Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Source: Leon Hale

Did I ever tell you about Brother Foster’s Thanksgiving prayer? Long ago, out in that West Cross Timbers country beyond Fort Worth, Brother Foster was famous for prayers that showed scope and style. I once heard him send up a thanksgiving prayer that was major league in all respects, and he did it standing in the kitchen door on Gramdma Hale’s farm.

This old fellow was not really a preacher. But in rural regions at the time I am talking about, purebred and registered preachers were scarce and people made do with the nearest they had to the real article.

Brother Foster taught Sunday School, and did funerals, and went around comforting the sick and sorrowful, and generally made a satisfactory substitute for a preacher. My father used to say you could put a black hat on Brother Foster and hand him a Bible and a collection plate and he could pass for a preacher.

His specialty was prayers on special occasions, like at Fourth of July Picnics, ice cream suppers, Christmas gatherings, and other holiday affairs. It must have been in ’31 or ’32 that Brother Foster came to Gramdma Hale’s farm for Thanksgiving dinner. All the women, especially, counted it a social victory to have Brother Foster for Thanksgiving. I don’t know how we got him, as he was spread pretty thin over that region.

The meal was the occasion for the prayer, so it was delivered as the blessing. Or, asking the blessing, as we said, or returning thanks.

When the formal invitation was issued – “Brother Foster, will you return thanks for us?” – that luminary backed away from the table and took up a position in the doorway that led into Grandma’s kitchen. Evidently he felt a need to be isolated from the general bunch.

He was a big, heavy-shouldered fellow with deep-set eyes and wavy white hair and a mighty voice. My father used to say that they ruined a first-rate preacher when they put Bro. Foster to following a mule across a cotton patch.

He waited for silence before he began. If silence took a full minute to arrive, still he waited. We were supposed to keep our heads bowed and our eyes closed but by that time I had perfected a system of looking around at things through eyes that seemed closed but really weren’t.

Bro. Foster stood with his legs slightly apart and his hands behind him and his chin elevated and his eyes closed. Just when you thought he would begin, a foot would scuff or a throat would clear and he would hold off a while longer. Even a calf, bawling for its mama out at the barn, would delay his beginning.

He started out quietly, and built volume as he went along. He began with the food and the blessed hands that prepared it. He called Grandma by name, and I learned later that this was a high blessing, to get your name sent up in a prayer by Brother Foster, and on Thanksgiving Day, at that.

 From the women he went to the men who tilled the land and brought forth its fruits. He went on to thank the Lord for the beasts that pulled the plows, and those that sacrificed their lives to give us sustenance.

Then he took up the children  and asked the Lord to bless their little hearts and keep them safe.

He went into the field of medicine and thanked the Lord for protecting those of us who hadn’t caught terrible diseases or suffered crippling injuries. He got into agriculture and mentioned the good corn crop, and the cotton crop which was fair. Went then to meteorology and pointed out to God that the rains came a little too late in the season but were appreciated anyhow. He called the names of people who had died during the year, people we knew, and he gave thanks for their lives. He gave thanks for breezes that turned windmills, for pretty music, for the love of friends and kinfolks, for the very roof over our heads, for feather mattresses on cold winter nights.

This litany went on until the dressing was cold and I thought it was more a sermon than a prayer. Not until a good many years later did I understand why Bro. Foster’s long prayers were sought and appreciated:

Life in that country was hard, and those folks needed somebody to remind them that they had a lot to be thankful for.

{Houston Chronicle, Section A, Page #43,

Thursday, Nov. 24, 1988, A THANKSGIVING

PRAAAAAAAAYER, by Leon Hale.}

Gratitude

GRATITUDE TAKES US FORWARD

A Remarkable Finding?

Warren E. Berkley

In this season with valuable emphasis on gratitude, may I bring up something worthy of thought? You may be shocked.

I recently encountered something I consider remarkably disappointing about our secular culture.

Visiting a website, I stumbled onto the headline: “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain,” (see source information below).

Believing this to be true, I started reading the article.

“Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counseling with additional activities that are not too taxing for clients but yield high results.”

Context: a team of researchers were tasked with finding a non-pharmaceutical response to depression (apparently, they were not funded by the pharmaceutical companies). They did their research, accounted for all their collected data, poured over case studies and conducted interviews. Finally, the findings were published under the headlines: New Research!

Their conclusion: “In our research, we have zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude.”

It is remarkable but it happens all the time. The secular humanistic mind-set discovers something, labels it as “new” and sign their collective names to it. Yet, what they have “discovered” or “devised,” is some obvious capacity God has built into us and commanded us to use, for our peace of mind and His glory!

Of course, gratitude helps you when you are down and helps you going forward. It is positive, having to do with blessings granted by the One who made us in His image.

The same document says, “…many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.”

AMAZING. They make it sound like nobody knew this until recent intellectual masterminds came out of their laboratory! (They’ve never heard the song, “Count Your Many Blessings?” It was published in 1897! I think this was before the “studies” of “past decades.”)

Sincere gratitude picks us up and takes us forward. Long before “recent studies” and “new research,” and even long before 1897, Paul said: “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,” (Phil. 4:6,7).

Thank you for your time.

Source: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Our Advocate

Don’t “Lawyer Up” Yet

Warren E. Berkley

There is nothing anywhere in the New Testament that encourages or recommends a relaxed, tolerant posture toward sin. Matthew Henry said: “The gospel, when rightly understood and received, sets the heart against all sin.”

When Christians encounter sin, they should recall the word of the apostle John who said (in the beginning of the first epistle): “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” and “…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” (1 Jno. 1:9, 2:1).

Applying this passage could take us in the wrong direction, if we rely on a flawed knowledge base. Here’s what I mean. You see the word “Advocate,” and may think of the modern attorney or lawyer. If you take off in that direction and rely on your knowledge of defense attorneys in the news and on TV, you could miss the point of the passage completely.

If you think, “well, I’ve sinned. But I’ve got a good attorney who will get me off. No problem,” you have missed the teaching of John. It is not like being guilty, denying your crime, hiring a powerful, eloquent attorney who can discover and use technicalities and therefore get you off. That’s not it. And to think in those terms (1) grossly demeans the work of Christ on our behalf, (2) diminishes the real offense of sin, (3) takes no account of God, who is light, and (4) seriously impacts any future discipline of your character and spiritual growth.

Jesus, our Advocate with the Father, has no interests in sinners getting away with anything. He is willing, however, to plead the case of the truly penitent. John defines the “truly penitent” in the verses previous to 1 John 2. The truly penitent honestly face the guilt of sin (v.8), confess the sin (v.9) and are committed to walking in the light.

Someone once expressed this to me with these simple words: “I have an advocate, not so I can sin, but in case I do.”

One more thing. There is no automatic plea for a dismissal. Everything John teaches about Jesus’ Advocacy is a benefit offered to the truly penitent. And to discover who is the truly penitent – read everything before 1 Jno. 2:1, and everything after the passage. Let John tell you who enjoys the benefits offered.

Your Father’s Prayers

Warren E. Berkley

The Effective, Fervent Prayer

Pause and reflect on all the influences that lead you to worship God in spirit and in truth. There is our faith in Jesus Christ, who died for us. Add to this our knowledge of all that should be done before God, revealed to us in His Word. Do not leave out the encouragement of association with God’s people. These are some of the influences that can bring us to the assembly with good motive, reverent attitude and desire to worship God as He has directed.

When I look back over my life, there is something else that greatly contributed to my present interests in worshipping God. One of the earliest memories I have is, hearing my father pray. When a child hears his father pray to “Almighty God” day after day, that single voice makes a lasting impression and helps form the child’s concept of reverence to God. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” (Jas. 5:17).

The Safety Zone

Keep Yourself Where God Will Keep You

Warren E. Berkley

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present your faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever, Amen.” Jude 24,25

Who has the power? “God our Savior.” For me, there is the possibility of stumbling, I would even confess a probability. While I entertain no purpose or intent to stumble, I know I could and probably will. I may nourish a thought that is destructive. I may say something to someone in haste or anger. I may be tempted and fall into sin in the use of my body. With me, I live with this awareness, this possibility of stumbling. “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body,” (Jas. 3:2).

Thus I am not the power holder. God is. He is able to keep me from stumbling. He has that power and in His use of that power, I can be eventually presented “faultless, before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” God has this power to save me. Proof of this is historical, documented by the cross of Christ.

My life as a Christian, therefore, doesn’t stand on my power, or my ability to correct my course and keep myself pure (though I must). God is my confidence. Christ is my Savior. Henceforth, deity is worthy of this praise: “To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever, Amen.”

How Does This Work? There may be some temptation to think – this works through some sort of automatic process, where I remain passive. This approach would be like, you do nothing; you are acted upon; God acts upon you to keep you from stumbling, in such an overpowering way . . .  You do nothing – God does it all. Entire theological systems have been built of that premise. He keeps you from stumbling, through some sort of automatic process, that excludes your will; that requires no response; it just happens.

May I take us to another passage that teaches the same truth revealed here in Jude 24.

2 Peter 1:5. Same subject – the power of God keeps us; protects us.Here is 2 Pet. 1:5 – Christians are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” We are “kept by the power of God,” but this is not an automatic process where we are passive. To enjoy this benefit we must be very much active; for it says, we are “kept by the power of God through faith….” God does the keeping – I must do the believing. And of course, the belief commended in the New Testament is never passive; never disobedient – – always active; always obedient (see Jas. 2:14-26).

So – back to the problem. The problem is the reality of stumbling. The solution is to believe, to depend upon God, who says He will keep us. This dependence is active trust:

As our faith continues…

As our faith grows…

As our faith responds to the

direction of God…

As our faith honors the Christ

who died for us…

We are kept by the power of God. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory . . .       

Years ago – when pedestrian traffic was common – at busy intersections, traffic engineers would build what was called A Safety Zone. As you were walking across        the intersection, if you had to stop to let oncoming traffic pass – there was a little area you can occupy called a “Safety Zone.” These zones would sometimesbe built inside of heavy steelbarricades or bars. The theory was, as long as you stayed in the safety zone, you would not be hit by the passing vehicles.In order to enjoy that safety, you had to stay in this zone!!

In Christ, God has provided something like – a safety zone. As long as we stay where we ought to be – maintaining the activity of our faith; growing; repenting of sin; walking in the light . . .  As long as we stay where we ought to be – in this place God, in His grace, has provided, we are kept by the power of God. But we must keep the faith; we must keep ourselves where we ought to be.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. (Jude 21)

Is Your House In Order

Is Your House In Order?

Isaiah 38:1

Hezekiah was sick. The Bible says he was at the point of death. Isaiah went to him and warned: “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

What should that mean to us today?  “Put your house in order!” This is not about re-arranging furniture or cleaning house. This is not about getting your last will and testament ready, signing a living will or anything like that. The house, here, is life! The order is not about worldly affairs, but spiritual. The urgency is to have your life right with God! That includes:

Full repentance of all sin. Think of this as holding nothing back – giving up every sin you know you are guilty of and taking nothing against God to your death. The goodness of God leads us tofull repentance (Rom. 2:4).

Full submission to God. We cannot get our house, our life, in order – without full submission to God. God means everything; God is first; God is perfectly trustworthy, and I obey Him with a whole heart to glorify Him now and to prepare myself for death. Jesus describes this as loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37).

Full trust and obedience in Christ.  Are you aware of God’s love, as expressed in the death of Christ (Rom. 5:6-8)? What impact has that awareness had? Let that conviction result in obedience to Christ. He is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9).

I must get my house – my life – in order through full repentance of sin; full submission to God and full trust and obedience in Christ.

Now keep in mind – Hezekiah had notice. There is nothing in the Bible anywhere that could be understood as a guarantee that we will have notice before our death! So there is no recommendation out of Isa. 38 – to wait till you have notice.

The application is to get your life right before you die by full repentance; full submission to God, and full trust and obedience in Christ.

Give Thanks

“Give thanks on all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’m writing this in October of 2020. We don’t know for certain how the Thanksgiving holiday will be managed and enjoyed this year. The pandemic has changed everything, especially our proximity to people. Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday in our culture, about which there is little controversy (except occasional quibbles about carbs and tofu). Families cherish memories of trips, food, visiting and napping through the last quarter of a ball game. This year will probably not be the same.

We should remember that gratitude is not limited to a holiday, a prayer, a song or a card sent or received. God’s people have the capacity and can develop the discipline of giving thanks “in all circumstances.”

Sometimes gratitude is easy and almost spontaneous. At the birth of a healthy child to good parents; when two people who love the Lord and love each other join in marriage; when a penitent believer is born again in baptism; when an ill loved one has full recovery. Sometimes being thankful to God is easy.

There are other times. When a teenage boy watches his father die suddenly. When a twenty-two year old young man witnesses his wife die of cancer. When a grandson is sent to prison. When a church divides. When a marriage slides off track.

Our God is a God of hard times. He has always been there for His people. The benefits of the death of Christ and the victory of His resurrection is never diminished by our difficulties. There is a peace that passes understanding. We have that through Christ, and it enables us to hold on to gratitude even when it seems there is nothing immediate to be thankful for. Spiritual growth continued prepares us for what may be ahead that we cannot see.

If we will form good habits of gratitude as a function of our spiritual growth, we will not abandon gratitude when we are storm tossed. Access to God in prayer is never cut off because of our trials. He loves us. People love us. There is safe harbor. In fact, remaining grateful to God for the good things is part of what enables us to get beyond present troubles.

DON’T GIVE UP BEING THANKFUL, no matter what.

I doubt I will ever forget what Matthew Henry said he prayed, after being robbed:

I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.

Nehemiah’s Prayer

Nehemiah’s Prayer

(Neh. 1:5-11)

Warren E. Berkley

As soon as you meet this man, Nehemiah, you discover what may be the most important thing about him:  the rich activity of his trust in God illustrated by his prayer in Nehemiah chapter one (Neh. 1:4-11).

He lived in the capital city of Susa in Persia around 450 B.C. While serving as cupbearer of King Artaxerxes he heard the bad news that the people back in Judah were suffering in the ruins of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah’s first reaction was not political action, organizing a protest, abandoning his job, or getting drunk.

“As soon as” he heard this, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days.” He fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

He prayed: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayers of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh. 1:5-11).

Nehemiah knew Who he was praying to. This was no obligatory remark, “our thoughts and prayers” are with the suffering people of Judah. He spoke to the God he had known all his life, and in addressing God, he shows his personal familiarity with Him. He was praying to the great and awesome God of heaven, with full confidence in His power to hear, to respond and to guide the work that was ahead.

Nehemiah knew the situation wasn’t God’s fault. He put the blame on the people (including himself) who “acted very corruptly,” in their disobedience to God’s commands given through Moses. Nehemiah knew the history of the covenant and was aware of what had gone wrong. Someone said one time, “…might as well tell God the truth when you pray. He knows it before you start praying.”

Nehemiah knew the people belonged to God. He said, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.” After this prayer was offered, Nehemiah would recruit, organize and mobilize a huge number of people to rebuild the walls. He went into that project knowing the people didn’t belong to him, they belonged to God.

Read Nehemiah chapter one and learn how to react to bad news. Determine to read Nehemiah’s prayer and see the mature faith he brought to that conversation with God. And the dependence on God and devotion to God that governed him after his prayer.

Here was a man who did not act without prayer but did not pray without acting.

That One Pearl

Yesterday I preached from Matt. 13, The Pearl of Great Price (see Matt. 13:45,46).

          “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a

                    merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when

                    he had found one pearl of great price, went

                    and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Shouldn’t it occur to us, the merchant in this story wasn’t just looking for any pearl. It wasn’t like a quick shopping trip or treasure hunt, where you find something that resembles the best, and you take it, saying to yourself, “Ok, that was easy.  This will do.”

That’s what people do about religion. While there may be something better, they settle. To open the Bible and read and study and search and find, is an extended use of time and energy. Why not just find something that looks like the real thing?

Yet this merchant – whose efforts are commended – did not settle for a duplicate, the artificial or something to just “get by.” His quest was directed to “ONE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE,” and when he found it, he gave “all” he had to receive it.

Kingdom blessings offered by God through Christ cannot be duplicated by man, and any artificial “pearl” cannot deliver what the authentic promises. In your quest to find God and serve Christ, diligently read and use what the Bible says. Then when you see clearly what is offered and required, give all your life to have it. Be thankful and committed.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Quote

From his Templeton Lecture, 1983

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

https://www.solzhenitsyncenter.org/notable-quotations