Writing a Psalm of Thanksgiving

At past LBFC Thanksgiving Celebrations, we have included times for expression of thanksgiving. In recent years, this took the suggested form of:

I am thankful to God for _____________because ______________

This was intended to help each of us form an expression of thanks to share in our worship celebration, allowing many to participate. This year, we are taking another step in structuring our Thanksgiving. This step is intended to integrate personal expressions thanksgiving into a sense of all giving thanks together – that is, corporate worship! The structure I recommended is taken from brief Psalms of praise or thanksgiving in the Bible. (This structure was explained and recommended to me and others at the recent Psalms Retreat that was led so well by leaders of Long Beach Grace Brethren Church.)

This structure is quite simple. It is in three parts:

  1. Call to Thanksgiving and Praise
  2. Reasons for Thanksgiving and Praise
  3. Call to Thanksgiving and Praise

Think of the first call as you speaking to others who are present as you speak or read your Psalm. You are inviting them to offer thanks and praise to God. The second portion of your Psalm is you giving reasons to those listening for your praise or thanksgiving. You may be speaking to the other people who are listening, or to God, or both. The third portion is you asking those who are listening, again, to join you in the thanksgiving – particularly now that you explained reasons for it.

Psalm 117 uses this pattern:

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord.

The first portion:

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.

is a call for those who are listening – in this case “all you nations”! and “all you peoples” – to praise God.

The second portion is giving reasons for this praise:

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

And then the call to the listeners to praise God is repeated as the third part.

And that’s it. We are encouraging our congregation to work on writing their own Psalm of Thanksgiving leading up to our Thanksgiving Celebration. Bring it with you – in your memory or written down somewhere. (I keep mine on my phone). Then, in our time for sharing, as God leads you, read it or repeat it to call others to praise and thanksgiving, give your reasons why, and call them again!

Your Psalm might be longer than Psalm 117. For example, Psalm 118 follows the three part pattern with more words. The first call is verses 1 to 4. Then the reasons are given in verses 5 through 28! That’s a lot of reasons! And finally, a call is repeated in verse 29.

We probably wouldn’t encourage anyone to read a Psalm as long and complex as Psalm 119 at the Thanksgiving Celebration, but the simple three-part structure allows you to give more than one or two reasons for expressing thanks to God.

What do you say in your reasons?

You can talk about God and what He has done. Your reasons can be personal or general. They can be based on corporate experiences of our church family or your biological family. Reasons do not all have to be superficially “good”. Job and other examples of faith expressed praise for God in the face of severe trials, praising God in spite of circumstances. As several of the leaders told us at the Psalms Retreat, “Pain makes your praise credible.” When we are not driven by external circumstances, but by a deep experience of God’s faithfulness in times of trouble and pain, this can be a powerful witness of faith.

Lastly, even if you think you are unlikely to read your Psalm at the celebration, I’d like to encourage you to write one, or work on one. Several people – just in the 24 hours since Sunday when we introduced this exercise – have expressed how spiritually beneficial it has been for them to work through writing a Psalm of thanksgiving to God. I found it very encouraging and spiritually engaging to write Psalms as we were instructed to do so at the Psalms Retreat I attended. It’s a good thing to reflect and work through your reasons to thank God, particularly in this season of Thanksgiving, and to call others to join you – even if it is only in your own personal interaction with God.

As another example here’s a Psalm of Thanksgiving that I worked on during our worship times on Sunday. I was thinking of our very diverse church family as I wrote.

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A Psalm of Thanksgiving

I rejoice in going up to worship.
God has called the nations to Himself, to life.
Let us go up together with many tongues and offerings of great praise from across the whole world.
God has done it.

My people didn’t know God when he called Abraham.
They didn’t know God when he called David.
When God sent Jesus, my people had never heard of him.
Our families were still lost when God’s holy spirit descended in tongues of fire and began to speak to the nations through his people in their own languages.

But now we are found.
Even in Long Beach, today – we are found!
We are alive, because we know Him and trust Him.

Praise his name.
Today, let us thank him together for what he has done!

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Justo Gonzales, on The Changing Shape of Church History

Justo Gonzales closes his book The Changing Shape of Church History:

No longer can the church claim the religious hegemony it once had… Many Christians think that thIs means that the church is losing is power, and yearn with nostalgia for the old times of Christendom. But if I understand correctly the message of Jesus, that marginality, whether imposed or voluntary, is to be received as an opportunity to recover an essential dimension of that message:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

Lk. 22:25-26

The church of the future, that Catholic and universal church that I have just described, will be a church of service, but of service from the margins. It will not be the church at the center, as in the paradigm of Eusebius. It’s great temptation will be to become a purely spiritual church, claiming to be above the vicissitudes of human history, as in the paradigm of Augustine. However, if it is obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will be a church incarnate, present, a participant of human life, but present above all at the margins, without pretending or even seeking to be at the center or to control, and with a clear call of service to all mankind.

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Quaker Meetings in John Woolman’s Time

While perusing John Woolman, American Quaker, a biography of John Woolman by Janet Whitney published in 1942 that Fred Newkirk asked me to order for him, I ran across a description of what Quaker meeting for worship was in those days. It so happens to also be what meeting for worship in the “waiting worship” approach can be in some Quaker circles still today. While perhaps Whitney idealizes a bit, I have experienced Quaker worship in this way – entering into God’s undeniable presence quietly and powerfully covering all in attendance in a manner I’ve not experienced in other forms of worship. It is most assuredly not merely worship in silent individual meditation; God moves some to speak powerfully – even to preach. Whitney knits through her description of worship a number of characteristics of early Quakers that convey the simple, humble attraction of the movement even in prose exhibiting the limitations of past colonial perspectives. It seemed worth excerpting for those who wonder at Quaker waiting worship to perhaps get a feel for what such worship and the broader Quaker approach to following Christ can be like. So, here’s an excerpt taken in pieces from pages 24-27.

On Sunday and on Thursday they went to meeting “first days  and week days meeting.” …Going to meeting was an outing and a social occasion, as well as a sacred necessity…. Silence spread around the meetinghouse, broken only by the song of birds, the chatter of squirrels and insects, or the stamp of a restless horse. Meeting “began” when the first persons entered the meetinghouse, and the deep silence was the chief part of the ritual. Although to the Quakers no one place was more holy than another, and they never had their meetinghouses dedicated or sanctified, nor their burying places consecrated, they had yet chosen for the site of their first meetinghouse in this neighborhood a place hallowed to the Indians for long past as a burying ground.

It seemed to the simple Quakers that a burying ground already established in a central spot was a suitable place to use for their own dead. God was everywhere and the Father of all. …the body of the first to die, Mary Kendal, was laid to rest by her husband and friends in 1687 in the Indian burying ground… and many more. The Indian dead, sitting upright in their barrows with their pottery and dried corn and bows and arrows beside them for use in the Happy Hunting Grounds, mingled their dust with that of the Quakers who lay reposeful and empty-handed, trusting God for provision in the future life as in the past. …no monuments above ground distinguished the one from the other. Gabriel, if he came with his trumpet, could not read the list of names otherwhere than in the Lamb’s book of life. It was against Quaker custom in those early days to have so much as a headstone. The meeting minute-books and individual family records alone furnished the information. So when the Quakers on the Rancocas were ready to build a meetinghouse, its site was a foregone conclusion. Convenience and habit dictated that it should stand beside the burying ground.

To little John Woolman the meetinghouse was as familiar as his own home. He could not remember any time when he did not go there, for he had been taken before memory became conscious. There was no symbol inside, no cross or altar, to mark the house as a temple, but yet it was solemn in there, it was different. When one entered the dim interior from the outside brightness, one felt a hush. On one side of the center aisle sat the women, on the other the men; and the same division was maintained on the two raised facing benches, where the elders and ministers sat. Behind the elders’ bench, to the southeast, was a small window made of four panes of bull’s -eye glass, and in the southwest wall, on the women’s side, was a large fireplace. In winter when the door was shut, most of the light in the meetinghouse came from the leaping fire that roared bravely in the brick chimney, and in extreme weather the women and children whose seats were furthest from it would move closer and gather near the warmth with decorous informality. In summer most of the light came from the open door…

At times another shadow silently appeared, the black silhouette of a man half-naked with a single feather upright in his hair. The Indian peered in to see the white man’s doings, and never needed telling it was worship. Only the movement of his shadow told his entrance, to take his place among the silent forms and share their inward salutation to the Great Spirit in a language which he too could understand.

It was a heavy responsibility to break that hush by speech. Although there were some who rushed readily into the vocal ministry, an opportunity open to all, a sensitive spirit trembled and forbore. Yet the ministry, by sermon or by prayer, was a necessary part of the perfect meeting, and meetings held for long periods in a silence that was never broken were found to become weak and dead. For this reason a definite “call to the ministry” was favored by Friends, and after a few spontaneous “appearings in the ministry” of one whose words seemed to feed the spiritual life of the rest, encouragement was given by making a minute recording “the recognition of their gift.” This recording minute of the Monthly Meeting, the local executive of the church, was all that it meant to be a minister among the Quakers. It did not in any sense appoint a minister to preach, much less pay him for doing so; and it did not release those not recorded as ministers from the duty of obeying a rare call to speak in meeting when the Divine impulse was felt. The Spirit of God  knew no distinction of persons in this service, neither of age nor of sex, of wealth nor of poverty. Recorded ministers sat on the facing benches with the elders simply because to one more likely to speak than others it was an advantage to be slightly raised and to face the company.

…”We being A large Family of Children,” wrote Woolman in his Journal, “it was customary with my parents after meeting on first  days to put us to read In the Holy Scriptures or Some good Books, one after Another the rest [sitting] without much Conversation; This I think was of Some use.”

John Woolman: American Quaker
by Janet Whitney, 1942, pp. 24-27
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Dallas Willard, on his impending death

Gary Moon wrote in his recent biography of Dallas Willard, Becoming Dallas Willard, about J.P. Moreland’s visit after it became clear Willard would not live for much longer. “Are you afraid of dying?”

Willard smiled as he responded, “No, J. P., I actually believe the things I’ve been teaching all these years.”

Moon reports that Dallas Willard spoke about joy for his own funeral: “It’s really important to understand how joy cuts through everything. It cuts through everything. And to anticipate that your moment of passage from this earth will be one of great joy.”

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Dallas Willard, asked why he follows Jesus

Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, “Why do you follow Jesus Christ?” My answer is always the same: “Who else did you have in mind?”

— Dallas Willard

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Ministry Motivation

Ministry is too sacred to be motivated by gain and too difficult to be motivated by duty. Only love can sustain us.

– Warren Wiersbe
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Resources on Origins and Christian Faith

Do you know a student who is trying to work out how to reconcile the latest science on human origins with their Christian faith and biblical teaching? Allow me to recommend that you refer them to works by John Walton, Iain Provan, or Tremper Longman. (I’m sure there are others; but these three I have found particularly helpful.)

For example, John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve is very helpful in clarifying how the accounts of human origins in Genesis should be received in their historical and literary context and then what that means for us today. It’s available in paper, on Kindle, and as an audiobook. Walton also has many lectures available online via youtube and other sources.

For a wider scope, try Iain Provan book Seriously Dangerous Religion, which is quite a seriously good book for Jesus-followers who want to understand how to think of Christian faith in relation to the wider world.

I highly recommend both.

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Unconditional Love or Unconditional Affirmation

Unconditional affirmation and unconditional love are not the same thing. To demand the former is to actually exclude the latter.

Sam Allberry

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antichrist church

The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

Eugene Peterson
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