Back At You! - ThanksGiving, 2010

I am convinced that the greatest gift I have received over the course of my walk with Jesus (next to His grace and salvation, my blessed wife, and many faithful friends) is the prayers of people for me.  I am an undeserving recipient of this precious and powerful gift.  I can think back to my early Christian days to Sister Marcela Burgess.  She was the 70 year old-plus sister in the church who took me in as a young convert and gave me a place to live.  Sister Burgess graced me with her prayers from then to the time Mona and I went to Tucson to pioneer, right up until she went home to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Another is my mother-in-law, Toni Pena.  Her salvation is such a miraculous testimony to God’s grace and power that transformed her almost 38 years ago.  Besides the fact that she gives me favor with her daughter (“You listen to my hijo, Mona”), she has blessed me with a constant stream of prayer for God’s help over all these years.  Thank you, mom Toni.  Then there are the countless people who come up to me and say to me “Pastor, we are praying for you.”  I never take that lightly that someone would actually remember me before the throne of God’s grace.  In fact, I need it and am unashamed to solicit it!
So, when I was thinking about Thanksgiving 2010...the best I could come up with is “back at you!” or my prayer for you.   This prayer is not “original” with me, but it is a “Bible prayer” which means it is not only inspired (praying directly in the middle of the will of God), but also powerful and effective.  It was one of Paul’s prayers for the believers in Thessalonica.  I’ll give it to you and then, there are 4 particular aspects of this prayer that I would wish for you all.
“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.  Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1Thess.3:9-13)NIV
Just like people would ask for extra mashed potatoes or gravy (even dessert at least once a year) Paul’s prayers are richly flavored with thanksgiving.  “How can we thank God enough for you.”  This was the consistent pattern throughout the New Testament: prayer that begins with praise and worship and ends with praise and thanksgiving.  Paul was always doing this.  This was not the exception but the rule!  He began his letter (1:2,3) “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantlymentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Even when he wrote to and prayed for the Corinthians, which many have labeled as “the problem church” (I’ve got breaking news for you: they all are!) he began, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” (1Cor.1:4,5) These are not the words of a flatterer or a manipulator but someone who was genuinely grateful to God for the contribution and faithfulness of others.  He’s encouraging them by telling them when he prays for them he thanks God for the grace evidenced in their lives.  It really is striking how prominent a part this plays in all the New Testament epistles: prayer and thanksgiving go together!
“Father, I am extremely grateful for the faithful saints of God here at ‘The Door.’  I thank you for all that You have done in their lives and continue to do.  They have truly been enriched by You in every way, and that has spilled over on to my life as well!”
This was at the forefront of Paul’s concern and their need.  Earlier he told them why he had dispatched Timothy to go and minister to them (3:2,3) “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.”  He prayed in vs.10, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”  This deficiency was not the result of disobedience but ignorance.  Paul had only been with them a short time when they came to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but persecution forced him to leave prematurely.  He was deeply concerned to see them strengthened.  Like the song lyrics, “You are my strength, strength like no other, strength like no other, reaches to me.”  I believe in the days we are living in, every season of life calls for a corresponding measure of God’s strength in our lives.
“God, I thank you that your promise to us is ‘As your days are so shall your strength be.’  You’ve promised strength that would correspond exactly to whatever it is we are facing.  Be the strength of our lives and let it be evident to all that this is supernatural: that we ‘might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in our inner man.’”
Love is the only spiritual muscle that motivates us to do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, and at the right times!  This is why the Bible says that love operating in our lives is “the fulfilling of the law.”  Love motivates us to live outside of ourselves and our own small world, to join with others in something bigger than ourselves!  It is the “glue” that binds together the different joints, ligaments, bones, muscles in the Body to make it effective.  Paul’s exact prayer is that this love would “increase and abound” to the point it overflows to both those within the church, and those outside the church!  The Apostle John reminded us that this is the supernatural evidence that we have been born again: that we love one another.  Jesus reminded us that this would be a specific last days target and assault, “Because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt.24:10) This is why we can never take love for granted like some static quality.
“Lord Jesus, we are living in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ kind of world where ‘looking out for #1' is not just a popular saying, it is the normal way of living.  The reality is the world can be a cold, brutal, self-serving place.  If you add to this our own lack and deficiencies in the love department, that we can let people down and they can do the same, it’s not hard to see the buildup of deep and personal hurts that hinder our walk with God.  Don’t just ‘heal our land’ but also ‘heal our hearts.’  Help us to fan our love into a flame and keep it burning so that we don’t take You or others for granted.  Help us never to leave our first love.”
I’ve got to tell you, if your goal in life is to keep up on all the latest fads, with the next “big thing” so that you will always be fashionable and’re going to wear yourself out!  I will tell you, though, what is always in style (at least with God) and that is holiness.  If the Scripture says, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” it is telling us that holiness will always be “in style” with the One who matters most!  So Paul prays, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”  There is no greater incentive to holiness than the Lord’s return...the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ!
“God, finally, help us to live and love and labor with eternity in mind.  If You are most glorified when we are most satisfied in You, then fashion in us Your ‘family likeness.’  Because you are holy, make us holy.  Let us learn and love to walk in the ‘beauty of holiness’ all the days of our lives.”