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Summer Reading: What’s in YOUR beach bag?

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

Summer Reading (Unseen book by Sara Hagerty)

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

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

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

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

The lines on God’s face.

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

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

“Why this waste?”

(Excerpted from Unseen by Sara Hagerty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh-oh, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he asked.

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

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

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

My heart started racing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a waste. What a beautiful waste.

Summer Reading UNSEEN in the beach bag

❤️

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

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A Real Rest for the Weary

I will give you rest

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

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

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

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

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

Where was the promise of rest in that picture?

Can we work and rest at the same time?

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

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

A real rest.

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

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

I think Moses would say that we can.

The promise of God’s presence

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

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

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

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

A posture of trust

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

Boat at rest - Isaiah 30:15

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

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

❤️

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

What about you?

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

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

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

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The one prayer we all need

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

The One Prayer We All Need

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

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

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

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

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

We aren’t sure where to begin.

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

“Lord, help.”

Help me, God

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

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

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

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

“Help me.”

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

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

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

Does the “Help me” prayer still work today?

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

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

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

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

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A magnet for God’s grace

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

Our prayer for help is a magnet

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

God wants us to pray so that he can provide.

In every situation.

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer and provision

God bends down to hear our prayer

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

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

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

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

❤️

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

Jodie holds latest prayer book

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Tiny Phrases that Stick (by Sara Hagerty)

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

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

Here’s Sara…

Tiny Phrases – tiny (big) conversations with God

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

Songs make things stick.

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

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

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

Songs make things stick.

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

Bite-sized portions of Scripture - Sara Hagerty

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

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

It sounds ethereal without boots.

Boots for me: Psalm 119.

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

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

deal bountifully with me (v.17) 

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

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

give me understanding (v.34)

let your steadfast love comfort me (v.76)

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

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

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

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

Tiny phrases when God feels cloud-covered - Sara Hagerty

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

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

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

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

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

❤️

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

31 Days of Prayer (Life)

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

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

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

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

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

Fox News post on the path to God's presence

Have a glorious weekend!

Jodie

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