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Cover Your Child with God’s Presence

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

Again, I don’t know.

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

Cover our Children with God's Presence

 

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

With His protection.

With His very person. His presence.

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

And sent it to me.

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

When you were small and just a touch away,

I covered you with blankets against the cold night air.

But now that you are tall and out of reach,

I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.”

Isn’t that a good one?

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

He invites us to pray.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

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Hope for the Stay-at-Home Missionary

Have you ever wanted to be a missionary?

Me neither.

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

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

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

Water for Africa

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

 

FAD Missionary at the well

Watering the crops

FAD Missionary Team

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

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

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

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

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

Which she did.

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

Prayer is part of the work

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

Consider King David’s perspective.

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

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

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

Which is a really good reminder for us.

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father, fulfill your word in our midst:

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

(Isaiah 58:10-11)

Amen

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

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

Children in India

India prayer team

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

Elephant ride

 

 

 

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The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

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

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31-Day Prayer Habit

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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

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

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

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Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

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

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

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

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

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

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

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

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

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

(What’s not to love about that?)

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

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

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

Closer to Christ

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

She did it to prepare me for burial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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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.

 

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