Today, during my normal prayer walk, I came to the point in the path where I normally just shut up and try to open my ears. Sometimes I find I need to use a single phrase or word to focus my attention on God and keep it there. It could be anything; sometimes just one of God’s titles, sometimes a plea (‘Speak, Lord’), sometimes a phrase of scripture. Today it was just a very simple prayer that I’ve recently started using to begin my time of prayer – "Thank you for This" – with the ‘This’ being everything and anything that was present in my life at the time. It’s been a helpful way for me to get out of my own head, to suddenly see the beauty of the autumn colours all around me, to recognise the glory of God in Creation, and all his provision for me in my family, my church, my work. God’s goodness is so often invisible until we pause to see it!
Today, when I used those words, the ‘This’ was something quite different; it was the hurts of my heart for which I was giving thanks. Some I’d already lifted to God in prayer, of others I was barely aware, but that is what was present at that moment of thanksgiving; that is what the reality for me was, whether I liked it or not. That’s what I had to be grateful for. The gut-churning turmoil of conflict among Christian colleagues who should know better; the pain of burying yet another good, loving man, and comforting a wife whose life is in shreds; the constant knowledge of my own moral and spiritual failures; the loss of friends forced to seek work in larger centres; the impossibility of meeting the demands of my calling – these things and more made my thanksgiving a variant of the bitter-sweet declaration of Job; "Though he slay me, yet will I praise him."
Two days ago I knelt by Stuart’s open coffin with his trembling wife, and read psalm 103. At its heart is the sombre acknowledgement that
"our days are like grass;
we flourish like the flower of the field,
and the wind passes over it,
and it is gone
and its place remembers it no more."
And then it goes on to say, "But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him." The psalm opens and closes with the refrain "Bless the Lord, O my Soul".
These are words for us all, and especially in times of pain and loss. God’s prompting me to pray the prayer of thanksgiving today prevented me from harbouring bitterness, and forced me to feel the pain that would have poisoned me had it remained hidden. The prayer of thanksgiving enables us to not just bring these things out of hiding, but to make them cause for praise. The hard mercies of God may not be desirable, but they are his good gifts nevertheless. We refuse them at our peril. As Job said "Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?"
Thank you for this.