Thanking God for ALL experiences

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A reflection and response…

As we looked at previously, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 talks about the fact that we need to learn to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. Certainly the apostle Paul was a great example of this, praising God even while in chains. However, when we think about thanksgiving we don’t often turn to those situations that we find difficult or painful. And yet that is precisely the place God wants us to get to – being able to love and thank Him whatever is going on around (and to) us.

I find the hymn I’ve put below interesting because it does just that. Rather than only focusing on thanking God for the good times the writer has juxtaposed the positive with the negative: pleasant weather – and life experiences – with stormy, comfort with pain, roses with thorns.

Think back: how often have you thanked God for the difficulties in your life, as well as the easy times?

Read through this hymn, really reflecting on the individual images it contains. Try and place yourself in the hymn, and make yourself the protagonist. For example, what memories do you want to bring up and remember? What tears that you thought were now forgotten have brimmed up again? What storms have you weathered? When did you feel His comfort amongst the despair? What requests are you glad He denied? In what ways have you felt His hope?

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide!

Thanks for times now but a memory,

Thanks for Jesus by my side!

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and stormy fall!

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny!

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply!

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair!

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain!

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity!

(Written in 1891 by August Ludvig Storm, of the Swedish Salvation Army. Translated in 1931 by Carl E. Backstrom and set to music by Swedish composer Johannes Alfred Hultman.)

Take some time to ask God to reveal to you experiences that are still locked away that you’ve never thanked Him for precisely because they were difficult. Ask for His revelation about them, so that you can see them through His eyes. Wait, seek His wisdom and then speak out a prayer of thanks, acknowledging the part they have played in shaping you. If there is pain or hurt that needs dealing with sit before your Father and ask Him to pour His healing balm on you, opening yourself up to His love and care.

You might like to try writing or drawing a juxtaposing poem or image yourself, picking up on both the good and not so easy things you want to thank God for. Keep whatever you create near you for the rest of the week so that you can use it as a starting point for reflective prayer.

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Thankful for the cross

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Today we are going to focus specifically on thanking God for the cross. You might find it helpful to get hold of either a picture of a cross or a small physical cross that you can place in front of you to concentrate your thoughts.

Meditation: Start by simply looking at the cross and then think about what Jesus dying on that cross has done for you, for your life, for your everyday ‘going about’. Speak out a few of your thoughts slowly, mulling over the words and truly allowing them to sink in and impact you.

Here are some thoughts you may like to utilise (and personalise) during your meditation:

Whether good, bad, enemies or friends, we each deserved to die as we cannot stand before God in our own righteousness.

And yet, through Christ’s death we are transformed – given a new identity and new standing before God.

We are dressed in Christ’s royal robes rather than our filthy rags.

And we are now free! Free from the clutches of sin and death, free from our enemy’s hold on us.

We can now choose to walk in that close relationship with our loving heavenly Father each moment of every day.

Finish your time of meditation by turning some of the thoughts you had into prayers of thanks to God.

What I have been reading: winter

Here is a selection of books that I’ve read over the last few months – including those I saved for the Christmas holidays to enjoy at a relaxed pace.

pete-greig-dirty-glory-highDirty Glory
By Pete Greig

I have read Pete’s previous books, so was eagerly anticipating this one. The follow on from Red Moon Rising, which charted the first five years of the 24-7 Prayer movement, this book picks up where that one left off and comments on the subsequent 15 years.

Pete is extremely honest in this book, in which he shares the struggles, miracles and insights both he and others in the 24-7 team have learned.

This is a real faith-building book, as it is full of inspiring stories – often in the unlikeliest of places. As Pete himself said: ‘There are stories in this book that will fry your noodles!’

Pete talks about how they have remained faithful to their calling through extremely difficult times, such as his wife’s illness and those moments when pioneering was no longer exciting. He also shares some of his insights into what prayer actually is, and how important it is to be real with God.

I learned a great deal from this book, laughed and cried – and bought it for friends for Christmas. It’s definitely a life-changer.

listening-to-godListening to God
By Joyce Huggett

Another book on prayer, this is a classic that I had never actually read before. Pete Greig actually endorsed the 30th anniversary edition that I read – saying that there are many books on talking to God but few about listening to Him. That is so true, and I found Joyce’s disarming honesty about her own journey so helpful and compelling.

Joyce offers much practical advice for anyone who is stirred to journey further with God, to understand how to better listen to Him. This is another book I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it before.

becoming-reverend-front-cover-hi-res-imageBecoming Reverend
By Matt Woodcock

This is an amusing, heartfelt, honest – and sometimes irreverent – book charting Matt’s journey from journalist to vicar. Written in diary form, the reader journeys with him, as he expresses all the highs and lows of following his calling – and what that means for him and his family. (Some may be offended by his opinion of ‘vicar school’, as he calls it – just a little warning!)

At the same time as attending theological college, Matt and his wife were struggling with infertility, and the failure of IVF. The book includes the gut-wrenching pain they went through – as well as the soaring celebration when they finally got pregnant and then gave birth to twins (although there were still struggles to come).

Being married to a pastor myself, there were moments that really resonated with me. If you like quirky, comedic but also really honest writing then I would suggest you might like to try reading this book.

barefootBarefoot
By Sharon Garlough Brown

Wow. Just wow. I LOVE Sharon’s writing, having already devoured her previous two titles in the ‘Sensible Shoes’ series that this is a part of. I really feel like I know the four main characters, Mara, Hannah, Charissa and Meg and so was desperate to find out what happened next in their intertwined lives.

Sharon is a spiritual director, and she uses the fictional stories of these four women to share real wisdom and insight into journeying with God through the real ups and downs of life. She tackles issues such as divorce, unfulfilled dreams, dealing with the difficult choices a daughter has made and makes the characters so ‘real’ in their responses. As they each discover spiritual exercises for themselves, Sharon also provides further details for the reader – I have found those really helpful.

It is actually some of the dialogue between characters and God, or with each other, that have affected me most profoundly – I have written out quotes from them in my journal and go back to them time and time again.

If you haven’t already read Sensible Shoes, the first in the series, start there – and then devour the three books just like I have. This is definitely the most spiritually forming and instructing set of fiction books that I have ever read. I am excited (but also saddened as it means the series is coming to an end) that there is one more book to come.

knowing-annaKnowing Anna
By Sarah Meyrick

This is a really interesting and unusual book, which starts just at the moment when the title character dies of cancer. She asks her close family and friends to embark on a pilgrimage after her death, and we pick up the story as they begin walking the Pilgrims’ Way towards Canterbury. Each one has memories and aspects of themselves that they wrestle with, and the various chapters focus on different characters. The priest that is leading them offers up reflections for their moments of silence each day, and the way that the individuals respond to that provides much more depth to the story.

This isn’t the sort of book I read usually, and I was intrigued by it. I found I turned the pages quickly, eager to find out what happened. There were a few elements that I found slightly unnecessary, but that’s just a personal thing (such as the language, and certain parts of people’s stories). But, overall, it was a book that kept my interest, and also made me think.

sinister-student-photoSinister Student
By Kel Richards

This is one that I saved to read during the Christmas holidays, as it seemed like a nice light read. I loved the fact that the main characters included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a murder mystery – and I discovered that it is one of a whole series of books with C.S. Lewis acting as an aide to the police’s investigations.

I did enjoy this book, but I was actually a little put off by the sub-plot. All the way through, the other main character, Morris, who is an atheist, had an ongoing debate with the others about how gruesome he felt the cross is as a symbol for Christianity. Now I’m all for writing fiction that subtly addresses issues of faith so that it reaches a wide audience, but this was not subtle at all and I found myself annoyed when it interrupted the flow of the story. If a Christian like me is annoyed by it, I cringed to think how those who do not share my beliefs may respond to this aspect of the book. Better than I did I hope! I had intended to check out the rest of the series – but I’m now in two minds about doing so…

alabastarAlabaster
By Chris Aslan

One of the discoveries that I have made, since I started reviewing books and therefore am sent a whole variety of genres, is that I enjoy biblical fiction. When I first started reading this book, I thought it was based in biblical times, and had used biblical stories as inspiration. It took me a while to realise that it was a retelling of an actual biblical story! Having realised, I then wasn’t sure about the back story that has been created. It is very imaginative, but I’m still hesitant. I definitely empathised with the characters, and the book did give a different perspective that challenged my preconceived ideas and made me look at the story afresh. So, in that sense, I guess the book has done its job. It’s certainly beautifully written and I was fully immersed in the story, eager for free moments to read more.

 

Today’s the day!

My books, Jesus and Prayer, are officially published today by BRF. I know I have included pictures of them in quite a few recent posts, but I couldn’t let today pass by without posting them again now could I?

So, if you are looking for small group resources, or books for your own personal study, then do please consider these titles. Each one has seven weeks of material and links to the Foundations21 website for further resources.

If you do buy them, my hope and prayer is that they will bless you and help you to go deeper in your walk with God – perhaps seeing something from a new perspective or trying out a different type of activity. We are all on this discipleship journey for life – I’d love it if you’d join me for a short time through my books! 🙂

 

Learning with F21_Prayer Learning with F21_Jesus