My family wasn’t always excited about it, but every Thanksgiving everyone who ate at our house had to write-up a gratitude list that they’d share around the dinner table. I insisted on the writing part, because it always felt like the spontaneous sharing led to the same recycled list we share every year – I’m grateful for my health, my family, a good job and Jesus (can’t forget Jesus). And it’s not that these spontaneous/simpler things aren’t worthy of genuine thanks. They are! But I felt like our thanks went deeper when we took the time to write it out. Wrestling with how to say thanks well is itself an act of worship.
So, this year, I decided to give myself a stricter assignment. I decided to make God himself the focus of my thanks. I wanted to write about the good things God has done in my life over the last year and why I am truly grateful for his presence in my life. I pondered this for a couple days because I wanted it to be genuinely heart-felt. So, here’s my list:
I know, I know, having prayer on my gratitude list seems like one of those things pastors should say in order to appear as holy as possible. Pastors who love praying get religious bonus points. I don’t love to pray. I have never been very good at it. But, in this past year, I have appreciated it at another level.
- I have had four cancer surgeries in the last 2½ years. They are not fun, and as you would suspect, the ‘c’ word generates a good bit of anxiety. However, in this journey, lots of people prayed for me and it really helped. I experienced significant peace – peace beyond what made sense given my circumstances. I also felt genuinely cared for. Knowing that people are taking the time to mention my name, before the Father, still touches me. I am not proud to admit this, but I rarely remember the needs of other people. I don’t mean to forget, but I often do. So, the fact that people remember my need. And then for them to take time to formulate words and carry my burden to God, is pretty amazing. Knowing how hard prayer comes for me, I feel such deep gratitude for those who have consistently prayed for me over these last few years.
- My experience with people praying for me has motivated me to get better at praying for others. An interesting thing has happened in my heart about prayer. Even just a few years ago, if I were to create a mental list about what has the greatest impact on people’s lives, teaching the Bible in front of large group would have always been at the top of the list. Second, would have been writing something profound that was then widely distributed. Somewhere closer to the bottom of my list, you would have found praying for a person. That has flipped completely around for me in this last year. I now believe that praying for people is the most impactful thing I can do for others. So, every day, I start my day around 5:00am and work on a ‘pocket prayer’ that I send out one-at-a-time to just under 200 people. It is not a burden. I don’t feel particularly religious as I do it. It’s a joy! And I cannot tell you how many people tell me that the prayer positively impacts their day. Then I think about how many others are impacted because this group of friends felt personally and specifically prayed for – everyone they touch is the beneficiary. Whoa!
I am genuinely and deeply grateful for the power and privilege of prayer.
I have known more than a few people who have come to the later years of life wondering what the heck they are going to do with themselves once they retire. At first the idea of not having to go to work every day and sleeping in till 10:00am seems genuinely appealing. But actually living that way is hardly as enjoyable. Boredom sets in quickly and people realize they were made for a purpose – and without purpose, life quickly become meaningless. The infamous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson captures it well,
The purpose of life is not to be happy, rather it is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
This ideal only becomes more important the older one becomes. And I am grateful that God in his mercy has given me a fresh sense of purpose in these later years – specifically to help the strong stay strong and to go deeper with fewer. I have had the privilege of having stood before larger groups of people to teach. It was a blessing not many people get to experience. No regrets! But what excites me now is to be the one who supports and encourage the few who reach the many; to be a prayer partner, pastor, and helper to those who may not always think they need support – or are suspicious of those who are too eager to help.
Specifically, I believe God is going to lead me to the ones who I am supposed to serve in this way. I am not going to have to force it. It will be organic and authentic. For some it will be a short season, for others we’ll get to walk the path for a bit. Old connections will be rekindled, new doors will open, and it will be very much a behind-the-scenes kingdom building experience and I could not be more excited about it. I feel a fresh enthusiasm about this next chapter. It’s the biggest faith step I have ever taken, but I feel a deep sense of peace about it. He’s leading, I am going to do my best to follow.
I have written about this in other places, so at the risk of being redundant, let me say again, I have been an imperfect pastor. I don’t mean that flippantly or casually. There have been seasons of my life where the stage lights did unhealthy things to my soul. I craved attention and had such an unhealthy need to preform that I often prioritized ministry over family. I also hurt people who served with me by being self-willed and insensitive. I had become such a mess at one point, I thought I’d never be able to do ministry again. And I was put on the shelf for a season to sort out a good bit of this soul-stuff.
God in his mercy has been gracious to me. He has patiently and lovingly healed a good bit of the brokenness, and I pray that the same has happened for those who were adversely affected by immaturity. I’m still a work in progress and I suspect the stage will no longer be my primary platform. Now, its just…
Fellow strugglers who want to find their way…
The gifted and capable trying to avoid the ditch…
Walking together, putting one foot in front of other, trying to end in a better place than where we started. And in doing so, I am confident we will continue having plenty for which to give thanks! To God be all the praise!