Does God really want to hear us complain?

Does God really want to hear us complain?

That’s one of the questions Valerie Woerner tackles in her new book, Pray Confidently & Consistently. Earlier this week, I invited Val to join me as a guest on my IG Live series, Conversations on Prayer. I’d read her book, and I was eager to pick her brain about how we can experience a more rich and satisfying prayer life.

IG Live with Valerie Woerner

We covered all sorts of ground, from why we pray to how we can let go of the things that hold us back. Things like feeling like we have to clean up our act to come to God (or like it’s not cool to complain)…uncertainty about what we should pray for…or wondering whether God even hears our prayers when we don’t see anything happening.

If you missed our conversation, you can watch it on my IGTV (scroll to the bottom of this post for the how-to’s if this is new tech for you…it is for me!). And in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy quick snippet of wisdom from the new book. I don’t have space to print the whole thing, but here are some highlights from Chapter 6…

Pray Confidently & Consistently book

Learning to Lament, Doubt, and Cry Out to God

Val admits, right off the top, that she is a “great complainer” – but that she would “never” complain to God.

“Why would I”” she writes. “How could I? How tacky! How classless! How…much like David, the man after God’s own heart.”

It’s true. The Psalms are full of lamenting and “Why, God?” prayers. (Check out Psalm 13 if you need a for instance.) And that was tricky for Val. She didn’t understand why God would welcome a prayer marked by complaining, doubt, or lament – at least not until she recognized that when we make it look like we have it all together, we miss out on a closer connection with God.

“When someone sees all your quirks and habits and sticks with you,” she writes, “it deepens the intimacy because you know how fully loved you are.” The alternative – attempting to seal off our closet of complaints from God’s sight (even though we know nothing is hidden from him) – prevents us from fully experiencing and enjoying that love.

Why we complain

Our questions, confusion, and even complaints can never shock God. He formed our minds; he knows we don’t know everything. And so, Val concludes, “I think he responds with patience, much as we do with our kids, knowing that their understanding is limited.”

Which is, she says, the nutshell explanation for why we complain:  We complain because we don’t see the full picture.

“If we did see everything,” Val writes, “I think we’d agree with God’s plan, but instead we see just a snippet. We ache as we feel the pain in our own lives, lives that feel like all we have because we can’t imagine how they fit into the larger picture of eternity.”

So what do we do? How do we make sure our moments of sadness and doubt look like David’s lament (which God honored) and not the Israelites’ whining to Moses (which got them in trouble with God)?

Four Essentials in Healthy Lament

Val outlines four steps for effectively shaping complaints into prayers that God longs to hear:

First… Go Directly to God

There are things we feel perfectly comfortable complaining to our family about; in Val’s case, it was the rain (okay, hurricane) that ruined their beach trip. But bugging God with this stuff? That just feels petty.

And yet, Val says, who we take our complaints to matters. God is waiting to change our hearts. He knows, she writes, that “any hope of transforming our complaints and whines into heart-changing laments is going to come in his presence. If we want gratitude and faith to replace the entitlement or doubts in our hearts, it will only happen when we take these things to the one who created those hearts.

Transforming complaints into heart-changing laments

Next…  Acknowledge Your Pain

David gets brutally real with God (see, for example, Psalm 6:6-7 and 44:23-26), and so should we. God can handle our honesty; it’s when we leave out the pain or gloss over the wounds that our prayers start to sound phony.

“You might be wrestling with lots of doubts at the moment,” Val writes. “Maybe there’s a sin you keep buried in the closet and have yet to confess. Or perhaps you’re grieving and angry at God. Prayer may feel impossible, but you’re in a better spot than you think. You have nothing to offer, but that’s always been true. It’s just more visible now.”

Tell God how you feel; he can handle it.

Third…  Make Your Request

“Make your requests known to God, and listen for his answer.”

That’s Val’s advice, along with a word of caution:  “Don’t assume that if [God] wanted to give you relief, blessing, or freedom from the struggle, he would have already done it. Our God gives good gifts to his children, as we’ve seen in Matthew 7:11, but he also tells us to ask for them.”

And finally…  Praise Well

“When we complain to anyone besides God, our experience is hopeless and defeated. But when we lament to God, we get out of our personal reality and get into God’s. We remind ourselves of the truth and hope we have in Jesus. This is why praise is a necessary part of lament.”

God doesn’t want us to come to him with all our drama because he loves it. He wants us to come because he loves usHe knows he’s the ONLY one who, Val says, “can redeem our complaints and comfort us in our laments.”

And it’s okay if we have to keep reminding ourselves of this truth – if we (as Val puts it) “seesaw back and forth from lament to praise.” David did that. He gave voice to the truth again and again, taking hold of what he knew in his mind and speaking it to his heart.

Don’t be afraid of hurts, doubts, and frustrations. Take them to God, throw off the weight of facades, and realize that you are fully known…and fully, deeply, unconditionally loved.

❤️

Want to know more about releasing your complaints to the Lord? Read all of Chapter 6 in Pray Confidently & Consistently. 

Or watch the IGTV interview, where Val shares more on this topic. Go to my Instagram feed and click the thing that looks like a little TV:

Jodie's IG Feed

 

Or just spend a few minutes sharing your lament, honestly, with the One who can help. Be encouraged by Christ’s invitation…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

❤️

As always, I only tell you about books I truly love; if you purchase via the link in this email, I get a small commission.

 

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Be Expectant: Four Things to Help You Wait Well

Note:  With back-to-back weddings and the impending arrival of our second grandchild, I haven’t been writing too much, but earlier this week I shared some thoughts about WAITING over at Club31Women, a place where you’ll find encouragement for all things faith, home, and family. I’m re-sharing that post here, along with the (spoiler alert!) announcement that baby Grayson is here! Grayson’s arrival is a long-awaited blessing…and we are SO HAPPY we could BUST.

(And yes. I have pix. Scroll to the end if you want to see!)

Be Expectant:  Four Things to Help You Wait Well

As I write this, my daughter is 39 weeks pregnant, awaiting the arrival of her first child. A son. I can’t wait to meet him. To see his face. To know his name!

I am expectant.

I wish I could say I felt the same way during every waiting season. To me, waiting usually conjures images of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances:  The dating relationship that was supposed to lead to marriage but hasn’t. The job promotion that never materialized. The gap between homesick and happy in a new place. The toddler who won’t sleep through the night. The sickness—physical or emotional—that just won’t go away. The womb that stays closed.

Waiting feels like it’s not so much about anticipation as it is endurance. And given that the word patience is derived from the Latin word for suffering, it comes as no surprise that when the Bible exhorts us to “wait for the Lord,” the very next words are,

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage.”  (Psalm 27:14)

Be strong and take courage. Those words seem more suited to an epic adventure than to a long holding pattern; it’s like the psalmist knows that waiting on God will tap (and maybe even exhaust) our deepest fuel reserves.

And it can be easy in the face of delayed provision or unanswered prayers to grow weary and want to give up. Particularly when we’re asking God for something we know is good—the salvation of a loved one, reconciliation or forgiveness among family members, freedom from a crippling addiction—and it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. That can be confusing.

Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

Maybe God has some secret reason for withholding an answer, we think to ourselves, and the most pious thing we could do would be to just quit. To stop praying. To pack up our trust and go home.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s take the long view, believing Jesus when he says that his Father is always at work, even when we can’t see what he’s doing. (John 5:17)  And as we wait on God’s answer or his provision, I can think of at least four things that might help.

What Happens While We Wait

First, consider what might be happening while we wait.

God could be teaching us perseverance—the trait that makes us mature and complete. (James 1:3-4)

He might be testing and purifying our faith—not for his benefit, but to prove to us that what we have is both strong and real. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Or he might be giving us an opportunity to hone our request so that our desire lines up with his (better) plan. (Matthew 26:42)

We don’t know what God might be doing, but even the waiting season itself can make the eventual answer extra sweet. How much more grateful are we for a blessing that arrives after a long prayer battle than we are for the one that just shows up on our doorstep as if delivered by Amazon Prime?

God’s Faithfulness While We Wait

Second, reflect on the ways God’s faithfulness has already presented itself.

Taking time to consider God’s past provision equips us to be strong and take heart for the future. If you don’t already make a practice of thanking God for what he has done, grab a journal (a spiral notebook will do) and start keeping a record. Aim for just two or three notes every day and build your collection—your “faithfulness altar”—from there.

Spend Time in God’s Word

Third, make time to meet God in his Word. Spend time reading the Bible, allowing it to shape your perspective. The more we fill our minds with Scripture, the more our thoughts and desires begin to line up with what God wants to do.

What he already is doing.

Pray in the Waiting

And finally, pray.

God longs to show us his goodness and draw us into deeper communion with him. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you wait well. Ask him to open your eyes to the purposes God may want to accomplish. And ask him to equip you to trust God’s timing, knowing that he is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)

The Lord is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25)

Lamentations 3: 25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him.”

Let’s be expectant.

❤️

 

Grayson and his parents in the hospital

Welcome Baby Grayson

Welcome Grayson! We've waited for you!

Welcome home, Baby Grayson. We’ve been waiting for you. 💙

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Marriage (and how I’m praying for my boy + his bride)

Our son was only seven years old, prepping for his role as a ring-bearer in my brother’s wedding, when he first broached the subject of marriage. 

Robbie as ring-bearer in David's marriage

“What happens,” Robbie wanted to know, “if you go to a lot of weddings and you never get picked?”

I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking, so I pressed for details. “Robbie,” I said slowly, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. What do you think happens at a wedding?”

“I think everyone gets dressed up and then the girl chooses the one she wants. So what happens if you never get picked?”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Having already been on a dozen different sports teams by the time he was seven, Robbie saw the whole world through the lens of athletics. To him, a wedding represented one more opportunity to “dress out” and compete for a starting position.

The fact that Robbie was concerned about the perennial bench warmers—and that he might be secretly worried about missing his own chance to “play”—pierced my heart. I found his question both touching and hilarious, and it served as a reminder that it’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner.

Praying for Your Child's Marriage Partner

I’ve written about marriage and kids in this space before (click here to read three specific ways we can pray for the person our child will marry, and here for a post about what makes a really good marriage). But the topic is big on my mind this week because Robbie is all grown up now and ready for a ring of his own.

He’s still an athlete and sports still color much of his world, but I imagine that if you asked Robbie about his biggest win, he wouldn’t tell you about any of the stuff that earned trophies or championship rings. He’d introduce you to Mary, the woman he will marry tomorrow.

Robbie and Mary - Before Marriage

As I think back on all the prayers I’ve prayed for Robbie’s one-day wife—prayers that spanned twenty-five years—I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Mary is an immeasurably more answer to prayer. And what joy it was, when I heard “She said yes!”, to look at this beautiful young woman and think to myself:  So it’s you!

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s eventual (or current) marriage. 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.

God's answers continue to unfold quote

God’s answers continue to unfold long after we finish praying.

That’s one of the reasons I love praying the Scriptures, joining my voice with generationsfuture and pastwhose desires are shaped by God’s promises. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s word accomplishes his desires and achieves his purposes; it doesn’t say how or when. But when we bring our requests to God, we can be confident that he treasures them.

He collects them, the Bible says, in golden bowls.

He remembers.

And as I shift the focus of my prayers for Robbie’s marriage and begin to pray not just for him or for her but for them, I am grateful for God’s past faithfulness and for the good things he has in store.

Do I know what their lives will look like? Not at all. But I look forward to watching their story unfold.

Here are a few of the verses I’m praying for Robbie and Mary. They’re excepts from Psalm 145 and (to me, anyway) they represent a lot of what a marriage might hold. Feel free to pick one (or all) of these verses and pray them for your child’s marriage—or for your own. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Every day—for better and for worse—may they praise you and extol your name. (v. 2)

May they commend your works to their children, telling of your mighty acts, speaking of your glorious splendor, and proclaiming the power of your great deeds. (v. 4-6)

Let them celebrate your abundant goodness. (v. 7)

Be gracious and compassionate toward them; let them experience the riches of your love. (v. 8)

Equip them to trust your promises and remember that you are faithful. (v. 13)

Uphold them when they fall; lift their hearts when they are down. (v. 14)

Open your hand, O Lord, and satisfy their desires. (v. 16)

Be near to them when they call on you; hear their cry and save them. (v. 18-19)

Watch over them as they love you…and may they praise your holy name for ever and ever. (v. 20-21)

Amen

❤️

P.S. And Mary, if you ever read this post…thank you for “picking” my boy! 🙂

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Back-to-School Prayers (with a free printable)

It’s back-to-school time. Which means different things to different parents.

I spoke to one empty nester who told me she still hates Labor Day. “It signals that summer is over,” she said, “and I was always the mom in a puddle of tears at the bus stop. I didn’t want to let my kids go.”

And then there’s the Instagram mom who posted that the sun came out from behind the storm clouds as she waved goodbye to her kids–and that when she went back into her house, the dishwasher had unloaded itself, the coffee had brewed itself, and Ryan Gosling had made her bed and was folding her laundry. 😉

Wherever you are on the back-to-school spectrum–sobbing or singing or a little of both–I know you love your kids. And you want God’s best for them during the coming year.

I wish you and I could sit down together as this new school year begins. I’d ask you what you’re excited about. What concerns you might have. And how I can pray.

And I’d share some of what I’ve been learning from other moms–especially as it relates to helping our kids push back against things like worry and fear. I saw one study that said anxiety and depression had doubled among children and teens during the pandemic. How do we help our kids when they struggle? Even if it’s just back-to-school jitters and not something chronic, how should we pray?

I asked Sally Burke, Moms in Prayer president, how she would answer questions like these. I wasn’t surprised when she pointed straight to the Bible. She prays Nehemiah 8:10 over her kids, that the joy of the Lord will be their strength. And she  asks God to help them set their hearts and their minds “on things above, where Christ is,” not on worldly things.

Rebekah Lyons, the bestselling author of Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace, told me she plays the “Then what?” game with her kids. “What if your worst fears came true?” she asks. “Then what?”  Rebekah knows bad things will happen–things we never see coming–but “if the One who holds all things together is the One who holds us,” she says, we will “still be standing” when the they have passed.

The One who holds all things together holds us.

And he holds our kids.

And when we anchor our trust in his word, we really will have, as Psalm 112:7 promises, “no fear of bad news.”

Again, I wish we could sit down together. I don’t know what you are praying about–whether your kids need good friends, wisdom, protection, or anything else–but God does. Our Father knows what we need before we ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

If you want a few specific prayers you can pray in this back-to-school season, here are twelve of my favorites. I’ve pulled them together in a printable for our email community (but feel free to share them with friends). Click here to download and then keep these prompts on your phone…

Back-to-school printable

…or print them and put them someplace where you will see them. Or tuck ’em in the lunchbox or the backpack with your child’s name in the blank. How comforting it is for a child to know that their earthly parent is talking to their heavenly Parent about their every need!

Printable back-to-school prayer (Eph 4:2)

❤️

P.S. Want to watch the full back-to-school interview with Rebekah Lyons? You’ll find it on my Instagram feedand psst:  She has a brand new devotional book dropping next week! Check it out here!

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Lay the track (and look for God’s power!)

Note:  Watchman Nee’s quote about how we “lay the track” is one of my favorite depictions of how we can partner with God through our prayers. This post ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com. They’ve got a brand new website filled with all sorts of encouraging goodies – check it out!

Our prayers lay the track graphic

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of years thinking that prayer was basically a one-way conversation in which I’d ask God for what I thought would be good and then see what happened. If my relationships or circumstances lined up with my requests, I would know that God had said yes. If not, he said no.

I didn’t begrudge God when he turned me down (I knew verses like Isaiah 55:8-9, which explain that God’s ways and his thoughts are higher than ours), but I much preferred it when I’d put in a prayer and get the answer I wanted.

I liked it when prayer worked like a vending machine.

But that’s not how Jesus sees prayer. His model for prayer is based on attachment. “If you remain in me,” he says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Put another way, when we stay connected to Christ and allow his words to soak into our souls and give shape to our prayers, we can pray with the full and wholehearted expectation that God will answer.

And we don’t know (we can’t know!) all the good things that God might have in store as we ground our prayers in his Word. He specializes in doing more—immeasurably more—than all we ask for or imagine.

“Immeasurably More” than we ask or imagine

One year, for example, I decided to pray 2 Peter 1:2 on behalf of one of my dearest friends and prayer partners. Suzanne (not her real name) is a gal whose zeal for life is almost unmatched—she lives big, you might say—and the word abundance in that verse caught my eye.

“May grace and peace be hers in abundance,” I prayed for my friend, again and again.

What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t have known—was that Suzanne would come up against some incredible challenges in her workplace that year, including rumors and lies that eventually led to her leaving her job. Had she not been thoroughly covered in God’s grace and peace, the fear and anxiety that tried to capture her heart during that difficult season might have succeeded. As it was, Suzanne courageously weathered a six-month-long storm. And when she came out of the darkness, she found herself in a new job—one far more fulfilling (and financially rewarding) than anything she could have imagined.

I was asking God for abundance. He was willing to provide that (and he did) but he knew my friend would need his grace and peace even more.

Be a conduit for God’s power

And here’s the thing about praying the Scriptures. We don’t do the blessing, the healing, the providing, the protecting. That’s God’s job. Our job is simply to be the conduit for his power. Our prayers release God’s provision.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian writer, put it like this: “Our prayers thus lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”

Let’s lay the track and look for God’s power to come down in ways that go immeasurably, abundantly, beyond anything we could ask for or imagine.

❤️

Where do you long to see God’s hand at work in your life? Do you believe he is able—and willing—to give you all that you need? What would it look like for you to “lay the track” through your prayers?

The Bible says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask God for what you need today—lay some track—and then look for the locomotive of his power to come!

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Summer Reading: What’s in YOUR beach bag?

Four years ago, I fixed a cup of coffee, grabbed what was then a brand new copy of Unseen by Sara Hagerty, and headed out to the beach for some summer reading.

Summer Reading (Unseen book by Sara Hagerty)

I opened the book and read about Sara’s post-college passion to “change the world for God” and how her escalating effort to get the job done (and earn the approval of others) left her empty.

I read about her career in sales and how, in the midst of presentations and spreadsheets and challenging co-workers, she found herself craving more. 

I read about how, as a young mom, Sara tried to make a difference in her family amid piles of laundry, endless meal prep, and bickering kids in the backseat…and how, through it all, she looked for the TINIEST SIGN that what she was doing mattered.

And I read about how God saw her in those hidden seasons, those hard-to-measure “middle minutes”…and how Sara saw him, too. How she found herself drawn by God’s gentle expression. By his open stance. By the lines on his face.

The lines on God’s face.

Can you imagine? That image – that one little line, hinting at indescribable closeness with God – just undid me.

Five hours later I finished the book. Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed remains one of my favorite summer reading picks. I’m savoring it again this year as I take a blog break, and if it sounds like something you think you might like, check out this sample chapter

“Why this waste?”

(Excerpted from Unseen by Sara Hagerty)

I’d been in a suit and heels since 5:00 a.m., and after a full morning, I was at the airport for an early afternoon flight home—home to a husband, but no children.

I’d recently started to crave more. I wanted more from my sales support job. I wasn’t tired of doing it or even tired of the desk work and the travel, but I was tired of working for little more than sales goals and a paycheck. I wanted more than productivity and success. I wanted brushes with God and meaning and almost anything that mattered but wasn’t easily measured.

My work for the day was done and I was tired, but my heart was hungry, and I was beginning to like heart hunger. So I prayed: God, I want to meet with You in this airport.

Meeting Him required quieting my insides enough to hear and respond. The kind of dialogue I was learning to have with God burgeoned when I saw it as an exchange—my mind for His thoughts, my fear for His assurance, my whispers for His response. As I made my way to a restaurant near my gate, I noticed an elderly gentleman who was being pushed in a wheelchair. I prayed for God to breathe life and strength into his frail body. I saw a man running as fast as my mind usually worked, and I prayed his racing heart would come to know Jesus. I saw a young woman with vacant eyes, and I prayed she would find the filling her heart most needed. I realized afresh that the people all around me weren’t merely interesting. They were God-created. I wanted to talk to Him about what He had made.

God, what do You see in the man who is late for his flight? And the one in the wheelchair—how do You see the heart buried underneath that broken body? Rather than looking at people as faces among the masses, I asked for His eyes for them and responded with minute-long prayers: God, I want to meet You in this airport.

No one knew this conversation I was having in my head with God. And I was starting to like these secret exchanges.

At the restaurant, I grabbed the last available seat at the bar, which was full of day travelers with carry-ons. As I scooted up onto my stool and glanced at the laminated menu, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me. He looked to be near retirement, but he was dressed for business. I was drawn to him in the way you’re drawn to someone who is not at all like you, but with whom you feel a strange connection.

Maybe I’m supposed to share the gospel with this man, I thought. I ordered my food and opened my book, trying to concentrate on reading while staying aware of what felt like a nudge from God.

Ten minutes later when the waitress brought out my order along with that of the man next to me, I noticed that we both had ordered the same meal. I awkwardly mumbled a comment about it, looking for a way to begin a conversation. But my voice, perhaps too quiet from nerves, got lost in a salvo of loudspeaker announcements. He hadn’t heard me. I went back to my book, resigned that I’d misread God’s cues.

The book I was reading explored the concept of abiding in the vine from John 15. The author used the notion of tree grafting to illustrate this abiding. After hours of client presentations on throbbing feet, my mind couldn’t absorb the words. I read and reread the same paragraph, but without comprehension. And then this prompt dropped into my mind: Ask the man sitting next to you to explain it.

Uh-oh, I thought.

As much as I wanted to hear from God, I knew that we humans sometimes mishear Him and mistake our mental wanderings for His voice. What should I do? Talk to the man and risk awkwardness and embarrassment? Or not talk to him and risk missing what might well be God’s answer to my prayer to meet with Him in this airport?

Well, at least I’ll never see this guy again, I thought. So I went for it.

“Sir, excuse me,” I said, much louder this time, almost shouting to compensate for my nerves.

He startled. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows like the authoritative boss of a fresh college grad.

“Do you know anything about grafting?” I coughed out.

“What?” he asked.

Oh no. I had to say it again. This business exec didn’t even seem to know what the word meant.

“Grafting, sir. Do you know anything about grafting?” My face was red hot.

“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. I noticed tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

My heart started racing.

“I majored in agriculture in college and I minored in grafting. I run a farm equipment business but have gotten away from what I once loved.”

Now I was sure I could actually hear my heart, not just feel the pounding.

He stretched back on his stool, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. Then he enthusiastically explained the details of how the branch of one tree is grafted into another as if he were telling me a page-turning story. I showed him the paragraph in my book and asked him questions. He made it all so clear.

I’m not sure if I was more surprised that the prompt to talk to this man really was from God, or that God was personal enough to meet me at an airport barstool. Apparently, God was meeting this man too, right over his hamburger and French fries. He thanked me after our exchange as if he’d been reminded of his boyish love for trees and for grafting, a love that needed rediscovering.

Twelve years later, this conversation remains my most memorable business trip. Still. I can’t remember where I’d gone or even who I met with on that trip. I remember it only because I’d felt seen and heard by God.

God showed up when I was in my suit and heels, and He winked. We shared a secret. During those days of client presentations, excel spreadsheets, and conference calls, He was whispering, I want to meet with you, here. What I might once have considered a waste of time—conversation with Him in the midst of a demanding day—became, instead, food for my hungry heart. It was a gift of hiddenness during a season when my work required me to be on during the workday.

God’s currency is communion—a relationship that grows, nearer still. A relationship that is cultivated when no one else is looking. A relationship accessed not just when we feel we need His help but at all the odd times that punctuate our agenda-driven days. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot.

What a waste. What a beautiful waste.

Summer Reading UNSEEN in the beach bag

❤️

What’s in YOUR beach bag? If your summer reading has featured something special, I’d love to hear about it. Drop a comment on my Instagram feed if you want to share!

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A Real Rest for the Weary

I will give you rest

“Granddaddy,” three-year-old Hillary said, “Can I rest on you?”

My father—who was babysitting my daughter at the time—told me later that he wasn’t sure what she meant, but he had said yes. And with that, my dad said, Hillary climbed onto his lap, put her head on his chest, and fell sound asleep.

And all my father could think about as he sat there with a toddler sleeping on his chest was Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields them all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

I loved that image—my daughter finding security between my father’s shoulders. It dovetailed neatly with the “rest for your souls” Jesus offers in Matthew 11:29—rest that promises freedom from fear, the lifting of burdens, and provision for our soul’s deepest needs.

Still, though, I found myself scratching my head. When Jesus offers rest for the weary and burdened, it’s not like he says, “Come take a nap.” He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” I don’t know all that much about farming but, to me, wearing a yoke implies action of some sort. Pulling a cart. Plowing a field. Doing work.

Where was the promise of rest in that picture?

Can we work and rest at the same time?

I decided to do a bit of exploring. And, as so often happens, checking a familiar passage in a different translation helped put things into perspective. The Message makes no mention of “yokes”; instead, here’s how it renders Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-29:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

A real rest.

That sounded appealing. I liked how Jesus linked rest—real rest—to walking and working with him. To experiencing a life marked by purpose. To living freely and lightly—not straining or striving, but moving to the “unforced rhythms of grace” as we “keep company” with the Lord.

But…what does that look like in real life? Can we really rest and work at the same time?

I think Moses would say that we can.

The promise of God’s presence

In Exodus 33, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses wanted some hands-on instruction (“Teach me your ways,” he said), but God offered something better. “My presence will go with you,” he promised (v. 14), “and I will give you rest.”

Had I been in Moses’s sandals, I might have balked. After all, there were tents to pack, children to gather, lunches to fix. Moving an entire nation could not have been easy; I might have valued God’s plan more than his presence.

Not Moses, though. He knew God’s presence was the key—not just to getting the job done, but to marking the Israelites as belonging to God and letting them know they were loved. “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” Moses asked God (v. 16). “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

There was work to be done—hard work that would tap the Israelites’ physical and mental reserves. But Moses knew that success didn’t depend on writing a to-do list, executing an agenda, or staying strong for all the people who looked up to him. Their success—and their security—came from anchoring their trust in the Lord.

A posture of trust

Isaiah 30:15 says our strength comes from settling down in “complete dependence” on God.

Boat at rest - Isaiah 30:15

Rest, then—real rest—is maybe not so much ceasing activity as it is adopting a posture of trust, one where we increasingly rely not on our own strength but on God’s. It’s yielding our plans—our timetables, our skill-sets, our ideas about how things have to go down—to the Lord and actively choosing to dwell in his presence.

It is to climb into the arms of Everlasting Love, put our head on his chest, and know that when we say, “Can I rest on you?” our heavenly Father will say yes.

❤️

All of our children loved to rest in my father’s arms. And as I press pause on the blog for the summer (see you back here in September!), this is the image that I will carry with me:

What about you?

If you find yourself needing real rest, maybe don’t think about all the to-do’s on your list today. Instead, take a few moments to reflect on God’s power and his presence. He longs to equip us to be productive, fruit-bearing people (John 15:5); the key is to stay connected to him.

Ask God to help you surrender your agenda to him. Open your heart to receive the rest Jesus offers. Imagine what it would look like to enjoy his company–to “waste time” with him, even—as you learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

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The one prayer we all need

(In case you missed it… This post showed up earlier this week on Crosswalk.com, a place where you’ll find daily devotions, Bible study and prayer helps, top news headlines from around the world, and much more.)

The One Prayer We All Need

When it comes to prayer, what’s your biggest hurdle? What holds you back?

I’ve heard all sorts of answers to questions like these. Some folks say they don’t have enough time. Others tell me they’re not convinced that prayer works. And then there are those who worry that they will be “bugging” God if they talk to him about the little details of their lives.

None of these, though, is the most common problem we face. The main obstacle—even among people who’ve spent their whole lives in church—is that we don’t really know how to pray.

We don’t think we sound “holy” enough.

We worry that we won’t do it right, or that we’ll ask for the “wrong” thing.

We aren’t sure where to begin.

As someone who’s spent the past twenty-five years writing and speaking about prayer, I have heard a lot of good prayers. And I’ve been around a lot of good pray-ers, folks who (if prayer were a sport) would easily land a starting spot on the varsity team. Honestly, though? Having heard all these good people and all their good words, I don’t think prayer gets much better than this:

“Lord, help.”

Help me, God

The “Lord, help me” prayer is the one prayer we all need. It works for all situations. And it’s a prayer that’s as old as the Bible.

It’s what King David prayed, when his enemies attacked and he found his very life on the line. “Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.” (Psalm 70:1)

It’s what a Canaanite woman—a foreigner—said, when her daughter was sick. Even though the disciples tried to shoo her away, she pressed in and knelt before Jesus. “Lord, help me!” she prayed. (Matthew 15:25)

And it’s what a desperate father asked, as he watched his demon-possessed son roll around on the ground, foaming at the mouth like he’d done for years. “If you can do anything,” he said to Jesus, “take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

“Help me.”

In each of these cases—and countless more throughout history—God heard the prayer and showed up.

The prayers were not fancy. Nor were the people. David was hiding in caves, not seated on a throne. The Canaanite mom was, frankly, annoying the disciples with her request. And the demoniac’s dad? He didn’t even know if prayer worked: “Help me!” he cried. “Help me overcome my unbelief!

So what was so special? Why did God answer? And does the “Lord, help!” prayer still work today?

Does the “Help me” prayer still work today?

Yes, this prayer works—and here’s why.

First, the very act of prayer—of turning our hearts and our minds toward the Almighty—brings us into God’s presence, the place where, Psalm 16:11 says, there is fullness of joy.

Second, starting a prayer with the word “Lord” is akin to starting with praise. It is saying, in a nutshell, that God is God…and we are not. It is identifying him as the source of all blessing and provision, saying that he is the one with the power and the resources to impact our lives. Just like we would come before an earthly king or ruler with the right attitude, so establishing our place—and God’s—is the best place to begin.

Third (and perhaps most importantly), we make a colossal mistake when we think that we have to get it together if we want God to hear our petition, that we have to clean up our act or be strong. We feel like if we are going to ask God for help, we better be in a position to deserve it.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A magnet for God’s grace

It is our weakness that attracts God’s attention. “God opposes the proud,” James 4:6 says, “but shows favor to the humble.” Our cry for help acts as a magnet for his grace! Not only that, but our weakness is like a trophy case for God’s glory. His power, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, is “made perfect” in weakness. That’s where God’s Spirit shines!

Our prayer for help is a magnet

So let’s not hold back when it comes to prayer, no matter how ill-equipped or inadequate we might feel. Let’s tell God what we need—what we’re afraid of, what we worry about, where we think we’re not up to the job—without worrying that we are bugging him, or that we’ll ask for the wrong thing.

God wants us to pray so that he can provide.

In every situation.

That’s the promise of Philippians 4:6, and it’s true. I’ve often said that there is not a single need we will face that God has not already thought of and provided for in his Word. Likewise, there is not a single need we will face—in our relationships, our jobs, our physical bodies, or anything else—that God has not already anticipated and supplied in his character.

He is our Healer: “Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.” (Psalm 30:2)

He is our Protector: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

He is our Counselor: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

He is our Helper in all situations—even if we just need to know what we should say! (See Exodus 4:12 and Luke 12:12, for example.)

Prayer and provision

God bends down to hear our prayer

All of these attributes, and countless more, are facets of God’s nature that he longs for us to discover, and appeal to, as we pray. “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” Paul writes, “as you help us by your prayers.” Clearly, God intends for us to partner with him—to have a hand in the rescue operation—whether the need is for ourselves or for someone else. And even when we feel too weary, frightened, or discouraged to put our thoughts into words—when we want to pray but we just don’t know how—he helps us then too:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” promises Romans 8:26. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

So again, let’s not hold back. Let’s ask God for help and be confident that he will answer. Let’s join our voices with the psalmist and say: “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!”

God bends down to listen. He longs to reply. All we have to say is, “Help.”

❤️

“Asking for help” is just one of 31 different prayer topics covered in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life. God really does care about every detail of our lives!

Jodie holds latest prayer book

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Tiny Phrases that Stick (by Sara Hagerty)

Note from Jodie:  Sara Hagerty is a dear friend and a gifted writer who says the things I want to say, only better. When I read her musings about how tiny phrases—bite-sized verses, or even just parts of verses—can shape our perspective as well as our prayers, I asked her to step into this space and write something for you.

If you like the idea of letting tiny phrases from the Bible come alive and color your day, join me on Instagram or Facebook in July, when we’ll be praying one short Scripture every day on my stories.

Here’s Sara…

Tiny Phrases – tiny (big) conversations with God

My very traditional high school experience ensured that I could sing at least one-third of every pop song released between 1991 and 1999. I struggle to call my children by their correct name, but Michael Jackson’s lyrics will go with me to my grave, whether I like it or not.

Songs make things stick.

My husband Nate and I are a part of a community that sings the Word of God.

Yes, you read that right: they sing Scripture spontaneously — reading from the Bible propped on their music stands as they create choruses from that verse, on the spot.

They aren’t the first. And just like after you walk out of a Broadway musical, and you’re wash{ing} that man right out of your hair in the shower, listening to them has made Scripture absorb more deeply into my brain.

Songs make things stick.

Or … is it that bite-sized portions of Scripture come alive when we stay there, a little longer?

Bite-sized portions of Scripture - Sara Hagerty

It wasn’t until my late twenties when I first came into contact with others who were studying and praying and meditating on the Word in phrases, that I considered the potential power of a mere three or four words added to my vernacular … and my mind. Those were the days before smartphones, so this practice didn’t come from fractured attention spans — but it was available for us, still-children, needing to approach the Word of God like the feast that it is.

This has changed the way I see the Word, changed the way I handle it. One sentence has weight. One phrase could be a landing place for days … or a week.

It sounds ethereal without boots.

Boots for me: Psalm 119.

For a year, I prayed through this Psalm for Nate, verse by verse, day by day. Each of the prayers I turned into prayers for him. Before that, they were prayers for me, and the year after, they were prayers for my children:

let me not wander from your commandments (v.10)

deal bountifully with me (v.17) 

take away from me scorn and contempt (v.22)

give me life according to your Word (v.25)

give me understanding (v.34)

let your steadfast love comfort me (v.76)

And on … there’s more—many more—in this one Psalm.

Growing deeper roots in God has meant both heart and practice for me. It does mean meditating on His Word on the days I don’t feel like it. But it’s also meant paying attention to my heart and asking why I don’t feel like it. (When my heart and mind meet His Word it’s not as neat and tidy as I might expect.)

So I can do both: cry through a hard season when I feel sluggish and cold and spend a few minutes, intermittently throughout my day praying a phrase of Scripture, letting it knock around in my head, forming thoughts about it that make it a part of my day.

I can meditate on His Word at 3pm on a drizzly, overcast Monday when my heart feels the same and admit that I’m wondering why God feels just as cloud-covered.

Tiny phrases when God feels cloud-covered - Sara Hagerty

And in doing so, I’ve learned this:  God is at His best in our lives not when we feel strong, but when we practice engaging with His Word in our weakness. When we allow His promises to intercept our thoughts, even the tiny phrases become powerful anchors that hold us fast, stilling our fears, calming our storms, and breathing hope into the dark or weary corners of our lives.

So I have meditated on Psalm 119 when I wake up earlier than my alarm clock and feel on top of the world (this is rare) and when I need two cups of caffeinated tea before I can think coherently.

I’ve lingered on it when my kids were thriving … and when my home felt disruptively painful.

I’ve written my prayers in the margin next to these verses that felt hopeful … and others that felt desperate.

Psalm 119 in my Bible has reflected a history of conversation with God through His Word. A messy history, a wrestling history, a meet-with-Him-when-I-don’t-feel-like-it history … where His Word slowly, steadily intercepts my thinking and my praying, and thus my life.

❤️

If you want to follow along with a hard copy of the tiny phrases we’ll be praying in July, click here to download the 31-Days of Prayer Calendar, which features bite-sized prayers adapted from my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.

31 Days of Prayer (Life)

(The calendar is available in color and in black-and-white; choose whichever version you prefer!)

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Fox News – Is it okay to pray about “little” stuff?

Our daughter Virginia gets married tomorrow (!) so no post today, but earlier this week Fox News ran a piece I wrote about why it’s okay to talk to God about the “little stuff.” 

Click here if you’d like to read it…or just remember this one little nugget:

Praying about the small stuff opens our eyes to the “ordinary” blessings God provides every day. And as we thank God for these things, acknowledging him as their source, the path to his presence becomes familiar and worn. 

Fox News post on the path to God's presence

Have a glorious weekend!

Jodie

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Hearing God’s Voice in a Noisy World

(Note: This post about Hearing God’s Voice ran earlier this week over at Club31Women. If this topic is of interest to you, you’ll find a deeper discussion, along with some questions for reflection and prayers you can pray, in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.)

praying the scriptures for your life

“How,” my six-year-old daughter Annesley wanted to know, “can you tell if it’s God speaking to you, or if it’s just your own voice in your head?”

A fair question, and one that many grown-ups might be asking today. And my answer, I thought, started well.

“For one thing,” I said, “God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”

Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ So if you ever feel like God is telling you to kill your mother, you can be sure that this isn’t his voice.”

(Okay, okay. I’d just had four kids in six years. I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)

“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign.) But then she folded her arms and gave it some thought.

“If that was God,” she finally concluded, “he’d have to have a pretty good reason.”

Anyhow.

I know my example may not be the most appropriate one, but it’s theologically true. When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says in the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to test whether the voice we are hearing is his.

Another plumb line is that God may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies.

Don’t listen.

Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written Word, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training” so that we “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. It may even come as a whisper. And it may take a while to discern. Moses knew the value of seeking God’s counsel before plowing ahead. “Wait,” he said to a group of ceremonially unclean Israelites who were eager to celebrate the Passover, “until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” (Numbers 9:8)

These three signs—consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic—are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course. But the main thing to remember (and this whole concept kind of undoes me) is that God wants to be in conversation with us.

He longs to reveal himself. To give us direction. To bend down, incline his ear, and talk with us—as he did with Moses—“as one speaks to a friend.” (See Psalm 116:2 and Exodus 33:11)

What a privilege we have as believers to be able to enter into conversation with Almighty God.

Hearing God's Voice questions

Is there a decision you’re currently facing? A situation where you need to know how to respond? A place where you long to experience unshakable peace, instead of worrying that you might do the wrong thing?

Meditate on the incredible opportunity you have to talk things over with God. Ask him to provide the direction you need. Pay attention to anything the Holy Spirit whispers to your heart as you listen for God’s voice, and allow his word—as revealed in the pages of Scripture—to shape your perspective and show you what to do.

Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer you can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Teach me what is best, direct me in the way I should go, and help me pay attention to your commands so I will experience your peace. (Isaiah 48:17-18)

Amen

Isaiah 48:17-18 prayer

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Sneak Peek! (and last chance to preorder)

Book Cover (sneak peek)

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life releases NEXT WEEK! Here’s a sneak peek just for YOU, my email friends – and I’m sending this note this with a heart FULL of gratitude for all the ways you’ve encouraged me throughout the writing process.

The book has two parts.

Part One is called “An Invitation to Abide.” It’s a big-picture look at what connection to Christ looks like in real life, and how we can become people of impact as we allow God’s Word to give shape to our desires and our prayers.

Part Two is more nitty-gritty. That’s where we dig into 31 different topics (one for each day of the month, if that pace appeals) where we need to experience God’s power and provision. Things like loving hard people. Extending forgiveness. Praying for our marriage or our children. Hearing God’s voice. Using talents, time, and money wisely. Waiting on God. Aging well. Dealing with the pain of unanswered prayers.

You get the idea. If it matters to you, it matters to God – and his Word has us covered.

Each chapter starts with a story, winds its way through some Scripture, and wraps up with three “R’s” designed to strengthen our connection with Christ: Read, Reflect, and Remember.

Read highlights a few verses that equip us to trust God with the topic at hand. Day 14, for example, is about Finding Freedom from Worry and Fear. Psalm 57:3, Philippians 4:6-7, and Matthew 6:31-33 are three faith-building promises that can help shape our understanding:

Read

Next, the Reflect section invites us to go a bit deeper and apply God’s promises to our particular and specific circumstances, with reminders like this:

“Whatever this situation is, it has not taken him by surprise. Consider the fact that God may be cluing you in to a problem or need, not to get you to panic, but to invite you to pray.”

Reflect

And finally, the Respond pages offer a collection of Scripture-based prayers like this one:

Thank you that you know my needs. When I am tempted to worry about ____, help me replace fear with faith. Show me how to seek you above all else, trusting your promise to give me all that I need. (Matthew 6:32-33)

Respond with prayer

You can pray all the verses right then and there, or pick just one or two to return to throughout the day. (Or the week. Or the month, if that’s more your style. This book is a resource, not a ritual. 😉)

So there’s your sneak peek. I hope you’ll like this one as much as I do, and that you’ll join me in allowing God’s Word to transform your desires and give power to your prayers. You were made—you were chosen!—for this.

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)

❤️

P.S. Release Day is June 8th…which means there’s still time to pre-order…which means you can still access all the fun bonus content like the “Five for Five” five-minute video devotions and the mini-conversations on prayer. Details at JodieBerndt.com. Whoop!

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Making (and Keeping) Good Friends

College Friends Photo

These girls. We’ve shared each other’s heartaches and joys for more than forty years, since we first met in college. And as I wrote about the gift of friendship in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life, I couldn’t help but thank God for Susan and Barbie— and for the fact that they weren’t put off when they realized that my idea of “dorm room essentials” included a suitcase full of bathing suits and a beach chair.

Barbie was a U.Va. volleyball player who hailed from the mountains of Tennessee. I’d never met anyone who could clog, but drop Rocky Top on the record player and up she would jump. Susan, a native Tarheel, danced the Carolina shag with effortless grace, and she knew—and actually used—every vocabulary word on the SAT test.

(“Corybantic,” she said, was how I danced.)

Corybantic definition - wild, frenzied

I adored (and yes, envied) these gals for their brains, their athletic prowess, and their flawless dance moves. But what really got my attention—and what eventually knit us together in a forever friendship—was seeing how much Barbie and Susan loved Scripture and the way they lived out their beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. These gals were not theologians. They were certainly not pious or perfect. And they knew next to nothing about Hebrew and Greek (unless you count knowing which fraternity boys were the best dancers). Susan and Barbie simply recognized the value of verses like Romans 12:15 (“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”), and used pillars like that to fortify their friendships. They came alongside other people with laughter and tears, doubling joys and dividing burdens, whether they were hanging out with the cool kids or just talking to me.

(Did I mention that, along with a beach chair, I brought a sewing machine with me to U.Va.? Yeah. I made my own party dresses…)

Me in my homemade party dress with my friends

Fast forward forty years.

Susan, Barbie, and I have celebrated, grieved, and prayed our way through career choices, marriage decisions, parenting curve balls, health concerns, faith questions, cross-country (and cross-ocean) moves, and the twists and turns that now come with caring for grandbabies and aging parents.

We’ve prayed our way, in other words, through life. And I could not be more grateful.

Because friendship is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve lost count of how many times, over the years, I’ve wrestled with loneliness—whether because we’d just moved to a new town or because I simply (and sometimes inexplicably) felt bereft in a place I’d called “home” for years.

Maybe you’ve been there too.

What then? What do we do when we’re feeling that ache? When we don’t know where we belong, or who “our people” are? Or when we find ourselves in a crowd and yet feel like we’re kind of alone?

We can start with prayer. God created us for connection; we are hard-wired, science tells us, for love. We can ask God to give us—and make us—good friends, and to open our eyes to the life-giving relationships he wants us to cultivate.

Those are prayers God delights to answer. Just like he delights to come alongside us as the friend who is “for” us—as our advocate, our counselor, our giver of joy. God delights in friendship.

You’ll find dozens of friendship prayers in the new book (click here to pre-order), but if you just want a few you can pray right now, here are three of my favorites:

Heavenly Father,

Surround me with friends who spur one another on toward love and good deeds so that we can encourage one another when we get together. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Friendship Prayer - Hebrews 10:24-25

Make me the kind of friend who is kind and compassionate, quick to forgive, and willing to carry other’s burdens. (Ephesians 4:32, Galatians 6:2)

Thank you for calling me your friend. Equip me to love others the way you love me, being willing to lay down my life—my position, my agenda, my reputation—for my friends. (John 15:13)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One of my most fun (and funniest) friends is Kristin Adams. You know her as the gal who fell down on American Idol—after singing “Fallen”—and as the pretty half of @KristinandDanny, digital content creators and lip-syncing sensations who spend their lives bringing good stuff to the world.

Fun Friends: Kristin Adams and me

I had a chance to talk with Kristin about prayer not long ago. We covered lots of tricky stuff (How do I know I am asking for the “right” thing? Is it okay to pray for myself? Does God really want me to pray?), and our whole convo is part of the pre-order bonuses that come with the new book. Click here for details!

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Sharing Your Faith (Hint: Don’t do what I did)

(This post is adapted from the “Sharing Your Faith” chapter in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life. And yes, this story really did happen…)

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life book cover

 

“Would you like me to tell you about Jesus?”

The man who had just buckled into the seat next to me cocked his head. He looked like he wasn’t sure what to say.

I tried again.

“Like, do you know how much God loves you? And how he has a wonderful plan for your life? Do you want me to tell you about that?”

“Um…” the man finally said. “No.” And with that, he turned his attention back to his book.

Looking back on this airplane encounter, I have to laugh. (And I hope you’ll laugh with me instead of being appalled at my evangelism technique.) The thing is, I was twenty-two years old, barely out of college and a newlywed. I had a lot to learn about sharing your faith. I had a lot to learn about life. But I’d recently had a conversation with a fellow named Harald Bredesen, a man whose influence spanned continents and whose remarkable life had been widely chronicled by media outlets from Walter Cronkite’s News and World Report to The Saturday Evening Post to Christianity Today. Bredesen was, according to one former Time magazine journalist, “one of the great saints of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

And when Bredesen told me that “everyone” wanted to hear about Jesus, I believed him.

A desire that this world cannot satisfy

Honestly? I still believe him. We do want to hear about Jesus—we just may not recognize our longing as such. I often think about C.S. Lewis, who came to faith—to Christianity—as a result of a gnawing angst, an ache for joy. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” he concluded, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

CS Lewis quote about faith

God knew we would never be satisfied apart from connection with him. He longs to make known to us the path of life, to fill us with joy in his presence. First, though, he says we have to be born again—to be born of the Spirit. Had I been God, I might have arranged things so that everyone got to hear the how-to’s directly from an angel, or in some sort of dramatic divine encounter, like what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.

But he didn’t do it that way.

Instead, God chose to involve us, his beloved children, in his life-changing work. To tap us as his messengers. To use us to tell others how they can be saved.

“How,” the Apostle Paul asks, “can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

How indeed? How can anyone hear the Good News without someone telling it to them?

We know this in our heads. We recognize the importance of The Great Commission, the passage where Jesus looks at his disciples—at all of us—and says, “Go.”

And yet we balk.

We want our loved ones to be saved, but…

Maybe we’re like my college friend’s mother, and the idea of evangelism scares us—especially if it’s on a global scale. When this mom got wind that her daughter might be interested in foreign missions, she put her foot down. (“I did not raise my daughter to go off and be eaten by cannibals,” was, I believe, how she put it.) At the time, I thought the mother was overreacting. Now that I have my own adult children—who have traveled to some of the most remote parts of Africa, China, and India on short-term mission trips—I get it.

I don’t want my kids to be eaten either.

Let’s be honest, though. All of us want our family, our friends, and even strangers on the other side of the world to be saved. But not all of us feel all that equipped, or comfortable, doing what’s known as “evangelism.” Shouldn’t that, we say to ourselves, be left to the professionals? To actual ministers? To folks who have outgoing personalities or that particular spiritual gift?

To borrow a line from my onetime seatmate, “Um…no.”

The Great Commission—the privilege of introducing people to Jesus—is for all of us.

Share Your Story

And while there are many different approaches to sharing your faith (if you read Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, you know that, as a first-grader, our daughter Virginia was not at all hesitant to tell kids who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell” before God softened her style), I find that one of the easiest and most natural ways to bring up the topic of salvation is simply to speak from your own experience.

Tell what God has done for you.

All of us have a story.

And, like all God’s commands, sharing the Good News comes with a blessing. God knows that when we talk about him—when our love for Jesus brims over and impacts the lives of our neighbors and friends—our own faith expands.

I love how Paul put it in one of his letters:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

“You have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.”

Could there be a more encouraging benediction? Let’s use Paul’s words to shape our own prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help us share your love with the world. Give us the courage, the grace, the words, and the deeds, that we too might refresh the hearts of your people. (Philemon 1:4-7)

Amen

Prayer for sharing your faith

P.S., true story: I was recording the audio version of the book, and I’d just finished reading the chapter about sharing your faith, when I stepped outside the studio and saw a picture of HARALD BREDESEN on the wall.

Harald Bredeson photo

Can’t make this stuff up.

This precious saint has been dead for who knows how long. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he’d been eavesdropping on me–and if he was, I hope he knows how grateful I am that he never missed a chance to tell people his story.

❤️

Want to pray with more power and confidence? Click here to pre-order the new book and claim your free bonuses, including the “Five for Five” video devotions you can watch (or listen to) in just five minutes a day!

Pre-order bonus offer

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Unanswered Prayers (and What God Says We Can Do)

(ICYMI: This post ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a place where you’ll find insight and encouragement about all things family and faith.)

Stop trying to figure God out; man looking at mountains

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times:  Stop trying to figure God out.

That’s what my kids tell me anyway, whenever they see me agonizing over why God seems to be taking so long. Or when I wrestle with the pain of unanswered prayers. Or when things just don’t look like I wanted them to.

I remember one particularly gut-wrenching season, one where God said no to something I wanted for my child—something she wanted even more than I did, something we both believed would be good. I knew God was for us, that his plan was for hope, and that his good purpose would always prevail. Why, then, was my stomach in knots? Shouldn’t someone who’d spent twenty-five years writing and speaking about prayer be filled with more faith?

I cried out to the Lord. And in case you think you have to sound “holy” or “good enough” when you pray, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I wrote in my journal that day.

“God, I said, “I feel so lame. I really am trying to trust you. I know you love me, and that I shouldn’t be sad—”

It’s okay.

(Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because I think that’s what happened to me as I prayed.)

It’s okay, I sensed God say. Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.

Press into God’s Presence

Talk about a perspective changer! There I was, trying to push my disappointment and pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him, just like I want my kids to come to me when they are hurting or confused. And I realized that day, as I essentially climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I had it all backward.

Lean into His Presence graphic

I thought disappointment, sadness, and anger were bad things, things that had no place in the life of a “real” Christian. But when they invite us to press into God—to climb into our heavenly Father’s embrace—our heartaches and unanswered prayers become agents of connection. They become places where God can showcase his tenderness as he heals our hearts and binds up our wounds.

We don’t need to know how something works in order to trust it (if we did, I would never get on an airplane again). We don’t need to figure God out. And we don’t need to deny our distress. All we need to do—all we can do—in the face of disappointment or unanswered prayers is to press into God’s presence, knowing that he powerful enough to do more than all we can ask or imagine and loving enough to want to.

Unanswered Prayers

That’s exactly what David did. Psalm 13 chronicles his journey from feeling weary and abandoned (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”) to the place where he could rejoice, knowing that God had been (and would be) good to him. We can do the same thing, taking our questions—and our pain—to the Lord, asking him to comfort us as we stake our trust in his unfailing love.

Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer we can borrow. It’s one Moses prayed during a long season when all of Israel may have wondered whether or not God heard their prayers…

Heavenly Father,

Have compassion on me. Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be glad all my days. (Psalm 90:13-14)

Amen

❤️

You can read more about trusting God in the face of unanswered prayers (and discover how to pray about 30 other real-life issues) in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God. The book releases June 8th; click here to pre-order.

And psst… Preorders get exclusive access to some nifty bonuses, including five 5-minute video devotions (“Five for Five”) and a series of intimate “Conversations on Prayer” with some folks you will recognize!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life book

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Pray that Your Kids Get Caught

Years ago, I told a younger mom that I always prayed my kids would get caught if they were doing anything wrong.

“Why do you do that?” the gal wanted to know. “Wouldn’t it be better to pray that they won’t do anything bad?”

I laughed, thinking that it would take a lot more faith to pray her prayer than mine. And when I read Susan Alexander Yates’ post this week about praying that her kids would get caught, I knew I had to share it with you.

(Not just because–true story–I also threw mud balls at a police car.)

(And not just because I also got caught.)

I knew I had to share Susan’s post because, back when my friend asked why I prayed the way that I did, I think I mumbled something about wanting sin to be exposed or how kids grow and learn when they have to own their mistakes. I still stand by those words, but golly. I wish I had put it then like Susan does now.

Here she is…

Why You Should Pray Regularly that Your Kids Get Caught

(Guest post by Susan Alexander Yates)

This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught!

I want to encourage you to pray that your kids get caught.

What?”

“Why would I want to do that??”

We had 5 kids in 7 years. Even today, as a grandmother of 21, I can still feel the exhaustion of those early years. Raising young kids is hard for many reasons, but one is that you train and train without seeing results for many years. It’s discouraging.

Why doesn’t this child get it? I’ve told him over and over! Will he ever learn?”

Our kids keep us on our knees. One of the things John and I prayed for each of our kids was that if they were doing anything wrong they’d get caught. It’s far better to get caught when you are young, living at home, and your foolishness is less likely to be as serious.

Our kids were not thrilled with this prayer of ours!

Let me share a personal story:

When our son Chris was about 11 he and his buddy Nate decided to make clay “cannon balls,” hide behind a bank next to a road, and throw them at passing cars…

Continue reading This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught! at SusanAlexanderYates.com

_______

Want to know more about how you can pray for things like honesty and integrity in your kids? Check out Susan and John Yates’ book, Character Matters: Raising Kids with Values that Last.

And psst…if you’ve got a copy of the just-released updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, check out chapter 6… 😉

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens (on black table)

…or chapters 8 and 17 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenin which kids get caught stealing crayons, vandalizing their school, and accessing some unwanted content on the computer…

Praying the Scriptures book on the beach

…OR, if you know Numbers 32:23 (“you may be sure that your sin will find you out”) and you just need a prayer you can pray  RIGHT THIS MINUTE, try this one:

Heavenly Father,

Keep ____ from deceitful ways. Teach them to choose the way of faithfulness and equip them to hold fast to your statutes so that they will never be put to shame. (Psalm 119:29-31)

Amen

❤️

(As always, if you use the links in this post to order any books, I get a small commission. And as always, I only tell you about the really good stuff. Susan and John’s book was the first parenting “how-to” book I ever purchased, and it’s still one of my favorites!)

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Why Believe?

The Bible says we should always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have–to let folks know why we believe.

Few people knew how to articulate their faith better than White House “hatchet man”-turned prisoner-turned-criminal justice reform advocate and evangelical leader Chuck Colson. (I know that’s a mouthful, but Colson’s story is fascinating; to read more, click here.)

I had the privilege of working with Colson about a million years ago when I was a TV producer. He was one of the smartest, kindest, and most humble men I have ever met. Today–Easter Sunday–I am grateful to the folks at Focus on the Family for reminding me of Colson’s legacy, and of what he believed about the Resurrection:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world–and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Chuck Colson quote

To read more, including four solid reasons that answer the question “Why Believe?”, click here.

And if you’d like to join me in an Easter prayer for our own faith legacies, here’s what I’m asking God today:

Heavenly Father,

Help me to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks me to give the reason for the hope I have, doing so  with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Amen

❤️

Happy Easter! He is risen indeed!

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When teens don’t tell the truth

(Note: This post ran earlier this week as part of the Strength & Dignity devotional series at Club31Women.com. I’m sharing it here because we’re celebrating launch week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and there’s a whole chapter in that book about honestly, integrity, and praying for your teens to tell the truth!)

God prompts us to pray (Club31Women graphic)

“Where were you last night?”

Molly eyed her daughter, watching for any hint of deception. Her maternal instincts had kicked into overdrive, but she wanted to give Jenna a chance to tell the truth before she confronted her with what she already knew: that Jenna had left a birthday party with a boy and then shown up—much later—at a girlfriend’s house where she had been invited to spend the night.

“I was at Allie’s house.”

“How did you get there?”

“Brian drove me there after the party.”

“Did you kiss him?” Molly asked.

“Mom!” Jenna protested. “What’s with all the questions?”

Molly hadn’t planned to ask about the kissing; the question had simply popped into her head. And now that Jenna had sidestepped the issue, she sensed she had hit a mark.

“Did you kiss him?” she repeated.

“No, Mom!” Jenna scoffed. “Nothing happened.”

There it was—the slightest cloud flickered across Jenna’s face, signaling to Molly that her daughter was not telling the truth. Molly didn’t really care whether or not Jenna had kissed anyone; that wasn’t the primary issue. It was the lying that mattered—and lately, it seemed that Jenna had been lying about a lot of things…

What to do when you teenager lies

If you’ve caught your teen in a lie—or if lying seems to have become a pattern in their life—you probably know how Molly felt. She was discouraged, angry, and exhausted. And as she read verses like Jeremiah 9:5, she was also scared. “No one tells the truth,” the prophet warned. “With practiced tongues they tell lies; the wear themselves out with all their sinning.”

There’s no question that lying gets easier with practice. And in a world where shifting blame, denying guilt, and withholding key information has become commonplace, it’s no surprise that our teens can twist the truth, break promises, and even tell bald-faced lies without feeling like they’ve hurt anyone or done something wrong.

So what do we do? How should we respond when our kids don’t tell the truth?

For starters, don’t panic. Nothing you are facing comes as a shocker to God, and when he reveals something—even the ugliest something—in our teens’ lives, it isn’t to scare us. It’s to prompt us to pray. Our prayers release God’s power to accomplish his purposes in the lives of the people we love.

Our prayers release God's power

Next, try to discover what motivated the lie. Was it fear? Insecurity? A desire to “cover” for friends? Ask God to reveal anything you need to know so that you can be specific and intentional when you pray.

And finally, remember where lies originate. Satan is the father of lies. He likes nothing better than to get you to believe his twisted words—including the lie that your kids are “doomed” when they blow it, that nothing will ever change, or that you’ve failed as a parent when your teens take a wrong turn.

Satan’s speaks deceit and destruction; God’s language is redemption and love. Trust God’s power to provide as you pray, knowing that his deepest desire is to lead your family to the Truth and set you free.

God delights in those who tell the truth


Read

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. (Proverbs 12:22)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. (Psalm 34:12-13)

Reflect

As you ask God to help your teens tell the truth, think about your own life. What lies is the enemy trying to get you to believe? Has he whispered that your family is a mess, or that you will never get it right? Don’t listen! Remember that Satan is the father of lies, but that God is the Father of Love. He has started a good work in your family’s life and he can be counted on to complete it, and his deepest longing is to set your family free.

Respond

Heavenly Father,

Help my teens–help me–to believe you and hold to your teaching. Keep our tongues from evil and our lips from telling lies. Take delight in our family and set us free. (John 8:31-32Psalm 34:12-13; Proverbs 12:22)

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read the rest of Molly and Jenna’s story in the updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, the latest release in the bestselling Praying the Scriptures series. Drawing on the power of God’s Word, this book equips you to pray effectively for everything from your teen’s relationships, faith, and safety to the purposes and plans God has for their future.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens 

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Teenagers, worry, and how we can help

Struggling with worry or fear?

Yeah, me too.

And I’m one of those people who can quote verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Romans 8:6 in her sleep. I know God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. I know that the spirit-controlled mind is one marked by peace. I know all of that–and I want to live like I believe it.

The thing is, though, the ongoing uncertainty and “what ifs” of a global pandemic can wear anyone down. Even if you’re not actively thinking about COVID, it’s there, like the low hum of the refrigerator, white-noising its way into our lives.

I’m not sure who has it the worst. I know loads of young parents working from home while schools and daycares are closed. I have older friends who spend their days caring for (and trying to protect) aging parents. And I’ve heard from more than a few tech-challenged colleagues who’ve blown it in some way on Zoom (although none so spectacularly as the lawyer who felt compelled to explain that he was not a cat).

We all have our struggles. But as my publishing team prepares to release the updated version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens on Tuesday, I can’t help but sympathize with the adolescents I know. Social connection is the lifeblood of a teenager’s existence, and things like remote learning, social distancing, and the long, lonely days of enforced quarantines add an extra layer of angst to their already hormone-packed lives. Throw in the stoppage of sports, the postponement of proms, and the cancellation of any number of other rites of passage in an adolescent’s life, and it’s easy to understand why our kids might have a hard time coping right now.

Teen suffering with anxiety/worry

A pimple is one thing; a pandemic can take teenage anxiety to a whole new level.

(Adult anxiety too. And even as my heart aches for teenagers, I realize that it’s also hard on their parents.)

Helping teens find freedom from worry and fear

So what do we do? Is there a way to live without worry? Can we help our teenagers find freedom from fear?

God certainly thinks so. If you take him at his word (and I do), worry has no place in our lives.“Do not worry about anything,” he tells us in Philippians 4:6. That was the most searched and shared Bible verse in 2019–followed in 2020 by its close cousin, Do not fear.”

We know, almost instinctively, that nothing good comes from worry and fear. These emotions are never productive. Nobody wants apprehension or anxiety to color their life. And nobody wants that for their kids.

But is obeying a command like “Do not worry” even possible–whether we’re talking about ourselves or our teens?

"Do not worry" command

No.

Not in our own strength, anyway.

We’re too frail. I have one friend who says she refuses to give in to worry (“Take every thought captive!” is her rallying cry), but even she would admit to slipping, sometimes.

That’s the bad news: we are weak. The good news—the great news, actually—is that God never gives us a command that he doesn’t also give us the power to fulfill. We might not stand a chance against worry and fear on our own, but we can tap into the supernatural power that makes victory possible through Scripture and the Spirit.

Moving from panic to peace

God’s Word renews our minds, transforms how we think, and informs our perspective. God’s Spirit reaches into our souls, reminding us of what we know to be true and interceding with us—interceding for us—in ways that words cannot describe. And when these two forces—the Scripture and the Spirit—come together to animate our thoughts and give shape to our prayers, panic gives way to peace.

The Scripture and the Spirit photo

The very act of approaching the Lord—of saying, “Dear God, I need help”—opens the door to connection with him, ushering us into his presence and producing a sense of security that is more easily experienced than explained.

It’s a peace, Scripture says, that “transcends all understanding.” Or, as The Message version puts it…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Isn’t that lovely? A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Peaceful blue flower

It’s in that act of settling, as our thoughts and emotions center on Christ instead of our cares, that we can bring our teens and their needs before God.

We can pray for their friendships, asking God to surround them with friends who will encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

We can pray for their sense of identity, asking God to help them realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are marvelous in his eyes. (Psalm 139:14)

And we can do battle with the unseen forces that prey on their hearts and their minds, turning that “best of 2019” verse into our personal prayer: “Don’t let ______ be anxious about anything. Instead, prompt them to pray, with thanksgiving, and let your peace guard their hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Anxiety Prayer (horizontal)

These are just three of the prayer prompts you’ll find in this new collection of prayer cards designed especially for teens. They’re called “Dashboard Prayers” cuz they are tiny and perfect to keep in your car—or to give to your kids to let them know you are praying the next time they ask to borrow the keys!

Dashboard Prayer Cards 2

The Dashboard Prayers are available as a free printable (and a thank you!) to my email subscribers; click here to download. And if you know someone who’d like to get these little blogs delivered to their in-box every few weeks, please encourage them to subscribe.

Anyone, though, can get a copy of the updated book. 😉 Click here to get yours!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens

P.S. When I wrote the original Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens in 2007, “technology use” was pretty much confined to a new thing called MySpace. Back then, parents who were concerned about their teens’ drug use were talking about pot. Not fentanyl. Not prescription meds. Not the devastating pain of opioid addiction. And things like a kid’s sense of identity (“Who am I? Am I loved? Does my life have meaning or worth?”) barely registered on our collective parental radar.

Needless to say, the book needed updating. And as I worked on this new edition, it struck me again: Times change, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And his word does not return empty but always accomplishes what he desires.

❤️

 

 

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How to Fall in Love (and Stay There)

It’s Valentine’s Weekend. Romance is in the air. But just because you fall in love doesn’t mean you will stay there. And if you think you’ve found the “perfect” person to spend your life with, maybe think again.

“The moment you marry someone,” writes Tim Keller, “you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be. So you don’t know, you can’t know, who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.”

Couple in the future on rocks

You can’t know who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.

Robbie can vouch for the truth in those words. “College Jodie” (the woman he fell in love with) was very different from “career Jodie” (the woman he married three months after graduation). And when “wife Jodie” became “wife-and-mother Jodie,” she morphed yet again. (I won’t go into the details of each transformation, other than to say that “college Jodie” was way more fun than any of the subsequent models.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you’re on a quest to fall in love, to find a “soul mate” with whom you will be forever compatible, give it up. That person, says Keller, doesn’t exist.

Is Long-Lasting Love Doomed?

Does that mean true love is doomed? Once the flame of infatuation flickers out, does love – does marriage – have to get filed in the hum-drum cabinet? Is the secret to a stable and long-lasting relationship really, as someone once said, about finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life?

No! Not at all!

Because love is not, actually, about getting hooked on a feeling. Love – true, lasting, sizzling love – is about making a choice.

A deliberate decision.

Or, more to the point, a series of decisions, made day in and day out, over and over again.

Happy Couple

Six years ago, in a column for The New York Times, writer Mandy Len Catron recounted a fascinating story about what it took to fall in love–in a bar, as an experiment–with a man that, until then, she’d only seen a few times in the gym. “Love didn’t happen to us,” she concluded. “We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

More recently, author Lisa Jacobson revealed the results of her own adventure in love-building. In the midst of what she acknowledges was a “difficult season in a very difficult year,” she made a conscious decision to love her husband every day. To choose to intentionally give love to, and fall in love with, the man she had married.

Making his coffee. Folding his shirts. Laughing at his jokes and trying to make him laugh in return.

For 100 days straight.

Lisa figured that her 100-day “Love Challenge” would make her man happy. And it did. What she didn’t count on, though, was the transformational impact it had on her. “The more I chose love,” she wrote, “the more loving – and loved – I felt.”

Creating an upward spiral of love

When I read Lisa’s post, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written before in this space about how kindness is what glues couples together, and how generosity (even just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can create an upward spiral – a “virtuous cycle” – leading to happier, more satisfying relationships. I’ve read the research and seen this love-begets-love dynamic in action in my own marriage.

I know it works.

But if you’re reading this and you find yourself hard-pressed to give love, can I just say that I get that too? We’ve all felt deficient or ill-equipped at one time or another. People get tired, feelings get hurt, and it can seem like our love tanks have run dry. And even though we know it’s better to give than to receive, we might find ourselves holding back, wishing we didn’t have to go first.

If that’s where you are this Valentine’s Day, can I slip in beside you and offer three little thoughts?

First, love out of God’s riches, not your poverty.

Your love tank might show a reading of “empty.” But remember where love comes from. “We love, the Bible says, “because he first loved us.” And when we grasp, as Paul did, how “wide and long and high and deep” Christ’s love for us is, we get “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Our love tanks get replenished. We don’t have to gin up feelings of love on our own; we can let God’s love fill us up and flow out.

Next, start small.

Showing love doesn’t have to involve a grand (or expensive) gesture. If you’re fresh out of ideas or inspiration of the simple-but-powerful sort, check out Lisa and Matt Jacobsons’ 100 Ways books (there’s a volume for loving your husband, and another for loving your wife)…

1oo Ways to Love Your Husband/Wife

 

…or pick up the just-released Creative Love by Audrey and Jeremy Roloff, a book that comes with date-night ideas, conversation starters, and tips for navigating conflict with wisdom and grace.

Creative Love book

And finally, pray.

Ask the Holy Spirit, your Helper, to show you how to love well.

And pray for your spouse – not that God would fix them, but that he would bless them. Because we can’t help it; when we bring someone before the Lord – asking God to protect them, give them grace, and pour good things into their lives – we get a vested interest in their well-being. The soil of our hearts starts to soften, giving love a chance to take root and grow.

Three “Fall in Love” prayers you can pray

So what should you pray for your spouse?

You’ll find about a dozen built-in prayer prompts in Psalm 112 (it’s a passage I turn to again and again), but if you want to copy three prayers I am praying over my man and our marriage this year, here they are:

May Robbie serve you with whole-hearted devotion and a willing mind; search his heart and understand his every desire and thought. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

May he take delight in you; give him the desires of his heart. (Psalm 37:4)

May our love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

Jodie and Robbie (and Minnie) in love

❤️

P.S. I’ve linked the resources you’ll find in this blog – the Keller book, the 100 Ways bundle, and Creative Love – via Amazon, and I get a tiny commission if you order from this post, but the books are available anywhere books are sold, so please:  Support your favorite local bookshop if you can. (Heads up, tho: Amazon has Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage on sale right now for just $7.99. I’m no math brain, but that seems like a hefty savings off of the normal $18.99 price, and this book makes a nice engagement or wedding present!)

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Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

That’s a question God’s asked me, again and again, when my prayers don’t get answered in the way, or the timing, I want.

Or when I can’t see what he’s up to.

Or when I think I’ve got God all figured out—his plans for my children, my schedule, the desires of my heart—but it turns out that I actually don’t.

And when a friend (let’s call her Grace) told me what happened with her nephew and his back-to-back birthdays, I saw myself in the story. Maybe you’ll see yourself too.

A good and perfect birthday gift

What do you give a little boy for his birthday?

Thinking an airplane might elicit some smiles, Grace wrapped up a model flyer, the styrofoam kind, and gave it to her nephew. Sure enough, the boy LOVED the gift—and promptly launched it over the neighbor’s privacy fence, where the plane crashed upon landing, never to be played with again.

The following year, Grace tried again. And when she called to wish the child a happy birthday, she learned that the second present had not yet been opened.

“I know you got him another airplane,” Grace’s sister explained, eyeing the long gift-wrapped box, “and he will be so happy. But it’s pouring down rain and he can’t go outside, so we’ll open your present tomorrow.”

Grace burst out laughing. The gift wasn’t an airplane. It was an umbrella. Perfect for jumping in puddles and playing outside on a rainy birthday!

Boy with umbrella

God knows what you need

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that God had an airplane for me (or for my child), but it turned out to be an umbrella—and once I stopped questioning or complaining, I recognized the goodness and perfection of his gift. And if I lost you somewhere in that sentence, here’s what I’m trying to say:

God rarely repeats himself. (See Isaiah 43:19.) When we spend our time looking back at last year’s presents, thinking we know what God has in store for us next, we risk missing the new thing. We risk missing God’s perfect provision for now.

God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can trust that his thoughts, and his plans, are higher (and better) than ours.

God knows what we need, even before we ask him. (That’s Matthew 6:8.) We might sit there blathering on and on about how much we love airplanes, but God knows when it’s going to rain. He wants us to be ready. He wants to give us what we need—and what he already knows we will also want.

God wants to give us what we need

Trust with all your heart

So where does that leave us when we know God is good and that he’s got a plan, but we don’t understand (or like) what he seems to be doing? What do we with the gap between notion of what we think we need and the reality of what God provides?

We trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

(Or, as the Message puts it for mule-headed people like me:  “Don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”)

If trusting God in the face of uncertainty or disappointment feels iffy, or even impossible in times of grieving or loss, that’s okay. Just like we don’t have to create faith on our own (think about the father in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to help his unbelief), we don’t have to position ourselves in a posture of trust. We can ask the Holy Spirit for help.

We can turn Proverbs 3:5 into a prayer (and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this one in my stories today):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Help me trust in you with all my heart instead of leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

When we come before God in surrender, he will make our paths straight. And as we lay our requests before him, we can do so knowing (as Tim Keller puts it) that “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

We can unwrap the umbrella, thank God for his provision, and go out and dance in the rain.

❤️

P.S. Trusting God is an area where I often struggle, particularly when I am *sure* that my idea, my way, or my timetable is better than his. If that’s where you find yourself too, here’s a little bonus material to chew on today.

For further reflection…

Read Psalm 84:11-12. What does God promise in these verses? What do you think it means to walk “blamelessly”? (Hint:  See Colossians 1:21-22.) How does verse 12, coming so close on the heels of verse 11, shape your understanding of what God promises us?

Read Isaiah 26:3-4. What does God say he will do when we trust him? How does the image of God as the “Rock eternal” encourage or embolden you?

Finally, allow the words of Romans 15:13 seep into your soul as you turn this verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of hope:

Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

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Some Good News to Color Your Day

Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?

Actually…yes.

And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.

I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.

It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Coffee and Bible are good news

We know we need God.

That’s the (small “g”) good news.

The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.

So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?

We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.

We press in: Fifteen minutes a day

This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.

I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.

Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.

First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Psalm 1:1-3 prayer to love the good news

Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.

(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)

Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.

Max Anders book 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible

As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

Good news, indeed.

Girl reading Scripture with Charles Spurgeon quote

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Nothing is Impossible with God

For the word of God will never fail.

I read those words–a line from Luke’s gospel–and stopped. I’d been making my way through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, and when she got to the part about Mary and the angelic visit, a story recorded in Luke 1, I thought there must be some mistake. I knew Luke 1:37 (it was the first verse our son ever learned) and that definitely was not it. The verse I knew, and the one Robbie memorized as a preschooler, went like this: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Could I be remembering wrong? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

I flipped open my Bible–an old NIV–and sure enough, that’s what Luke 1:37 says: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 "Nothing is impossible with God."

Well then.

Could Ann Voskamp be wrong? I didn’t think so.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to dig. A quick search on Bible Hub unearthed 30 different versions of the same verse:

Nothing is impossible with God (BibleHub.com)

The NIV (which was updated in 2011) says: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

In the NLT (which The Greatest Gift uses) it is almost the same: “For the word of God will never fail.”

But the ESV renders the verse the way I remembered: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

A Colossal Linguistic Mistake?

How, I wondered, could the translators come up with such different wordings? Was this some sort of colossal linguistic mistake? Surely some Bible Brainiac would have noticed this whoopsie before.

(Okay, so I realize that comparing Bible translations doesn’t quicken everyone’s pulse, but stick with me here. We’re getting ready to pivot.)

As I pondered the contrast in meanings—some versions emphasizing the dependability of God’s word; others focusing on his power to do anything—it hit me: The different versions were not in conflict at all. Rather, they were two sides of the same coin.

Nothing is impossible with God because his word gets the job done.

Now, you won’t find that particular rendering in any translation, but you get my point: God’s word does not fail. It makes anything possible.

My favorite illustration of what this looks like in real life (and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve heard this one before) is when God said, “Let there be light.” Had you or I issued such a decree, we’d have to flip a switch or light a match or do something to scatter the darkness. But not God. All God had to do was speak and light happened.

God’s word makes things happen. Which is why I love wrapping my prayers in the language of Scripture, allowing the Bible–God’s written word–to shape my thoughts and desires. I want to tap into the full scope of Luke 1:37, knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that his word will not fail. I want to have a heart like Mary’s, who responded to the angel’s seemingly impossible news in Luke 1 with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

31 Days of Praying God’s Word

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s resolution person, but I can’t think of a more powerful or satisfying way to kick off 2021 than to spend the first month praying like Mary did–asking God to fulfill his word in the lives of the people I love. And if that appeals to you too, I’d like to invite you to join me in January for 31 Days of Prayer, Mary-style.

As Ann Voskamp tells it, Mary kneels “not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars–a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.”

Our Heavenly Father has the power to do the impossible—whether the need is in relationships, character traits, health concerns, faith issues, or anything else—and his word will not fail. All we need to do is simply bend before him and receive.

As you read your Bible this month (or this year), be alert to verses that might serve as prayer prompts. If you’d like help with the picking, you can download a 31-Day Prayer Calendar here, or join me over on Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll be sharing a new verse every day in my Stories, something to help us pray for our children or for anyone who’s claimed some space in our hearts.

Today’s prayer is for a loved one’s salvation…

Prayer for Salvation from Acts 26:18

Heavenly Father,

Turn _____ from darkness to light…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among your people, those set apart by faith. (Acts 26:18)

Amen

❤️

P.S.  If you’re looking for some more good prayer prompts for your kids (or grandkids!), this post from my pal Susan Alexander Yates reveals three crucial things we can ask God to do in their lives.

And if you’d like a place to record your scripture prayers–as well as God’s answers–this year, I want to remind you about my most favorite prayer and planning journal, The Growth Book

The Growth Book

The Growth Book comes with space to record goals, prayers, memory verses, and more. This year, I ordered the bonus pack of “Study Deeper” stickers to help keep me organized as I learn about different topics. And I went ahead and printed some pix of our crew to tuck into the pages of the journal and serve as prayer prompts:

Family Photos as prayer prompts

If you want a Growth Book for yourself or a friend, use the promo code “growingin2021” (exclusive to JodieBerndt.com readers!) to get 10% off. I don’t make a commission on sales; I just love sharing my favorite things. 😊

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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