Saturday, November 15, 2008


November 14, 2008

The momentary respite was a welcomed relief from the monotony of the flat, straight, desert road bisecting an endless sea of beige sand and lifeless gray shrubs. Long road trips are difficult enough to endure, but when you add summer temperatures and three small children to the mix you end up with a recipe for near insanity. Our family was traveling from Phoenix to Southern California when a roadside diner, the dinner hour, and three bored-to-tears, hungry, sweaty children all combined to demand a pit stop. The restaurant was clean, the menu was inexpensive and, of highest importance, the place was air-conditioned. I was pleased.
"Daddy, it's my turn to thank Jesus," announced Trisha as our food arrived at the table. Her four-year-old enthusiasm was gladly rewarded and we all bowed our heads, closed our eyes and waited for her prayer. However, unaccustomed to praying in such a large, noisy setting, she folded her hands in front of her face and with head bowed, spoke in a soft whisper audible only to herself and God.
"Louder, please," I interrupted. "No one can hear you."
It was then that Trisha proceeded to teach us a very valuable lesson about prayer and thanksgiving. She did exactly what I had requested; she spoke so that everyone could hear...EVERYONE! Her hands unfolded to form a megaphone for her mouth and with uplifted face she shouted at the top of her lungs. "DEAR JESUS, THANK YOU FOR THIS WOOONNNDERFUL FOOD! AND THIS WOOONNNDERFUL PLACE! AND THESE WOOONNNDERFUL PEOPLE! IN JESUS NAME, AAAAA...MEN!!!"
I must admit to opening my eyes during Trisha's prayer and looking around the room. I was profoundly embarrassed by her outburst and wanted to gauge everyone's reaction to determine how best to apologize to the other patrons. I could only guess that they must have been terribly disturbed. My wife buried her head in her hands and began laughing uncontrollably. Trisha's older sister was sinking out of sight in a desperate attempt to disappear under the table. Her two-year-old brother, with eyes twice their normal size, actually stopped moving for a few seconds (I'm not sure that has happened since).
But the reaction of the other diners was not at all what I expected. All over the restaurant conversations suddenly ceased and heads bowed in reverent silence. At the close of her prayer, several other "Amens" were heard along with some applause. In an instant, with her childlike exuberance and naiveté, Trisha had transformed a roadside diner into a cathedral of praise and a crowd of strangers into a church of prayerful worshippers. For one brief moment we were all collectively mesmerized by the divine inspiration of a child, she the impassioned preacher shouting out her thanksgiving, and we the surprised congregants suddenly, unexpectedly finding ourselves assembled together at the throne of grace and reminded of the benevolent love of our heavenly Father.
At what age do we lose that childhood enthusiasm, that unashamed boldness, that natural piety, that passion for the Divine? More importantly, how can it be regained? Why are we adults so subdued in our thanksgiving, so inhibited in our praise, so stifled in our witness? Unlike Trisha we are all too aware of the sensitivities of those around us and choose to express our faith with extreme caution so as not to offend anyone. After all we wouldn't want to disturb the unbelieving world with our too-exuberant praise and cause any embarrassment (mostly for us). But I wonder why our inhibitions seem to flee when we are extolling the virtues of our favorite sports team and cheering them on to victory. And why is it perfectly acceptable to shout for our favorite political candidate, but not for our beloved Lord? Interestingly, I know of no passage of Scripture where we are encouraged to "whisper a prayer" or "speak softly our thanks."
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” – Psalm 47:1. "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving..." – Psalm 95:1-2. "Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!" – Psalm 66:1-2. "Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth...Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise..." – Psalm 100:1, 4.
When was the last time you actually shouted for joy to the Lord in a worship service? How long has it been since you did so at the dinner table? I believe God was well pleased with Trisha's shout of thanksgiving, and likely disappointed with my embarrassment. Thank you, Trisha, for teaching us not to be ashamed of giving thanks, and not to be embarrassed to show the world our faith.
I have always been intrigued by the church’s response to its first major trial. Not long after the church had its explosive beginning, Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish authorities for healing a crippled beggar and using the miracle as an opportunity to preach about Jesus. After they were threatened and commanded not to ever speak or teach in the name of Jesus, the two apostles, upon their release, showed up at a prayer meeting. But what do you suppose they requested of the Lord during their prayer? Had it been me I would have begged the Almighty to rain down fire and brimstone upon those who were opposing our message and then I would have implored God to keep us safe from any harm. Yet what did these early Christian servants actually pray for?
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” – Acts 4:29. God’s answer to their prayer is recorded just two verses later. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” – Acts 4:31. Obviously, God was pleased with their request and the book of Acts chronicles the church’s continued amazing growth.
The message for us is clear; God blesses the efforts of His people when we live out our faith uncompromisingly and witness to others with great boldness. We may very well be entering a time of increased opposition, both from human as well as spiritual forces. Already we are struggling to minister in this region against an enemy which seems to be ramping up its attacks upon the church. I am guessing this rise in spiritual opposition is much more widespread than in just Northern California. How we respond to such adversity will make a huge difference in whether or not the kingdom in this locality, and around the world, is able to grow.
Papa God, consider the opposition we are already facing. In this area we have yet to undergo the severity of the persecution which the church had to endure when it first began nearly two thousand years ago. But nevertheless, we seem to be experiencing trials and setbacks on a daily basis. Papa, do not allow us to cower in fear. We pray for the boldness to speak, to give thanks, to pray, to praise, and to witness no matter where we may find ourselves and no matter who may surround us. Help us not to be intimidated by a world which is increasingly hostile, or to be ashamed of our Lord who boldly went to the cross for our sakes. We pray that the Spirit who led your servants, Paul and Silas, to sing praises in the midst of prison would lead us to give thanks in all circumstances. We pray that the Spirit who shook the place where your servants were praying for boldness, would once again shake up your church and enable us to speak your word with great boldness. And we pray for the wisdom to know when to speak and exactly what to say. For the sake of the growth of your kingdom in this area we implore you, Papa. We pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.
As I write these words we are less than two weeks away from celebrating another Thanksgiving Day in this country. As you gather with friends and family for your Thanksgiving meal, don't forget to give thanks. I recommend you do so with enthusiasm, no matter where you may be dining. Just don't be surprised if your blessing over dinner is interrupted by your heavenly Father saying, "Louder, please. No one can hear you!"

Bill, a child of God, boldly shouting for joy


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