Giving Thanks is Serious Business

For many Christians (especially in the U.S.), thanksgiving means either a quick prayer before a meal or the fourth Thursday in November. But for the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day, giving thanks was a serious endeavor.

Completing Hard Tasks

When some of the Jewish people were sent back to a decimated Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, they faced a steep challenge. They needed to rebuild the temple, the city walls, and the city itself. The tasks themselves were difficult, but they were made more so by enemies who lied about, threatened, and attacked the people. (These stories can be found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.)

But God was still with his people, after all these years! He protected them, strengthened them, and provided for them over and over and over again. So, when the wall was finished and ready to be dedicated, it was time to give God proper thanks.

The Ceremony

To prepare for the dedication ceremony, the first order of business was to call all the Levites and singers back to the city (Neh 12:27–29). The Levites were the assistants and managers of the temple, and for this occasion they were needed for their musical abilities. This was to be a worship service, so the Levites and priests purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall (Neh 12:30).

The procession to the dedication service was a bit unusual. Nehemiah appointed “two great choirs that gave thanks” (Neh 12:31). It seems these choirs were created just for this purpose, which says a lot about the importance of their work! These choirs were part of a split march around the walls of Jerusalem—half in one direction, half in the other (Neh 12:32–39). Since the ceremony was explicitly for the purpose of thanking God for the walls, this unorthodox march makes sense. It was as if the people were saying along their walk, “We thank you, God, for these very walls.”

The destination of this procession was “the house of God” (Neh 12:40). This was the only logical location for a service designed to worship God and give thanks to him. And their gathering was overflowing with joy.

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. (Neh 12:43)

Our Thanksgiving

The way that modern Christians give thanks to God looks weak and miniscule in comparison to this gathering in Nehemiah. To be fair, this was a singular, enormous accomplishment that the people of God were celebrating. Completing the temple and the wall of the city allowed them to regain some of the identity they had lost in the exile: they could now worship God again in the place where he desired, and they could do so with some larger measure of physical safety. Our day-to-day giving thanks doesn’t need to look like this once-in-a-generation celebration in Nehemiah.

However, we really have swung in the opposite direction, haven’t we? We might offer up a few words of thanks to God when we pray, but we usually spend most of our time in supplication. We focus on what we want God to do rather than what he has already done.

But these are connected! We can trust that God hears our requests and will answer both because he has promised this in his Word and because he has always done this for his people—including us!

It is good and necessary for us to cultivate a thankful spirit, both individually and as a community. Giving thanks regularly reminds us that we receive all that we have, not because we have earned or deserved it, but because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Meditating on God’s provision for us gives us a natural connection to the saving work of Jesus.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-05-26)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The glory of weakness

This writer reflects on a documentary about Michael J. Fox and approaching human weakness as a Christian.

Our world celebrates triumph and strength. It shuns weaknesses, vulnerability, and frailness. But the Michael J. Fox story and my own story can testify to something else. Weakness, vulnerability, and frailness are inevitable elements of being truly human. In light of the Christian worldview, they are even redeemable qualities. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The Freedom of Embracing My Weaknesses

I wasn’t intending to have a theme to this week’s links (weakness), but here we are! Tim Challies writes about the freedom that comes from recognizing the weaknesses and inabilities God has given him.

I used to see weakness as a trial I needed to challenge and overcome. I used to see weakness as an obstacle that stood between me and my purpose. I used to see weakness as one of life’s great discouragements. But now I see weakness as part of God’s plan for me. Now I see a realistic assessment of my weakness as what guides me to my purpose. Now I am encouraged by weakness, for it helps me understand and even become the man God means for me to be.

What Tim Keller Taught Us

Tim Keller, author and longtime PCA pastor, died last week. Even if you haven’t heard of him, you have most likely been influenced by him or by people influenced by him. The Gospel Coalition has collected some articles written to express gratitude for Tim Keller.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-05-19)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Give Up Too Quickly

We are told in Scripture to persevere in prayer. Here’s a short article about why that might be.

I’ve been thinking that our Heavenly Father handles our requests in a similar way. There might be something that we’re excited about. We hurry into prayer with the faith, excitement, and discernment of a child. Then the Lord doesn’t immediately answer. He doesn’t say yes and doesn’t say no. Instead, through his silence and apparent inactivity, he says that it’s time to wait.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh: The Real Meaning of Matthew 26:41

Here’s a great example of careful Bible study and reading Scripture in context. Zach Hollifield takes a look at the famous comment from Jesus, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Peter is forced to see that while he has all the right desire in the world to remain faithful to Jesus, there is also a chasm of weakness lying between that willingness and his actual carrying it out.

I’m So Glad It’s You

This link is a confession/prayer which is a wonderful model of looking to God as the sovereign one in the midst of suffering.

I’m so glad it’s You. None of it makes sense to me, but it was done in perfect wisdom. Who else could be trusted to wound like this? All Your works are perfect, and You are infinite in wisdom. I trust that Your ways are higher that my ways, and Your thoughts than my thoughts. I’m so glad it’s You.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called What Makes a Good Friend? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

What Makes a Good Friend?

Friendships can be fickle. Even putting aside the middle and high school years, many adult friendships have flimsy foundations. A hobby? A common interest in a sports team?

Other adults have few friends to speak of.

When Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), he wasn’t only predicting his own cross-directed future. He was giving a lesson on friendship.

Personal Preference?

If you ask ten Christians what it means to be a friend, you might get ten different answers. Some of this is due to personality, background, and preference. But the Bible teaches that all Christian friendships have some common elements.

The basics might be expressed differently. But, like a leaf burn in autumn, the aroma of Christian friendship is distinctive.

Wanting the Best

Good friends want the best for each other. In other words, friends love one another.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

We need to be committed to our friends for their good. We should get to know them, listen to them, and ask questions to figure out what that “good” is.

In good times and bad, friends remain loyal. Through sins, slights, and offences, they persevere in love.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

Doing Good

Love which only occupies intention is no love at all. A real friend takes action.

We should point our friends repeatedly to Jesus. Sometimes this means support and encouragement, and sometimes it means rebuke.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)

A good friend is quick to listen and slow to speak. He gives godly advice when appropriate.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)

Friends know each other’s weak points, temptations, and sin patterns. They give concrete help in the fight against sin, and they remind each other of God’s grace. They pray for one another.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

We can usually make more of an impact by being a close friend to a few than being a casual friend to many. We see in the life of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was and is the best friend we could ever imagine. He is loyal, loving, and ever-present. He is full of grace and wisdom, and he gives both abundantly. He rebukes us and encourages us at the right time and in perfect proportion.

But Jesus is much more than an example. He makes friendship possible. He frees us from our self-focused obsession and gives us love for others.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-05-12)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Young People, Go Outside

This article by Becky Wilson explains how God uses nature to declare his glory and to help us fight sin.

I admit that I can be rather ridiculous in my enjoyment of nature. My daughters have rolled their eyes at me many times when I squeal with delight at the sight of some little bird or ladybug or lizard. Imagine my reaction to watching baby sea turtles find their way into the ocean a few years ago. Forget about it. I might have (definitely) cried.

What’s the Difference between Venting and Lamenting?

Understanding the difference between venting our emotions and lamenting before God is an important part of learning to lament.

Christians today are increasingly aware of the importance of emotions. This growing emotional awareness is a positive development—especially when we learn how to process those emotions with God! At the same time, and perhaps even connected to this heightened emotional awareness, there is a growing recognition of the importance of lament.

But as we think through processing our emotions and practicing lament, there is an important distinction to make. That distinction is the difference between venting and lamenting.

“That’s Just Your Interpretation”

You may have heard this rebuttal when making an argument from Scripture. This article helps us think about that comment and how to engage with it.

When someone says “That’s just your interpretation,” or when critics slander conservative Christians as believing not just in the infallibility of the Bible but in the infallibility of their interpretation of the Bible, the next step is almost never to strive for a supposedly better interpretation. The critics don’t mean to dive deeper into the text so as to determine what the Bible teaches. The charge of “just your interpretation” has the opposite effect; it short-circuits the interpretative process altogether.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-05-05)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Union with Christ: An Unbreakable Fellowship

The doctrine of union with Christ is deep and wonderful and sustaining for a Christian. This short article gives an introduction to union with Christ.

The doctrine of union with Christ changed my life. It changed the way I conceive of my relationship with God. It changed the way I read the Bible. It changed the way I pray. It changed the way I pastor. It changed everything.

The Power of Encouragement

It’s worth considering: in any given day, we often have the most impact on the people we encourage.

It’s interesting that near the end of Moses’s life, God tells Moses not once but twice, to encourage Joshua. God knew the leadership burden and the opposition that Joshua would face. He knew the shadow Joshua would live in as the leader following Moses: the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt, who had met God face-to-face on Mount Sinai, and who delivered the Ten Commandments to God’s people.

Midlife and the Striver’s Curse

In this article the author describes three lies that we tend to believe as we head into middle age. He also offers helpful, corrective truths.

While there is some debate on when midlife occurs, I’m going to suggest that it begins sometime between ages thirty-five to forty-five. This season is revealing to me where I have unknowingly believed some lies. While always susceptible to them, they have a tendency to creep up with intensity in midlife.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called How to Ask Better Questions. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

How to Ask Better Questions

Asking questions is like sending email. We do it many times each day, mostly without thinking. Our patterns are familiar and comfortable.

But questions, like email, are a foundational way we interact with other people. We all have room to improve.

The Importance of Questions

Questions are the way we learn. Without questions, you’ll have no understanding, no wisdom, no growth.

This is obvious in the world of facts and ideas. Where was the bicycle invented? What are the drawbacks of socialism? We don’t often get answers without questions.

But this is also (and more importantly) true with people. Questions drive conversations, and better questions lead deeper. A good question sidesteps small talk and draws out ideas and passions—it makes space to hear a person’s heartbeat.

Because questions are a key way to get to know other people, they are vital for being a neighborly human. And for the Christian, they are essential.

We all want to grow in our love for other people. So how can we improve in this area?

How to Improve

I offer no cheat sheet. You won’t find “5 easy tricks” here.

Instead, I have some hard news: To ask better questions, you need to grow. For most of us, the barrier to good conversations is our selfishness and our lack of love for God and neighbor.

Be Curious

Curious people are a delight. Instead of making polite conversation, they take an interest in you. They make good eye contact, they follow up, and they think about your words before responding.

Curious people are always learning. They are intrigued by everything from sea turtles to Saturn, from the periodic table to the printing press. And curious Christians are fascinated by their neighbors.

Growing in curiosity begins with worshiping God as creator. If God is creative, infinite, and wise, then everything he makes—from bamboo to Barbara in HR—is worth investigating. Any Christian who loves God and worships him as creator will never be bored. Everything is interesting; everyone is interesting.

Curious people reject the simplistic reflex that files people in boxes. He’s a gun-loving Republican. She’s a liberal academic. God makes people individually, and love demands we get to know people instead of making assumptions.

Be Humble

Honest questions involve admitting we don’t know the answer. We speak up because we lack some knowledge or explanation.

But no one likes looking ignorant or naïve. So, depending on the listening audience or our conversation partner, we keep silent. We don’t mind confessing our limitations in the abstract, but when a specific person learns of a specific deficit of ours, it feels like torture.

In order to ask better questions, we must make peace with looking silly. Take a sledgehammer to your fascade of omniscience. God knows everything and you do not. That doesn’t make you weak or stupid, it makes you human. You’re only weak if you care more about the opinion of others than seeking the truth in love.


Many of us need to hear this word from James again and again.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20, ESV)

So often we only listen up to a point. We think of a response or a connection to our experience, and we start looking to jump back in. We ignore the other person by looking out for ourselves.

We must repent of selfishness in conversations. We can only ask good questions as we hear the other person and advance the conversation accordingly.

Listening requires a loving focus on the other person. With man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God because of Jesus.

Love Your Neighbor

Christians must be concerned about loving our neighbors, and the skill of asking good questions is crucial for the spread of the gospel.

Evangelism is much more than keeping a tally of monthly gospel shares. This approach makes the gospel seem like a water balloon we’re just waiting to pop over a person’s head. (Got one!) It smooths out distinctions between people and implies our task is limited to one conversation. We’re tempted to shoehorn the gospel in where it doesn’t belong or where its introduction is premature.

The gospel is rich, full, and deep, and it answers all of life’s questions and difficulties. But if we don’t know our friend’s struggles, they won’t see how the gospel addresses them personally.

Think through your conversational patterns and repent of them where appropriate. Take up the task of asking good questions of your friends. And pray for opportunities to introduce them to Jesus.

This isn’t just strategic and winsome, it’s the loving way forward.

Some of the ideas in this post were inspired by an interview with the author Malcolm Gladwell on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Skip ahead to the 41-minute mark to hear Gladwell talk about the best question-asker he knows: his father.

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