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Prayer Journal Giveaway (just for my email friends)

Friends, the new Praying the Scriptures Journal released this week!

Prayer Journal giveaway

To celebrate, I’m sliding into your inbox with a mid-week prayer journal GIVEAWAY exclusively for my email subscribers. We’ll be picking THREE winners to receive signed copies, hot off the press! Details below, but first here’s a question we tossed out earlier this week over at Club31Women.com

“Do you think most moms know how to pray for their kids?”

It was a fair question. A group of us were talking about how we approach God, and our hang-ups seemed to outnumber our how-tos. One mom said she wanted to pray for her children, but she worried she’d ask for the wrong thing. Another said she wasn’t sure where to begin or how to stay focused. (“I feel like I just sit there and ramble,” was how she put it.) And a third gal confessed to not being sure God was listening. “I’ve had prayers go unanswered before,” she said. “I’m not sure I have enough faith.”

Me, I spent a lot of years thinking that prayer was basically a one-way conversation where I would ask God for what I thought would be good and then see what happened. If my relationships or my circumstances lined up with my requests, I would know that God said “yes.” And if not, he said “no.” I didn’t begrudge God when he turned me down—I knew verses like Isaiah 55:9 and that God’s ways 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.

Christ’s model for prayer is based on connection. On relationship. On the promise that if we lean into him and allow his words to soak into our soul—not just shaping our desires but even creating them—we can pray with the full and wholehearted expectation that God will answer. “If you remain in me,” he says in John 15:7, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.”

Christ's model for prayer quote

That’s an incredible promise. But how, practically speaking, do we take Jesus up on his offer? How do we throw off the things that hinder our prayers—our uncertainty, our tendency toward distraction, our past disappointment—and really lean into God? How can we know how to pray?

That’s a mouthful of questions—more than this space can answer—but two bite-sized answers can help.

An animated conversation with God

The first answer is to use Scripture a springboard for prayer. Instead of just reading the Bible, consider it a conversation starter. For instance, if you read a verse like Ephesians 4:2“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”—you can turn it around, making it not just a directive from God, but a request from your own heart: “Help me…” you might say, or “Help my children be completely humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with each other in love.” When you pray like this, letting God’s word animate your perspective, you don’t need to worry about finding the words or doing it “wrong.” You can be confident that your prayers will line up with God’s plans.

The second strategy is to use a prayer journal as an anchor. Whether you write long paragraphs, short sentences, or just bullet points, having a record of your conversations with God comes with at least three benefits: It helps you stay focused. It gives you space to write what the Holy Spirit reveals in the pages of Scripture. And it allows you to stay alert to the ways you see God’s hand at work in your life and in the lives of the people you love.

prayer journal for the people you love

A tether for your trust

In Bible times, people often built altars as a way to remind them of God’s promises and of what he had done. Noah built one after the flood; Abraham built one after God said he would bless the whole earth through him; Moses built one after God took the Israelites safely through the Red Sea. In each of these instances—and in numerous others—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his love.

We can do the same thing with a journal. We can tether our trust to God’s promises, letting the words we read in the Bible give shape to our prayers. And, over time, we can go back and see what God has done: The places where we’ve seen spiritual, physical, or emotional growth in our children. The friendships forged or restored. The challenging circumstances where God is proving his love through his presence—even if the answer to prayer has not yet appeared, or it doesn’t look anything like what we expected.

A prayer journal doesn’t have to be fancy (I used a spiral notebook for years), but if you’d like help getting started, or you just need some fresh encouragement or inspiration, the new Praying the Scriptures Journal can help. The book offers journaling prompts, biblical insights, and specific prayers you can use to talk with God about your child’s faith, character, relationships, decisions, and more. (Plus, with a linen cover, elegantly designed pages, and a satin ribbon to mark your place, it’s really pretty 😊).

Journal cover

We might think we don’t know how to pray. But as we turn our hearts toward God, telling him our needs and thanking him for what he has done, our prayers release his provision. We find freedom from things like worry and fear in our parenting. And, as Philippians 4:6-7 promises, we experience his peace, knowing that no matter how far away our children may be, they are never out of God’s reach.

❤️

The Giveaway Scoop:  Email subscribers can enter to win a copy of the journal on Instagram or Facebook. All you have to do is “like” the post and tag a friend in the comments. (And psst…if you win and you want me to sign the book for your friend as a gift, just let me know–this prayer journal is my new go-to for baby showers, birthdays, and the moms & grandmoms on my Christmas list! 😊)

We’ll announce the winner in my Stories on Sunday (and we’ll DM you to let you know if it’s you!). In the meantime, here’s a quick peek at the prayer journal and why I think you’ll like it!

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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