Collective Thanksgiving

James 5.13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 

“Community thanksgiving is the voice of the church,” says former Zondervan editor-in-chief Al Bryant. “You are an individual, but you are also a member of society.” In a week where giving thanks is top of mind we cannot miss the opportunity to lead our communities in collective thanksgiving.

Divisions dominate too often; Bryant’s prayers over groups of people—uniting them through gratitude—are a breath of fresh air:
We thank God for life and health. These we share together. When plague strikes a city, terror reigns. Thank God for conscious well-being and supply of daily needs.

We are thankful for the benefits of civilization, for ordered government, for scientific improvements, for education, good streets, institutions of benevolence, industry, and art. America has done much to improve the lot of the common men and women like ourselves. We must share it with the world.

We are thankful for a Christian environment where temperance and goodwill are encouraged, and fellowship with kindly folk is possible for us all. What would we be without the church, the open Bible, and the Gospel of Christ? These are values beyond man’s power to estimate.

We are thankful for faith in the midst of tragedy. There is a God who understands and cares. Dark and mysterious is our life, but His way is good and true. Our trust is in our salvation.

We are grateful for the vision of better things to be, for the promise of Christ’s kingdom and universal brotherhood in Him. It is our highway from despair, cynicism, and degeneracy.

We thank God for the hope eternal. This life is but the seed of a life that will blossom into unimaginable glory according to the promise of God.
It seems natural to remember to pray when we suffer. How quickly comfort, privilege, and luxury sap our intimacy with God. James reminds his readers that prayer and praise are essential not only to personal growth, but to the life of our community.

May we use this week to engage our communities—church, work, and home—in thanksgiving for what God is doing in and through us.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 18 (Listen – 2:36)
James 5 (Listen – 3:01)

Stories of the Oppressed :: The Weekend Reading List

What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? — David Crabb

How quickly our global discourse has changed since the body of 3-year old Aylan washed ashore seven weeks ago. It was the same week 11 other Syrian refugees met a similar fate, but this struck the world differently. “Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around World,” proclaimed the Wall Street Journal. Echoes fade into darkness far too quickly.

political firestorm ignited this week as 26 U.S. state governors responded to the horrific attacks in Paris by banning refugees — solely on basis of race — from entering their states. One state leader even praised the systematic racism that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. State-sponsored internment camps were later deemed unnecessary and described as having stemmed from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” in a law passed by President Reagan.

As for Paris, The Washington Post reports that, “All the identified assailants are so far citizens of European Union countries.” Yet because one of the attackers was carrying a forged Syrian passport, the tides of favor have turned against Syrians fleeing terrorism in their own country.
Currently 1 of every 122 people alive on earth are displaced. Over 1.1 million people sought asylum last year — 25,300 of whom were children unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

According to data from the United Nations, this is the largest number of displaced people since WWII. And though 43 percent of the Syrian population is displaced the U.N. notes, “Major new displacement was also seen in Africa – notably in Central African Republic and South Sudan.”

This can be a difficult subject for Christians seeking to live faith in the modern world. The mandate to embrace displaced people is foundational to both the Old and New Testaments. ExodusLeviticusZechariahMark, and Luke, among numerous others, all instruct the faithful to welcome outsiders. Jesus, teaching in Matthew, goes as far as saying that those who do not welcome, feed, and care for “strangers” are not welcome in the kingdom (a similar prophecy is found in Malachi).
The Scriptures are the stories of refugees embraced at great risk and cost. Indeed our posture is to be like Christ, who offered his love while we were still enemies of his kingdom and its leader.

International Association for Refugees — which works with churches to seek the welfare of forcibly displaced people in Europe, Africa, and the US — observes that, “From beginning to end, Scripture is filled with stories of forcefully displaced people.” They chronicle examples of God’s embrace regardless of the reason for displacement — sin (Adam and Eve), invading kings (Lot), human trafficking (Joseph), famine (Jacob), exile (Daniel), political persecution (Jesus), or religious persecution (most early church leaders).

The stories of the displaced in our own world are harrowing. Last month The New Yorker profiled Ghaith, a 22-year-old Syrian law student who was working two jobs while studying to become a judge.Ultimately he had to flee Damascus, treacherously crossing 10 boarders before finding refuge in Sweden.

“All my friends were either dead or gone,” Ghaith reflected. His reasons for leaving, however, weren’t just self-preservation. The young Syrian knew he would face a mandatory military enlistment upon graduation. “The thing that frightened me most was that I would become a victim of the civil war — or, even worse, a killer in it.” Ghaith fled to avoid being forced to slaughter his neighbors. And while he counts himself fortunate, he will never be the same:
I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip… In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’

Ghaith’s story is one of hundreds that The U.N. Refugee Agency, Refugee ActionThe Washington Post, and others are tracking. These accounts open up our ability to empathize, but empathy can be quickly sapped up by fear-mongering.

In what could be considered an act of national irony, the top new song in Apple Music this week in the U.S. — while political commentary turns against the marginalized and oppressed — is a rendition of Great is Thy Faithfulness from the TV show, The Voice.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Those most vulnerable will suffer unimaginably as our world writhes under the weight of evil. And complexities of the current crisis demand more than an either/or response to those seeking shelter from the storm. Our country needs Christian leaders asking questions like those David Crabb asked this week on Desiring God, “What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?”

My prayer is that our leaders (political, religious, and others) would enter into dialogue, taking action to care for the broken and continuing to protect our nation. May we echo the faithfulness of Christ, may we not cast a shadow of turning, may our compassion fail not — this is how a wounded world will experience the love of Christ.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen – 4:38)
James 2 (Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 5:21) James 3 (Listen – 2:38)
1 Chronicles 17 (Listen – 4:14) James 4 (Listen – 2:25)

The Weekend Reading List


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Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov, UPAF.

This piece was co-published with OnFaith.

How to Pray for Wisdom :: Throwback Thursday

James 1.5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, you have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

You know our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Set free your servants from all anxious thoughts for tomorrow; give us contentment with your good gifts; and confirm our faith accordingly as we seek your kingdom. You will not keep us from any good thing through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose — that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness from doing it — in your light we see light and in your service we find perfect freedom through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness.

Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desire is known to you, therefore perfect the work you have begun, and what your Spirit has awakened in us to ask in prayer.

We seek your face; turn your face to us and show us your glory. Then shall our longing be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.

The thought of you stirs us so deeply that we cannot be content unless we praise you. You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.

*Adapted and language updated from three prayers of Augustine. The final two sentences are excerpted from the opening paragraph ofConfessions.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 13-14 (Listen – 6:47)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

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