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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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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Pray that Your Kids Get Caught

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

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

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

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

(And not just because I also got caught.)

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

Here she is…

Why You Should Pray Regularly that Your Kids Get Caught

(Guest post by Susan Alexander Yates)

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

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

What?”

“Why would I want to do that??”

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

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

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

Our kids were not thrilled with this prayer of ours!

Let me share a personal story:

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

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

_______

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

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

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens (on black table)

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

Praying the Scriptures book on the beach

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

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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!

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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

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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.)

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