spouse, or an abundance of friends? Are these the things our hearts desire or do we really desire the things that will accompany them—things like love, security, joy, serenity, a sense of well-being and peace? When we commit everything to the Lord, we will have those things, even without the luxury items, vacations, ideal situations, money or even the health.

Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else. [Woodrow Kroll]

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. [Psalm 73:25 (NLT)]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. [Psalm 145:18-19 (NLT)]

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I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased [Psalm 138:1-3 (ESV)]

blue flag irisI came across a book that offers 101 ways to say “Thank you.” It suggested ways to express one’s appreciation for milestone celebrations, business opportunities, help, social events, and assorted gifts. I didn’t think a thank you note for a blender was that much different than one for a vase or candlesticks but, apparently, the author does. There also were chapters devoted to topics like stationery, envelopes, and internet etiquette. One chapter offered a “thank you thesaurus” complete with several “glowing superlatives and energetic adjectives.”

Like the book’s author, I firmly believe in writing thank you notes and, for the most part, still write them by hand. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe anyone needs a 160-page book to help them express their thanks. Granted, I haven’t hosted a debutante charity ball nor have I received an ambassador’s invitation to a reception, so I probably travel in a different circle than the author. Nevertheless, if such occasions should arise, I now know where to find the perfect wording for my thanks.

Since the book also included ways to express thanks for opportunities, love, friendship, continued loyalty, for being there and for “saving me from myself,” I thought of prayer and all of the things for which we should thank God. While just about every reason to thank people was covered, the author missed some important ones when expressing thanks to God. There were no sample letters for what Paul might call thorns in the flesh—be they disappointments, illnesses, challenges, difficult people, or pain. After all, we are to give thanks in all circumstances, not just the ones we like!

While some of us may be etiquette-challenged, there’s no official protocol for thanking God. We certainly don’t need a thesaurus or a list of vivid superlatives and adjectives for our prayers. Since God is the one who does the mountain moving, we won’t need the author’s list of “power words that move mountains.” Moreover, we don’t need to know the “do’s and don’ts of using honorifics.” Although we should remember that Jesus does not have the middle initial of “H” and that God’s last name isn’t “Dammit,” simply addressing God by any one of his Biblical names works fine. I do agree with the author that our thanks should be specific; simply saying “thanks for the many blessings” is way too generic for our generous God. Even so, I think God already knows if the pink cashmere sweater looks fantastic with the new beige skirt or that the blender will be put to good use when we make our morning kale smoothie.

There are only two rules about giving thanks to God: first, we must do it! Praise and thanksgiving are to be a part of our lives—at all times and in all circumstances. Second, while our prayers of thanks probably don’t have to be as eloquent as David’s, they should be as frequent and as heartfelt.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)]

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [Colossians 2:6-7 (ESV)]

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Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

squirrelDo you remember Pollyanna, the fictional heroine in Eleanor Porter’s book by the same name? When the Ladies Aid society sends a pair of crutches instead of the doll she’d wanted, Pollyanna’s missionary father teaches the disappointed girl the “glad game.” Telling her to look at the good side of things, he points out they can be glad because she doesn’t need the crutches! The girl continues to play the game until her optimism is sorely tested when she becomes paralyzed. Admitting the game isn’t as much fun when it is so hard to play, she eventually finds some good in her plight—she still has her legs. Indeed, the “glad game” is much harder when the issues are greater than getting crutches instead of a doll. Nevertheless, it is a game worth playing.

It’s hard to imagine how God can bring anything good out of our afflictions and sorrow. Moreover, as Pollyanna discovered, the more challenging the troubles, the harder it is to see the blessings in them. It is our faith that helps us accept difficult, even tragic events, because we know that, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” [Romans 8:28] Whether we call it optimism, playing “the glad game,” or searching for hidden blessings, looking for God’s loving hand in our lives is the only way we can have joy, not in spite of our troubles and sorrow, but because of them.

…there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it. [From “Pollyanna” by Eleanor H. Porter]

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! … Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4,6-7 (NLT)]

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Hear my words, O Lord. Think about my crying. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God. For I pray to you. In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice. In the morning I will lay my prayers before You and will look up. [Psalm 5:1-3 (NLV)]

We thank God for you all the time and pray for you. [1 Thessalonians 1:2 (NLV)]

green heronAs I went through my prayer list this morning, I noticed that my prayers are very specific. I pray for those I know who are mourning, but they’re not the only ones dealing with loss. I pray for those I know who are sick and for my friends who are sitting at their loved one’s bedside, but they are not alone. Although I pray for a friend experiencing problems at work, another having financial difficulty, and a family in crisis, I know others must have the same problems. I pray for those I know who are struggling with addictions but can’t come close to naming all who need that prayer. I pray for my pastors and friends in the ministry but pastors (and congregations) everywhere need those same prayers. Unless I hear sirens, I don’t pray for first responders, but those firefighters and paramedics need my prayers more often than that. Some mornings I have enough trouble getting through my long prayer list, how can I add more to it? We’re told to offer prayers of intercession for all of God’s people, yet how can we do His work (or ours) if we spend all day in prayer? We’d be so heavenly minded that we’d be of no earthly use to anyone. Nevertheless, it’s not just my list of people who need my prayers. I suppose I could cover everyone else with a quick “God bless the world and everyone in it,” but that doesn’t seem heartfelt to me.

I thought of a friend who reads a chapter of Proverbs every day of the month. With thirty-one chapters, he finds it a good spiritual discipline. It occurred to me that I could do much the same thing with intercession. While I continue to pray for the unique needs of the people named on my prayer list, every day I could earnestly offer a general prayer for a different specific need.

It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of thirty-one intercessory topics, one for each day of the month. Off the top of my head I came up with the following: (1) government officials and their staff; (2) judges, juries and courts; (3) members of all branches of the military; (4) military families, veterans and wounded warriors; (5) law enforcement officers; (6) those who mourn or are in despair; (7) pastors and lay ministers; (8) churches, their members, and the expansion of God’s Kingdom; (9) missionaries and those who serve in developing nations; (10) the brutalized, oppressed, and persecuted; (11) the disabled and those with special needs; (12) businesses, bosses, and the nation’s economy; (13) our labor force and the conditions in which they work; (14) refugees and relief workers; (15) physicians, health care workers, and caregivers; (16) the destitute, those in financial difficulties, and the unemployed; (17) the environment, those who work to protect it, and the conservation of resources; (18) prisoners, their families and guards; (19) the ill, hospitalized, terminally ill, and their families; (20) students, teachers, school administrators, and school curriculum; (21) those damaged souls filled with anger, hate, violence, intolerance and prejudice; (22) the homeless and marginalized in our society; (23) the lonely, depressed and mentally ill; (24) those struggling with addictions; (25) the media and all who influence public opinion; (26) the family unit; (27) children; (28) charitable organizations, their supporters and volunteers; (29) fire fighters and EMTs; (30) Israel and other nations, both ally and enemy; and (31) peace within our borders and among all nations. That’s just my list and I’m sure it will be revised as the months progress. I’ve written that list in my prayer request book and plan on tackling a different concern each day of the month. I’ll be offering thanks and, depending on for whom I’m praying, plead for things like healing, wisdom, strength, skill, justice, truth, courage, compassion, comfort, safety, or protection. Adding one more prayer each day is feasible and lifting the concerns of others to God, even people I don’t know, is more than an obligation; it is an honor and a privilege.

First of all, I ask you to pray much for all men and to give thanks for them. Pray for kings and all others who are in power over us so we might live quiet God-like lives in peace. It is good when you pray like this. It pleases God Who is the One Who saves. He wants all people to be saved from the punishment of sin. He wants them to come to know the truth. [1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NLV)]

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