Giving Thanks in Prayer

October table setting of praise and thanksBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Oh Dear Lord,

We give thanks for our creation that you as Father have made us–

may we reflect your goodness, cherish family life, and grow as stewards of your creation.

Help us to honor your image and live into it.

We give thanks for the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ–

his life, his teaching, his sacrifice, his death, and resurrection.

Help us to remember not only to give thanks, but to live thanksgiving each day

that our blessing may be shared with all those around us.

We give thanks for the presence that we have in your Holy Spirit–

that sustains us, provisions us, empowers us, heals our wounds, and grants us gifts to share.

Help us to use these gifts to sustain, empower, heal, and share with those around us

that our joy may be the joy of the world.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Giving Thanks in Prayer

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Love Prayer

New Life
New Life

Heavenly father,

We praise you for the mercy that you showed us in sending Jesus Christ to die on a cross for us and our salvation.

For in your mercy, we have seen your love—

sacrificial love that carried a price; covenantal love that kept a promise;

divine love that bridged the gaps between the eternal and mortal and between the holy and the unclean.

Have pity on us, a pitiable people—

people who wink at eternity for a night on the town;

people who spurn holiness for a penny’s entertainment.

Thank you for the love of Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

help us to grow into it and share it with those around us.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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First Fruits

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“The LORD said to Moses,
Consecrate to me all the firstborn.”
(Exod 13:1-2)

First Fruits

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Around 1980 after I returned from year’s study in Germany, I returned to Iowa to visit my grandparents and other family. My grandparents had moved to Oskaloosa at that point, but continued to rent the farm to a neighbor who purchased the farm outright about four years later. Grandpa Frank and I drove out the farm to take care of some chores when he engaged me in conversation about seminary. He encouraged me to go to seminary saying that he would pay my tuition, but I was more interested in the prospect of entering a career in agriculture. I will always remember the look that he gave me—he clearly thought I was nuts to even consider farming.

Later in that trip I drove up to Clarion, Iowa to visit my Uncle Hubert’s family who all farmed a section of land that Hubert had purchased during the Great Depression. Hubert, who was Frank’s cousin and not a close relative, bought land when everyone else was leaving agriculture in those days because he felt strongly that families should stick together and that farming afforded the opportunity for children to grow up with roots that were not available to kids growing up in the city. Hubert mentored my father when he attended Iowa State University in the 19050s and then he mentored me when I attended Iowa State. As a local republican party chairman, he knew everyone and introduced me to the governor and several presidential candidates who would always stop by for a visit at local political gatherings.

Hubert’s kids did not pick up his interest in agricultural politics. Hubert set up his kids, a son and two daughters, in farming that same section of land and built himself a modest home on one of the properties as a retirement residence. His generosity led, however, to family conflict because his son, the oldest, believed that he should inherit the entire property. This disagreement led to a family split. When I would visit, I would be received at each farmstead and bear news of the siblings at each stop along the way. They were so close and yet so far from each other—Hubert’s generosity was not enough to overcome this jealousy and his pain ran deep enough that years later he despaired greatly, but always to himself.

On this particular trip, I was invited to a dinner party but everyone seemed a bit distant. I sat on a couch for a few minutes before I recognized that the young woman sitting next to me was someone that I was actually quite fond of several years earlier. She was one of Hubert’s grand-daughters and lived in Minnesota, far from my usual stomping grounds when I attended Iowa State. As we talked, she related how she had been a year in Brazil as a foreign student, much like I had been in Germany. She also felt rather distant in the group. Recognizing a common issue, I questioned other family members about why they were not talking with us. They responded that they did not think that we, as world travelers, would find their company very interesting. I quickly dispelled that idea; the ice was soon broken; and I was able to enjoy their hospitality to its fullest.

Hospitality was always a core value in the Hiemstra family.

On a later trip in October 1996, my office at the Comptroller of the Currency sent me to an agricultural bankers’ conference in Des Moines. Because my uncle, Dave, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, I rented a car and drove to Cedar Rapids to visit him. Dave met me with complete grace and we spent the day quietly putting together puzzles, which were long a favorite family pass-time. Puzzles offer shy people the opportunity to hang out with no requirement that anyone be forced to make conversation. Conversation was certainly not on my mind—what do you say to someone dying that you will never see again in this life?

At one point, we took a break from putting puzzles together and Dave made a puzzling comment—“I don’t know that I am good enough to go to heaven”. I was shocked; I took his statement as a theological question; I was shocked because his brother, John, is a pastor and I certainly was not—at the time, I was only an agricultural economist—why was he asking me? I assured him that as a Christian his salvation was assured, even if life is sometimes a bit confusing. To make my point, I cited the Apostle Paul:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:7-9)

If the Apostle Paul could suffer weakness and be saved, then so could we, I argued. Dave seemed satisfied by my explanation and remained ever gracious. When I stood speechless at his door, not knowing what to say, he reached over and kissed me on the cheek goodbye—Dave is the only man that I have ever allowed to kiss me.

Dave’s question about salvation and my grandfather’s offer to pay for seminary puzzled me for years. I later learned that my grandfather held the doctrine of the first fruits close to his heart. He was not himself the oldest sibling, but as a young man wanted to enter the ministry but did not have his father’s support so he went into farming. My uncle, John, was the oldest sibling and pursued a career as a minister in the Reformed Church in America. As the oldest grandchild, grandpa naturally looked to me to go into ministry and in God’s timing I did eventually hear the call.

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43. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHeavenly Father,
We praise you for your gift of salvation available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is our great high priest that transcends our weakness having also been tempted yet without sin (Heb 4:15) For out of Him, by means of Him, and into Him are all things created, sustained, and restored (Rom 11:36). And we are grateful. In the power of your Holy Spirit, work in us to complete our journey from isolation in ourselves to the person that we were created to be, from isolation from others to full persons able to offer hospitality to others, and from isolation from God to people of faith able in your power to cast off sin and idolatry. In the power of your Holy Spirit, enable us to follow the example of Jesus Christ who in life, in death, and in resurrection was merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exod. 34:6). Especially in teachable moments, like persecution. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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26. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of all mercy and grace,
We praise you for creating the heaven and the earth, all that is, that was, and that will ever be; all things seen and unseen. We look upon your creation, smile, and praise your name. We praise you for the example of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ— who in life lived in service to others, who in death atoned for our sin, and who in rising from the death granted us the hope of eternal life. We see your son’s example and feel your love for us. We praise you for your Holy Spirit, who draws us to you, grants every good gift, and provides all things. We look upon your spirit’s power in the world and break out in praise. May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven today and every day, with us and through us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Life_in_Tension_web“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is no accident that we feel the tension with God over the question of mercy. We do not want to admit to our sins (or our need for forgiveness) because we spend most of our lives trying to hide our sin from other people. We deny our sin from morning to night. And it is painful, in turn, showing mercy to other people —we would much rather have them fulfill their promises and pay their debts.

Our problem with mercy is that it requires action.  We would rather talk about love because it is a squishy sort of emotion.  Easy on the action; easy to redefine; easily to confuse with.  We are always in compliance with a law of love, at least in our own minds.  Mercy requires concrete action.  Billy Graham wrote:  “What are some of the areas in today’s world toward which we can show mercy? First: We can show mercy by caring for the social needs of our fellow men…Second: We can show mercy by doing away with our prejudices…Third: We can show mercy by sharing the gospel of Christ with others.” (Graham 1955, 61-65).  Concrete. Doable. Undeniable.  Highly personal.

God’s priority is showing mercy. Jesus cites the Prophet Hosea twice [1] in Matthew after citing the beatitude:

“For I desire steadfast love [2] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 ESV)

The heart of paganism in the church lies in trying to bribe God with sacrifices other than the sacrifice of our own hearts.  We prefer to bribe God with sacrifices (”burnt offerings”) than own up to our own sin.   Arguing that we are basically good (denying original sin), in effect, denies Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.  That is to say, we don’t need Christ’s mercy and, as a codicil, we do not need to practice mercy with those around us. The echo of Cain’s question still haunts us: “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9 ESV)

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Luke, the double love command (love God; love neighbor; Matthew 22:36-40) is cited, not by Jesus, but by a lawyer (Luke 10:25-28) who then proceeds to narrow the definition of neighbor [3]. He asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 ESV) Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end, Jesus pulls a Jedi mind trick asking: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 ESV) Notice how Jesus substitutes the question—”who proved to be a neighbor” for the question—”who is my neighbor”. Jesus turns a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor). To this question, the lawyer responds: “The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37 ESV)

Notice how in the story of the Good Samaritan we started out talking about love, but ended up talking about mercy? God’s identity—

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

—includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first. Jesus’ brother James makes a similar observation saying:

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 ESV)

Judgment requires truth (אֱמֶֽת) which in Exodus 34:6 is translated also as faithfulness. Mercy also comes before truth and judgment. Interestingly, James has in the citation above restated Jesus’ beatitude in the negative—essentially it is now in the form of a curse—it is a curse to be judged without mercy.

The link of mercy and judgment necessarily brings us back to the atoning work of Christ. The Apostle Peter clearly linked these two ideas when he wrote:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

It is the mercy of God to provide us a path of salvation to Himself.

[1] Matthew 9:13 and 12:7.

[2] There is tension in the Greek and Hebrew texts on this word. The Greek reads mercy (ἔλεος) and the Hebrew reads love (חֶ֥סֶד).  The citations in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 go with the Greek.  The translation of Hosea 6:6 in the English Standard Version (ESV) goes with the Hebrew.

[3] Today, the lawyer would not only try to narrow the definition of neighbor, he would narrow the definition of love.


Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

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Prayer Day 24: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Heavenly Father. We praise you for hope in the future and for the gift of patience. We praise you for the vision of Eden and for the promise of new creation where the fullness of salvation will be revealed and all things made new. For in Christ we know the end of the story. You are our rock and our salvation. To you and you alone be the glory. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Padre Celestial. Te alabamos por la esperanza del futuro y por el don de la paciencia. Te alabamos por la visión del Edén y por la promesa de una nueva creación donde se dará a conocer la plenitud de salvación y todas las cosas hechas nuevas. Porque en Cristo sabemos el fin de la historia. Tú eres nuestra roca y nuestra salvación. Para Tí y sólo a Tí sea la gloria. En el nombre del Padre, el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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Lift Your Eyes to the Lord

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Faith is a life-saver. One of the deadliest of lies is that we are alone, without hope.  We know from Christ that God loves us and will never leave us. Therefore, setbacks in this life are temporary—an illusion to test our faith.  As Christians, we know that the end of the story is in Christ and He is in control.

The idea of Christian faith has become unfashionable. The postmodern world we live in is often like the Sahara desert where mountains of sand blow about daily. Direction in a world of shifting sand requires a surveyor’s marker that establishes location. Standing on a marker, a map shows both direction and distance. Without the marker, however, a map becomes a puzzle—like words without definitions—whose pieces have meaning only relative to one another. Scripture is our map; our marker is Jesus Christ [1].

When King David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1), he did not just have creation’s beauty in mind. The order of the universe points to the glory and sovereignty of God. Everywhere that scientists have studied, the same laws of physics apply. Why should there only be one set of physical laws?

As David implies, the order and stability of the created universe testifies to God’s existence and sovereignty. Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, who was born in 1906, educated in Vienna, and taught at Princeton University, is famous for his incompleteness theorem published in 1931. This theorem states that stability in any closed, logical system requires that at least one assumption be taken from outside that system [2]. If creation is a closed, logical system (having only one set of physical laws suggests that it is) and exhibits stability, then it too must contain at least one external assumption. God, himself, fulfills that assumption (Smith 2001, 89).

Creation is not the only closed, logical system that we care about.  The human psyche can also become a closed, logical system.  When we experience a tragedy or trauma or just do something stupid, we have a choice.  Do we cry why me? OR do we look to God for help? [3]

If we cry why me and look inward cutting ourselves off from other people and from God, we become a closed, logical system without an assumption taken from outside ourselves.  The result is a logically unstable condition.  I call it: “the pit”.  There is no ladder that reaches outside this pit from inside.  Everything that is valuable to us is in the pit.  The pity party goes on and on without resolution—like a dog chasing its own tail.  Depression not only makes us unhappy, over time our brains physically atrophy enough to show up on a cat-scan.

By contrast, when we cry to God for help, we not only look outside ourselves, we look to the source of stability for all of creation.  But God is more than a helpful abstraction; in Jesus Christ we know that God loves us—individually and collectively—like a loving father.  When we cry to God for help, he extends a hand strong enough to pull us out of the pit.  This is sometime that we cannot do for ourselves.  After all, we dug the pit.

[1] Benner (2002, 26) sees the role of a spiritual director as of pointing to God’s work in a person’s life.

[2] An example can be seen in economics is applied to price theory. The U.S. economy requires one price be set outside the economy (in the world market) to assure stability. In the nineteenth century, that price was gold, and the system was called the gold standard. Every price in the U.S. economy could be expressed in terms of how much gold it was worth. Now, the dollar functions that way.

[3] Jesus faced this same question in the Garden of Gethsemane—“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39 ESV)—offering us an example of a faithful response.


Benner, David G. 2203. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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1 Corinthians 7: Don’t Be Anxious

Maryam and Stephen Hiemstra, 1984
Maryam and Stephen Hiemstra, 1984

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (v16)

Do you believe in salvation?

Because my father married at age 21, I spent of most of my 20s anxious that I had missed the boat.  My consolation was that my grandfather married at age 28.

My anxiety was misplaced.  For example, in my first visit to a lock-down, psychiatric ward in college, I was shocked to run into the president of my senior class in high school—I was not there to visit her!  Two years out of high school, she had had two children and attempted suicide when her husband divorced her.  While I envied my peers in graduate school who were married, many of them were divorced only a few years later.  By the time I married at age 30, many of the people I knew had been divorced and remarried one or more times.

The Apostle Paul seems aware of this problem of unstable relationships and advises us not to be anxious about our marital status.  He writes:  Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called (v 20).  Elsewhere, he advises:  I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (v 7).  Do you think of your marital status as a gift of God?

Paul expands on this thought.  Before God, neither male nor female, neither circumcised nor un-circumcised, neither slave nor free, counts for anything (vv 17-22).  In case you were thinking Paul was having a bad hair day, he repeats this point in Galatians 3:28.  Why is Paul adamant about this issue?  He gives at least 2 reasons:

  • For the present form of this world is passing away (v 31).  In other words, don’t be rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titantic!
  • But the married man [woman] is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife [her husband], and his [her] interests are divided (vv 33-34).

In fact, Paul maintains a balanced view of relationships, not favoring the married or the single (vv 7-9), the man or the woman (v 4).  He also gives his motivation for this balanced view:  I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (v 35).

This brings us back to the question about salvation.  If your identity is in Christ and you sincerely believe in salvation, then it will bear fruit in your relationships.  For example, how patient are you?  Are you willing to wait on God’s timing for your marriage?

Paul sees marriage as a formative institution instituted by God himself.  It is interesting that the Kellers[1] describe the Bible as a book that begins with a wedding! Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24 ESV). It is interesting that Jesus’ first miracle was saving a wedding (John 2) and the book of Revelations reaches a climax in the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelations 19:9). God cares about marriage: it was His idea!

If marriage is instituted by God, then how is it formative?  It is formative because spouses care about the health and well-being of their spouses.  What is one of the signs that the person you are dating is serious about your relationship?  They start working on your bad habits—if you smoke, they ask you to stop—that kind of thing.  In marriage God gives us someone who cares enough to tell us things we do not want to hear.

The photograph above is of my wife, Maryam, and I when we were engaged.  We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in November.

[1]Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011.  The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. page 13.

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