Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
I’m writing these reflections the day before my husband has brain surgery. There are concerns and many details to attend to, but what is on my mind most are Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I had coffee with a friend last week who reminded me that I had written a post last February sharing that I had chosen this to be my verse for the year, and that was before I knew we would go through COVID-19 or that Stuart would develop brain tumors. Thanks be to God for his sovereign leading!
I have been saying and seeking to live this verse for ten months. On this day of Stuart’s surgery, I do rejoice in the deep and abiding truth that we are loved by God, and our lives and our futures are in his hands. Stuart and I both feel remarkably calm as he goes into this surgery. We know this is not a testament of what good people we are, but simply evidence of God’s grace and power accomplishing for us what we can’t accomplish on our own.
We thank God for his faithfulness in transforming us so that we are able to trust him knowing that “when we pass through the waters, he will be with us; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm us; when we walk through fire we shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume us” (Isaiah 43:2-3). Whatever comes, we cling to the truth that God is with us.
So today we are “praying without ceasing” for God to be with Stuart as he has his surgery. But we are also rejoicing and giving thanks to God for our access to incredible medical care and for the community of family and friends who support us so lovingly and are lifting Stuart and our whole family before the throne of grace.
On this day after the election, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, as we anticipate a pastoral transition in our church, and in whatever personal circumstances you might find yourself, may you too be encouraged to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Below are the reflections I wrote last February. If you want to receive updates on Stuart’s medical condition, go to Stuart’s Caring Bridge site: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/stuartalanhoffman/journal.
February 13, 2020: As I said in an earlier post, I am already thinking about Lent and how God is inviting me to become like Christ together for the world. In December I decided my verse of the year would be 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
These are beautiful words, but they are not easy for me. I like to use my mind for study and to do what I can to lead. But circumstances being what they are with so much brokenness in the world, and discord in our country, transition in our church, and personal challenges (which I know we all have), I have come to truly believe the best thing I can do is rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
The “so what” of Pastor Pete’s sermon a week ago (February 2) aligned with this desire in my life. I confess I am a person who is prone to “carping, complaining, and whining” about what’s wrong rather than focusing on all the gifts of grace that come daily. God’s grace and power have changed me a lot over many decades, but I still have so far to go.
While I want to change, I have learned that I can’t change myself. Believe me. I know because I have tried. My human will has no power, so it cannot bring about the transformation that I desire. Instead, it leaves me feeling frustrated and defeated. I share this knowing that I am not alone in this struggle.
What is needed instead of will power is willingness as we employ the principle of “indirection.” Only God can change us, and he invites us to participate with him in the process through spiritual disciplines. As Richard Foster shares, “A Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort.”
Spiritual disciplines are intentional ways that we can participate indirectly in what God is doing in and through us. We are called to participate in Christ’s life and ministry through the God-given means of grace—practices, relationships, and experiences that help put us before God who alone can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves by his grace and power.
Joy and gratitude are character qualities that God wants us to have, but we can’t make ourselves into joyful, grateful people. However, spiritual disciplines are means of grace that God can use to change us. Rather than focusing on my circumstances and what I don’t like or what is challenging or difficult in life that leaves me complaining, I can choose to turn my attention to God.
I can choose to remember the joy of my salvation, the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Spirit that are mine as his child. I can choose to open my eyes to the many ways God’s blessings are raining down and being lavished on me daily, even moment by moment, and choose to give thanks for the ways I see him working in my life and in the world. Growth is a slow process that ends only when we see Jesus face to face, but we can become more like him in this life as we allow his Spirit to transform us.
The other part of this verse is “pray without ceasing.” Decades ago I first memorized this verse, but I really couldn’t understand how a person could possibly pray all the time. We have to live, work, care for our families, attend to a myriad of details. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? I now know that prayer is more about our posture in the world than the words that we say. In fact, sometimes the best prayers have only a few words or even no words. It’s simply a posture of humble dependence on God.
Even so, there are concerns in my life, in our church, and in our world that are so big and beyond human control that I am drawn to pray more. But I still have much to learn about prayer, so I have begun meditating on a psalm each day as a gateway to prayer and a guide in how to pray. And I am looking to the late Eugene Peterson to mentor me through his wonderful books on the psalms—Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer and Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms that Summon You from Self to Community.
In the latter book, Peterson writes, “Prayer has to do with God. But prayer also has to do with much else: war and government, poverty and sentimentality, politics and economics, work and marriage. Everything, in fact. … Only in prayer can we escape the distortions and constrictions of the self and enter the truth and expansiveness of God. We find there, to our surprise, both self and society whole and blessed. It is the old business of losing your life to save it; and the life that is saved is not only our own, but everyone else’s as well.”
When crises hit, we have heard the cries of many to stop praying and do something. But prayer is doing something. In fact, prayer is the source of action. We look to God and listen to his word to discern how to respond faithfully. We acknowledge our collective brokenness, sin, and deep need of the supernatural resources of the kingdom that are able to do more than we can give or do ourselves.
Prayer isn’t the only thing we do, of course, but it is the single most important action contributing to health, strength, well-being, and shalom. I know that prayer is what I need in my life right now. But in truth, this is what is needed in our church and in our world. Lord help us.
I am encouraged to see and hear how others in the church are feeling called to deeper prayer as well, and I’m looking forward to praying more with others in the weeks ahead at the weekly Wednesday Prayer Gatherings through Renewing Prayer. These are not just things to do but means of grace to give ourselves over to God to experience his grace ourselves and to be a part of his work in the world through prayer.
One of my deep desires for myself and for our church is that we would be prayerful people. When we are praying people, we are God-dependent, Spirit-filled people who know who God is—the sovereign Lord of the universe. And we know who we are—his beloved children who are called to be his faith-filled and faithful servants in the world. May it be so.
I have shared some reflections and expressions of my desire to become a joyful, grateful, more prayerful person. But I encourage you to think about how God is inviting you into personal or corporate practices that he can use as a means of grace to transform you and bless others.