Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

(Note: This post, Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe, ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com, a community of women who are committed to building strong marriages, healthy families, and vibrant relationships with the Lord. You’ll find lots of helpful resources there, from tips on parenting teens to weeknight recipes to a free guide to finding PEACE in your home. Um…yes please!)

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

When the Coronavirus first began spreading, our daughter Virginia—who lives in New York City—decided that she should evacuate and come social distance with us. That sounded like a good plan to me; Virginia is a lot of fun, and she’s always full of ideas.

One of her ideas, as she left New York, was to swing by the SPCA and pick up a kitten.

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

Five months later, we were still working from home—my husband and I, two of our four adult children, our one-year-old puppy, and the cat. Everyone seemed happy. One morning, though, Virginia woke up and noticed that Quarantine Kitty had a cut or a burn of some sort on her neck. She was still purring so we didn’t think it was fatal, but Virginia wasn’t taking any chances. She bundled the cat into the car and was at the vet’s office by the time it opened.

The cat, as it turned out, was fine. But Virginia was not. She was rattled.

“I love this kitty so much,” she said, “I can’t stand to think of her getting hurt—”

She stopped, mid-sentence, and looked at me. “Mom,” she said, “I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a child who gets sick or hurt…how panicked you must feel. I bet it’s even worse than when it’s your cat.”

Um, yes. It is worse.

And whether it’s the baby’s 2 a.m. fever, the child’s bloody knees on the playground, or the teenager’s late-night phone call, we all know what it’s like to feel that lump of fear in our throat, to want our kids to be safe, to protect them however we can.

So what do we do?

We pray. We do what 1 Peter 5:7  invites us to do:  We cast all our anxiety on God, because he cares for us.

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Twenty years ago, when I began working on a book about how we can pray for our children, I surveyed more than one hundred parents about what they wanted God to do for their families.  One of the most oft-repeated answers was, “I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Boy, did I understand that. We had four kids in six years, and it seemed that somebody was always getting sick or—in Virginia’s case, anyway—running into a doorknob or (not making this up) eating part of a glass thermometer. I knew she was tough, but I wondered how long her luck would hold out. What would become of Virginia during her teenage years?

I remember crying out to the Lord, asking him to protect her. “What happened to the hedge of protection and the guardian angels I asked you to provide for our children?” I cried. “Aren’t you paying attention?”

Almost immediately I sensed God’s answer. “I am protecting Virginia,” he spoke to my heart. “In fact, I’ve had to put some of my best angels on the job, just to keep her alive!”

It sounds funny now, but God’s promise of angelic protection—an invitation he extends to all of us in Psalm 91—was made real over and over again in Virginia’s life, as she grew. And now, as we release the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I can attest to his faithfulness.

My kids—like all kids, I guess—had their share of lumps, bumps, and bruises. And I know that the Psalm 91 promise is not some sort of magical “guarantee” that our children won’t have to suffer. But I am convinced that God hears and answers our prayers, and that his John 15:7 promise (“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”) is true.

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

Our children are grown, but I am still asking God to protect them and keep them safe. How am I praying? Here are two of my favorite scripture-based prayers; feel free to personalize these for the people you love:

I pray that all may go well with _____ and that they may be in good health, as it goes well with their soul. (3 John 2) 

Let ______ take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over ______ that they may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

You’ll find dozens more prayer prompts like these—prayers for our kids’ physical safety, as well as their spiritual and emotional health—in the new book.

God never meant for us to have to keep our children safe on our own. He meant for us to pray, slipping our hand into his as we trust him to accomplish his plans and his purposes in our kids’ lives. And as you pray, know that I am praying for you: “May God cause you to flourish, both you and your children.” (Psalm 115:14)

❤️

You’ll find prayers for your children’s safety, relationships, faith, character, their future, and more in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionThe hardcover volume comes with a satin ribbon and a presentation page (making it perfect for gift-giving), but it’s available in paperback, too. Click here to order.

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Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

How can I teach my children to pray? Where do I start?

I hear questions like these all the time. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed–at least not outside of church,” was how one young mom put it. “Prayer feels awkward and unfamiliar sometimes. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

That’s actually a really good question–and one that led to a new bonus section in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition. The updated book includes pages designed especially to help you teach your children to pray, talking to God not just for them, but with them:

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

Say, for instance, that your child feels anxious or scared. Maybe it’s a conflict with a friend, a fear of the dark, or the fact that the dog really did eat the homework. There’s a discussion starter at the top of the page (“Everyone gets worried or scared sometimes…”), followed by a collection of easy-to-read verses (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”), and then a prayer prompt that reinforces the link between our needs and God’s provision.

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

Every family is different, and what appealed to my kids might not sound at all fun to yours. But as we teach our children to pray–and to depend on the power of God’s Word–it can help to give them “the Why.”

Give Your Children “the Why”

I don’t know how it is in your house, but when Hillary was about five years old, it seemed like every other word that came out of her mouth was why. Sometimes the question reflected genuine interest (“Why is the sky blue?”); sometimes it felt more defiant, like when we asked her to pick up her toys (“Why?”); and sometimes I had no idea what she was even asking about. Once, in an effort to get her to stop peppering me with so many questions, I threatened to punish her if she asked “Why” one more time.

(You can guess what she said.)

Hillary may have been an extreme case on the inquisitive scale (and she grew up to become an aerospace engineer, so maybe she is?), but I think that all kids are naturally curious. And rather that just slapping a Scripture on the kitchen table as a prayer prompt, it helps if we offer some context.

God’s Word makes things happen

Our kids need to know that God’s Word makes things happen. He spoke the whole world into being, starting with light. All the verses we read in Scripture come straight from God to help us know right from wrong and equip us for every good work. And when the words in the Bible go out into the world, they always accomplish what God desires!

As you teach your children to pray, share these things as the backdrop for why there is power in God’s Word. And then introduce them to John 15:7, where Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Tell them what you already know: that the more we spend time in the Bible, allowing what we find there to shape our perspective as well as our prayers, the more the things we want God to do will line up with what he already has planned!

Think this is all a bit much for your kids? I hear you. I was you. Longtime blog readers may remember that, for years, our “morning devotions” consisted of somebody yelling “Bus!” and everyone scrambling for their shoes as I stood in the doorway stuffing permission slips into backpacks and saying things like, “Walk with the King today–and be a blessing!”

(Not making that up. But hey, the Bible says we shouldn’t despise small beginnings; everyone has to start somewhere!)

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

I know that teaching children to pray can be hard. But even the littlest ones have concerns of their own–their friendships, their future, their faith–and the sooner they learn to anchor their prayers in God’s promises, the better equipped they will be to trust him as they grow. Which is why, when we were putting the Anniversary Edition together, my publishing team and I came up with a few kid-friendly resources–colorful printables that reflect the pages and the scripture-prayers in the book.

These little lunchbox cards are perfect for popping into a book bag or taping on the bathroom mirror:

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

These 5″ x 7″ bedside prayer cards are the same prayers kids will find in the book:

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

And these coloring pages (drawn by my incredibly talented ARTIST-MOM, Claire Gilman!!) make hiding God’s Word in your heart extra fun:

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

Want to order the book? Click here – it ships on Tuesday!

Want to view the collection of printable resources? Here you go.

Just want a prayer for your own anxious heart as you head into the weekend? Let’s go ahead and borrow this one from the kids:

Heavenly Father,

I am anxious and afraid about _____. Help me put my trust in you and pray instead of worrying. Thank you for your promise to be with me wherever I go. Help me to be strong and courageous and to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me power, love, and self-discipline. (Psalm 56:3; Philippians 4:6; Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7)

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

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Technology and Your Children (and three prayers you can pray)

Twenty years ago, when I wrote the first edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, the biggest kids-and-technology question Robbie and I faced was whether to let our children watch PG movies. On VHS tapes.

Today’s parents face a whole new nest of tech-related concerns–whether it’s the “easy-everywhere” access to online content, the threat of things like cyber bullying, or the very real (and increasingly common) link between high social media usage and low self-esteem and depression.

“The word I might use to describe how parents feel about kids and technology,” one father told me, “is probably panic. Or maybe terror.”

But technology isn’t going away; it will play an important role in our children’s future. Which is why, when I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionI interviewed a bunch of younger parents to see how they were parenting–and praying–with regard to this vital issue. And (spoiler alert) the news isn’t all bad. There are some really good things we can do (and pray!) as we work to keep our children safe and teach them to, as author Andy Crouch says, put technology “in it’s proper place.”

Here’s a sneak peek at an excerpt from the new book–which releases in less than two weeks!–along with a few prayers you can pray for your family right now…

Girl and Technology, Laptop

Not if but when: One Family’s Story

Sara’s 12-year-old daughter, Allison, likes to create collages on the computer, using clip-art images and videos to make her masterpieces. At home, the computers have content filters and other parental controls, but the devices at her father’s office are not as protected. And one afternoon, when Allison was using an office computer to work on a project, some obscene pictures popped up on her screen. Immediately, her father got a text alert from his internet provider:

A porn video has been accessed from this location. A quick review of all the office computers revealed the trouble spot. But when asked what she’d seen, Allison denied all involvement. And the more her parents pressed for details, the more emotional and manipulative she became.

“That was not like her at all,” Sara said. “My radar was on high alert—and I realized that our greater concern was not what she’d seen or the exposure she’d had, but the choice she was making to lie.”

Thinking about what she calls her own “progressive sanctification”—one where the Lord continues to tenderly transform her heart—Sara resolved not to react in knee-jerk fashion, but to slow down and ask God for his counsel. “I wanted the Lord to teach me how to relate to my daughter, knowing that the way I treat her now will affect our relationship and her life in 20 years.”

She started with prayer.

God doesn’t reveal things to scare us

“I know the freedom that comes with confession,” Sara said. “I prayed that God would turn Allison’s darkness into light, and that she would know the joy of walking in that light and enjoying sweet fellowship with other people and with Jesus.”

Eager to have her own burden lifted, Sara reached out to an older friend—someone she knew she could count on not to gossip or pry, but to pray.

The woman responded with reassurance. “When God alerts us to something that is not right in our children’s lives,” she said, “it’s not because he wants us to be worried or scared. It’s because he wants us to pray. Our prayers open the door to God’s redemption, protection, and blessing in our kids’ lives.”

Noting that Allison likely felt embarrassed by what she had seen (and maybe scared to admit it), Sara’s friend pointed her toward Psalm 25 as a prayer prompt:

  • Let Allison put her hope in you, Lord. Let her never be put to shame. (v. 3)
  • Relieve the troubles of Allison’s heart; free her from her anguish. Take away all her sins. (v. 17-18)
  • Guard Allison’s life, rescue her, be her refuge. May integrity and uprightness protect her. (v. 20-21)

Sara and her husband continued to pray verses like these, trusting in the Genesis 50:20 promise that God could take something so clearly intended for evil and use it to bring about something good in Allison’s life.

It wasn’t long before he did. The following Sunday, after hearing their pastor talk about the freedom the comes with confession and the triumph of grace over shame, Allison pulled pulled Sara aside.

“I need to talk to you, Mom.”

Allison broke down and revealed all that had happened, including her attempts to cover up what she’d seen by lying about it. As she confessed, Sara saw her daughter’s countenance change. It was as if a cloud lifted; Allison’s shadowy face became joyful and radiant.

The transformation made sense to Sara. “When we keep things hidden,” she said, “it always leads to deeper and darker things. It’s a mercy, not a burden, to be found out.”


kids and technology, phone

Three “technology use” prayers we can pray

Technology use is just one of the new chapters you’ll find in the expanded and updated version Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. Other topics include things like praying for your child’s identity and their sense of belonging, as well as strategies you can use to build a prayer legacy in your family, teaching your kids to depend on God’s promises as they grow. You can pre-order your copy today (see info, below) but in the meantime, here are three short-but-strong scripture prayers from the book that you can pray for your children right now:

Heavenly Father,

May we live with a heart of integrity in our home. Don’t let _____ set anything worthless before their eyes. (Psalm 101:2-3 CSB)

Cause _____ to look to you and be radiant, turning away from anything that would cover their face with shame. (Psalm 34:5)

Put your hedge of protection around _____. (Job 1:10)

Amen

❤️

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition ships on October 20. To preorder (and pssst, the hardcover version comes with a ribbon book mark and beautiful presentation page for gift-giving), click here for Amazon (they give me a tiny commission if you order from my site), or try ChurchSource.com, where (last time I checked) they were offering the book at a sweet pre-order discount. Whoop!

And if you missed last week’s story about praying for your children to share God’s love with their peers (my favorite prayer story in the whole book), click here to catch up!

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20 Years of Praying for Your Children

Pssst. I’ve got some exciting news, and I wanted you to hear it here first! Many of you have been praying for your children with me for twenty years and…

in just a few weeks–on October 20th, to be exact–we’re releasing the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

This new edition has all of the stories, prayer principles, and verses folks loved in the original book, but we’ve updated it to include topics like praying for your children’s use of technology and their sense of identity and self-worth, along with an encouraging message about prayer’s role in parenting from New York Times bestselling author, Audrey Roloff. Plus, there’s a whole new kid-friendly section designed to help parents pray not just FOR their kids, but WITH them, teaching them to depend on God’s promises and his power as they grow.

I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead (including links to the free Study Guide and the Video Series), but to kick-off this launch, I want to revisit one of my all-time favorite stories about praying for your children. Here’s an excerpt from the book…

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

For years, Friday mornings were a highlight of my week. That’s when I got together with several moms to pray for our children, their teachers, and our school community. In addition to interceding for our kids’ individual needs, we used a different verse from the Bible each week as the basis for a more general prayer that can apply to each of our children.

One morning, our collective scriptural request was for our children to have boldness in evangelism, being alert to opportunities to share the gospel with their peers. Being part of a public school community, we recognized the need for sensitivity in this area, yet we knew that God could provide open doors. We prayed according to Ephesians 5:15 – 16, that our kids would be very careful how they lived — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.

Two or three weeks went by, during which time we moved on to new requests, tucking the evangelism thoughts into the back of our minds. Then one morning Callie walked in, her face flushed with excitement. “Remember when we prayed for our kids to have boldness in evangelism and be alert to opportunities to share their faith?” she asked. “Well, listen to this . . .”

Callie began her story by reminding us about a second grader named Eddie, whose misbehavior was almost legendary in our school. We had all heard of Eddie — the tales our kids brought home tended to catapult Eddie to the top of our prayer lists, and those of us who had spent volunteer hours in Eddie’s classroom knew, firsthand, how disruptive he could be. Thinking of Eddie, we often prayed that God would give his teacher, Miss Harrison, an extra measure of wisdom, patience, and love.

Many of the children instinctively tried to put some distance between themselves and Eddie, but Callie’s son, Brandon, took a different approach. He befriended the boy, inviting him to be involved in games and on playground teams where he might otherwise have been left out. And one day when Miss Harrison asked each child, as an in-class assignment, to write a letter to someone, Brandon chose to write to Eddie.

A Life-Changing Letter

When the time came for the children to deliver the letters, those who had written to parents, grandparents, or neighbors put their notes in their backpacks to take home. Brandon simply dropped his envelope on Eddie’s desk. Eddie opened the letter with excitement, but when he took out the sheet of paper, his face fell. Eddie couldn’t read well enough to get beyond the first few words.

Recognizing the problem but not wanting to draw attention to it, Brandon quietly asked Miss Harrison if he could read the letter aloud to Eddie.

Miss Harrison just happened to love God — and Eddie — as much as Brandon did. “Yes,” she said. “You can read it to him today at recess.”

That afternoon, the two boys sat on a log under the shade of an old oak tree, oblivious to the noisy shouts and energetic games being played all around them. Eddie pulled the letter out of his pocket and, leaning closer so he could hear, waited for Brandon to read it.

Dear Eddie,

Please, please ask Jesus to come into your heart. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
  2. You will have eternal life.
  3. God (Jesus’ father) is maker and creator of all.
  4. You will go to heaven.
  5. You can have anything you want in heaven.
  6. I will be waiting for you.
  7. God will be waiting for you.
  8. Jesus will be waiting for you.
  9. You can do anything in heaven.

 

P.S. All you have to do is right now bow your head and say “dear Lord, I want Jesus to come into my heart so I can have eternal life.” Amen.

Opportunity to meet Jesus letter

Eddie leaned back, reflecting on Brandon’s words. “Would you,” Brandon asked cautiously, “like to pray and ask Jesus to live in your heart right now?”

Eddie met his friend’s eyes. “Yes,” he said softly.

Sitting together at the edge of the playground, the two boys bowed their heads in prayer as Brandon led Eddie into the kingdom of God… ❤️


Even today, more than twenty years after I first saw Brandon’s letter, this story still puts a big old lump in my throat. I know Brandon (not his real name) and I can tell you that, as an all-grown-up man with a job and a wife, he’s still “making the most of every opportunity” to showcase God’s love.

If you want to be praying for your children using verses like Ephesians 5:15-16, you’ll find dozens of similar scripture-based prompts in the book. Here’s one of my favorites, a verse you can pray for your kids, yourself, or anybody you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for their hope. Let them do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Amen

Opportunity to pre-order the book

To preorder Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition, click here.

 

 

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New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

That’s the question I popped at a small dinner gathering not long ago. Looking around the room–two couples were newly engaged, two others had passed the thirty-year mark, and the rest were somewhere in between–I wondered what people would say.

“You need to look for ways to serve one another,” one husband said, “putting each other’s needs ahead of your own.”

“It helps to remember that you’re on the same team,” added a young wife. “You don’t want to ‘win’ a fight because that means your spouse has to lose. It’s not you-versus-them; you want to be fighting for your marriage together.”

“Share each others’ passions,” chimed in a third couple. “If you don’t love something the other person enjoys, learn more about it. You might discover you like it, after all.”

(That last comment reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago about how watching football can upgrade your marriage.)

I loved everything everyone said. The simple words spoke volumes and reinforced something I’d read about satisfaction in marriage: namely, that kindness glues couples together.

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

You might think that the secret to a successful union comes down to other things. Good communication, perhaps, or sexual compatibility. Or not having money problems, or issues with in-laws.

These things all matter, of course. But when it comes to predicting long-term stability and satisfaction in marriage, kindness is what matters most.

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

And it’s not just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning (although researchers at the National Marriage Project are big on little “I love you’s” like that); studies show that having a generous mindset–appreciating your spouse’s intentions, even if the even if the execution is iffy–is key.

Your husband, for instance, might not have been “deliberately” trying to annoy you when he left the toilet seat up; it could be that he’s just absent-minded. Your wife might not be late for dinner “on purpose.” Maybe she just had to stop by the store to pick up your gift.

(As someone who often keeps her spouse waiting but rarely shows up with a gift, I will go ahead and tell you that I did not make up those examples. I got them from one of the “Love Lab” psychologists quoted here.)

But you get the idea. Instead of being on the lookout for your spouse’s mistakes, look for things you can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. Be intentional about showing respect. In humility, as Scripture says, value your spouse above yourself, looking not to your own interests by to theirs.

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

I can imagine what some of you might be thinking. I thought the same thing, when I read the research. “I want to be kinder to Robbie,” I said to myself, “I really do. But…I’m just not that nice.”

(It’s true. My husband is way more thoughtful and generous than I, both to me and to others. As I’ve often said, “I might make friends for us, but Robbie is the one who keeps them.”)

But here’s the thing about kindness: It is not something we have or we don’t. The Bible says kindness comes with our salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness, like all of these other God-given attributes, is available to every believer.

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

Which, actually, brings up some other interesting marriage research. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out a few months ago, prayer makes a difference–even when one or both partners are being unkind. “When people pray for the well-being of their spouse when they feel a negative emotion in the marriage, both partners—the one doing the praying and the one being prayed for—report greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Greater relationship satisfaction.” That sounds very important and official. But let’s put it plainly, shall we?

If you’re annoyed with your spouse–they left the toilet seat up, they were late again, they did whatever–don’t get mad. Try praying for them instead.

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

May ______ (insert your names or the names of another couple you love) be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ you forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

P.S. Robbie and I celebrated our 35th Anniversary this week. When I look back at our wedding photos, I am struck by two things.

First, I could not have imagined how incredibly kind my husband would be, or how much more I would love him today than I did back in 1985:

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

And second, I wonder how on earth I held that ginormous bouquet without my arm falling off. But hey; it was the 80’s. As one son-in-law said when he looked at our pix, “It could have been a lot worse.”

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a teacher-parent this year, you know what it’s like to grow weary.

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

If you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenyou may remember the time when Hillary (then a first-grader) came home from school and told us that she thought her new teacher was a Christian.

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

“She prays?” (Our kids attended the neighborhood public school; I didn’t think teachers were allowed to pray there – at least not out loud, where their students could hear. I needed details.)

“Yes Mom,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ But sometimes she just says, ‘Oh God,’ and puts her head down on her desk.

Prayers You Can Print

If that’s where you are today – praying that nobody gets COVID, that Zoom doesn’t crash, or even just that you’ll make it ’til lunchtime – can I just say “Thank you”? As someone whose own kids are grown, I can only imagine the challenges that younger parents and teachers are facing this year.

My all-time favorite teacher prayer comes from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if they do not give up.”  This year, I’m combining that verse with two others – 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Titus 2:7-8 – and bundling them all into one “ask” for the educators, both the in-school ones and those teaching at home:

A Prayer for a Teacher

Want to print this card for yourself? Click here. (And if you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to add a few back-to-school prayers for the students, you’ll find a collection of my tried-and-true favorites here.)

Honestly though? If all you can muster this week is an “Oh God,” that’s okay. You just go ahead and put your head down on your desk.

We get it.

And those of us not in the teaching trenches will have you covered. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Do not let our teachers (and teacher-parents) get tired of doing what is good. Remind them that, at just the right time, they will reap a harvest of blessing if they don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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As Good as Dead? Think again.

Is there something in your life that is as good as dead?

I’ve just taken a spin through Hebrews, and I can never get through chapter 11 without stopping at verse 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as countless as sand on the seashore

That’s a reference to Abraham, the guy who laughed when God said he’d have a son. He was a hundred years old (his wife Sarah was ninety) and, as Robert Alter puts it in his Genesis commentary, it was a laugh “edged with bitterness.” Was God, Abraham wondered, playing some sort of cruel joke?

As good as dead.

How many times have we looked across the landscape of our lives–our relationships, our careers, our dreams–and thought the same thing? “Nothing is there. There’s no way this can work. That _____ (whatever it is) is as good as dead.”

Here’s the thing, though. With God, that doesn’t matter.

God brings dead things to life

God doesn’t care if we can’t see signs of life; he calls things into existence that do not exist.

Take the universe, for example. Hebrews 11:3 says it was formed “at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” God didn’t have to see something to create it; he just had to say it (“Let there be light”) and it happened.

And when God allowed Sarah to conceive, he did so (and you can check me on this in Romans 4:17) “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”

God brought a promise to life–he created a life–because Abraham believed.

I can hear what you’re thinking. I’ve thought the same thing: “I want to believe that God could call this thing–this marriage, this job, this hoped-for baby–into existence, but I just don’t see how it could happen. And if I don’t have faith…maybe it won’t.”

I get that. And, like I said, I have thought that. And if all we had to go on was Hebrews 11:6 (“Without faith it is impossible to please God”), the picture would look bleak, indeed.

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

There is much more we might say–much more encouragement tucked into the pages of Hebrews–but if you are struggling to believe God for something that looks and feels as good as dead, here are three hooks for your hope:

First, we don’t have to see something for it to be real. We can still believe it. Faith, Scripture says, isn’t just wishful thinking. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Second, faith is not something we need to create or produce in ourselves. Jesus, the Bible says, “initiates and perfects our faith.” He starts it. He finishes it. He supplies what we lack and makes it complete.

And finally, God’s horizon is infinitely bigger than ours.

When Abraham laughed, it was because he knew what God had promised–that he’d be the father of many nations–but it had not yet happened. Nor would it, he thought, at his advanced age. Abraham was, Alter says, “someone living within a human horizon of expectations.”

A human horizon of expectations. Am I the only one who reads a phrase like that one and thinks, “Ouch”?

Because we do that, don’t we? We apply our human horizons–our timelines, our procedures, our perceived ideas of what will work best–to our lives, and when things don’t turn out like we wanted or expected them to, we figure that God has let us down. Or that we didn’t have enough faith. Or that the situation, whatever it is, is as good as dead.

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

The Bible says that God is always at work. That he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And that, when his plans or his methods don’t match up with ours, that’s okay; we can be confident that his ways are higher than ours.

Abraham is just one in a hallway of heroes whose lives are recapped in Hebrews 11. None of these people saw God’s promise fulfilled–at least not in the way, or at the time, they expected. But did that negate their faith or diminish their assurance that God would do what he said he would do? Not at all. They all died, Scripture says, “still believing,” welcoming God’s complete and perfect provision “from a distance.”

We can do the same thing. We can expand our perspective, acknowledging that our timelines (and even our lifetimes) do not limit God’s power or his provision. We can stop “living within a human horizon” and start praying with faith–with confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see–for every need.

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

For the desire–the unmet longing–that is as good as dead. We can ask God to bring that dream back to life.

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

Please bring this dead situation or relationship back to life; create a new thing out of nothing; make something that can be seen out of what is not now visible. (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3)

Be the source and the perfecter of my faith, providing and completing what I lack. Equip me to believe as Abraham did, against all hope, trusting that your thoughts and your ways are higher than mine. (Hebrews 12:2, Romans 4:18, Isaiah 55:8-9).

Amen

 

 

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Don’t talk to your kids about God?

(Note: This post about how we can talk to God about our children appeared earlier this week over at Club31Women as part of their new Strength and Dignity Devotional series. Thought I’d share it here in case you missed it. Happy Fourth!)

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

I exchanged a look with the woman sitting next to me at the young mother’s Bible study. Where was the teacher going with this?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God,” she repeated, “nearly as much as you talk to God about your kids.”

Talk to God about your kids

Ahhh. That made more sense. And over the years, as our four children became teenagers and then young adults, that value of that advice grew right along with them.

My husband and I wanted our kids to love Jesus. We wanted to showcase God’s attributes—his faithfulness, his mercy, his power, his love—so our children would know Him. We wanted to talk about His Word, like Deuteronomy 6:6-8 says, sitting at home and walking on the road, from early in the morning until late at night.

We wanted to talk about God all the time—and there were plenty of days when our kids might say that we did.

But there were also plenty of days when they did not want to listen. Plenty of days when it felt like our children were out of our reach, emotionally and spiritually, even if they were sitting just across the dinner table. Plenty of days when all our best parenting wisdom fell flat.

The answer, those days, wasn’t to talk louder, or more. The answer was to talk to God.

Mindful of verses like Isaiah 55:11 (which promises that God’s Word does not come back empty but accomplishes his purposes), we used Scripture to give shape to our prayers.

We asked God to captivate our kids’ attention: “Make _____’s heart a stream of water in Your hand; turn it wherever You will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

We asked God to let their words and deeds line up with his plans, to give our children “the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

And we prayed that our kids would know how much they were loved: “I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

We prayed prayers like these (and we’re praying them still), knowing that shaping our kids’ faith—along with their character, their relationships, and their future—is not up to us. It’s up to God. And honestly? Even though His answers have not always looked like what we expected (or wanted, sometimes), I can say with confidence that God has been faithful.

He has listened.

And He has been good.

The next time you feel like your kids are tuning you out or like they don’t want to hear what you have to say (or like you aren’t sure how to help even if they did want your advice!), don’t be discouraged. Instead, talk to God. He’s the one who, as Romans 4:17 puts it, “calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

He can create anything—even faith—out of nothing.

Heavenly Father,

Your bend down to listen to our prayers, and you invite us to pour out our hearts to you on behalf of our children. (Psalm 116:2 and Lamentations 2:19)

Today, our need is for ___________. Please call that into existence, even if there seems to be nothing there now.

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

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The Words We Speak to Our Kids

Mother speaking life to her daughter

What sort of words do we speak to our kids?

I’ve long been a foot-in-mouth gal, and whether it’s a joke that fell flat, an ill-timed lecture, or even an emoji that my children tell me that I’m using wrong (to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “I don’t think that symbol means what you think it means, Mom”), I often ask God to set a guard over my mouth, especially when I talk to my kids. I read verses like Proverbs 18:21 (“The tongue has the power of life and death”) and I think: Dear God, don’t let me kill them.

Last week, though, I was reminded of the flip side of the coin–as in, the positive power of the words we speak.

As part of an Instagram giveaway for two new books about how we can love our sons and daughters, I asked folks to tell me how they showed love to their kids. I got lots of uplifting responses, from creative efforts like decorating a child’s bedroom door on the eve of their birthday to simpler (but no less impactful) things like baking cookies together or doing an adult child’s laundry when he comes home. Love comes in all sorts of packages.

I scrolled through the comments, liking them all, but I paused when I got to this one:

“I have a son. I speak out what I see in him that is good, and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is!”

Speak to the good you see now

I speak out what I see that is good…

As parents, we can get so focused on “fixing” what’s wrong that we fail to notice what’s right, particularly when it comes to the things that not everyone sees. For instance, parenting experts tell us to highlight character traits more than accomplishments. A starting spot on the soccer team or a report card full of A’s may earn peer and teacher approval, but things like patience, wisdom, humility and perseverance equip a child to flourish in life.

Take a moment to consider your kids. Do you see the good in their hearts? Attitudes that bring honor to God? Speak them out! Make a point of telling your children–in person, or with a phone call or text–how you see God’s image reflected in them. Does your son pay attention to what people need? Does your daughter light up a room? Are they (sometimes) kind to each other? Let them know that you noticed.

 Speak to what is “not yet”

…and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is.

That’s the second part of the Instagram comment, and I can see some of you scratching your heads. But don’t get hung up on the word “prophesy.” Prophets aren’t just wild-eyed old men in long robes who predict future events or do bizarre stuff for God. Prophets are also people–regular old moms and dads–who “speak forth” God’s purposes, proclaiming and teaching God’s Word. These parents know the power that comes, sometimes without any fanfare, simply though the words that we speak.

Here’s what this might look like in everyday life:

Say you want your child to have wisdom. Envision that in his life, and speak words like this: “I can picture God shaping you into a wise and discerning young man. I have great confidence in your future.”

Or maybe you want your teen to show kindness and compassion to others. Say something like this: “I can see God’s hand on your life. I love how he is growing your heart for other people, and I admire the woman you are becoming.”

I realize that this might sound a bit..iffy. Like, you might worry that your teens will look at you sideways if you start talking like this. I get that. I hear you. But give it a try anyway. Because here’s the thing about speaking to the “not yet” in our kids: It doesn’t matter how old they are, what choices they’ve made, or how many habits or patterns look “set.” We might not have the power to change things with our words, but as we speak them over our children, God does.

God’s Word makes things happen

The Bible says God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. He creates new things out of nothing. He’s been doing this creative and regenerative work since time began.

(“Let there be light,” for example.)

God’s Word makes things happen. There is literally no limit to what he can do. Our words might not have that same sort of supernatural power, but they still carry weight. I like how the Message translation renders Proverbs 18:21. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit–you choose.”

Let’s choose fruit. Let’s look for opportunities to speak life to our children–both in what we see happening now and in what God’s word equips us to proclaim. Here are a handful of ways we can start planting for the harvest:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ know that they are your masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things you planned long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)

May _____ grow in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with you and with other people. (Luke 2:52)

May _____ know that they are your special possession, called out of darkness into your wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Want to get your own copy of the books from my Instagram giveaway? Check out 100 Ways to Love Your Daughter and 100 Ways to Love Your Son from Lisa and Matt Jacobson:

100 Ways Books by Matt and Lisa Jacobson

And as always, when you order from these links, Amazon sends me a small compensation so that I can keep ordering books–and sharing my favorites with you. 🙂

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

It’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner. We can ask God to choose our kids’ spouses and, through prayer, we can forecast his favor and blessing on our sons- and daughters-in-law, long before we ever meet them in person.

Consider how Abraham did it.

When the time came for Isaac to marry, Abraham had some fairly concrete ideas about the type of wife he wanted for his son. She couldn’t be a Canaanite; rather, he wanted someone from his own country, someone whose family acknowledged the Lord. Too old to make the journey himself, Abraham sent his servant to find a good match for his boy.

The servant stood beside a spring in Abraham’s hometown and, as the young women came out to draw water, he prayed a very specific prayer: “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Obviously, Abraham’s servant was asking God for a sign. But I think there was more to his prayer than this. I think that when he prayed for a girl who would offer him water — and water his camels as well (all TEN of them!) — the servant was asking God to show him a girl with the kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, and strength that Isaac would value in a wife. And indeed, Rebekah turned out to be all of these things, and more.

Be specific when you pray about your child’s marriage partner

Over the years, I’ve talked with parents who’ve come before God with all sorts of requests regarding their child’s marriage partner.

One of my friends — whose own folks divorced when she was a young girl — prays that her children will marry men and women from unbroken homes. Another mom asked God to let her kids find their mates early in life, both so they can enjoy the blessing of marriage as they “grow up” together and to lessen the pressures of sexual temptation during their young adult years. Two young men we know are praying for wives whose lives are marked by honesty, virtue, and a good sense of humor. And I recently met a young soccer player who led her team to a DI conference championship; she told me that she couldn’t imagine marrying anyone who didn’t love playing sports, so she’s asking God to set her up with an athlete.

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

I don’t think so — particularly when our prayers are wrapped in an overarching desire to see God’s will be done. In fact, I think our heavenly Father loves to grant these requests. Not long ago, I heard from a young gal who was in a Bible study I once hosted for middle school girls. She’d just gotten engaged and when I asked her how she knew that “he” was the one, she laughed. “It was obvious!” she exclaimed. “He checked off every one of the prayers that I’d put in my journal when you told us to pray specifically for our future husbands. After praying these things for over ten years, he was easy to recognize!”

Three ways you can pray for your child’s marriage partner

So let me ask: What are your desires for your children’s marriages — and, in particular, for the people that they will marry?

Truth be told, I have kind of a long prayer list when it comes to my kids and their spouses, including the prayer prompts I shared in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then added to in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. (Because just like it’s never too early to pray for your child’s marriage partner, is it also never too late.) But there are three things that are tops on my list, prayers I return to again and again:

I pray that my kids will marry people who love God deeply — with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength — and who will love their neighbors as themselves. That’s a request rooted in Mark 12:29-31.

I ask God to give my children and their spouses good relationships with their parents, to grant them the blessings that Exodus 20:12 promises to those who honor their fathers and mothers.

And I pray that my kids’ marriages will be marked, as Ephesians 4:32 says, by kindness and compassion and a willingness to quickly forgive. (What marriage doesn’t need that?)

“Let him/her be the one You have chosen”

Our two eldest children, Hillary and Annesley, got married within four months of each other. Planning two weddings at once was…interesting. But what a joy it was, when Charlie and Geoff sought my husband’s blessing to marry our daughters, to look at these two young men — each one a living, breathing answer to twenty-plus years of prayer — and think to myself: “So it’s you!”

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s marriage partner. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

So let’s join our voices with generations of families who’ve gone before, praying as Abraham’s servant did: “Let her/him be the one you have chosen.”

Heavenly Father,

You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Grant that our children will be people — and marry people — who love you deeply. May they love others well and enjoy good relationships with their parents and in-laws. May they be kind, compassionate, and quick to forgive. (Mark 12:29-31, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Annesley and Geoff celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, you might find encouragement from reading their story. What’s that old saying? “Man plans and God laughs…”

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Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. To all the professional teachers out there:  Thank you. For now, and for always.

It’s also Mother’s Day. And to all you moms who’ve added “teacher” to your job description in recent weeks (months? is it years yet?):  Thank you, too.

Some of you seem to be crushing it on the homeschooling front. My pal Elizabeth, for example, adopts a British accent when she teaches her children.  (Maybe she thinks they won’t realize she’s Mom?)

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

And I loved the way that Caitlin, a California mom, put her own COVID spin on the traditional Presidential Physical Fitness Test:

 

Clever, right? (I was more than a little impressed.)

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

Honestly, though? I’ve heard from plenty of you who don’t feel so creative. You feel overwhelmed. Over-tired. Over it. You couldn’t muster up a British accent to say “Shaken, not stirred,” much less to give a spelling test.

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

If that’s where you are, can I just offer two bits of advice?

First, hang in there. Don’t give up. Get yourself an index card (even a fake teacher has those at home, right?) and post Galatians 6:9 on the fridge:

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

And second: Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.

Seriously. That might be the best piece of parenting advice anybody ever gave me, when our kids were young. And it applies to pretty much everything, from your marriage to your job to your effectiveness as a freshly minted school teacher.

Life Lessons from Little League

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember what happened back when I got drafted to coach Little League. Read that post here, if you want; the nutshell version is this:  I knew nothing at all about baseball, but that didn’t matter to my team, the Purple Wolves, at least not at first. We spent our practice time perfecting our cartwheels, working on our team cheer (a growl, paired with a threatening “wolf stance”), and honing our baseball-themed jokes (“Why did the sausage quit playing baseball? Because he was the wurst on his team”).

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. My Wolves seemed pretty happy–until they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed!” a wolf moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Can I just interrupt myself here and let you know that this was tee-ball? If you know anything about tee-ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed. But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three-deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives (or our social media feeds) and see moms whose kids are smiling around the kitchen table, workbooks opened, pencils raised, and shirts (clean shirts!) buttoned correctly, while we sit there wondering if the corkscrew would make a good show-n-tell. Or if tracking the steps between the couch and the fridge counts as math.

You know? We can’t help it. We look around at how everyone else is coping with COVID-19 and we think to ourselves:  We don’t have what it takes.

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

We give insecurity a little foothold in our lives and then, like the Purple Wolves’ fear, it starts to spread.

Here’s the thing, though:  Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. And if we spend our time scrolling through what other people look like instead of focusing on who we really are—beloved children of God, whose power is made perfect when we are weak and whose grace equips us for every good work—we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

So let’s not. Let’s stop looking across the field at the kids with their matching water bottles, and let’s look up instead. Let’s look at God.

Because He is looking at us. And, like the parents who turned out to watch the Purple Wolves play, He doesn’t care if his kids are sitting on carpet squares or a blanket.

He just wants us to know how much we are loved.

Heavenly Father,

Help me pay careful attention to my own work, getting satisfaction in a job well done, so that I won’t need to compare myself to anyone else. (Galatians 6:4)

Amen

❤️

And P.S., if you want a few prayers you can pray for a teacher (or, a-hem, for yourself), click here to download this printable card:

Teacher Prayer Printable

And if you’re looking for some fun new activities to incorporate into your daily routine, check out the FREE ebook from my friend Susan Yates. (I’m not sure the toilet paper fitness challenge is in there, but she’s got 100 other fantastic ideas!)

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

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Crisis Control: How do you respond?

How we respond in a crisis reveals what we really believe about God.

How we respond in a crisis reveals what we believe about God

The word crisis, says author Henry Blackaby, comes from a word that means decision. How we live our lives–and what we actually decide to do when we face what he calls a “crisis of belief”–speaks volumes about how we regard God.

In the past few weeks, we’ve watched Christians respond to the COVID-19 crisis (if we can call it that) in myriad ways. Some have wept over lost lives or in sympathy with those who are sick. Some have fasted and prayed, calling on God to end the plague, and/or use it for his glory. And some, like my friend Michelle, have wept, prayed, and rolled up their sleeves and started sewing masks to donate to food pantries, healthcare workers, and regular old neighbors like me:

Jodie wearing a mask

(I added the personalization; Set a guard over my mouthseemed apropos.)

“It’s all right.”

The purpose of today’s post is not to tell you how to feel, or even what to do. It’s simply to highlight an example of how one mother behaved when her child was in crisis and offer a pattern for prayer we can follow–whether we’re facing a global pandemic, a marriage breakdown, or a teenager who just came home drunk.

Scripture tells the story of a childless couple who befriended the prophet Elisha, adding a guest room to their home so that he’d have a place to stay when he came to town. In return for their kindness, Elisha promised that they’d have a son the following year, and they did.

One day, the child complained of a headache. The woman–the Bible just calls her “the Shunammite”–held her son and watched, helpless, as he died in her lap. She laid the boy on Elisha’s bed, closed the door to the room, and went to find the prophet, telling her husband nothing other than that everything was “all right.”

While the Shunammite woman was still some distance away, Elisha saw her and sent his servant to ask whether everything was okay. “Everything is all right,” she repeated. But Elisha knew she was in distress and, when he finally found out what had happened, he reacted immediately. Elisha told his servant to run to the boy and lay Elisha’s staff on the child’s face.

But…the Shunammite woman was not a fan of that plan. She didn’t want the servant; she wanted Elisha–and she vowed not to leave unless the prophet came too. So Elisha got up and followed her home.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because the servant could get no response out of the boy. When Elisha arrived, he went into the room, shut the door, and prayed, stretching himself out on the boy’s little body. Within moments, the child came back to life. Elisha gave the boy to his mother, who bowed at his feet. And then, the Bible says, she “took her son and went out.”

The end.

I want to do what she did

As a mother, I find this story nothing short of astounding. I’m not sure what I would do if my child died in my lap, but I can guarantee you that my first response would not be to say, “It’s all right.” But as I dig into how the Shunammite woman behaved–which says a lot about what she believed about God–there are definitely some tent pegs in there, steps we can use to anchor our trust when life turns inside out.

First, the Shunammite did not panic. She knew she needed God and, instead of surrounding herself with worriers, skeptics, or mourners, she went straight to the one person she knew who would look beyond the present reality and see her circumstances through heaven’s eyes. That’s what I want to do:  I want to hang out with people of faith, people who can help me see a big God.

Next, she persevered, accepting nothing less than God’s best. Emboldened by love for her child and her belief in God’s power, the Shunammite woman clung to the prophet’s feet and refused to let go. That’s how I want to pray; I want to hold onto God and never give up.

And finally, when her answer came, she gave glory to God. The first thing the Shunammite woman did was to fall at Elisha’s feet, acknowledging God’s power and grace. And, if you read the rest of her story, she continued to live by faith–a posture that wound up saving the lives and the fortunes of her entire family when the next crisis struck.

The silver lining

If there’s a silver lining in crisis situations, it’s that they remind us of how much we need God. They break down our notions of self-sufficiency, reveal our inadequacies, and remind us that we’re not in control. (Which, by the way, is why the advice to “wash your hands” translated into “Get toilet paper!” as a response to the coronavirus. We needed to do something, psychologists say, to make ourselves feel stocked up and prepared.)

The silver lining in crisis situations is that they can drive us into God’s arms.

And you know what? He doesn’t want us to be worried or anxious (“Don’t be afraid” is the most oft-repeated command in the Bible), but at the end of the day, God doesn’t care whether we show up panicked or peaceful. He welcomes us either way. And he delights in our prayers.

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ not to be afraid, but to know that you have called them by name and they are yours.

Be with _____ when they go through rivers of difficulty; when they walk through the fire of oppression, don’t let them be burned.

May we acknowledge you as God, the Holy One, our Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Amen

❤️

You can read more about the Shunammite woman, and how other families put their trust in God during their own scary situations, in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenChapter 12 is called “Praying for Kids in Crisis.”

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The Prayer Circle Letter (the answer for social distancing?)

Note: This post showed up last month over at Club31Women, a place where you can find encouragement and inspiration on everything from family life, to dealing with anxiety in uncertain times, to knowing what to fix for dinner tonight (I’d pick these fudgy cappuccino crinkles). When I wrote these words two months ago, I didn’t know how much I’d be craving connection today–or how grateful I’d be for the prayer partners who continue to remind me that, whether we’re six feet or six states away from each other, we are never alone…

The Prayer Circle Letter

Daniel did it. Moses did it. Even Jesus did it. All of these Bible people – and plenty more – asked their friends to join the prayer circle.

And I was reminded of the power of multiplied prayer earlier this year when I got together with my best college pals.

Prayer Circle Reunion

I shared that pic on my Instagram feed, along with one taken a few (okay, more than a few) years earlier:

What makes this group precious to me, apart from the fact that we share memories now like we shared clothes back then (which, given that we mostly wore leg warmers and shoulder pads, was maybe not as appealing as it sounds), is the way that these girls talk to God. We’re spread up and down the east coast, but all it takes is a phone call or a text message to prompt us to pray. And, more often than not, the request is for one of our kids.

It sounds simple now, but it wasn’t always that way.

Life Before Facebook

None of us had gotten very far along in our parenthood journey before we realized that we were in way over our heads. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood was (and is) an incredible blessing. But you know how all the young moms share their birth stories on social media now? I’ll just go ahead and tell you that, the day after Hillary entered the world, I was pulling the nurse cord to ask the epidural man to come back and give me the full-body treatment this time. (And did they have an extra to-go needle that I could maybe take home?)

I knew I’d need help. And so did my friends, when they left the hospital with their own bundles-of-joy. We wanted each other’s support but, spread out as we were (one of us lived in Japan!), we couldn’t just pop by with a casserole, a burp cloth, and some wine. The best we could do was to pray.

And in what I still consider one of her most inspired decisions, Annesley (top middle, in the old college pic) came up with a way to keep us connected. We didn’t have access to email chains, Facebook groups, or text threads (nobody had invented the internet yet), so Annesley started a letter. We could, she said, write our prayer requests on actual paper and pass the letter around. We’d pray for each other’s needs, record God’s answers, add new requests, and then pop the whole thing into a new envelope and send it on. A prayer circle, facilitated by postage stamps!

I have no idea how many times that thing made the loop, or where it is now. But when the girls and I got together two months ago, we didn’t need a written letter to let us know that God had been at work in our families’ lives. Our children’s needs have changed over the years, but God hasn’t. And what a joy it was to remind one another that our kids’ stories are still being written!

Invite God into the Prayer Circle

The Power of Multiplied Prayer

Praying with other people is nothing new; again, Daniel recruited his buddies; Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms; and Esther called all the Jews in her city to fast and pray. God loves it when his children get together – and he loves to listen to us, even if we’re not actively trying to get his attention! Consider Malachi 3:16:  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.”

(Kind of wild, right?)

And lest there be any doubt about the power that is unleashed when believers connect with one another in prayer, Jesus put it very plainly for his disciples:

“I tell you,” he says in Matthew 18:19-20, “if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

When two or three of us get together, Jesus is there. And that, says bestselling author Ray Stedman in his book, Talking with My Father, “is the charter principle underlying all prayer meetings.”

If you don’t already have a friend or two who will join you as you pray for your child (or even for strangers, during this crazy COVID time), ask God to give you a prayer partner. Be alert to the names he might put on your heart, and don’t be afraid to take the initiative and invite people to pray with you. You don’t have to be formal or fancy – and you certainly don’t need to start by writing a letter that you can all pass around.

Just come together. And know that Jesus will be with you in your prayer circle.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promise to be with us when we gather in your name. Today, as we meet virtually instead of in person, let us consider how we can encourage each other. And, as we have opportunity, show us how to do good to all people. (Hebrews 10:25,  Galatians 6:10)

Please encourage _______ today.

Amen

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A Healthcare Worker’s Take on COVID-19

I know it’s not polite to read other people’s mail. But when I got this letter from Emily, a precious young healthcare worker, I asked if I could share it with you. Emily is a family nurse practitioner who’s served in some of the world’s neediest places, most recently in Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees. Today she’s working in a COVID-19 isolation unit at one of our nation’s largest public hospitals.

I hope you’ll find Emily’s words as encouraging as I did, and that you’ll join me in praying for her – and for her co-workers and their patients – in the days ahead.

Healthcare worker Emily

Dear Friend,

What a week. It’s been nearly impossible to keep from being overwhelmed by the onslaught of statistics, restrictions, and realities of the coronavirus over the last several days. However, I spent some time with the Lord today and was so encouraged by what He said that I thought I’d share it with you, in hopes that you too will feel empowered and purposeful in this wild season. 🙂

God can take what is evil and use it for good

When asking the Lord this morning about the current coronavirus situation, He first reminded me of Who He Is. Though many things are uncertain, He is certain. Though so much is unknown, He is known. Though this virus is strong, He is stronger. Though the information and situation are changing rapidly, He never changes. Though the spreading of coronavirus seems out of control, He never loses control. Though we are separated from our friends and loved ones, His love can never be separated from us. Though the enemy intends this virus for evil, the King of Kings can turn it for our good and for His glory.

Our Father reminded me of His heart to heal, and that He loves to give good gifts to His children. He reminded me that He is always moving, always working, always speaking, always looking for people who are vessels willing to receive what heaven wants to bring to earth. He reminded me that we have not because we ask not, and that He loves to be generous and lavish blessings upon us.

He reminded me that my circumstances are not a reflection of His faithfulness, nor a measure of His goodness. He reminded me that He hates to see His creation suffer, and that He longs to bring restoration and redemption to His children.

But what can we do?

Being reminded of these things, an urgent question arose inside of me, one that I think many of us have been asking in this time of quarantine and separation:

“What can we do? What should we do, Lord?” I asked Him.

I have always felt the need to DO. I am a doer at heart, and if you’re anything like me, the idea of being unproductive is terrifying. Thus, the recent “in-home sheltering” and restrictions on work AND on gathering with people have rendered me feeling somewhat worthless over the last week. This forced separation and new space has felt disempowering instead of energizing, and I have felt restless inside, wondering what I can possibly do to help.

So I asked Him again, “What can I do, Papa? What is on your heart for me to do?”

In the stillness, the Spirit replied, “Rest, My child. Rest in Me.”

I was struck by this instruction. “Really????? When the whole world seems to be coming undone, You just want me to REST?? That’s all?? There’s got to be something more helpful for me to do!!!!”

The Spirit then explained, “How can you receive the healing and hope and restoration that I have for My people when you are frenzied and focused on what you can do? This is not about you.  Instead, focus on what I can do, and on receiving what I have to give. I have sooo much to give. I am looking for those who are willing to stop, to sit in My presence, and to receive. Not those who are desperate to do on their own. My child, in your desperation to feel productive, you let frenzy and fear overtake your heart and mind, and you miss this opportunity to be with Me. The secret to this season is to enter the rest I have for you, not to try and do.   

Then Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” -Isaiah 30:15

God wants to do more than “flatten the curve”

What a perspective shift. The desire of the Lord for me today is to return to Him and rest in His Presence. In the quietness of my room, He wants to renew my trust, which will strengthen me for the days ahead. He is mighty to save, eager to love, and always intervening… it is up to me to posture myself at the foot of His throne and rest in order to receive what He has. And we can know with confidence that what He has to give is better than anything the world has to offer in this time. He has things to give us that will do so much more than just “flatten the curve” or “stop the spread”….He has gifts to give that include everlasting hope, miraculous healing, and unending love. He wants to save our world not just from the coronavirus, but from an eternity without Him. And we, as His people, get to be a part of this restoration and redemption…if we are willing to rest. 

In a place of rest, we will find ourselves in His Presence, connected to His heart. In being connected to His heart, we will actually be able to hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd… and then we can receive His wisdom and His power as He faithfully leads us through the treacherous paths ahead.

In a place of rest, we also are at the end of ourselves; we are surrendered at His feet, letting go of all we think and all we want to do because we realize that His ways are higher and better than ours. When we choose to rest, we will finally be available to do the work that He has for us, which will undoubtedly be more impactful and helpful than anything we can do on our own.

Just Say Yes

So, dear friends, the invitation from the Holy Spirit stands waiting for you and me both: will we rest? Are we willing to let go of our fears and uncertainty and instead grab onto the hands of Perfect Peace Himself? Are we willing to push through the temptations to make to-do lists and curate feelings of usefulness, and instead sit patiently in the stillness and quietness? Are we willing to humble ourselves at the foot of the throne, to worship Him as we wait, thanking Him now for the miracles we have yet to see?

If our answer is yes, then I believe we will see more healing and more courage and more strength in the body of Christ than ever before. If we say yes, we have the privilege of not only finding rest for our souls, but being a part of bringing that rest to those around us. If we say yes to rest, we can be more in love with our King and more empowered to receive the kingdom.

I pray that together we can say, “Yes, Lord. Yes to Your rest. Yes to Your Promises. Yes to Your Love. Yes—may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May we say “yes” to what the Lord has for us in this moment, for we were made for such a time as this.

❤️

Will you join me today in a prayer for Emily, and for all the healthcare workers who find themselves on the front lines?

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over our doctors, nurses, and everyone in the healthcare field. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. Protect them from worry and fear; may your peace stand guard over their hearts and their minds. Take what was intended for harm and use it for good, to accomplish what is now being done:  The saving of many lives. (Psalm 5:11-12; Philippians 4:6-7; Genesis 50:20)

And may all who are weary and burdened come to you, learn from you, and find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Amen

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Be Still and Pray

Note:  I shared this “Be Still” how-to on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week. Based on the feedback I got, I figured I’d post it again here, along with some of the other favorite scripture-prayers people shared. I’ll be back next week with a more regular post, but in the meantime, I can’t think of a better way to keep COVID-19 fear and worry at bay than to take hold of a Bible promise and let it sink into your soul…

Be Still

An anchor that holds

Reading the scriptures is not the same thing as praying the scriptures. And today, as we find ourselves tugging at anchors to see which ones will hold, let’s give the latter option a try.

Read Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Now let’s pray it:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be still. Let me get off the treadmill of worry, busy-ness, confusion, and fear. Quiet my heart. Help me be still.

I want to KNOW that you are God. I don’t want to just hope that; I want to be certain. Show me, God. Let me know…

…that you are GOD. You are in control. You are the Lord of lords. King of kings. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You are God.

See how that works? With just a few breaths, we can move from panic to peace, from striving to stillness, from fearful to free.

Try this at home

If you like this idea, here are a few more scripture-prayer anchors, shared by our Facebook and Instagram friends. Just click on the verse, read it, and then turn it into a prayer:

Psalm 91:4

Psalm 5:11-12

Zephaniah 3:17

2 Timothy 1:7

Colossians 1:9-14 (a longer prayer, but one that is jam-packed with good stuff for yourself and for the people you love–things like wisdom, strength, patience, joy…and the promise that we have already been rescued!)

❤️

I’m sending love your way today, along with gratitude that in a world marked by social distancing, we can still meet on the bridge of prayer. See you next week!

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Coronavirus Concerns: How to Cope

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am learning new things.

Like, I didn’t know what “social distancing” was, or that it could be a healthy thing. Now I do. And I have a whole new respect for folks like my husband, who has never once struggled with FOMO and will be fine if we get quarantined.

Or WFH. (Who knew that what I’ve been doing as a writer for the past 25 years had its own acronym?)

Or even the fact that people, when panicked, will hoard toilet paper. I read where one newspaper actually printed eight extra  pages in a recent edition–“emergency rations” was how they put it. Can you imagine?

Actually, I can.

Because the newspaper people are not the first ones to make this particular link. Years ago, my mom asked me to donate a carton of books for a mission trip she was going on. When I learned that the supply coordinator had asked her to bring toilet paper, I balked. “Mom,” I said, “Don’t you think the missionary people will wonder why, when they asked you for toilet paper, you brought books instead? What will they think when they go to the supply cabinet and open the box?”

“They will think that it’s brilliant!” my mother exclaimed. “Because with toilet paper, all you have is toilet paper. But with your books, you can read them, and then, if you still need supplies…”

Anyhow.

I hadn’t planned to post a blog this week, but I figured that if we’re all WFH and feeling socially distanced, maybe a few words of comfort would help.

I’ve written about things like worry and fear in the past. If you’ve got time for a longer post, click here to read about how–whether we’re up against a bear market, a bear of a disease, or an actual bear–God doesn’t want his kids to be scared. For now, though, I’ll share just two quick recommendations.

Replace the bad with the good.

First, have a plan. Anyone who’s ever tried to accomplish a goal–Lose weight. Save money. Stop cussing–understands the importance of action steps. It’s not enough to just state the objective; you have to replace the bad habit with something better. Something good.

Which may be why, when Paul said, Don’t worry about anything, he followed that command up with this charge:  Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Don't worry (about the Coronavirus)

That verse–Philippians 4:6–was apparently the “verse of the year” for 2019. I don’t know who decides stuff like that, but if we needed to swap our worries for prayer last year, how much more do we need to make the trade now?

So here’s Part One of the plan:  When you feel the fingers of worry starting to crawl up your back, don’t panic. Use them as a trigger–or a prompt, if that’s a happier word–to remind you to pray.

Look up.

Part Two of the plan is to quit looking around and look up.

Longtime blog readers will know that Sara Hagerty is, in my view, one of the most gifted writers of our time. I savored her last book, Unseen, and now she’s got another masterpiece hitting the shelves–one that can help move us from panic to peace.

Adore Book Cover

I pre-ordered Adore the moment I caught a glimpse of the cover. And now that I know a little more about what’s inside (click here for a quick peek at the trailer), I CANNOT wait for this book to arrive.

Because here’s the thing.

Sara knows what it feels like to worry. To live in the world of what if. To wonder if you’ll ever measure up…or if your child is okay…or even why you didn’t get invited to that party.

Or if your loved ones will be safe in the weeks ahead.

More than that, though, Sara knows that God wants to meet us right there in those thoughts–in the “middle minutes” of our lives. And to get us to look up. At him.

Adore releases on March 31st.

Which, if you think like my mom does, might turn out to be perfect timing if you run out of supplies…

And in the meantime, here’s one of my favorite anti-virus prayers you can pray for yourself, for the people you love, and for strangers on the other side of the world:

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over ______. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

Amen

❤️

P.S. If you want more scripture-based prayers to keep Coronavirus fear and worry at bay, hop on over to Instagram and check out the latest post by @abigailCBN. And as always, if you order a book that I recommend in this space, Amazon sends me a teensy commission…which means I can keep buying new books and letting you know which ones are the best!

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How has your mother shaped your life?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you’ve met my mother. You’ve read about the gorilla who came to her wedding (a story that comes with a side dose of hope for those who’ve lost spouses they love); you know she goes boogie-boarding in the snow (because age is a number, not a lifestyle); and you’ll remember how she helped save the day when the bus we’d hired to transport Annesley’s wedding party left the bride and groom at the church.

IMG_8916

And in a brand new book called Faithful Daughter:  True, Inspiring Stories Celebrating a Mother’s Legacy and Love, I’m telling the story of how Mom taught me to get back at people who hurt me.

Mother-Daughter Book

Faithful Daughter is the brainchild of noted writer and editor Ami McConnell. Ami asked 35 of her friends (award-wining novelists, best-selling authors, and gals who just love a good story) to write about how their mothers’ lives had shaped theirs. The compilation of essays–some marked by joy, others by searing pain–is as varied as the women themselves. But there is one common theme:  Namely, that there is no such thing as a perfect mother. And no perfect daughters, either. We’re all just women, daughters of God.

Who loves us just as we are.

If you want a chance to win a free copy of Faithful Daughter, pop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@jodieberndtwrites) and leave a comment about your own mom. I’d love to hear how her life, or her faith, left its mark on yours. And in the meantime, here’s my story…

An Inheritance of Blessing

I could hear him back there, bouncing his basketball. We were on our way home from elementary school, together and yet not. Thomas, the coolest boy in the whole third grade, walked twenty feet behind me. I didn’t look back.

Suddenly, the bouncing stopped. A split-second later, I felt the breath leave my body. Thomas had thrown his ball and—since he was also the most athletic boy in third grade—it had hit me, square in the back.

I took off running.

Three blocks later, I burst through my front door. “Mom!” I cried through my tears, “Thomas Mayfield [not his real name] just hit me in the back. With his basketball!”

My mother has never been known for her nurturing personality. She could tell I wasn’t seriously hurt and so, rather than letting me wallow, she pointed me toward the door.

“Jodie,” she said, “Thomas will be walking past our house in about one minute, and when he goes by I want you to say, ‘Have a nice day, Thomas.’

“And then I want you to curtsy.”

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that my mom sounds a little bit crazy. And she is, in a mostly good kind of way.

Like, when my sixty-one-year-old dad was battling brain cancer and lacked the strength to get from the car to their condo, and my mom told him to sit on the sidewalk. “Stay right there,” she said (as if my father had another option), and then she disappeared into the building. Five minutes later she returned, carrying the cushions from their lanai, a bottle of Pepsi, and a bag of Doritos.

Which is how my parents wound up spending an entire afternoon sunning themselves in a parking lot until my dad found the strength to begin again. Crazy right? Yeah. Crazy good.

Repaying Insults with Kindness

But back to Thomas.

Per Mom’s instructions, I went out to the street and saw him coming my way. Thomas didn’t acknowledge me but, as he drew abreast of our house, I spoke up:  “Have a nice day, Thomas.” And I curtsied.

(Having seen The Sound of Music at least three times before I turned eight, I knew how.)

If Thomas was surprised, he didn’t show it. If anything, he looked a bit worried. He probably figured my mother had called his—and that he’d have to face the music when he got home. That’s what most moms would have done, back in the day:  called and tattled. But not mine.

Claire Rundle may have been short on maternal sympathy, but she was long on the Bible. She knew what it said. And whenever anyone tried to hurt her or one of her kids, she always found a way to pay them back.

With a blessing.

“Do not repay evil with evil,” the Bible says, “or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

That’s 1 Peter 3:9. And it worked. Thomas never bothered me after that day; in fact, we became friends. And my mom’s crazy counsel—to repay insults with blessings—has stood me in good stead, over the years. Because what I’ve found is that the more I try to extend kindness to people who hurt or offend me, the better life gets. It’s like grace finds a way to get rid of the sting.

“That’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen.”

I have four children. They’re all grown up now, but I tried to raise them in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:9. I’m sure there were times when they thought I was as crazy as I thought my mom was. I’m sure there were days when they thought I was worse. One year, for instance, they gave me a homemade Mother’s Day card where they’d picked a word to go with each letter in the word MOTHER. Next to the e they wrote EMBARRASSING.

Honestly, though? I didn’t care if they thought I was nuts. I just didn’t want them to miss out on a blessing. And so I encouraged them to invite the mean girl to their party. To bake cookies for our grumpy neighbor when he complained about the noise they made. To pray God’s richest favor over the middle school bully.

I did not, however, ever ask them to curtsy. So there’s that.

But here’s the thing:  Repaying meanness with kindness almost never makes sense, nor is it usually easy. Yet it opens the door to a life full of freedom and blessing—one that refuses to take up an offense—and for that wisdom nugget, I will be forever grateful to my mother.

She and my dad enjoyed their last parking lot picnic back in 2001, the year that my father went to be with the Lord. Mom got remarried several years later—her name is Claire Gilman now—and I love my stepdad. John is just as generous and crazy as she is.

They downsized recently, moving from a big house to a small condo, taking only their most beloved possessions. As John pushed his favorite stone bench into place outside their new front door, a neighbor approached.

“That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” the neighbor said, inclining his head toward the bench. “Where do you plan to put it?”

John straightened up. “Well I guess I will put it wherever you like,” he said with a smile. And then he invited the man and his wife over for dinner.

Which is not, to be perfectly frank, what I would have done. But it’s the sort of thing I want to do when someone gets under my skin. And so, even as I ask God to help my children “repay evil with blessing,” I pray that 1 Peter 3:9 prayer for myself:

Lord, make me willing to return kindness for cruelty. Let me meet meanness with love.

Lord, make me more like my mom.

Mother-Daughter Book Quote

 

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God knows what we need, so why pray?

God knows what we need

God knows what we need even before we ask him. So…why should we pray?

The short answer, of course, is “Because I said so.” As in, we pray because God tells us to. (See, for instance, Philippians 4:6, Matthew 7:7, and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 .)

But there’s more to the question – and the answer – than that. And as I was thinking about it this week, I remembered a post I wrote years ago, one where I shared a picture of a poster my father gave me, wall art that I hung in my high school bedroom, and then my college dorm room, and which I still have today:

IMG_4026

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

God knows what you need

I know my dad meant for the message (which is a quote from Jesus, in Matthew 6:8) to point to my Heavenly Father, but I felt like it applied to him, too. Dad usually did know just what I needed, and he was always quick to provide an encouraging word, a sound bit of advice, or even, sometimes, a gift.

Sometimes, it was a gift that I didn’t think that I needed:

My father and tennis racket

And other times, it was something I was sure that I did. Like when my father gave me an introduction to Jesus.

You can read the longer version of that story in the earlier post; the nutshell report is that Dad (who’d been a Sunday school teacher, a rec-league coach, and every other decent thing that a person could be) was stunned to discover that the Christian life wasn’t about trying to be “good”. But when he explained the whole sin-and-grace thing to me, it made perfect sense.

(I was eight, at the time. I knew I was a sinner. And I was super grateful for grace.)

My dad would have celebrated his 81st birthday this week. I’ve written about his battle with brain cancer in this space before, and I’ve shared how much I miss him, even after 20 years. There have been so many times in my own parenting journey when I’ve wished, more than anything, that I could have him around. Times when I’d love to seek his advice. To ask him to pray. Or to just see his smile.

Today, when I hear people wonder why we should pray (“I trust God to do what’s best for my family,” was how one man put it, when he told me that he didn’t pray), I often think of my dad. And how, even though I knew that he knew what I needed, I’d still ask him for stuff–whether I wanted a new dress, a dose of wisdom, or the car keys. After all, he was my dad.

Which is, I believe, why God wants us to pray.

Prayer signals relationship

At its most basic level, prayer signals relationship. John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” That’s a claim that the Bible reinforces. God could do stuff on his own – heal this person here, make it rain there – and sometimes it seems like he does. Far more often, though, we see him waiting on people, engaging with people, getting to know people – and then meeting their needs – through their prayers.

Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. It’s a way of saying, “You’re God, and I’m not.” And whether we’re talking to God because we need a healing or some other tangible blessing, or we want guidance for life, or we just like to hang out in his presence, the ultimate effect of our prayers is to draw us closer to him. “God works through the prayer process,” wrote Jennifer Kennedy Dean, “to expand our vision, to deepen our hunger, to stretch our faith, and to lift our desires higher. We start the process desiring something from him; we end it desiring only him.”

All of which is to say yes, God does know what we need, even before we ask him.

But he still wants us to ask.

And this week, as I’ve found myself missing my dad, I’m more grateful than ever to have had an earthly father who pointed me toward my Heavenly Father. He is the One who loves us enough, and is powerful enough, to do more than all we could ever ask or imagine. He is the One who loves it when we pray.

Heavenly Father,

I know that every good gift comes from you, that you know my needs, and that you are able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. (James 1:17, Matthew 6:8, Ephesians 3:20).

Today, I ask you to ___________.

Amen.

 

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Life Lessons (and Prayer Prompts) from a Dog

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you’ll remember how frightened our dog Max was, when he met a big black lab on the boardwalk:

A few weeks ago, Minnie met (and was terrified of) the very same dog.

Minnie and the Black Lab

Which reminded me of the lesson Max taught me, back in his day:  Namely, that it doesn’t matter what we are facing, God does not want us to be anxious or scared. His love – his perfect love – drives out fear.

(Even when the thing we are scared of is fake.)

You can read more about confronting fear here, if you missed that earlier post. But today just happens to be Minnie’s FIRST BIRTHDAY (a Valentine’s baby!), and as I was scrolling through photos of her this past week, I realized that she has taught us just as many lessons (and prompted just as many scripture-based prayers) as Max did.

And so, if you’ll be so good as to indulge me, I’ll share just a few. These are all areas where I need God’s help; feel free to borrow any prayers that appeal to you too.

Encourage one another daily.

Minnie and lacrosse

When Minnie joined our family last year, she didn’t have much choice about where she would go, or what she would do. But she tends to be very supportive and enthusiastic about pretty much every endeavor. You get the idea, looking at her, that she is hoping that you will succeed.

Heavenly Father, help me be someone who encourages other people every day. (Hebrews 3:13)

Whatever you do, do it for God.

 

Dog Minnie and laundry

“Whatever you do,” the Bible says, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” When you’ve got some big, important project to do, it can be easy to tell yourself that you are “serving the Lord.” Laundry, though? Not so much. (But hey,  God is all about making things clean…)

Heavenly Father, no matter how big or how boring my job is, let me work with all my heart, as though I am working for you. (Colossians 3:23)

Listen more than you speak.

Minnie has this one down. She doesn’t speak – she barely even barks. But whenever we hang out together, I am reminded of how nice it is to have someone who is always willing to listen. Which is a hard thing for me, sometimes. I like to talk.

Heavenly Father, help me be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

Pray about everything.

Dog and Prayer Book

Do animals pray? I don’t know. But Minnie has certainly been exposed to a lot of good books on the subject, and she’s heard plenty of prayers. And if she could talk, I bet she’d quote Paul:  “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.”

Heavenly Father, help me exchange worry for trust, praying about everything and thanking you for what you have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Know when to rest.

Dog resting on Dad

Here again, Minnie sets a stellar example. Because she’s just like me. She spends a lot of her day racing around. (Sometimes in circles.) But she knows when to quit, when to be still. She trusts that someone is keeping her safe.

Heavenly Father, life can be crazy and wild. Help me be still and know that you are God. (Psalm 46:10)

Love each other.

Dog Minnie and Friends

Life is better with friends; we all know that. And when Jesus tells us to love each other, he doesn’t leave us to try to be a good friend on our own. We love, he says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father, show us how to love other people with the same self-sacrificing love you lavish on us. Let us love out of your love, because you loved us first. (1 John 4:9-19)

Sooo…

Happy Birthday, Minnie. Here’s to many more years of praying the scriptures with you!

And to everyone else: Happy Valentine’s Day. You are LOVED! ❤️

Minnie on the Lawn

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Cover Your Child with God’s Presence

I don’t know who coined the term “prayer covering,” or who it was that first offered to “cover” someone in prayer. (Maybe it comes from verses like Psalm 5:12, which talks about God covering us with his favor?)

Again, I don’t know.

But when I was a guest on Focus on the Family last year, I said that one of the reasons I like praying the Scriptures so much is that, when we pray God’s Word over our kids, we literally cover them with the presence of Christ.

Cover our Children with God's Presence

 

John tells us that Jesus is the Word, and that He always has been. So when we use the Bible to shape our prayers for our kids – when we “cover” them with God’s promises – what we are really doing is blanketing them with His love.

With His protection.

With His very person. His presence.

During that radio interview, I mentioned a line from a poem I’d once heard – something about how when our children are young, we tuck them into bed and cover them with a blanket, but that when they are older and out of our reach, we cover them with our prayers. I didn’t remember the poem or its author, but the crack team of Focus on the Family researchers looked it up.

And sent it to me.

And I liked it so much that I figured I’d share it with you. The poem is called “Mother’s Cover,” and it’s by a woman named Dona Maddux Cooper. Here you go:

When you were small and just a touch away,

I covered you with blankets against the cold night air.

But now that you are tall and out of reach,

I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.”

Isn’t that a good one?

I don’t know where your children are today (and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure where my beloveds are, either!), but I do know that our kids are never out of God’s reach, and that He invites us to join Him in the work that He wants to do in their lives.

He invites us to pray.

And if you’re like me and you like the idea of blanketing your loved ones with God’s presence, here’s another “covering” verse we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Cover ______ with your feathers. May they find refuge under Your wings. Let Your faithfulness be their shield. (Psalm 91:4)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I love the photo in today’s post, don’t you? I’ll be sharing more of the same on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt), thanks to the generosity of my super-talented photographer friend, Karen Woodard. Karen has an eye for finding the exquisite in the midst of the ordinary, and I can’t wait to show you more of her work!

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Hope for the Stay-at-Home Missionary

Have you ever wanted to be a missionary?

Me neither.

Which is tricky, because I come from a big family of missionary-type people. My aunt and uncle were doctors in Madagascar. My brother worked as a coach in China. My step-dad started an organization to bring jobs and education to some of the world’s most destitute people in India. My sister spent two years in Siberia. (Siberia!) And just recently, my 80-year-old mom hopped on a plane–by herself–to meet up with a team of healthcare workers in Kenya.

All of these efforts (and plenty more) were undertaken with an eye on The Great Commission, the part of the Bible where Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And all of these efforts (and plenty more) have born really good fruit.

Meanwhile, I’ve stayed mostly at home, donating money and sending up prayers.

Water for Africa

Recently, I attended a fundraiser for FAD, a group that brings much-needed water (the regular kind, as well as the living variety) to Africa.

 

FAD Missionary at the well

Watering the crops

FAD Missionary Team

The presentation was super engaging, the speakers brimming with hope and joy. Honestly though? Hearing their stories, I felt kind of guilty. All of these wonderful missionary-minded people seemed so fired up about bringing water and education and God’s love to Tanzania–some of them were even climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds–and all I could think was, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so content to stay home and pray? Why don’t I want to climb?”

Okay so that last question is kind of rhetorical. Still, though, I felt like a lame-o Christian. What difference does prayer make, when stacked against stuff like actually building a well? I know God has wired us to be people of impact–that he has good work, prepared in advance–that he wants us to do. Why wasn’t I grabbing my shovel and boarding a jet?

(And okay, so I know the well-diggers don’t actually carry shovels. But you know what I mean.)

And God is so precious. He didn’t berate me. Or scoff at my question. Instead, he gently reminded me of a man that I know–another missionary through whom God has brought thousands upon thousands of people to Christ.

This man was once a young hot-head, a passionate fellow whose behavior could make his mom cry. Riddled with arthritis and confined to her bed, she could do almost nothing to rein-in her son. All she could do was lie there and pray.

Which she did.

And God moved. He moved in the young man’s life and then, as the legacy of this momma’s prayer continued to unfold, God poured his Spirit into the lives of countless people on the other side of the world.

Prayer is part of the work

Prayer is part of the work. It’s how we partner with God to accomplish his purposes here on earth. It can be grueling (think of Paul’s friend Epaphras, a guy who spent his time “wrestling” in prayer) but it’s a labor God values.

Consider King David’s perspective.

Back when he and his men were going up against the Amalekites (who’d burned David’s city and made off with all their wives and their children), 200 of his guys didn’t come. They were emotionally and physically spent. Rather than charging into the fight, they stayed behind with the stuff.

When the battle was over and David returned (having recovered all of their people and a whole lot of plunder), the men who’d done the fighting did not want to share. They figured that they’d done the hard work; the others didn’t deserve anything, since they’d done nothing but guard the supplies.

But David wasn’t having it. He credited God with the victory and established a new post-battle rule:  “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” (1 Samuel 30)

Which is a really good reminder for us.

Because life is a battle. Some of us are on the front lines in a very physical sense. Some of us wage war from our prayer closets (or even our beds). Some of us care for the wounded, comforting others with the same comfort that we have received. All of us have work to do, whether we’re tackling the Amalekites or ensuring the safety of the supplies.

So if boarding a plane is your thing (and I pray that it is; we need people like you!), go.

If you’re a money-giver, do that. (And if you want to help bring water to Africa, please consider donating here. The FAD folks are legit, and their work is effective.)

And if you want to join me in prayer, here’s a promise I’m praying for the people of FAD and for their beautiful African friends:

Heavenly Father, fulfill your word in our midst:

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

(Isaiah 58:10-11)

Amen

P.S. Can I just share a little disclaimer? When I say I’ve never wanted to be a missionary, that’s not entirely true. I wanted to, once. I even went on a few mission trips. (And I’ll go again, should God, um, tell me to.)

On the plus side, I got to marvel at God’s goodness and reap the joy of loving others, and being loved in return.

Children in India

India prayer team

On the minus side, nobody told me that we’d be riding wild elephants (like, seriously, these were not OSHA-approved animals) the day I opted to wear my cutest dress…

Elephant ride

 

 

 

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The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Note:  This post appeared earlier this week on Club31Women. They’re featuring a “Fresh Start” series in January, with tips on everything from organizing your home (yes, please!), to meal-planning and parenting helps, to a 100-Day “Love You Better” Marriage Challenge in the New Year. Good stuff, all around!

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Which habit do you want to carry into the next year?

We were three hours into a family car trip during the Christmas holidays when my daughter pulled that card out of the box. It was a good question. Looking ahead to 2020, which habit would I choose to continue?

My mind cataloged all the usual suspects:  Exercise. Organization. Healthy eating. Financial fitness. I’d made small gains in each of these areas in 2019, and I knew I wanted to keep honing those habits. None of them, though, felt particularly dynamic or productive, at least not in a life-shaping way. I kept thinking.

And I remembered a line from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life:

“No other habit,” Warren wrote, “can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflections on Scripture.”

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

Daily reflections on Scripture. That was it. That was the single most valuable habit I wanted to carry into the new year. I don’t just want to read my Bible; I want to reflect it. To examine it. And to let it examine me – shaping my thoughts, my actions, and my conversations – so that my life dovetails with God’s designs, and so that my prayers line up with his purpose.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at in John 15:7, when he made one of the most jaw-dropping statements in the Bible. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” he said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Put another way, what this promise means is that the more we allow Scripture to penetrate our hearts and our minds – pruning out the bad stuff and breathing life into what’s good – the more our desires (and our prayers) will reflect what God is already planning to do.

I can’t think of a better jumping-off place for 2020 than that.

And honestly? All of those other good habits and resolutions – from taking care of our bodies to managing money wisely – find their inspiration in Scripture. There is not a need we will face, a goal we can set, or a healthy discipline that we can practice that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in his word.

Effective time management? “Teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Dealing with things like worry and fear? “Let us not be anxious or afraid, but instead cast our anxieties on you, knowing that you care for us.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Increasing your giving, or your kindness toward others? “Prompt us to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Those are just a few of the life-shaping prayer prompts we find in the Bible; there are countless more to discover. And the best part? The best part of Christ’s John 15:7 promise isn’t just the fact that we can ask for whatever we want. The best part is that when we take God up on his invitation – abiding in him, and letting his words abide in us – we get to live out John 15:8:  We bring glory to God. We become productive, fruit-bearing people. And we discover the security of knowing that we are Christ’s disciples, that we belong.

31-Day Prayer Habit

If you like the idea of reflecting on Scripture each day – of allowing God’s word to shape your perspective, as well as your prayers – can I invite you to join me in a 31-Day Prayer Challenge? Let’s kick off the new year by looking at the Bible not just as something to read, but as something to pray. Let’s allow the words that we read – words first spoken by God – to animate our conversations with him.

Any passage will do (because again, Scripture is full of transformational promises, principles, and prayer prompts), but if you’d like some help getting started, you can download a printable 31-day calendar here.

There’s a different verse for each day of the month, with topics ranging from relationship needs, to character qualities, to ways to develop and strengthen your faith. Pray through each day’s verse slowly, out loud if you can. And whether you’re praying for a family member, a friend, or yourself, try to return to the prayer several times during the day so that God’s word will take root and give birth to hope in your heart.

“My word,” God promises in Isaiah 55:11, “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

So which habit will you carry into the new year? I hope you’ll join me in letting the power of God’s word accomplish his very best plans in 2020, both in your life and in the lives of the people you love.

Heavenly Father,

May we delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so that we will yield fruit in season and prosper in all that we do. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Amen

And P.S., if you want to know where we got the question game for our car trip, it was a tip from my son-in-law, Charlie, who saw it advertised on Instagram and thought, “That looks like a Berndt thing.” He was right. We loved it. And if you want your own game, you can order it here.

(There’s also a set designed just for couples…which Charlie got in his stocking this year. #Mother-in-Law Goals.) 😊

(I only recommend books and other products I really like on this site, and if you order via a link that I share, Amazon sends me a small commission…which, as you know, I almost always spend on more books so I can share the really good ones with you!)

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Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

It’s a great word, particularly at the start of a New Year, when we long to see what God is doing (or what he might want to do) in our lives.

Because it can be easy to miss – or misunderstand – what he’s up to. It can be hard, sometimes, to realize that he is  accomplishing his purposes, right in front of our eyes. For instance, when the woman poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus, his disciples objected. How much better, they thought, it would have been to sell the precious ointment and give the money to the poor.

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

U.Va. cornerback Bryce Hall could have asked the same thing. A solid NFL prospect and the team’s defensive star, Hall considered bypassing his senior year in favor of the draft but sensed God calling him to return to Virginia. Midway through the season, though, he suffered a freakish injury that ended his college football career.

Once the shock wore off, it would have been oh-so-easy for Hall to take up a mantle of confusion. He could have grown bitter in the midst of the pain. Angry, even. Nobody would have blamed the All-American had he looked at God and said something like, “I trusted you, God. I did what I thought you wanted me to do. What a waste.”

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

“The word I’ve been (coming back to) in this process is perception,” Hall told a reporter, in a lead-up to this week’s Orange Bowl. “Are you going to get bitter or are you going to see the lessons that are in this and know that everything happens for a reason and that God works all things out for our good?”

Hall was referring to one of the best-known verses in the New Testament, Romans 8:28, which promises that God works in all things – even the confusing, painful, and unwanted stuff – for the good of those who love him.

In Hall’s case, some of that good is already taking shape. He’s forged a closer bond with the team chaplain, grown in his relationship with the U.Va. coaches, and emerged as an even stronger team leader. Plus, thanks to the extra free time in his schedule, Hall started dating a U.Va. field hockey player who shares his Christian faith.

(What’s not to love about that?)

Even more significant, though, is Hall’s deepening relationship with the Lord.

“When I said that about the Lord calling me back,” he said, “we have our own plans and our own ideas of what that might mean, but ultimately he’s the one. He sees everything and he knows what’s best for us.

“I feel like through this injury, it’s brought me a lot closer to him.”

Closer to Christ

Which, in a roundabout way, is the same thing that happened with Jesus and the perfume. Because rather than being “wasted” on him, it was used for the most exquisite of purposes. “Why are you bothering this woman?” Jesus asked the disciples. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

She did it to prepare me for burial.

She did it, in other words, so that all of us could one day be brought closer to Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the cry of my heart for the New Year. I want to be, to borrow Hall’s words, “brought closer” to Christ. And when circumstances or events leave me confused or hurting, I want God – the one who sees everything – to give me eyes to perceive his purpose in the pain.

(And to remind me that I can still trust him when I don’t.)

Which is, I think, the very thing that God wants for us, too. One of my favorite New Year scriptures – a passage I return to, year after year – is Isaiah 43:18-19:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

In God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste.

I don’t know what pain you might be carrying from last year into this one, or where life has left you confused. But can I encourage you, as we turn the page on the calendar, to consider the fact that, in God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste? He uses it all – the good stuff and the bad – to accomplish good things in our lives.

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

And, most of all, let’s ask him to bring us closer to Christ.

Heavenly Father,

Free us from our tendency to dwell on the past; open our eyes to the new thing that you are doing. You are making a way in the wilderness, pouring your Spirit into the dry places of our lives. Let us perceive it and proclaim your praise! (Isaiah 43:18-21)

Amen

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