Gary Thomas tells the story of an experience that changed him. He started to write a specific thing about his wife for which he was thankful, everyday. “I began filling in the day-to-day account that very day. It was easiest for me to do it first thing in the morning. I’d wake up, and even before I prayed, I’d pick up the journal, reflect on the previous day, and write something nice about what Lisa had said or done. Occasionally, it might just be a reflection of who she is, but I wanted it to be very specific, not generic—something that couldn’t be written about any other woman. After just one month of doing this, I noticed something curious—I hadn’t prayed once for God to change my wife.” (Full article here)
Gary’s choice need not just be about a spouse. I think we might all benefit from keeping a ‘praise journal’ right alongside of our prayer list! The Word urges “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2, NIV) Are you doing that? A friend of mine gave me a magnet to stick on my frig that reminds me to ‘choose joy.’ The Gospel song tells us to, “Count your blessings, name them; one by one!”
It is so easy to narrow the focus to the slice of life that is unpleasant, to feel the pebble in our shoe to the exclusion of every other good thing. When we slip into complaint about that chronic pain, that habit in our spouse that drives us crazy, that person at work whose attitude is like fingernails on a chalkboard, we can get lost in the pain and wrapped in bitterness! How the Tempter must rejoice when he finds us focused on our failures, disappointments, or sins to the exclusion of the faithfulness of our Savior and Friend.
The pattern for prayer – ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests) – is a reminder of the importance of praise and worship as the context of our prayer life. How quickly we slip into a pattern of whining our prayers if we fail to praise first.
The Psalm quoted a moment ago continues, “He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.” (Psalm 103:3-5, The Message) In genuine praise, we find our soul lifted, our footing restored. “The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19, NLT)
Let me add a word of caution here. Don’t become a phony, unable to deal with reality, living in a ‘everything is always wonderful’ kind of denial. The Lord does not ask us to pretend that all is well all the time. Jesus’ faith was profound and perfect yet He still wept! The sins of others, the pain touched His soul.
If we refuse to feel pain, if we ignore the suffering in this world, including our own, we will become shallow, insincere persons. But, the Word does ENCOURAGE US TO REMEMBER ALL of our reality, to bring to our minds His faithfulness, His love, His promises right in the middle of the sorrows and challenges.
Today, balance complaint with thanksgiving, criticism with encouragement, petition with profuse praise. Do it consciously as you walk with Jesus and let His Spirit “renew your youth… surefooted as a deer!” Here is a word from the Word, practical and compelling. May the Spirit make it living Truth for us this Friday.
“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” – Psalm 100, NLT