The Wisdom of Being Thankful

Several places in the Bible encourage us to be thankful to God regardless of our circumstances.  St. Paul encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1Th. 5:16)

After Nehemiah led an effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem following their destruction by the Babylonians, he arranged for an elaborate dedication ceremony “to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with music of cymbals, harps and lyres.”  He said, “I assigned two large choirs to give thanks.  One was “to proceed to the top of the wall on the right…and the second choir proceeded in the opposite direction.” (Ne. 12:27 – 47)

In a couple of days we will observe a national holiday for the ostensible purpose of thanking God for the many blessings he has conferred upon our nation.  This follows a precedent established by some of the earliest Christian settlors to the shores of this continent.

Why is thanksgiving important to us individually and collectively as a people?

First, it helps us to acknowledge that we are not in complete control, but in fact dependent upon someone other than ourselves for some of the positive things that happen to us in our lives.  Both God and others contribute to many of our blessings.  Even abilities and talents that we may attribute to ourselves are given to us by God, and we should acknowledge their true origins.

Second, it is God’s will for us to acknowledge him and to be thankful for his provision, for as Paul says, giving thanks “is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Th. 5:16)

Third, by acknowledging God and others with thanksgiving for our needs, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.” (Phil. 4:6)

I have previously written about my brother and his wife who were rescued by boat from their home during Hurricane Harvey in Houston.  The flood destroyed most of their belongings.  Their first floor had to be stripped down to the studs.  To further compound matters, my brother has serious health issues.

But in the midst of their many challenges, they are thankful for Christian friends who took them in immediately after the flood, for a daughter that they are now able to live with while their house is being rebuilt, for another daughter and son who regularly come to visit them from distant locations and assist them, for the excellent medical care my brother is now receiving and for their loving friends who take them to church and Bible studies and support them in prayer and various acts of kindness.

Being thankful gets us out of ourselves, brings joy and peace to our hearts, and helps align our lives with God’s will. 

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Why Wait?

A couple of weeks ago was the 40th anniversary of when I met Jesus Christ in a new and personal way and experienced the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

This was not a new belief experience, for I was already a baptized, practicing Catholic.  This was a “going deeper” type of experience in my relationship with God.  It was the beginning of my not just knowing about God, but my coming into a personal relationship with him through his son, Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It had many effects.  Prayer changed from occasionally talking to God to having regular conversations with him.  A casual and infrequent use of scripture was transformed into an intense desire to read the Bible.  Over the next few months I read the Bible from cover to cover as I commuted on the trains in and out of New York City.  There was a desire to be reconciled with anyone I might have offended.  Prayers at mass that I had heard for years took on new life and meaning, and I acquired a new love for my church.

I began to experience some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in my life as described in Isaiah 11:2-3 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.  There was a desire to bring this new found presence of God into all aspects of my life, including my work life which I had previously separated from my faith life.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that all my focus, direction and priorities began to change following this encounter with Jesus.

I was 37 when this happened.  I have often wondered what would have been the effect on my life had I been open to seeking this kind of relationship with God when I was a teenager or in my early 20’s.  While I am extremely grateful to God for all the many blessings he has allowed me to experience, I might have avoided some missteps and sin along the way, and been able to serve him more fully earlier in my life.

So, I offer this thought to all of our younger Christian brothers and sisters who may be in their teens and 20’s: Don’t wait!  Don’t wait to seek a personal encounter with the living God, the Creator of all that exists, through his son Jesus, the Messiah, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Seek your encounter with him today, as well as the release of the power of the Holy Spirit that you received in your baptism.

Life with a personal Jesus at your side and in your heart, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, is superior to a life with God when he may seem distant and removed.

Praying for the Right Words

Have you ever strained for what to say to a person at a critical moment?

The moment could involve consoling words to a friend who has lost a spouse, child, or other person dear to them.  It could involve how to respond to an unjust accusation to your character or a challenge to your competence at work.  It could include the need for encouraging words for a friend who is depressed.  In such moments, do we ask God to give us the right words?

The Book of Esther tells the dramatic story of Esther, the beautiful adopted daughter of Mordecai, who becomes Queen to King Ahasuerus in Susa.  Haman, the king’s chief administrator, becomes offended by Mordecai’s refusal to honor him.  Because Mordecai is a Jew, Haman deceitfully persuades the king to issue an edict to kill all of the Jews in his kingdom.  Mordecai instructs Esther that it is her duty to bring this plot to the king’s attention, but she risks the king’s wrath, if she approaches the king without his first extending a request for her to do so.

Esther prays, “Give me courage King of gods and master of all power. Put persuasive words into my mouth when I face the lion;” As Esther approached the king, “raising his face, afire with majesty, he looked on her blazing with anger. But God changed the king’s heart.” (Esther 4:17s; 1d-1e; JB) He sprang from his throne, embraced her and asked what she wanted.  She was eventually able to disclose Haman’s plot and the king reversed the edict Haman had arranged.  The Jews were saved from execution and Haman was hanged.

A few years ago, I came home and my wife said a former secretary from my work at Mobil had called and wanted me to call her back.  “She didn’t sound well,” my wife said.  I was astounded.  It was more than thirty years since she had been my secretary!  What could she possibly be calling for? 

I called her back.  She was indeed very ill.  She had had cancer, followed by a stroke, and was now confined to a wheel chair.  She thought she was dying, and she wanted to thank me for encouraging her to go back to school to finish her college education so she could move into higher level jobs.  She did complete her degree in an evening program, and later enjoyed a successful career at Mobil moving through several positions.

As I was talking with her, I was prompted to pray for her, but I was resistant.  I started to have a second conversation in my mind with the Lord.  Since I am used to praying in the name of Jesus, I asked the Lord, “How do I pray for her?  She is Jewish.”  The thought came into my mind, “Pray in the name of the Father.”  So I asked if she would like me to pray with her.

She said yes.  So, I prayed in the name of the Father to bring her comfort and healing.  I finished by saying , “Mary, I am going to continue to pray that you will be able to get out of that wheel chair and walk again on your own, and when you do, I want you to call me back and let me know. 

A few months later I received a call.  “Mr. Dalgetty, you told me to call you when I was able to get out of this wheel chair and walk.  Today, I took my first steps!”       

Pray First

How often do we enter into a challenging situation and forget to pray for God’s assistance?  It may be a difficult meeting with the boss at work, or an effort to resolve a disagreement with our spouse, or a discussion with one of our children over a certain disciplinary action we plan to take.

The following stories (one from scripture and one from personal experience) illustrate the value of praying first to request God’s assistance before we proceed in any situation.

Nehemiah was the cup bearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia.  He had learned that the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the gates burned by the Babylonians, and he weeps for Israel.  He prays that God would grant him favor with the King when he is his presence.  When he brings the wine to the king, the king notices how sad he is and observes that he has never seen him sad like this before.

Nehemiah responds, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins.”  The king then asked Nehemiah, “What is it that you want?”  Nehemiah says, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king.”  Nehemiah asks the king to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild it, giving him letters of safe passage through the surrounding territories and a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest to get wood to rebuild the gates destroyed by fire.  (Neh. 1:4 – 2:1-9)

Notice how Nehemiah prays before he meets with the king and also while he is in his presence before stating his request.  He is relying on God to go before him to prepare the king’s heart for his request.

Over the years I have experienced times when I have neglected to pray and times when I remembered.  At work, I often found myself praying in the hallways and elevators as I walked to meetings where potential conflicts needed to be resolved.   The outcomes always seemed to be better when I prayed.

Here is a non-work story for which I have found memories.  A number of years ago our oldest daughter was in a serious dating relationship with a young man who I had met on several occasions.  He called one day to have lunch.  Since on a prior occasion he had expressed interest in a workplace ministry I was involved in, I had thought that he wanted to follow-up on that conversation.

As I was leaving my office to meet with him, the thought hit me, “What if he wants to ask permission to marry our daughter?  How will I respond?   So, I started to pray, asking God what I should say.  We had no reservations about the young man being a good husband for our daughter.  It was more a matter of what form should my response take for such an important request.

After a prolonged discussion on a variety of subjects, there was a pause and then a request for permission to marry our daughter.   As a result of my prayer, I said, “Well, I have two requirements.”  His countenance gave a worried look.  “The requirements are that you love God and that you love our daughter.”  He let out a sigh, and said, “Oh, I can do that!  That will not be a problem.” 

In postscript to this story, it turns out that our second daughter was also in a serious dating relationship.  About a month later I received a call from the young man she was dating who lived out of state.  He said that he had hoped to talk with me in person, but his circumstances did not allow it.  He was coming to town to see our daughter and wanted our permission to marry her.  Thinking back to what happened the month before, I said, “Well, I have two requirements,” and before I could state what they were, he said, “Yes and yes.”  He had obviously consulted with our other daughter’s fiancé.  This past year both marriages celebrated their twenty-first anniversaries, and their families have given us many happy memories.

“In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

Recognizing Jesus

Early in Mark’s Gospel Jesus encounters a man with an evil spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum.  The evil spirit cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24)

How ironic!  Demons recognized Jesus for who he is, but the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees and the scribes, steeped in the study of scripture and the writings of the prophets, did not.  

We have a similar situation in our day as fewer and fewer people recognize Jesus for who he is – the Son of God, the creator of all that exists who became one of us in human form.  Many do not accept that he is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Light from Light, true God from true God, son of David, Savior, Messiah, and Christ the Lord, among the many titles attempting to capture who he is.

Mother Theresa was noted for saying that she saw the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor that she brought into her homes for the dying in Calcutta.

Jesus used the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats to identify himself with the thirsty, the hungry, and those in need of clothing, shelter, medical care and who were imprisoned.   When people asked, “When did we see you in need” of these things, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Thus, in Mother Theresa, we have the manifestation of Jesus both in her actions to serve the poorest of the poor, and in the faces of the poor she served. 

While the number of Christians in our society may be declining, the examples of Jesus’ love and service have been evident in the last couple of months with the hurricanes, wildfires, and the horrific Las Vegas shootings.  Here are a couple examples from Las Vegas as reported by Melia Robinson in TODAY.

tom-mcintosh-who-was-shot-in-the-leg-reunited-with-his-hero-a-few-days-after-the-shooting.pngTom McIntosh said he wouldn’t have made it out of the festival alive if it weren’t for a stranger who stopped to care for him.  He lay bleeding from his leg in the back of a pick-up truck when James Lawson, who was fleeing the shooter, noticed that a tourniquet around McIntosh’s leg was tied incorrectly.  “It was in the completely wrong spot,” said Lawson, who serves in the U. S. Army Reserve.  “I adjusted the belt, got it up where it should be, and tightened it down.”  Lawson stayed with McIntosh, consoling him, until a different truck ferried them both to the hospital.

After the gunman opened fire, some in the crowd were too frightened to move.  Johnathan Smith began shouting, “Active shooter, active shooter, let’s go!”  He told all nine members of his extended family, as well as nearby strangers, to join hands and run.  They moved as a human chain to a handicapped parking area and hid behind several rows of cars.  Then he spotted a few girls who weren’t fully protected. He stood up to warn them to get down and a bullet struck him in the neck. Fortunately he has survived his wounds.

As God created us in his image and likeness, and later became one of us in the person of Jesus, it has always been his desire to reproduce himself in us through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  By his grace, his presence is often revealed in times of acute need.

Joy Complete

“You will fill me with joy in your presence,” says the psalmist.  (Psalm 16:11)  Joy is an emotion that usually flows from something that gives us pleasure or makes us happy.

Over the years I have experienced joy in a variety of ways — when I proposed to my wife on a snowy Christmas eve; when I witnessed the birth of our five children; when I received a promotion in my work; when I used to hit a good golf shot; when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl (years ago); when I have had the courage to share about God’s grace and the saving power of Jesus Christ; and when I do something for someone else instead of myself.

The world tends to look at joy in terms of pleasure, good fortune and success.  Even Webster defines joy by using these terms.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we obey his commands we will remain in his love and our joy will be complete.  He says we should follow his example. 

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s command and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)

Remaining in Jesus’ love and obeying his commands results in a joy that is complete.  It is ongoing.  It gives rise to a general state of happiness and well-being regardless of the circumstances.  It is a joy that survives setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies. 

Many years ago some people prayed with me at a Life in the Spirit program to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I drove home in a blinding snow storm on the curvy and hilly roads of northern Westchester County, NY.  I could barely see beyond the hood of my car.  Because I was so filled with joy from experiencing God’s presence in the Holy Spirit, that blizzard didn’t bother me one bit.

As Jesus suggests, it is God’s presence that is the source of our joy.  The more we are in his presence, the greater potential we have to experience that joy.  We can seek his presence through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments and in joining with other Christians in his name.

But perhaps the best way to experience God’s presence is simply to seek him at all times in our thoughts, in our work, in our time with others, in whatever we are doing.  If our life is a constant dialog with the person of Jesus, we will be in his presence, and our joy will be complete. 

“You fill me with joy in your presence.”      

We All Want Purpose

Do you have purpose in your life?  I have never met anyone who didn’t want to have purpose and meaning in their life.  Rick Warren sold over 32 million copies of his book, Purpose Driven Life, indicating a fairly high level of interest in the subject.

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.” (John 4:34) Jesus seemed to be equating food with purpose.  In a way, food is similar to purpose in that they both keep us going and sustain us.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, reveals his quandary over whether he would prefer to be with Christ through death in his prison cell, or remain in this life and continue to proclaim Christ to the Philippians.  He concludes that the Philippians need his continued presence and encouragement more.  “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil. 1:21-26)

As Christians, the Church teaches us that we are called to come to know God, to love him and to serve him in this life, so that we can be with him after this life and into eternity.  How this plays out in real life varies with each individual, for God creates each one of us with unique characteristics, skills and purpose.

For me, I came to know God through the Christian heritage of my parents, as well as through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ forty years ago this month.  Early in my adult life my primary purpose was to love and support my wife and children and advance in my career as an attorney for a large international oil company as far as possible.

I didn’t give much thought as to whether those two objectives were a purpose God had given me.  

My wife and I practiced our Catholic faith by going to church every Sunday, raising our children with Christian values and getting involved in a few church activities.  It wasn’t until we experienced a renewal of our faith through the power of the Holy Spirit in our mid-30’s that I began to look at the purpose for my life in the context of God’s will for me.  Through that renewal experience, I began to have a desire to spend time with God each day in prayer and come to know him more fully by regularly reading scripture. 

God enlarged my perspective of purpose.  Loving and serving my family, and serving my employer and others were part of his desire for me.  I came to understand that God wants us to be good stewards of the time, talents, responsibilities and people he entrusts to our care.  Just as he commanded Peter at the end of John’s Gospel to feed and take care of his sheep, he commands us to love and take care of the people he puts in our lives.  He wants us to help lead them to Him and where he wants them to be.

“And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)