Make Your Home in God’s Love

“Home.”

At its most basic level, your home is the place where you live:  your house, your apartment, even your city or town. But the word carries a deeper meaning as well. The dictionary defines home as the place where our “domestic affections are centered.” Our home is a big part of what forms us. What fills us. What captures our heart.

In John 15:9, Jesus offers a remarkable invitation. He says we can live in his love. Some translations use the word abide. Others say remain. A few say continue, or dwell. I like how The Message puts Jesus’ words: “Make yourselves at home in my love.”

Make yourselves at home in my love

Christ’s love, in other words, can be what forms us and fills us. It can be what captures our heart. Just like the Father delights in the Son, Jesus delights in our company. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done; nothing can separate us from God’s love! (Romans 8:38-39)

And yet…we hang back. We have the opportunity to relish our status as Christ’s beloved, but we don’t. Why not?

Three Barriers to Receiving God’s Love

There may be any number of reasons why we don’t abide in Christ’s love—why we fail to settle down, relax, and make ourselves at home there—but here are three of the biggest barriers to our thriving in connection with Christ.

For one thing, we know ourselves. We know where we’ve blown it. We know how unworthy we are. And so, unwilling to step out from under our shame, we (mistakenly) conclude that Christ’s invitation is not meant for us.

Or maybe our stumbling block is that we think we have to earn God’s approval. Sure, it is his grace that saves us, but what about after that? We think it’s up to us to please God by what we think, say, and do—and when we slip up or fall short, we figure we’ll fall out of God’s favor and forfeit his love.

Then, too, we may find it easier to give love than to receive it. Giving makes us feel valuable and important; receiving puts us in a more vulnerable position. Receiving requires a type of surrender—which can be kind of awkward. We don’t like feeling needy; we’d rather be self-sufficient. We want to be in control.

All of these things—the shadow of shame, the sense that we need to earn God’s approval, and the desire for sufficiency instead of surrender—are lies that can keep us from experiencing the fullness of joy God wants us to have. But when we stop and consider the glorious weight of Christ’s words—“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”—everything changes. We see the truth.

The truth is this: Jesus knows you. Jesus loves you. And the moment you turn in his direction, he flings wide the door, opens his arms, and says, “Welcome home.”

So what about you?

Where have you struggled to receive Christ’s love? How might embracing his affection—believing that you truly are his beloved—impact how you think about yourself? About others?

Take some time this week to reflect on God’s lavish affection for you. Ask him to open your heart to receive all that he wants to give. And trust him to come and settle you down as you make your home in his love.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promise that nothing in all creation can separate me from your love. (Romans 8:38-39)

Show me how to shape my worries into prayers, letting you know my concerns. Settle me down and teach me to live in the truth as I make my home in your love. (Philippians 4:6-7; John 15:9)

Amen

❤️

Note: A version of this post appeared earlier this week at Club31Women, a place you’ll find books, blogs, and resources designed to strengthen your faith and enrich your family life. Click here to read a recent post about how we can turn our hearts toward God, and here for five strategies you can use to make your physical home a more peaceful and welcoming place. And if you want to know more about making your home in God’s love, you’ll find 31 different entry points in this easy-read book: Praying the Scriptures for Your Life:  31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God

praying the scriptures for your life

Leave a Reply


Trusting God with Your College Student

Note: If your kids aren’t quite ready for college, you might want to check out a couple of posts from the archives. Click here for some tips on hosting a back-to-school prayer party and here for some timeless wisdom from bestselling author Rebekah Lyons and Moms in Prayer president Sally Burke, who talked with me about how we can help our kids when they struggle with worry or fear.

Back to school prayers

I remember telling my father that I wanted to attend the University of Virginia. The school had recently topped Playboy magazine’s annual catalog of the “best” college party spots, and my dad was understandably concerned. Making matters worse (for me) was the fact that one of his closest friends–a minister–had sent his son to U.Va., and the fella had gotten into all kinds of mischief. “I wouldn’t send my dog to that school,” the minister had warned, and I thought I was doomed.

Two things, though, worked in my favor. The first was the fact that I knew the minister’s son, and he turned out okay. He had graduated, gotten married, and then gone to seminary. God clearly had his hand on that boy’s life, and I figured he could watch out for me too.

The second thing I had was a working knowledge of Scripture and a willingness to use it, even out of context: “‘Where sin abounded,'” I told my father, quoting Romans 5:20, “‘grace did much more abound.’

“Come on, Dad,” I said. “Don’t you want me to go to a school where God’s grace abounds?”

I won in the end (probably more because U.Va. was the least expensive school on my list than because of the whole sin-and-grace thing) and as it turned out, U.Va. had–and still has–a thriving Christian community. God blessed me with two very smart (and pretty funny) roommates who posted party-relevant SAT words and Bible verses in our apartment foyer (corybantic described “frenzied and unrestrained” dance moves; Proverbs 23 warned of “needless bruises” and other perils of drinking), where anyone who stopped by could read them. Between their friendship and God’s mercy (and despite my making a boatload of stupid decisions), I graduated, got a job, married Robbie, and never thought much about the college party culture again.

Until my own kids grew up.

Could God be trusted to care for my college daughter?

Dropping our eldest, Hillary, off at college–amid a sea of red Solo cups–I had all sorts of questions. Had the party scene gotten worse? Would she be exposed to a lot of drugs? Sexual pressure? Worldviews and social norms that ran counter to the way she’d been raised? And was the same God who had kept both me and the minister’s kid from falling into a spiritual (or physical!) ditch still on the job? Could I trust him to care for my daughter?

Pretty much the only answer I was sure about was that yes, God was still on the job, and that he could be trusted. Suddenly, though, all of the Bible promises about God being “with us” seemed more important than ever. I found myself praying verses like Joshua 1:9 over my girl: Do not let Hillary be afraid or discouraged. Be with her wherever she goes.

I asked God to help her be alert and sober-minded, able to resist the devil and stand firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

And I prayed for wisdom and discernment, so that Hillary would be equipped to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I asked God for all sorts of things–physical health and safety, good friendships, academic success–taking God at his word when he tells us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. And, when I’d get weary or wonder if my prayers were making a difference, I drew courage from Jesus’ exhortation that we should “always pray and not give up.”

(That last verse, Luke 18:1, is especially helpful when you send a child to college and they don’t call or text you for more than a week.)

(Ask me how I know.)

Pray with the destination in mind

I think one of the keys to praying effectively “on all occasions” (and to persevering in prayer when everything in you wants to give up) is to be destination oriented, rather that process oriented. We need to leave room for God to move however he chooses. The goal when we pray for our kids–whether we’re sending them off to the first day of preschool or the last year of college–is that they will have a saving relationship with Jesus, one that increasingly informs and animates their thoughts, words, and deeds.

The goal when we pray for our kids

Some of our children will get to God (or get back to God) by walking the straight and narrow; for others, the path may be crooked, painful, and even sometimes dangerous. I talked with one mom who is convinced that God sometimes takes our kids down paths we would not have chosen to keep us from patting ourselves on the back. “We cannot glory-steal from God,” she says. “When our kids come to Christ in a way that only he could have arranged because it looks nothing like we would have hoped for or envisioned, we are much more inclined to give him the credit.”

When you pray for your children in this big-picture way, you trust him to accomplish his best purposes in their lives, no matter how many detours they take, or how many times they may get tripped up along the way. As you pray, though, remember that our kids aren’t the only ones who will face temptation. We will too.

We’ll be tempted to blame ourselves for our kids’ mistakes and second-guess our parenting choices.

We’ll be tempted to live in a world of regrets and “if onlys”, ignoring God’s power (and his desire) to redeem.

And when it looks like nothing is happening and we start to grow weary, we’ll be tempted to give up on the power of prayer.

But let’s not.

Let’s stand firm, knowing that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. It doesn’t matter whether the bad choices in life belong to our kids or to us, or how big the sin is. God loves us. And his grace has us covered.

Looking back on my college experience, I still like the idea that “grace abounds even more.” But I looked up Romans 5:20 in The Message, and as I pray my all-grown-up children (and my all-grown-up self) through life’s tempatations and stumbles, I think I like this translation even better:  “When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.”

❤️

P.S. This post and the prayers it contains are excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. From now until August 31, my friends at FaithGateway are running a back-to-school special on that title, as well as Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenWhen you order any book, you’ll get 47% off the cover price, plus a bunch of freebies to help you pray specifically, and confidently, for your children.

Back to school prayer kit

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating as we send the people we love back to school:  Our prayers release God’s provision. And as we pray, we discover his peace.

Leave a Reply


A Word for the Weary (plus a prayer plan for August)

Maybe it’s the heat, but everywhere I turn–from my DMs and text messages to casual convos with the lady at the post office–people seem to be weary. Not the good kind of weary, like the tiredness you get after a hard day’s work in the garden (or even at the computer), but the the sluggish kind of weary that feels kin to discouragement, or even defeat. The kind that comes with long seasons of waiting. Uncertainty over the future. Relationship ruts. Heat.

The kind of weary that settles in when life just feels hard and you wonder where God is in the mix, or what he is doing.

If you’ve been around this space for awhile, you know I’ve given up trying to figure out what God is doing (or at least I’ve tried to; I still catch myself with questions more often that I want to admit). But I have not let go of my desire to anchor my trust in his promises. Promises like Isaiah 26:3, which says that God will keep us in perfect peace as we trust in him.

If you were one of the more than 20,000 people who prayed the scriptures in July as part of our 31 Days of Prayer, you may remember that verse from Day 28:

Prayer for trusting God Isaiah 26:3

Keep me in perfect peace, even when I don’t know what you are doing. (Isaiah 26:3)

Or Day 18, which featured a prayer for hearing God’s voice:

Isaiah 30:21 prayer for listening to God

Whether I turn to the right or the left, may I hear your voice, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

If you you missed the July challenge, you can download the daily prayer calendar hereBut if you want a new plan–a fresh approach for August (and even beyond)–might I suggest praying your way through the Psalms?

The OG Prayer Book

Think of the Psalms as the OG Prayer Book.

Jesus prayed the Psalms. So did the early church. And so have countless Christians through the ages, in times of weeping and laughter, disappointment and hope, pain and victory. “The Psalms express every human emotion,” writes Tish Harrison Warren, “but, taken up again and again, they never simply leave us as we are. They are strong medicine. They change us.”

Warren is an Anglican priest and the author of a book called A Prayer in the Night. She says it’s not like the Psalms take grieving people and make them “annoyingly peppy and optimistic.” Instead, she writes, the Psalms “form us into a people who can hold the depths of our sorrow with utter honesty even as we hold onto the promises of God.”

As someone who knows what it’s like to live in the tension between weariness, grief, or discouragement while still trusting in God’s goodness and love, I appreciate that perspective. I’ve actually been spending some time in the Psalms this summer (with 150 of them, it’s not like the well is apt to run dry), and they’ve given me fresh reason to stake my faith in God’s word. For instance, when I ran my own weariness and uncertainty through the filter of just two little verses in Psalm 19, I found refreshment, wisdom, gladness, and understanding.

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.

The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.

 

God's instructions revive our weary soul (Psalm 19:7)

God’s word restores us. It can be trusted. It brings us joy. It lights up our way, showing us how to live.

And it helps us pray.

Consider this your invitation to join me in praying your way through the Psalms as we round out the summer. If you’re feeling the heat–literally, or metaphorically in the face of weariness, uncertainty, or anything else that might be sapping your strength–you don’t have to look farther than the first few verses to find your footing. Here’s Psalm 1:2-3 (how’s that for an easy 1-2-3 reference?), expressed as a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May I delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so I will be like a tree planted by streams of water. May I bear fruit without withering and prosper in all that I do.

Amen

Psalm 1:2-3

Leave a Reply


Saints, sinners, and what Italy taught me about abiding

Robbie and I just got back from Italy. It was a bucket-list trip, one made all the sweeter since we went with a group of friends from our church. Billed as the “Saints and Sinners Tour,” I think the idea was to take a bunch of (mostly) old American sinners and introduce us to a bunch of (really) old Italian saints, and hope something good would rub off.

Saints and Sinners Tour book

We marveled over the humility of Francis of Assisi, a pampered party boy who renounced his luxurious lifestyle in order to “wed” Lady Poverty. That move didn’t sit too well with his father–especially when Francis stripped naked in the public square to demonstrate his commitment, leaving the Bishop to try to, um, cover things up:

Giotto's painting of St. Francis standing naked in the public square

We applauded the courage of Catherine of Siena, a spunky saint best remembered for telling Pope Gregory XI (and I’m paraphrasing here) to “Man up!” and get back to his duties in Rome. (The Pope had been living in Avignon; having been to both cities, I can see why he might not have wanted to move.)

Catherine of Siena telling the Pope to return to Rome

And we heard about folks like St. Philip Neri, a Florentine monk who thought Christians ought to be more cheerful than melancholy, and that being holy didn’t mean you had to look serious or sad. Known to carry two things in his pockets–a Bible and a joke book–Neri is one of those saints I hope I get to sit by at the welcome dinner in heaven.

I liked the saint stories, or at least most of them. Truth be told, though, they were not my favorite part of the trip. Maybe I’m just a bigger sinner than most, but what I really loved about Italy were the vineyards. Which, remarkably, seemed to be flourishing.

Vineyard in Italy

I’m no farmer, but I did take one class in meteorology at U.Va., and I could tell it was hot. Over 100 degrees, according to the weather apps on our phones. Plus, Italy was in the midst of a drought. “Pray for rain,” our tour guide pleaded, when she realized our group was on speaking terms with the Lord. “We really need it.”

Sunrise in Italy

We could see what she meant. I woke early one morning to greet the Tuscan sunrise, but I had to look down every few steps. Walking was tricky; the ground was so parched that the soil was cracked.

Cracked soil in Italy

How, I wondered, could anything survive in that heat? How could the vines keep bearing fruit? I would think they’d be spitting out raisins; how come the grapes looked so healthy and lush?

As I pondered these questions, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s whisper. “The branches survive as they stay attached to the vine,” he said. “They don’t have to try to produce grapes; that happens naturally, as they do their one job: Abiding.”

Grapes on the vine

Ahhh. A fresh twist on Christ’s words in John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Created for connection

Like grapevines, you and I are created for connection. The degree to which we stay connected to Christ is the degree to which we will thrive. But what does that vine-branch connection look like in our everyday lives? How do we, practically speaking, abide?

Back in 1900, R.A. Torrey tackled this question in a book that’s now widely considered a classic: How to Pray“To abide in Christ,” he wrote, “is to renounce all life independent of Christ, and constantly look to Him for the inflow of His life into us, and the outworking of His life through us. When we do this, and in so far as we do this, our prayers will obtain that which we seek from God.”

Put another way, when we take Jesus up on his John 15 invitation–when we say yes to dwelling in Christ and letting him dwell in us–our prayer life changes. No longer do we cultivate our own feelings and desires; rather, it is Christ who forms his thoughts, emotions, and purposes in us. And the more we allow this life-giving flow of his life into ours, the more powerful and effective our prayers become.

The more we become people of impact.

The more we live lives marked by purpose and meaning.

The more we bear lush, healthy, life-giving fruit.

Lemon tree

Lemons in Italy

(And yes. I was captivated by the ginormous lemons in Italy. They were like footballs.)

(Well okay. Footballs for children. But still.)

A harvest on the horizon

If you’re following along with our 31-Day Prayer Challenge this month (and if you are, you’re not alone; more than 20,000 people have downloaded the calendar and are praying with us!), you might already be seeing a harvest–or at least a glimpse of it on the horizon, as you allow God’s promises to give shape to your prayers. This week, for example, we invited God to animate our relationships, praying Philippians 2:3-4 (“Let me value others and put their interests above my own”) and asking him to fulfill 1 John 3:18 in our lives (“Give me friends who will love not just with words but with actions”).

 

Day 7: Friendship prayer from Philippians 2:3-4

 

Day 8: Friends prayer from 1 John 3:18

And there are plenty more topics on tap. We’ll ask God to help us to navigate suffering and grief, give us freedom from worry and fear, and teach us use our gifts and talents wisely. We’ll even pray about what it looks like to approach aging well!

31 Days of Prayer Calendar

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing we’ll face in life that God has not already thought of (and provided for!) in his Word. If you want to join us on the prayer challenge, click here for more info. If you just want to download the calendar so you can follow along on your own, click here. And if you want to dig deeper on the whole subject of staying connected to Christ, click here to get your copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God(There’s an entire chapter on what it means to abide, filled with insights from biblical brainiacs who know how to put the hay where the sheep can reach it.)

I’ll leave you with one more reflection from Italy, which comes (appropriately) in the form of a confession.

Yes, I liked the saints. And yes, I liked the vineyards. But what I mostly liked (and what I maybe got in trouble for stealing) was the secret stash of ice I found in the hotel refrigerator.

The cubes were almost as big as the lemons.

And boy-oh-boy, was I grateful.

Enjoying the fruit of the vine

 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Leave a Reply


31 Days of Prayer – Coming in July!

Quick question: Where do you need God’s help right now?

Are you struggling with a challenging relationship? A job that feels too big to accomplish? Anxiety over the future or the current moment?

Whatever the situation is – whatever popped into you mind when you saw that first line – it has not taken God by surprise. He reveals problems not to prompt you to panic, but to invite you to pray. And I’m sliding into your inbox today in the hope that you’ll join me, and a whole bunch of other folks, in saying “yes” to that invitation!

Let’s pray together in July.

31 Days of Prayer Title

The wonderful community at FaithGateway is hosting a 31-day prayer challenge using my Praying the Scriptures calendar. If you’ve seen the calendar, you know there’s a different topic every day – things like trusting God, finding freedom from worry, managing money and time, living with greater gratitude, and experiencing joy.

prayer calendar

Each day includes a short scripture you can pray about that particular need or concern. I’ve said it before: Sometimes, the tiniest verse or phrase in the Bible can do more to transform our thinking and shape our desires than if we were to try and tackle an entire chapter at once (and the bite-sized prayers are much easier to remember!). 🙏🏽 

Download the prayer calendar for free (click here)…

…and then follow along, if you like, on Facebook or Instagram, where we’ll be sharing each day’s prayer prompt in my stories, like this prayer for FORGIVENESS on Day 5:

Day 5 Prayer: Forgiveness

Of course, if you want to know more about any topic, or access a bigger collection of prayers, each day is covered in a different chapter in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life(Click here to learn more or to purchase a copy.) I’ve been so encouraged to hear all the ways that this book and the prayers it contains have helped shape your conversations with God – thank you for letting me know!

Book Cover (sneak peek)

And one more quick thing. Consider inviting a friend to do this prayer challenge with you. Some of my most favorite prayer times have been when I have a partner to come alongside me during a particular season – and who knows? Maybe this little 31-Day experiment will kickstart a daily habit of connecting with God and watching his answers unfold, long after you’ve finished praying!

I’m so looking forward to doing the daily prayer challenge with you, starting next week. There’s nothing like knowing you’re joining your voice with so many others and welcoming Jesus into the prayer circle!

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Warmly,

Jodie

P.S. If you joined us for 31 Days of Prayer last July, you can do it again—this time with a community of fellow believers on a journey of learning to pray Scripture. I’m so grateful to the folks at FaithGateway for all the ways they equip us to draw closer to Jesus and grow daily in grace! ❤️

Leave a Reply


Marriage (and why I lived in a bathrobe)

It’s been a minute, I know. And I’ve missed you. So I’m sliding into your inbox today with a quick personal update, a few scripture prayers, and DIY idea you can try for a marriage you love.

But first, a little backstory.

Last summer, I asked you to let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in a book about marriage. You weighed in with some very specific answers. You wanted principles and prayers you could use for better communication, handling conflict, and knowing how to deal with parents and in-laws. You wondered about intimacy—both the physical and the spiritual kind, particularly where you and your spouse might not be in the same place, faith-wise. And at least one of you asked if I could please write something–anything–that would get your husband to do what you wanted him to do.

Marriage Survey Responses

I put all of these things in the pondering pot and went poking around in the Bible to see what God had to say. I came away convinced that God is crazy about marriage, and that his deepest desire is to equip us to love one another as he loves us: selflessly, lavishly, and in ways that go beyond anything we could ever ask for or imagine.

I also interviewed oodles of people. I talked with everyone: Newlyweds and empty-nesters. Folks who’d spent years on the struggle bus and those for whom the “for better” eclipsed the “for worse.” Couples who were comfortable talking to God–trusting him with their most important relationship–and those who had no idea where to begin.

And then I went into a writing hole. I basically stayed in my bathrobe for a few months, poking my head out of my office just long enough to ask Robbie to read something and give me his feedback. Which was both helpful and hard. Robbie is nothing if not honest. And even though he sent me back to the drawing board more times than a husband who wants to eat dinner “sometime tonight” should ever do, his comments were thoughtful and wise (especially when it came to tricky topics like handling money, experiencing forgiveness, and having good sex).

When it was all said and done, we hit “send” on the manuscript a scant three minutes before it was due. I thought we should celebrate by going to bed (like, to bed-bed. For a month.), but Robbie said it was time for a toast.

A toast to the marriage manuscript

I look tired, I know. I was tired. I am tired.

And honestly? There were plenty of times during the process when I questioned God. Who was I–who were we–to write this book? Would it be any good? And would we have any friends when we finished, since I’d spent such a long time in the hole? Writing is lonely. Writers are lonely. It’s a privilege, to be sure, but if your heart’s desire is to write a book, you need to know, up front, that your social life may take a hit.

(And, if you are like me, you’ll probably gain at least seven pounds in the process.)

The book–cleverly titled Praying the Scriptures for Your Marriage–releases next spring (just in time for wedding season!). I’ll be giving you little sneak peeks between now and then, including excerpts from interviews with folks who’ve done the marriage thing well, folks who’ve navigated the “for better” together, as well as some hard seasons of “worse.”

For now, though, I’ll leave you with three of my favorite marriage prayers–verses you can personalize for yourself, for a friend’s marriage, or even for your unmarried children as you pray for their relationship with their eventual spouse.

Heavenly Father,

Make us kind and compassionate to one another, and quick to forgive. (Ephesians 4:32)

In humility, may we value one another above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to each other’s interests and well-being. (Philippians 2:3-4)

May our marriage be rooted and built up in Jesus. Strengthen our faith and cause us to overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

Amen.

❤️

I put these prayers on a card we gave all the guests last summer at Virginia and Christopher’s wedding.

marriage prayer card

And okay, so it’s not technically a “DIY” project–not unless you’re way better than I am at graphic design. But any local printer (thank you, Virginia Beach Printing!) can help you make your own card, personalizing it with a monogram or a cross or any emblem you like at the top. This makes a sweet party favor at a wedding shower or bridal luncheon, or slip the card into a frame as a gift for a couple you love. Happy wedding season–and happy almost anniversary, Virginia and Chris!

Leave a Reply


The Helper knows what looks good on you

Maybe you’ve heard about the woman who looked at God and said, “So far today, I’m doing all right. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, or told any white lies. I haven’t been greedy, nasty, or selfish. I have not whined or complained or cursed—not even once! And I haven’t charged anything on my credit card or eaten any gluten.

“But…I am going to be getting out of bed in a minute, and I think I will need your help.”

Can you relate? I know I can. When it comes to right living, we all need God’s help. Particularly since obedience—doing the right thing—is linked to living in the warmth of God’s love.

“If you keep my commands,” Jesus says in John 15:10, “you will remain in my love.”

John 15:9-10

Trouble is, obedience does not come naturally. Disobedience comes naturally. “I have the desire to do what is good,” Paul writes, “but I cannot carry it out.” We’d all be doomed, when it comes to desiring and doing the right thing, except for the fact that God knew we’d need help. And he gives it to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, our Helper.

What the Helper Does

If you’ve been following along in my Facebook or Instagram stories through Lent, you know we’ve been reading Catherine Marshall’s classic book, The Helperwhich details forty different ways the Holy Spirit offers practical help in our lives. I’m linking the book in this post, but you might have to settle for a used copy; new ones are hard to come by (and cost waaaay more than the $3.95 I paid for mine, back in 1978).

The Helper (1978 edition)

The Helper does all sorts of valuable things, from reminding us what Jesus said, to equipping us with supernatural power, to guiding us in ways that save us worry and even time. He also (and this is where the ability to do the right thing comes in) gives us new desires. He doesn’t force them on us, of course, but as we entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s keeping and care, he gives us (as Philippians 2:13 puts it), the “desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

I love that. Because honestly? We don’t always know what would please God. Plus, there are plenty of times when we might know the right thing to do but we just don’t want to. Or, like Paul, we might actually have the desire, but we lack the power, or the ability, to see whatever it is through to completion.

In her book, Catherine Marshall tells the story of her friend, Janet, who arrived in Washington, D.C. “deficient in taste and know-how.” Knowing that her friend needed help if she hoped to fit into the city’s sophisticated climate, Marshall connected Janet with a style maven who took her on, waiving the customary fee for her service, and ordered up a beautiful three-piece British tweed suit—something that the newcomer could feel confident wearing in almost any setting.

(Stick with me here. I know a three-piece suit—British or otherwise—might not be a “must have” today, but as a high-schooler in the 1970s who owned one made of royal blue polyester, I would have given anything to have some tweeds of my own.)

As Marshall tells the story, the suit arrived and Janet burst into tears. It was ridiculously expensive—and she wasn’t even sure she liked it! But then, as she wore it, a strange thing happened. She began to love the outfit, and her own taste started to change. “The purchase turned out to be one of the mainstays of Janet’s wardrobe for eight years,” Marshall writes. “The tweeds were not worn out even then.”

God knows what we should wear

Here’s the takeaway:  When we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit (just as Janet submitted her will to that of the big-city stylist), we allow him to go to work in our lives. He transforms us, as Romans 12:2 puts it, renewing our minds—changing the way we think—so we can know God’s will, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

And then, somewhere along the way, it hits us:  Like a professional stylist, God knows better than we do what looks good on us. And when the Holy Spirit tells us what to wear—to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”—we can trust that we will love the result. The Helper has impeccable taste.

The Holy Spirit, our Helper, has impeccable taste

❤️

I shared the story of Janet and the professional stylist in my book, Praying the Scriptures for Your LifeIf you’d like to spend a few more minutes thinking through how the Holy Spirit can work to give you the desire and the power to do what pleases God, here is a brief excerpt from the “Reflect” section at the end of that chapter, along with a few prayers you can pray:

  • God’s commands are always designed for our benefit; they are motivated by love. Likewise, our obedience is born out of relationship, not obligation. Our connection to Christ creates our desire to obey—and it is through obedience that we abide in Christ’s love.
  • Still, though, obedience can be hard. Don’t be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit for help, knowing that your humility acts as a magnet for God’s grace. And remember: God will never give you a command that he doesn’t also give you the power to fulfill. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in your life today.
  • Take a few moments to reflect on what that resurrection power can accomplish in your life. Dry, dead places can become fertile ground; sin’s chains can be broken; radiance can replace shame. Ask God to open your eyes to the beauty of his commands as you surrender yourself to his keeping, trusting the Holy Spirit to give you both the desire and the power to do what pleases God.

Heavenly Father…

Work in me to will and to act to fulfill your good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

Create in me a clean heart. Restore the joy of my salvation and make me willing to obey you. (Psalm 51:10-12 NLT)

Don’t let me be arrogant and stiff-necked, refusing to obey your commands. May I listen to you, knowing that you are gracious and compassionate towards me, slow to anger and abounding in love. (Nehemiah 9:16-17)

Leave a Reply


Easter Basket Book Giveaway

We’re a month away from Easter, and baby Noah and I are just hopping into your in-box today to let you know about our favorite freebie of the year:  THE EASTER BASKET BOOK GIVEAWAY.

Easter Basket Giveaway

Every year, we pick a few of our best-loved new releases – books we think families will enjoy – and share them with you. If you want to win the Easter Giveaway, pop on over to my IG account to tag one of your favorite bunnies, but for now I’ll just go ahead and tell you what’s in the basket this year. (Click on any of the titles to learn more or order on Amazon; books may also be available at ChurchSource.com, ChristianBook.com, or your favorite local bookseller.)

Little One, We Knew You’d Come is the latest release from beloved author Sally Lloyd-Jones. (You know her from the Jesus Storybook Bible.) It’s a beautifully illustrated way to celebrate the joy of new life and love when a baby is born. Noah especially loved the last line: “…we’re so glad you’ve come!”

Little One Easter Giveaway

What If It’s Wonderful? Release Your Fears, Choose Joy, & Find the Courage to Celebrate is by Nicole Zasowski, a licensed marriage and family therapist who says that God’s purpose for us is not just worked out in our struggles, but also in our dreams and our joys. Nicole makes the psychological and spiritual case for celebration, encouraging us to approach life with an expectant heart and the courage to trust that God really is good. I’d snag this one on the strength of the title alone.

What if it's Wonderful

(Noah loved the party horn we tried with What If It’s Wonderful; she couldn’t get it to unfurl but that didn’t stop her from making kazoo-like noises to celebrate!)

Wonderful 2 - Easter Giveaway

Next up in the Easter Giveaway Basket is the updated version of a time-tested classic loved by generations of families:

Honey for a Child's Heart Easter Giveaway

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is for anyone who wants to discover wholesome, nourishing books for their kids. I wish I’d known about this resource when our kids were growing up; the annotated list of books for kids ages 0-12 is more than a little impressive, whether you’re looking for a good read-aloud story or if you just want to cultivate your child’s love for reading. (True confession: I looked through the list and I’m ordering several of the author’s recommendations for myself!)

And as someone who is currently testing the theory, “If you don’t clean for six months, the dust doesn’t get any worse,” I am both challenged and inspired by Christy Fitzwater’s Keeping House: A 30-Day Meditation on the Value of HousekeepingIf Christy cleans even half as well as she writes, her house must be sparkling. If you’re looking for some fresh inspo as you tackle the routine jobs that come with keeping house (and you want to draw closer to God in the process), this one’s for you.

Keeping House Easter Giveaway

And finally, my favorite: Raising Prayerful Kids, by Stephanie Thurling and Sarah Holmstrom. The subtitle on this one says it all: Fun & Easy Activities for Building Lifelong Habits of Prayer. 

Raising prayerful kids 2 - Easter Giveaway

From fun crafts like paper prayer chains and blessing bags, to soul-rich introductions to things like The Lord’s Prayer and the practice of Lectio Divina, to discussion prompts and sometimes laugh-out-loud stories, I can already tell that this is one of those books that’s gonna be the go-to resource every time we get to babysit the grandkids.

So…click the links in this post, check the reviews, and if you think you’d like to win the whole bundle, I’ll see you on Instagram! (Winner announced Sunday…gotta get these books in the mail before Easter!)

Raising Prayerful Kids Easter Giveaway

 

Leave a Reply


How to rejoice (even when it’s somebody else’s big win)

(This post about knowing how to rejoice with other people – to celebrate when someone else has a win – ran earlier this week over at Club31Women.com, a place where you’ll find all sorts of good things for yourself and your family. I’m sharing the message again today, partly in case you missed it but mostly because there’s no such thing as too much cheering for one another!)

“Friendship doubles our joys and divides our griefs.”

I’ve read that quote countless times over the years, starting in high school when my English teacher chalked it on the top right corner of the blackboard.

The thought made sense to me then, and it dovetailed neatly with what Paul wrote to the Romans when he explained what love should look like in everyday life: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” he said. “Mourn with those who mourn.”

Now, some forty years removed from that English classroom, I still believe friendship—loving others well—has the power to multiply joy and divide sorrow. But I wonder why we’re so much better at the second part of Paul’s command than the first. Why do we find it easier to weep with a friend when she’s hurting than to magnify her delight when she has a win?

Maybe it’s jealousy: We want what she has.

Maybe it’s insecurity: We compare ourselves and feel like we don’t measure up.

Maybe it’s a critical spirit: We know who she is; she doesn’t deserve the blessing.

Or maybe it’s fear: We worry, somehow, that if God showers his gifts on somebody else, he won’t have enough left for us.

Whatever the reason, the Bible is full of examples of folks who loved well—who entered into each other’s joy—and those who didn’t.

Consider how Elizabeth greeted Mary, when the young mother-to-be showed up at her house. “Blessed are you among women,” she cried, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43) Elizabeth could have been bitter or jealous (Why had it taken her so long to conceive? Why hadn’t she been chosen to bear the Messiah?), but she wasn’t. Instead, in humility, she shared Mary’s joy, fueling the younger woman’s faith with affirmation and blessing. What a gift!

On the flip side, there’s David’s wife Michal, who stared out the window as her husband danced and celebrated when God’s ark came into the City. King David and his entourage—Israel’s elders, commanders, Levites, musicians—“went rejoicing,” Scripture says, but Michal (who found David’s conduct shameless and vulgar) “was filled with contempt.” (1 Chronicles 15:25-29)

Elizabeth became the mother of John the Baptist; Michal remained childless to the day of her death.

How do we become like Elizabeth instead of Michal? Put another way, how do we cultivate a spirit of humility—one that is quick to celebrate someone else—instead of a spirit of criticism and contempt?

How do we rejoice with those who rejoice?

First, we can anchor our identity not in who we are or what we do, but in our status as God’s beloved. God loves us—and wants to bless us—just because we are his, and an awareness of who we are in his sight can keep things like jealousy, insecurity, and fear from gaining a foothold in our lives.

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Second, we can pray with expectant joy for our friends, interceding for them when they struggle and giving thanks when they succeed. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Praying for someone else gives you a vested interest in their well-being and opens the door to sincere and generous love.

And finally, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help. We don’t have to worry that he’ll see our warts and our weakness; he already knows all about that and he is always praying on our behalf.

What about you? Where have you found it hard to enter into someone else’s joy? What keeps you from celebrating when a friend has a big win? Confess any jealousy, insecurity, or fears to the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to help you anchor your identity in your status as God’s beloved.

Psalm 112:5 says, “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely.” Let’s be generous with our love, coming alongside others in their hard times and, even more, in their rejoicing.

❤️

You can read more about joy-sharing friendships–and how to cultivate them–in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life:  31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Does your Valentine have a long nose?

Does your Valentine have a long nose?

That question might seem peculiar (and okay, it kind of is), but don’t blame me. Blame the Apostle Paul, who brought it up.

In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote a lot about love. You know the passage I’m talking about; you’ve heard it at a bazillion weddings. And in fact, when our son Robbie got married, the minister cautioned against dismissing the passage as cheesy or cliché, since it’s become so familiar.

Wedding photo

I’m talking, of course, about 1 Corinthians 13. That’s the one where Paul says that whatever we do–no matter how noble or moral or jaw-droppingly generous–is basically worthless, if it’s not motivated by love.

And then he details what love looks like:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

That’s really good stuff, but it’s a bit of a mouthful. So with Valentine’s Day almost upon us, let’s just bite off what we can chew.

Love is patient.

The Greek word for patience in this verse is makrothumia, which means long-suffering. Or, even more literally, long-passioned. You know what a short-tempered person acts like, right? Picture the opposite. Picture someone who waits before expressing their anger. Someone you feel safe with. Someone who makes you feel loved.

Picture God.

Because honestly? The kind of patience Paul is writing about is the kind of patience God extends toward us. “He is not slow in keeping his promise,” Scripture says. “Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” It’s that very patience, coupled together with God’s unlimited kindness, that makes us want to love him back.

God wants us to have that sort of patience with one another–and especially, I have to believe, with our Valentine. (Particularly if our Valentine is someone we’ve lived with for, say, 37 years.) God knows, and studies show, that being generous toward our loved one–extending patience and kindness instead of anger and contempt–can create an “virtuous cycle,” one where love begets love.

But what if you’re not a naturally makrothumiac-ish person? (Don’t @ me, all you Greek scholars; I’m trying.)

The good news–the great news, actually–is that we might not be naturally patient. But that’s okay. Because God offers a super-natural answer. Makrothumia is something the Holy Spirit produces in us; all we have to do is say yes.

Okay, so I know some of you are wondering what any of this has to do with being long-nosed. I’m getting there. Be patient.

(Had to.)

Paul was writing to Greek-speaking people, so he used Greek. Had he been writing in Hebrew, he would have used ’erek appayim. Which, as we all know, literally means “long of nose.”

For instance (stay with me here), in Exodus 34:6 when God describes himself to Moses, he says he is “The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness!”

This verse could actually be translated like this:

“The God of compassion and mercy! I am long of nose and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness!”

Why does God say he is long of nose? I don’t know. But as someone whose own nose gives my face what some people call “character,” I am grateful for the Hebrew translation. I just wish my patience were as prominent as my proboscis. 😉

What about you? Could you use a little more makrothumia in your love life? Could your Valentine?

If so, you’ll find lots of prayer prompts in my book Praying the Scriptures for Your Life, which includes chapters on loving others (even when that doesn’t come naturally), waiting well, and asking God for things like patience and kindness in your marriage. Click here to order.

And in the meantime, here are three of my favorite “patience prayers” you can pray. I’m sending these along with armloads of love and warmest wishes for a Happy Valentine’s Day!

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Fill us with the knowledge of your will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that we may be strengthened with all power and have great endurance and patience. (Colossians 1:9-11)

Equip us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Help us be completely humble and gentle. May we be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

Amen

Robbie and Mary's Wedding

(Photos by Jen Fariello.)

Leave a Reply


A (Printable) Prayer for the New Year

What do you want God to do for your family this year? Is there a particular prayer on your heart that you hope he will answer?

If you’ve read my books or hung around the edges of this space for more than a minute, you probably know about my one of my favorite family traditions: Prayer hands. And if you want to skip this next part and head straight for the printable at the end of this post, be my guest!

But if you want the back-story on why I love this tradition, here it is:

Every year (usually in late December), I spend some time  thinking and praying about each of my children. I consider where they are spiritually, socially, physically, and emotionally. I think about their schoolwork (now their jobs), their relationships, their character, and how they use things like money, talents, and time. I put all of this stuff in the pondering pot, and then I ask God to clue me in as to what he might want to do in their lives, what purposes he might want to accomplish, how he might want to bless them in the year to come.

And then I go poking around in the Bible like I’m searching for treasure (I am!), and when I find a verse or a passage that speaks to whatever it is that I think God might be up to, I commit to praying those words over my child, off and on, all year long.

Prayer hands through the years

When the kids were younger, I’d trace each child’s hand on a piece of colored cardstock, write the prayer verse on the hand (personalizing it with their name), and date it. And because laminating is one of my love languages, I’d do that too. I’d stick the finished product on the refrigerator, where the prayer hand would serve both as a reminder (to me) and a reassurance (to my kids) that their earthly parent was talking to their heavenly parent on their behalf.

God answered these prayers in some above-and-beyond ways. In 2001, for example, he gave Robbie Jr. wisdom and self-discipline in place of impulsiveness and a wayyyy-too-short fuse, an answer to a Proverbs 23:23-24 prayer that continued to play out as he grew. And in 2003, God softened Virginia (who’d been known to bluntly warn other kids on the playground that they were going to hell) with discernment and grace, setting her up for a lifetime of living out Daniel 12:3.

Robbie & Virginia prayer hands

Later, when the children grew up (and their hands were no longer cute enough for the fridge), I began making bookmarks. And God continued to pour out his provision, often in ways that didn’t look at all like what I was expecting. For instance (and if you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, you know this punchline), my 2014 prayer for our daughter Hillary was based on Isaiah 62:2-4. I wanted Hillary to know that she was a “crown of splendor” in God’s hand, and that he took great delight in her. That was not a bad prayer, but God had a bigger (and better) idea. I didn’t pay much attention to this part when I began praying, but the passage talks about getting a “new name.” Sure enough, that was the year God brought Charlie into the picture–and Hillary got him and his name.

Hillary and Charlie wedding (answered prayer)

God prompts us to pray

Why do I like these long-term prayers? Put another way, what makes the prayer hands/bookmarks so special, as opposed to the prayers we might pray, day-to-day, as needs arise?

For one thing, when we commit to spending a whole year praying about one particular thing, we learn to wait well, trusting God even when we can’t see what he’s doing. We give him time to work. And we get out of the way so he can weave in answers and blessings we hadn’t even known we wanted.

On an even deeper level, I love the way that God works through the pondering process, as I consider my kids and their needs. I may think I am setting things in motion when I pray, but in reality, God is the initiator. When he gives us a glimpse into what he is doing, he does so in order to awaken in us a response–one he expected to awaken.

God prompts us to pray. And what a privilege it is to partner with him, through our prayers, to accomplish his good purposes in our children’s lives.

God initiates prayer graphic

One “all-family” prayer

If you follow me on social media, you may know that in recent years I’ve added one “all-family” prayer that I put on the back of each person’s bookmark. I see the two-sided version as a way of asking God to work in our individual lives, even as he grows us as a family.

Our 2021 prayer was based on 1 Thessalonians 3:12, “May our love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else.” (That seemed like a good one, especially as we welcomed a new son- and daughter-in-law. What could be better than love overflowing?)

This year’s prayer is from Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” When I read that verse in mid-December, I thought: That’s it. That’s all I could ever want for my kids and grandkids: More and more of God’s Spirit, along with his blessing.

I phrased the Isaiah promise as a prayer and made bookmarks for the whole crew:

prayer bookmark - Isaiah 44:3

If you like the idea but you’re not sure where to start, you’re welcome to copy our bookmark. Click here to download the Isaiah 44:3 prayer in printable form.

And if you want to personalize your bookmarks with an individual prayer for each child on the back, help yourself to any of the verses in this post. Or pick something from one of the prayer calendars you’ll find at JodieBerndt.com. (I’ve linked the version for children here; there are others for teens and adults.) Or go on your own treasure hunt, asking the Holy Spirit to show you which verses to pray!

(And psst – don’t worry about picking the “perfect” verse. They’re all good, and if you find something you like better next week or next month, you can switch! 😉)

May God pour out his Spirit on your children, his blessing on your descendants. Happy 2022!

❤️

Our granddaughter, Noah, took her first steps recently. Which made me think about walking. Which made me think of Jesus’s invitation in John 8:12“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Noah likes Robbie better than she likes me, so I volunteered him for the hand-tracing job:

Noah and Robbie make a prayer hand

Noah 2022 prayer hand

Leave a Reply


O Holy Night: The story behind the song

Years ago, back when I thought Spotify was a stain remover, Annesley’s not-yet mother-in-law—a gal who loves music more than almost anybody we know—gave us what might be the best Christmas gift ever:  A CD on which she had burned O Holy Night.

Twenty-seven times.

O Holy Night CD

We heard Carrie Underwood. Pentatonix. Bing Crosby. And 24 more incredible voices—each one seemingly better than the artists before and after. That one disc is the reason we still have a CD player; we play the thing on repeat every year. Every line—from the thrill of hope for the weary soul to the promise of an end to oppression—feels weightier and more glorious with each new Christmas season.

And you can imagine, when we got our hands on a copy of Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas a few weeks ago, which song we read about first…

Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas

The “O Holy Night” story begins in France in 1847, when a wine merchant—a fellow known more for his poetry than his church-going—was asked by a parish priest to write a poem for Christmas mass.

Intuiting that the poem should be religious, wine guy turned to the gospel of Luke. He tried to picture himself in the narrative; what would it have been like to be present at Jesus’ birth? Inspired, he quickly finished the piece and then, “moved by his own work” (I loved that line from the book), he decided his words were not simply words; they were lyrics.

Not being musically gifted himself, wine guy tapped his pal Adolph, a brilliant and already famous composer. Music guy went to work and the result—a song called Cantique de Noel—became a smash hit in France…

…until wine guy threw his lot in with the Socialists (which did not sit well with the Catholics) and it was revealed that music guy was a Jew. Sensing a sticky situation, the church banned the song. Cantique de Noel was effectively cancelled.

Except that the French people loved it. And kept singing it. So much so that, a decade later, a reclusive American writer—a Harvard Divinity grad who would have been a minister but for the debilitating panic attacks that kept him out of the pulpit—discovered the song and translated it for an American audience. O Holy Night took off on our side of the pond and, in 1906, it became the first song ever broadcast on radio.

You can read the whole tale in the book; author Ace Collins provides lots more details—like places and dates and actual names—in a chapter that’s nine pages long. I just had to share a quick recap.

Because only God could take these particular people—a poet who knew wine but not the true Vine, a composer who didn’t call Jesus “Messiah,” and a minister so crippled by anxiety that he could not go out in public—and use them to create such a powerful, enduring song.

And only God can take us—with our doubts and our fears and our messy, upside-down lives—and call us Beloved.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name!

O Holy Night lyrics

Merry Christmas, Friends. May all that is within us praise His holy name!

Leave a Reply


DIY Advent Printable to Ignite Praise

(Friends…many thanks to those of you who told me that the Thanksgiving printable prayers were too big to download. Whoopsie! We’ve made some tweaks in case you want to try again and use the cards as stocking stuffers or hostess gifts; click here to access that file. You’ll be glad to know that the Advent printable in this post is much more manageable; I printed the cards from my phone…hope you love ’em as much as I do!)

Advent candles

Ready or not, here it comes!

Advent officially begins on Sunday. And if you’re like me, that can conjure a mix of emotions.

On the one hand, I adore Christmas. I love everything about it:  The carols, the gift-giving, the tree-trimming, the lights. The everyday, everywhere reminders that Jesus is born.

On the other, the everyday, everywhere reminders can leave my soul feeling stressed. “O come let us adore him,” the radio beckons. And I can’t wait to do that–just as soon as I get the presents wrapped, the cards mailed, the cookies iced. Then, I tell myself, then I will be able to settle down and adore.

Maybe you find yourself in the same place.

Or maybe it’s not the busy-ness of the season that holds you back. Maybe you hear the invitation to adoration and you just don’t feel like giving God praise. Maybe this will be your first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe anxiety, disappointment, or fear over a child’s circumstances has dealt a blow to your faith. Or maybe you’re just plain bone-tired after not-one-but-two very long years.

Advent Adoration

If that’s where you find yourself today–longing to experience the thrill of hope but too hurting, too anxious, or too weary to open your heart–may I offer a gentle suggestion?

God doesn’t need us to come to him full of faith, brimming with joy, or overflowing with energy. He simply invites us to come–as we are–and adore. And as we do what my friend Sara Hagerty says and “sing our way into the truth,” something happens. The very act of praising (even when we don’t feel like it) releases the power of God into our lives.

Praise opens the door to hope.

One of my most favorite ways to praise God is to reflect on his attributes. I find that the more I think about who God is–merciful, faithful, Almighty, kind–the more my perspective changes. Problems that once loomed impossibly scary or large begin to shrink in the light of his splendor.

Psalm 100 says we come into God’s presence with praise; Psalm 22 says God is enthroned on our praises. If you long to draw near to God–to experience his closeness as you draw near to Christmas–adoration is the avenue that will get you there. And if you aren’t sure where to begin or how God’s attributes might impact your life, this DIY Advent calender might be a good place to start.

Advent Cards on table

Just print, cut, and fold!

The Advent printable includes 25 cards, each one highlighting a different one of God’s character traits. They’re super easy to access – just print, cut, and fold! 

Cut Advent Printable

Display the cards with the numbers facing out as you welcome December, and then flip them over discover a new facet of God’s nature every day. You can hang the cards on a strand of twine, prop them on a mantle, or or keep them in a bedside box as a reminder of God’s lavish love!

Advent Printable on mantle

Advent Printable on twine

Advent Printable on Mantle 1

I designed this Advent printable as a Christmas gift for our email community; you won’t find the cards available elsewhere. If you have friends who’d enjoy this printable or the blogs, please encourage them to visit jodieberndt.com to subscribe and join us!

As a current subscriber, you don’t need any special code to access the Advent printable; simply click here and follow the prompts to download. And as you consider each card, talk about God’s character with your children. Ask questions, even if you don’t know all the answers.

Advent Attribute - God is our counselor

For instance…

  • God is our COUNSELOR. Where do you need his wisdom or guidance today?
  • God is SOVEREIGN. How does it make you feel to know that he is in control?
  • God is IMMANUEL. What difference does it make to know that he is with us?

God is Immanuel…and so much more. Whatever your need, wherever you are, our Savior has you covered. May you sense his nearness, his love, and his grace in increasing measure in the month ahead.

Merry Christmas!

❤️

For further reflection on the power of praise, take a look at 2 Chronicles 20. I read that particular chapter this week and was struck, not for the first time, of what happens when we meet a crisis with praise.

Jehoshaphat learns that a vast army–one made up of three different nations–is about to attack. Alarmed, he resolves to ask God what to do. “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us,” he says. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Then he recounts God’s past faithfulness (he considers God’s character) and–get this!–he appoints men to march out in front of the army and sing praises to God for “the splendor of his holiness.” (v. 21)

What happens next is nothing short of remarkable. As Jehoshaphat’s men start to sing and praise, God…

Well, I’ll let you read the story for yourself. As you do, keep in mind that the tide didn’t turn until the praises began. Praise conquers our fears, sharpens our perspective, and releases God’s power.

“We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Let’s keep our gaze fixed on Jesus this Christmas season!

 

Leave a Reply


Printable Prayers for Your Thanksgiving Table

(In case you missed these last year, I’m sliding into your inbox with a set of printable prayers for your Thanksgiving table–or wrap ’em up as a hostess gift if you’re not doing the cooking!)

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

Robbie and I are gearing up to host our whole crew:  Two sets of newlyweds, extended in-laws, a couple of grandbabies, and at least one pair of very sleep-deprived parents. Plus, we’ve got an assortment of four-legged guests. Tilly the Quarantine Kitty is making the trek from the Big Apple and bringing her brand-new bunkmate:

Rugby the Big Apple Puppy

It’s shaping up to be the good kind of crazy.

Except…the dishwasher is leaking.

As is the puppy.

Which is why I am glad I still have last year’s set of printable prayers. I might be up to my eyeballs in dirty dishes and puppy pee pads, but at least the Thanksgiving table has a chance to look good!

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Even more than that, the prayer cards serve tangible reminders of what Alexander Macleran, the great British preacher, called “the crowded kindnesses of God.”

The printable prayers include thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I tucked a card into each place setting last year; they’d also be fun to “hide” under plates for folks to discover when they help clear the dishes. And who knows? Maybe your guests might even be nudged to use the cards to pray for each other before the tryptophan coma sets in!

prayer cards

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a phone).

And as you reflect on God’s crowded kindnesses–his provision, his mercy, his love–may you continue to be rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith, and overflowing with thankfulness! (Colossians 2:6-7)

❤️

P.S.  The printable prayers make a nice teacher or hostess gift, especially if you print them on quality card stock and add a  display easel. I found this gold one on Amazon (it comes in a package of six):

Prayer Cards with gold easel

And psst…I’m also working on an Advent-themed printable exclusively for email subscribers. Be on the lookout for that one in the next week or so–assuming the new puppy doesn’t eat my homework!

Leave a Reply


Doing Life with Your Adult Children (Wisdom from Dr. Jim Burns)

If you’ve got adult children, chances are good that you also have questions. Questions like…

When should I give advice, and when is it better to keep my mouth shut?

What’s the difference between helping and enabling?

Is it okay to let my adult children fail? What if they really blow it? What then?

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure (the fun!) of interviewing a fellow who has answers to questions like these.

Dr. Jim Burns interview

Dr. Jim Burns would be the FIRST to tell you that he’s not a parenting “expert.” But with a Ph.D., a book called Doing Life with Your Adult Children, and three all-grown-up kids in his bio, Jim has both the education and the experience to weigh in on any number of tricky topics, and I loved our convo.

If you missed it and want to watch, click here.

And if all you’ve got time for is a quick highlight, I’ll recap Jim’s counsel on one of the questions I hear all the time from my own readers: What do I do when my kids make a really bad choice? How should I respond?

Because let’s be honest. Our kids will all blow it, in one way or another. They might get in trouble. They might violate our values. Or they might just do stuff that boggles our minds, like when one of my relatives tried to unclog his toilet with a cherry bomb. He dropped it in the bowl and then stood on the lid.

(I’ll wait while you just process that one for a sec.)

The consequences of poor choices can be really, um, messy. They can be hard to clean up. And the fallout might last a long time.

C.S. Lewis noted that “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

C.S. Lewis quote on Hardships

That’s a motivational thought (and one we might all agree with), but when it’s your child who’s walking through something awful–a toxic relationship, a battle with substance abuse, a pornography addiction, a rejection of faith–it can be heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking. And as parents, we can find ourselves flooded with doubt.

Was it something I did?

Should we have prayed more, as a family? Gone on mission trips instead of vacations?

Would this have happened if my marriage hadn’t failed?

The what-ifs, Jim says, can paralyze our souls and crush our confidence. But as I’ve said in this space before, our ability to ruin our kids is nothing compared to God’s power (and his desire) to redeem them. And as Jim writes in his book, “Your child’s regrettable decisions do not make you a bad parent. Even good parents have children who make poor choices.”

Jim Burns quote - good parents have kids who make poor choices

So what do we do, moving forward? How can we love our kids well, even when we don’t love the choices they make?

Jim made lots of good points in our talk (and you’ll find even more in his book), but here are three of my top takeaways:

For starters, don’t bail your kids out. Their crisis doesn’t need to be your crisis, and when you repeatedly step in to “save” them, you might unintentionally block the path to healing and wholeness. “If you take on the consequences your child should be experiencing,” Jim says, “you are robbing them of an opportunity for growth and change.”

Next, don’t be a one-topic parent. Our adult children already know how we feel about the choices they’ve made;  instead of harping on whatever it is that is breaking your heart, talk about other things. Engage your child the way you’d talk with a friend. Talk with them, not at them. Ask open-ended questions about issues where you might not know all the answers, and listen more than you speak.

And finally, relinquish your kids to God’s care. This one is seldom easy, but it’s super important. We can’t fix our kids, but we can make the deliberate choice to entrust them to a God who knows them, and loves them, even more than we do. We can pray the same prayer that Jim does every day: “God, I release my children to your loving care and tender mercies.”

All of these things–the tough love, the grace-filled conversations, the surrendering of our kids to God’s care–can create a climate where healing and growth can take place, one in which relationships flourish.

Which, at the end of the day, is what matters. Because the number one thing our adult kids want to know isn’t what we think of their choices or what we wish they would do. The number one thing they are asking is this: “Do you still love me?”

Do you still love me.

Is that what the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel wanted to know? He certainly didn’t feel worthy of love. He knew he’d made a mess of his life. He did not expect to be welcomed with open arms.

And yet that’s how his father–our Father–received him.

We can do the same thing. We can love our adult children, even when we don’t love the choices they make. We can ask God to bless and protect them, even as we ask him–and trust him–to work on their hearts. And we can be ready, with arms open wide, to welcome them when they come home

“Do you still love me?”

We know, even when our hearts break in a million pieces, that the answer is always yes.

❤️

If you’d like some specific ways to pray for your adult children’s needs–whether it’s a marriage concern, a crippling addiction, or they’re just in a lonely place where you want God to bless them with friends–you’ll find encouraging stories and hundreds of prayer prompts in my book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children.

Adult Children - never out of God's reach

And if you’d like to hear more from Dr. Jim Burns, check out his book (which, I must say, has one of the best subtitles I’ve ever seen):  Doing Life with Your Adult Children:  Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out.

Jim Burns book - Doing Life with Your Adult Children

(As always, I only recommend books here that I truly love, and f you purchase via a link in the post, I make a tiny commission…for which I am grateful.)

Leave a Reply


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.

 

Leave a Reply


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. 💙

Leave a Reply


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! 🙂

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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.” 

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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!)

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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!)

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


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 

Leave a Reply


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.

❤️

 

 

Leave a Reply


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!)

Leave a Reply


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

 

Leave a Reply


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

Leave a Reply


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!

Leave a Reply


A light to scatter the darkness

I think I’m addicted to light.

I was, actually, diagnosed with that SAD disease in my early twenties (a verdict that came as good news when the doc said a trip to Florida was the best cure for what ailed me), but it’s not just sunlight that makes my heart sing. I’m drawn to all kinds of light: candle light, firelight, even the refrigerator light that glows such warm welcome in the wee hours of the night.

I love light, and when this year’s Grand Illumination–the one-street wonder that kicks off Christmas in our neck of the woods–got cancelled due to Covid, it came as a blow. Not a surprise, given the stadium-sized crowd the event draws every year, but still. An emotional setback.

Christmas lights have a way of keeping the gloom of winter at bay. They fill hearts with hope. And in a year that seems bleaker than most, I find myself drawn, like the proverbial moth, not just to lighted windows and trees, but also to Scriptures that come with the power to push back the darkness.

candle-light-in-the-darkness

Verses like Isaiah 9:2, which heralds the coming of Christ: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Or John 8:12, where Jesus reveals himself as the light of the world and makes an incredible promise: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Or John 1:4-5. Here, John says that Jesus gave light and life to everyone, piercing the darkness with a flame that nothing could ever snuff out or smother.

The-light-shines-in-the-darkness-verse

Isn’t that…remarkable? Here we are in the waning days of 2020, surrounded by a world of darkness–families unable to gather, loved ones sick, churches closed–and yet God says we have light. We have the light of life. We are encircled by, and enfolded in, Jesus–a living beacon the darkness can never extinguish.

I don’t know about you, but to me that comes as very good news.

Still, though, there are days–seasons, even–when the clouds try to press in. Days when we know the light’s there, but we cannot perceive it. Days when the gloom settles heavy.

If that’s where you find yourself now–if you need to Christ’s light to kindle hope in your heart this Advent season–can I invite you to lean in with me? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but here are three things that might help.

First, allow Scripture to scatter your darkness. The Bible says that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. But don’t just read the words on the page; speak them back to God in prayer form. Here’s how John 8:12 might be prayed:

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world. Teach me to follow you so that I will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

Second, shed some light on your soul with a life-giving book. I’m loving Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest GiftIt’s meant to be an Advent devotional, tracing the promise of Christ through the Old Testament one December day at a time, but I feel like it would work as a post-Christmas reading. I expect to be digging in all over again, come the dark days of January.

Ann Voskamp book "The Greatest Gift"

And finally, hang some lights.

When Robbie heard the Grand Illumination was cancelled, he missed barely a beat. He spent a couple of days climbing ladders, straddling balconies, and burrowing into the bushes, and then, as darkness fell, he ushered us all out into the yard. Threading his way from outlet to outlet, cord to cord, plug to plug, he lit up our night.

It might not have been the Grand Illumination, but it was our illumination. And it was marvelous.

And honestly? When January rolls around, I think we’ll keep the Christmas lights up. The days will still be short, Covid will still be long, and I’ll probably want to crawl into a hole and wait for the first crocus to spout. I will need–I will cherish–the visible reminder of who Jesus is.

He is the light, and the love, that no darkness can douse.

❤️

P.S. People, as it turns out, are not the only creatures who love light.

I know this because Quarantine Kitty–the one Virginia scooped from the SPCA nine months ago when she fled New York City as the pandemic started to spread–does not go outside. And when the rest of us went out to ooh and ahh over Robbie’s handiwork, the cat did her own light inspection.

Evidently, they taste as good as they look.

Window light with candle intact

Where the candle tip should have been

Quarantine Kitty with Christmas decor

 

Leave a Reply


A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

I know I’m not a Monday email-er, but I’m sliding into your inbox today to kick off Thanksgiving week and let you know how much I appreciate YOU.

When we launched the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, my publishing team tucked a set of Scripture prayer cards in with some of the very first copies of the book.

prayer cards

We had no idea how popular those cards would be, but once I realized how much people liked them, I asked the design folks if they could re-create the cards in a printable form so I could share them with our growing online friend group. I’m so incredibly grateful for your encouragement and support!

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a mobile device).

The set includes thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I think they’d be fun tucked into napkins or hidden under plates at the Thanksgiving table–maybe as a “prayer prompt” folks can use to pray for the person seated to their right, if your crew is comfy with that.

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Or, if you’re one of those squared-away people who is already done wrapping-and-tagging, the prayer cards make meaningful stocking stuffers (especially if you pray them over your children while Santa tucks the cards in with the gifts)!

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend or a teacher, package all thirteen cards together with a little easel. I found this one on Amazon as part of a set of six; click here if that appeals.

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

And as you do, know that I have prayed each one of these prayers over you. I may not know all your names or your needs, but God does. I love knowing that you are on “the other side” of these emails, and that we can meet, as a friend of mine says, “on the bridge of prayer.”

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)

Much love,

Jodie

P.S. The prayer cards are meant as a thank you gift for email subscribers, but if you want to forward this note, that’s fine with me. Of course, I always love “meeting” new friends, so if you know someone who might like to receive these posts and prayer prompts (the emails show up once or twice a month on random Fridays), please invite them to subscribe. Thank you for sharing!

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


I Will Sit With You in the Dark

“When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.”

That’s the message on a little rock I saw awhile back at a farmers’ market. One of our daughters was facing some seemingly insurmountable hurdles in her job, and I knew she was discouraged. I’d offered what little wisdom I had, but it hadn’t changed things. Maybe, I thought, she just needed to know that she wasn’t alone.

I bought the rock. And gave it to her.

Sit with you in the dark rock

And then I thought about Joseph, the technicolor-coat guy.

You know the story: Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, rose to power in the house where he served, got tossed into jail on a trumped-up attempted rape charge, languished in prison for years, and then–finally–found himself at Egypt’s helm, running a famine-relief program that saved not just that nation, but her neighbors as well.

A lot of folks (myself included) like this story because of its happy and redemptive ending. “You intended to harm me,” Joseph tells his brothers when they’re finally reunited, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

It’s a great punchline to a roller-coaster of a story, and it’s true: God does work, in all things, for the good of those who love him.

But what about Joseph’s long years in the dark? What about the time he spent out of the spotlight, wondering (I imagine) why God was letting him languish? Did God still love him? Had he been forgotten? Was God even paying attention?

What you need to know in the dark

These are legitimate questions, ones we may wrestle with when we find ourselves in a pit. Being in a difficult or pain-filled season rarely makes sense. And trying to figure God out never helps; “My thoughts,” he says, “are not your thoughts.”

(As if we need reminding of that.)

What does help, I’ve found, is knowing that God is in the pit with you.

The Bible tells us that God was with Joseph, both in the fancy house where he served and in the dark jail. And it says that he is with us today–and that he’ll be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Scripture has plenty of “God with you” verses–check out Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17, and Hebrews 13:5 for a quick sample set–but one of my favorites (at least when we find ourselves in the dark) is Psalm 139:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Application?

First, no matter how high we go, how low we sink, or how far we fly, God is there.

Second, he promises to guide us and hold us fast.

And third, the darkness–even the blackest, most desolate night–is not dark to God.

You are not alone

Not long ago, our little farmer’s market purchase made its way to the home of another family member. It wasn’t the first time the “sit with you in the dark” message got re-gifted; that rock has made the rounds with our crew. As one of my daughters once put it, “It’s not something you ever want to get, but when you do, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.”

You are not alone.

Whoever painted our little rock had no idea how powerful his or her message would turn out to be. Because while it’s good to have a friend or a family member who will sit with you in the dark (someone, as the old story goes, with “skin on”), what’s even better is knowing that God is there, too. Our rock points us toward the Rock, the One who is our refuge, our deliverer, and our salvation.

I don’t know what darkness you might be facing right now, but remember: God is with you. He hears your cry. And he will deliver you.

The Bible is brimming with prayers prayed in the pit, and also with songs of deliverance. As you think about your own life, are there places where you have sensed God’s nearness in the dark? How have you experienced his help, his comfort, or his power? Where do you need his presence today?

Reflect on God’s faithfulness, telling him your needs and thanking him for what he has already done. Use any of the verses highlighted in this post if you want a prompt to help shape your prayer, or borrow David’s words from Psalm 40:1-3:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Amen

Leave a Reply


Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

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

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

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

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

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

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

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

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

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

Um, yes. It is worse.

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

So what do we do?

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

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

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

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

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

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

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

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

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

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

What can I do?

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

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

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

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

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

Give Your Children “the Why”

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

(You can guess what she said.)

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

God’s Word makes things happen

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

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

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

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

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

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

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

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

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

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

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

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

Leave a Reply


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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl and Technology, Laptop

Not if but when: One Family’s Story

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

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

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

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

She started with prayer.

God doesn’t reveal things to scare us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I need to talk to you, Mom.”

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

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


kids and technology, phone

Three “technology use” prayers we can pray

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

❤️

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

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

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

Leave a Reply


20 Years of Praying for Your Children

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

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

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

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

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

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

A Life-Changing Letter

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

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

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

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

Dear Eddie,

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

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

 

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

Opportunity to meet Jesus letter

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

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

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


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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Opportunity to pre-order the book

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

 

 

Leave a Reply


New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

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

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

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

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

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

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

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

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

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

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

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

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

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

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

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

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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

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

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

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

Leave a Reply


A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

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

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

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

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

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

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

Prayers You Can Print

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

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

A Prayer for a Teacher

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

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

We get it.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

Leave a Reply


As Good as Dead? Think again.

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

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

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

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

As good as dead.

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

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

God brings dead things to life

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

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

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

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

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

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

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

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

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

Amen

 

 

Leave a Reply


Don’t talk to your kids about God?

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

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

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

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

Talk to God about your kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has listened.

And He has been good.

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

Leave a Reply


The Words We Speak to Our Kids

Mother speaking life to her daughter

What sort of words do we speak to our kids?

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

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

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

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

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

Speak to the good you see now

I speak out what I see that is good…

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

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

 Speak to what is “not yet”

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Word makes things happen

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

(“Let there be light,” for example.)

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

❤️

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

100 Ways Books by Matt and Lisa Jacobson

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

Leave a Reply


Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

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

Consider how Abraham did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

Amen

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

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

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

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

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

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

 

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

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

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

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

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

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

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

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

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

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

Life Lessons from Little League

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

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

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

“Oh no…” one kid said.

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

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

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

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

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

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

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

Teacher Prayer Printable

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

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

Leave a Reply


Crisis Control: How do you respond?

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

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

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

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

Jodie wearing a mask

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

“It’s all right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end.

I want to do what she did

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

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

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

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

The silver lining

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


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

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

The Prayer Circle Letter

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

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

Prayer Circle Reunion

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

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

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

Life Before Facebook

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

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

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

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

Invite God into the Prayer Circle

The Power of Multiplied Prayer

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

(Kind of wild, right?)

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Please encourage _______ today.

Amen

Leave a Reply


A Healthcare Worker’s Take on COVID-19

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

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

Healthcare worker Emily

Dear Friend,

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

God can take what is evil and use it for good

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

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

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

But what can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God wants to do more than “flatten the curve”

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

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

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

Just Say Yes

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

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

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

❤️

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

Amen

Leave a Reply


Be Still and Pray

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

Be Still

An anchor that holds

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

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

Now let’s pray it:

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

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

Try this at home

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

Psalm 91:4

Psalm 5:11-12

Zephaniah 3:17

2 Timothy 1:7

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

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


Coronavirus Concerns: How to Cope

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am learning new things.

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

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

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

Actually, I can.

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

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

Anyhow.

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

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

Replace the bad with the good.

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

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

Don't worry (about the Coronavirus)

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

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

Look up.

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

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

Adore Book Cover

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

Because here’s the thing.

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

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

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

Adore releases on March 31st.

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


How has your mother shaped your life?

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

IMG_8916

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

Mother-Daughter Book

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

Who loves us just as we are.

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

An Inheritance of Blessing

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

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

I took off running.

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

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

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

“And then I want you to curtsy.”

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

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

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

Repaying Insults with Kindness

But back to Thomas.

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

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

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

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

With a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, make me more like my mom.

Mother-Daughter Book Quote

 

Leave a Reply


God knows what we need, so why pray?

God knows what we need

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

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

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

IMG_4026

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

God knows what you need

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

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

My father and tennis racket

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer signals relationship

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

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

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

But he still wants us to ask.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Today, I ask you to ___________.

Amen.

 

Leave a Reply


Life Lessons (and Prayer Prompts) from a Dog

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

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

Minnie and the Black Lab

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

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

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

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

Encourage one another daily.

Minnie and lacrosse

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

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

Whatever you do, do it for God.

 

Dog Minnie and laundry

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

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

Listen more than you speak.

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

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

Pray about everything.

Dog and Prayer Book

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

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

Know when to rest.

Dog resting on Dad

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

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

Love each other.

Dog Minnie and Friends

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

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

Sooo…

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

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

Minnie on the Lawn

Leave a Reply


Cover Your Child with God’s Presence

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

Again, I don’t know.

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

Cover our Children with God's Presence

 

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

With His protection.

With His very person. His presence.

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

And sent it to me.

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

When you were small and just a touch away,

I covered you with blankets against the cold night air.

But now that you are tall and out of reach,

I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.”

Isn’t that a good one?

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

He invites us to pray.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

Leave a Reply


Hope for the Stay-at-Home Missionary

Have you ever wanted to be a missionary?

Me neither.

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

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

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

Water for Africa

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

 

FAD Missionary at the well

Watering the crops

FAD Missionary Team

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

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

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

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

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

Which she did.

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

Prayer is part of the work

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

Consider King David’s perspective.

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

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

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

Which is a really good reminder for us.

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father, fulfill your word in our midst:

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

(Isaiah 58:10-11)

Amen

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

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

Children in India

India prayer team

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

Elephant ride

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

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

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31-Day Prayer Habit

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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

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

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

Leave a Reply


Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

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

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

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

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

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

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

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

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

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

(What’s not to love about that?)

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

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

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

Closer to Christ

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

She did it to prepare me for burial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Leave a Reply


How to Keep Christ in Christmas (even if Jesus goes missing)

I was addressing Christmas cards – I’d gotten all the way to the “H’s” – when I heard a jingle-jangle in the next room. It wasn’t quite sleigh bells; it sounded more like…ornaments.

Before I could get up to investigate, Minnie poked her head around the corner. #Busted.

Minnie busted

Minnie's mouth

Minnie and Ornament

I didn’t blame her, though. The fact that the puppy had such easy access to the Christmas decorations was mostly my fault. In my haste to get the house prepped for the season (I had cards to mail! Presents to buy! Cookies to bake!), I’d played “beat the buzzer” one afternoon. I’d grabbed the boxes out of the attic, set a timer, and decked the halls quick as a wink.

(It wasn’t quite like my friend Jeannie, who got shatterproof ornaments this year so that her husband and sons could just throw them at the treecheck out the video on Instagram @JeannieCunnion – but it was close. Safe to say that none of our stockings were hung by the chimney with what Santa would think of as “care.”)

And honestly? My B+ attempt at decorating (okay, C+) didn’t bother me much, not even after Minnie rearranged things a bit. What got me was when I walked past our Nativity set and noticed that something didn’t look right…

Nativity with emoji

Jesus was missing.

Jesus was missing.

Now, I know some people don’t put their baby Jesus into their manger scene until Christmas morning, but not us. We let him lie there, under Mary’s watchful gaze, all season long. I like looking at him, too.

I couldn’t point the finger at Minnie this time. Not because Jesus didn’t look chewable, but because our set is up high, out of her reach. Where could Jesus have gone? I mean, I always take such good care of him, nestling him in the box right next to Mary when I put them back in the attic each year.

The box…

I scrambled back up to the attic and shoved my hand into the carton. Sure enough, amid wads of old newspaper and tissue, I felt something small and hard. It was Jesus, wrapped up in his manger.

I wouldn’t have thought it was literally possible to take Christ out of Christmas, but I’d pretty much done it. Racing around like a deranged elf on a holiday bender, I’d spent myself on all the wrong things. I’d been prepping my home, not my heart. And I was #busted.

Let every heart prepare him room

I needed to change. But I didn’t know how. So here’s what I did.

I asked God for help.

“I want to see Advent like the angels,” I said. “I don’t want it to be all about cookies and gifts (although I do like those things). I want my heart to be ready for Jesus. Please help.”

I waited awhile, and an impression – one that felt like the Holy Spirit’s imprint – began to form in my mind.

Give your agenda to me. That was the first thing. Instead of just making my to-do list and then knocking things out, I sensed God prompting me to pray over each day, inviting his presence into the things that I thought had to “get done” (and being willing to release them when he showed me that they didn’t).

Thank me each night. That sounded like a good idea too. Instead of collapsing into bed after a long day of wrapping and tagging, I resolved to replay the hours in my mind, reviewing conversations I’d had, emails I’d sent, the errands I’d run. I realized that if I paused long enough, I would see God’s hand in the mix. I could thank him for the guidance he’d given along the way – as well as for his forgiveness, when I failed to heed it.

Pray for your Christmas card friends.  Ahhh. God was reminding me of a long-held tradition in our family, one where we’d open cards together each night and pray for the families who’d sent them. That pattern started when our kids were young and we moved every few years and we wanted them to remember the friends we’d made along the way. Praying through the cards seemed like the best kind of connection. As empty nesters, Robbie and I had gotten away from this practice; God was nudging me to renew it.

Those three thoughts didn’t sound all that life-changing, but I’m trying them out. And they’re helping.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

What about you? Are there Christmas traditions or habits that help keep you focused on the Reason for the Season (which, by the way, is my favorite ornament, and one that I put waaaay out of Minne’s reach)?

I’d love to hear your ideas, and I bet others would too. If you’ve got a minute and can pop over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment on this post, I’d be grateful.

And in the meantime, here’s a prayer that could well have inspired that “prepare him room” line in the Joy to the World song. This one was originally written by the Apostle Paul, and I think it’s a great verse to carry us through the next two weeks – and  beyond!

Heavenly Father,

I pray that out of your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit, so that Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NLT)

Amen.

 

Leave a Reply


Black Friday Favorite (Plus a Promo Code!)

It’s Black Friday. Which means that nobody has time for blog reading. So I’ll keep this one short.

Because if you’re like me…

You’ve built your day (okay, your season) around football. Specifically, you’ve built it around today’s matchup between the Beloved Cavaliers of U.Va. and the Reviled Hokies of Virginia Tech. Never mind that Virginia hasn’t won this particular contest in 15 years; Vegas oddsmakers are calling this one a toss-up.

(Which, as every diehard U.Va. fan will tell you, means that there’s a 90% chance we will lose.)

(But hey. Faith the size of a mustard seed, and all that.)

And if you’re like the rest of the tryptophan-coma’d Americans…

You’ve built your day around shopping. And I’ll let you get to it. With just one little recommendation, before you go.

Get yourself a Growth Book.

Growth Book Insta pic

I didn’t even know such a thing existed a few months ago, but now that I have one, I’m hooked. Part prayer journal, part accountability partner, part “dream big” encourager, the Growth Book can literally be a life-changing tool.

Unlike most journals, this one comes with prompts. There are sections for setting goals, keeping track of your prayers (and God’s faithfulness!), and recording which parts of the Bible you’ve read.

Bible Reading Record

And, since the pages are designed with dots (they’re not blank; they’re not lined), there’s room for both the creative types and the more anal among us to flourish. For instance, here’s how my daughter Hillary might opt to memorize Scripture…

Growth Book illustration

…and here’s how I’d do it:

Memory Verses in Growth Book

Best of all, you get to decide how you want to use your Growth Book. Thanks to a clever system of stickers and labels, you create your own Table of Contents…

Growth Book Contents

…meaning that if you take notes on a sermon or podcast one day and then start noodling about career dreams the next, you don’t waste any pages. You just put a handy little marker in your book so you never have to say, “Shoot! I know I had a good idea last month. Where did I put that?”

There’s so much more to say (like, I love the big post-it notes that you use every month to see what’s working well and what isn’t), but I know. Amazon’s calling. So get back to your Black Friday shopping. First, though, can I just give you a little Black Friday present?

I met Bree (the brainchild behind the Growth Book) when she gave me my book. And even though I’ve only known her for a few months, I feel like we’re friends. Good enough friends that I could say, “Can I please have a promo code?”

And she said yes!

So if you want your own book, click here to visit the Growth Roots Co. website. And if you want to know more before you jump in, click here to see what’s inside. And if you want to get 15% off (um, that would be a yes please), put JOY15 in the promo code box before you check out.

And for those who don’t want to buy anything but still want to grow, here’s a Black Friday Prayer that can help:

Heavenly Father,

May our roots grow down into You, and may our lives be built on You. Cause our faith to grow strong in the truth we were taught and let us overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One more thing. Maybe two.

First, to all of you “I need to do this the right way” people (anyone? anyone?), here’s a little heads up:  Don’t obsess. You’ll get your book and you’ll be intimidated. I was. I kind of still am. The pages look so good blank and you won’t want to mess ’em up until you know what you’re doing. But don’t wait. Jump on in. You’ll figure it out as you go. Plus, Bree offers all sorts of tutorials on Instagram (@growthrootsco), and there’s actually a new “how to” page that comes with every book purchase. #Helpful

And second, consider giving a Growth Book to your friends. It meets all of the “must have” Christmas criteria:  Something you want (to grow closer to Jesus), something you need (to grow closer to Jesus), something to wear (the book can double as a hat in the rain – trust me), and something to read (because you’ll return to what you’ve written, over and over again).

Growth Books for Friends

 

 

Leave a Reply


Parking Place Prayers: Yes or No?

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to travel around the country and talk about how we can pray for the people we love. And one of the people I love just happened to be able to join me earlier this month at an event in Greenwich, Connecticut…

Our daughter Virginia thought she was just there to listen, but when we got to the Q&A part of the evening, someone in the crowd had a question for her. “How did you feel,” the woman wondered, “about growing up with a mother who prayed?”

Never one to shy away from an honest question, Virginia got up and grabbed hold of the mic.

“I didn’t like it,” she said.

I held my breath. This could go any number of ways.

“For starters,” Virginia said, “Mom was always praying that if we did anything wrong, we’d get caught. And we were always getting caught.

“And,” she continued, “She made us pray all the time. Like, if we were going to the mall, we’d pray about what we had to buy. And we’d ask God for a parking space. Or to give us energy, if we felt tired. It all just felt like…a lot.”

I could feel the crowd tensing up. I knew what they were thinking. They’d been tracking with me during my talk (when I’d covered things like asking God to provide self-control in our children, protection for our teens, and help for our older kids as they battled addictions, marriage break-ups, and other grown-up issues), but this was new ground. Shopping trips? Parking places? Energy levels? Were those really the sort of details we should be bugging God with? Doesn’t he have more important things on his mind?

Happily, Virginia wasn’t quite finished.

“It seemed strange, at the time,” she said. “Looking back, though, I think it was really good for us to hear, and be part of, prayers about everyday things. It made talking to God so much more real and relational, rather than something that we thought of as scary, complicated, or just plain hard to do.”

I exhaled, wiped an invisible bead of sweat from my brow, and thanked Virginia for her candor.

Is it okay to pray about life’s little stuff?

Later that week, though, I started to wonder. Is it okay to talk to God about life’s little stuff? Like, I would never want my familiarity with him to take away from his holiness, from the fact that he is actually God. And if I did not get a primo parking spot, I hoped he knew that I’d be okay. It wouldn’t derail my faith; rather, I would probably reason that God knew I needed the walk–and maybe even that I needed to thank him for the fact that I could walk.

Still though, the question lingered. I had a professor in college who admonished me for “talking a lot, but never saying anything.” I didn’t want God to see me in the same light, as though my prayers made him think of a small yappy dog.

And then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang. It was the Amazon guy, bringing me a new book:

How to Pray Pete Greig

(Sidebar:  If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a bit of a #hoardingsituation going on when it comes to books about prayer…

Books about Prayer

…that pic is only about half of my stash.)

Anyhow, I opened How to Pray and (not making this up) I read this:

“One of the greatest theological questions of our time in the realm of petitionary prayer appears to be whether we should ask God for parking spaces.”

Seriously? Was Pete Greig – co-founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement – really going to write about parking spaces? He was!

“It seems to me,” Greig went on, “that the answer is clear:  Yes, we should indeed ask God to give us parking spots. Why? Because when we pray for places to park, we become the kind of people who worship God for a patch of concrete outside a supermarket on a rainy Saturday in January.”

Ahhhh. I loved that. I felt like Greig, a self-described “Scruffy Brit,” understood my motivation. In asking God for a parking place, it wasn’t that I felt entitled to one, or that I could “claim it” in prayer or whatever. Rather, my request was born more out of relationship, out of an understanding that every good gift–the big stuff and the small–is, as James said, “from above.”

I read on.

Living with “Greater Gratitude”

“When you pray about the small things in life,” Greig said, “you get to live with greater gratitude. If you only ever pray about big, ugly, gnarly problems that seem onerous and serious enough to warrant divine intervention, you will only very occasionally experience miracles. But when your learn to pray about trivia…you start to notice how many minor miracles are scattered around in the course of an average day.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I mean, literally:  I couldn’t. Every single chapter in Greig’s book features wiser, kinder, and more well-informed insights on prayer than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t even have to pray about putting this one in the stockings, this year. It’s such a better Christmas morning surprise than the posture brace. (Which, if you’re new to this blog, explains why Yours Truly really does need to pray about shopping. God had no part in choosing that particular gift.)

And honestly? You’re gonna want a copy of How to Pray for yourself. Because it’s that time of year, and when you come out of the store loaded down with a cart full turkey, potatoes, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in a Can, you’re either gonna want that sweet parking spot, or you’ll want the reminder to be grateful that you have a car in the first place.

Even if it is parked a half-mile away. 🙂

Heavenly Father,

Teach us how to pray, and to live with greater gratitude. May we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Amen

 

P.S. I only recommend books that I really do love, and if you purchase via the link in this blog, I get a tiny credit from Amazon. Which I will most likely use to purchase more books about prayer.

Either that, or something for my kids that is better than this:

photo 2

Leave a Reply


What Wisdom Does (besides make you look good)

Back before I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I surveyed more than 100 parents about what they wanted God to do for their kids.

(And yes. That was a long time ago, before things like Facebook or SignUpGenius or whatever it is that hip people use to do surveys today. Back then, half the people I knew didn’t even have email. So when I say I surveyed people, think “carpool-line stalker.” That was me.)

Anyhow, when the answers came in, you can imagine the stuff people wanted. Things like safety and protection. Good friendships. Salvation, and the ability to use their gifts and talents for God. And all manner of character traits, from kindness and compassion…to diligence and self-control…to wisdom and discernment.

Which, as I think about it, might be one of the best prayers of all. Because asking God to give your children (or your spouse, or whoever) wisdom is asking Him to equip them to receive every other blessing He wants to provide.

Wisdom quote

When we ask God to give our children wisdom and discernment, we aren’t just asking Him to help them make good choices. We are asking God to open their minds to the way that he works, allowing them to respond to life with his perspective. And we’re setting them up for a lifetime of intimacy with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The spillover effect from this type of relationship can be invaluable. Consider just a few of the things that wisdom can do:

It helps us manage time well. (Psalm 90:12)

It makes us better listeners. (Proverbs 1:5)

It provides direction and purpose. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It opens the door to things like happiness, riches, and a long life. (Proverbs 3:13-17)

It offers protection from the seductions that might lead us astray. (Proverbs 7:4-5)

It leads to strong, joy-filled family relationships. (Proverbs 10:1)

It even makes us look better! (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

(I mean, seriously. Who wouldn’t want some of that?)

So let’s ask God to fill our children (and all of our loved ones) with wisdom today. You can find plenty of prayer prompts in the book; for right now, though, here’s one of my fav’s:

Heavenly Father,

Fill _____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might live a life worthy of you and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

❤️

P.S. For more reflections on the value of wisdom, plus 10 biblically based wisdom-prayers you can personalize for your family, co-workers, or friends, check out Chapter 5 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

Leave a Reply


Pray for Your Children (and let ’em know it!)

(Note: This is Part 2 of a post about how we can pray for our children. It ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a site where you can find encouragement for marriage, parenting, and all sorts of other good-for-life stuff, from menu prep tips to Bible study how-to’s.)

I’ll never forget the story that our daughter came home with after her first week at a new school.

“Mom,” six-year-old Hillary said, “I think my new teacher is a Christian.”

We’d just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I was intrigued. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“I can tell because she prays,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ Some days, though, she just says ‘Oh God’ and puts her head down on her desk.”

I laughed—at first. But then I realized that the teacher’s prayer—Oh God, help—is one I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly in my parenting journey. And it’s a prayer that King David used a lot, too; Psalm 70 is pretty much one long cry for God to show up!

God, Help

God, help is a good (and perfectly legitimate) prayer. But there’s another strategy I like to use when I pray, especially when I pray for my children. I like to take the actual words we read in the Bible—words first breathed by God—and use them to give shape to my prayers. Not just to help define my requests, but also to influence my desires for their lives.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s John 15:7. It’s a powerful promise—and one that becomes easier to understand when we allow the Bible to illuminate our understanding and transform our perspective. When that happens, the cry of our heart becomes the very thing that God is longing to do!

And honestly? There is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in His word.

Say your child struggles with questions about their identity or their sense of self-worth. Psalm 139:14 can become a powerful prayer:

Help ________ realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are Your marvelous workmanship.

Or what about loneliness? Proverbs 27:17 speaks to that concern:

Surround ______ with wise and faithful friends, people who will sharpen them as iron sharpens iron.

And Scripture offers a treasure trove of promises about things like wisdom and guidance. Consider praying Psalm 25:4 for your loved ones:

Show _______ your ways; teach them your paths; guide them in your truth.

These are the sorts of easy prayer prompts you’ll find on this monthly prayer calendar (and if you prefer a version for teens or adult children, click here.)

Prayer Calendar for Children

When You Pray for Your Children, Tell Them!

And just as a side note… Let your kids know that you’re praying. Could there be anything more encouraging to a child than to know that their earthly parent is talking to their Heavenly Parent—the One with unlimited power and love—about the details of their lives?

I love what one reader has done, over the years. She jots her kids’ names in her copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then dates them. “I show my kids some of the prayers with their name inserted in them to let them know I am praying,” she told me. “When I go back, I can see how I have prayed through different phases. I can see answered prayers – and so can they.”

Prayer Book for Children

When our children were younger, I’d sometimes write a prayer verse on a little card and tuck it into their lunchbox, or leave it on their pillow. And once a year, I’d trace their hands onto colored paper and write prayer verses on them. I’d post the hands on the fridge as a tangible reminder (to them, and to me) that God was at work in our lives.

Prayer Hands for Children

Now that my kids are older (and their hands are too big to fit on the fridge!), I make bookmarks. And when I find a new verse that speaks to a need they may have, I might send a text to let them know what I’m praying.

Do my kids roll their eyes at this stuff? They used to, sometimes—particularly when they were teenagers and they didn’t think they needed all that much prayer. But now that we’re on the other side of those years (and I say this to encourage anyone who’s slogging through a less-than-fun family phase) my kids actually ask me to pray.

Seriously.

They believe in the power of prayer. Like me, they have discovered that God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11 is true. That’s where He says that His word will not come back empty, but will accomplish the desires and the purposes for which it is sent.

God has wonderful plans for our children’s lives, and His word really does accomplish what He desires. Let’s allow it to breathe new life (and life-shaping power!) into our prayers.

Leave a Reply


Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

Note: Plenty of parents have questions about why, or how, we should pray for our children. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that’s a topic we love, and I was honored this week to share some thoughts about prayer over at Club31Women, a site dedicated to encouraging mothers, strengthening marriages, and helping us build healthy homes. Here’s that post…

Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

“I know God loves my kids,” the young father said, “and I trust Him to work in their lives. So I don’t see why I need to do it.”

The man was talking about praying for his children. And I’d heard his logic before:  If God is all-powerful, and if He loves us, then why should we pray? Doesn’t He know what’s best? Won’t He just do it?

I’ve been writing and speaking about prayer for 25 years, and I meet plenty of moms and dads like this guy—folks who love God and want His best for their families, but say that prayer is not a big part of their parenting journey.

“I prayed, but nothing happened,” one mother told me. “I’m not convinced that prayer works.”

“I know God answers prayer,” said another, “but I don’t want to be clogging the lines with my children’s issues when someone with cancer or a marriage breakdown or something really big might be trying to get through.”

Perhaps the hesitation I hear most of all—the thing that keeps parents from praying—is that we don’t really know how. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed,” a precious mom in my own church confided. “It feels awkward and unfamiliar to me. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

I am by no means a prayer expert. Or a parenting one. But having raised—and prayed for—four kids who are now in their young adult years, I am convinced that prayer is the single most powerful thing we can do for our children. Not only that, but it’s what opens the door to freedom from worry and fear in our lives.

Think about it with me for a sec.

There will be times when we don’t really know what’s best for our kids (or when they won’t listen to us, when we do). And even if we do know what we want—healthy friendships, strong character traits, safety and protection—we can feel like our influence, or our ability to provide blessings like these, is woefully limited. And that can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, or ill-equipped.

Which is where prayer comes in. “Don’t worry about anything,” the Bible commands, “but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and thank him for what he has done.”

Pray. About. Everything. (Club31Women)

Pray. About. Everything.

That’s a command that pops up over and over again in the pages of Scripture; clearly, God wants us to talk to Him about stuff! Not only is prayer the power by which His blessings come into our lives, but it’s also a way to acknowledge God as the Source of these gifts. And prayer is a sign that we’re actually in a relationship. (After all, we confide in people we know and love, right? Why should it be any different with God?)

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share a few strategies to equip us to pray, tips that can breathe fresh power and life into our convos with God. For now, though, let’s be honest about how we regard prayer…

 

Want to keep reading? Click here to head over to Club31Women and read the rest of the post.

Want some specific strategies that can breath fresh power and life into your prayers? Stay tuned for Part 2, which will show up next week.

Just want to pray? Alrighty then. Here we go:

Heavenly Father,

When I feel burdened or overwhelmed on behalf of my children, help me exchange fear for trust. Teach me not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling You what I need and thanking You for what You have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I’ve loved getting to know the team of writers at Club31Women. And since today is actually National Authors Day (a little tidbit I picked up from my in-the-know pal Peyton over at AndOneMarketing), I hope you’ll check out what some of these gals have to offer:

Lisa Jacobson just released 100 Words of Affirmation Your Husband Needs to Hear. (And yes, there is a companion volume you can buy for your man. 😊)

Katie Westenberg blogs about how we can take God at his word and “choose brave” in life, both in the gut-wrenching times and our routine daily decisions. Her book, I Choose Brave, is available now for preorder.

And Sara Hagerty (you’ve met her in this space before, when I told you about The Best Book on the Beach) is all about helping us “scoot a little nearer” to God. Get ready to savor Sara’s exquisite writing – and to encounter God in new ways – when Adore drops in March.

Those are just three of the women I’ve grown to admire; the site also features posts from folks who write about cooking, organizing (yes please!), and understanding some of theology’s thorniest topics. Check ’em out when you can.

And given the whole “Author’s Day” thing (who makes this stuff up?), I was just thinking that we could stop for a second, since it’s November, and GIVE THANKS to the Author of Life.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He is still writing my story! 🙂

Leave a Reply


A Mantle for Your Marriage (plus a prayer you can print!)

So I was poking around in the Book of Common Prayer the other day (and if you think that sounds uber-holy, maybe don’t. Truth be told, “Organize Office” was on my to-do list. But there’s a copy of the BCP* on my desk, and I got a little sidetracked).

And anyhow. I came upon this sentence:

BCP Marriage Prayer

That’s just one little line in a much longer prayer, but it caught my eye. I had to read it again. And again.

“Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”

Those words from the marriage service–so incredibly rich–speak to the almost inexpressible power of love.

seal conveys security and ownership. It marks something as authentic. Could there be any better imprint than love (with its inherent patience, humility, and unwillingness to keep a record of wrongs) to guard a couple’s heart as they give themselves to each other?

A mantle, in Bible times, was a covering that represented a call to service, a purpose before God. Could there be a more potent mandate for husband and wife than to serve God and one another in love?

And the word crown points toward the promise of eternal life, as marriage reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride–the one where Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we could wear one of beauty. Could there be a more exquisite portrayal of life-giving love?

See what I mean? This is a fabulous prayer! And if you’re looking for more of the same, I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that The Celebration of Marriage is chock full of Scripture-based prayers; I’ve pulled a few favorites and put them on a two-sided card you can print. The front side is the blessing, and the back shows where you can find the roots of these prayers in the Bible.

Printable Marriage Prayer

The bad news is that once you start praying this way (whether it’s for your own marriage or for another union you want God to bless), it can be hard to stop.

Which means that “office organization” might not happen anytime soon….

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Give ____ such wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity…

(Want the rest of the prayer? Click the download–or better yet, get a copy of the BCP and savor it for yourself!)

*And P.S., I didn’t grow up in a church where they used prayer books (or robes, or candles, or really anything except the Bible and Jesus), and I didn’t know what a “BCP” even was. Now I do. And if you ever find yourself in a church where you don’t know all the lingo–words like unction, or epistoler–don’t worry. Just go home and check the phrontistery.

(Which is a real thing.)

(Because you can’t make this stuff up.)

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


A little thought about friendship (plus a book giveaway!)

There’s an old Swedish proverb that says, “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.”

I like that. And I think it might be part of what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Romans when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Romans 12:15

Sometimes, though, rejoicing with someone (particularly when he or she is celebrating a victory or a joy that we wish we could have) can be hard.

Likewise, mourning (particularly when we don’t know what we should do or say) can tempt us to want to hold back, keeping our distance from pain.

But sharing in others’ delights and their sorrows is a mark of what we might call life-giving friendships, the kind we all long to enjoy. I’ll be talking more about what these sorts of connections look like next week (in part 2 of last week’s post on the merits of aging), but for now, let’s ask God to equip us to come alongside one another in a way that really does increase our joy and divide the burden of grief…

Heavenly Father,

Help us be alert to ways we can honor our friends in their celebrations, and stand with them when they sorrow. May we rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Friendship – that sense of connectedness and belonging – is a blessing we want our kids to enjoy, no matter how old they are. It’s something I wrote about in all of the Praying the Scriptures books. I’m giving away one copy of each title this week, so if you have a friend or two you’d like to share the book with, tag them on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and let me know which book they would like!

Leave a Reply


Life-Giving Friendships (and three ways to spot ’em)

Robbie and I will be driving home at night and we’ll pass a house that’s all lit up, with cars spilling down the driveway and out into the street.

“Look…” I will say. “Go slow.  They’re having a party…”

“Looks that way,” Robbie will say.

“But…they didn’t invite us,” I will say.

“Jodie,” Robbie will say, looking sideways at me. “We don’t know the people who live in that house.”

“I know,” I will sigh. “But we could know them. And I bet they would like us…”

I may be an extreme (and slightly pathetic) example, but I know I am not alone in my desire to have friends. This longing to belong – this desire for connection – goes back to the beginning of time. Remember what God said when he created Adam?

It is not good for man to be alone.

Roger that. Woman either.

And it’s not just the Creation story that says we need one another; science maintains that we’re actually wired that way. Matthew Lieberman (a leading brainiac in social neuroscience) says, “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can do without, but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

(Translation:  We need friends every bit as much as we need water and shelter. And chocolate.)

The thing is, though, not just any connection will do. Two weeks ago, I shared a post about the plusses of aging, one of which is the joy that can come with intergenerational friendships, particularly when they are the “life-giving” kind. Today, I want to explore what that sort of connection looks like. I want to look at the friendship that Mary and Elizabeth shared.

(And just a heads up:  This post is shaping up to be a little longer than normal. So maybe grab a second cup of coffee or click here to get the Bible back-story. And if you don’t have time for a long read today but you value rich friendships, just scroll to the end and jump in with the prayer.)

We know Mary – the mother of Jesus – but her connection with Elizabeth goes back to before her baby was born. Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared and turned her life upside down. Not only would Mary be pregnant, but her baby would be…the Messiah?

Sure, giving birth to the Messiah was something every good Jewish girl dreamed of, but we can imagine what went through Mary’s mind. She wasn’t married. People would talk. She wondered what Joseph would say. What he would do. Mary’s whole life – her reputation, her marriage, her future – hung in the balance. I’m guessing that having an angel to confide in was nice and all that, but what Mary really needed right then was a friend.

And God knew it.

He knows how we think. When we’ve got news we want someone to process it with, someone who will understand. And so God clues Mary in on the fact that Elizabeth is also expecting a surprise. Elizabeth is old (way old), and it makes no sense for her to be pregnant. But she is. Both women – one a virgin, and one long past her childbearing years – are in the same boat.

So Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. And, from a strictly relational standpoint, the story that unfolds is remarkable.

For starters, Elizabeth wasn’t one teeny bit jealous.

Think about that one for a sec. Elizabeth is older, wiser, and married to an uber-godly man who’s devoted his entire life to being a priest. How easy would it have been for Elizabeth to draw some comparisons. To think that maybe being Mom to the Messiah was an honor that she deserved. To wonder whether God had made some sort of cosmic mistake.

But no. There’s not even a hint of “Why wasn’t it me?” Instead, the first thing that comes out of Elizabeth’s mouth when she looks at Mary is affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”

Second, Elizabeth never once hogged the spotlight. Her man had also been visited by an angel, and she was expecting her own miracle baby. Who would have blamed her, had she babbled on and on about that? (“I mean, I hit menopause, like, 50 years ago, Mary!”) But Elizabeth doesn’t talk about herself at all, other than to marvel at the fact that Mary would come to her house. “Why am I so favored,” she says, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

That humility – that focus on Mary, rather than her own circumstances – is a marker of life-giving love.

And finally, pretty much everything Elizabeth said fueled Mary’s faith, rather than feeding her fear.

Mary had a long road ahead of her. Here’s how their conversation could have gone down:

Elizabeth could have planted seeds of worry:  Mary, are you sure you’re up for this? You’re so young. Have you talked to Joseph? You know how people will talk.

She could have sown kernels of comparison, making Mary feel insecure:  I don’t know, Mary. Joseph is just a carpenter.  Wouldn’t you think God would want someone like my Zechariah (have I mentioned that he is a priest?) to be a role model for his son?

She could have dug into doubt:  Ok Mary…did the angel really say you would give birth to the Son of God? Let’s go over it again. Tell me EXACTLY what Gabriel said. How was his body language? 

But Elizabeth didn’t ask any of these worry- or doubt-fueling questions. Instead, she recognized God’s purpose for Mary and she validated it. Here’s what she said, word for word:  “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:45

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” Could there be a more life-giving sentence? I can only imagine how Mary must have clung to those words, especially when she found herself having contractions while riding a donkey and having her very first baby in a stable. Without anyone around to give her a push present or start a Sign Up Genius or anything.

Honestly? Elizabeth is the kind of friend we all want to have. The kind of friend we all want to be.

Because there will be times in our lives when our friend is pregnant (maybe not with the Messiah, but with a new job or a new house or a new baby/grandbaby or anything else that we wish we had), and taking delight in her happiness rails against everything in our self-centered nature.

And there will be conversations when everything in us longs to compare our friend’s pain (or their joy) to what we have been through, and we’ll be oh-so-tempted to jump into her life and say “Look at me!”

And of course there will be circumstances that look more than a little bit iffy. Uncomfortable. Scary, even. Situations where it would be easy to come alongside our friend and sow seeds of worry or doubt.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s ask God to shape us into life-giving people, people whose words are marked by encouragement, humility, and a desire to validate and affirm God’s purposes in each others’ lives.

Let’s speak life to our friends.

Heavenly Father,

May our words bring life. May we be people who truly believe that your promises – in our lives, and in the lives of the people we love – will indeed be accomplished. (Proverbs 18:21, Luke 1:45)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Mary and Elizabeth’s connection feels especially precious on the heels of this week’s Garden Club pansy sale, where the friendships are even more vibrant than the flowers. And no (for those of you who have been around this blog for while), I did NOT steal any pansies this year…

pansy sale 2019

Leave a Reply


Getting Old, Shining Bright

Perhaps you remember the story about the woman who dropped in on her daughter-in-law, unannounced, and found the girl standing inside her front door, naked.

“Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?” the older woman asked.

“I am waiting for my husband,” the young wife replied. “This is his favorite outfit. It is my Love Dress. And since he will be home soon, I think you should leave.”

Confused (and more than a little embarrassed), the mother-in-law drove away. But by the time she got home, her discomfort had faded, and she realized that her daughter-in-law might be onto something. Which is how, 30 minutes later, her husband arrived home to find her naked in the foyer. “What on earth are you doing?” the man sputtered.

“I am wearing my Love Dress!” his wife beamed. “Do you like it?”

“I do,” he said, after a beat. “But…it needs ironing.”

I know, I know. Bad joke. But it tees up today’s post, which is about the merits of aging.

Getting older is not something we value today. Whether you’re into Botox or wrinkle creams, hair restoration or hair removal, or maybe even that new body-shaping thing where you lie down and let some doctor paddle you with electromagnetic pulses (“One session equals 20,000 crunches!”), chances are good that you’ve plunked down at least some cash to waylay Father Time. We all have. Globally, we’re expected to spend upwards of $216 billion on anti-aging treatments by the end of 2021.

(That’s billion. With a “B.”)

But hey. I’m not judging. To quote my former pastor, when someone asked whether or not women should wear make-up (who asks that sort of thing??), “If the barn needs painting, paint it.”

So again:  You’ll get no finger-pointing from me, no matter how many nips, tucks, or paddles you want to endure. I would, however, like to offer a different perspective on aging–one that was on vivid display a few weeks ago, when I had the privilege of connecting with 17 other women at the Club31Women Writers’ Retreat. Our ages ranged from 21 to 73, with yours truly clocking in as the second oldest one there.

Club31Women Writers Retreat

We’d barely unpacked our suitcases when one of the 30-something gals–one of the fresh-faced, wrinkle-free, dewy-complexioned young writers–asked if I had time to talk. My first thought was that she must like my outfit, but then I realized that 1) we were not in middle school, and 2) I was wearing running clothes. And as we got to know one another (and she admitted that she was looking for things like “sage advice” and “godly wisdom”), I had to confront the stark truth:  My cute young friend wanted to spend time with me because I am old.

(Okay. I know 56 is not really that old. But remember when you were 30 and you thought that 60 was practically dead?)

Anyhow.

As the two of us dialogued–and as as I watched other women forge intergenerational connections during the retreat–I realized that Scripture is right. Getting older is not such a bad thing.

Psalm 92 talks about flourishing in our golden years, with the promise that we will “bear fruit in old age” and always stay “fresh and green.”

Job points to the the practical benefits that come with more birthday candles: “Is not wisdom found among the aged?” he asks. “Does not long life bring understanding?”

And the book of Proverbs calls gray hair (and by that, I’m pretty sure the translators meant “roots”) a crown of splendor.

All of this is good stuff. But I think my all time favorite getting-old promise (and the one we can all pray will be made real in our lives!) is Proverbs 4:18. Here’s how The Message puts it:  “The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine.”

Proverbs 4:18

The longer they live, the brighter they shine.

Honestly? I’ve tried a bazillion different night creams; none of them even come close to delivering that. But God can.

And He does.

Because unlike in the physical realm–the one where cells die, bodies decay, and we’re forever having to go back and repaint the barn–the spiritual realm offers fresh vigor and strength. What begins with salvation (when we become “new creations“) only gets better with time as we are literally renewed day by day.

It’s like exfoliating. Only way better.

In part two of this post, I’ll dig a little deeper into inter-generational friendships, particularly the life-giving kind. For now, though, I want to ask you a few questions.

If you’ve made it past halftime in life (and you can define that one however you want), are you sharing your wisdom with the next generation? Are you bearing fruit? Are there younger people with whom you “do life”?

And if you’re on the younger end of the spectrum (like, if you basically never use Facebook), are you open to connecting with someone who has what we might call a “more seasoned” perspective?

If your answer to those queries is no, consider asking God to bring some new friends into your life. Keep alert to folks who are younger (and older) than you. And be open to the surprises God might have in store.

And in the meantime, if you are one of those fresh-faced young gals and you see someone like me while you’re out buying organic sweet potatoes to puree for your toddler, feel free to tell us how good we look. Just say: “You’re glowing! You look almost…shiny!”

We’ll know what you mean.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

May we be people who flourish as we mature. May we bear fruit, even in our old age, and always stay fresh and green. (Psalm 92:14)

Amen

Leave a Reply


Free “Must Have” on the Back-to-School List!

So I saw where today’s parents are spending, on average, nearly $700 per child on back-to-school shopping. Which is lot of notebooks and glue sticks. And when you factor in the mini-fridge or whatever else a college kid needs (I’m looking at you, Bed, Bath & Beyond Campus Checklist), that number climbs even higher.

Happily, there’s at least one must-have item that doesn’t cost anything. And honestly? Every kid needs it, whether they’re headed for kindergarten or college.

Robbie First Day of Kindergarten

I’m talking about back-to-school prayer.

Several years ago, I wrote about the ice-cream-and-prayer parties we used to host at the end of the summer. You can read that post here, but if you just want a few good prompts to help kick off the year (or to tuck in the lunchbox, maybe?), click here to download 12 of my favorites. This collection covers everything from listening to instruction…to having a teachable spirit…to making the most of every opportunity!

IMG_7041

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

❤️

And P.S. yes, I did make Robbie give a flower to his teacher. 🙂

Leave a Reply


I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

Leave a Reply


Build an altar this summer. And add some ice cream.

Our son Robbie graduated from college in May.

Watching him walk down U.Va.’s storied Lawn, my mind flashed back 20 years to my brother David’s graduation (also from Virginia):

That’s David, perched on somebody’s shoulders. I guess he was trying to spot our folks in the crowd, because the moment he saw them, he scrambled down, threaded his way through the procession, and planted a kiss on Dad’s cheek in a very public display of gratitude and affection!

A few days later I received a letter from my father describing David’s impromptu embrace and telling me how much it had meant. Dad went on to recount about a dozen similar memories and blessings from his children’s growing-up years, pointing out that they were all “a testimony of God’s tender mercies, one after another after another, being bestowed upon our family.”

My father’s note made an impression on me, so much so that I actually wrote about it – and quoted him – in the last chapter of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. “God is so faithful,” he said, “and we must remember to stop occasionally and build ‘an altar of thanksgiving’ before we hurry on our way.”

Altar of thanksgiving

I knew what Dad meant. The Bible is brimming with stories of altars built by those who wanted a lasting memorial of who God was and what he had done. Noah built an altar after the great flood; Jacob erected one after God changed his name; Moses put one up after God gave the Israelites an incredible  victory over a powerful foe. In each of these instances—and plenty more—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his faithfulness, his power, and his love.

I don’t know about you, but I am not nearly as good at building altars as I am at building to-do lists (even in my prayer journal), thinking of all the things I want God to accomplish in my life and in the lives of the people I love. Rather than thanking God for “his tender mercies, one after another,” I often find myself consumed with present concerns, unmet desires, and problems that have yet to be solved.

Which is where summertime can bring some welcome relief.

Even though our family is long past the annual “School’s Out!” shout on the calendar, the season still heralds a slower pace, one that offers an opportunity for rest and reflection. For meditating on God’s goodness. For altar-building.

So what does an altar of thanksgiving look like?

In Bible times, an altar was often a pile of stones set up by someone so that they (and their children, some who were yet to be born) would have a visible reminder of God’s provision and his faithfulness. I actually have a couple of stones – and one or two seashells – on which I’ve written dates and a few words or a Bible verse that speak to what God has done.

More often, though, my “altar” is simply a page or two in my journal, one where I revisit prayers (which sometimes look more like scrawls) from the previous months and thank God for how he has moved, often in ways I did not expect. With the perspective of time, I can see how God has expanded my vision, stretched my faith, and said no to some of my longings so as to make room for his.

(I realize that this might sound sort of heady. But don’t get any ideas. My journal is not fancy. It’s got arrows and abbreviations and chicken-scratch writing that I sometimes struggle to read. But I tell myself that the Bible altars were probably no architectural masterpieces either. I imagine that, to someone who did not know their meaning, they mostly just looked like…rocks.)

Anyhow.

If the idea of building an altar is a new one for you, I want to encourage you (even as I am prompting myself) to try it this summer. Not only is altar-building  an exercise in gratitude, it’s also one of obedience:  “Tell God your needs,” the Bible says, “and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

Write a few words on a rock. Or in a prayer journal. Or, if you’ve got children at home, consider building a basket-shaped altar. Encourage your kids to be alert to the ways they see God at work in their lives, and to note those observations on a slip of paper (chicken scratch is approved!) and slip it into the basket. Then, before school starts again in the fall, set aside an evening to read what’s in the basket together.

And…maybe add ice cream sundaes.

Because trust me. Ice cream, served up with a side of thanksgiving, can be a very tangible reminder of God’s love. 😊

ice cream

Heavenly Father,

Help us never forget the things our eyes have seen you do; do not let them fade from our hearts. Equip us to teach your faithfulness to our children, and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Amen

 

Leave a Reply


For all the Dads who have ever hung a mooring ball off their roof…

Dad is such a doofus.

At least that what today’s advertisers and sit-com producers (who often portray fathers as being oblivious, emotionally disconnected, or just plain incompetent) would have us believe. Even the good guys–the TV Dads whose hearts are in the right place–are almost always making some sort of mess that Mom has to come in and clean up.

Honestly though? The real-life fathers I know are nothing like that. The fathers I know are smart. Strong. Patient. And kind.

And in general, they are very resourceful.

Just this week, for example, a friend invited me to survey her husband’s handiwork. After discovering a leak in their roof, this dad had stepped in, installing a stop-gap measure until the pros could get there. The pitch was both slippery and steep, but this guy had managed to hang an industrial-size tarp over half of their house, weighting it down with a cooler (empty), a bottle of ginger ale (full), and a mooring ball.

“All the tarp anchors are plastic!” he beamed. “I didn’t want anything to break if something went wrong.”

(Because what could possibly go wrong?)

Looking up at the mooring ball dangling down from the eaves, I was reminded of the time Robbie fixed our broken shower head–temporarily–with duct tape and our cheese grater. I love that man.

So to all of the can-do fathers out there, can I just say THANK YOU? You make life so much more interesting than it would otherwise be.

And for all of those times you’ve protected and provided, listened and loved, been the cheerleader as well as the coach…(as well as those times when you’ve blown it–and trust me, we moms have been there)…you should know how God feels towards you.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

That’s Hebrews 6:10. And it’s true; God sees all the work and the love you pour into your people–and he won’t forget it. And neither will we.

(Even if we sometimes forget to say thank you.)

Happy Father’s day. You are loved.

💙

Heavenly Father,

Show your love to our husbands and fathers, even as they have loved us.

Help them stand firm, letting nothing move them. Equip them to give themselves fully to the work that you’ve called them to do, knowing that their labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Amen.

Leave a Reply


Champion or Misfit: Jay Huff knows how both those shoes feel

Jay Huff–as in, Jay Huff of the U.Va. National Championship Basketball Team–was in the house last week.

Well, not my house.

Although he did stop by for a bit. And I am pretty sure Minnie’s in love…

Jay came to Virginia Beach with his dad, Coach Mike Huff, as part of a speaker series our church hosts every year. And even though I said I was taking a break from weekly blogging this summer (and I really am), and even though I know some of you don’t give a rip about basketball (that’s okay; people vary), the stuff these guys talked about was just too good not to share.

Stuff like what humility looks like, especially when life isn’t fair.

Evidently, Jay has a super high radar for what’s right and what’s wrong–and when he sees an offense, he feels compelled to speak up. Which sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work so well when you’re hooping it up and the “wrong” is a bad call from the ref. As a high school player, Jay often protested such calls–and wound up setting a record for technical fouls.

Coach Huff helped put things in perspective.

“Nobody,” Mike told his son, “got a worse set of calls than Christ did. He got as bad a call as you can get; he had a perfect life, and yet he was crucified for my mistakes.

“And he didn’t say a word. He stood there and he took it.”

Those words made an impact, ultimately leading Jay to show respect for officials and embrace humility–which, as it turns out, is one of Coach Tony Bennett’s Five Pillars.

Another life lesson came in a sporting goods store.

As a teenager, Jay wore size 15 shoes (he’s a 17 now), and finding them was not always easy. Mike recalled one father-son shopping trip when Jay couldn’t locate a single pair in his size.

“This world isn’t made for me,” the young man sighed.

“You were not made for this world,” Mike gently replied.

Even if Jay didn’t know the exact biblical reference (verses like John 15:19 and Philippians 3:20), he got the point. And when asked what advice he might give to the young people in the audience on Sunday night, he shared his own experience–both at U.Va. and in high school–with not “fitting in.” Even winning a championship, he said, doesn’t change the fact that life, for a Christian, is not always easy.

“You’re going to be a misfit in a lot of situations,” Jay told the crowd. “Get ready for that.”

That “misfit” comment really hit home with me; I wrote about my own struggles in Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to college that I began to feel like I’d finally found “my people.” And, much to my delight, two of them–Barbie and Susan, pictured above–showed up to hear Jay speak!

(And yes, Jay really is 7’1.”)

(I thought if I wore 3″ heels that would help. But…no.)

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from the night was about our identity.

“If it’s all about basketball,” Mike said, “or whatever your activity might be, if that’s where you find your identity, then your life is going to be a whole series of ups and downs. When you’re good–when you have a great game–everybody’s gonna be happy; you’re gonna be happy. If you have a bad game or a bad season, or you get cut from the team or whatever, then you’re devastated.”

By contrast, he said, “if you have an identity in Christ, then those things are just events that happen along the path.”

Jay agreed, saying that he wanted to be known for more than being a basketball player–even if he realizes his goal of playing in the NBA.

“I see a lot of people,” he said, “who get so caught up in basketball and the highlight tapes and the social media posts and everything like that…but when that becomes the sole thing that you feel like you’re valued for, that’s when that goes wrong.

“And so, I’ve always thought that I’d much rather be a good friend. A good son. A good boyfriend–hopefully.”

(Sorry ladies; he’s taken.)

“I’d rather be known for that,” he continued, “because one day all the basketball things that have happened, all the championships, all of that–they won’t mean that much to me. But what will mean a lot are the friendships and relationships I’ve built up over the years, and how I’ve loved people and how people have hopefully loved me.

“At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and have basketball be the highlight.”

Coming from a national champion, those are some powerful words.

And there’s more where they came from–plus commentary on everything from what Coach Bennett tells his players at halftime (“But you can’t tell the other coaches I told you!” Jay joked), to what U.Va.’s prospects look like for next year, to whether or not Ty Jerome meant to miss that free throw.

Did he?

If you want to find out (or if you just want to know what other great things the Huffs shared), click here to download the whole interview.

And if you just want a prayer for those times when you or someone you love feels like a misfit, why not echo the prayer Jesus prayed for all his disciples, right after he said that we “do not belong to the world,” any more than he did?

Heavenly Father,

We belong to you. Protect us by the power of your name. Fill us with joy, make us holy, and teach us your word. And may we experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent Jesus, and that you love us as much as you love him. (Excerpted from John 17:9-22)

Amen

❤️

Leave a Reply


MOPS (and that time when our house caught on fire)

I love to speak to all sorts of groups, but MOPS women have a special place in my heart.

These gals–Mothers of Preschoolers–don’t ask for much. Give them a bagel, a smile, and two hours of child care and they’re happy. Thrilled, actually. The fact that they get to enjoy some adult conversation is just bonus material. (And honestly? I think some of these precious women would be okay if the speaker just turned down the lights and said they could nap.)

As an audience, they are delightful.

And as moms, they are committed. And strong. And hungry to learn. They get together not just for the company (or even the refreshments, which are way above par for church-based cuisine), but because they genuinely desire God’s best for their families, and they want to know what that looks like in real life.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but as an older mom who watched her youngest child graduate from college last weekend…

(and yes, that IS Robbie’s U.Va. graduation gown that he packed his stuff in), I felt privileged to share a few insights with our local MOPS group this week.

I told the young moms about the time that our house caught on fire.

We were in the midst of yet another remodel, and Robbie and Virginia (who were just one and two then) had gone down for their naps. The older two girls were off playing with friends, the construction crew was working outside, and our house was utterly, beautifully quiet.

Until the foreman started hollering at me, up the stairs, telling me that I had to “get them babies up!” because the house was “on FIRE!”

I stood there, staring down at the man. And wishing that he would stop yelling. Or at the very least, lower his voice.

(If you’re a mother, you get it. My dilemma was real. I mean, the babies had just nodded off…)

“Um…how bad is the fire?” I finally whispered. “Like, can you see actual flames?”

Not one of my finer mom moments, I know. But we’re all still alive, which is the main thing. And the other main thing is that this story is the perfect tie-in to Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the Bible guy who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonians demolished it. He faced opposition (some powerful people did not want his plan to succeed, and they kept up a barrage of abuse), but one of his main problems was simply the scope of the job. The city’s walls had been broken, its gates burned, and there was so much debris that the Jews (almost none of whom were professional builders) reached the point where they were ready to throw in the towel.  “The strength of the laborers is giving out,” they told Nehemiah, “and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

Can anybody relate?

Weariness can be a killer–even if the job is something we care deeply about. Fatigue can sap our strength and cloud our judgment, making us think and do crazy things. Like wanting to give up on a key building project. Or letting babies sleep through a fire.

Nehemiah understood all of this. He knew what exhaustion could do–particularly when you’re already feeling attacked. And so he made a plan. You can read the fine print here if you want, but the gist is that he posted people together so that they could strengthen each other, and he made sure that his workers had weapons.

Which is exactly what we do when we pray with our friends, and when we use Scripture to ward off attacks.

Nehemiah stationed whole families together, positioning them along the most vulnerable and exposed spots on the wall. We do the same thing when we come together to pray. We spot a gap in the wall–a place where a child or a friend might be at risk–and we get to work. And when one of us gets too weary or discouraged to lift up our hands (which can happen sometimes, in the trenches), others step in. We stand firm, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

And, like Nehemiah’s workers, we rely on our sword. Hebrews 4:12 says our sword is the Bible, and that we can use it to separate the lies from the truth. Which, for a weary young (or old!) mother, can be a game-changer.

We may tell ourselves, for instance, that we are not up to the job, that we stink at the whole parenting thing. But God says that we are his masterpiece, and that motherhood is a calling that he has both equipped and prepared us to do.

We think that we’ve blown it, that we’ve ruined our kids by some awful thing that we said or we did. But God says that he’s our Redeemer, and he promises to work in all things–the good and the bad–for our good when we love him.

You get the idea. Whether we’re building a city or a family, we can’t go it alone. We need one another. We need prayer. And we need the wisdom of Scripture.

There is so much more we could say (and golly, the MOPS moms got an earful this week!), but I’ll just wrap up with this:

If you’re a young mom (or you know someone who is), consider checking out MOPS. There’s no pressure to do anything but show up–and when you’ve got little people that you want to love really well, the friendships you forge at the meetings can become your tether to hope.

And speaking of loving our littles, I did, in fact, wake my babies that day. The firetruck came–the whole neighborhood came–and everyone (even the firemen) wound up eating popsicles. It was a good day, all around.

Except that I went to bed that night very tired.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Happy Mother’s Day from a New Mom

You need to know, right off the bat, that I am not someone who thinks that “Dogs are people, too.” I realize that I’ve probably offended half of you in saying that, but I can’t help that. The way I see it, dogs are dogs.

That being said, there are some definite similarities between humans and dogs. And ever since Minneapolis Bennett joined our family a few weeks ago, I’ve been having more than a few New Mom Feels. I don’t know which is harder, raising a baby or raising a puppy.

So far, I think it’s a tie.

Babies can’t feed themselves, right? Well neither could Minnie, at first. Thank goodness for four inches of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Every dog,” as Shakespeare reminds us (page 137), “will have its day.”

And the potty training thing? Getting to our yard requires a descent of five steps, and Minnie wasn’t having it. When I marveled at her reluctance, Robbie put things in perspective: “Asking her to go down those steps is like asking you to jump off a five-story building.”

Alrighty then.

Honestly though? The thing that made me feel most like a new mom happened just this past week, when I decided that Minnie should learn how to walk.

As in, on a leash.

As in, with me.

I did what any good parent might do. I asked Google.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that whichever dog-brain wrote that Step One in the teaching process is to “drop your end of the leash on the ground” needs to maybe be a little more clear on Step Two.

And all I could think, as I stood there staring at my dog-child while she stared back at me–chewing away at the tether and clearly not eager to stay anywhere close to my feet–was that God knew exactly how I felt.

Seriously.

God knows how all parents feel–especially when communication breaks down with our kids, or when they choose to walk down a path that we know is not good. I love how candid God is in Hosea 11, as he reveals his own parenting struggles:

“When Israel was a child,” God says, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

(Can anybody relate?)

And then God goes on, talking about how he taught his children to walk: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.”

Here again, I’ll spare you the details, (you can read em here if you want), but the nutshell version is that it did not go well. Israel wanted no part of God’s parenting. They pushed all of his buttons, in the worst kind of ways.

(I’ll ask it again:  Can anybody relate?)

And yet.

And yet God, even in his frustration, found his wrath trumped by compassion. He couldn’t help himself. He roared–not in anger, but with the fiercest of love–and called his wayward ones home.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mother’s Day.

If you find yourself raising a child who wants to go their own way–whether it’s a toddler whose potty training is not going much better than Minnie’s, a teen whose ears seem deaf to your voice, or an adult who has walked away from their faith (and maybe your family in the process), know this:

We’ve all been there.

“We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray–each of us to his own way.” And the second part of that verse tells us that God–out of love–put our sin squarely on Jesus. Compassion trumped wrath, once again.

So here’s the good Mother’s Day news, for moms (and dads) in the parenting trenches: Just like God could not help but pursue Israel, so he cannot help but go after our kids. And our children, as I’ve said over and over again in this space, are never out of God’s reach.

Hang in there, Sweet Momma. You are loved. And so are your kids.

With the fiercest, and sweetest, of loves.

❤️

Oh, and one more thing. Or maybe three.

First, summer is here, and the blog’s hitting vacation mode. I’ll still write, but maybe not every week. (I figure we can all use the break.) 😉

Second, if you haven’t gotten Mom a card yet, there’s still time. What you write doesn’t have to be fancy or long; feel free to borrow from this stellar example, created by my friend Elizabeth’s six-year-old son:

 

“Joy comes in the morning. Go Hoos Go.” Clearly, that boy knows his Bible. And his basketball.

And finally, you all know how much I appreciate Eugene Peterson, and when I was re-reading Hosea 11, I decided to check it out in The Message. And I laughed out loud.

Because this is me, yesterday, giving up on Minnie’s walking lessons:

And this is Eugene, rendering Israel’s response to God’s love:

And this is Minnie, letting us know just how she feels about the whole “I’m with you” thing:

😂

Happy Mother’s Day!

Leave a Reply


The Path of Life

“You have made known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

That’s Psalm 16:11, and it’s what someone put on a wedding gift for my friend Lisa Robertson and her husband Tim, some 40 years ago. Back then, the verse spawned several questions in Lisa’s mind:  Is there a path God has for me? Can I find it? Will I take it?

Is this the next step?

Most folks, I imagine, have had similar thoughts. Because life is full of pathways–hard ones, surprising ones, joyful ones–and we can find ourselves wondering which paths are from God, or which steps we should take. Happily for us, those are some of the very questions Lisa tackles in her new book, The Path of Life, which releases this week!

 

I’ve known Lisa for the better part of four decades. She’s Pollyanna to my Eeyore; she always expects (and sees) the best in people and things, while I mumble about what could be done or made better. But there’s no sugar-coating in this book; instead, Lisa is incredibly candid about the paths she’s been on: The Difficult Path (when her younger sister was killed); the Parenting Path (and how hard it was to watch her son move 3,000 miles away); the Path of Change (when it looked like her church–the place where she’d raised her five children–was coming apart at the seams, and all she could do was look at God and say, “I hate this! I don’t want to be here!”)

Don’t get me wrong. This book isn’t one of those tragic memoirs where you use up a whole box of Kleenex before you hit chapter three. Quite the contrary! The way Lisa processes life’s painful moments helps point us to God, revealing His path–even when His presence seems hidden.

Which is exactly what happened in Lisa’s marriage one day. Here’s how she tells it…

Early in our marriage, I learned how easy it was for me to allow my fickle feelings to determine how I reacted to Tim. One fall afternoon, we had an argument, and in my mature way, I decided to “punish” Tim by giving him the silent treatment. All Sunday afternoon, I didn’t say a word to him. I huffed and puffed, silent on the outside but boiling on the inside.

My big mistake was that this happened during football season, and Tim was so engrossed in his beloved Redskins that he wasn’t aware of my silence. After several hours, my feelings were hurt and I didn’t think Tim cared, but the reality was that he didn’t even know.

Can’t you just picture it? You’ve got the wife all hot and bothered, banging pots and pans in the kitchen, while the husband (who literally has no idea that he’s in the doghouse!) is sitting there, eating chips and wondering what he did to merit a whole afternoon of uninterrupted football. Anybody else’s marriage been there??

I’ll let you read Lisa’s story for yourself, but the punchline is that she learned a lot about the dangers of giving free rein to her feelings that day. “Allowing our emotions to have too much influence in our lives,” she writes, “can lead us to believe things that are not true.”

Roger that.

And Roger this, as Lisa shares what she’s learned about the Psalm 16 promise of joy:

Rather than manufacturing the right feelings, if we want to truly be filled with joy in God’s presence, we need to know that this joy is a gift from God, plain and simple. There’s nothing we can do or strive toward; we don’t achieve fullness of joy, but as a gift we receive it…

Truthfully, it might be easier for me to work for joy than to just receive it, regardless of my circumstances. But thankfully, no matter what our circumstances may be, when we choose to open our eyes and see God’s presence all around us, at every moment, the gift of His fullness of joy is not far behind.

Good words for this Eeyore to remember. Thank you, Lisa.

❤️

The Path of Life releases on May 8; preorder on Amazon now to get your copy by Mother’s Day. And if you’d like to win a free copy, hop on over to my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment or tag a friend who reminds you of Lisa–someone who just sort of oozes “fullness of joy.” We’ll pick three winners on Monday!

Leave a Reply


More than a Tee Shirt…

I did an Instagram Story last week where I wore this tee shirt:

Wait. That’s a lie.

I didn’t do the story; my son’s girlfriend did. I am, as we know, painfully slow when it comes to social media, but Instagram seems to be Mary’s love language. She just held up the phone while I talked and the next thing I knew, it was posted–with hashtags, a spinning basketball, and a blinking Easter cross!

More is more, eh? I love that girl.

Anyhow.

The Insta Story was meant to spread the word on some new book releases…

  • Holy Week (a board book from the “Baby Believer” series)
  • The From Me to You Conversation Journals (which parents and kids pass back and forth)
  • and The Path of Life (which you’ll hear more about next week, cuz it’s a great gift for Mom)

…but I got more than a few comments on the tee shirt.

Which made me think that it might be time to revisit the post I did exactly three years ago, the week after Easter. Which was also the week after U.Va. frittered away a big second-half lead and found themselves booted from the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Here’s what I wrote, back then. And if you’re not a U.Va. fan and you can’t take ONE MORE WORD about Tony Bennett, please don’t unsubscribe or leave negative comments. Just scroll to the end. Because all of us–even Tarheels and Tigers–can use the promise of JOY now and then.

Joy in the Morning

Whelp, my beloved Wahoos lost to Syracuse last Sunday night.

Every U.Va. fan I know has been in mourning this week, except for maybe our dogs, who are high-fiving (pawing?) themselves over the fact that I won’t make them dress up to play Carolina tomorrow.

IMG_4593

The loss was a blow, but it was Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a more fitting day for Coach Tony Bennett to make the comment that he did. When reporters asked what he’d told the team after the game, Bennett said:

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Bennett said the words came from an old church hymn. They’re also, incidentally, in the title of a book by one of my most favorite fiction authors, P.G. Wodehouse (click here for the hardcover version, here for the paperback):

photo-1

But, really, the promise of joy after sorrow is older than both the hymn and the book. It comes from Psalm 30:5.

And like so many of God’s promises, this one might be hard to believe, particularly when you are in the midst of suffering and you can’t see any way out. But, to quote Coach Bennett, “Joy is coming…I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.”

I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.

Could there be any more encouraging words? If you find yourself aching today, or if someone you love is walking through a season of sorrow and it doesn’t feel like things will ever get better, take hold of the Psalm 30 promise. Make it your prayer.

Because we don’t know what the future will bring, but we know that God is faithful. And we know that He loves us. And that his goal is to make our joy complete.

Joy is coming.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ feels overwhelmed with pain or sadness, may they find hope in and strength in your promise: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Amen.

❤️

And P.S., two things:

First, if you want your own “Joy” tee, click here.

And second, if you’re a regular reader, you probably know that Max and Khaki (pictured above in their U.Va. gear) both got drafted into the Great Beyond. We miss them dearly, but this little gal (who arrived just last week!) is keeping us on our toes. When she’s not trying to eat them.

Blog friends, meet Minnie(apolis) Bennett, aka “Minnie.” 💙🧡

Leave a Reply


The Power of Hope

As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude. It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.

That’s G.K. Chesterton. And I’ve been mulling his words all week long. Because we know Easter’s coming–we have reason to hope–but what about those early believers? To Christ’s friends and his followers, things must have looked hopeless. Their savior—their closest companion—had been brutally murdered. It seemed inconceivable that He’d live again. And when I see Mary at the tomb, mistaking the Lord for a gardener, I get it. I would have, too.

“It’s only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”

If you’ve ever stood facing the bleakness—in a marriage that’s broken beyond repair, a diagnosis where the doctors have done all they can, a child who’s walked away from his faith—you know exactly what Chesterton meant. Hope needs to be more than a platitude. It has to be some sort of anchor when it looks like there’s nothing to hold.

Hope has to work.

Which is, of course, what Easter is all about.

Scripture tells us that God, in his great mercy, gives us new birth into a living hope through Christ’s resurrection. It says that hope will not disappoint. And that hope is an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God.

Isn’t that a fabulous image? Hope really is a lifeline–a strength we can count on, no matter how hopeless things look.

And as we mark Good Friday today and look forward to Easter, I’m praying for you. I don’t know where you are or what you might be facing, but I know the God of hope. And I know that He’s faithful.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.

You are loved. ❤️

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Madness is Real

The madness is real.

From the moment I first put on my Lucky Orange Sweater (a pre-tournament “love your enemies” gift from my Tarheel pal Lynn)…

…to waking up Tuesday morning and seeing my son’s face on some reporter’s Twitter feed…

…the rollercoaster ride that is college hoops has (for U.Va. fans, anyway) never been wilder.

And all week long folks have been texting and emailing me, saying “I can’t wait to read your Friday blog! You have so much good material! Did you see where Tony said…”

Yes. I saw where Tony said. Like most Wahoo fans, I’ve done little else this week except watch press conferences, read game-recap articles, and marvel over every single shining moment (and every humility-laced post-game interview) in Virginia’s incredible turnaround tournament.

You know the story.

After an early eviction from the 2018 tourney (one where U.Va. made history by becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16), coaches and players dug deep. As a response to what Coach Tony Bennett has repeatedly called a “painful gift,” they used the devastation as a glue of sorts, one that bonded them even closer as a team and kindled a resolve and a resilience that refused to come unstuck, even in the most pressure-packed moments.

Coach Bennett cited a line from a TED Talk (“If you learn to use it right — the adversity — it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way”), but honestly? He might as well have been quoting Eugene Peterson. Because when Tony said that the loss had “freed him up” (making him want to be a better coach even as he realized that if he never got to a national championship game, he’d still be okay), all I could think of was Peterson’s assessment of what happened to the Israelites, back in 587 B.C.

You know Eugene Peterson from The Message Bible. But he wrote a bunch of other great stuff too, including this commentary, which I am currently loving:

(And for all you U.Va. grads, yes. I am blogging from The Stacks at Alderman Library.)

(Which is my happy place.)

(And not just because it’s where I realized, as I was studying Shakespeare with Robbie, that he had really great hair.)

Anyhow.

Run with the Horses is a look at the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived during a time when the Israelites found themselves in a place not unlike where the U.Va. players were, this time last year. The Jews had been exiled–not from a basketball tournament, but from their homeland. They’d been taken captive to Babylon.

And since I doubt you will read about this Basketball-and-Babylon connection in other sports columns, I’ll go ahead and tell you what Peterson said. “The essential meaning of exile,” he wrote, “is that we are where we don’t want to be.”

Roger that. In case you didn’t follow the story, the U.Va. players were ridiculed and reviled after last year’s loss, even facing death threats.

Crazy, but true.

And exile, Peterson went on, is “traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we are in and the people we are with. When that changes, violently and abruptly, who are we? The accustomed ways we have of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. The first wave of emotion recedes and leaves us feeling worthless, meaningless. We don’t fit anywhere. No one expects us to do anything. No one needs us. We are extra baggage. We aren’t necessary.”

Okay, so I know some of you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “Wait. What? I thought this was a basketball story…”

But stick with me here. It is a basketball story. And it’s an Israelite story. And it’s our story.

Because whether it’s a change in our tournament status, our homeland, or our life (as in, a shift in our family circumstances, our job, our health, our marriage, etc.), exile happens.

(It did with me when I hit the empty nest years. Even though I knew it was good and right and all of those things, I didn’t like it. I felt—and I still feel, sometimes—like Peterson’s extra baggage. Like I am no longer needed. Like I don’t know where I fit anymore.)

But even in those dark or unwanted places, Peterson tells us what Coach Bennett did: “This very strangeness can open up new reality to us… With the pain and in the midst of alienation a sense of freedom can occur.”

For the U.Va. players, this very strangeness—the new reality that came wrapped as a painful gift—freed them up to play harder than ever before. Not as individual athletes, but as an entire team focused on the mantra that became “United Pursuit.”

For the Israelites, the new reality meant settling down, finding out what it really meant to be God’s people in a strange land. It meant choosing to flourish–to build homes, to grow families, and to pray for the people–in the land where they never wanted to be.

And for us, exile can mean the same thing. When we find ourselves in an unexpected or unwanted place, that can (and should) be the prompt that motivates us to discover what God is up to. To seek Him with all of our hearts. To live for what really matters–focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

“Exile,” Peterson wrote, “is the worst that reveals the best.”

That was certainly true for the Israelites. Their exile led to what Peterson calls “the most creative period in the entire sweep of Hebrew history,” one in which they “lost everything they thought was important and found what was important:  They found God.”

And it’s been true for the U.Va. team. Coach Bennett is quick to point out that losing a basketball game (even if it’s a blow-out defeat like what our guys suffered in 2018) is far from “the worst” thing in life. Even so, I think he would agree with Peterson. How we respond to exile—to adversity—is what makes all the difference.

“Though it’s not the way I would have chosen,” Coach Bennett said, in the days prior to Monday’s championship game, “it’s part of our story. And if we use it right, it’ll produce something very valuable.”

It did for U.Va.

And, if we let it, it will for us too.

🧡💙

And P.S. if you want something else “valuable,” you can get my “fascinator” hat off of Amazon. It’s currently out of stock in the orange color (must have been a run on ’em, what with all the well-dressed U.Va. fans), but maybe you want a pink one for Easter? Click here.

You’re welcome. 😊

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

Leave a Reply


Don’t be afraid; it’s Puppy Day

We lost Max, our golden retriever, last fall. It was super hard, but in a demonstration of His infinite kindness, God arranged things so that all four of our adult children could be home when we said goodbye.

Max wasn’t the best looking dog, or the bravest. And he didn’t know any commands. But you could tell that, if he had known what we wanted (like, if he’d ever realized what things like “Sit!” meant), he would gladly have done it. Max’s chief attribute–the trait that colored his life–was an overwhelming desire to make his people happy.

I miss our boy, more than I ever imagined I would. And with National Puppy Day being tomorrow (thank you, AND ONE Marketing, for the heads up on that), I figured I’d revisit some of the lessons Max taught us. Including this one (originally published a few years ago) about not being afraid…

The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

Our dog Max (you know him as the rock eater) is an anxious dog. There are a lot of things that scare him. Sudden movements. The bathroom floor. His food bowl.

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

We went on a walk the other day and came upon a big black lab. As if his size and color were not threatening enough, this guy was sporting a pirate scarf where his collar should have been. Max stopped in his tracks.

I tried coaxing and commanding, tempting and tugging, but Max wasn’t having it. He did not want to pass that dog. Given the whole pirate vibe, I might have understood his trepidation…except for one thing.

The dog was fake.

Not, like, taxidermy fake. This one was, like, fake fake. It couldn’t bite or growl, and it certainly didn’t smell. It just sat there, day after day, fake-guarding the “Outer Barks” shop in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

I had to laugh. I tried to see things from Max’s viewpoint, but I just couldn’t. The whole thing was ridiculous – and his neurosis was hurting our progress.

And then I stopped.

Because as I stood there (smiling at other pedestrians and trying to be cool, like maybe Max and I were just sort of “resting”), I realized that I do the same thing. I start out like Enoch (he’s a Bible guy who “walked faithfully with God” for 300 years), but then I look down the road and see something – a real something or a fake something – that could be a problem, and I balk.

Which is not God’s idea of how things are supposed to play out.

God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think, or even say, when they see us dance, which is–to my children’s everlasting mortification–not something that normally keeps me off the floor when the band starts playing Bon Jovi. Or ABBA.)

God knew we’d face threats, and that fear would be a problem. And so he gave us the answer. He gave us the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put another way, God gave us a Spirit who can make us bold in the face of uncertainty, loving when it might be easier to just turn away, and self-controlled and steady when life feels anything but calm. He gave us a Spirit who can equip us to do the good things that he has prepared. He gave us a Spirit who can strengthen us to walk faithfully with him on life’s longest journeys (no matter what sort of pirate-dog stands in our way).

God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us the Holy Spirit. So let’s stop with the balking already.

Let’s move.

Heavenly Father,

Over and over again, you tell us, “Do not be afraid.” (Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; and John 14:27)

As we confront things–real and imagined–that scare us, would you please fill us afresh with your Spirit? Let our lives be marked by power, love, and self-discipline. And may your perfect love drive out every fear. (2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18)

Amen

 

Leave a Reply


Rest for your soul (no calorie counting required)

So I started tracking my eating habits last week, using a phone app that shows the caloric content and nutritional value of everything you consume.

I’ll spare you the details; as my mom said when one of her children bought a juicer and started talking about drinking carrots, “I will listen because I am your mother, but I must warn you that this sort of conversation bores people.” But as I was logging my raspberry intake (did you know that they have just 1 calorie each?), Robbie wondered what I was doing.

My man is all about apps, and when I showed him how the thing worked, he wanted to play. “How do I tell it,” he said, “that I just ate a bag of Cheetos the size of my head?”

Not once in all of those youth group warnings about being “unequally yoked” did I ever think I’d wind up with a spouse who was so metabolically different than me. Back then, all I cared about was that Robbie loved Jesus. Now, though, I think single people should maybe consider how they match up with someone, diet-wise. Because honestly? It’s kind of discouraging to live with somebody who can lose weight pounding Thin Mints while you sit there counting almonds (116 calories in 15 of ’em) and discover you’ve gained two pounds that week.

But, as a wise woman might say, this is the sort of blog that bores people.

So I’ll stop with the nutritional stuff and revisit the subject of yokes. Because even as Paul tells us not to team up with nonbelievers—a command that stems from the Old Testament’s admonition against mis-matching an ox and a donkey (which seems like something a farmer could have figured out on his own?)—Jesus invites us to link up with Him. He invites us to put on His yoke.

“Come to me,” Jesus says to the weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Rest. For your soul.

Doesn’t that sound appealing? It’s the promise of peace. Relaxation. Fulfillment. And freedom from things like worry and fear.

All things we want, right?

Right. But…how do we get there, exactly?

There are two parts to Christ’s invitation. The first part is to come (“Come to me”); the second is to connect (“Take my yoke”). Both parts lead to rest–but it’s the second part of this promise where things can get a little bit tricky.

Because coming to Jesus sounds easy. But wearing His yoke—surrendering to His Lordship, yielding to His teaching, living in such a way that our thoughts and our actions sync up with His plans—feels a bit problematic. What if we are not good enough? What if we get distracted? What if that yoke feels too heavy or tight?

This is where God’s grace comes in. The grace that saves us when we come is the grace that equips us to stay. It’s what opens the door to soul-rest. And even though I’m not entirely sure what it looks like, I know that Christ’s “yoke” is something I want. I don’t want to just come to the Lord. I want my life to be utterly connected to His.

And so here’s what I’m doing:  I’m reaching for Jesus. And every time I feel myself pulling away (which is, like, every day, as I slip toward sinful habits, slide toward worry or fear, or just get caught up in the To-Do List Tangle), I reach out again. “Keep me connected,” I pray. “I don’t know how to do this, Jesus; I need You to hold me.”

And you know what? He does.

I’m not there yet (and I doubt I ever will be, this side of heaven), but I think I’m beginning to  understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.” (Philippians 3:12 MSG)

If you want to join me in the pursuit of unbroken connection (and I can’t think of a better time to “reach out for Christ” than during the season of Lent), use the prayer prompt below, or craft one of your own.

And if you got stuck back there with the Cheetos, and you’ve been wondering just how many calories there actually are in a serving that big, let’s just put it like this:

Robbie could have eaten 700 raspberries instead.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for inviting us to come to you and find rest. Equip us to stay–to stay connected, to take up your yoke, to learn from you–so that we will find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

 Amen

Leave a Reply


You Can Use My Name

So this is officially “Celebrate Your Name” week.

I know this because my hip young friend, Peyton, runs an award-winning marketing firm, and she published a content calendar on her website this week. It’s chock full of things we might not otherwise know.

For instance, if you missed out on “World Compliment Day” on March 1, you can still take advantage of “National Napping Day” next Tuesday. And don’t tell my husband (because he’s currently looking at litters online), but March 23 is “National Puppy Day” (which probably means that my coffee table is about to get chewed).

Anyhow.

When I downloaded Peyton’s calendar and saw the bit about celebrating our names, I thought to myself: That’s kind of freaky. In a freaky good kind of way. Because as timing would have it, I have been thinking a whole lot this week about names. Well, one name, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name Jesus–and, in particular, how we use it in prayer.

You know the drill: We ask God for something, or say grace over a meal, and then (sometimes without even thinking) we tack on a quick “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Having spent most of 2019 in the Gospel of John, I think I know where this practice comes from. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to ask in his name:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (John 14:13-14)

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)

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Reading verses like these back-to-back, you get the idea that He mean it. Jesus intends for us to know His name–and to use it.

Which, for me, raises a couple of questions.

I know how I’d feel if I gave somebody the use of my name–like, if I recommended someone for a job, or I wanted to make an introduction. I’d want that person to speak and behave honorably (and not to do anything that might, by virtue of my endorsement, reflect badly on me!). Did Jesus, I wondered, ever have that kind of concern?

I wanted to know more about how this “you can use my name” thing really works, and I figured Andrew Murray would have something to say. I picked up my copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer (which is getting more dog-eared by the day) and sure enough:  He has a whole chapter on this very topic.

Murray contends that when we pray in Christ’s name, we are actually praying in his nature–which is love. Prayers “in the name of Jesus” presuppose that our interests are aligned with God’s. “No one,” Murray says, “would give another free use of his name without first being assured that his honor and interests were as safe with that other person as with himself.”

Not only that, but the power that our prayers carry also depends on our relationship to the Lord. God looks not just to our lips, but also to our lives to see what His name is to us. And as we “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (Micah 4:5), we can effectively pray in the name of the Lord our God–with full confidence that, as Jesus promised, we will receive whatever we ask.

And finally (and this goes to my question about the potential for misusing Christ’s name), Murray says that the phrase “in my name” has its own built-in safeguard. When we bear the name “Christian”–living and acting and praying as children of God–the power that’s in the name works. When we try to live (and pray) out from under that power, it doesn’t.

Okay. That’s enough Deep Thought for one day. Let’s download our content calendars, thank God for giving us a Name we can celebrate, and look forward to napping next week!

😊

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us the privilege of bearing your name when we call ourselves Christians. Please show us what your name really means, and how we can use it in prayer, so that You will be glorified in our midst. (John 14:13-14)

Amen

Leave a Reply


Hit the Ball Back

Every family, I guess, has its own lexicon.

Several years ago, I curated a few favorite Berndt sayings (things like Paddle hard, Eat the ugly frog first, and Keep chocolate handy) and painted them on a “Family Rules” board.

Paddle Hard is a take-off on Colossians 3:23, which served as a theme verse for our staycation one year.

The Ugly Frog is a twist on Mark Twain (“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”).

And that bit about Chocolate? That’s just basic survival, to us.

I love this old board, but there is one rule–one good family rule–that I forgot to include.

Hit the ball back.

Hit the ball back began with our son, who views much of life through the lens of athletics.

As a preschooler, Robbie learned math. It wasn’t on purpose; we just parked him in front of the television (fourth child) and asked questions like, “How many points does U.Va. need to score in the next minute if we are going to beat Carolina?”

As a fourth-grader, Robbie sometimes forgot to turn in his assignments–until we explained that homework worked exactly like basketball:  It didn’t actually count unless you “sunk it” in the teacher’s basket.

And then one day, another dad offered to drive Robbie to lacrosse camp. I knew the fellas would be in the car for awhile, and I wanted Robbie’s conversation to sparkle. Trouble was, he had three older sisters, which meant we didn’t actually know whether our boy could talk.

It was time for some pregame coaching.

“When Mr. McKee asks you a question,” I said, “don’t just answer with a yes or a no. Pretend that whatever he says is a tennis serve, and return it. Give him something that he can hit back.”

I don’t know how the ride went (Robbie thought it was great, but then again, he thought he got all his SAT-Math questions right), but Hit the ball back became a family staple that day.

Years later, after our children were grown, I realized that nobody hit the ball back better than Jesus. Whether He served the ball or returned it, the Lord always invited folks to come play.

How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked, when the disciples wondered where they could find food for 4,000 people.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus wondered, sparking a dialogue that led to Peter’s confession:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked a blind beggar, the one who refused to stop shouting. “Rabbi,” the man replied, “I want to see.”

Jesus, of course, knew the answers. He knew how much bread was on hand, that He was God’s Son, and that the blind man wanted to see.

So…why all the questions? What was Jesus trying to do?

Think about it.

Jesus could have just blurted stuff out (“I am GOD!“), or healed people as He wandered by. Athletically speaking, though, that would be like Roger Federer, playing tennis with me. Federer could serve (or return) the ball 24 times, and the set would be over. And at the end of the match, I would never have moved from the baseline, my game would be unimproved, and–worst of all–I would not know a single thing about my amazing opponent (other than what I already did, from TV).

But that’s not what God wants for our lives.

God wants us to move. He wants us to grow. And most of all, He wants us to get to know Jesus.

Which only happens when we engage.

Jesus didn’t question the disciples for His sake (again, He already knew all the answers), but for theirs. He wanted to draw them into connection, to the place where their lives could be changed. And He still wants to do that today.

What do you have?

Just as the disciples offered their loaves, we can give God our resources and talents (meager as they might be), trusting Him to use them to satisfy many.

Who do you say that I am?

That was Christ’s question to Peter, and He asks the same thing to us. Either He’s God, or He isn’t. What do you say?

What do you want me to do?

This last question might be my favorite, because it’s God’s invitation to pray. The blind man probably figured that his need was obvious. When prompted, though, he made his request anyway. Let’s be like him. Let’s not shrink back. Let’s put our needs out there, knowing that we’ve been invited, and let’s hit the ball back when God serves.

❤️

Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring. (Hosea 6:3 NLT)

Thank you, Lord, that we can know You, and that we can ask for Your help.

Today I need ______.

Thank You for Your promise to respond.

Amen

Leave a Reply


Just a quick thought and a blessing

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to watch your children grow up.

That’s also one of the hardest things, particularly when the paths our kids choose don’t line up with our vision for what “their happiness” is supposed to look like, or when we aren’t really sure what God’s best plan is for their lives. It can be easy, during those iffy or uncertain times, to be tempted to give in to fear, or to worry because we aren’t really sure what how to pray.

But let’s don’t. Instead, let’s take back that ground with a blessing, releasing our ideas and agendas to God and trusting Him to accomplish his plans in the lives of the people we love.

And if you’re in a spot where maybe you don’t love a particular choice your child makes, know this: A blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, it’s simply a way of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our children’s lives and inviting him to shepherd their future.

Just a thought. And if you like it, you’ll find a collection of well-loved “scripture blessings” in the Adult Children book.

For now, though, here’s our family’s favorite:

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them; make Your face shine on  ______ and be gracious to them.

Turn Your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen

 

Leave a Reply


She Has His Smile: The Power of Being an Image Bearer

I’ve been missing my father this week. His birthday was February 18th; Dad would have been 80 this year.

People used to say that we favored each other. They said I had my dad’s smile (which made me happy), as well as his nose (which made me less so)…

Three years ago, I wrote a post about some of the good gifts Dad gave me (the best being an introduction to Jesus), and I shared a bit about his cancer journey. And this year, as I reflect on his legacy, I’ve been thinking of how many things—physical attributes, as well as interests and skills—fathers pass down to their kids.

A classical pianist may teach his children to love Mozart and Bach. A businessman may want to raise up a successor. An athletic dad may urge his kids to play sports.

(Or try to, anyway. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that Dad’s passion for tennis didn’t exactly translate into a skill-set for me.)

For better or for worse, children are image bearers–a connection that reflects our relationship to our Heavenly Father, I think. Remember what God said, back when He was creating the world? “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

That’s Genesis 1:26. And it comes right before God outlines our destiny. In a nutshell, our original job description was to reproduce, fill the earth, and basically take responsibility to love and care for God’s entire creation.

Sounds like a tall order, right? (Especially after that whoopsie, early on, in the Garden.)

It is a big job. And it would literally be mission impossible, except for two things.

The first is the power of redemption. What sin destroyed, God’s grace restored.  Thanks to the cross, we are back in the destiny saddle.

And the second is the power of prayer. To quote Andrew Murray (my current “dead author” obsession), prayer is “the power through which blessing can come to others.”

Put another way, prayer is the conduit through which God’s provision can flow.

It is the number one way we can love and care for our world.

It is–and buckle up, Murray fans, cuz this is one of his best–“proof of man’s godlikeness, the vehicle of his communication with the Father, and the power that is allowed to hold the Hand that holds the destinies of the universe.”

(It’s okay. I’ll wait while you read that one again. I had to.)

Because here’s the thing:  God could have chosen to work around us, or even in spite of us, but he didn’t. He chose to work in us, and through us, to bless other people. God chose us–us!–to be the channel through which His power is unleashed in our world!

Why? Why?

All I can think, as I consider our status as “image bearers,” is that it’s because of how much He loves us. Not because we are clever or well-behaved or (thank goodness!) athletic. Our Heavenly Father loves us–and listens to us–just because we are His.

So let’s just go ahead and take hold of His Hand. Let’s come before our Father today–the Daddy whose image we bear–and look into his face.

And if we aren’t sure what to ask for, or even how to get started, that’s okay. We can do like the disciples did, back when they beheld Jesus, and say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that You’ve called us your children, and that we’re being transformed into Your image. May we gradually become brighter and more beautiful as You enter our lives and we become like Jesus. (2 Corinthians 3:18 MSG)

And when people who know You look at us, may they think to themselves, “She has His smile.”

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read more about what it means to be God’s image-bearer in Praying the Scriptures for Your LifeClick here if you’d like to order a copy.

Leave a Reply


Let’s take the long way

I used to write financial planning books.

(I know, I know. Insert eye-roll emoji. Robbie would.)

I didn’t think up the money management stuff on my own; I mostly just wrote down whatever Ron Blue or Larry Burkett said, and then added some semi-colons. And while I don’t remember everything I learned from those gurus (like, if you asked me what a “pour-over will” is now, I’d probably reach for the corkscrew), there are at least three truths that have stuck:

First: God owns it all. (Helpful to remember, especially when you think about tithing. Or buying a house. Or even a new pair of shoes. Would God do that with your/His paycheck?)

Second: Financial freedom comes from spending less than you earn. (Harder than it sounds. See earlier note re shoes.)

And finally: Time is a tool–and the more you have of it, the better.

That last point, the one about time being our ally, also holds true in prayer. Just like extending our time horizon in financial planning can allow the “magic” of compounding to exponentially grow a nest egg, so giving God time to work in response to our prayers releases Him to do more–immeasurably more–than anything we might think we desire.

And just like taking the long view in our finances can help us ride the market’s highs and lows without panicking, so adopting a long-term prayer strategy can help us wait well and keep praying–even when the answer seems slow in coming.

Which happens, right? In every season of prayer…

The toddler who won’t sleep through the night. The teenager battling loneliness. The adult child who has walked away from his faith. The spouse who is looking for work. The sickness–physical or emotional–that just won’t go away.

It can be easy, in the face of delayed provision or unanswered prayers, to want to give up. Maybe, we think to ourselves, God has some secret reason for withholding an answer–and the most pious thing we could do would be to just quit.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s take the long view, recognizing that God is at work–even when we can’t see what he’s doing, and even when the waiting is hard. And I don’t know much about all the ways that God works (less, even, than I know about handling money), but here again, there are three things that are true:

First: God loves us. Lavishly and without condition, even on our worst days.

Second: He is all-powerful. It doesn’t matter what our need is; he is able to help.

And finally: His timing is perfect.

God might be timing things so we learn perseverance. That’s a quality I want my own kids to have; seems like God might want it to shape our lives, too. Sure, I love it when prayer works like a vending machine (request in; answer out), but honestly? The blessings that come after a hard fight or a long wait are the answers I treasure the most.

He might be giving us an opportunity to hone our request. Just like earthly parents can get an earful sometimes (one of our kids recently asked for a kitten that comes with its ears folded down, which I gather costs more than some cars), so our Heavenly Father hears all our petitions. Sometimes, though, He has a different idea. (Like, He might want us to get a free cat. Or even no cat.) And when He does, we are wise to follow Christ’s example and pray not just for what we want, but in submission to God’s better plan.

Or God could be testing our faith. Not so that He can know how we measure up–He already has that intel–but so that we can. We need to know that we’ve staked our trust in something that’s real, that our confidence is well-placed, and that the ties that bind us to Jesus are strong.

God could be doing any number of things while we wait. I don’t know. But let’s not give up. Instead, let’s take the long view, knowing how much He loves us–and recognizing that even though we might not see the whole scope of what God is doing, He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in prayer, but help us remember that at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

Leave a Reply


Stopping the Spiral (Valentine’s Day Wisdom from Lisa Jacobson)

Love is more than a feeling. We know that. We know that there are plenty of times when it is more of a choice.

Trouble is, we don’t always know what that looks like, relationship-wise.

And so, when I saw my friend Lisa Jacobson talking about this exact topic on Instagram, I asked if she’d mind sharing some of her thoughts in this space. Because whether we’re navigating a relationship with our Valentine, our Galentine, or even our kids, it’s good to know what to do when we feel the “Great Spiral” coming on.

Here’s Lisa:

The Great Spiral (and how to avoid it!)

The morning began so well.

My alarm went off. I got right up and jumped in the shower. Popped breakfast in the oven.

On my way to a strong start in a new year. You see, I’m determined to be ready for church on time—which has not always been my strong suit.

But then just when everything was going so well, my husband walked in, observed my outfit, and with some surprise, said something like, “You’re wearing that?”

I was wearing a green, cable knit sweater and jeans. (Admittedly, not my typical attire as I tend to dress up a bit for church.)

So I shrugged my shoulders and told him it was supposed to snow. And with that, he smiled and left the room.

For him, this was merely an observation. A question of curiosity.

For me, it was criticism. Condemnation even.

And I felt the Great Spiral coming on.

Maybe it wasn’t a good morning.
Maybe I’d made a poor choice.
Maybe I can’t even dress myself right…

STOP

Time for a little talk with myself. “Lisa, you know he didn’t mean anything by it. Remember, HE LOVES YOU.”

And I DO know that but when I take something wrong…it’s so difficult to get back right again. All those old voices and past hurts flood my head until I can’t think straight.

So there I stood.

With only a few minutes to decide whether to let this moment defeat me

OR

To take my thoughts captive and choose love instead.

I had a choice to make.

And I wrestled awhile.

Then walked out of the room, slipped my hand into his, and we made it to church on time—casually, in my sweater and jeans.

Taking Your Thoughts Captive

I don’t know if you ever struggle with the Great Spiral like I do. But it’s amazing how someone can say or do something that will quite unexpectedly send my mind into a deep dive.

Not only hard on my heart, but rather hard on my relationships too.

And I used to feel helpless when that happened.

One wrong move and there she goes….

Until I came onto this verse:

“…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

That’s when it dawned on me that I don’t have to be ruled by my runaway thoughts: I can take them “captive.” It’s on me to be in charge of my mind—rather than the other way around.

And same with you.

So the next time someone you love says something that threatens to send you into a spiral?

STOP.

Remember what is true.

And then don’t let the offense – whether real or imagined – take you for a ride.

Take those thoughts captive.

Choose love.

❤️

Want more practical relationship wisdom from Lisa Jacobson? You’ll find her over at Club31women.com, or follow her on Instagram @club31women. 

And P.S. — if you’re like I am, and you know that you can’t stop all those runaway thoughts on your own, why not turn Lisa’s “aha” verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me destroy every proud obstacle that keeps me from knowing you. Work in me to capture my rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NLT)

Amen

 

Leave a Reply


Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

Leave a Reply


Let’s take prayer out of church

Happy New Year!

I am already in love with 2019, mostly because of the people I’ve been spending time with, and the places we’ve been. “Captain” Robbie and I started the year on a boat with our people…

…and since coming ashore, I’ve been hanging out in the classroom with Andrew Murray and Jesus:

I first read Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer back in college, when my brain worked a little better than it does now. Honestly though? Murray’s words are richer the second time around, even if I do have to process some paragraphs twice. (The book, originally published in 1885, says that it’s been “updated for the modern reader,” but I’m guessing that “modern” maybe means different things to different people…)

Anyhow.

Having been “in school” now for almost a month, I can’t wait to share what I’m learning with you!

For starters, Murray maintains that prayer is the most important and influential thing we can do. It is, he says, “the highest part of the work entrusted to us–the root and strength of all other work.”

Underscoring his point, Murray notes that Jesus didn’t teach anybody to preach; rather, He taught people to pray. And His very first pupil wasn’t one of the disciples. It was (and this was an eye-opener for me) the woman He met at the well.

You know the story. Jesus is tired. And thirsty. And probably hot, since it’s the middle of the day. He’s alone by a well and when a Samaritan woman comes along to draw water, He asks her for a drink.

And she says…no.

Not in so many words, of course. But instead of getting water for Jesus, the gal can’t figure out why He’s asking. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman,” she says. “How can you ask me for a drink?”

Again, you know the deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t fraternize much; to the Jews, Samaritans were “unclean.” And this gal wasn’t just average unclean; she was extra unclean, having had five husbands and a sixth man now sharing her bed. Still, though, Jesus engaged her…

Which is where Andrew Murray comes in.

The woman wanted to know whether worship should happen in Jerusalem (like the Jews thought) or Samaria (like her people thought). Jesus told her that neither answer was the right one, since “a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”

That’s John 4:23. And the way Murray sees it, Jesus was saying that prayer is not confined to a place. It wasn’t limited to Jerusalem or Samaria, any more than it is limited to our churches or even our individual prayer closets. Instead, true worship happens when the Spirit of the Son, dwelling within us, reveals the Spirit of the Father and teaches us how to pray.

All of which points to two truths:

Truth #1: It doesn’t matter who we are or where we’ve been; Jesus wants us to pray, and he is eager to teach us. Never think you are too broken or clumsy or ignorant about churchy stuff to sit in Christ’s classroom. If he took time for the Samaritan woman (whose questions were legit), he will delight in taking time to teach us.

Truth #2: True worship works a whole lot like breathing. Instead of confining our praises and prayers to a particular place or “quiet time,” the Spirit of Christ in our hearts can (and should) connect with God all day long.

And I know, I know. Right now, some of you are thinking: But who has all day? I can barely find five minutes to pray!

I hear you. I thought the same thing, back when we had four kids under age six, and I spent most of my days doing things like cutting grapes, finding socks, or trying to catch a worm so Hillary could take it to school for Pet Day. (Lame, I know, but not nearly as bad as my grandmother, who gave my mother a saucepan on a leash to play with. Truly. But “Fluffy the Pot” is a story for another day…)

Prayer, I figured, was reserved for people who had more time, less children, and a whole lot less laundry than me.

But the thing is, we do have the time. We really do have “all day” to pray.

When we get dressed in the morning (or fold the umpteenth pair of clean socks), we can ask God to clothe us (or our kids) with things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

When we slice up an apple or bite into a berry, we can pray that God will fill our lives with the fruit of His Spirit: things like love, joy, self-control, and peace. (Galatians 5:22)

When we head into a meeting, especially if we aren’t sure how things will go down, we can do like King David and ask God to shape our words and our thoughts so that what comes out will be pleasing to Him. (Psalm 19:14)

And when we collapse into bed at the end of the day, we can thank Him for being the one who offers rest to all who are weary, whether we are burdened in body or soul. (Matthew 11:28-29)

You don’t have to know the verses; you get the idea. Prayer prompts can be found everywhere. And the more we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, trusting Him as our Teacher, the more he will show them to us!

And speaking of prompts…

If you want a little help jump starting your prayer life in 2019, you can download a free monthly prayer calendar here. There are versions for children, teens, and adults, and you can use the prompts to pray daily or by topic, simply adding the names of the people you love.

And speaking of people you love…

I am more than a little bit grateful for you. Thank you, dear Friends, for sticking with me during the “blog break” last month. I have some fresh ideas to share in the new year–thoughts on family life, prayer helps, and more–and I look forward to seeing where the Lord leads. And as always, I am praying for you:

May God 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)

 

Leave a Reply


He will be our peace.

“They want to see your house.”

That’s what a friend told me, after delivering the news that “everyone” in the Garden Club was apt to show up at the Christmas Coffee I’d said I would host–even the folks who don’t always come to the meetings.

I had a small panic attack. I mean, all of those stylish and talented ladies. In my house. With the Christmas tree still in the driveway, since it’s too big to fit in the family room.

(I know. New year, old problem.)

And then I thought about Mary. Did she have the same hostessing qualms that I did, all those Christmases ago? Like, when the Wise Men showed up, in their fancy robes with their pricey presents, did she fluff her pillows? Hide the unopened mail in the dryer? Dash out to the back yard to cut a few greens to make her fake Advent wreath look a little more real?

I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s because her visitors were men (and therefore could not be counted on to notice, much less rave about, her “Double Marilyn” amaryllis), but I don’t think that Mary did anything. And the way Matthew 2 tells it, I doubt the Magi gave a rip about their surroundings. They just followed the star, and when it stopped….

…they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him.

These guys just walked in, took one look at Jesus, and…worshiped.

Which is exactly what I want to do.

Seriously. I love Christmas–even the mayhem part–but I don’t want to get so caught up in the wrapping and tagging and baking and bagging that I wind up missing the Messiah. Like the Wise Men, I want to see Jesus. I want to worship!

For me, though, worship doesn’t always come easy. I can light the Advent candles and read my devotional and put on a Christmas playlist, but then I look up and see The Tree (which finally made it through the front door yesterday, after Robbie sawed nearly half of it off), and think, “Shoot. That thing has got to get decorated, one of these days.”

And there goes my worship.

So here’s what I’ve finally decided. I’ve decided that I cannot worship–really worship–on my own. I get too distracted, too hindered and entangled by all the wrong stuff. I am like the father, in Mark 9, who looked at Jesus and said, “I do believe” and then, in the very next breath, said, “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

I do worship; help me worship!

If that’s where you find yourself too (and particularly as we approach The Big Day), feel free to join me in prayer. Let’s ask God to help us do what we were created to do. Let’s ask Him to lead us into worship. Let’s ask him not just to grant us peace, but to actually be our peace.

Even if it is December 21 and there’s a giant tree, standing there utterly naked, in the family room…

Heavenly Father,

Help us throw off everything that hinders [things like shopping and wrapping and decking the halls] and fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Be our shepherd, O Lord. Be our peace. (Micah 5:4-5)

Amen.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Leave a Reply


Immanuel, Epanalepsis, and God With Us in 2019

Note to Readers: This is the last post of 2018, and actually the last one you’ll get from me for awhile. I’m praying through a few new projects and taking a little break from the blog. Might be a few weeks; might be a month. And as I say to my children sometimes, when they pull out of the driveway and I know I won’t see them for awhile:  The Lord be with you!

Which is actually a great segue into this week’s offering…

I’ve told you about Mark Forsyth before.

He’s the bestselling author of, among other books, The Elements of EloquenceWhich is where I discovered the word I was looking for, after re-reading the Christmas story last week.

Epanalepsis.

Epanalepsis, if you need to jog the old bean, is a term that describes circular writing–ending up in the place where you began. Think the Beatles and Yesterday, or Robert Burns’ “Man’s inhumanity to man.” Epanalepsis implies continuation, the idea that something is on-going.

And nobody, if you ask me, uses epanalepsis better than Matthew.

You know how he begins his account. He gives us the back-story on Jesus, summing up the genealogy like this:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

That’s Matthew 1:23, and it’s the only time in the entire New Testament where Jesus is called “Immanuel.” But it’s not the only time we hear that God is with us. That stuff is all over the Bible. And if you flip to Matthew 28–the very last verse in the very last chapter of Matthew’s story–you’ll see where Jesus says this:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Isn’t that a neat bit of story-telling? I mean, the very first thing we learn about Jesus (that He is Immanuel) is also is also the very last thing Matthew tells us he says (that He is with us). Put another way–and had Matthew read Forsyth, he might even have put it like this–Jesus is One Big Epanalepsis, stretching out across history, with us forever and always.

So what does all of this on-going with-ness actually mean? What can we look forward to, as we move from one year to the next?

It means freedom from fear. God is with us, giving us the strength and the help that we need. (Isaiah 41:10)

It means peace and joy. God is with us, rejoicing over us, singing over us and quieting our hearts with His love. (Zephaniah 3:17)

It means unconditional love. God is with us–and nothing in our past, nothing in our present, nothing we could ever think or do or say in the future, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38-39)

I could go on, but you get the idea. We might not know what 2019 has in store but wherever we are, whatever we face, whatever we may need in the way of strength or comfort or wisdom or peace, God has us covered. He is with us. And He loves us–today, tomorrow, and to the very end of the age.

Epanalepsis, personified. 😊

So Happy New Year! And may the Lord be with you–forever and always!

 

Leave a Reply


Have Yourself an Amazon Christmas? Not so fast…

Does anybody else have a husband whose phone lets him know when a credit card charge goes through?

Blame it on Amazon Prime. That “Buy now with 1-click” thing makes it a little too easy. And when I overheard Robbie on the telephone with the nice Amex lady, explaining why he thought our card had been hacked, I knew I had to ‘fess up. It’s like I used to tell my teenagers, back in the day. Numbers 32:23. You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel like a sin. Not at the time, anyway. It actually felt like a good idea to add this to my cart:

(It’s a Santa suit.)

(For your toilet.)

Before you judge me, be advised that this was not an impulse purchase. Granted, I was not looking for this particular product when it popped up on my screen (because I guess, based on my shopping history, Amazon thought the ensemble was something I’d like?), but I did not “Buy Now” right away. I did some research (and as it turns out, there are actually quite a few companies that make Santa suits for your bathroom), and I read the reviews.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Who would review that?” I thought that too. I mean, I can’t get my own family members to leave a comment on Amazon about one of my books, but there are apparently hundreds of strangers who are willing–eager, even–to talk pros and cons when it comes to toilet seat covers featuring three-dimensional cheeks.

To my credit, I will admit that I was tempted to go with the $4.99 suit, but I stopped myself. I chose the $18.99 version instead because I am nothing if not an eager learner, and my very wise smart-shopper husband always says, “You get what you pay for.”

Anyhow.

All of this is to say that this is the last you will hear from me about shopping. I am super grateful to those of you who submitted ideas (especially the gal whose husband went out on Black Friday and came home with SEVENTEEN HAMS, because I guess 16 was just not ham enough?), but clearly, it is time to move on. Let’s talk about something else Christmas.

Let’s talk about best-loved traditions.

My favorite tradition, hands down, is Christmas cards.

I love Christmas cards so much, in fact, that I cannot throw them away. I didn’t really see this as an official Hoarding Situation until I went in the attic to get the ornaments and had to shove my way through boxes of greetings from Christmases past. All stacked and sorted in zip-lock baggies, with the years clearly labeled, as if one of my as-yet-unborn grandchildren will one day ask me what the Hamilton family looked like, circa 2001.

As if.

Why do I hold onto these cards? The most obvious reason, I guess, is relationship. I love the friends we’ve made over the miles and the years. And even if we only see some of these people on their most perfect-looking day, once a year, I’m still grateful to know that they’re out there.

And I love the words, too. I mean, when else can we openly encourage one another to Celebrate Jesus-Fest (which, if you Google it, is pretty much what “Merry Christmas” literally means) without the checkout lady giving us the side-eye?

But there’s more to my strange obsession. I hang onto the cards because, to me, they represent stories that are still being written, lives that are still being shaped.

Once upon a time, when our children were young, we used to post the cards on a bulletin board in the kitchen and leave them for months, praying for a different sender each day. Now that we’re empty nesters, Robbie and I do this mostly alone. We sit by the fire, open the cards, and pray for a new batch of loved ones each night. And when I put stuff away in the attic, and see the little boy who now flies Navy helicopters or the girl who’s all grown up with kids of her own, I can’t help it. I’m thankful. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work.

Does that sound kind of corny? Maybe it is. But in a rush-rush season (one where I am pretty sure that Amazon sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake), carving out even the tiniest bit of time for things that matter–things like connection with God, and with one another–has become a beloved tradition, and one I look forward to every year.

If you like the idea of praying over your cards–or if you just want a few blessings that you can tuck into stockings, or maybe even use to tag gifts–here are a few of my favorite “one-size-fits-everyone” prayers:

Want to download and print ’em? Click here.

And while you’re at it, maybe pray for me, too. Better yet, pray for my family. Because I still have not settled on this year’s “perfect gift.”

Which means that so far…

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Tis the Season…for incredible Christmas mistakes

‘Tis the season.

The season, that is, that serves as the annual reminder of my shopping deficiencies. I love giving (and getting!) presents, and I actually DO put a lot of thought into the gifts that I pick out for my family and friends. But I’m not sure they realize that.

Because it’s not always, as it turns out, the thought that counts.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pick one special (identical) item for each one of my kids. (And now, bless their hearts, for my two sons-in-law.) I’ve tried everything from the Topical Memory System (which I really do love) to the “virtually invisible” posture brace (which I don’t)…

…and I can’t help but think that there has to be something more crowd-pleasing out there.

So here’s what let’s do.

If you have a good gift idea (especially if it’s something that GUYS  would like, besides socks and golf balls), will you please post it in the comments section (or on my Insta) today?

And in return, I will let you in on my all-time favorite gift–to give, or to get. This is something everyone needs, and it’s not like the “must have” spectacular shoes on my daughter’s wishlist. (As in, it will still be in style by this time next year.) Plus, this gift is the one thing I can think of that is both a) affordable, and b) can actually make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

Interested? So were the folks at Fox News, when they graciously invited me to do a post for their readers last year. I thought the column was worth a re-run, so here you go. And check back next week, when I’ll feature some of YOUR favorite things–and also let you know what I’m giving this year. 😊

The most incredible Christmas mistake I ever made

Robbie and I had been holding the line for six weeks. No way were we going to get our four-year-old daughter a doll that cost more than $100 for Christmas. Annesley would have to be happy with the $14.99 version we’d picked up at Target. That’s all there was to it.

Christmas case closed.

But Annesley persisted. “The only thing I want is a My Size Barbie,” she pleaded. If we heard that request once, we heard it a hundred times, and I could feel my resolve slipping away faster than the shopping days. Robbie’s too. By Christmas Eve, we couldn’t take any more and (in what I still consider one of our greatest financial parenting fails), we caved. It took three stores (the first two were out of the in-demand doll), but we finally came home with the prize. And we couldn’t wait to see our little girl’s look of joy, in the morning…

(To keep reading, click here.)

🎄

Leave a Reply


Scrabble, Black Friday, and Buddy the Elf

I come from a long line of Scrabble players.

My mother, an English professor who has her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology (which is really a thing), is a family champion, as was her father (also a Ph.D. prof) before her. Even my own dad—who was more into numbers than words—got pressed into action at the family game table. And when brain cancer meant that he could no longer sit up comfortably, he still played—albeit while lying flat on the floor and using words that didn’t always have vowels.

(We decided they must be Russian vocab, and that Dad could therefore keep all his points.)

And so I read with great interest the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that men are better than women at Scrabble. My first thought was that they had not met my mom. But then I dug deeper. “Championship Scrabble,” the columnist noted, “rewards typical male obsessions:  strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts.”

Ahh.

I don’t know about the male drive to memorize (Robbie is working on Philippians 4:4-6 right now for my mom’s Christmas gift, and I don’t think it’s going so well), but my man is definitely all about strategy, math, and competitive play. And nowhere, perhaps, are these traits more evident than during the holiday season, when his Buddy the Elf side comes out and he hangs Christmas lights like he owns the power company.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the Scrabble research.

When I got to the last line in the column, which stipulated that men and women are, in fact, different, I was like: “Um, hello? Any wife with a husband knows that.”

Consider our house, on Black Friday.

Robbie and I were all set to take advantage of the holiday deals. First, though, I had to put away all the platters and silver from our Thanksgiving meal. Which is when I noticed the pile of 14 damask napkins that had to go in the wash. (They’d need ironing, too, but I’d get to that later.) I hit “start” on the washing machine and pulled the brunch fixings out of the fridge so I’d be ready when the children showed up. And remembered I’d promised to make shortbread for a neighbor’s party, later that night. So I preheated the oven–and realized that the amaryllis bulbs (the ones I had timed to start blooming near Christmas) had been neglected during all the Thanksgiving prep. I gave them some water, pulled out the butter and the cookie cutters, and started in on the shortbread.

I got the dough in the oven, moved the napkins to the dryer, and opened my laptop. Oh my. There were dozens of Black Friday emails–plus a few from actual people I knew. I handled the real people first, and then started scrolling the sales. I saw where Target had everything discounted by 15%. Ballard Designs offered 30. And J. Crew was telling me that their entire site was half off. Even Home Depot had Cyber Savings Galore – did I need anything there?

Probably. Let me think…

Meanwhile, Robbie (who’d been reading the paper) stood up. “Lowes has $12.99 light sets marked down to $3.99,” he said. “I’m headed out. Need anything?”

I didn’t. At least nothing I could think of, in between the napkins, the shortbread, and the wondering if anyone on my list needed a new J. Crew scarf, or maybe a ceiling fan from Home Depot.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and I am not making that up), Robbie was back, having purchased 28 boxes of lights. Me? Let’s just say I did buy a gadget my son-in-law wanted, but I am pretty sure that I paid the full price.

So what’s my point?

My point is that we don’t need a Scrabble championship to tell us we’re wired differently. I’m not trying to be all gender-y and political; I’m just saying I’m grateful. I mean, had I gotten in the car on Black Friday and gone out to Lowe’s, I might still be in the plumbing parts aisle. But not Robbie. My man has the eye of the tiger.

So again, what’s my point?

I guess what I want to say–and how I want to encourage us–is that this holiday season (and I am speaking mostly to the ladies here but guys, this applies to you, too), when our spouse (or our child) makes us a little bit cray-cray or we don’t understand what they’re doing (like when my friend’s husband spent Thanksgiving Day napping, all  dressed for dinner and sleeping fully upright on the sofa so as not to wrinkle his khakis, and then happily told her, later that night, that this was “the least stressful Thanksgiving ever!”), let’s not get our undies all up in a wad. Instead, let’s find a difference that makes us grateful, and celebrate that.

I’ll go first, since the Scrabble thing is fresh in my mind.

I really am thankful that Buddy’s strategic. He tried out a new light method this year, and actually sent in-process pics to the family for feedback:

I also love how much my guy gets jacked up about math. Sure, Robbie’s been known to balk at a $5 cover charge, but it’s only cuz he’s saving up for the light show. He calculates lights-per-bush numbers and divides them by strands, factoring in the difference when you use the 100-count vs the 50. (SAT prep, eat your heart out.)

And competitive? Let’s just say that while I don’t think Robbie is trying to outshine our neighbors (we couldn’t), I did see his chin quiver just the tiniest bit when we turned on the TV Wednesday night. That’s when they lit up the Rock Center tree…

It was spectacular. And on Thursday, Buddy might have even gone back to Lowe’s…

❤️🎄

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the glorious variety that marks your creation! May we celebrate and rejoice in those differences!

Help us be devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves. And may we always give thanks for each other, growing in faith and increasing in love for our family and friends. (Romans 12:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Amen

 

 

Leave a Reply


I am thankful for my refrigerator.

So this year, when the time came to go around the Thanksgiving table and say something you’re grateful for (because #tradition), I had my answer ready.

I am thankful for my refrigerator.

At least, now I am. Like about 99% of the blessings in my life, I didn’t used to think much about the refrigerator. It certainly wasn’t something I thanked God for providing. I just…used it. And in return, it just stood there, keeping things cold.

Until one day it didn’t.

Robbie and I considered calling a repairman until a quick Google search revealed that the average fridge lasts 13 years. Not to seem unsentimental, but ours had been a good and faithful servant for 18, and we figured it was time to say, “Well done” and move on.

Which, as it turned out, was easier said than done. I’ll spare you the details (the staggering cost, the unlimited options, the fact that the new models don’t fit the old holes…), but the punchline is that we spent six weeks looking at this:

Six. Weeks.

Privileged Person’s Problem, I know. But as a result of our personal tragedy, two collateral blessings took place.

First, I lost a few pounds. We have a small refrigerator out in the garage where we’d transferred the essentials, but that’s not very close to the kitchen, and so whenever I got hungry and thought about going out for a yogurt or something, I would weigh the time and effort involved and think, “Meh. Not that hungry.” And after awhile, the yogurt expired, and I didn’t even think about going out there anymore.

The second blessing happened when the new fridge finally arrived.  I found myself taken aback. Not by the internal water dispenser (although that was a major upgrade), but simply by how grateful I was. Seriously. I would literally look at the thing, tear up, and say, “Thank you, God.”

(And if you don’t believe me, ask Robbie. He’ll vouch–and tell you he thought I was slightly deranged.)

And it hit me. How come I wasn’t as grateful before? Why did it take not having a refrigerator to make me so glad when I did? Why don’t I count the ordinary, unremarkable blessings in life?

Why can’t I be more like Alexander Maclaren?

Maclaren was one of Great Britain’s most influential preachers, 100+ years ago. “Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full,” he said (as if he’d actually foreseen my fridge deprivation), but rather, “Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.”

The crowded kindnesses of God.

(Maybe just take a moment to let that one penetrate your postprandial somnolence.)

(Which is what the doc at your Thanksgiving table might call your food coma.)

I decided, based on how happy I was about an appliance, that I should give thanks for more stuff. That I should actually do what the Bible says (“in everything give thanks”), instead of just being grateful when something really good happens (or when something really bad doesn’t). And so I started being more intentional about counting my blessings.

I thanked God, when Robbie and I climbed into bed, for giving me such an incredible husband. And then I realized how comfy our sheets are, and I thanked him for that. And for my pillow.

Anyhow. I hope it lasts. I’ve gone thru “gratitude seasons” before (like when we were newlyweds, and I decided that seeing Robbie’s undershirt on the floor should be a thanksgiving prompt–have a husband! I have a washing machine!–rather than a bitterness root), but somehow my self-centeredness always elbows it’s way in, and I find something to grumble about, or at least something I wish that I had.

(Thicker hair, for example.)

But I don’t want to be an “I wish I had” person. I want to be a “God is so good!” person. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get there, but honestly? The fridge is helping. It’s there, every morning, a silent reminder of God’s goodness in the everyday ordinary. Of his crowded kindnesses in our lives.

And when I get out the half-n-half (which I actually stopped using, back when it meant a trip to the garage), I can’t help but say, “Thank you.”

Heavenly Father,

Please help us. Help us to live lives–everyday lives–that are rooted and built up in Christ, strengthened in faith, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)*

Amen

* P.S. I just looked up that prayer prompt in The Message. Might have to print this one out and tape it (cuz I guess magnets don’t work anymore?) to the front of the fridge:

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Sauerkraut, soufflé, and the smells of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next week.

Shocker, I know. (I mean, we haven’t even finished our candy corn yet.)

But speaking of side dishes…

Robbie and I have been married for 33 years. It’s only been in the past decade, though, that he has fully enjoyed Thanksgiving with me. The first 20 years? They were sort of trial-and-error (more error) on the Turkey-Day front. But then, about 10 years ago, I produced my first perfect sauerkraut.

I know, I know. Who eats sauerkraut at Thanksgiving? Nobody normal, if you ask me. But we learned, back when Robbie and I did our pre-marriage counseling, that we’d have to “adjust our expectations” if we wanted our marriage to thrive. And so, even though I expected a house to smell like turkey on Thanksgiving Day (hello?), I adjusted. I started fixing things the way that Robbie’s mom did. Or trying to, anyway.

Which meant…sauerkraut.

And, like I said, it took 20 years. And more than a few apologies to my side of the family, who would come over on Thanksgiving, walk into our house, and do this:

And honestly? My mother-in-law is an amazing woman (and a fabulous cook), but nobody has ever asked me for her sauerkraut recipe.

Folks have, however, asked how I make carrot soufflé. And if you’re looking for an alternative to sweet potatoes, consider putting this one on the menu. In addition to being something the children will eat (it’s basically sugar, with a few carrots thrown in), the dish comes with two other big holiday plusses: 1. You can make it the day before, and 2. It doesn’t have any overpowering smell.

Here you go:

Want that recipe in a printable form? Click here.

And if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “Wait. What? Jodie’s not a food blogger…” you’re right. I only divulge about one recipe per year (and, some would say, even that is too much).

I do, however, love to share BIBLE VERSES. And if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to add the “bread of life” to your Thanksgiving table, I hear you. I want that, too. And so every year, I light a few candles, break out the real napkins, and add a serving of Scripture to every place:

If you like this idea and you want to download some ready-made Thanksgiving verses, click here. I must warn you, though. I always include a verse or two that’s designed to extend grace to the cook, and if you’re soufflé falls flat or you accidentally roast the turkey upside down (been there, done that), just point your guests toward Ephesians 5:4.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is filled with laughter and joy, and a big helping of gratitude. As I count my blessings in 2018, Philippians 1:3 comes to mind. I really do pray for you–my real life and my digital friends–and as the Apostle Paul said: I thank my God every time I remember you.

Truly. ❤️

Leave a Reply


Mom, will you pray for me?

True confession. I am not much of a women’s retreat gal. All that hugging, all that talking, all those smiles.

Makes my face hurt, just thinking about it.

But when the folks at Moms in Prayer invited me to join them at the Unshaken retreat last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Heck, if they’d invited me to donate a kidney, I’d have jumped on that too. I’d do just about anything, in fact, for the women behind the ministry that has done more to shape my prayer life (and, by extension, my kids’ lives) than anything or anyone except Jesus.

And you know what? I loved it. I loved every single minute of our time in Asheville, North Carolina. The worship was amazing, the teaching incredibly rich, and even the endless smiling didn’t bug me as much as I’d feared. And since I know most of you were not there (although some of you were; it was great to meet you!), I am going to take a little detour from the usual blog post routine and recap a few highlights. These nuggets were golden for me; maybe they’ll encourage you, too.

Our first speaker was Jennifer Kennedy Dean. You may recognize her as the author of Live a Praying Life (hands-down, my favorite prayer study), but if not, here’s she is (pictured with Moms in Prayer founder Fern Nichols and me):

Noting that prayer is “proof of how much God loves us” (because he chose to work with us and through us, instead of around us), Jennifer talked about how God always answers the cry of our hearts. She pointed to Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”) and explained that the word delight comes from a Hebrew word that means “soft” and “moldable.” When God has our heart–when he molds it and shapes it–he gives us desires that we might not even be fully aware of…and then he says “yes.” Does that sometimes run counter to what our lips might be praying? Sure. But, as Jennifer said, “God isn’t interested in pacifying us. He is interested in satisfying us.”

Good stuff. I’m still processing how to get my head and my lips to line up with my heart, but I like it.

The next day, we heard Renee Swope:

I wasn’t familiar with Renee’s work (she has a book called  A Confident Heart), but I’m now a big fan. I loved her message on trusting God in the face of life’s triggers (things like doubt, fear, comparison, criticism, and our need for control), and I found myself utterly captivated as she talked about her teenaged son telling her he was an atheist. “I wanted to panic,” Renee said, “but I knew that would only make things worse.”

She asked God what she should do.

Don’t say anything,” she sensed the Lord say. “Just be who you say I am.”

Be who you say I am.

How awesome is that? I mean, we talk about wanting to model Christ’s love, and to treat people (especially our kids) the way that God does, but how often do we stop and think about what that looks like in real life? How, practically speaking, do we live out that love? How often do we default to criticism, nagging, worry, or fear when a better approach would be to be patient? Or gentle? Or kind?

Or even to just be with our child?

Renee’s son eventually gave his life to the Lord. I can’t share the whole story here (I’d mess it up if I tried), but I’m crazy about the punch line:

“I just got tired,” the young man said, “of living without hope.”

Wowza.

And finally, on Sunday morning, Fern Nichols got up. (You know how our daughters feel about getting to see Taylor Swift? Yeah. That’s basically how these praying moms–and grandmoms–felt about Fern.)

Fern started Moms in Prayer in 1989, back when her kids were in middle school, and for the past 40 years, she has encouraged mothers all over the world with the call of Lamentations 2:19: “Arise, cry out… Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

You’d think, what with this being a Moms in Prayer thing, that the 400+ attendees wouldn’t need a refresher on the Four Steps of Prayer (the strategy that shapes every MIP meeting), but no. We did. And at the risk of dumbing things down (and please click on that link to get a bigger picture), here are the Cliff Notes:

Step One is praise. Praising God takes our eyes off our circumstances and focuses it on the One who is able. Whatever the need, he is equipped to meet it.

Step Two is silent confession because, as Fern put it, “a pure heart is behind every effective prayer.” If we’re sitting there hating our husband (or cherishing any other ick stuff), we can’t expect our prayers to get through.

Step Three is thanksgiving. Every sin, Fern said, stems from pride. When we take time to thank God–to acknowledge his grace and provision–it’s a reminder that all that we have, and all that we are, comes from him.

And Step Four is intercession, naming our children’s needs–as well as the needs of their teachers and schools–and asking God to meet them. This is where praying the scriptures really comes in, as we rely on God’s promises to shape our perspective and give life to our prayers.

If you’re already part of a Moms in Prayer group, you know all of this. But if you’re not, and you’d like to know more, click here.

But here’s the thing. Don’t try to go it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two; he knew that they’d need one another. And so do we. Grab at least one other mom and invite her to pray.

So there you have it. I’ve left out 98% of my notes, but I hope you’ve connected with something I’ve shared–and that the next time your child says, “Mom, will you pray for me?”, you’ll feel a bit more equipped to jump in.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right. My kid asking for prayer? That’ll be the day.”

I hear you. But…can I just say three things?

First, I get it. I’ve been there.

Second, we worship a God of surprises. Don’t count him out.

And third, let’s go back to Jennifer’s teaching. Because maybe your child’s lips aren’t asking for prayer, but that is the cry of their heart.

And when that happens, we can slip our hand into God’s and say “Yes.”

(That’s my cute friend Lynn. She is the kind of prayer partner you want. Not only does she pray with boldness and faith, but she’s a complete fashionista and half the time, when she sees you, she gives you a new scarf. 😊)

Leave a Reply


The best parenting tip? Hint: It’s not the chore chart…

In case you missed it…

I was honored (and more than a little intimidated!) to write a guest post this week for Club31Women, where they are all about equipping folks to enjoy strong marriages, healthy families, and joy-filled homes. And all I could think, as I recalled the early days of our parenting, was how I longed to get it all right. Thank goodness God has a good sense of humor–and that he is faithful in the midst of our mess!

 

It was one of those days. None of my “good parenting” strategies seemed to be working.

I looked at the chore chart on the fridge. Half the stuff was not done.

The character chart? The one where the kids could earn stars? Let’s just say we had a lot of white space.

And the Bible memory verse I had posted? Please. Why don’t they tell you to aim lower, maybe with something like John 11:35?

Jesus wept. Roger that.

As I said, it was one of those days. We’d had four kids in six years, and as I looked around at the mayhem (and found the missing cat in the refrigerator—“It’s the orphanage, Mom!”), something snapped.

“Can anybody,” I challenged, “tell me a Bible verse? Just one. I will take anything.”

Four little bodies stopped moving. Four sets of eyes (not counting the cat’s) stared into mine. Nobody spoke, until finally Robbie—aged 5—offered this:

“Don’t slip?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Robbie back-pedaled. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe that one is a pool rule…”

Wanna see where this post goes? Click here to keep reading–and while you’re at it, check out all the fabulous marriage and parenting helps over at Club31Women.com.

And maybe pray for Virginia. Last weekend, she told us that she’s got her eyes on another kitten she wants to adopt…

 

Leave a Reply


Never give up (on the people you love)

Two things this week have me camping out on the fatherhood of God and his dogged–relentless, even–pursuit of our hearts.

The first thing was the inauguration of U.Va.’s 9th president, Jim Ryan.

(And I know, I know. Some of you are like, “U.Va. again? Why does she always write about that?” To which I would say:  Hello? Did I write even ONE WORD about our victory over nationally ranked Miami, or last week’s road win at Duke? Feels to me like a U.Va. shout out is a bit overdue.)

(But this is not a U.Va. shout out.)

Anyhow.

In his inaugural address (which was fabulous; if you missed it, click here), Ryan likened teaching to parenting. He noted that both endeavors were based on the faith that the job–despite being a sometimes messy process with unfinished and imperfect results–was worth doing, and that as both a parent and as a university president, he would “never give up on the people I love.”

Which brings me to the second thing.

The second thing that happened this week was that I started reading Genesis.

You know the story. God makes Adam and Eve. And then they eat the fruit that they shouldn’t. And when they realize what they’ve done, they get scared and try to hide from God in the garden.

God knows, of course, that his kids are over there in the trees. And when he says, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9), he isn’t really after their physical location. He is asking where they are, spiritually–as in, where Adam and Eve are in relation to him.

I read that line and, as a parent, I thought back to the times when I felt like my own children were hidden. The times when they felt far away. Emotionally distant. Out of reach (even if they were just across the table, at dinner). The times when I watched them pursue relationships or activities or ideas that, I knew, would not produce good things in their lives.

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

And then I thought about God, and how he must sometimes feel the same way towards us. Over and over again in the Bible (just as over and over again now), God’s children go wandering off, turning their backs on his love. And we see what God does in response.

Sometimes, we see his desire:  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Other times, we see his promise: My people are determined to turn from me…my compassion is aroused…I will roar; they will come…I will settle them in their homes. (Hosea 11:7-11)

Always, though, we see his pursuit. From the “Where are you?” Genesis question all the way to the “I stand at the door and knock” of Revelation 3:20, we see God calling to us. Wooing us. Inviting us into a life marked by purpose, passion, and joy.

And demonstrating, always and forever, that he will never give up on the people he loves.

So…that’s why President Ryan’s speech, taken together with the Genesis story, made me think about God. With one major difference.

Ryan’s presidency, like our parenting, can’t help but yield (as he freely noted) imperfect and unfinished results. But it’s different with God. With God at the helm, we can be confident that, having begun a good work in our lives, he can be counted on to complete it.

He will get the job done, and the results will one day be perfect.

(Which, even though this is NOT a U.Va. blog, is a promise that I would dearly love to see fulfilled on the field, as we take on the Tarheels tomorrow…)

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the embodiment of love. You are patient and kind; you keep no record of wrongs. You protect, you hope, you persevere.

You never fail. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let us never grow weary in doing good, especially to the people we love. And when we feel downcast or discouraged, remind us that you know just how we feel, and that there is a promised harvest, at the perfect time, for those who never give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen

Leave a Reply


Lost (and Found) in Translation

“If you don’t say theethou, or thine, God might not know that you’re talking to Him.”

At least that’s what my Gammy thought. In her world, it was the King James or nothing, and every Bible verse she made us memorize (that’s all she ever wanted from her grandkids for Christmas) was chock full of the good stuff:

I in them and thou in me…that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, even as thou hast loved me. 

(I might not have known what John 17:23 meant but boy, could I quote it.)

Me, I’m an NIV gal. I got my first copy of a New International Version Bible back in the late ’70s and never looked back. Call me Gammy 2.0; I like what I like.

Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate a walk on the wild side, every now and again. Like, this past summer when we were in a remote part of Canada and I was starting to think of potato chips as vegetables because it had been awhile since I’d seen anything green, I was super grateful for how the English Standard Version renders Nehemiah 8:10:

“Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Talk about a user-friendly Bible command. (Can I get a side of Rosé with those chips? Thank you very much, ESV.)

Anyhow.

This week I found myself grateful again, this time for The Message translation. I have a Bible that puts my old faithful NIV on one side of the page and The Message on the other…

…because sometimes words can be confusing, and it helps to look at things from a different perspective.  Especially if the thing you are looking at involves suffering.

Which (as you know, if you’ve been around this blog for awhile) tends to be a tricky topic for me. I know God always uses hard things for good, but I struggle to embrace the place of disappointment and pain in my life. Or in the lives of the people I love.

And honestly? In the case of 1 Peter 4:1-2, my beloved NIV didn’t help all that much:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Those words were familiar, but they didn’t really add up. I didn’t think that I would ever be “done with sin,” and I hated the idea that I might be doomed to live my life in the pursuit of “evil human desires.” How was it, exactly, that suffering might help?

I stole a glance at The Message:

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

Ahhh. THAT made so much more sense.

Jesus suffered more than I ever have. (I get that.)

And I should learn to think like he did. (I agree.)

And suffering can help wean me from the habit of expecting to get my own way.

Now there’s a provocative thought. I actually DO expect to get my own way–or at least I THINK that I should. I mean, I am pretty sure that most of my ideas have some merit, and that God should at least give them a try. And when he doesn’t–like, when things don’t turn out at all like I think that they should–I can start to get a bit grumpy.

You might even say tyrannized.

(Can anybody relate?)

The idea that I could get out from under my wants, and run after the good things God has, is mighty appealing. And when I consider the example of Christ and the whole “not my will, but thine” thing (which, you have to admit, comes off pretty strong in the old KJV), everything sort of falls into place. If suffering is what opens the door to surrender–to realizing, once and for all, that God’s way is a zillion times better–well then, bring it on.

(Well, maybe not “Bring it on.” Maybe more like, “Help me please.” But you get the idea.)

And in the meantime…

Let’s eat some fat and raise a glass to the English Standard Version, and to all of the whip-smart Bible translators out there. Thank you for doing all the hard work so that the rest of us can just kick back, eat some chips, and read.

😊

Heavenly Father,

Help us learn to think more like Jesus. And when we come up against suffering–when things don’t go “our way”–equip us to let go, like Jesus did, and embrace your will for our lives. Free us from the tyranny of living for what we want. (1 Peter 4:1-2, MSG)

Amen

Want your own side-by-side Bible? Click here for one option, or just put “Parallel Bible” into your Amazon search bar to see a whole bunch of choices.

 

Leave a Reply


Shower the Pansies You Love with Love

This won’t be a long post. I could give you all sorts of excuses, but the main one is that I’m tired. Blame it on the Pansy Sale.

Officially known as the Fall Flower Festival, the “pansy sale” is the centerpiece of the Garden Club calendar (and, some might say, of our lives). It can get fairly dramatic–some of you will remember last year’s crisis, when I temporarily “borrowed” a few flats of Delta Pure Orange from the City of Virginia Beach and my pal Dee wound up getting clobbered for my sin–but this year, things seemed to go off hitch-free.

Or mostly hitch-free.

So inspired was I by my friend Jane’s “Container Gardening” demo at the sale…

…that I decided to plant my pots just like she did. I found some tallish green things, tucked in some ivy and a few ColorMax Lemon Splash violas, and patted myself on the back. #GreenThumb

And then I left town.

For five days. And when I got back…

The flowers were dead.

And do you know what popped into my mind, as I surveyed the crime scene? I’ll tell you. What popped into my mind was Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians, back when they were squabbling about whether they should follow Paul (who planted spiritual seeds) or Apollos (who watered them):

Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 

God makes things grow. Roger that. Whether we’re talking pansies or people, he’s the change-agent.

But it’s not like we sit back and do nothing. We’ve got a job to do, too:  We plant, and we water. And when we don’t (like, when we forget to shower the people we love with love) stuff dries up. Friendships wither. Spouses withdraw. Children don’t flourish the way that they should.

So that’s all.

Just a little encouragement from a D- gardener to water your plants, and your people, today. 😊

Heavenly Father,

May our words and deeds be rooted in love so that they produce great joy and encouragement. May we be refreshers of hearts. (Philemon 7)

Amen

And P.S., one more thing. Even if a relationship looks totally dead, it’s probably not. It’s probably like my violas, which turned out to be only (and who doesn’t love a good Princess Bride quote?) “mostly dead.”

A little water, a little love, and they’re back.

 

 

Leave a Reply


Don’t Let it Sense Your Fear

Robbie and I had gotten an early start on our hike. We’d been climbing for more than an hour–without spotting even one other person–when we came upon a “Bear Alert” sign.

Don’t let it sense your fear.

That’s what you’re supposed to do (or not do?) if you meet up with a bear. That, and speak softly. To the bear.

That sounded about right to me. In fact, the “no fear” advice is the same thing I heard as a child, back when I was frightened of dogs. We didn’t grow up with pups (unless you count Duke, the black Lab we had until it ate my mom’s diamond watch), and I wasn’t sure how to behave around them. The fact that Mom had been wearing the watch when it disappeared loomed large in my mind, and when a strange dog came bounding up on the playground one day, I balked.

“It’s okay,” someone said. “It won’t hurt you. Just don’t let it sense your fear.”

It worked; the dog left me alone. And that day, something clicked in my mind. Letting something scary–be it a stray dog, a health concern, a bully, whatever–know you’re afraid never helps. All it does is bolster the threat’s position, while weakening yours.

Or, as Robbie might put it, “It lets the camel get his nose under the tent.”

Yeah.

Speaking of Robbie…

He was less enthused by the bear sign than I. I was standing there, blathering on about how if we DID see a bear, he should run, since he is faster than I am and our kids would want one parent to survive. I figured I could stick around–speaking softly–and at least buy him some time.

But my man wasn’t having it. Given the total lack of human activity and the fact that we were in a place we’d never ventured before (and probably also the fact that, being a gentleman, Robbie knew he wouldn’t just leave me chatting it up with a bear), he suggested we might want to turn back.

“Turn back?” I replied, incredulous. “We are almost at the summit!”

“We are the only people on this trail,” Robbie said. “We need to be smart.”

I scoffed. “The bears are not up here,” I said. “It’s breakfast time. They are down near the town, rummaging through people’s trash cans.”

Robbie stared at me. “Since when did you become a bear expert?”

He had me there.

And, since I am not, technically, an expert on wildlife of any kind (my favorite cocktail napkin is the one that says “Why yes. If drinking on the porch counts, then I AM outdoorsy!), I decided to read the fine print.

If a bear stands upright or moves closer to you, it may be trying to detect smells in the air.

Okay…

Once it identifies you, it may leave the area or try to intimidate you by charging to within a few feet before it withdraws.

Alrighty then. We had options. The bear might walk away…or it could charge.

Which is 100% just like real life.

I mean, we face dangers and threats all the time. And sometimes, like a disinterested bear, our fears just sort of pack up and leave: The test comes back negative. The money is there. That thing’s not a spider, it’s lint.

Sometimes, though, we find ourselves taking a charge. And sometimes, the charge is a biggie: It turns out to be cancer. He wants a divorce. It’s 2:00 a.m., and we know that this call won’t be good.

Stuff like that hurts. And when it happens, we can’t help it; we’re scared. We don’t know how to respond. Does the “don’t show fear” advice really work?

Actually…yes.

Scripture talks a lot about fear. In fact, “Do not be afraid” is the most oft-repeated command in the Bible. It crops up 70 times in the NIV (which is way more than, say, “Love your neighbor” or “Do unto others” or even basic stuff like “Don’t steal”). And that 70 times? That doesn’t even count related phrases like “do not fear” or “fear not.”

Clearly, God doesn’t want his kids to be scared.

But instead of just telling us to keep a stiff upper lip (“Don’t be afraid!”), God almost always links his command to a promise. Consider just these few examples:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Don’t be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you. (Deuteronomy 3:22)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

And this one, which I think is my favorite:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

What these promises (and plenty more) tell us is that yes, life will come at us hard. It might hurt. And sometimes we’ll be tempted to give in to fear. But instead of letting that emotion take over our hearts (and mess with our physical and emotional health, which all sorts of new research shows that it does), God wants us to know that he’s on it.

I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will fight for you. I will be with you.

Bottom line? God is for us.

And we are never alone.

Which is something that I told myself, over and over, that day on the hike. Yes, Robbie gave in to my begging, and we went all the way to the top. (He drew the line, though, when I suggested we sing, or that maybe we could pray for our kids. I think his exact quote might have been: “Let’s get out of bear country first.”)

(I love that man.)

So can I just close with two things?

The first is gratitude to my husband, who always keeps his head on a swivel so I don’t have to.

And the second is gratitude to our Lord, who says that he will NEVER leave us, and that the Spirit he gives us is is not one of timidity; rather, it is filled with power and love.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

You knew we’d be scared. Thank you for not leaving us to deal with our fears on our own. Help us to remember that perfect love–YOUR perfect love–drives out fear, and that because of your presence, we can have peace. (1 John 4:18, John 14:27)

Amen

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Why does God allow suffering?

Robbie and I were in Colorado last week. We had a blast hiking with friends and taping a couple of shows (Focus on the Family and Rebel Parenting; I’ll keep you posted on air dates in case you want to tune in), but there were at least two other highlights on our trip.

The first was that we did not get eaten by a bear. (There’s a story there, but it will keep. Maybe next week.)

The second big plus was seeing our friends, Ann and Ty Saltzgiver. Ann’s the one on the left in this pic…

…and Ty, as you know, is our featured author this month. We spent some time catching up, the way that friends do, and as we looked back on the peaks and valleys of our lives, Ty made an interesting observation:

“If I graphed my life by the times I was experiencing more of Jesus,” he said, “and then overlaid that graph with another graph of the difficult times in my life, the lines would match up. The graphs would be nearly the same.”

That was both a sobering and an encouraging thought. I mean, given the choice, I’m pretty sure I’d “just say no” to pain…but if difficulty or suffering serves as a kind of conduit to Christ, I want to at least be open to experiencing it. Or rather, to experiencing him.

Ty writes about suffering in his book, Longing to Experience More of Jesus“Suffering, pain, trouble, and affliction happen to each one of us,” he says, but it’s never “all right.” It’s a mess. It is crushing. And it can sometimes lead to despair.

And also to questions.

A lot of people, Ty says, find it difficult to trust God in the face of their hurt, or someone else’s. “How could God allow pain and suffering, when he could so easily fix it?”

There are, of course, no easy answers. We may find it hard to read Scripture in the midst of our pain, and our prayers can seem pointless or empty. We long for God’s presence, for some reassurance, but when we feel like we need God the most, we don’t sense that he is anywhere near. Ty quotes St. Teresa of Avila, who once said to God, “It’s not at all surprising You have so few friends, considering how You treat the friends you have.”

We get that.

But we also, if we are honest, get what Ty means about graphing his life. Pain has an uncanny way of making us realize that we are not in control. And in our desperation (marked, as it often is, by a diminishing sense of independence), we may find ourselves moving closer to God.

And when we come near to him, he comes near to us, enfolding us in his embrace.

In writing about the place suffering has in our lives, Ty says he is not trying to “put a smiley face” on our pain. Rather, his aim seems to be to remind us that Jesus took on the crush of our hurt (Isaiah 53:4) and that he understands exactly how we feel. After all, he he has been there before (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Suffering is just one of 30 sometimes-challenging topics Ty covers in Longing to Experience. There’s also stuff about trusting God, going deeper in prayer, discovering your true identity, and much more. None of the chapters are long–they’re designed for use as a daily devotion–but they’re rich.

And if you’d like to win a copy…

…hop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment. Or tag a friend who might want to experience more of the Lord.

Which is what I want to do.

Even (and I’m struggling to type this next part) if it means also experiencing pain. I think it was maybe Joyce Meyer who said that, having tasted the incredible blessing of God’s comfort, she found herself almost hoping she’d need it. As in, she was open to the hurt because the hug was just so much more.

Yeah. I’m not quite there yet. But…I want to be.

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted, you comfort us in all our troubles, and you know exactly how it feels to be despised, rejected, and familiar with pain. (Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1:4, Isaiah 53:4)

Come near to us as we come near to you. Draw us into your loving arms, and may we take refuge in your embrace. (James 4:8, Song of Songs 2:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. This post marks the end of our September with Saltzgiver…but there’s more to come! In fact, Ty has a brand new book that’s set to release on November 1. Designed especially for families, Ready or Not (clever title, eh?) is an Advent devotional that will help prepare our hearts and our homes for Christmas. You can’t pre-order the book, but jot yourself a note to visit SaltResources.com in early November and pick up a copy for everyone on your “nice” list! 🙂

Leave a Reply


You don’t need a hat for this leadership job

Whenever a young man seemed to be getting serious about one of our daughters, Robbie would “invite” him to have The Talk.

The Talk is strictly a guy thing, but from the after-action reports I’ve been privy to over the years, I think the nutshell version goes something like this:  Every relationship my daughter has is going to draw her closer to Christ, or farther away. Which one are you?

And then, if the fellow indicates that his intentions fall into the first category, there is a follow-up query: How do you see yourself doing that? 

I think these questions are worth considering, and not just for would-be boyfriends or grooms. At the end of the day, I imagine all of us would love for our companions to say, “I am closer to Christ because of my relationship with ______.”

And that, says our friend Ty Saltzgiver, is “the influence of our Spiritual Leadership.”

If you’ve been tracking with us in September, you know that this is Book Giveaway month, and each week I am highlighting a different offering from Ty’s website, SaltResources.com. This week’s featured title is Reflections on Spiritual Leadership.

Now, I realize that the phrase “spiritual leadership” can be tricky. I’ll never forget one of our friends telling us how confused he was when his girlfriend’s father told him that it was his job to be the spiritual leader in their relationship.

“I had never heard that term before,” our friend said. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe it was like a Halloween costume or something–you know, something where I needed a hat.”

(Happily, the guy figured it out, and he has been a beautiful influence on his wife, his three children, and their assorted family and friends for the past 30-plus years.)

Acknowledging that his little book is not a “comprehensive treatment” of spiritual leadership, Ty draws on his own relationships and ministry experience (he spent more than 40 years on staff with Young Life) to flesh out reflections on a handful of leadership categories, including:

The state of our soul. “The main plot of our lives,” Ty says, “is how we are growing and maturing in Jesus, not how we are doing in our job or ministry.” If we sense that we are depleted (like, if we start seeing people as interruptions instead of as friends, or if we freak out when the toilet stops up or whatever), that’s a sign that we’ve drifted from our Number One Love (Jesus), and that we need to re-calibrate.

Our belief about success. Do we think that accomplishing goals and fulfilling plans is up to us? Or do we realize that it’s all up to God? Mother Teresa considered herself “just a pencil in the Hand of God”; do we see ourselves the same way? “Jesus wasn’t kidding,” Ty writes, “when he said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’

Humility. “None of us wants to be arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, or unapproachable,” Ty says. “Yet, humility is the most elusive character trait for the Spiritual Leader.” Gosh, I like this chapter. Ty digs into what humility is (and what it isn’t) and points us toward Jesus as the model for what our lives should look like: Confident in our identity (“humility has nothing to do with a low self-image”), but never forcing ourselves on other people. Being always willing to learn. Choosing gratitude. And, like Moses (who was “very humble, more than any other man”), unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God.

Like I said, good stuff.

Ty tackles other topics in the book, too, topics like the practical steps we should take (including praying for people and entering into their pain, which, Ty says, can be a “learned art”), and building a culture of trust. But becoming a better leader is not a matter of “measuring up,” or of adding godly stuff to our lives so that we can impact people in a positive way.

“Our doing more things to be a Spiritual Leader,” Ty writes, “is like an apple tree grunting and trying harder to produce good apples.”

Sure, we can water and fertilize the tree (Ty calls this “greenhousing” our souls), but at the end of the day, God spurs the growth. The simple fact that we desire to grow brings pleasure to God–and we can trust him to mature and develop us (even if we sometimes seem to move backwards). We can relax and rejoice in the knowledge that God is getting it done.

Which, for anyone who longs to draw closer to Christ (and to bring others along for the ride), is very good news.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins, and for entrusting us with the task of telling everyone what you are doing. Make us wise and faithful representatives as we encourage others to walk with you, work with you, and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 & Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

Amen.

❤️

Want to know more about spiritual leadership and what that looks like in our lives? Order your copy of Reflections on Spiritual Leadership from SaltResources.com, or post a comment here, or on Instagram or Facebook, for your chance to win this week’s book giveaway.

Congrats to last week’s giveaway winner, a gal who always cleans out her lint trap! Lilly, send me your address (contact me here) and your copy of …And Jesus said, “Follow me” will be on its way!

Leave a Reply


Don’t let bad stuff get stuck in your vent

Our clothes dryer stopped working last week.

We had a repair guy come take a look, and it sputtered to life–but then quit again after a handful of loads. Finally, we gave in and bought a new dryer. When the guys came to install it, the old vent thing fell out of the wall…along with about eight years’ worth of dog hair, beach sand, and lint.

I know. I know. Don’t be telling me what a fire hazard that is. Or that we should have checked the vent set-up before replacing the whole thing. Believe me, I know. But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is that September is Book Giveaway month, and this week’s featured title from author Ty Saltzgiver is And Jesus Said, “…Follow Me”.

Follow Me has soooo many great pearls to ponder. On the subject of trust, for instance, Ty writes, “We all want clarity, but isn’t clarity the opposite of trust?”

On the difficulty we face, sometimes, in receiving, he says, “Doing love is good for the ego; sitting quietly and receiving love is humbling.”

And on the longing we have for more than position, possessions, and pleasures, Ty writes, “The soul’s function is to yearn in order for us to know that LIFE is more than what this world can bring us.”

See? So much good stuff, all offered in bite-sized chapters we can read on our own or with friends.

Surprisingly (because this is NOT a subject that I like to dwell on too much), one of the Follow Me chapters I found most captivating was about sin.

(I know, I know. You don’t like that topic either. But stick with me for a hot sec.)

Nobody likes to acknowledge their sin, to admit that they’ve failed, or that they’ve blown it (again). But doing so, Ty says, is “vital and growth-producing.”

Here’s why (and I’m quoting Ty here):

A sign of drawing closer to Jesus is being more aware of one’s sin (sometimes even having the accompanying “feeling” of being farther from Jesus). It’s like the light being turned up brighter in a room revealing faded paint, a water spot, and a crack in the wall, all that were unnoticed in the previous low light.

Boy, do I get that.

And I’d find the whole light-on-the-spot thing super discouraging, except for what happens when sin gets revealed–and confessed. More from Ty:

Once you call sin by name before God (that is, once you confess it), three things happen:

  1. You are forgiven and God does not count it against you.
  2. The sin is disarmed; it no longer has the same power in your life.
  3. God can begin, in his power and time, to heal you and take that sin from you.

The courage to confess sin springs from knowing that God’s love for us is undiminished by our sin. He longs to pour out His love on us, and in us, in Tidal Wave fashion. He longs to grow us into the unique person who He’s dreamed us to be. He longs to be intimate with us. Our sin unconfessed is the only barrier.

I love that.

And there’s lots more in the chapter–like, thought-provoking discussion questions, catchy Greek words for sin, and Bible verses that can help us flesh out the picture.

The only thing missing (and I don’t mean to tell Ty how to write) is the obvious illustration about how our relationship with the Lord is like a clothes dryer vent. As long as it’s clear, our lives work pretty well. But clog up the works with a mix of dog hair and sin, and stuff starts to break down. There is just no flow.

But when we identify and dislodge the bad stuff–when we name our sin and humbly confess it, even if that feels painful or awkward (and speaking from experience, it often does)–God goes to work. The stream of living water which flows from the heart of Jesus into our hearts flows less constricted, more freely.

We find ourselves caught up in a tidal wave of God’s love.

Heavenly Father,

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven! Keeping silent about our sin saps our strength, but confession takes away guilt. (Psalm 32:1-5)

Show me the places where I resist reviewing myself, places where I may be (even unknowingly) hiding my sin. Grant me the courage to confess, secure in your limitless love.

Amen.

❤️
And Jesus said, “…Follow Me” is a great book for small group discussion–even if your “group” is the teenagers around your table at dinnertime. I tested a few chapters (they’re just two pages long) on my (young adult) children this summer, with decent results. I mean, my people actually made a few engaged-sounding comments. Which I count as a win.
Want your own copy of Follow Me? Click here to order, or enter to win this week’s giveaway by posting a comment here, or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt), or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites). And congrats to last week’s winner, Jenny Francis – Jenny, your copy of My First 30 Quiet Times is on it’s way!

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


How Can We Know God’s Heart?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know how much I love sharing books and other resources to help us grow closer to Christ. This month features a series of powerful little books by Ty Saltzgiver, and we’ll be giving away a different one every week.

Today’s post is from My First Thirty Quiet Times, a day-by-day devotional that has sold more than 600,000 copies. In this excerpt from Day 5, Ty asks some really good questions: How can we know the Father’s heart? How can we be sure that God really is GOOD, and that He truly CARES for us? And how can we be sure we can trust Him?

Here’s Ty:

So often, Christianity is presented to us as a set of beliefs to adhere to and a set of rules (or commands) to obey. In other words, we must believe what is true and do what is right. If we do, then we are a Christian, or to the degree that we do these well, then we are good Christians.

Certainly, there are things to believe and a way God wants us to live, but they are not “in order to be” a Christian. Rather, they are “because of” the reality that we have a relationship with Jesus, where we’ve received His love and invited Him to live in our hearts and trusted Him with our lives.

It is a huge thing to entrust our very lives to God, to give Him the thing most precious to us–our hearts. Therefore, to trust God, we must be convinced His heart is GOOD and that He truly CARES for us. How can we know the Father’s heart?

(That’s a great question. And the answer, Ty says, is not by knowing doctrines or following rules or even seeing God’s beauty in nature. The answer to knowing God’s heart is by looking at Jesus.)

Jesus says essentially, “Let me tell you a story to try and describe for you my Father’s heart.” And then he tells the Prodigal Son parable. He says His Father is always standing on the porch waiting and looking for us who are lost or hurting. Then, when He sees us, He rushes to meet us and showers us with kisses, healing and restoring us.

Jesus represents (and therefore reveals) His Father as the One who pursues and accepts us. Even when there is infidelity or inattention on our part, God’s acceptance is always absolute, no retribution or payback is required. No one could invent a god like this–one who pursues and accepts sinners, one who becomes human and hangs out with us.

All other gods despise sinners, condemn them, and withhold blessings from them.

Not Jesus’ Father. Not our Heavenly Father.

Of course, Jesus’ death on the cross tells us more about the Father’s heart than anything else. Can you imagine the Father’s agony over His Son’s suffering and death, all so we could be in a relationship with Him? When someone dies for you, you no longer question if that person cares for you, or if you matter to them.

You can trust their heart with yours.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

No one has ever seen you, but Jesus–your one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with You, has made you known. (John 1:18)

Thank you for sending Jesus to not only be the way to You but also to show us who You are. Help me to know You more and trust You more.

Amen

 

P.S. (and book giveaway scoop):

Salt Resources

Ty Saltzgiver (above) spent over 40 years with Young Life, and he’s particularly gifted at making complex spiritual issues easy to grasp. My First Thirty Quiet Times comes with short scripture readings, thoughtful application steps, and a prayer every day. The book is designed for a new Christian, but I’ve picked up it up countless times over the years when I want straightforward answers on topics ranging from sin and forgiveness, to what to do when doubt comes, to knowing God’s will for my life.

If you’d like a free copy, post a comment here or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) for your chance to win. Or, since the books cost just $1.99, go ahead and order one–or ten!–and share this great resource with someone you love!

Leave a Reply


Who are you becoming?

God cares more about who you are becoming in Him than what you are doing for Him.

That’s a great sentence, and it’s one I wish I made up. Because I don’t know about you, but I definitely spend way more time doing for God (trying to be a good wife and mother, to help out at my church, to write some sort of life-changing blog…) than I spend being with Him. And being with God is, of course, where the really good stuff–the actual life-change–takes place.

But alas, I didn’t make those words up. I stole them from our friend Ty Saltzgiver, the guy who baptized Robbie and me in the Jordan River last March.

If anyone knows about “doing” for God, it would be Ty. He spent over 40 years with Young Life, leading about a bazillion teenagers to Christ. He speaks all over the country, equipping folks to live for what matters. And he’s written 11 faith-shaping books (with number 12 in the works). If God had a “what have you done for me lately” ladder, Ty could sit on the top rung.

But God, as we know, has no such ladder. Sure, He wants us to be good parents and lovers, good bosses and workers, good servants and friends and all that–but, as Ty says, none of those things are the “main plot” of our lives. The main plot is God shaping us–changing us–into the person He wants us to be.

A person who looks a whole lot like Jesus.

I spent this past summer trying to “be” more and “do” less with God. I’d read about the disciples, and how Jesus called 12 of them to be with Him, before they did anything else. That seemed like an excellent plan. And what better time than the summer to shelve things like speaking engagements and writing projects and just sort of…hang out with Jesus?

Yeah, well. It didn’t work all that great.

I am, by nature, a do-er, and I kept forgetting the plan. But God is nothing if not persistent, and I am counting on him to keep at it. To keep at me. To work in me so that as I behold Jesus, I will begin to reflect Him, the way that God said we all could:

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)

And if you want that, too–if you want to look more like Jesus as you spend time with Him–I’ve got some very fun news.

Every Friday in September, I’m going to pick an excerpt from one of Ty’s books–something that will draw us closer to Christ–and talk about it here. And each week, as a fun little bonus, we’ll give away one of his books.

(And I know what some of you are thinking, cuz I think this myself: Who cares about a book giveaway? I never win anything.)

(Well maybe you don’t. And maybe you won’t. But that’s okay, because all of Ty’s books are available here, and almost all of them cost less than two bucks.)

(Seriously. Two dollars. At that price, buy ’em all.)

So…I can’t wait to meet you back here next week! And in the meantime, let’s think about who we’re becoming. And let’s ask God to shape us–to transform us–into the men and women He wants us to be.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to see you and to reflect you. Make us more and more like you. Change us into your glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Amen

 

 

Leave a Reply


Friendships and Gutters Should Flow

“Friendships, like gutters, need to flow.”

No, that’s not C.S. Lewis. Or even Chip Gaines. It’s a little wisdom nugget from this guy:

Ever since he started reading this blog, Bobby has been hinting that I might want to write about him. I don’t normally take this sort of request, but in addition to having the world’s cleanest gutters (a status he attributes to his patent-worthy gutter cleaning invention), Bobby has about 10 zillion friends, so I figured that maybe he knows something worth knowing.

And as it turns out, he actually does.

“Stuff needs to flow through gutters for them to work,” Bobby maintains. “And friendships need flow as well. Communication, vulnerability, time, laughter, shared pain, shared experiences, wisdom, insight…all of these things need to be a dynamic part of our connections if we want our friendships to flourish.”

I like that. And if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that friendship is a topic I love (even when I’m feeling friendless, like I was in this post):

Over the years, we’ve talked about how friendship is what college kids really need (click here for some ways we can pray good friends into their lives), and we’ve looked at why it’s important to have people who will speak truth to us, even when doing so is awkward or hard (because it’s not, as this post explains, always a great idea to just “follow your heart”).

And longtime readers may remember when we dabbled in science, drawing encouragement from research–and yes, they did actually do this to people–that proves you feel better, when you get shocked, if somebody is holding your hand. (That post came with a free printable featuring nine “friendship” prayer cards.)

Clearly, I like to write about friendship.

But getting back to the main point of this blog. Which again, Bobby thinks should be Bobby.

Bobby is part of a group of friends Robbie and I try to connect with, in person, at least once a year.

We ask each other hard questions. What are you doing to invest in your marriage? Where have you struggled at work? How might God want to use you, and your gifts, in the next season of life? What are you doing to grow closer to Him?

We laugh. We try not to make too much fun of each other, but sometimes (like when one of us breaks out an “invention” that he built all by himself and wants to know if anybody is willing to fund it) we can’t help it.

And we pray. We pray for our jobs, our kids, our marriages, and our own stubborn hearts, asking God to work on the places where we’ve strayed or grown hard, and to remind us that (even still) He calls us Beloved.

If you’re reading this post and you think, “I wish I had friends like that,” can I just tell you one thing? You probably do. Ask God to show you who might be open to deeper connections, and then reach out to one or two folks. That’s what happened with our group. As one of us made the pivot from raising her children to the Empty Nest years, she wanted people who would walk alongside her in the new season. She put out some feelers (“Who wants to be friends?”), and the rest of us jumped on board.

And if you’re reading and thinking, “I love my friends!”, let them know! There’s a reason the Bible is so full of exhortations like 1 Thessalonians 5:11; God knows that good things happen when we “encourage one another and build each other up.” Take a moment today to make a phone call, send a text, or write a note (and then remember to mail it) to let a friend know they are loved.

Genuine friendships–like free-flowing gutters–rarely “just happen.” Like Bobby said, they take commitment. Transparency. And a  willingness to overlook offenses (because even small stuff can sometimes clog up the tube).

And, of course, prayer always helps.

The Bible is bursting with good things we can pray for our friends–and these are the very blessings God longs to provide! Click on any of the earlier posts to download some prayers, or join me today in borrowing from Isaiah 61, and use one or two of these verses to lift up those you hold dear.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ is brokenhearted or in need of comfort, clothe them with a garment of praise instead of despair. (v. 1-3)

Grow _____ into a strong oak of righteousness, and may their lives display your splendor. (v. 3)

Replace _____’s shame or disgrace with an inheritance of everlasting joy. (v. 7)

May all who see _____ acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (v. 9)

Amen

(And yes, Bobby. I did put your whole family right there in verse 9.)

😊

 

 

Leave a Reply


The Comparison Trap: Life Lessons from Little League

We lived in Atlanta in 1995, back when the Braves won the World Series. It was a heady time for the city, with tomahawks hanging from telephone poles and kids wearing Maddux jerseys to school, but the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I don’t understand baseball.

Never, perhaps, was that more evident than when I got drafted to coach.

We had just moved to southern California, where it seemed like everyone played Little League. When in Rome and all that, I enrolled all four of our kids. Robbie and Virginia were 5 and 6 at the time, and they got assigned to the same tee-ball team.

As a mom, I felt like I’d done well by my kids. They’d make new friends, get some fresh air, and learn all about a sport than none of their ancestors (lacrosse players on their dad’s side; book-readers on mine) had ever played. All was well—until my telephone rang.

“We need coaches,” the voice said.

My husband was out (he traveled for work) but I didn’t want our family to seem unhelpful. “I can’t coach,” I said brightly, “but I can sew the team banner!”

“We don’t need banners. We need coaches.”

I tried another tack. “I can handle the roster? The snacks? Be the Team Mom?”

“Listen, Mrs. Berndt,” the voice said. “We have too many players. Unless we can find some more coaches, your kids can’t play. We need you.”

This was not headed anywhere good. “You don’t need me,” I countered. “I can’t catch or throw. My baseball knowledge is zero. And…I’m afraid of the ball.”

(Which is true.)

“No worries. We’ll train you. The coaches’ meeting is Wednesday—see you then.”

Never mind that “training” consisted of opening the equipment locker so that the coaches—15 dads and myself—could grab stuff. Or that my tee (the only one left in the locker) wouldn’t stand up all the way straight. I threw the thing in the back of my car, along with a bucket of balls and a couple of bats that the dads didn’t want, and practice started the following week.

Our jerseys were purple, and the first order of business was to choose a team name.

“The Purple Wolves!” one kid hollered. “Yeah!” said the others. “Alrighty then!” I agreed. “That’s excellent progress! Our next job is—” (and here’s where I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to how the Braves did it) “—to make up a team cheer!”

We worked on that one for a while, trying out different wolf poses and howls, and then it was (mercifully) time for practice to end. I sent the kids home with instructions to “work on their wolf stance” and told them I’d see them at Saturday’s game.

Game Day dawned with no small amount of enthusiasm. I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. At first, the Purple Wolves seemed pretty happy.

But then they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” Robbie said.

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

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

Now, if you know anything about tee-ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed.

But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three-deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

And we do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives and see moms whose kids make better grades. Or dads who have better jobs. Or neighbors whose lawns have no weeds. Or whatever. And we assume that their lives are all squared-away and amazing, and that ours—at least by comparison—aren’t.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice somebody gave me when our kids were little (and this is a nugget that works for marriages, jobs, and everything else) was this: “Don’t compare your family’s insides to somebody else’s outsides.”

It’s true. Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of moms and dads over the years (and from our own family’s up-and-down life), it’s that everyone—even the Varsity Christians with the award-winning children and the primo jobs and the clean minivan—has issues. Nobody measures up. Nobody even comes close.

And if we spend our time looking at other people’s outsides instead of focusing on Jesus (and basking in his immeasurable love for our insides), we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

As it turned out, the Purple Wolves won that first game. Or maybe they lost. I don’t remember. The only thing I remember–the only thing ANYBODY remembers (and people remind me of it, to this day)—is the fight that broke out on the mound.

No, the Carpet Squares didn’t attack. The brawl (which got ugly fast) was an inner-squad thing, between the Purple Wolves’ pitcher and our first baseman, after the latter got hit in the chest with a throw because his attention was elsewhere.

(Did I mention where I’d positioned Virginia and Robbie? No? Okay well. Never mind then.)

🤦‍♀️

Heavenly Father,

Help us understand who we are and the work we’ve been given, and to sink ourselves into that. Don’t let us fall prey to comparison; rather, equip us to do the creative best we can with our lives, secure in the lavishness of your love. (Galatians 6:4, MSG & 1 John 3:1, NIV)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

Leave a Reply


I just want to look at your face.

So next week we’ll be with two of our adult children, Virginia and Robbie. They don’t live in Virginia Beach, and I miss them.

A lot.

Which is why I’ve warned them, already, that I might be a little bit weird. “Don’t mind me if I stare at you when we’re together,” I said. “I just want to look at your face.”

If you’re a parent (and especially if you’re the parent of a newborn), you get it. You know it’s not always polite (and you realize you might border on creepy, if you’re like me and you have grown-up kids), but sometimes you can’t look away. Like Robbie, in this 1989 photo with Hillary. You just love too much.

And as I thought about this “can’t look away” love, I remembered King David’s words in Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord,” he wrote, “this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

That was my dad’s favorite verse. I loved my father, and I want to love God in the all-consuming way that he did. Truth be told, though, I sometimes read verses like Psalm 27:4 and scratch my head just a bit. David’s request seems so…passive. Like, in our rough-and-tumble world, does gazing at God’s beauty move the needle? Does it help?

(I mean, if we were in David’s shoes and we could ask God for one thing, would we really pick “looking at you”?)

This week, I decided to do a little word study. I’ll spare you the details (cuz when you put a honker of a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible in my beach bag, I can quickly get lost in the weeds), but here’s the main scoop:

That word beauty? It’s an attractiveness that motivates others to embrace that which is praiseworthy. It’s a type of splendor that leaves us inspired and amazed. It’s how the onlookers felt about Jesus in Mark 7:37, when he healed the deaf and dumb man.

“He has done everything well!” people said.

Not only that, but Warren Wiersbe (author of The Bible Exposition Commentarysays that beauty, as it’s used in Psalm 27, means not only the glory of God’s character but also “the richness of His goodness and favor to His people.” In other words, when David focused on God (instead of all the threats that he faced), he didn’t see danger or fear. He saw peace. He saw provision. He saw the strength to move on and live well.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that that leaves me admitting I’m wrong. Gazing at God is not at all passive. It’s practical. It’s the starting place–and the returning place–for experiencing him, and then living a life that will matter.

If gazing at God feels foreign to you, or if you just need a little help getting started, check out my friend Sara Hagerty’s “adoration” series on Instagram. You’ll find her @sarahagertywrites, or click here to download a whole month’s worth of ways to see and love God.

 

Heavenly Father,

You are all that we need; your presence is all we desire. Help us fix our gaze on you, that we might daily look to you and your strength, and seek your face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

Amen

And P.S., all you empty nesters out there:  Gazing at God is infinitely more satisfying than staring at your kids. Especially when they know how much you miss them and then, right before they come home, they send you a photo like this:

(Seriously Robbie? What even is that thing on your face??)

🙅‍♀️

Leave a Reply


Forget the iPotty; Add Prayer to Your Baby Wish List

I’ve been to a few baby showers in recent months, and I’m amazed at all the stuff you can buy. Today’s registries include everything from traditional onesies and blankets to what-the-heck items like the Baby Butt Fan (“experts agree” that air drying prevents diaper rash), the iPotty (because apparently today’s toddlers don’t want to miss a minute of screen time), and the Kickbee (a thing pregnant moms wrap on their bellies to digitally detect baby’s kicks–and then tweet them out to the world).

(I know. How did my generation make it through nine months without that?)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to burp cloths and bottles, we could add character traits to our cart? Think about it. Expectant mothers could add things like wisdom, kindness, and self-control for their kids. I might register for gentleness and patience, and an others-centered outlook on life. And wouldn’t we all want gifts like perseverance, integrity, a joyful spirit, and a thankful heart?

The list, of course, could go on. And how cool would it be if all we had to do was throw a shower and have our friends bring us these blessings?

Happily, God’s got another–better–way to give these good gifts to our kids. He invites us to ask him for them.

In his book, How to PrayR.A. Torrey says that prayer is “God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

Torrey’s not the one who came up with the link between asking and receiving; we see that played out in the Bible (see, for instance, Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24). For a lot of folks, though, Torrey’s words can feel daunting. We know we should pray, but sometimes we don’t–and we can beat ourselves up over that lack.

And perhaps no one beats themselves up more than young moms. This comment, shared last week on a friend’s Instagram post, pierced my heart:

I was such a good pray-er until God blessed me with a second boy. I have three energetic sons, ages 3, 5 and 1. Between teething and nighttime breastfeeding and everything else, I feel so bad in all spheres. And I feel guilty.

Boy, can I ever relate. Robbie and I had four kids in six years, and honestly? I don’t know how today’s mothers do it. I see them making their own baby food and checking labels for all things organic; I remember dumping Trix cereal out on the high chair and hoping that counted as fruit.

And prayer time? That was reserved for people who had fewer kids and less laundry than I did. Any time I heard about some Varsity Christian who spent hours in prayer (like the persecuted people on the other side of the world all seemed to be doing) I’d want to throw in the prayer towel and quit. “I’m just not that holy,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just not that good.”

And I’d feel bad for my kids, cuz I knew they had a lame-Christian mom.

But then I met Cynthia Heald, a best-selling author whose books include Becoming a Woman of Prayer“I’d like to be a woman of prayer,” I told her, “but I’m not. I almost never have time to sit down with my notebook and a Bible to pray–and I feel like my prayers don’t really count.”

Cynthia set me straight. “You can pray in the carpool line,” she said, “or while you’re washing dishes. Pray while you walk through your neighborhood, or while you clean the bathroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time or preparation to meet God. Just go to him, and you’re there.”

Now, I am sure that Cynthia Heald would encourage all of us to make time in our schedules for some concentrated, uninterrupted prayer, but her gentle advice to “just do it” got me started. I began to pray while I drove, while I made lunches, and even while I scrubbed toilets, using (and I realize this sounds kind of pathetic) the smell of Lysol, in place of biblical incense, to remind me to pray.

All of which is to say (especially to the new mamas out there):  Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t believe the lie that your prayers have to be perfect, or long, or written down in a beautiful faux-leather journal to count.

That season will come.

For now, take your parenting cue from the disciples. Granted, they never had to make a Pilgrim costume out of a grocery bag and brown packing tape, but they did need to know how to pray–and so they asked Jesus for help. They asked him to teach them, and we can do the same thing. We can ask God to show us how to pray, and to help us make the most of our minutes.

God knows what it’s like to have kids and to want good things for their lives. Prayer is the vehicle he invented for us to ask him to provide.

And all we have to do is…just do it.

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to live wisely and well. (Psalm 90:12 MSG)

Prompt us to lift up our hands to you and plead for the lives of our children. (Lamentations 2:19 NLT)

And remind us, when we are weary and worn, that we can come boldly before your throne, knowing that your grace is always there to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

Amen

(Note to moms eyeing the iPotty: We used that book, Toilet Training in Less than a Daywhich, if I remember right, worked really well and only required salty chips, candy rewards, and like 17 gallons of apple juice.)

Leave a Reply


The Dog Days of Summer

Many of you know our dog, Max. Max has taught me two things this summer.

The first is the value of the iPhone “portrait” feature. My old phone finally gave up, and when Robbie brought home a new one (shopping for anything plug-in being a Blue Job, chez Berndt), I snapped this:

Max has never looked this good in his life.

(And that is not being unkind. Those who have met Max in person, or seen him in previous blogs, know I speak only the truth. But hey. There is more to life than great hair.)

The second lesson from Max is that good things happen when you decide to be nice.

I am not what you might call a Dog Person. I don’t mind them; in fact, I would go so far as to say that I like most dogs. And that I trust people who have dogs more than people who don’t. But if you invite us over for dinner, Robbie’s the one who will sit on the floor and get your pup’s hair and his breath and his ticks or whatever all over his clothing, not me.

But all of that’s changed in the last 100 days.

101, to be exact.

That’s how long it’s been since Max had surgery to take out his spleen. The docs biopsied whatever was in there, and the news was not good. They gave our guy 18-45 days.

I may not be a dog person, but I was the one who brought Max home as a Christmas morning surprise back in 2007, and I found myself rocked by this verdict. And if Max had three-to-six weeks left to live, I resolved to make them the best weeks of his life.

I bought chewy dog treats.

Took him out for some walks.

I might even have talked baby talk, once in awhile. (Which is not something I ever did for our kids.)

And…I began petting him. Not a lot (because then I would have to get out the Roomba and watch it suck up the hairs, which can take up a lot of my valuable time). But a little. And if Max was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just acted happy.

It’s Day 101 and Max seems healthier–and more active–than ever. Maybe he felt weighed down by that spleen? Maybe he is thrilled with the treats, after 11 years of dry kibble? Maybe all he ever wanted was to go for an actual walk?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.

I can’t point to the exact day when it happened, but I find myself LOVING our dog. And doing things I haven’t, before. Things like standing in the pet aisle at the grocery store, wondering whether he likes “salmon and veggie” or “chicken and rice” in his bowl, or what shape (bone? bacon strip? tube?) he prefers for his treats.

I know, I know. Some of you are reading this, and you are aghast. Who among us, you think, doesn’t buy  bacon-shaped treats BEFORE it’s almost too late? I get that. Unsubscribe if you must; I won’t judge.

And some of you will wonder what possible lesson or truth I could mine from this story. I will tell you. It’s this:

The nicer you are, the more you will love. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but when you decide to be kind to someone (and I think this works for family members and co-workers, as well as mangy golden retrievers), the more attractive they will appear, and the more you will want to be nice. It’s as if love begets love. And not only will you find yourself giving love; others will start loving you back. (I can’t be positive, but I am pretty sure Max thinks I’m awesome.)

And I can’t help but wonder if it’s that way with God. He is so good to us, and he always has been, covering us in love since the beginning of time. When he looks at us, he doesn’t see all our scabs and our warts and our failings. He just sees the object of his boundless affection. He sees us as lovely.

And as we bask in that love, we are transformed. We love, the Bible says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father,

Help me to extend love to ______, and to pray for them even if they come against me. Equip me to love others the way that you have loved me. (Matthew 5:44, John 15:12)

And P.S., Ecclesiastes 9:4 says that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.” I don’t really understand that verse, but I do know that I love my live dog, so if anyone wants to pray for us to enjoy another 100 great days (or more!), we’d be grateful.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


Duct-taping Your Kids (and other Mom Fails)

“Wait. Mom. Are you reading your own book? That is just so…sad.”

That was Virginia, more than 10 years ago, when she burst into my bedroom and discovered me sitting up in bed, reading my copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. What Virginia didn’t know was that I was using the book to help shape my prayers for her life. All she could see was her mother doing something that looked, to her teenaged eye, pretty pathetic.

Happily, Virginia is all grown up now, and she doesn’t think it’s strange when I pray. Or when I read my own books. Which is a good thing, since I was at it again yesterday. I was thinking about a friend who is going through a rough patch in her parenting, and I turned to the chapter about parent-child relationships to find some good scripture-prayers. And I came upon this:

I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago, but honestly? They mean so much more to me now. Because the older I get, the more aware I am of how far I fall short. Of how often I’ve let my kids down. Of how my weaknesses (especially in parenting) don’t seem to be going away.

I remember being a young mom, and wanting so badly to set a good example for my kids. I wanted to be able to change diapers, run carpools, and help with science projects–all while being wise, resourceful, hospitable, encouraging, diligent, creative, generous, faithful, watchful, vigorous, strong, and cheerful. That’s not a list I made up; I read it in Proverbs 31. And if that was God’s standard for an excellent woman, then that’s the mark I wanted to hit.

Hold on, all you Bible scholars out there. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real woman, but rather a type of woman. Or that she was really a conglomeration of admirable attributes manifested in the lives of several different women. Or that she was nothing human at all; rather, she was the personification of wisdom, showing us what wisdom might look like, if we could see it in action.

Blah blah blah.

I know all of that. And I knew it, back then. But I’ve always liked clear objectives–targets to shoot for–and the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman are nothing if not well-defined.

(Literally. Proverbs 31:17 even talks about her fabulous biceps.)

And so I tried. I started by checking off the verses I had covered. Things like sewing clothing and curtains (which I actually did, back then), working late into the night (which seemed both noble and necessary, at the time), and getting up while it was still dark (which was the only time my mom friends could meet up for a run). Verses 19, 18, and 15. Done.

At first, I felt good. I was on a Proverbs 31 roll. How hard could it be, to buckle down and check off the rest?

Ha.

You know what happened.

I couldn’t do it. Forget about planting a vineyard or bringing food from afar (v. 16 and 14); there were days when I could barely get to the store (and even then it was not anything to be proud of, as I jammed all four kids into one grocery cart and piled boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese on their heads). And that part about “faithful instruction” (v. 26)? Unless you count that time I got so tired of listening to Hillary and Annesley bicker that I duct-taped them together and made them clean all the toilets one-handed, I’m not sure they learned all that much.

(Simmer down, people. It was only their wrists. And only one arm per girl. I am pretty sure they were…fine.)

Anyhow.

The more I tried to be an exemplary mom, the more I became, as my friend Kenzie put it, “the Proverbs 32 woman.” Who is not, as we all know, someone who shows up in the Bible.

If you want to read more (like, if epic mom-fails are your thing), you can pick up the book, but for now I’ll just get to the point and say this:  My weakness was where Jesus came in.

Truly.

And that’s where he still does.

Because no matter how hard I tried–or how hard I still try–to do everything “right,” there will always be days when I blow it. I will do and say things I regret. And, unlike the Proverbs 31 mother, I will never know what it’s like to have my kids get out of bed in the morning and call me Blessed. (But don’t think that I haven’t thought about picking that as my grandmother name, if and when that time comes.)

But you know what I’ve learned, after 30 years of mom-fails? I’ve learned that the less I rely on my own abilities and the more I rely on Christ–and the more I let my children (even now, as adults) see me depending on him for wisdom, guidance, and strength–the more I will be able to set the only example that’s worth following.

Instead of saying, “Look at me,” I can say, “Look at Jesus.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that we don’t have to be perfect parents–that we don’t even have to be close. Help us, and our children, to rely on your wisdom and grace. And instead of trying to “do good” or “be good” by ourselves, may we look to you and your strength; may we seek your face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Amen

 

Leave a Reply


Trust the Whisper (with this Book Giveaway!)

Why the shades?

For starters, because I’m a sucker for the 4th of July. I found them at Target in the $1 bin (the sticker promised “100% UV Protection!”), and I’ve been sporting them all week.

But it’s not just patriotism that has me hiding my eyes. It’s vanity.

I’ve just finished reading The Hundred Story Homeand my entire face is a mess. So is my tee shirt (I never have any Kleenex), but the eyes are the worst. I haven’t looked this bad since, I don’t know. Watching Beaches with my wind-beneath-my-wings pal Susan, back in 1988?

Anyhow.

Author Kathy Izard starts every chapter in The Hundred Story Home with an inspiring quote. Here’s one of my favs:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

In Kathy’s case, the life she had planned–the life she was actually living–looked pretty sweet. An award-winning graphic designer, she was a happily married mother of four who volunteered in a local soup kitchen. Kathy had been raised to “Do Good,” and she was proud to be making a difference in her community.

But then she met Denver Moore. (You know Denver as the scary homeless guy who makes friends with Greg Kinnear in Same Kind of Different as Me.) Thinking that Denver would appreciate all that she and the other volunteers were doing for the city’s homeless (in addition to serving meals, they offered soccer teams, art classes, and gardening), Kathy took the man on a tour.

But Denver, as it turned out, was less than impressed. In fact, he didn’t say anything–until he’d seen pretty much everything in the building. Then he spoke up.

“Where are the beds?”

Kathy was confused. The soup kitchen didn’t have any beds–it wasn’t that kind of place. Even as Kathy tried to process what Denver was saying–and to explain why they couldn’t house folks overnight–Denver came at her again. Here’s how she tells the story:

“You mean to tell me you do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night?”

His accusation left me gutted.

Denver patiently allowed me my discomfort. He watched me silently wrestle with my new awareness before he quietly asked me his next question.

Does that make any sense to you?

Of course it made no sense. I was flooded with shame.

Denver’s next question would change the trajectory of my path forever. It was the question I had been waiting for and looking to answer ever since my dad died nine years before.

Are you going to do something about it?

(Kathy writes that she wanted to look over her shoulder to see who, exactly, Denver was talking to. Later, as she drove Denver back to his hotel, she could feel him studying her.)

“You know,” he said, “you don’t have to be scared.”

He kept talking, adding cryptically, “They already know they are coming.”

“Who?” I asked, still reeling from the magnitude of his assignment.

At that moment we arrived at the hotel’s circular drive.

Denver stared at me with utter certainty as he said, “The people who are going to help you–they already know they are coming.”

And with that, Denver opened my car door and walked away.

Wanna know who showed up–or how the story turns out? I hope so, because The Hundred Story Home was just released last month, and it’s already my top pick for the beach bag this summer.

Here’s why I think this book matters:

Kathy knows that not all of her readers will be called to end homelessness, or even just to push it back by a bit. (Honestly though? I don’t think you can come away unchanged from the book, even if all you discover is how to “see” the man on the street as he holds up his sign.)

But even if working to end homelessness isn’t our thing, Kathy maintains that we all have a purpose. We all, she says, have a call, one that’s “patiently waiting and whispering.” We may struggle along the way–and Kathy writes very openly about her own faith questions, her difficult family issues, and her unmet desire for fulfillment–but our whisper (whatever it is) is woven into that journey. And when we hear it, we need to be ready to listen.

To let go.

And to take a leap of faith into the life–the satisfying, significant life–that might not look anything like what we had planned.

Want an autographed copy of the book? Post a comment here, on Facebook (Jodie Berndt Writes), or Instagram (@jodie_berndt). We’ll pick three winners and announce them next Wednesday, 7/11!

Leave a Reply


Good Words for Bad Golf

“You’ll never be any good. You’re too old to start now.”

The words were iffy, but the tone was loving, and I knew my