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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31 Days of Prayer – Coming in July!

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

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

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

Let’s pray together in July.

31 Days of Prayer Title

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

prayer calendar

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

Download the prayer calendar for free (click here)…

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

Day 5 Prayer: Forgiveness

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

Book Cover (sneak peek)

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

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

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

Warmly,

Jodie

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

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Marriage (and why I lived in a bathrobe)

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

But first, a little backstory.

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

Marriage Survey Responses

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

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

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

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

A toast to the marriage manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen.

❤️

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

marriage prayer card

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

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The Helper knows what looks good on you

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

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

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

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

John 15:9-10

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

What the Helper Does

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

The Helper (1978 edition)

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

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

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

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

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

God knows what we should wear

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

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

The Holy Spirit, our Helper, has impeccable taste

❤️

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

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

Heavenly Father…

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

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

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

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A (Printable) Prayer for the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer hands through the years

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

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

Robbie & Virginia prayer hands

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

Hillary and Charlie wedding (answered prayer)

God prompts us to pray

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

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

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

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

God initiates prayer graphic

One “all-family” prayer

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

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

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

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

prayer bookmark - Isaiah 44:3

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

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

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

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

❤️

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

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

Noah and Robbie make a prayer hand

Noah 2022 prayer hand

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Printable Prayers for Your Thanksgiving Table

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

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

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

Rugby the Big Apple Puppy

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

Except…the dishwasher is leaking.

As is the puppy.

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

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

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

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

prayer cards

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

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

❤️

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

Prayer Cards with gold easel

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference between helping and enabling?

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

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

Dr. Jim Burns interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis quote on Hardships

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

Was it something I did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you still love me.

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

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

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

“Do you still love me?”

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

❤️

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

Adult Children - never out of God's reach

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

Jim Burns book - Doing Life with Your Adult Children

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

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Be Expectant: Four Things to Help You Wait Well

Note:  With back-to-back weddings and the impending arrival of our second grandchild, I haven’t been writing too much, but earlier this week I shared some thoughts about WAITING over at Club31Women, a place where you’ll find encouragement for all things faith, home, and family. I’m re-sharing that post here, along with the (spoiler alert!) announcement that baby Grayson is here! Grayson’s arrival is a long-awaited blessing…and we are SO HAPPY we could BUST.

(And yes. I have pix. Scroll to the end if you want to see!)

Be Expectant:  Four Things to Help You Wait Well

As I write this, my daughter is 39 weeks pregnant, awaiting the arrival of her first child. A son. I can’t wait to meet him. To see his face. To know his name!

I am expectant.

I wish I could say I felt the same way during every waiting season. To me, waiting usually conjures images of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances:  The dating relationship that was supposed to lead to marriage but hasn’t. The job promotion that never materialized. The gap between homesick and happy in a new place. The toddler who won’t sleep through the night. The sickness—physical or emotional—that just won’t go away. The womb that stays closed.

Waiting feels like it’s not so much about anticipation as it is endurance. And given that the word patience is derived from the Latin word for suffering, it comes as no surprise that when the Bible exhorts us to “wait for the Lord,” the very next words are,

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage.”  (Psalm 27:14)

Be strong and take courage. Those words seem more suited to an epic adventure than to a long holding pattern; it’s like the psalmist knows that waiting on God will tap (and maybe even exhaust) our deepest fuel reserves.

And it can be easy in the face of delayed provision or unanswered prayers to grow weary and want to give up. Particularly when we’re asking God for something we know is good—the salvation of a loved one, reconciliation or forgiveness among family members, freedom from a crippling addiction—and it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. That can be confusing.

Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

Maybe God has some secret reason for withholding an answer, we think to ourselves, and the most pious thing we could do would be to just quit. To stop praying. To pack up our trust and go home.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s take the long view, believing Jesus when he says that his Father is always at work, even when we can’t see what he’s doing. (John 5:17)  And as we wait on God’s answer or his provision, I can think of at least four things that might help.

What Happens While We Wait

First, consider what might be happening while we wait.

God could be teaching us perseverance—the trait that makes us mature and complete. (James 1:3-4)

He might be testing and purifying our faith—not for his benefit, but to prove to us that what we have is both strong and real. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Or he might be giving us an opportunity to hone our request so that our desire lines up with his (better) plan. (Matthew 26:42)

We don’t know what God might be doing, but even the waiting season itself can make the eventual answer extra sweet. How much more grateful are we for a blessing that arrives after a long prayer battle than we are for the one that just shows up on our doorstep as if delivered by Amazon Prime?

God’s Faithfulness While We Wait

Second, reflect on the ways God’s faithfulness has already presented itself.

Taking time to consider God’s past provision equips us to be strong and take heart for the future. If you don’t already make a practice of thanking God for what he has done, grab a journal (a spiral notebook will do) and start keeping a record. Aim for just two or three notes every day and build your collection—your “faithfulness altar”—from there.

Spend Time in God’s Word

Third, make time to meet God in his Word. Spend time reading the Bible, allowing it to shape your perspective. The more we fill our minds with Scripture, the more our thoughts and desires begin to line up with what God wants to do.

What he already is doing.

Pray in the Waiting

And finally, pray.

God longs to show us his goodness and draw us into deeper communion with him. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you wait well. Ask him to open your eyes to the purposes God may want to accomplish. And ask him to equip you to trust God’s timing, knowing that he is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)

The Lord is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25)

Lamentations 3: 25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him.”

Let’s be expectant.

❤️

 

Grayson and his parents in the hospital

Welcome Baby Grayson

Welcome Grayson! We've waited for you!

Welcome home, Baby Grayson. We’ve been waiting for you. 💙

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Marriage (and how I’m praying for my boy + his bride)

Our son was only seven years old, prepping for his role as a ring-bearer in my brother’s wedding, when he first broached the subject of marriage. 

Robbie as ring-bearer in David's marriage

“What happens,” Robbie wanted to know, “if you go to a lot of weddings and you never get picked?”

I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking, so I pressed for details. “Robbie,” I said slowly, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. What do you think happens at a wedding?”

“I think everyone gets dressed up and then the girl chooses the one she wants. So what happens if you never get picked?”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Having already been on a dozen different sports teams by the time he was seven, Robbie saw the whole world through the lens of athletics. To him, a wedding represented one more opportunity to “dress out” and compete for a starting position.

The fact that Robbie was concerned about the perennial bench warmers—and that he might be secretly worried about missing his own chance to “play”—pierced my heart. I found his question both touching and hilarious, and it served as a reminder that it’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner.

Praying for Your Child's Marriage Partner

I’ve written about marriage and kids in this space before (click here to read three specific ways we can pray for the person our child will marry, and here for a post about what makes a really good marriage). But the topic is big on my mind this week because Robbie is all grown up now and ready for a ring of his own.

He’s still an athlete and sports still color much of his world, but I imagine that if you asked Robbie about his biggest win, he wouldn’t tell you about any of the stuff that earned trophies or championship rings. He’d introduce you to Mary, the woman he will marry tomorrow.

Robbie and Mary - Before Marriage

As I think back on all the prayers I’ve prayed for Robbie’s one-day wife—prayers that spanned twenty-five years—I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Mary is an immeasurably more answer to prayer. And what joy it was, when I heard “She said yes!”, to look at this beautiful young woman and think to myself:  So it’s you!

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

God's answers continue to unfold quote

God’s answers continue to unfold long after we finish praying.

That’s one of the reasons I love praying the Scriptures, joining my voice with generationsfuture and pastwhose desires are shaped by God’s promises. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s word accomplishes his desires and achieves his purposes; it doesn’t say how or when. But when we bring our requests to God, we can be confident that he treasures them.

He collects them, the Bible says, in golden bowls.

He remembers.

And as I shift the focus of my prayers for Robbie’s marriage and begin to pray not just for him or for her but for them, I am grateful for God’s past faithfulness and for the good things he has in store.

Do I know what their lives will look like? Not at all. But I look forward to watching their story unfold.

Here are a few of the verses I’m praying for Robbie and Mary. They’re excepts from Psalm 145 and (to me, anyway) they represent a lot of what a marriage might hold. Feel free to pick one (or all) of these verses and pray them for your child’s marriage—or for your own. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Every day—for better and for worse—may they praise you and extol your name. (v. 2)

May they commend your works to their children, telling of your mighty acts, speaking of your glorious splendor, and proclaiming the power of your great deeds. (v. 4-6)

Let them celebrate your abundant goodness. (v. 7)

Be gracious and compassionate toward them; let them experience the riches of your love. (v. 8)

Equip them to trust your promises and remember that you are faithful. (v. 13)

Uphold them when they fall; lift their hearts when they are down. (v. 14)

Open your hand, O Lord, and satisfy their desires. (v. 16)

Be near to them when they call on you; hear their cry and save them. (v. 18-19)

Watch over them as they love you…and may they praise your holy name for ever and ever. (v. 20-21)

Amen

❤️

P.S. And Mary, if you ever read this post…thank you for “picking” my boy! 🙂

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Back-to-School Prayers (with a free printable)

It’s back-to-school time. Which means different things to different parents.

I spoke to one empty nester who told me she still hates Labor Day. “It signals that summer is over,” she said, “and I was always the mom in a puddle of tears at the bus stop. I didn’t want to let my kids go.”

And then there’s the Instagram mom who posted that the sun came out from behind the storm clouds as she waved goodbye to her kids–and that when she went back into her house, the dishwasher had unloaded itself, the coffee had brewed itself, and Ryan Gosling had made her bed and was folding her laundry. 😉

Wherever you are on the back-to-school spectrum–sobbing or singing or a little of both–I know you love your kids. And you want God’s best for them during the coming year.

I wish you and I could sit down together as this new school year begins. I’d ask you what you’re excited about. What concerns you might have. And how I can pray.

And I’d share some of what I’ve been learning from other moms–especially as it relates to helping our kids push back against things like worry and fear. I saw one study that said anxiety and depression had doubled among children and teens during the pandemic. How do we help our kids when they struggle? Even if it’s just back-to-school jitters and not something chronic, how should we pray?

I asked Sally Burke, Moms in Prayer president, how she would answer questions like these. I wasn’t surprised when she pointed straight to the Bible. She prays Nehemiah 8:10 over her kids, that the joy of the Lord will be their strength. And she  asks God to help them set their hearts and their minds “on things above, where Christ is,” not on worldly things.

Rebekah Lyons, the bestselling author of Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace, told me she plays the “Then what?” game with her kids. “What if your worst fears came true?” she asks. “Then what?”  Rebekah knows bad things will happen–things we never see coming–but “if the One who holds all things together is the One who holds us,” she says, we will “still be standing” when the they have passed.

The One who holds all things together holds us.

And he holds our kids.

And when we anchor our trust in his word, we really will have, as Psalm 112:7 promises, “no fear of bad news.”

Again, I wish we could sit down together. I don’t know what you are praying about–whether your kids need good friends, wisdom, protection, or anything else–but God does. Our Father knows what we need before we ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

If you want a few specific prayers you can pray in this back-to-school season, here are twelve of my favorites. I’ve pulled them together in a printable for our email community (but feel free to share them with friends). Click here to download and then keep these prompts on your phone…

Back-to-school printable

…or print them and put them someplace where you will see them. Or tuck ’em in the lunchbox or the backpack with your child’s name in the blank. How comforting it is for a child to know that their earthly parent is talking to their heavenly Parent about their every need!

Printable back-to-school prayer (Eph 4:2)

❤️

P.S. Want to watch the full back-to-school interview with Rebekah Lyons? You’ll find it on my Instagram feedand psst:  She has a brand new devotional book dropping next week! Check it out here!

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Lay the track (and look for God’s power!)

Note:  Watchman Nee’s quote about how we “lay the track” is one of my favorite depictions of how we can partner with God through our prayers. This post ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com. They’ve got a brand new website filled with all sorts of encouraging goodies – check it out!

Our prayers lay the track graphic

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of years thinking that prayer was basically a one-way conversation in which I’d ask God for what I thought would be good and then see what happened. If my relationships or circumstances lined up with my requests, I would know that God had said yes. If not, he said no.

I didn’t begrudge God when he turned me down (I knew verses like Isaiah 55:8-9, which explain that God’s ways and his thoughts are higher than ours), but I much preferred it when I’d put in a prayer and get the answer I wanted.

I liked it when prayer worked like a vending machine.

But that’s not how Jesus sees prayer. His model for prayer is based on attachment. “If you remain in me,” he says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Put another way, when we stay connected to Christ and allow his words to soak into our souls and give shape to our prayers, we can pray with the full and wholehearted expectation that God will answer.

And we don’t know (we can’t know!) all the good things that God might have in store as we ground our prayers in his Word. He specializes in doing more—immeasurably more—than all we ask for or imagine.

“Immeasurably More” than we ask or imagine

One year, for example, I decided to pray 2 Peter 1:2 on behalf of one of my dearest friends and prayer partners. Suzanne (not her real name) is a gal whose zeal for life is almost unmatched—she lives big, you might say—and the word abundance in that verse caught my eye.

“May grace and peace be hers in abundance,” I prayed for my friend, again and again.

What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t have known—was that Suzanne would come up against some incredible challenges in her workplace that year, including rumors and lies that eventually led to her leaving her job. Had she not been thoroughly covered in God’s grace and peace, the fear and anxiety that tried to capture her heart during that difficult season might have succeeded. As it was, Suzanne courageously weathered a six-month-long storm. And when she came out of the darkness, she found herself in a new job—one far more fulfilling (and financially rewarding) than anything she could have imagined.

I was asking God for abundance. He was willing to provide that (and he did) but he knew my friend would need his grace and peace even more.

Be a conduit for God’s power

And here’s the thing about praying the Scriptures. We don’t do the blessing, the healing, the providing, the protecting. That’s God’s job. Our job is simply to be the conduit for his power. Our prayers release God’s provision.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian writer, put it like this: “Our prayers thus lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”

Let’s lay the track and look for God’s power to come down in ways that go immeasurably, abundantly, beyond anything we could ask for or imagine.

❤️

Where do you long to see God’s hand at work in your life? Do you believe he is able—and willing—to give you all that you need? What would it look like for you to “lay the track” through your prayers?

The Bible says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask God for what you need today—lay some track—and then look for the locomotive of his power to come!

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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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Hearing God’s Voice in a Noisy World

(Note: This post about Hearing God’s Voice ran earlier this week over at Club31Women. If this topic is of interest to you, you’ll find a deeper discussion, along with some questions for reflection and prayers you can pray, in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.)

praying the scriptures for your life

“How,” my six-year-old daughter Annesley wanted to know, “can you tell if it’s God speaking to you, or if it’s just your own voice in your head?”

A fair question, and one that many grown-ups might be asking today. And my answer, I thought, started well.

“For one thing,” I said, “God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”

Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ So if you ever feel like God is telling you to kill your mother, you can be sure that this isn’t his voice.”

(Okay, okay. I’d just had four kids in six years. I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)

“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign.) But then she folded her arms and gave it some thought.

“If that was God,” she finally concluded, “he’d have to have a pretty good reason.”

Anyhow.

I know my example may not be the most appropriate one, but it’s theologically true. When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says in the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to test whether the voice we are hearing is his.

Another plumb line is that God may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies.

Don’t listen.

Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written Word, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training” so that we “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. It may even come as a whisper. And it may take a while to discern. Moses knew the value of seeking God’s counsel before plowing ahead. “Wait,” he said to a group of ceremonially unclean Israelites who were eager to celebrate the Passover, “until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” (Numbers 9:8)

These three signs—consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic—are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course. But the main thing to remember (and this whole concept kind of undoes me) is that God wants to be in conversation with us.

He longs to reveal himself. To give us direction. To bend down, incline his ear, and talk with us—as he did with Moses—“as one speaks to a friend.” (See Psalm 116:2 and Exodus 33:11)

What a privilege we have as believers to be able to enter into conversation with Almighty God.

Hearing God's Voice questions

Is there a decision you’re currently facing? A situation where you need to know how to respond? A place where you long to experience unshakable peace, instead of worrying that you might do the wrong thing?

Meditate on the incredible opportunity you have to talk things over with God. Ask him to provide the direction you need. Pay attention to anything the Holy Spirit whispers to your heart as you listen for God’s voice, and allow his word—as revealed in the pages of Scripture—to shape your perspective and show you what to do.

Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer you can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Teach me what is best, direct me in the way I should go, and help me pay attention to your commands so I will experience your peace. (Isaiah 48:17-18)

Amen

Isaiah 48:17-18 prayer

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Sneak Peek! (and last chance to preorder)

Book Cover (sneak peek)

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life releases NEXT WEEK! Here’s a sneak peek just for YOU, my email friends – and I’m sending this note this with a heart FULL of gratitude for all the ways you’ve encouraged me throughout the writing process.

The book has two parts.

Part One is called “An Invitation to Abide.” It’s a big-picture look at what connection to Christ looks like in real life, and how we can become people of impact as we allow God’s Word to give shape to our desires and our prayers.

Part Two is more nitty-gritty. That’s where we dig into 31 different topics (one for each day of the month, if that pace appeals) where we need to experience God’s power and provision. Things like loving hard people. Extending forgiveness. Praying for our marriage or our children. Hearing God’s voice. Using talents, time, and money wisely. Waiting on God. Aging well. Dealing with the pain of unanswered prayers.

You get the idea. If it matters to you, it matters to God – and his Word has us covered.

Each chapter starts with a story, winds its way through some Scripture, and wraps up with three “R’s” designed to strengthen our connection with Christ: Read, Reflect, and Remember.

Read highlights a few verses that equip us to trust God with the topic at hand. Day 14, for example, is about Finding Freedom from Worry and Fear. Psalm 57:3, Philippians 4:6-7, and Matthew 6:31-33 are three faith-building promises that can help shape our understanding:

Read

Next, the Reflect section invites us to go a bit deeper and apply God’s promises to our particular and specific circumstances, with reminders like this:

“Whatever this situation is, it has not taken him by surprise. Consider the fact that God may be cluing you in to a problem or need, not to get you to panic, but to invite you to pray.”

Reflect

And finally, the Respond pages offer a collection of Scripture-based prayers like this one:

Thank you that you know my needs. When I am tempted to worry about ____, help me replace fear with faith. Show me how to seek you above all else, trusting your promise to give me all that I need. (Matthew 6:32-33)

Respond with prayer

You can pray all the verses right then and there, or pick just one or two to return to throughout the day. (Or the week. Or the month, if that’s more your style. This book is a resource, not a ritual. 😉)

So there’s your sneak peek. I hope you’ll like this one as much as I do, and that you’ll join me in allowing God’s Word to transform your desires and give power to your prayers. You were made—you were chosen!—for this.

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)

❤️

P.S. Release Day is June 8th…which means there’s still time to pre-order…which means you can still access all the fun bonus content like the “Five for Five” five-minute video devotions and the mini-conversations on prayer. Details at JodieBerndt.com. Whoop!

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Making (and Keeping) Good Friends

College Friends Photo

These girls. We’ve shared each other’s heartaches and joys for more than forty years, since we first met in college. And as I wrote about the gift of friendship in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life, I couldn’t help but thank God for Susan and Barbie— and for the fact that they weren’t put off when they realized that my idea of “dorm room essentials” included a suitcase full of bathing suits and a beach chair.

Barbie was a U.Va. volleyball player who hailed from the mountains of Tennessee. I’d never met anyone who could clog, but drop Rocky Top on the record player and up she would jump. Susan, a native Tarheel, danced the Carolina shag with effortless grace, and she knew—and actually used—every vocabulary word on the SAT test.

(“Corybantic,” she said, was how I danced.)

Corybantic definition - wild, frenzied

I adored (and yes, envied) these gals for their brains, their athletic prowess, and their flawless dance moves. But what really got my attention—and what eventually knit us together in a forever friendship—was seeing how much Barbie and Susan loved Scripture and the way they lived out their beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. These gals were not theologians. They were certainly not pious or perfect. And they knew next to nothing about Hebrew and Greek (unless you count knowing which fraternity boys were the best dancers). Susan and Barbie simply recognized the value of verses like Romans 12:15 (“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”), and used pillars like that to fortify their friendships. They came alongside other people with laughter and tears, doubling joys and dividing burdens, whether they were hanging out with the cool kids or just talking to me.

(Did I mention that, along with a beach chair, I brought a sewing machine with me to U.Va.? Yeah. I made my own party dresses…)

Me in my homemade party dress with my friends

Fast forward forty years.

Susan, Barbie, and I have celebrated, grieved, and prayed our way through career choices, marriage decisions, parenting curve balls, health concerns, faith questions, cross-country (and cross-ocean) moves, and the twists and turns that now come with caring for grandbabies and aging parents.

We’ve prayed our way, in other words, through life. And I could not be more grateful.

Because friendship is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve lost count of how many times, over the years, I’ve wrestled with loneliness—whether because we’d just moved to a new town or because I simply (and sometimes inexplicably) felt bereft in a place I’d called “home” for years.

Maybe you’ve been there too.

What then? What do we do when we’re feeling that ache? When we don’t know where we belong, or who “our people” are? Or when we find ourselves in a crowd and yet feel like we’re kind of alone?

We can start with prayer. God created us for connection; we are hard-wired, science tells us, for love. We can ask God to give us—and make us—good friends, and to open our eyes to the life-giving relationships he wants us to cultivate.

Those are prayers God delights to answer. Just like he delights to come alongside us as the friend who is “for” us—as our advocate, our counselor, our giver of joy. God delights in friendship.

You’ll find dozens of friendship prayers in the new book (click here to pre-order), but if you just want a few you can pray right now, here are three of my favorites:

Heavenly Father,

Surround me with friends who spur one another on toward love and good deeds so that we can encourage one another when we get together. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Friendship Prayer - Hebrews 10:24-25

Make me the kind of friend who is kind and compassionate, quick to forgive, and willing to carry other’s burdens. (Ephesians 4:32, Galatians 6:2)

Thank you for calling me your friend. Equip me to love others the way you love me, being willing to lay down my life—my position, my agenda, my reputation—for my friends. (John 15:13)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One of my most fun (and funniest) friends is Kristin Adams. You know her as the gal who fell down on American Idol—after singing “Fallen”—and as the pretty half of @KristinandDanny, digital content creators and lip-syncing sensations who spend their lives bringing good stuff to the world.

Fun Friends: Kristin Adams and me

I had a chance to talk with Kristin about prayer not long ago. We covered lots of tricky stuff (How do I know I am asking for the “right” thing? Is it okay to pray for myself? Does God really want me to pray?), and our whole convo is part of the pre-order bonuses that come with the new book. Click here for details!

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Sharing Your Faith (Hint: Don’t do what I did)

(This post is adapted from the “Sharing Your Faith” chapter in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life. And yes, this story really did happen…)

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life book cover

 

“Would you like me to tell you about Jesus?”

The man who had just buckled into the seat next to me cocked his head. He looked like he wasn’t sure what to say.

I tried again.

“Like, do you know how much God loves you? And how he has a wonderful plan for your life? Do you want me to tell you about that?”

“Um…” the man finally said. “No.” And with that, he turned his attention back to his book.

Looking back on this airplane encounter, I have to laugh. (And I hope you’ll laugh with me instead of being appalled at my evangelism technique.) The thing is, I was twenty-two years old, barely out of college and a newlywed. I had a lot to learn about sharing your faith. I had a lot to learn about life. But I’d recently had a conversation with a fellow named Harald Bredesen, a man whose influence spanned continents and whose remarkable life had been widely chronicled by media outlets from Walter Cronkite’s News and World Report to The Saturday Evening Post to Christianity Today. Bredesen was, according to one former Time magazine journalist, “one of the great saints of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

And when Bredesen told me that “everyone” wanted to hear about Jesus, I believed him.

A desire that this world cannot satisfy

Honestly? I still believe him. We do want to hear about Jesus—we just may not recognize our longing as such. I often think about C.S. Lewis, who came to faith—to Christianity—as a result of a gnawing angst, an ache for joy. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” he concluded, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

CS Lewis quote about faith

God knew we would never be satisfied apart from connection with him. He longs to make known to us the path of life, to fill us with joy in his presence. First, though, he says we have to be born again—to be born of the Spirit. Had I been God, I might have arranged things so that everyone got to hear the how-to’s directly from an angel, or in some sort of dramatic divine encounter, like what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.

But he didn’t do it that way.

Instead, God chose to involve us, his beloved children, in his life-changing work. To tap us as his messengers. To use us to tell others how they can be saved.

“How,” the Apostle Paul asks, “can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

How indeed? How can anyone hear the Good News without someone telling it to them?

We know this in our heads. We recognize the importance of The Great Commission, the passage where Jesus looks at his disciples—at all of us—and says, “Go.”

And yet we balk.

We want our loved ones to be saved, but…

Maybe we’re like my college friend’s mother, and the idea of evangelism scares us—especially if it’s on a global scale. When this mom got wind that her daughter might be interested in foreign missions, she put her foot down. (“I did not raise my daughter to go off and be eaten by cannibals,” was, I believe, how she put it.) At the time, I thought the mother was overreacting. Now that I have my own adult children—who have traveled to some of the most remote parts of Africa, China, and India on short-term mission trips—I get it.

I don’t want my kids to be eaten either.

Let’s be honest, though. All of us want our family, our friends, and even strangers on the other side of the world to be saved. But not all of us feel all that equipped, or comfortable, doing what’s known as “evangelism.” Shouldn’t that, we say to ourselves, be left to the professionals? To actual ministers? To folks who have outgoing personalities or that particular spiritual gift?

To borrow a line from my onetime seatmate, “Um…no.”

The Great Commission—the privilege of introducing people to Jesus—is for all of us.

Share Your Story

And while there are many different approaches to sharing your faith (if you read Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, you know that, as a first-grader, our daughter Virginia was not at all hesitant to tell kids who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell” before God softened her style), I find that one of the easiest and most natural ways to bring up the topic of salvation is simply to speak from your own experience.

Tell what God has done for you.

All of us have a story.

And, like all God’s commands, sharing the Good News comes with a blessing. God knows that when we talk about him—when our love for Jesus brims over and impacts the lives of our neighbors and friends—our own faith expands.

I love how Paul put it in one of his letters:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

“You have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.”

Could there be a more encouraging benediction? Let’s use Paul’s words to shape our own prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help us share your love with the world. Give us the courage, the grace, the words, and the deeds, that we too might refresh the hearts of your people. (Philemon 1:4-7)

Amen

Prayer for sharing your faith

P.S., true story: I was recording the audio version of the book, and I’d just finished reading the chapter about sharing your faith, when I stepped outside the studio and saw a picture of HARALD BREDESEN on the wall.

Harald Bredeson photo

Can’t make this stuff up.

This precious saint has been dead for who knows how long. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he’d been eavesdropping on me–and if he was, I hope he knows how grateful I am that he never missed a chance to tell people his story.

❤️

Want to pray with more power and confidence? Click here to pre-order the new book and claim your free bonuses, including the “Five for Five” video devotions you can watch (or listen to) in just five minutes a day!

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Unanswered Prayers (and What God Says We Can Do)

(ICYMI: This post ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a place where you’ll find insight and encouragement about all things family and faith.)

Stop trying to figure God out; man looking at mountains

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times:  Stop trying to figure God out.

That’s what my kids tell me anyway, whenever they see me agonizing over why God seems to be taking so long. Or when I wrestle with the pain of unanswered prayers. Or when things just don’t look like I wanted them to.

I remember one particularly gut-wrenching season, one where God said no to something I wanted for my child—something she wanted even more than I did, something we both believed would be good. I knew God was for us, that his plan was for hope, and that his good purpose would always prevail. Why, then, was my stomach in knots? Shouldn’t someone who’d spent twenty-five years writing and speaking about prayer be filled with more faith?

I cried out to the Lord. And in case you think you have to sound “holy” or “good enough” when you pray, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I wrote in my journal that day.

“God, I said, “I feel so lame. I really am trying to trust you. I know you love me, and that I shouldn’t be sad—”

It’s okay.

(Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because I think that’s what happened to me as I prayed.)

It’s okay, I sensed God say. Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.

Press into God’s Presence

Talk about a perspective changer! There I was, trying to push my disappointment and pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him, just like I want my kids to come to me when they are hurting or confused. And I realized that day, as I essentially climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I had it all backward.

Lean into His Presence graphic

I thought disappointment, sadness, and anger were bad things, things that had no place in the life of a “real” Christian. But when they invite us to press into God—to climb into our heavenly Father’s embrace—our heartaches and unanswered prayers become agents of connection. They become places where God can showcase his tenderness as he heals our hearts and binds up our wounds.

We don’t need to know how something works in order to trust it (if we did, I would never get on an airplane again). We don’t need to figure God out. And we don’t need to deny our distress. All we need to do—all we can do—in the face of disappointment or unanswered prayers is to press into God’s presence, knowing that he powerful enough to do more than all we can ask or imagine and loving enough to want to.

Unanswered Prayers

That’s exactly what David did. Psalm 13 chronicles his journey from feeling weary and abandoned (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”) to the place where he could rejoice, knowing that God had been (and would be) good to him. We can do the same thing, taking our questions—and our pain—to the Lord, asking him to comfort us as we stake our trust in his unfailing love.

Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer we can borrow. It’s one Moses prayed during a long season when all of Israel may have wondered whether or not God heard their prayers…

Heavenly Father,

Have compassion on me. Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be glad all my days. (Psalm 90:13-14)

Amen

❤️

You can read more about trusting God in the face of unanswered prayers (and discover how to pray about 30 other real-life issues) in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God. The book releases June 8th; click here to pre-order.

And psst… Preorders get exclusive access to some nifty bonuses, including five 5-minute video devotions (“Five for Five”) and a series of intimate “Conversations on Prayer” with some folks you will recognize!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Life book

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Why Believe?

The Bible says we should always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have–to let folks know why we believe.

Few people knew how to articulate their faith better than White House “hatchet man”-turned prisoner-turned-criminal justice reform advocate and evangelical leader Chuck Colson. (I know that’s a mouthful, but Colson’s story is fascinating; to read more, click here.)

I had the privilege of working with Colson about a million years ago when I was a TV producer. He was one of the smartest, kindest, and most humble men I have ever met. Today–Easter Sunday–I am grateful to the folks at Focus on the Family for reminding me of Colson’s legacy, and of what he believed about the Resurrection:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world–and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Chuck Colson quote

To read more, including four solid reasons that answer the question “Why Believe?”, click here.

And if you’d like to join me in an Easter prayer for our own faith legacies, here’s what I’m asking God today:

Heavenly Father,

Help me to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks me to give the reason for the hope I have, doing so  with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Amen

❤️

Happy Easter! He is risen indeed!

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When teens don’t tell the truth

(Note: This post ran earlier this week as part of the Strength & Dignity devotional series at Club31Women.com. I’m sharing it here because we’re celebrating launch week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and there’s a whole chapter in that book about honestly, integrity, and praying for your teens to tell the truth!)

God prompts us to pray (Club31Women graphic)

“Where were you last night?”

Molly eyed her daughter, watching for any hint of deception. Her maternal instincts had kicked into overdrive, but she wanted to give Jenna a chance to tell the truth before she confronted her with what she already knew: that Jenna had left a birthday party with a boy and then shown up—much later—at a girlfriend’s house where she had been invited to spend the night.

“I was at Allie’s house.”

“How did you get there?”

“Brian drove me there after the party.”

“Did you kiss him?” Molly asked.

“Mom!” Jenna protested. “What’s with all the questions?”

Molly hadn’t planned to ask about the kissing; the question had simply popped into her head. And now that Jenna had sidestepped the issue, she sensed she had hit a mark.

“Did you kiss him?” she repeated.

“No, Mom!” Jenna scoffed. “Nothing happened.”

There it was—the slightest cloud flickered across Jenna’s face, signaling to Molly that her daughter was not telling the truth. Molly didn’t really care whether or not Jenna had kissed anyone; that wasn’t the primary issue. It was the lying that mattered—and lately, it seemed that Jenna had been lying about a lot of things…

What to do when you teenager lies

If you’ve caught your teen in a lie—or if lying seems to have become a pattern in their life—you probably know how Molly felt. She was discouraged, angry, and exhausted. And as she read verses like Jeremiah 9:5, she was also scared. “No one tells the truth,” the prophet warned. “With practiced tongues they tell lies; the wear themselves out with all their sinning.”

There’s no question that lying gets easier with practice. And in a world where shifting blame, denying guilt, and withholding key information has become commonplace, it’s no surprise that our teens can twist the truth, break promises, and even tell bald-faced lies without feeling like they’ve hurt anyone or done something wrong.

So what do we do? How should we respond when our kids don’t tell the truth?

For starters, don’t panic. Nothing you are facing comes as a shocker to God, and when he reveals something—even the ugliest something—in our teens’ lives, it isn’t to scare us. It’s to prompt us to pray. Our prayers release God’s power to accomplish his purposes in the lives of the people we love.

Our prayers release God's power

Next, try to discover what motivated the lie. Was it fear? Insecurity? A desire to “cover” for friends? Ask God to reveal anything you need to know so that you can be specific and intentional when you pray.

And finally, remember where lies originate. Satan is the father of lies. He likes nothing better than to get you to believe his twisted words—including the lie that your kids are “doomed” when they blow it, that nothing will ever change, or that you’ve failed as a parent when your teens take a wrong turn.

Satan’s speaks deceit and destruction; God’s language is redemption and love. Trust God’s power to provide as you pray, knowing that his deepest desire is to lead your family to the Truth and set you free.

God delights in those who tell the truth


Read

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. (Proverbs 12:22)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. (Psalm 34:12-13)

Reflect

As you ask God to help your teens tell the truth, think about your own life. What lies is the enemy trying to get you to believe? Has he whispered that your family is a mess, or that you will never get it right? Don’t listen! Remember that Satan is the father of lies, but that God is the Father of Love. He has started a good work in your family’s life and he can be counted on to complete it, and his deepest longing is to set your family free.

Respond

Heavenly Father,

Help my teens–help me–to believe you and hold to your teaching. Keep our tongues from evil and our lips from telling lies. Take delight in our family and set us free. (John 8:31-32Psalm 34:12-13; Proverbs 12:22)

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read the rest of Molly and Jenna’s story in the updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, the latest release in the bestselling Praying the Scriptures series. Drawing on the power of God’s Word, this book equips you to pray effectively for everything from your teen’s relationships, faith, and safety to the purposes and plans God has for their future.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens 

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Teenagers, worry, and how we can help

Struggling with worry or fear?

Yeah, me too.

And I’m one of those people who can quote verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Romans 8:6 in her sleep. I know God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. I know that the spirit-controlled mind is one marked by peace. I know all of that–and I want to live like I believe it.

The thing is, though, the ongoing uncertainty and “what ifs” of a global pandemic can wear anyone down. Even if you’re not actively thinking about COVID, it’s there, like the low hum of the refrigerator, white-noising its way into our lives.

I’m not sure who has it the worst. I know loads of young parents working from home while schools and daycares are closed. I have older friends who spend their days caring for (and trying to protect) aging parents. And I’ve heard from more than a few tech-challenged colleagues who’ve blown it in some way on Zoom (although none so spectacularly as the lawyer who felt compelled to explain that he was not a cat).

We all have our struggles. But as my publishing team prepares to release the updated version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens on Tuesday, I can’t help but sympathize with the adolescents I know. Social connection is the lifeblood of a teenager’s existence, and things like remote learning, social distancing, and the long, lonely days of enforced quarantines add an extra layer of angst to their already hormone-packed lives. Throw in the stoppage of sports, the postponement of proms, and the cancellation of any number of other rites of passage in an adolescent’s life, and it’s easy to understand why our kids might have a hard time coping right now.

Teen suffering with anxiety/worry

A pimple is one thing; a pandemic can take teenage anxiety to a whole new level.

(Adult anxiety too. And even as my heart aches for teenagers, I realize that it’s also hard on their parents.)

Helping teens find freedom from worry and fear

So what do we do? Is there a way to live without worry? Can we help our teenagers find freedom from fear?

God certainly thinks so. If you take him at his word (and I do), worry has no place in our lives.“Do not worry about anything,” he tells us in Philippians 4:6. That was the most searched and shared Bible verse in 2019–followed in 2020 by its close cousin, Do not fear.”

We know, almost instinctively, that nothing good comes from worry and fear. These emotions are never productive. Nobody wants apprehension or anxiety to color their life. And nobody wants that for their kids.

But is obeying a command like “Do not worry” even possible–whether we’re talking about ourselves or our teens?

"Do not worry" command

No.

Not in our own strength, anyway.

We’re too frail. I have one friend who says she refuses to give in to worry (“Take every thought captive!” is her rallying cry), but even she would admit to slipping, sometimes.

That’s the bad news: we are weak. The good news—the great news, actually—is that God never gives us a command that he doesn’t also give us the power to fulfill. We might not stand a chance against worry and fear on our own, but we can tap into the supernatural power that makes victory possible through Scripture and the Spirit.

Moving from panic to peace

God’s Word renews our minds, transforms how we think, and informs our perspective. God’s Spirit reaches into our souls, reminding us of what we know to be true and interceding with us—interceding for us—in ways that words cannot describe. And when these two forces—the Scripture and the Spirit—come together to animate our thoughts and give shape to our prayers, panic gives way to peace.

The Scripture and the Spirit photo

The very act of approaching the Lord—of saying, “Dear God, I need help”—opens the door to connection with him, ushering us into his presence and producing a sense of security that is more easily experienced than explained.

It’s a peace, Scripture says, that “transcends all understanding.” Or, as The Message version puts it…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Isn’t that lovely? A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Peaceful blue flower

It’s in that act of settling, as our thoughts and emotions center on Christ instead of our cares, that we can bring our teens and their needs before God.

We can pray for their friendships, asking God to surround them with friends who will encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

We can pray for their sense of identity, asking God to help them realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are marvelous in his eyes. (Psalm 139:14)

And we can do battle with the unseen forces that prey on their hearts and their minds, turning that “best of 2019” verse into our personal prayer: “Don’t let ______ be anxious about anything. Instead, prompt them to pray, with thanksgiving, and let your peace guard their hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Anxiety Prayer (horizontal)

These are just three of the prayer prompts you’ll find in this new collection of prayer cards designed especially for teens. They’re called “Dashboard Prayers” cuz they are tiny and perfect to keep in your car—or to give to your kids to let them know you are praying the next time they ask to borrow the keys!

Dashboard Prayer Cards 2

The Dashboard Prayers are available as a free printable (and a thank you!) to my email subscribers; click here to download. And if you know someone who’d like to get these little blogs delivered to their in-box every few weeks, please encourage them to subscribe.

Anyone, though, can get a copy of the updated book. 😉 Click here to get yours!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens

P.S. When I wrote the original Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens in 2007, “technology use” was pretty much confined to a new thing called MySpace. Back then, parents who were concerned about their teens’ drug use were talking about pot. Not fentanyl. Not prescription meds. Not the devastating pain of opioid addiction. And things like a kid’s sense of identity (“Who am I? Am I loved? Does my life have meaning or worth?”) barely registered on our collective parental radar.

Needless to say, the book needed updating. And as I worked on this new edition, it struck me again: Times change, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And his word does not return empty but always accomplishes what he desires.

❤️

 

 

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How to Fall in Love (and Stay There)

It’s Valentine’s Weekend. Romance is in the air. But just because you fall in love doesn’t mean you will stay there. And if you think you’ve found the “perfect” person to spend your life with, maybe think again.

“The moment you marry someone,” writes Tim Keller, “you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be. So you don’t know, you can’t know, who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.”

Couple in the future on rocks

You can’t know who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.

Robbie can vouch for the truth in those words. “College Jodie” (the woman he fell in love with) was very different from “career Jodie” (the woman he married three months after graduation). And when “wife Jodie” became “wife-and-mother Jodie,” she morphed yet again. (I won’t go into the details of each transformation, other than to say that “college Jodie” was way more fun than any of the subsequent models.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you’re on a quest to fall in love, to find a “soul mate” with whom you will be forever compatible, give it up. That person, says Keller, doesn’t exist.

Is Long-Lasting Love Doomed?

Does that mean true love is doomed? Once the flame of infatuation flickers out, does love – does marriage – have to get filed in the hum-drum cabinet? Is the secret to a stable and long-lasting relationship really, as someone once said, about finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life?

No! Not at all!

Because love is not, actually, about getting hooked on a feeling. Love – true, lasting, sizzling love – is about making a choice.

A deliberate decision.

Or, more to the point, a series of decisions, made day in and day out, over and over again.

Happy Couple

Six years ago, in a column for The New York Times, writer Mandy Len Catron recounted a fascinating story about what it took to fall in love–in a bar, as an experiment–with a man that, until then, she’d only seen a few times in the gym. “Love didn’t happen to us,” she concluded. “We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

More recently, author Lisa Jacobson revealed the results of her own adventure in love-building. In the midst of what she acknowledges was a “difficult season in a very difficult year,” she made a conscious decision to love her husband every day. To choose to intentionally give love to, and fall in love with, the man she had married.

Making his coffee. Folding his shirts. Laughing at his jokes and trying to make him laugh in return.

For 100 days straight.

Lisa figured that her 100-day “Love Challenge” would make her man happy. And it did. What she didn’t count on, though, was the transformational impact it had on her. “The more I chose love,” she wrote, “the more loving – and loved – I felt.”

Creating an upward spiral of love

When I read Lisa’s post, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written before in this space about how kindness is what glues couples together, and how generosity (even just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can create an upward spiral – a “virtuous cycle” – leading to happier, more satisfying relationships. I’ve read the research and seen this love-begets-love dynamic in action in my own marriage.

I know it works.

But if you’re reading this and you find yourself hard-pressed to give love, can I just say that I get that too? We’ve all felt deficient or ill-equipped at one time or another. People get tired, feelings get hurt, and it can seem like our love tanks have run dry. And even though we know it’s better to give than to receive, we might find ourselves holding back, wishing we didn’t have to go first.

If that’s where you are this Valentine’s Day, can I slip in beside you and offer three little thoughts?

First, love out of God’s riches, not your poverty.

Your love tank might show a reading of “empty.” But remember where love comes from. “We love, the Bible says, “because he first loved us.” And when we grasp, as Paul did, how “wide and long and high and deep” Christ’s love for us is, we get “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Our love tanks get replenished. We don’t have to gin up feelings of love on our own; we can let God’s love fill us up and flow out.

Next, start small.

Showing love doesn’t have to involve a grand (or expensive) gesture. If you’re fresh out of ideas or inspiration of the simple-but-powerful sort, check out Lisa and Matt Jacobsons’ 100 Ways books (there’s a volume for loving your husband, and another for loving your wife)…

1oo Ways to Love Your Husband/Wife

 

…or pick up the just-released Creative Love by Audrey and Jeremy Roloff, a book that comes with date-night ideas, conversation starters, and tips for navigating conflict with wisdom and grace.

Creative Love book

And finally, pray.

Ask the Holy Spirit, your Helper, to show you how to love well.

And pray for your spouse – not that God would fix them, but that he would bless them. Because we can’t help it; when we bring someone before the Lord – asking God to protect them, give them grace, and pour good things into their lives – we get a vested interest in their well-being. The soil of our hearts starts to soften, giving love a chance to take root and grow.

Three “Fall in Love” prayers you can pray

So what should you pray for your spouse?

You’ll find about a dozen built-in prayer prompts in Psalm 112 (it’s a passage I turn to again and again), but if you want to copy three prayers I am praying over my man and our marriage this year, here they are:

May Robbie serve you with whole-hearted devotion and a willing mind; search his heart and understand his every desire and thought. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

May he take delight in you; give him the desires of his heart. (Psalm 37:4)

May our love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

Jodie and Robbie (and Minnie) in love

❤️

P.S. I’ve linked the resources you’ll find in this blog – the Keller book, the 100 Ways bundle, and Creative Love – via Amazon, and I get a tiny commission if you order from this post, but the books are available anywhere books are sold, so please:  Support your favorite local bookshop if you can. (Heads up, tho: Amazon has Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage on sale right now for just $7.99. I’m no math brain, but that seems like a hefty savings off of the normal $18.99 price, and this book makes a nice engagement or wedding present!)

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Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

That’s a question God’s asked me, again and again, when my prayers don’t get answered in the way, or the timing, I want.

Or when I can’t see what he’s up to.

Or when I think I’ve got God all figured out—his plans for my children, my schedule, the desires of my heart—but it turns out that I actually don’t.

And when a friend (let’s call her Grace) told me what happened with her nephew and his back-to-back birthdays, I saw myself in the story. Maybe you’ll see yourself too.

A good and perfect birthday gift

What do you give a little boy for his birthday?

Thinking an airplane might elicit some smiles, Grace wrapped up a model flyer, the styrofoam kind, and gave it to her nephew. Sure enough, the boy LOVED the gift—and promptly launched it over the neighbor’s privacy fence, where the plane crashed upon landing, never to be played with again.

The following year, Grace tried again. And when she called to wish the child a happy birthday, she learned that the second present had not yet been opened.

“I know you got him another airplane,” Grace’s sister explained, eyeing the long gift-wrapped box, “and he will be so happy. But it’s pouring down rain and he can’t go outside, so we’ll open your present tomorrow.”

Grace burst out laughing. The gift wasn’t an airplane. It was an umbrella. Perfect for jumping in puddles and playing outside on a rainy birthday!

Boy with umbrella

God knows what you need

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that God had an airplane for me (or for my child), but it turned out to be an umbrella—and once I stopped questioning or complaining, I recognized the goodness and perfection of his gift. And if I lost you somewhere in that sentence, here’s what I’m trying to say:

God rarely repeats himself. (See Isaiah 43:19.) When we spend our time looking back at last year’s presents, thinking we know what God has in store for us next, we risk missing the new thing. We risk missing God’s perfect provision for now.

God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can trust that his thoughts, and his plans, are higher (and better) than ours.

God knows what we need, even before we ask him. (That’s Matthew 6:8.) We might sit there blathering on and on about how much we love airplanes, but God knows when it’s going to rain. He wants us to be ready. He wants to give us what we need—and what he already knows we will also want.

God wants to give us what we need

Trust with all your heart

So where does that leave us when we know God is good and that he’s got a plan, but we don’t understand (or like) what he seems to be doing? What do we with the gap between notion of what we think we need and the reality of what God provides?

We trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

(Or, as the Message puts it for mule-headed people like me:  “Don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”)

If trusting God in the face of uncertainty or disappointment feels iffy, or even impossible in times of grieving or loss, that’s okay. Just like we don’t have to create faith on our own (think about the father in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to help his unbelief), we don’t have to position ourselves in a posture of trust. We can ask the Holy Spirit for help.

We can turn Proverbs 3:5 into a prayer (and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this one in my stories today):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Help me trust in you with all my heart instead of leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

When we come before God in surrender, he will make our paths straight. And as we lay our requests before him, we can do so knowing (as Tim Keller puts it) that “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

We can unwrap the umbrella, thank God for his provision, and go out and dance in the rain.

❤️

P.S. Trusting God is an area where I often struggle, particularly when I am *sure* that my idea, my way, or my timetable is better than his. If that’s where you find yourself too, here’s a little bonus material to chew on today.

For further reflection…

Read Psalm 84:11-12. What does God promise in these verses? What do you think it means to walk “blamelessly”? (Hint:  See Colossians 1:21-22.) How does verse 12, coming so close on the heels of verse 11, shape your understanding of what God promises us?

Read Isaiah 26:3-4. What does God say he will do when we trust him? How does the image of God as the “Rock eternal” encourage or embolden you?

Finally, allow the words of Romans 15:13 seep into your soul as you turn this verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of hope:

Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

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Some Good News to Color Your Day

Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?

Actually…yes.

And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.

I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.

It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Coffee and Bible are good news

We know we need God.

That’s the (small “g”) good news.

The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.

So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?

We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.

We press in: Fifteen minutes a day

This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.

I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.

Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.

First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Psalm 1:1-3 prayer to love the good news

Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.

(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)

Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.

Max Anders book 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible

As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

Good news, indeed.

Girl reading Scripture with Charles Spurgeon quote

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Nothing is Impossible with God

For the word of God will never fail.

I read those words–a line from Luke’s gospel–and stopped. I’d been making my way through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, and when she got to the part about Mary and the angelic visit, a story recorded in Luke 1, I thought there must be some mistake. I knew Luke 1:37 (it was the first verse our son ever learned) and that definitely was not it. The verse I knew, and the one Robbie memorized as a preschooler, went like this: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Could I be remembering wrong? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

I flipped open my Bible–an old NIV–and sure enough, that’s what Luke 1:37 says: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 "Nothing is impossible with God."

Well then.

Could Ann Voskamp be wrong? I didn’t think so.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to dig. A quick search on Bible Hub unearthed 30 different versions of the same verse:

Nothing is impossible with God (BibleHub.com)

The NIV (which was updated in 2011) says: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

In the NLT (which The Greatest Gift uses) it is almost the same: “For the word of God will never fail.”

But the ESV renders the verse the way I remembered: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

A Colossal Linguistic Mistake?

How, I wondered, could the translators come up with such different wordings? Was this some sort of colossal linguistic mistake? Surely some Bible Brainiac would have noticed this whoopsie before.

(Okay, so I realize that comparing Bible translations doesn’t quicken everyone’s pulse, but stick with me here. We’re getting ready to pivot.)

As I pondered the contrast in meanings—some versions emphasizing the dependability of God’s word; others focusing on his power to do anything—it hit me: The different versions were not in conflict at all. Rather, they were two sides of the same coin.

Nothing is impossible with God because his word gets the job done.

Now, you won’t find that particular rendering in any translation, but you get my point: God’s word does not fail. It makes anything possible.

My favorite illustration of what this looks like in real life (and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve heard this one before) is when God said, “Let there be light.” Had you or I issued such a decree, we’d have to flip a switch or light a match or do something to scatter the darkness. But not God. All God had to do was speak and light happened.

God’s word makes things happen. Which is why I love wrapping my prayers in the language of Scripture, allowing the Bible–God’s written word–to shape my thoughts and desires. I want to tap into the full scope of Luke 1:37, knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that his word will not fail. I want to have a heart like Mary’s, who responded to the angel’s seemingly impossible news in Luke 1 with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

31 Days of Praying God’s Word

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s resolution person, but I can’t think of a more powerful or satisfying way to kick off 2021 than to spend the first month praying like Mary did–asking God to fulfill his word in the lives of the people I love. And if that appeals to you too, I’d like to invite you to join me in January for 31 Days of Prayer, Mary-style.

As Ann Voskamp tells it, Mary kneels “not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars–a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.”

Our Heavenly Father has the power to do the impossible—whether the need is in relationships, character traits, health concerns, faith issues, or anything else—and his word will not fail. All we need to do is simply bend before him and receive.

As you read your Bible this month (or this year), be alert to verses that might serve as prayer prompts. If you’d like help with the picking, you can download a 31-Day Prayer Calendar here, or join me over on Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll be sharing a new verse every day in my Stories, something to help us pray for our children or for anyone who’s claimed some space in our hearts.

Today’s prayer is for a loved one’s salvation…

Prayer for Salvation from Acts 26:18

Heavenly Father,

Turn _____ from darkness to light…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among your people, those set apart by faith. (Acts 26:18)

Amen

❤️

P.S.  If you’re looking for some more good prayer prompts for your kids (or grandkids!), this post from my pal Susan Alexander Yates reveals three crucial things we can ask God to do in their lives.

And if you’d like a place to record your scripture prayers–as well as God’s answers–this year, I want to remind you about my most favorite prayer and planning journal, The Growth Book

The Growth Book

The Growth Book comes with space to record goals, prayers, memory verses, and more. This year, I ordered the bonus pack of “Study Deeper” stickers to help keep me organized as I learn about different topics. And I went ahead and printed some pix of our crew to tuck into the pages of the journal and serve as prayer prompts:

Family Photos as prayer prompts

If you want a Growth Book for yourself or a friend, use the promo code “growingin2021” (exclusive to JodieBerndt.com readers!) to get 10% off. I don’t make a commission on sales; I just love sharing my favorite things. 😊

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

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

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

prayer cards

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

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

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

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

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

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

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

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

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

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

Much love,

Jodie

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

 

 

 

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I Will Sit With You in the Dark

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

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

I bought the rock. And gave it to her.

Sit with you in the dark rock

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

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

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

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

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

What you need to know in the dark

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

(As if we need reminding of that.)

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

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

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

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

Application?

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

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

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

You are not alone

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

You are not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

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

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

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

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

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

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

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

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

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

Um, yes. It is worse.

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

So what do we do?

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

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

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

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

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

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

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

❤️

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

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Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

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

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

What can I do?

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

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

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

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

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

Give Your Children “the Why”

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

(You can guess what she said.)

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

God’s Word makes things happen

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

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

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

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

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

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

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

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

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

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

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

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl and Technology, Laptop

Not if but when: One Family’s Story

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

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

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

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

She started with prayer.

God doesn’t reveal things to scare us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I need to talk to you, Mom.”

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

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


kids and technology, phone

Three “technology use” prayers we can pray

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

❤️

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

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

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

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20 Years of Praying for Your Children

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

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

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

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

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

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

A Life-Changing Letter

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

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

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

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

Dear Eddie,

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

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

 

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

Opportunity to meet Jesus letter

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

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

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


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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Opportunity to pre-order the book

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

 

 

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New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

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

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

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

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

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

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

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

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

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

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

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

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

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

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

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

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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

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

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

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

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

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

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

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

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

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

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

Prayers You Can Print

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

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

A Prayer for a Teacher

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

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

We get it.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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Don’t talk to your kids about God?

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

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

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

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

Talk to God about your kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has listened.

And He has been good.

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

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

Consider how Abraham did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

Amen

❤️

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

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Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

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

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

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

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

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

 

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

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

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

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

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

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

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

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

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

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

Life Lessons from Little League

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

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

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

“Oh no…” one kid said.

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

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

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

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

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

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

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

❤️

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

Teacher Prayer Printable

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

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

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Crisis Control: How do you respond?

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

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

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

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

Jodie wearing a mask

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

“It’s all right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end.

I want to do what she did

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

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

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

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

The silver lining

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

Amen

❤️

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

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

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

The Prayer Circle Letter

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

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

Prayer Circle Reunion

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

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

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

Life Before Facebook

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

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

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

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

Invite God into the Prayer Circle

The Power of Multiplied Prayer

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

(Kind of wild, right?)

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Please encourage _______ today.

Amen

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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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Life Lessons (and Prayer Prompts) from a Dog

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

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

Minnie and the Black Lab

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

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

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

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

Encourage one another daily.

Minnie and lacrosse

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

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

Whatever you do, do it for God.

 

Dog Minnie and laundry

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

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

Listen more than you speak.

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

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

Pray about everything.

Dog and Prayer Book

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

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

Know when to rest.

Dog resting on Dad

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

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

Love each other.

Dog Minnie and Friends

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

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

Sooo…

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

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

Minnie on the Lawn

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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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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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What Wisdom Does (besides make you look good)

Back before I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I surveyed more than 100 parents about what they wanted God to do for their kids.

(And yes. That was a long time ago, before things like Facebook or SignUpGenius or whatever it is that hip people use to do surveys today. Back then, half the people I knew didn’t even have email. So when I say I surveyed people, think “carpool-line stalker.” That was me.)

Anyhow, when the answers came in, you can imagine the stuff people wanted. Things like safety and protection. Good friendships. Salvation, and the ability to use their gifts and talents for God. And all manner of character traits, from kindness and compassion…to diligence and self-control…to wisdom and discernment.

Which, as I think about it, might be one of the best prayers of all. Because asking God to give your children (or your spouse, or whoever) wisdom is asking Him to equip them to receive every other blessing He wants to provide.

Wisdom quote

When we ask God to give our children wisdom and discernment, we aren’t just asking Him to help them make good choices. We are asking God to open their minds to the way that he works, allowing them to respond to life with his perspective. And we’re setting them up for a lifetime of intimacy with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The spillover effect from this type of relationship can be invaluable. Consider just a few of the things that wisdom can do:

It helps us manage time well. (Psalm 90:12)

It makes us better listeners. (Proverbs 1:5)

It provides direction and purpose. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It opens the door to things like happiness, riches, and a long life. (Proverbs 3:13-17)

It offers protection from the seductions that might lead us astray. (Proverbs 7:4-5)

It leads to strong, joy-filled family relationships. (Proverbs 10:1)

It even makes us look better! (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

(I mean, seriously. Who wouldn’t want some of that?)

So let’s ask God to fill our children (and all of our loved ones) with wisdom today. You can find plenty of prayer prompts in the book; for right now, though, here’s one of my fav’s:

Heavenly Father,

Fill _____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might live a life worthy of you and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

❤️

P.S. For more reflections on the value of wisdom, plus 10 biblically based wisdom-prayers you can personalize for your family, co-workers, or friends, check out Chapter 5 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

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Pray for Your Children (and let ’em know it!)

(Note: This is Part 2 of a post about how we can pray for our children. It ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a site where you can find encouragement for marriage, parenting, and all sorts of other good-for-life stuff, from menu prep tips to Bible study how-to’s.)

I’ll never forget the story that our daughter came home with after her first week at a new school.

“Mom,” six-year-old Hillary said, “I think my new teacher is a Christian.”

We’d just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I was intrigued. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“I can tell because she prays,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ Some days, though, she just says ‘Oh God’ and puts her head down on her desk.”

I laughed—at first. But then I realized that the teacher’s prayer—Oh God, help—is one I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly in my parenting journey. And it’s a prayer that King David used a lot, too; Psalm 70 is pretty much one long cry for God to show up!

God, Help

God, help is a good (and perfectly legitimate) prayer. But there’s another strategy I like to use when I pray, especially when I pray for my children. I like to take the actual words we read in the Bible—words first breathed by God—and use them to give shape to my prayers. Not just to help define my requests, but also to influence my desires for their lives.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s John 15:7. It’s a powerful promise—and one that becomes easier to understand when we allow the Bible to illuminate our understanding and transform our perspective. When that happens, the cry of our heart becomes the very thing that God is longing to do!

And honestly? There is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in His word.

Say your child struggles with questions about their identity or their sense of self-worth. Psalm 139:14 can become a powerful prayer:

Help ________ realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are Your marvelous workmanship.

Or what about loneliness? Proverbs 27:17 speaks to that concern:

Surround ______ with wise and faithful friends, people who will sharpen them as iron sharpens iron.

And Scripture offers a treasure trove of promises about things like wisdom and guidance. Consider praying Psalm 25:4 for your loved ones:

Show _______ your ways; teach them your paths; guide them in your truth.

These are the sorts of easy prayer prompts you’ll find on this monthly prayer calendar (and if you prefer a version for teens or adult children, click here.)

Prayer Calendar for Children

When You Pray for Your Children, Tell Them!

And just as a side note… Let your kids know that you’re praying. Could there be anything more encouraging to a child than to know that their earthly parent is talking to their Heavenly Parent—the One with unlimited power and love—about the details of their lives?

I love what one reader has done, over the years. She jots her kids’ names in her copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then dates them. “I show my kids some of the prayers with their name inserted in them to let them know I am praying,” she told me. “When I go back, I can see how I have prayed through different phases. I can see answered prayers – and so can they.”

Prayer Book for Children

When our children were younger, I’d sometimes write a prayer verse on a little card and tuck it into their lunchbox, or leave it on their pillow. And once a year, I’d trace their hands onto colored paper and write prayer verses on them. I’d post the hands on the fridge as a tangible reminder (to them, and to me) that God was at work in our lives.

Prayer Hands for Children

Now that my kids are older (and their hands are too big to fit on the fridge!), I make bookmarks. And when I find a new verse that speaks to a need they may have, I might send a text to let them know what I’m praying.

Do my kids roll their eyes at this stuff? They used to, sometimes—particularly when they were teenagers and they didn’t think they needed all that much prayer. But now that we’re on the other side of those years (and I say this to encourage anyone who’s slogging through a less-than-fun family phase) my kids actually ask me to pray.

Seriously.

They believe in the power of prayer. Like me, they have discovered that God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11 is true. That’s where He says that His word will not come back empty, but will accomplish the desires and the purposes for which it is sent.

God has wonderful plans for our children’s lives, and His word really does accomplish what He desires. Let’s allow it to breathe new life (and life-shaping power!) into our prayers.

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Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

Note: Plenty of parents have questions about why, or how, we should pray for our children. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that’s a topic we love, and I was honored this week to share some thoughts about prayer over at Club31Women, a site dedicated to encouraging mothers, strengthening marriages, and helping us build healthy homes. Here’s that post…

Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

“I know God loves my kids,” the young father said, “and I trust Him to work in their lives. So I don’t see why I need to do it.”

The man was talking about praying for his children. And I’d heard his logic before:  If God is all-powerful, and if He loves us, then why should we pray? Doesn’t He know what’s best? Won’t He just do it?

I’ve been writing and speaking about prayer for 25 years, and I meet plenty of moms and dads like this guy—folks who love God and want His best for their families, but say that prayer is not a big part of their parenting journey.

“I prayed, but nothing happened,” one mother told me. “I’m not convinced that prayer works.”

“I know God answers prayer,” said another, “but I don’t want to be clogging the lines with my children’s issues when someone with cancer or a marriage breakdown or something really big might be trying to get through.”

Perhaps the hesitation I hear most of all—the thing that keeps parents from praying—is that we don’t really know how. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed,” a precious mom in my own church confided. “It feels awkward and unfamiliar to me. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

I am by no means a prayer expert. Or a parenting one. But having raised—and prayed for—four kids who are now in their young adult years, I am convinced that prayer is the single most powerful thing we can do for our children. Not only that, but it’s what opens the door to freedom from worry and fear in our lives.

Think about it with me for a sec.

There will be times when we don’t really know what’s best for our kids (or when they won’t listen to us, when we do). And even if we do know what we want—healthy friendships, strong character traits, safety and protection—we can feel like our influence, or our ability to provide blessings like these, is woefully limited. And that can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, or ill-equipped.

Which is where prayer comes in. “Don’t worry about anything,” the Bible commands, “but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and thank him for what he has done.”

Pray. About. Everything. (Club31Women)

Pray. About. Everything.

That’s a command that pops up over and over again in the pages of Scripture; clearly, God wants us to talk to Him about stuff! Not only is prayer the power by which His blessings come into our lives, but it’s also a way to acknowledge God as the Source of these gifts. And prayer is a sign that we’re actually in a relationship. (After all, we confide in people we know and love, right? Why should it be any different with God?)

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share a few strategies to equip us to pray, tips that can breathe fresh power and life into our convos with God. For now, though, let’s be honest about how we regard prayer…

 

Want to keep reading? Click here to head over to Club31Women and read the rest of the post.

Want some specific strategies that can breath fresh power and life into your prayers? Stay tuned for Part 2, which will show up next week.

Just want to pray? Alrighty then. Here we go:

Heavenly Father,

When I feel burdened or overwhelmed on behalf of my children, help me exchange fear for trust. Teach me not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling You what I need and thanking You for what You have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I’ve loved getting to know the team of writers at Club31Women. And since today is actually National Authors Day (a little tidbit I picked up from my in-the-know pal Peyton over at AndOneMarketing), I hope you’ll check out what some of these gals have to offer:

Lisa Jacobson just released 100 Words of Affirmation Your Husband Needs to Hear. (And yes, there is a companion volume you can buy for your man. 😊)

Katie Westenberg blogs about how we can take God at his word and “choose brave” in life, both in the gut-wrenching times and our routine daily decisions. Her book, I Choose Brave, is available now for preorder.

And Sara Hagerty (you’ve met her in this space before, when I told you about The Best Book on the Beach) is all about helping us “scoot a little nearer” to God. Get ready to savor Sara’s exquisite writing – and to encounter God in new ways – when Adore drops in March.

Those are just three of the women I’ve grown to admire; the site also features posts from folks who write about cooking, organizing (yes please!), and understanding some of theology’s thorniest topics. Check ’em out when you can.

And given the whole “Author’s Day” thing (who makes this stuff up?), I was just thinking that we could stop for a second, since it’s November, and GIVE THANKS to the Author of Life.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He is still writing my story! 🙂

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A Mantle for Your Marriage (plus a prayer you can print!)

So I was poking around in the Book of Common Prayer the other day (and if you think that sounds uber-holy, maybe don’t. Truth be told, “Organize Office” was on my to-do list. But there’s a copy of the BCP* on my desk, and I got a little sidetracked).

And anyhow. I came upon this sentence:

BCP Marriage Prayer

That’s just one little line in a much longer prayer, but it caught my eye. I had to read it again. And again.

“Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”

Those words from the marriage service–so incredibly rich–speak to the almost inexpressible power of love.

seal conveys security and ownership. It marks something as authentic. Could there be any better imprint than love (with its inherent patience, humility, and unwillingness to keep a record of wrongs) to guard a couple’s heart as they give themselves to each other?

A mantle, in Bible times, was a covering that represented a call to service, a purpose before God. Could there be a more potent mandate for husband and wife than to serve God and one another in love?

And the word crown points toward the promise of eternal life, as marriage reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride–the one where Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we could wear one of beauty. Could there be a more exquisite portrayal of life-giving love?

See what I mean? This is a fabulous prayer! And if you’re looking for more of the same, I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that The Celebration of Marriage is chock full of Scripture-based prayers; I’ve pulled a few favorites and put them on a two-sided card you can print. The front side is the blessing, and the back shows where you can find the roots of these prayers in the Bible.

Printable Marriage Prayer

The bad news is that once you start praying this way (whether it’s for your own marriage or for another union you want God to bless), it can be hard to stop.

Which means that “office organization” might not happen anytime soon….

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Give ____ such wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity…

(Want the rest of the prayer? Click the download–or better yet, get a copy of the BCP and savor it for yourself!)

*And P.S., I didn’t grow up in a church where they used prayer books (or robes, or candles, or really anything except the Bible and Jesus), and I didn’t know what a “BCP” even was. Now I do. And if you ever find yourself in a church where you don’t know all the lingo–words like unction, or epistoler–don’t worry. Just go home and check the phrontistery.

(Which is a real thing.)

(Because you can’t make this stuff up.)

 

 

 

 

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A little thought about friendship (plus a book giveaway!)

There’s an old Swedish proverb that says, “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.”

I like that. And I think it might be part of what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Romans when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Romans 12:15

Sometimes, though, rejoicing with someone (particularly when he or she is celebrating a victory or a joy that we wish we could have) can be hard.

Likewise, mourning (particularly when we don’t know what we should do or say) can tempt us to want to hold back, keeping our distance from pain.

But sharing in others’ delights and their sorrows is a mark of what we might call life-giving friendships, the kind we all long to enjoy. I’ll be talking more about what these sorts of connections look like next week (in part 2 of last week’s post on the merits of aging), but for now, let’s ask God to equip us to come alongside one another in a way that really does increase our joy and divide the burden of grief…

Heavenly Father,

Help us be alert to ways we can honor our friends in their celebrations, and stand with them when they sorrow. May we rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Friendship – that sense of connectedness and belonging – is a blessing we want our kids to enjoy, no matter how old they are. It’s something I wrote about in all of the Praying the Scriptures books. I’m giving away one copy of each title this week, so if you have a friend or two you’d like to share the book with, tag them on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook page (@JodieBerndtWrites) and let me know which book they would like!

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Life-Giving Friendships (and three ways to spot ’em)

Robbie and I will be driving home at night and we’ll pass a house that’s all lit up, with cars spilling down the driveway and out into the street.

“Look…” I will say. “Go slow.  They’re having a party…”

“Looks that way,” Robbie will say.

“But…they didn’t invite us,” I will say.

“Jodie,” Robbie will say, looking sideways at me. “We don’t know the people who live in that house.”

“I know,” I will sigh. “But we could know them. And I bet they would like us…”

I may be an extreme (and slightly pathetic) example, but I know I am not alone in my desire to have friends. This longing to belong – this desire for connection – goes back to the beginning of time. Remember what God said when he created Adam?

It is not good for man to be alone.

Roger that. Woman either.

And it’s not just the Creation story that says we need one another; science maintains that we’re actually wired that way. Matthew Lieberman (a leading brainiac in social neuroscience) says, “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can do without, but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”

(Translation:  We need friends every bit as much as we need water and shelter. And chocolate.)

The thing is, though, not just any connection will do. Two weeks ago, I shared a post about the plusses of aging, one of which is the joy that can come with intergenerational friendships, particularly when they are the “life-giving” kind. Today, I want to explore what that sort of connection looks like. I want to look at the friendship that Mary and Elizabeth shared.

(And just a heads up:  This post is shaping up to be a little longer than normal. So maybe grab a second cup of coffee or click here to get the Bible back-story. And if you don’t have time for a long read today but you value rich friendships, just scroll to the end and jump in with the prayer.)

We know Mary – the mother of Jesus – but her connection with Elizabeth goes back to before her baby was born. Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared and turned her life upside down. Not only would Mary be pregnant, but her baby would be…the Messiah?

Sure, giving birth to the Messiah was something every good Jewish girl dreamed of, but we can imagine what went through Mary’s mind. She wasn’t married. People would talk. She wondered what Joseph would say. What he would do. Mary’s whole life – her reputation, her marriage, her future – hung in the balance. I’m guessing that having an angel to confide in was nice and all that, but what Mary really needed right then was a friend.

And God knew it.

He knows how we think. When we’ve got news we want someone to process it with, someone who will understand. And so God clues Mary in on the fact that Elizabeth is also expecting a surprise. Elizabeth is old (way old), and it makes no sense for her to be pregnant. But she is. Both women – one a virgin, and one long past her childbearing years – are in the same boat.

So Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. And, from a strictly relational standpoint, the story that unfolds is remarkable.

For starters, Elizabeth wasn’t one teeny bit jealous.

Think about that one for a sec. Elizabeth is older, wiser, and married to an uber-godly man who’s devoted his entire life to being a priest. How easy would it have been for Elizabeth to draw some comparisons. To think that maybe being Mom to the Messiah was an honor that she deserved. To wonder whether God had made some sort of cosmic mistake.

But no. There’s not even a hint of “Why wasn’t it me?” Instead, the first thing that comes out of Elizabeth’s mouth when she looks at Mary is affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”

Second, Elizabeth never once hogged the spotlight. Her man had also been visited by an angel, and she was expecting her own miracle baby. Who would have blamed her, had she babbled on and on about that? (“I mean, I hit menopause, like, 50 years ago, Mary!”) But Elizabeth doesn’t talk about herself at all, other than to marvel at the fact that Mary would come to her house. “Why am I so favored,” she says, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

That humility – that focus on Mary, rather than her own circumstances – is a marker of life-giving love.

And finally, pretty much everything Elizabeth said fueled Mary’s faith, rather than feeding her fear.

Mary had a long road ahead of her. Here’s how their conversation could have gone down:

Elizabeth could have planted seeds of worry:  Mary, are you sure you’re up for this? You’re so young. Have you talked to Joseph? You know how people will talk.

She could have sown kernels of comparison, making Mary feel insecure:  I don’t know, Mary. Joseph is just a carpenter.  Wouldn’t you think God would want someone like my Zechariah (have I mentioned that he is a priest?) to be a role model for his son?

She could have dug into doubt:  Ok Mary…did the angel really say you would give birth to the Son of God? Let’s go over it again. Tell me EXACTLY what Gabriel said. How was his body language? 

But Elizabeth didn’t ask any of these worry- or doubt-fueling questions. Instead, she recognized God’s purpose for Mary and she validated it. Here’s what she said, word for word:  “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:45

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” Could there be a more life-giving sentence? I can only imagine how Mary must have clung to those words, especially when she found herself having contractions while riding a donkey and having her very first baby in a stable. Without anyone around to give her a push present or start a Sign Up Genius or anything.

Honestly? Elizabeth is the kind of friend we all want to have. The kind of friend we all want to be.

Because there will be times in our lives when our friend is pregnant (maybe not with the Messiah, but with a new job or a new house or a new baby/grandbaby or anything else that we wish we had), and taking delight in her happiness rails against everything in our self-centered nature.

And there will be conversations when everything in us longs to compare our friend’s pain (or their joy) to what we have been through, and we’ll be oh-so-tempted to jump into her life and say “Look at me!”

And of course there will be circumstances that look more than a little bit iffy. Uncomfortable. Scary, even. Situations where it would be easy to come alongside our friend and sow seeds of worry or doubt.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s ask God to shape us into life-giving people, people whose words are marked by encouragement, humility, and a desire to validate and affirm God’s purposes in each others’ lives.

Let’s speak life to our friends.

Heavenly Father,

May our words bring life. May we be people who truly believe that your promises – in our lives, and in the lives of the people we love – will indeed be accomplished. (Proverbs 18:21, Luke 1:45)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Mary and Elizabeth’s connection feels especially precious on the heels of this week’s Garden Club pansy sale, where the friendships are even more vibrant than the flowers. And no (for those of you who have been around this blog for while), I did NOT steal any pansies this year…

pansy sale 2019

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Free “Must Have” on the Back-to-School List!

So I saw where today’s parents are spending, on average, nearly $700 per child on back-to-school shopping. Which is lot of notebooks and glue sticks. And when you factor in the mini-fridge or whatever else a college kid needs (I’m looking at you, Bed, Bath & Beyond Campus Checklist), that number climbs even higher.

Happily, there’s at least one must-have item that doesn’t cost anything. And honestly? Every kid needs it, whether they’re headed for kindergarten or college.

Robbie First Day of Kindergarten

I’m talking about back-to-school prayer.

Several years ago, I wrote about the ice-cream-and-prayer parties we used to host at the end of the summer. You can read that post here, but if you just want a few good prompts to help kick off the year (or to tuck in the lunchbox, maybe?), click here to download 12 of my favorites. This collection covers everything from listening to instruction…to having a teachable spirit…to making the most of every opportunity!

IMG_7041

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

❤️

And P.S. yes, I did make Robbie give a flower to his teacher. 🙂

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I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

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Build an altar this summer. And add some ice cream.

Our son Robbie graduated from college in May.

Watching him walk down U.Va.’s storied Lawn, my mind flashed back 20 years to my brother David’s graduation (also from Virginia):

That’s David, perched on somebody’s shoulders. I guess he was trying to spot our folks in the crowd, because the moment he saw them, he scrambled down, threaded his way through the procession, and planted a kiss on Dad’s cheek in a very public display of gratitude and affection!

A few days later I received a letter from my father describing David’s impromptu embrace and telling me how much it had meant. Dad went on to recount about a dozen similar memories and blessings from his children’s growing-up years, pointing out that they were all “a testimony of God’s tender mercies, one after another after another, being bestowed upon our family.”

My father’s note made an impression on me, so much so that I actually wrote about it – and quoted him – in the last chapter of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. “God is so faithful,” he said, “and we must remember to stop occasionally and build ‘an altar of thanksgiving’ before we hurry on our way.”

Altar of thanksgiving

I knew what Dad meant. The Bible is brimming with stories of altars built by those who wanted a lasting memorial of who God was and what he had done. Noah built an altar after the great flood; Jacob erected one after God changed his name; Moses put one up after God gave the Israelites an incredible  victory over a powerful foe. In each of these instances—and plenty more—the altar signified the time and place where God showed up and proved his faithfulness, his power, and his love.

I don’t know about you, but I am not nearly as good at building altars as I am at building to-do lists (even in my prayer journal), thinking of all the things I want God to accomplish in my life and in the lives of the people I love. Rather than thanking God for “his tender mercies, one after another,” I often find myself consumed with present concerns, unmet desires, and problems that have yet to be solved.

Which is where summertime can bring some welcome relief.

Even though our family is long past the annual “School’s Out!” shout on the calendar, the season still heralds a slower pace, one that offers an opportunity for rest and reflection. For meditating on God’s goodness. For altar-building.

So what does an altar of thanksgiving look like?

In Bible times, an altar was often a pile of stones set up by someone so that they (and their children, some who were yet to be born) would have a visible reminder of God’s provision and his faithfulness. I actually have a couple of stones – and one or two seashells – on which I’ve written dates and a few words or a Bible verse that speak to what God has done.

More often, though, my “altar” is simply a page or two in my journal, one where I revisit prayers (which sometimes look more like scrawls) from the previous months and thank God for how he has moved, often in ways I did not expect. With the perspective of time, I can see how God has expanded my vision, stretched my faith, and said no to some of my longings so as to make room for his.

(I realize that this might sound sort of heady. But don’t get any ideas. My journal is not fancy. It’s got arrows and abbreviations and chicken-scratch writing that I sometimes struggle to read. But I tell myself that the Bible altars were probably no architectural masterpieces either. I imagine that, to someone who did not know their meaning, they mostly just looked like…rocks.)

Anyhow.

If the idea of building an altar is a new one for you, I want to encourage you (even as I am prompting myself) to try it this summer. Not only is altar-building  an exercise in gratitude, it’s also one of obedience:  “Tell God your needs,” the Bible says, “and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

Write a few words on a rock. Or in a prayer journal. Or, if you’ve got children at home, consider building a basket-shaped altar. Encourage your kids to be alert to the ways they see God at work in their lives, and to note those observations on a slip of paper (chicken scratch is approved!) and slip it into the basket. Then, before school starts again in the fall, set aside an evening to read what’s in the basket together.

And…maybe add ice cream sundaes.

Because trust me. Ice cream, served up with a side of thanksgiving, can be a very tangible reminder of God’s love. 😊

ice cream

Heavenly Father,

Help us never forget the things our eyes have seen you do; do not let them fade from our hearts. Equip us to teach your faithfulness to our children, and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Amen

 

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For all the Dads who have ever hung a mooring ball off their roof…

Dad is such a doofus.

At least that what today’s advertisers and sit-com producers (who often portray fathers as being oblivious, emotionally disconnected, or just plain incompetent) would have us believe. Even the good guys–the TV Dads whose hearts are in the right place–are almost always making some sort of mess that Mom has to come in and clean up.

Honestly though? The real-life fathers I know are nothing like that. The fathers I know are smart. Strong. Patient. And kind.

And in general, they are very resourceful.

Just this week, for example, a friend invited me to survey her husband’s handiwork. After discovering a leak in their roof, this dad had stepped in, installing a stop-gap measure until the pros could get there. The pitch was both slippery and steep, but this guy had managed to hang an industrial-size tarp over half of their house, weighting it down with a cooler (empty), a bottle of ginger ale (full), and a mooring ball.

“All the tarp anchors are plastic!” he beamed. “I didn’t want anything to break if something went wrong.”

(Because what could possibly go wrong?)

Looking up at the mooring ball dangling down from the eaves, I was reminded of the time Robbie fixed our broken shower head–temporarily–with duct tape and our cheese grater. I love that man.

So to all of the can-do fathers out there, can I just say THANK YOU? You make life so much more interesting than it would otherwise be.

And for all of those times you’ve protected and provided, listened and loved, been the cheerleader as well as the coach…(as well as those times when you’ve blown it–and trust me, we moms have been there)…you should know how God feels towards you.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

That’s Hebrews 6:10. And it’s true; God sees all the work and the love you pour into your people–and he won’t forget it. And neither will we.

(Even if we sometimes forget to say thank you.)

Happy Father’s day. You are loved.

💙

Heavenly Father,

Show your love to our husbands and fathers, even as they have loved us.

Help them stand firm, letting nothing move them. Equip them to give themselves fully to the work that you’ve called them to do, knowing that their labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Amen.

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MOPS (and that time when our house caught on fire)

I love to speak to all sorts of groups, but MOPS women have a special place in my heart.

These gals–Mothers of Preschoolers–don’t ask for much. Give them a bagel, a smile, and two hours of child care and they’re happy. Thrilled, actually. The fact that they get to enjoy some adult conversation is just bonus material. (And honestly? I think some of these precious women would be okay if the speaker just turned down the lights and said they could nap.)

As an audience, they are delightful.

And as moms, they are committed. And strong. And hungry to learn. They get together not just for the company (or even the refreshments, which are way above par for church-based cuisine), but because they genuinely desire God’s best for their families, and they want to know what that looks like in real life.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but as an older mom who watched her youngest child graduate from college last weekend…

(and yes, that IS Robbie’s U.Va. graduation gown that he packed his stuff in), I felt privileged to share a few insights with our local MOPS group this week.

I told the young moms about the time that our house caught on fire.

We were in the midst of yet another remodel, and Robbie and Virginia (who were just one and two then) had gone down for their naps. The older two girls were off playing with friends, the construction crew was working outside, and our house was utterly, beautifully quiet.

Until the foreman started hollering at me, up the stairs, telling me that I had to “get them babies up!” because the house was “on FIRE!”

I stood there, staring down at the man. And wishing that he would stop yelling. Or at the very least, lower his voice.

(If you’re a mother, you get it. My dilemma was real. I mean, the babies had just nodded off…)

“Um…how bad is the fire?” I finally whispered. “Like, can you see actual flames?”

Not one of my finer mom moments, I know. But we’re all still alive, which is the main thing. And the other main thing is that this story is the perfect tie-in to Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the Bible guy who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonians demolished it. He faced opposition (some powerful people did not want his plan to succeed, and they kept up a barrage of abuse), but one of his main problems was simply the scope of the job. The city’s walls had been broken, its gates burned, and there was so much debris that the Jews (almost none of whom were professional builders) reached the point where they were ready to throw in the towel.  “The strength of the laborers is giving out,” they told Nehemiah, “and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

Can anybody relate?

Weariness can be a killer–even if the job is something we care deeply about. Fatigue can sap our strength and cloud our judgment, making us think and do crazy things. Like wanting to give up on a key building project. Or letting babies sleep through a fire.

Nehemiah understood all of this. He knew what exhaustion could do–particularly when you’re already feeling attacked. And so he made a plan. You can read the fine print here if you want, but the gist is that he posted people together so that they could strengthen each other, and he made sure that his workers had weapons.

Which is exactly what we do when we pray with our friends, and when we use Scripture to ward off attacks.

Nehemiah stationed whole families together, positioning them along the most vulnerable and exposed spots on the wall. We do the same thing when we come together to pray. We spot a gap in the wall–a place where a child or a friend might be at risk–and we get to work. And when one of us gets too weary or discouraged to lift up our hands (which can happen sometimes, in the trenches), others step in. We stand firm, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

And, like Nehemiah’s workers, we rely on our sword. Hebrews 4:12 says our sword is the Bible, and that we can use it to separate the lies from the truth. Which, for a weary young (or old!) mother, can be a game-changer.

We may tell ourselves, for instance, that we are not up to the job, that we stink at the whole parenting thing. But God says that we are his masterpiece, and that motherhood is a calling that he has both equipped and prepared us to do.

We think that we’ve blown it, that we’ve ruined our kids by some awful thing that we said or we did. But God says that he’s our Redeemer, and he promises to work in all things–the good and the bad–for our good when we love him.

You get the idea. Whether we’re building a city or a family, we can’t go it alone. We need one another. We need prayer. And we need the wisdom of Scripture.

There is so much more we could say (and golly, the MOPS moms got an earful this week!), but I’ll just wrap up with this:

If you’re a young mom (or you know someone who is), consider checking out MOPS. There’s no pressure to do anything but show up–and when you’ve got little people that you want to love really well, the friendships you forge at the meetings can become your tether to hope.

And speaking of loving our littles, I did, in fact, wake my babies that day. The firetruck came–the whole neighborhood came–and everyone (even the firemen) wound up eating popsicles. It was a good day, all around.

Except that I went to bed that night very tired.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Mother’s Day from a New Mom

You need to know, right off the bat, that I am not someone who thinks that “Dogs are people, too.” I realize that I’ve probably offended half of you in saying that, but I can’t help that. The way I see it, dogs are dogs.

That being said, there are some definite similarities between humans and dogs. And ever since Minneapolis Bennett joined our family a few weeks ago, I’ve been having more than a few New Mom Feels. I don’t know which is harder, raising a baby or raising a puppy.

So far, I think it’s a tie.

Babies can’t feed themselves, right? Well neither could Minnie, at first. Thank goodness for four inches of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Every dog,” as Shakespeare reminds us (page 137), “will have its day.”

And the potty training thing? Getting to our yard requires a descent of five steps, and Minnie wasn’t having it. When I marveled at her reluctance, Robbie put things in perspective: “Asking her to go down those steps is like asking you to jump off a five-story building.”

Alrighty then.

Honestly though? The thing that made me feel most like a new mom happened just this past week, when I decided that Minnie should learn how to walk.

As in, on a leash.

As in, with me.

I did what any good parent might do. I asked Google.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that whichever dog-brain wrote that Step One in the teaching process is to “drop your end of the leash on the ground” needs to maybe be a little more clear on Step Two.

And all I could think, as I stood there staring at my dog-child while she stared back at me–chewing away at the tether and clearly not eager to stay anywhere close to my feet–was that God knew exactly how I felt.

Seriously.

God knows how all parents feel–especially when communication breaks down with our kids, or when they choose to walk down a path that we know is not good. I love how candid God is in Hosea 11, as he reveals his own parenting struggles:

“When Israel was a child,” God says, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

(Can anybody relate?)

And then God goes on, talking about how he taught his children to walk: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.”

Here again, I’ll spare you the details, (you can read em here if you want), but the nutshell version is that it did not go well. Israel wanted no part of God’s parenting. They pushed all of his buttons, in the worst kind of ways.

(I’ll ask it again:  Can anybody relate?)

And yet.

And yet God, even in his frustration, found his wrath trumped by compassion. He couldn’t help himself. He roared–not in anger, but with the fiercest of love–and called his wayward ones home.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mother’s Day.

If you find yourself raising a child who wants to go their own way–whether it’s a toddler whose potty training is not going much better than Minnie’s, a teen whose ears seem deaf to your voice, or an adult who has walked away from their faith (and maybe your family in the process), know this:

We’ve all been there.

“We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray–each of us to his own way.” And the second part of that verse tells us that God–out of love–put our sin squarely on Jesus. Compassion trumped wrath, once again.

So here’s the good Mother’s Day news, for moms (and dads) in the parenting trenches: Just like God could not help but pursue Israel, so he cannot help but go after our kids. And our children, as I’ve said over and over again in this space, are never out of God’s reach.

Hang in there, Sweet Momma. You are loved. And so are your kids.

With the fiercest, and sweetest, of loves.

❤️

Oh, and one more thing. Or maybe three.

First, summer is here, and the blog’s hitting vacation mode. I’ll still write, but maybe not every week. (I figure we can all use the break.) 😉

Second, if you haven’t gotten Mom a card yet, there’s still time. What you write doesn’t have to be fancy or long; feel free to borrow from this stellar example, created by my friend Elizabeth’s six-year-old son:

 

“Joy comes in the morning. Go Hoos Go.” Clearly, that boy knows his Bible. And his basketball.

And finally, you all know how much I appreciate Eugene Peterson, and when I was re-reading Hosea 11, I decided to check it out in The Message. And I laughed out loud.

Because this is me, yesterday, giving up on Minnie’s walking lessons:

And this is Eugene, rendering Israel’s response to God’s love:

And this is Minnie, letting us know just how she feels about the whole “I’m with you” thing:

😂

Happy Mother’s Day!

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More than a Tee Shirt…

I did an Instagram Story last week where I wore this tee shirt:

Wait. That’s a lie.

I didn’t do the story; my son’s girlfriend did. I am, as we know, painfully slow when it comes to social media, but Instagram seems to be Mary’s love language. She just held up the phone while I talked and the next thing I knew, it was posted–with hashtags, a spinning basketball, and a blinking Easter cross!

More is more, eh? I love that girl.

Anyhow.

The Insta Story was meant to spread the word on some new book releases…

  • Holy Week (a board book from the “Baby Believer” series)
  • The From Me to You Conversation Journals (which parents and kids pass back and forth)
  • and The Path of Life (which you’ll hear more about next week, cuz it’s a great gift for Mom)

…but I got more than a few comments on the tee shirt.

Which made me think that it might be time to revisit the post I did exactly three years ago, the week after Easter. Which was also the week after U.Va. frittered away a big second-half lead and found themselves booted from the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Here’s what I wrote, back then. And if you’re not a U.Va. fan and you can’t take ONE MORE WORD about Tony Bennett, please don’t unsubscribe or leave negative comments. Just scroll to the end. Because all of us–even Tarheels and Tigers–can use the promise of JOY now and then.

Joy in the Morning

Whelp, my beloved Wahoos lost to Syracuse last Sunday night.

Every U.Va. fan I know has been in mourning this week, except for maybe our dogs, who are high-fiving (pawing?) themselves over the fact that I won’t make them dress up to play Carolina tomorrow.

IMG_4593

The loss was a blow, but it was Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a more fitting day for Coach Tony Bennett to make the comment that he did. When reporters asked what he’d told the team after the game, Bennett said:

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Bennett said the words came from an old church hymn. They’re also, incidentally, in the title of a book by one of my most favorite fiction authors, P.G. Wodehouse (click here for the hardcover version, here for the paperback):

photo-1

But, really, the promise of joy after sorrow is older than both the hymn and the book. It comes from Psalm 30:5.

And like so many of God’s promises, this one might be hard to believe, particularly when you are in the midst of suffering and you can’t see any way out. But, to quote Coach Bennett, “Joy is coming…I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.”

I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I know it will be true.

Could there be any more encouraging words? If you find yourself aching today, or if someone you love is walking through a season of sorrow and it doesn’t feel like things will ever get better, take hold of the Psalm 30 promise. Make it your prayer.

Because we don’t know what the future will bring, but we know that God is faithful. And we know that He loves us. And that his goal is to make our joy complete.

Joy is coming.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ feels overwhelmed with pain or sadness, may they find hope in and strength in your promise: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Amen.

❤️

And P.S., two things:

First, if you want your own “Joy” tee, click here.

And second, if you’re a regular reader, you probably know that Max and Khaki (pictured above in their U.Va. gear) both got drafted into the Great Beyond. We miss them dearly, but this little gal (who arrived just last week!) is keeping us on our toes. When she’s not trying to eat them.

Blog friends, meet Minnie(apolis) Bennett, aka “Minnie.” 💙🧡

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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You Can Use My Name

So this is officially “Celebrate Your Name” week.

I know this because my hip young friend, Peyton, runs an award-winning marketing firm, and she published a content calendar on her website this week. It’s chock full of things we might not otherwise know.

For instance, if you missed out on “World Compliment Day” on March 1, you can still take advantage of “National Napping Day” next Tuesday. And don’t tell my husband (because he’s currently looking at litters online), but March 23 is “National Puppy Day” (which probably means that my coffee table is about to get chewed).

Anyhow.

When I downloaded Peyton’s calendar and saw the bit about celebrating our names, I thought to myself: That’s kind of freaky. In a freaky good kind of way. Because as timing would have it, I have been thinking a whole lot this week about names. Well, one name, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name Jesus–and, in particular, how we use it in prayer.

You know the drill: We ask God for something, or say grace over a meal, and then (sometimes without even thinking) we tack on a quick “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Having spent most of 2019 in the Gospel of John, I think I know where this practice comes from. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to ask in his name:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (John 14:13-14)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Reading verses like these back-to-back, you get the idea that He mean it. Jesus intends for us to know His name–and to use it.

Which, for me, raises a couple of questions.

I know how I’d feel if I gave somebody the use of my name–like, if I recommended someone for a job, or I wanted to make an introduction. I’d want that person to speak and behave honorably (and not to do anything that might, by virtue of my endorsement, reflect badly on me!). Did Jesus, I wondered, ever have that kind of concern?

I wanted to know more about how this “you can use my name” thing really works, and I figured Andrew Murray would have something to say. I picked up my copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer (which is getting more dog-eared by the day) and sure enough:  He has a whole chapter on this very topic.

Murray contends that when we pray in Christ’s name, we are actually praying in his nature–which is love. Prayers “in the name of Jesus” presuppose that our interests are aligned with God’s. “No one,” Murray says, “would give another free use of his name without first being assured that his honor and interests were as safe with that other person as with himself.”

Not only that, but the power that our prayers carry also depends on our relationship to the Lord. God looks not just to our lips, but also to our lives to see what His name is to us. And as we “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (Micah 4:5), we can effectively pray in the name of the Lord our God–with full confidence that, as Jesus promised, we will receive whatever we ask.

And finally (and this goes to my question about the potential for misusing Christ’s name), Murray says that the phrase “in my name” has its own built-in safeguard. When we bear the name “Christian”–living and acting and praying as children of God–the power that’s in the name works. When we try to live (and pray) out from under that power, it doesn’t.

Okay. That’s enough Deep Thought for one day. Let’s download our content calendars, thank God for giving us a Name we can celebrate, and look forward to napping next week!

😊

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us the privilege of bearing your name when we call ourselves Christians. Please show us what your name really means, and how we can use it in prayer, so that You will be glorified in our midst. (John 14:13-14)

Amen

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Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

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Have Yourself an Amazon Christmas? Not so fast…

Does anybody else have a husband whose phone lets him know when a credit card charge goes through?

Blame it on Amazon Prime. That “Buy now with 1-click” thing makes it a little too easy. And when I overheard Robbie on the telephone with the nice Amex lady, explaining why he thought our card had been hacked, I knew I had to ‘fess up. It’s like I used to tell my teenagers, back in the day. Numbers 32:23. You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel like a sin. Not at the time, anyway. It actually felt like a good idea to add this to my cart:

(It’s a Santa suit.)

(For your toilet.)

Before you judge me, be advised that this was not an impulse purchase. Granted, I was not looking for this particular product when it popped up on my screen (because I guess, based on my shopping history, Amazon thought the ensemble was something I’d like?), but I did not “Buy Now” right away. I did some research (and as it turns out, there are actually quite a few companies that make Santa suits for your bathroom), and I read the reviews.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Who would review that?” I thought that too. I mean, I can’t get my own family members to leave a comment on Amazon about one of my books, but there are apparently hundreds of strangers who are willing–eager, even–to talk pros and cons when it comes to toilet seat covers featuring three-dimensional cheeks.

To my credit, I will admit that I was tempted to go with the $4.99 suit, but I stopped myself. I chose the $18.99 version instead because I am nothing if not an eager learner, and my very wise smart-shopper husband always says, “You get what you pay for.”

Anyhow.

All of this is to say that this is the last you will hear from me about shopping. I am super grateful to those of you who submitted ideas (especially the gal whose husband went out on Black Friday and came home with SEVENTEEN HAMS, because I guess 16 was just not ham enough?), but clearly, it is time to move on. Let’s talk about something else Christmas.

Let’s talk about best-loved traditions.

My favorite tradition, hands down, is Christmas cards.

I love Christmas cards so much, in fact, that I cannot throw them away. I didn’t really see this as an official Hoarding Situation until I went in the attic to get the ornaments and had to shove my way through boxes of greetings from Christmases past. All stacked and sorted in zip-lock baggies, with the years clearly labeled, as if one of my as-yet-unborn grandchildren will one day ask me what the Hamilton family looked like, circa 2001.

As if.

Why do I hold onto these cards? The most obvious reason, I guess, is relationship. I love the friends we’ve made over the miles and the years. And even if we only see some of these people on their most perfect-looking day, once a year, I’m still grateful to know that they’re out there.

And I love the words, too. I mean, when else can we openly encourage one another to Celebrate Jesus-Fest (which, if you Google it, is pretty much what “Merry Christmas” literally means) without the checkout lady giving us the side-eye?

But there’s more to my strange obsession. I hang onto the cards because, to me, they represent stories that are still being written, lives that are still being shaped.

Once upon a time, when our children were young, we used to post the cards on a bulletin board in the kitchen and leave them for months, praying for a different sender each day. Now that we’re empty nesters, Robbie and I do this mostly alone. We sit by the fire, open the cards, and pray for a new batch of loved ones each night. And when I put stuff away in the attic, and see the little boy who now flies Navy helicopters or the girl who’s all grown up with kids of her own, I can’t help it. I’m thankful. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work.

Does that sound kind of corny? Maybe it is. But in a rush-rush season (one where I am pretty sure that Amazon sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake), carving out even the tiniest bit of time for things that matter–things like connection with God, and with one another–has become a beloved tradition, and one I look forward to every year.

If you like the idea of praying over your cards–or if you just want a few blessings that you can tuck into stockings, or maybe even use to tag gifts–here are a few of my favorite “one-size-fits-everyone” prayers:

Want to download and print ’em? Click here.

And while you’re at it, maybe pray for me, too. Better yet, pray for my family. Because I still have not settled on this year’s “perfect gift.”

Which means that so far…

 

 

 

 

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Tis the Season…for incredible Christmas mistakes

‘Tis the season.

The season, that is, that serves as the annual reminder of my shopping deficiencies. I love giving (and getting!) presents, and I actually DO put a lot of thought into the gifts that I pick out for my family and friends. But I’m not sure they realize that.

Because it’s not always, as it turns out, the thought that counts.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pick one special (identical) item for each one of my kids. (And now, bless their hearts, for my two sons-in-law.) I’ve tried everything from the Topical Memory System (which I really do love) to the “virtually invisible” posture brace (which I don’t)…

…and I can’t help but think that there has to be something more crowd-pleasing out there.

So here’s what let’s do.

If you have a good gift idea (especially if it’s something that GUYS  would like, besides socks and golf balls), will you please post it in the comments section (or on my Insta) today?

And in return, I will let you in on my all-time favorite gift–to give, or to get. This is something everyone needs, and it’s not like the “must have” spectacular shoes on my daughter’s wishlist. (As in, it will still be in style by this time next year.) Plus, this gift is the one thing I can think of that is both a) affordable, and b) can actually make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

Interested? So were the folks at Fox News, when they graciously invited me to do a post for their readers last year. I thought the column was worth a re-run, so here you go. And check back next week, when I’ll feature some of YOUR favorite things–and also let you know what I’m giving this year. 😊

The most incredible Christmas mistake I ever made

Robbie and I had been holding the line for six weeks. No way were we going to get our four-year-old daughter a doll that cost more than $100 for Christmas. Annesley would have to be happy with the $14.99 version we’d picked up at Target. That’s all there was to it.

Christmas case closed.

But Annesley persisted. “The only thing I want is a My Size Barbie,” she pleaded. If we heard that request once, we heard it a hundred times, and I could feel my resolve slipping away faster than the shopping days. Robbie’s too. By Christmas Eve, we couldn’t take any more and (in what I still consider one of our greatest financial parenting fails), we caved. It took three stores (the first two were out of the in-demand doll), but we finally came home with the prize. And we couldn’t wait to see our little girl’s look of joy, in the morning…

(To keep reading, click here.)

🎄

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Scrabble, Black Friday, and Buddy the Elf

I come from a long line of Scrabble players.

My mother, an English professor who has her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology (which is really a thing), is a family champion, as was her father (also a Ph.D. prof) before her. Even my own dad—who was more into numbers than words—got pressed into action at the family game table. And when brain cancer meant that he could no longer sit up comfortably, he still played—albeit while lying flat on the floor and using words that didn’t always have vowels.

(We decided they must be Russian vocab, and that Dad could therefore keep all his points.)

And so I read with great interest the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that men are better than women at Scrabble. My first thought was that they had not met my mom. But then I dug deeper. “Championship Scrabble,” the columnist noted, “rewards typical male obsessions:  strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts.”

Ahh.

I don’t know about the male drive to memorize (Robbie is working on Philippians 4:4-6 right now for my mom’s Christmas gift, and I don’t think it’s going so well), but my man is definitely all about strategy, math, and competitive play. And nowhere, perhaps, are these traits more evident than during the holiday season, when his Buddy the Elf side comes out and he hangs Christmas lights like he owns the power company.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the Scrabble research.

When I got to the last line in the column, which stipulated that men and women are, in fact, different, I was like: “Um, hello? Any wife with a husband knows that.”

Consider our house, on Black Friday.

Robbie and I were all set to take advantage of the holiday deals. First, though, I had to put away all the platters and silver from our Thanksgiving meal. Which is when I noticed the pile of 14 damask napkins that had to go in the wash. (They’d need ironing, too, but I’d get to that later.) I hit “start” on the washing machine and pulled the brunch fixings out of the fridge so I’d be ready when the children showed up. And remembered I’d promised to make shortbread for a neighbor’s party, later that night. So I preheated the oven–and realized that the amaryllis bulbs (the ones I had timed to start blooming near Christmas) had been neglected during all the Thanksgiving prep. I gave them some water, pulled out the butter and the cookie cutters, and started in on the shortbread.

I got the dough in the oven, moved the napkins to the dryer, and opened my laptop. Oh my. There were dozens of Black Friday emails–plus a few from actual people I knew. I handled the real people first, and then started scrolling the sales. I saw where Target had everything discounted by 15%. Ballard Designs offered 30. And J. Crew was telling me that their entire site was half off. Even Home Depot had Cyber Savings Galore – did I need anything there?

Probably. Let me think…

Meanwhile, Robbie (who’d been reading the paper) stood up. “Lowes has $12.99 light sets marked down to $3.99,” he said. “I’m headed out. Need anything?”

I didn’t. At least nothing I could think of, in between the napkins, the shortbread, and the wondering if anyone on my list needed a new J. Crew scarf, or maybe a ceiling fan from Home Depot.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and I am not making that up), Robbie was back, having purchased 28 boxes of lights. Me? Let’s just say I did buy a gadget my son-in-law wanted, but I am pretty sure that I paid the full price.

So what’s my point?

My point is that we don’t need a Scrabble championship to tell us we’re wired differently. I’m not trying to be all gender-y and political; I’m just saying I’m grateful. I mean, had I gotten in the car on Black Friday and gone out to Lowe’s, I might still be in the plumbing parts aisle. But not Robbie. My man has the eye of the tiger.

So again, what’s my point?

I guess what I want to say–and how I want to encourage us–is that this holiday season (and I am speaking mostly to the ladies here but guys, this applies to you, too), when our spouse (or our child) makes us a little bit cray-cray or we don’t understand what they’re doing (like when my friend’s husband spent Thanksgiving Day napping, all  dressed for dinner and sleeping fully upright on the sofa so as not to wrinkle his khakis, and then happily told her, later that night, that this was “the least stressful Thanksgiving ever!”), let’s not get our undies all up in a wad. Instead, let’s find a difference that makes us grateful, and celebrate that.

I’ll go first, since the Scrabble thing is fresh in my mind.

I really am thankful that Buddy’s strategic. He tried out a new light method this year, and actually sent in-process pics to the family for feedback:

I also love how much my guy gets jacked up about math. Sure, Robbie’s been known to balk at a $5 cover charge, but it’s only cuz he’s saving up for the light show. He calculates lights-per-bush numbers and divides them by strands, factoring in the difference when you use the 100-count vs the 50. (SAT prep, eat your heart out.)

And competitive? Let’s just say that while I don’t think Robbie is trying to outshine our neighbors (we couldn’t), I did see his chin quiver just the tiniest bit when we turned on the TV Wednesday night. That’s when they lit up the Rock Center tree…

It was spectacular. And on Thursday, Buddy might have even gone back to Lowe’s…

❤️🎄

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the glorious variety that marks your creation! May we celebrate and rejoice in those differences!

Help us be devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves. And may we always give thanks for each other, growing in faith and increasing in love for our family and friends. (Romans 12:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Amen

 

 

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Never give up (on the people you love)

Two things this week have me camping out on the fatherhood of God and his dogged–relentless, even–pursuit of our hearts.

The first thing was the inauguration of U.Va.’s 9th president, Jim Ryan.

(And I know, I know. Some of you are like, “U.Va. again? Why does she always write about that?” To which I would say:  Hello? Did I write even ONE WORD about our victory over nationally ranked Miami, or last week’s road win at Duke? Feels to me like a U.Va. shout out is a bit overdue.)

(But this is not a U.Va. shout out.)

Anyhow.

In his inaugural address (which was fabulous; if you missed it, click here), Ryan likened teaching to parenting. He noted that both endeavors were based on the faith that the job–despite being a sometimes messy process with unfinished and imperfect results–was worth doing, and that as both a parent and as a university president, he would “never give up on the people I love.”

Which brings me to the second thing.

The second thing that happened this week was that I started reading Genesis.

You know the story. God makes Adam and Eve. And then they eat the fruit that they shouldn’t. And when they realize what they’ve done, they get scared and try to hide from God in the garden.

God knows, of course, that his kids are over there in the trees. And when he says, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9), he isn’t really after their physical location. He is asking where they are, spiritually–as in, where Adam and Eve are in relation to him.

I read that line and, as a parent, I thought back to the times when I felt like my own children were hidden. The times when they felt far away. Emotionally distant. Out of reach (even if they were just across the table, at dinner). The times when I watched them pursue relationships or activities or ideas that, I knew, would not produce good things in their lives.

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

And then I thought about God, and how he must sometimes feel the same way towards us. Over and over again in the Bible (just as over and over again now), God’s children go wandering off, turning their backs on his love. And we see what God does in response.

Sometimes, we see his desire:  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Other times, we see his promise: My people are determined to turn from me…my compassion is aroused…I will roar; they will come…I will settle them in their homes. (Hosea 11:7-11)

Always, though, we see his pursuit. From the “Where are you?” Genesis question all the way to the “I stand at the door and knock” of Revelation 3:20, we see God calling to us. Wooing us. Inviting us into a life marked by purpose, passion, and joy.

And demonstrating, always and forever, that he will never give up on the people he loves.

So…that’s why President Ryan’s speech, taken together with the Genesis story, made me think about God. With one major difference.

Ryan’s presidency, like our parenting, can’t help but yield (as he freely noted) imperfect and unfinished results. But it’s different with God. With God at the helm, we can be confident that, having begun a good work in our lives, he can be counted on to complete it.

He will get the job done, and the results will one day be perfect.

(Which, even though this is NOT a U.Va. blog, is a promise that I would dearly love to see fulfilled on the field, as we take on the Tarheels tomorrow…)

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the embodiment of love. You are patient and kind; you keep no record of wrongs. You protect, you hope, you persevere.

You never fail. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let us never grow weary in doing good, especially to the people we love. And when we feel downcast or discouraged, remind us that you know just how we feel, and that there is a promised harvest, at the perfect time, for those who never give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen

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We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

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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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The Dog Days of Summer

Many of you know our dog, Max. Max has taught me two things this summer.

The first is the value of the iPhone “portrait” feature. My old phone finally gave up, and when Robbie brought home a new one (shopping for anything plug-in being a Blue Job, chez Berndt), I snapped this:

Max has never looked this good in his life.

(And that is not being unkind. Those who have met Max in person, or seen him in previous blogs, know I speak only the truth. But hey. There is more to life than great hair.)

The second lesson from Max is that good things happen when you decide to be nice.

I am not what you might call a Dog Person. I don’t mind them; in fact, I would go so far as to say that I like most dogs. And that I trust people who have dogs more than people who don’t. But if you invite us over for dinner, Robbie’s the one who will sit on the floor and get your pup’s hair and his breath and his ticks or whatever all over his clothing, not me.

But all of that’s changed in the last 100 days.

101, to be exact.

That’s how long it’s been since Max had surgery to take out his spleen. The docs biopsied whatever was in there, and the news was not good. They gave our guy 18-45 days.

I may not be a dog person, but I was the one who brought Max home as a Christmas morning surprise back in 2007, and I found myself rocked by this verdict. And if Max had three-to-six weeks left to live, I resolved to make them the best weeks of his life.

I bought chewy dog treats.

Took him out for some walks.

I might even have talked baby talk, once in awhile. (Which is not something I ever did for our kids.)

And…I began petting him. Not a lot (because then I would have to get out the Roomba and watch it suck up the hairs, which can take up a lot of my valuable time). But a little. And if Max was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just acted happy.

It’s Day 101 and Max seems healthier–and more active–than ever. Maybe he felt weighed down by that spleen? Maybe he is thrilled with the treats, after 11 years of dry kibble? Maybe all he ever wanted was to go for an actual walk?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.

I can’t point to the exact day when it happened, but I find myself LOVING our dog. And doing things I haven’t, before. Things like standing in the pet aisle at the grocery store, wondering whether he likes “salmon and veggie” or “chicken and rice” in his bowl, or what shape (bone? bacon strip? tube?) he prefers for his treats.

I know, I know. Some of you are reading this, and you are aghast. Who among us, you think, doesn’t buy  bacon-shaped treats BEFORE it’s almost too late? I get that. Unsubscribe if you must; I won’t judge.

And some of you will wonder what possible lesson or truth I could mine from this story. I will tell you. It’s this:

The nicer you are, the more you will love. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but when you decide to be kind to someone (and I think this works for family members and co-workers, as well as mangy golden retrievers), the more attractive they will appear, and the more you will want to be nice. It’s as if love begets love. And not only will you find yourself giving love; others will start loving you back. (I can’t be positive, but I am pretty sure Max thinks I’m awesome.)

And I can’t help but wonder if it’s that way with God. He is so good to us, and he always has been, covering us in love since the beginning of time. When he looks at us, he doesn’t see all our scabs and our warts and our failings. He just sees the object of his boundless affection. He sees us as lovely.

And as we bask in that love, we are transformed. We love, the Bible says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father,

Help me to extend love to ______, and to pray for them even if they come against me. Equip me to love others the way that you have loved me. (Matthew 5:44, John 15:12)

And P.S., Ecclesiastes 9:4 says that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.” I don’t really understand that verse, but I do know that I love my live dog, so if anyone wants to pray for us to enjoy another 100 great days (or more!), we’d be grateful.

 

 

 

 

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Duct-taping Your Kids (and other Mom Fails)

“Wait. Mom. Are you reading your own book? That is just so…sad.”

That was Virginia, more than 10 years ago, when she burst into my bedroom and discovered me sitting up in bed, reading my copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. What Virginia didn’t know was that I was using the book to help shape my prayers for her life. All she could see was her mother doing something that looked, to her teenaged eye, pretty pathetic.

Happily, Virginia is all grown up now, and she doesn’t think it’s strange when I pray. Or when I read my own books. Which is a good thing, since I was at it again yesterday. I was thinking about a friend who is going through a rough patch in her parenting, and I turned to the chapter about parent-child relationships to find some good scripture-prayers. And I came upon this:

I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago, but honestly? They mean so much more to me now. Because the older I get, the more aware I am of how far I fall short. Of how often I’ve let my kids down. Of how my weaknesses (especially in parenting) don’t seem to be going away.

I remember being a young mom, and wanting so badly to set a good example for my kids. I wanted to be able to change diapers, run carpools, and help with science projects–all while being wise, resourceful, hospitable, encouraging, diligent, creative, generous, faithful, watchful, vigorous, strong, and cheerful. That’s not a list I made up; I read it in Proverbs 31. And if that was God’s standard for an excellent woman, then that’s the mark I wanted to hit.

Hold on, all you Bible scholars out there. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real woman, but rather a type of woman. Or that she was really a conglomeration of admirable attributes manifested in the lives of several different women. Or that she was nothing human at all; rather, she was the personification of wisdom, showing us what wisdom might look like, if we could see it in action.

Blah blah blah.

I know all of that. And I knew it, back then. But I’ve always liked clear objectives–targets to shoot for–and the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman are nothing if not well-defined.

(Literally. Proverbs 31:17 even talks about her fabulous biceps.)

And so I tried. I started by checking off the verses I had covered. Things like sewing clothing and curtains (which I actually did, back then), working late into the night (which seemed both noble and necessary, at the time), and getting up while it was still dark (which was the only time my mom friends could meet up for a run). Verses 19, 18, and 15. Done.

At first, I felt good. I was on a Proverbs 31 roll. How hard could it be, to buckle down and check off the rest?

Ha.

You know what happened.

I couldn’t do it. Forget about planting a vineyard or bringing food from afar (v. 16 and 14); there were days when I could barely get to the store (and even then it was not anything to be proud of, as I jammed all four kids into one grocery cart and piled boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese on their heads). And that part about “faithful instruction” (v. 26)? Unless you count that time I got so tired of listening to Hillary and Annesley bicker that I duct-taped them together and made them clean all the toilets one-handed, I’m not sure they learned all that much.

(Simmer down, people. It was only their wrists. And only one arm per girl. I am pretty sure they were…fine.)

Anyhow.

The more I tried to be an exemplary mom, the more I became, as my friend Kenzie put it, “the Proverbs 32 woman.” Who is not, as we all know, someone who shows up in the Bible.

If you want to read more (like, if epic mom-fails are your thing), you can pick up the book, but for now I’ll just get to the point and say this:  My weakness was where Jesus came in.

Truly.

And that’s where he still does.

Because no matter how hard I tried–or how hard I still try–to do everything “right,” there will always be days when I blow it. I will do and say things I regret. And, unlike the Proverbs 31 mother, I will never know what it’s like to have my kids get out of bed in the morning and call me Blessed. (But don’t think that I haven’t thought about picking that as my grandmother name, if and when that time comes.)

But you know what I’ve learned, after 30 years of mom-fails? I’ve learned that the less I rely on my own abilities and the more I rely on Christ–and the more I let my children (even now, as adults) see me depending on him for wisdom, guidance, and strength–the more I will be able to set the only example that’s worth following.

Instead of saying, “Look at me,” I can say, “Look at Jesus.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that we don’t have to be perfect parents–that we don’t even have to be close. Help us, and our children, to rely on your wisdom and grace. And instead of trying to “do good” or “be good” by ourselves, may we look to you and your strength; may we seek your face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Amen

 

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What I Learned from a Crossbow

Our niece got married last weekend. Twice.

Caroline’s beloved is of Indian descent, and the first ceremony featured a bevy of gorgeous sari-clad guests, traditional Indian dancers, and a spectacular procession (the “baraat”) led by the handsome groom on a majestic white horse.

The second wedding, held the very next day, was every bit as glorious as Caroline and Dave double-tied their knot, American-style:

Both nuptials took place on the farm where Robbie grew up (and where we were staying for the weekend). Having married off two of our own daughters in back-to-back weddings three years ago, we knew exactly what our family should do.

Stay out of the way.

Happily for us, the Maryland countryside is crawling with Berndts, and we decamped to Robbie’s sister’s home, where our brother-in-law Noby played host. Noby tells people that he’s in insurance (and I guess he probably is), but I don’t think that’s why God created him. I am pretty sure that God made Noby because the world needs more energy, more excitement, and more contests you can’t stage indoors.

“Camp Noby” has all the stuff you might find in a typical American yard, stuff like bocce ball, corn hole, and ping pong. But Noby has other stuff, too.

Stuff like Blow Darts. And Chinese Death Stars. And a big field with a John Deere tractor designed not so much to mow as to race.

As Noby demonstrated the how-to’s of each successive competition in what turned out to be a decathlon, I felt like I was watching a bizarre farmer’s version of The Hunger Games.

The operative word here being watching. I had no plans to participate in the official events. My best sport (as anyone will tell you) is tanning, and as I lay there by the pool while the rest of the family tried not to kill themselves, I knew I led the pack by at least three shades of bronze.

And then, from just over the hedges, I heard somebody say, “Mom.”

If you’re a mother, you know what that means. Especially during a farm-country decathlon. You get up to see who’s been stabbed.

As it turned out, all the kids wanted was for me to hit something. Having gone to all the trouble of getting out of my lounge chair, I obliged. I picked up the nearest piece of equipment, which happened to be a Bigfoot-sized crossbow.

(Because who doesn’t have at least one of those lying around?)

Noby showed me how to load the thing (if that’s the right term?), and explained all about how to use the scope and the importance of keeping the safety on until I was ready to go. I took it all in, flipped the switch, sighted the target, and pulled.

Nothing happened, so I pulled again.

Still nothing. My arrow sat snug in its groove.

The safety was off, and I could not figure out what the problem could be. Finally, after my third failed attempt, Hillary intervened. “Are you meaning to pull the trigger, Mom? Because that’s not where your finger is.”

Alrighty then. I went back to square one, pulled the darn thing, and came THIS CLOSE to the bull’s eye. Everyone cheered, but the whole experience was more than a little humiliating (and not just because I was wearing a bathing suit to shoot a lethal arrow in front of 12 people, only four of whom actually have my blood in their veins). I realized that, if I ever confronted something–or someone–I had to kill, my only chance would be for them to die laughing.

All of which reminded me of an convo I had a few months ago with my friend, A.J. Tata.

“Can you tell,” I asked him, “whether an opponent knows how to handle a weapon? I mean right at first, even before he tries to shoot anything?”

A.J. (“Tony”) is a retired brigadier general, a best-selling author (check out Besieged if you like save-the-world stuff), and a national security expert who’s always popping up on CNN and Fox News. He’s seen his share of bad guys, and I figured he’d know how to size someone up.

And he did.

“It’s easy,” Tony said, “to tell if an adversary is versed in how to handle a gun. If they are experienced and trained, their grip is firm but relaxed, their eyes are scanning the horizon looking for targets, their movements are fluid and instinctual; rapidly attacking or responding to threats.”

He continued:

“An untrained marksman is just the opposite. He carries his weapon awkwardly, his hands in the wrong positions on the grip and stock. When the inexperienced shooter aims, it’s jumpy and awkward, as much worried about himself as he is about whatever he might be shooting at. His hesitation leads to mistakes.”

Oh my goodness, people! Tony was talking about how a soldier handles a gun, but he might as well have been pointing at me! Let’s review, shall we?

An untrained marksman is “awkward.” (Check.) His hands are in the “wrong position.” (Double check.) He is “as much worried about himself as he is about whatever he might be shooting at.” (Hello? How much worse would the worried marksman be in a bathing suit???)

Why do I tell you all this? (Why debase myself in this way??)

Because (and I know this blog is already too long, but stay with me) Tony’s assessment APPLIES TO US ALL. Like it or not, we’ve all been given a weapon. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word is sharper than a double-edged sword, and that we are supposed to use it – both offensively, in shaping our thoughts and our prayers, and defensively, as we counter threats, lies and attacks (even the ones that come from inside our own head):

You’re not worthy! (Oh yeah? Psalm 139:14 says that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”)

You’re not up to the job! (Really? Because Philippians 4:13 says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.)

That person hurt you. You deserve to cut them off or get some revenge! (Um, no. I’m gonna take the 1 Peter 3:9 approach and repay insults with blessings, cuz that’s what God’s called me to do.)

See what I mean?

The Bible is meant to animate our actions. To shape how we think. To be used in our lives. But if we aren’t comfy with it in our hands (or our heads), it’s not going to work all that well. We’ll be hesitant. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll be awkward.

(We will look, that is to say, much like I did, pulling whatever it was that was not the crossbow trigger.)

(And trust me. That is not a great look.)

But here’s the thing. We don’t have to enlist in some army, or go to the Bible version of Camp Noby, to get ourselves up to speed. God has already equipped us with all that we need. We have the Bible. We have the Holy Spirit (whose job is to translate God’s message into our hearts, and give us the power to use it). And we have each other.

If you’re not in a regular Bible study this summer, consider asking a friend to read part of it with you. My pal Margaret and I are plowing through Acts (we try to talk once a week), and boy is it rich! Reading the Bible with another person is so good: You’ve got someone to bounce questions off, to glean insights from, and even to say, “Did you do your reading this week?”

It’s like having your very own Noby, keeping you pointed toward the goal. And honestly? The more experience we get–the more we dig into Scripture and let it animate our hopes, our prayers, and our dreams–the more our lives will begin to line up with God’s plans. And the more of his bull’s eyes we’ll hit.

Heavenly Father,

Your word is inspired. It teaches us what is true and makes us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT)

Give us the training and experience we need to use the Bible–our “sword”–wisely and well.

Amen

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The Life-Giving Power of Blessing

When George Washington was elected president, he rode to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to tell his ailing mother the news. The conversation reportedly went something like this:

George: Guess what? They want me to be president.

Mom: I’m dying.

George, flustered: Well, as soon as I get settled in New York, I’ll come back and …

Mom: This is the last time you’ll ever see me. But go, do your job. That’s more important.

Can’t you just hear her? As a mom, I know I can.

And I can relate to some of the crazy things that Mary Washington asked of her son. For instance, when George was in the Pennsylvania wilderness, fighting a losing battle against the French (and facing dire shortages in everything from tents and ammunition to clothing and food), Mom wrote a letter requesting that he send her a servant and “some butter.”

I’m sure my kids would say I’ve done worse.

But here’s the thing about Mary. Even though she really was dying (she had breast cancer) and could do nothing, tangibly, to help her boy do his job, she understood the power of words. And as they wrapped up what turned out to be their very last convo, she sent her son off with this charge:

“Go George, fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”

Our words carry blessings and curses. Or, as Proverbs 18:21 puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Which kind we speak–words that breathe life, or words that can cripple–is up to us.

And, strange as it sounds, the person our words target doesn’t have to be doing something we like or approve of in order for us to give them a blessing. Grumpy neighbors, irascible co-workers, wayward children—these folks are all candidates for favor. Ma Washington certainly didn’t agree with all of George’s plans and decisions (she told him that joining the Royal Navy was “too dangerous”), and yet she covered her son with life-giving words.

If it seems awkward to bless a child (or anyone else) who does something we don’t like, or who has made a choice that we believe runs counter to God’s commands, consider this: a blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, when we bless our children, we do the same thing God does when he blesses us: He speaks favor over our lives and points us toward the abundant life he wants us to enjoy.

In blessing someone, we turn them over to God, trusting him to give them a vision for using their talents and abilities, as well as a sense of purpose in life. It’s never too early to do this for our children; consider Hannah’s words when she brought her young son Samuel to the temple: “For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28).

Nor is it ever too late.

Mary Washington was 80 years old when George was elected, and she died five months later. I’m sure, though, that her final words stayed with him forever. And I pray that as I parent my own adult children (and call them at work to ask them to help me with Facebook—or at least send me some butter), I would give them the very same gift: The knowledge that “Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing would be with them always.”

Is there someone who could use an encouraging word from you today–maybe a co-worker, a child, or a friend over whom you might speak God’s favor?

Numbers 6:24-26 is one of our family’s favorite blessings (and if you like it too, see below for ordering info). It’s one that Robbie and I prayed with, and for, our children as they were growing up:

Monday is Presidents’ Day. Let’s make these life-giving words our prayer this week, using them to forecast God’s favor over our family, our friends, our co-workers, and–whether you like what he’s doing, or not–the guy who got Washington’s job.

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them. Make your face shine on ______ and be gracious to them. Turn your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

(The image in this post is of a beautifully crafted 5 x 7 print that I purchased in December as a stocking stuffer for our girls. It’s still available from @snowandcompany, and if you’d like to order your own copy, click here. And if you want to read more about blessing and releasing our kids, check out chapter two in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenIt’s available as a free download at jodieberndt.com.)

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Facebook, Twitter, and Grace

So the other day, I saw where Facebook wanted to send me a message. I clicked on the little bell and got this:

Improve my reputation? I didn’t even know I had a reputation–at least not on Facebook. Sheesh. One MORE thing to worry about.

Social media, as we know, is not my best sport.

On Twitter, for instance, I recently heard from a blogger who wanted to know where I’d gone to college. I tweeted right back (I was On it!, that day): I went to U.Va.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that tweet, per se. And normally a sentence like that makes me proud. What went wrong, in this case, is that I tweeted my answer to everyone. Like, to all of Twitter. Now the whole world (even the people who don’t give a rip, which is all of them) knows that I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA!

(Who knew there was a way to keep your tweet convos private?)

(Probably everyone. But still.)

And don’t even get me started on Instagram. I set up an account a long time ago, and I was getting pretty comfy on that platform. Until Virginia saw me looking at my phone.

“Mom.”

“What?”

“You can’t like your own Insta.”

Sigh.

(Is there an Emily Post book for social media? I feel like if I just knew the rules, I could do better at not breaking them.)

(But not really. Because even if I had an etiquette book, I think I’d still wonder: What’s so bad about liking your own Instagram? Isn’t there an entire shelf in Barnes & Noble about learning to love yourself?? Should we not all like our Instas? Seems like that would be healthy.)

Anyhow.

All of these whoopsies–and so many more, like the podcast I did where I didn’t know we were recording for the first FIFTEEN MINUTES–point to a couple key truths:

First, God is so good.

God knew we’d blow it–and not just on social media. He knew we’d stink it up in our marriages, our parenting, our finances, and in so many more areas where we try (and fail) to do the right thing. And so he gave us an answer. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he promises, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has us covered. Nothing we do can make him love us any less. In fact, our failings–humbly acknowledged, and with gratitude for his redemptive intervention–act as magnets for his mercy. (Don’t believe me? Check out James 4:6, Psalm 51:17 and, most especially, Romans 8:38-39.)

And second, God is hilarious. I can’t point to any particular verse that says “God is really funny” (Psalm 2:4 says he laughs, but in that case, it’s not a sound that you really want to hear), but there’s definitely some good and joyful merry-making in the Bible (see Psalm 126:2 for starters, or consider the fact that Sarah literally named her kid “He laughs”). And even without passages like these, I figure that God has GOT to have a good sense of humor, since he has has put up with us for so long. Since he has put up with me.

And that, according to social experts, is critical. I saw a few minutes of a show about Speed Dating last week (I was trying to find a U.Va. Basketball recap on SportsCenter, but I am not good with remotes), and the number one most attractive quality in a person is (singles say) a good sense of humor. God has one. We should, too.

So next time you blow it, here are two things you can do. First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh, if you can.

And second (because sometimes blowing it is not at all funny), remember God’s grace. It’s for all of us. And it’s what God does best. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

That’s the Apostle Paul talking, but heck. It might as well be me. There are definitely days when I feel like THE WORST. (And not just in the social media world.)

But that’s okay. Because nothing–as in, nothing–can separate us from God’s love.

Tweet THAT, America.

 

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Yield Fruit and Prosper

If you’ve been around this blog for more than a year, you’ve likely seen pix of our Dock Tree. Which is, on January 19, still out on the dock.

Boats and Christmas both mean a lot to my man, and I guess, somewhere along the way, Robbie figured it made sense to combine these two loves. All he needed, he said, was six new boxes of lights. And maybe eight more extension cords.

To me, the Dock Tree seemed silly, at first. But now that we are in the Empty Nest years, it fills our lives with meaning. And purpose. We look at the Dock Tree first thing, with our coffee. We look at it late at night, before bed. We take pictures–scads of pictures–eager to capture its beauty in different lighting and weather conditions.

And, as with children, we learned that Dock Trees can be tricky. They do not, for example, fare too well in high winds.

This year, Robbie tried a new plan. He mounted the tree on a thick piece of plywood, one that has languished in our garage for the past 15 years (waiting, some might say, for such a time as this). Surely, the heavy foundation would hold.

It did not.

As I stood in the kitchen, cradling my coffee mug and looking out at the fallen tree from the warmth of my window, I thought about Psalm 1. “Blessed,” it says, “is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” When we love the Bible–when we read it and cherish it and let its truth soak into our lives–we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.” We will “yield fruit in season.” And whatever we do “will prosper.”

Those are some good promises, and ones I’d like to see fulfilled in my life. And–taking a cue from the Dock Tree–I have to think that a key term is “planted.” Because if all we do is screw ourselves into some plywood, without having any roots to grow down deep, it doesn’t matter how close to the water we get. God’s word will not nourish us. We won’t bear any fruit. And rather than prospering when the storms of life hit, we’ll be apt to fall over.

There’s a note scrawled in the margin of my Bible beside Psalm 1. Apparently, I prayed it over our family, back in 2014. Feels like 2018 might be a good time to pray it again:

Heavenly Father,

May we take delight in your word, meditating on it day and night as we go through our lives.

Plant us by streams of water, with roots that go deep. Let us yield fruit in season (and be patient in the winters of our lives, when the buds cannot yet be seen).

Bless us and prosper us, in all that we do. (Psalm 1:3)

In Jesus name,

Amen.

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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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Black Friday Gift Deals!

Whelp, here we are again. Black Friday. What are we buying?

I like the jewelry at enewton designs (and they’re having some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions!)…

…but I am still on the hunt for a few stocking stuffers for the men in my life. So far, I have asked two different guys what a good “man gift” is. They both said golf balls.

Seriously? Golf balls?

I might bite if the balls came with Bible verses on them, but the ones that just say things like “Titleist” seem sort of…expected. But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe guys don’t like surprises. I am pretty sure my son doesn’t, at least not when they are ones picked out by his mom.

Which brings me to today’s throwback post. If you’ve seen this one before, just skim ahead to the end, cuz I actually do have one gift idea I’m excited to share…and right now it’s almost 40% off!

 

When You Need a “Virtually Invisible” Gift

My pal Michelle says that shopping is her “spiritual gift.” Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to sound all holier-than-thou, she just says she was born with “the shopping gene.” Either way – anointed or genetic – she’s got it.

And I don’t.

And nothing shines the spotlight on my deficiency quite like Christmas. Every year, I try to get my kids one practical gift, something that they can all use, something that will enrich their lives. For years, I went with what I considered to be faith-building presents like The One-Year Chronological Bible (I think the best effort only made it through February) and the Navigator’s Topical Memory System (all I can say is that my kids don’t know quality when they see it), and then–because uprightness is not just a spiritual condition–the most inspired gift of all: The Posture Brace.

The ad promised that the brace was “virtually invisible” and could be “comfortably” worn under clothes.

The ad was wrong.

photo 2

Another Christmas fail.

(But can we all please just say thank you to my children, who still talk to me even though I post this pic every year?)

How much better off would I be – and how much more grateful my family – if I would just stick with my grandmother’s gift-giving strategy? She never gave us anything, at least nothing you could wrap.  Instead, she asked us to memorize a Bible verse for her each year and, in return, she promised to pray for us.

I will admit that, as a teenager, I was less-than-enthused by Gammy’s scheme. I don’t know how I ever memorized any verses, given that my eyes were rolled so far back into my head. Today, though, many of these nuggets are still locked in, and in terms of things like wisdom and peace and joy I can promise you this: Gammy’s Bible verses have been a far better support system than even the most “stylish” posture brace!

And, while I will never know the full impact of her prayers, I am confident that my grandmother’s gift to her grandchildren opened the door to all measure of divine protection, favor, insight, and blessing in our lives.  As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather give my children.

🎁

And y’all…I really am giving prayer to my kids this year. And to pretty much everyone else on my list. And you can, too, because right now “Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children” – which releases in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS – is available on Amazon for super cheap. Click here to pre-order!

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At Work and at Pray: Lift Up the Teachers

(September is BOOK GIVEAWAY month! Congratulations to last week’s winner, April from Sidney, Ohio, who’s getting a copy of Jeannie Cunnion’s new release, Mom Set Free. And this week I’m giving a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children to a NEW blog subscriber…so if you’ve got a friend who might like these posts, please spread the word and invite her – or him! – to sign up.)

 

So…Robbie is slogging through the third week of a college course called Theories of Financial Markets. I’d be jealous…except that I’m not.

But honestly? He’s not the only one hitting the books:

The Bible says we’re supposed to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). “The work of the Lord” is kind of a broad category, but I’m pretty sure that praying fits in there someplace. And right now, I’m workin’ it on behalf of Robbie and his U.Va. teachers.

I’m praying, for instance, that they would “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they do not give up.” That’s Galatians 6:9…and it’s my all-time favorite teacher prayer. Because being tired or worn out is no fun for anyone. And no matter how sorely they’re tempted, I don’t ever want a teacher to give up on my kid.

(Some of you get that.)

I’m also praying that Robbie will be teachable. I want his heart and his mind to be open to things like wisdom and understanding. I want him to have a good attitude as he heads off to class every day. I want him to be able to confront academic challenges with grace, and to see hard things (which, to me, would include theories of financial markets) as opportunities to grow.

I actually wrote about the value of being teachable in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. And, since that’s this week’s book giveaway (whoop!), I figured I’d share an excerpt from the chapter about praying for our kids’ relationships with their teachers and coaches. Here it is:

 

Praying for a Teachable Spirit

If you’re like me, you tend to spend more time praying for your kids to get the right teachers than that they will be the right students. But how our children think and behave in the classroom or on the athletic field can go farther toward fostering strong relationships with teachers and coaches than just about anything else.

Ned and Drew are two of the most teachable young men I know. Eager learners, they are quick to explore new ideas, and they have learned to recognize and respect the giftedness of their teachers – even when some of the concepts they were taught clashed with their own Christian convictions.

Ned and Drew’s willingness to learn is also evident in their athletic pursuits. Both are outstanding runners, a trait they inherited from their father, Jim, an Olympic medalist who was the first high schooler to run a mile in less than four minutes. When Ned and Drew won spots on the high school track team, Jim vowed not to interfere with the coach’s methods. Moreover, he encouraged his sons to respect the coach’s authority, even if the man’s coaching style differed from their father’s teaching.

As it turned out, the high school track coach did not do everything the way the former Olympian would have, and Ned and Drew knew it. But rather than argue with the man or rebel against his methods, the boys opted to buckle down and do their very best, while Jim and his wife, Anne, stayed content to pray for their sons from the bleachers. As a result of the family’s gentle, teachable spirit, the coach saw Christianity in a very favorable light – a testimony that would not have been possible had Ned and Drew taken an aggressive or defiant stand against his techniques. What’s more, the track team won an unprecedented series of three straight state championships.

Every life has it’s share of boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy. But if our children can learn to meet each new challenge as Ned and Drew did, by seeing the value in other people, respecting authority, and looking for opportunities to learn and grow, then even painful or disappointing circumstances can become reasons for thanksgiving. And long after our children have graduated from classrooms and playing fields, a teachable spirit will prove its lasting worth in their careers, their marriages, and their ability to minister to others.

 

There’s more, but you get the idea: When we pray for our kids to honor and respect their teachers and coaches, good things happen. 

So let’s do that.

Heavenly Father…

Cause ______ to obey his teachers and coaches and submit to their authority. Let him know that these people keep watch over him, and that you will hold them accountable for the job they do. Show ______ that when he honors his teachers and coaches and makes their work a joy instead of a burden, the end result will be to his advantage. (Hebrews 13:17)

Amen.

And P.S., if you like that Galatians “don’t get weary” prayer, here are a few more ways you can ask God to bless your kids’ teachers. Click here to download this image as a printable postcard:

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Parenting in Freedom and Grace (plus a book giveaway)!

Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?

Yeah, me too.

I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.

Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).

As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.

As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.

Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:

To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).

Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things:  Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:

Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)

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I love Charlottesville. A lot.

I love Charlottesville. A lot.

And, like a jillion other people in our country, my heart hurts over the images of violence and hatred we saw descending upon that city last weekend.

And, like probably every other U.Va. alum and parent, I have received dozens of emails and text messages from school administrators, fellow alumni, and friends – some of whom have no personal connection to the school, but all of whom want to uncover and share a deeper message of reconciliation, understanding, and love.

On the wider message board of national media, there seems to be a fixation with pointing fingers and assigning blame. While I’m all for confronting (and learning from) our mistakes, I would rather focus on that which is good, noble, and lovely – like the marchers in Wednesday night’s vigil, where songs like “Amazing Grace” and chants of “Love wins!” served to scatter the darkness – than on setting our hearts and minds on what’s wrong. As John MacArthur put it in his book, Reckless Faith, “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing.”

The “real thing” in Charlottesville – and in any place where we want love to win – is Jesus. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even a couple of them) to society’s ills, but I am pretty sure that he does.

“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you [as in, being willing to give up his position and even his life], so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Whether we are working for love and reconciliation on a national scale, or trying to find a way forward in the face of hurts on a more intimate stage (like in a marriage, or a friendship), these are the sorts of wisdom nuggets that make for lasting and positive change. These are the marks of the real thing.

Our son Robbie starts classes at U.Va. on Tuesday, along with more than 16,000 other undergraduate students. Am I worried about his safety, or about the perspectives he might encounter?

No. Not at all. The University of Virginia represents one of the warmest, most welcoming and inclusive, places I know.

I am, however, praying.

I am praying that Robbie will be devoted to his classmates and teachers, honoring their lives and their needs above his. I am praying for things like wisdom, joy, protection, and peace (to download four of those specific prayers, click here). And I am praying for him – and for myself – in agreement with one of the most beautiful emails I received this week, a forward from my U.Va. classmate, Alexis.

Alexis shared a prayer written by pastor and author, Scotty Smith. To read the whole prayer (in which Smith looks forward to the day when “honoring one another above ourselves will be our delight, not our discipline”), click here. It’s a raw and honest petition, and well worth the read…but if you only have a minute or two, here’s how Smith sums up his plea. Let’s pray this one together:

Jesus, bring the power of the gospel to bear in extraordinary ways in our relationships, churches, and communities. Grant us greater grief and repentance over the ways we love poorly. Stun us, humble us, and gladden us… again and again and again… with glory and grace. There is no other way we’ll change. So very Amen, we pray, with conviction and hope, in your grace-full name.

#Charl♥ttesville

 

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Your Kids are Never Out of God’s Reach

It’s August.

Which, by force of habit as much as anything else, has me thinking about back-to-school prayers for my kids.

Which would be a little bit odd (my children are grown-ups), except for one thing: It doesn’t matter whether our kids are headed off to kindergarten, college, or to a new job on the other side of the country, they are never out of God’s reach. And to me, the back-to-school season represents as good a time as any to ask God to hold them!

Here are four of the prayers I am praying:

Make Robbie glad by your deeds; may he sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Psalm 92:4)

Keep Virginia from all harm; watch over her coming and going, now and forever. (Psalm 121:7-8)

May Hillary and Charlie grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others [co-workers, bosses, friends, and even each other]. (Luke 2:52)

Keep Annesley and Geoff in perfect peace. Give them a steadfast mind [one that stays focused on you, instead of on “what ifs” or worries] and the ability to trust you. (Isaiah 26:3)

If you want to borrow these prayers and personalize them for your own family, click here to download a letter-sized PDF:

If your children are little, consider writing their names in the blanks and tucking one of the cards into a lunchbox or book bag. If they are far-away grown-ups, you might slip a prayer card into a letter (maybe with a Starbucks gift card, right Virginia?). And if you’ve got teenagers, just stick the prayer on your fridge or your dashboard. Your kids might roll their eyes but trust me:  Deep down, they’ll be glad you are praying.

Or maybe don’t share the prayer cards with anyone. Instead, just do like I do, and keep ’em for yourself. I have mine in my prayer journal. Because even though I might THINK it’s my kids who need God, the truth is that I do, too. I need the reminder (as my crew heads off to new people, new places, new things) that, even though I can’t protect them or give them things like wisdom, peace, and joy, God can.

And in fact, that’s exactly what his heart longs to do.

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When You Walk through Life’s Darkest Valley

Blog update: Many thanks for reading these posts, and for all the times you’ve reached out to share your own insights and stories with me.

Starting next week, I’ll only be posting on Fridays. I am experimenting with videos and what I hope will be some fun and encouraging posts on other platforms (like I even know what that means). You can find me on Instagram @jodie_berndt and (Lord willing, at some point in August) on Facebook @JodieBerndtWrites.

I am so grateful for you…and for your partnership in parenting, prayer, and celebrating all the ups and downs of this wonderful, abundant life that we share!

Yesterday, I recapped one of the highlights from a sermon on Psalm 23. Today, I want to turn part of that message into a prayer. God is our shepherd, sure, and he does lead and guide us…but sometimes the paths he ordains can look scary or hard. Even painful.

And yet we can walk in confidence and freedom, even in the darkest valley. God is with us. We have no reason to fear.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being my shepherd, for leading and guiding me, and for refreshing my soul. As I walk through _________ (whatever situation you’re facing today), may I feel your comforting presence and know that I have nothing to fear.

Amen.

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Lessons from a Lollipop

I am one of those people who still loves to get the mail. Never mind that the daily haul is almost always a depressingly bland mix of bills, advertisements, and unwanted catalogs. Call me Charlie Brown, but every time I walk out to the curb, I can’t shake the sense that today will be different – that surely somebody will have sent me something I like.

Last week, my hope was rewarded. I opened a fat brown envelope and found this:

There was no note, or even a return address, but I knew who the lolli was from. We’d just gotten back from helping Virginia move into her new apartment in New York City, and we’d heard a fabulous lollipop-based sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The talk wasn’t really about candy; it was about Psalm 23 and how we, like sheep, are lost, loved, and led. But somewhere in between describing God’s love and his leading, the minister shared a story about the time he overheard a father talking to his three-year-old daughter, who was enjoying a lollipop.

“What do you love more,” the dad asked, “the lollipop or this dollar?”

“The lollipop,” the girl said.

The dad waited a moment. “What do you love more, the lollipop or our dog?”

No hesitation. “The lollipop.”

“Tell me,” the dad finally said, “What do you love more, the lollipop or Mommy?”

You can guess what the little girl said. Hilarious.

Now, we know she didn’t really love her lollipop more than she loved her mother. But the illustration helped drive home a good point: Whatever is most real to us is the thing that we love. Or fear. Or find ourselves consumed by. It is the biggest thing in our vision, and so it colors our world.

With the lollipop image fixed in our minds, the minister looped us back to Psalm 23 and talked about David and Goliath. Goliath was huge; his presence intimidated the Israelite warriors. And he would have filled David’s vision, too, except for one thing. To David, God was more real. God’s unseen presence in David’s life (whether he was fighting lions and bears or lying down in green pastures) was bigger than any visible threat. Instead of seeing a big scary giant, David beheld the power of God.

There were all sorts of good takeaways (click here if you want to download the whole sermon for yourself), but for Virginia and me, the main one was this: God is bigger than anything in our lives. And as we practice his presence – as we dig into the Bible, obey God’s commands, rely on his power, and love and serve other believers – he will become more and more real. And we will become more and more willing to follow him (even when we don’t know what he is doing, or when it hurts and it feels like we are walking through the “darkest valley”).

To Redeemer’s David Bisgrove: Thank you for an encouraging sermon. Please forgive me for stealing your lollipop story, but it (like your whole message) was too good not to share.

And speaking of sharing y’all…

I WISH I had a pic of Robbie carrying Virginia’s dresser up ten flights of non-air-conditioned stairs. He is an amazing dad, but even the best guys don’t always appreciate their wives’ photojournalism, so I snapped Virginia instead. But don’t be fooled by what looks like happiness; at this point, we were all slightly bonkers. The only thing keeping us going, I think, was the promise of a glass of wine with dinner…and the knowledge that God was bigger and more real than our sore, sweaty selves.

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Where’s the Joy? (Three Keys to Finding It)

I took a walk with a new friend a few days ago.

We talked about our lives (as women do), and the conversation quickly turned to areas where we were trying to trust God in the midst of uncertainty, frustration, and even pain. We covered pretty much everything: jobs and marriages, children and parents, housing and health, you name it. And as we walked along, sharing our concerns, I finally (and probably inappropriately) laughed out loud.

“Do you realize,” I said, “that if a non-believer happened to overhear us, that they would NOT want to sign up for our team? I mean, who wants to be a Christian if all you do is slog through life, trying to obey God and hoping you get it right? Where’s the joy?”

“I know!” my new friend agreed, with a bittersweet smile. “We are not a very good advertisement for the abundant life, are we?”

That conversation has stayed with me this week. Where, indeed, is the joy? All of us have problems, sure, but do those things really have power to keep us from experiencing God’s goodness – and rejoicing in that? How do we move from the slogging life to the abundant one?

I wrote about the abundant life a couple of years ago, after our daughter jumped out of an airplane with a stranger named Ollie (an adventure we learned about after the fact, via Instagram):

The gist of that earlier post was that trusting God can be scary, but it’s the thing that opens the door to the good stuff. I still think that trust is the key…but if we are struggling with how, exactly, we get there, it might help to take a good look at Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Put another way, it’s not like any of the stuff my friend and I talked about (challenging marriages, jobs, kids, whatever) was any worse or more painful than what he went through.

And yet Jesus had joy. Not just the “one day this will all be over and I’ll go to heaven” kind of joy. Jesus also had here-and-now joy, and it made people want to be around him. Granted, he was God, but he was also 100% human…and so how, given all the ick he went through, did that work? How did Jesus have joy?

Obviously, there is more to be said, but three keys come to mind:

First, Jesus knew that God loved him. His sense of identity and purpose didn’t come from what anyone else thought, said, or did. His worth came from God – and as God’s beloved, he knew he belonged.

Second, he knew God’s promises. It didn’t matter what sort of obstacle, hardship, or insult he faced, Jesus knew God was bigger. And stronger. And more real.

And finally, he didn’t live for himself. Everything Jesus said or did was others-focused. And, in loving and serving other people, he experienced the fullness of joy.

Again, I’m sure there is MUCH more we could say about joy, but chew on this one, for now: All of these joy-keys are already ours. 

Seriously.

We have what he had. And, like Jesus, we can face the worst of life’s muck and have here-and-now joy. He wants us to have that (in fact, he prayed that we would), so let’s follow his lead. Let’s turn God’s promises into our prayer. Let’s ask God to fill us with joy:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for lavishing your love on us and calling us your children (1 John 3:1). When I feel rejected or alone, remind me that I belong to you. (1 Peter 2:9). When life seems overwhelming and I can’t see a way forward, help me put my trust in your mighty power and unlimited understanding (Psalm 147:5). Show me how to follow your example so that I can love and serve other people; fill me with your joy and make my joy complete. (John 15:10-12).

Amen.

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“If You Remain in Me…”

Based on the feedback I got from Tuesday’s post, plenty of you are dealing with transition. Impending empty nests, new jobs, kids headed to college (or kindergarten!), and family moves to far-away places that don’t feel like “home” can create a sense of sadness, uncertainty, and even fear.

Which is where the Bible comes in.

“If you remain in me,” Jesus says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s his promise in John 15:7. And it’s not some sort of gimmick or “name it-claim it” trick; rather, what the Lord is saying is that the more we read the Bible – the more we allow his Word to soak into our lives and transform our perspective – the more our thoughts and our prayers will begin to line up with the good things that God already wants to do.

And the more those good things will start happening.

This is something I explore more in my new book Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (which comes out in December). Like almost all of life’s changes, the transition to adulthood is rarely easy, and in the coming months I’ll be posting more blogs and videos about how we can pray God’s best for our grown-up kids (and for the little ones, too)…but for now, let’s take hold of this beautiful promise and make it our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me remain in you, and let your words remain in me. Create in me a hunger to read the Bible and a willingness to trust your promises. May my prayers line up with your good plans; use your word to accomplish your purposes in my family’s life. (John 15:7 and Isaiah 55:11)

Amen

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When God Says “Good Morning!”

Robbie and I spent the past week at a lake in Canada. I’ll tell you more next week (including why our northern escape from the mid-summer heat was not, actually, pure joy), but for now I will just share this one pic:

(That, in case you can’t tell, is a Canadian sunrise.)

I had to share the photo with our children. First, though, I did some editing:

I thought I was so clever! And that my kids would wake up and be so encouraged and happy!

Two hours later, I got this reply:

Okay. So am I the only one who thought the sunrise looked like an upside down exclamation mark? I mean, did you not notice that?

Sigh. All my best stuff is wasted on my kids. Maybe I should have just texted them a Bible verse. There are plenty of good ones that have to do with the morning. Consider, for instance, Proverbs 27:14: If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. 

(As in, say hello if you must…but not before coffee. And not, if you please, with too much enthusiasm.)

Or Genesis 29:25, which details Jacob’s surprise after being tricked into sleeping with the wrong sister:  When morning came, there was Leah! 

(As in…oops.)

Honestly, though, if I were to pick just one Bible verse to wake up to, I think it would have to be Lamentations 3:22-23:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Is that not just the best? What these words mean is that yesterday’s mistakes are over. God’s love has them covered. And he’s got a fresh helping of grace for today.

I love that. And I think it’s got the makings of a great Friday prayer, either for yourself or for someone else who needs to know this good news:

Heavenly Father,

Your love never ends.

Your mercies never cease.

Your faithfulness is great.

Help _____ remember these powerful truths. May _____ know that your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for giving us a brand new start in your love, every day.

Amen. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rest for the Overly Festive

It’s been a big week.

If you’re like me and you tend to over-do it on the whole Celebrate Freedom thing, you might be feeling a little worn out or weary. Happily for people like us, Jesus knows just what we need.

“Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

That’s his promise in Matthew 11:28, and it’s the basis for this week’s Friday Prayer. I hope you’ll join me in praying it for yourself or your loved ones today – and that you’ll give yourself the freedom to sit for a spell!

Heavenly Father,

You don’t want us to live weary, weak, or worn out lives. Thank you that we can come to you and find the rest and refreshment we need. Help ____ to find rest in your presence today. (Matthew 11:28)

Amen.

And P.S., if your weariness isn’t from over-celebrating but from over-working, you might love this post from the folks at Proverbs 31. We really can do “busy” better!

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Friday Prayer with Pleonasm

Okay y’all. I promise this is the last one. No more of Mark Forsyth‘s literary tricks, after today. But when I saw pleonasm used in one of the Psalms of Ascent, I just had to give it to you in the form of a Friday Prayer.

Pleonasm, Forsyth explains, is “the use of unneeded words that are superfluous and unnecessary in a sentence that doesn’t require them.” Familiar phrases such as added bonus, personal friend, and safe haven are all examples of this belt-and-suspenders technique. They are linguistic time wasters. Why would anyone bother to fall down when a simple fall would have the same effect?

Anyhow.

Psalm 121 opens with a couple of back-to-back (see what I did there?) pleonasms:  I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. Not only do we not need the word “up,” Forsyth says, but since “whence” literally means from where, throwing in the extra “from” is enough to make some people fly into a furious rage. (Because I guess a regular rage, minus the pleonasm, just doesn’t sound angry enough.)

I’ll give you the whence (and so will most modern Bible translators, who have swapped it for where), but I actually think we need the word up. Pleonasm is not always a bad thing and, when it serves to emphasize a point (“I saw it with my own two eyes!”), I think it works. And in this case, I love the fact that the psalmist doesn’t just want to level our downcast gaze, he wants to make sure we look up.

In the end, though, none of that really matters. What matters is that God stands ready to guard, protect, keep, and watch over us. If you want to read the whole psalm, click here. But if all you have time for today is an abbreviated version in the form of a prayer (and you don’t mind little pleonasm thrown in), here you go:

Heavenly Father,

Lift up my eyes today. Let me see you as the source of my help…watch over my coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

Amen

 

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A Friday Prayer to Smile About

My friend Nigel (a former Royal Marine Commando who now heads up By His Wounds, a ministry dedicated to helping veterans and others who need physical and emotional healing) says that he wakes up every morning and smiles. Even if he doesn’t feel all that cheerful or happy, he wills his face into a grin – even before he gets out of bed.

I love that. And not just because it reminds me of Buddy the Elf (“Smiling’s my favorite!”). I like Nigel’s habit because it reminds me of one of the Bible’s most encouraging verses. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Some Bible brainiacs will tell you that “the day” this verse talks about is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Others say it is about the Sabbath. And still others (including those in the first two camps) maintain that, in the big picture, this verse calls us to rejoice because – thanks to God’s work at the resurrection – we have a Redeemer and a forever King who has beaten death and forgiven us, once and for all.

I agree with all of these people. And, at the risk of sounding theologically shallow, I also agree with Buddy the Elf. In a world where there are plenty of things not to smile about, I want to start my days the way Nigel does. I want to choose joy, knowing that today’s difficult circumstances and challenging relationships are not the big-picture story.

The big-picture story is that we have a good King who has saved us, who loves us, and who is still active and at work in our lives.

(Which is totally worth thinking about, even before we get out of bed.)

Heavenly Father,

This is the day that you have made. No matter what hardships or struggles I may face, help me rejoice and be glad because of what you have already done. (Psalm 118:24)

Amen.

 

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From the Bedside Stack: Summer Reading Picks

My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.

P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.

You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”

(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)

Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:

“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.

And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helperan oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.

Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).

I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”

If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.

And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.

Happy reading!

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A Prayer for The Dad

A sweet friend lost her father last week. He was 94 and had lived a great life, but that didn’t diminish the ache she felt at his passing. I told her I get it. It’s been 16 years and, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, I miss my dad as much now as ever.

My dad “graduated” (as we like to say, in our family) in 2001. Click here if you want to read about him, or meet the guy who introduced me to Jesus. He had the most twinkly blue eyes, and when my college friends came to visit, he would smile and ask awkward questions like, “How’s your love life?” (My pals never seemed to mind; in fact, they usually laughed – and then confided in him.)

I’m grateful for my father – and, in fact, for every dad out there who is doing Dad Stuff. It can’t be easy to always have to carry the heaviest suitcases, get the wasps out of the attic, and keep it together when your wife makes you late. Again.

(I love you, Robbie.)

And so Dads, whatever it is that you’re doing – teaching a child to ride a bike, drive a car, or trust Jesus – can I just say thank you? Half the stuff you do may go unnoticed or unappreciated, but God sees. He knows how hard you work, and how much you love your family. And my prayer for you, this Father’s Day, is that he will strengthen you and give you everything you need to keep on being The Dad:

May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, working in you what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Note on the family pic, circa 1985: My family of origin was never known for its athleticism. This pic was snapped shortly after Robbie (my brand new husband, who is hiding his face for good reason) tackled my dad. He still says he “didn’t mean to hit him that hard” but hey. He prevented a touchdown.

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The Window of God’s Purpose

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

That’s not in the Bible; it’s from Robbie’s all-time favorite movie, The Sound of Music. But it’s a good line, particularly when you consider that God’s windows are not consolation prizes. They are never his “Plan B” for when you don’t get to walk through the door (to the house, the job, the relationship, the whatever) you want. Instead, when God shuts a door and leads us out through a window, it’s because he has a much better destination in mind.

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” You might be struggling with disappointment or sense of defeat today, but know this: Whatever it is that has happened (or hasn’t happened) has not taken God by surprise. He is in control and he loves you. The door might be shut (and you might not yet see any window), but God’s purposes will be accomplished.

Heavenly Father,

When things don’t turn out like I thought that they would, or when I face the disappointment of a closed door or the death of a dream, remind me of this truth: I may have many plans, but your purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)

Amen

 

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“Shocking” New Findings on Friendship

News Flash:  Friendship is good for you.

Researchers at U.Va. recently revealed evidence that backs up the idea that the stronger your relationships are, the better your health will be. I won’t go into all the details (they use words like “hypothalamus” and “epinephrine”), but the gist of the report is that if you are under “the threat of electrical shock,” your brain will be a whole lot happier if “a trusted loved one” is near.

And, if you are holding that person’s hand, all the better.

“Having that hand to hold,” notes the lead scientist, “signals that you have resources – you have safety – so any particular stressor is just not as stressful as it might have been.”

But – and this is my favorite line in the whole article – “Nothing similar was found during stranger handholding.”

(How awesome is it that they actually studied that? I mean, if you took my husband and put him outside in a thunderstorm and asked him to hold hands with a stranger, the threat of electrical shock would NOT be his foremost concern.)

Anyhow…

I love it when science catches up with what Christians have known all along: We are created for connection. We thrive in community. When Jesus told us to “Love one another,” he obviously knew that we’d need an uninhibited hypothalamus in order to effectively respond to stress and other unfortunate circumstances.

In celebration of U.Va.’s findings, I’ve pulled together nine of my favorite “friendship” prayers and created a free printable for you:

To download these prayer cards as a letter-sized PDF (you’ll have to cut them up by yourself), click here. Pray the verses for yourself, for your kids, or for anyone who might feel a little James Taylor coming on (like maybe they are down and troubled, or they need a helping hand).

And remember, next time you get caught in a lightning storm (or if you find yourself in one of U.Va.’s brain imaging scanners while a red indicator “X” hints that you are about to be shocked), God has you.

He is with you, wherever you go.

And, as the psalmist says, he is always holding your hand:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

(Psalm 139:9-10)

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No Glory Stealing

One of my favorite things about writing books is getting to interview people.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children comes out later this year (I’ll keep you posted!), and as I was working on a chapter about the different ways our kids come to faith, I talked to one mom who is convinced that God sometimes takes them down paths we would not have chosen to keep us from patting ourselves on the back.

“We cannot glory-steal from God,” this gal said. “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.”

What a wise mama! And I couldn’t help but think about her counsel when I read Psalm 115:1 this week:  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

I don’t know about you, but I like it when people appreciate or admire something I’ve done. I like getting credit. And while there’s nothing wrong with accepting a sincere compliment (or giving one!), I know I need to post a guard against glory-stealing. When something good comes my way, or when I find myself in a position to do something noble or noteworthy, I want to have the same attitude that King David had, when he looked at the mountain of silver and gold and precious stones he and his people had donated for building the temple. “Who am I,” David prayed, “and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

Everything comes from you, Lord.

If you want that to be your first response when good things happen – if you want to shine the spotlight on God’s faithfulness and guard your heart against glory-stealing – then why not tuck Psalm 115:1 into your Friday Prayer? Here’s what I’m praying today:

Heavenly Father,

When I am tempted to be a glory-stealer or take credit for something you’ve provided or done, help me remember that EVERYTHING comes from you. Bring your truth to my mind so that I will gratefully join my voice with the psalmist’s and say: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

Amen.

 

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Memorial Day: Refuge and Remembrance

Every year when Memorial Day rolls around, I find myself drawn to Psalm 91. With military imagery (things like shields and ramparts, arrows and tents) and promises of angelic protection, this psalm has often been called “The Soldiers’ Psalm.” It’s a great one to pray for our service men and women; to read the full psalm and discover some of the promises you can claim, click here.

This week, though, the psalm took on fresh meaning after a dear friend’s mother went to be with the Lord. She was a gal who simply radiated joy – whether she was hosting a dinner party or fighting a prayer battle on behalf of her loved ones – and her daily presence will be missed. And as I have prayed for my friend’s family, the words of Psalm 91:4 keep coming to mind:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Maybe you’re grieving a loss today. Maybe you are one of our nation’s beloved Gold Star families, and you know the pain of a loved one’s sacrifice. Or maybe you find yourself mourning a friend or a family member who “fought the good fight” on the battlefield of life, someone who – like my friend’s mom – stood in the gap on your behalf with prayer, wisdom, and love.

If that’s where you are (or if you know someone else who could use the covering, the refuge, or the shield of God’s comforting presence), join me in making this your Memorial Day prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Cover _____ with your feathers. May _____ find refuge under your wings and be shielded and strengthened by your faithfulness. (Psalm 91:4)

Amen

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(And thank you, Susan Harrison, for sharing your beautiful pic for this post. You are the best ornithological photographer I know!)

 

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Answer Me When I Call

When Captain Robbie pulled up to this dock for re-fueling during our January vacay, I scampered (okay, sort of fell) off the boat. I couldn’t wait to open the door to the old phone booth and see what was inside!

Nothing.

It was just an empty shell, attractive but useless. No lines, no connection, no power.

Aren’t we so glad it’s not like that with God? When we call, he promises to answer! And no topic is too big (or too small) to discuss.

Whatever is on your heart today, take it to him. Let’s start by joining our voices with David’s, and make this request our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 17:6)

Amen

 

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…and Underneath are the Everlasting Arms

We made camp on the beach on Mother’s Day, surrounded by an assortment of family members and friends. When I turned around and saw my brother, David, tossing his youngest into the air (and caught the uncertain-yet-delighted expression on Julia’s face), I had just one thought:

Lord, I want to be like that.

When the future feels uncertain, when I find myself sort of suspended (or even on the way down, after one of life’s highs), I want my outlook to be one of delight. When I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet, I want to behold the face of my Father and trust in the strength of his arms. I want to choose joy…even if doing so takes more faith than I think that I have.

Which is, I think, a good thing. Over and over again in the Bible (like, literally, more than 150 times), we are exhorted to rejoice. I don’t know why God thinks that’s such a big deal, but looking at David’s face in this pic, I have an idea. I think God takes delight in us. And when he sees us rejoicing – trusting him in life’s trickiest moments – he cannot contain his own joy.

I’d wrap up this post with one of the joy verses (something like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”), except that, if you’re like me, you might want something more. You might want to rejoice, but maybe you need a little help getting there. And so, with the image of a father and his child fresh in my mind, I am gonna scroll all the way back to Deuteronomy, where Moses blesses the sons of Israel, and offer you this:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help… The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Rejoice in the Lord today, Beloved, knowing that you are safe in his arms…and that as God looks into your face, he is smiling.

 

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Friday Prayer for Imperfect Moms

There is no perfect family. And there is no perfect mom.

We know this, of course. But it can be easy to forget, particularly in an age of professionally produced Christmas cards and Instagram posts that showcase trophies, vacations, and siblings who appear to genuinely like each other.

And it can be easy to feel like you are the only one who is seriously blowing it. Like when you go to the parent-teacher conference and she asks you, in the nicest possible way, if your son is going to get “any pants” for Christmas.

(As if you are the only fourth-grade parent who doesn’t think wearing shorts in 37-degree weather is that bad.)

Lately, I’ve been reviewing some of my parenting failures. (Which, given the fact that Mother’s Day is on Sunday, seems only natural.) And so it was with no small amount of gratitude that I heard my good friend, Susan Yates, say the following:

Your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him.

Isn’t that awesome? (You can stop reading right there, if you want, and go have yourself a Happy Mother’s Day.)

Susan was in Virginia Beach this week to talk about her new book, Risky Faith, as well as her One Word Cards. She wasn’t here to talk about parenting. But as she cataloged God’s attributes (including his love for us, and his power to provide for our needs and cover our mistakes), I found myself thanking God (not for the first time) for putting this wise woman in my life.

And, listening to Susan speak, I found myself thankful for another wise mentor. My mother. Here she is, on the far left (with Susan and my daughters, Hillary and Annesley, between us):

I’m thankful for my mom for a variety of reasons. Partly for the sappy ones, the sentiments that show up on Mother’s Day cards (You are an amazing mom…I’m so proud to be your child…Thanks for hanging in there with me), but even more for the less-sappy/more-real reasons that don’t. Like the fact that my mom made about a zillion parenting mistakes.

Seriously. My mom consistently modeled imperfect parenting. She was great at that. And now that I am making the exact same mistakes with my kids, I could not be more grateful.

I am grateful to a mother who taught me that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

That it is God’s job (not mine) to work in my kids’ lives so that they will think and behave in ways that line up with his plans. (Philippians 2:13)

And that I really can rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), even when my kids choose to wear shorts in the snow or make other, more impressive, mistakes of their own. God is, as Susan Yates said, all about redeeming that stuff.

So thank you, Mom. Maybe you aren’t exactly the Proverbs 31 woman, but you’re mighty close. Especially when you get to the second part of verse 25, which you pretty much nail every day: You can laugh at the days to come. You do that well.

And if you’re not my mom – if you’re more uptight like me, and your heart gets in knots over all the things that you didn’t do right, or the things that you could have done better – can I just offer this Mother’s Day prayer? Most of my Friday Prayers can be prayed for your loved ones, but maybe keep this one just for yourself:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that your grace is all that I need. Help me remember that your power works best in weakness. Let me be glad about my own weaknesses, because that’s what unleashes your strength and releases the power of Christ to work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Thank you that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and that nothing – NOTHING – can separate me from your love. (Romans 8:1 & 39)

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer to Pay It Forward

What a treat it was to come home from a weekend away and find this on my doorstep:

Who left this lovely bouquet? I have no idea. But the flowers came with a tag: Hope this blesses you & that you pay it forward!

Reading that little note, I was reminded of the power that all of us have to make a difference. To share God’s love. To brighten someone’s day.

Maybe that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words in a letter to some people he loved:  So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

Isn’t that a great prayer? Let’s borrow it today. Let’s ask God to make us fit for whatever he has called us to do, to infuse our good ideas with his power, and to help us “pay it forward” in the lives of the people we love:

Heavenly Father,

Enable _____ to live a life worthy of your call. Give _____ the power to accomplish all the good things that faith inspires. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NLT)

Amen.

(And if you’re the secret friend who delivered this sweet blessing…thank you. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, refresh the bouquet, and pass it on!)

 

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The Display of His Splendor

I need a 12-step plan.

For my addiction.

To gardening.

It’s not something that plagues me all year long, but right now, in the springtime, I cannot pass a nursery or a garden center without stopping. There might be a plant that I missed! A climbing vine I’ve not tried! And I don’t care if it is raining and 57 degrees outside; I can’t wait to start digging! The garden newbies may be small and unremarkable right now, but just wait. In a few weeks, they’ll be spectacular.

I can’t help but think that’s how God looks at us. We’re all works in progress, but he has a vision. He knows what we’ll look like, in time. We may appear small or weak or even broken right now, but in his capable hands all that will change. We’ll become “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

So let’s make that our Friday prayer, trusting the Master Gardener to come in and shape something beautiful in our life, or in the life of someone we love:

Heavenly Father,

Work in _____’s life. May _____ become like a mighty oak, a planting for the display of your splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen.

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The Grasp of God’s Love

We missed having our daughter, Virginia, home for Easter. She lives in New York City and couldn’t make the trip, but we did get to enjoy some FaceTime with her on Sunday. She called us during an afternoon walk.

As I looked beyond her face and saw the bustling city, with all of its people and traffic and noise, I couldn’t help but wonder: Did anyone know it was Easter? Were people thinking about the Big News of the day? Did they care that He is Risen?

“I don’t know,” Virginia said. “But I kind of doubt it. Like, it looks pretty much like any other day in New York.”

I don’t know why, but that hit me. All of these people, walking around, going about their business, seemingly oblivious to the depth of God’s sacrifice…the height of his resurrection power…and the immeasurable breadth of his love. How could they not know?

And then I felt God whisper something gentle to my heart. “Jodie,” he said, “You don’t really know, either. You have not even begun to grasp the full extent of my love.”

Okay then. That was kind of an eye-opener, and it’s really stuck with me this week. I want to know more of God’s love. I want to take hold of it. And I want my children, my husband, and my friends to grasp it, too.

Which is why I am borrowing some words first written by the Apostle Paul as the basis for today’s Friday Prayer. And if that’s where your heart is today – if you are longing for more of God’s love – I invite you to join me. Pray this one for yourself, for someone you love, or (if you’re feeling like you want to go big) for every single person in New York City.

Heavenly Father…

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

 

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And the Winners Are…

I love Easter traditions. One of ours is to drag The (Very Heavy) Egg out to the street on Saturday night, under the cover of darkness…

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…and then take a family pic the next day (an exercise that almost always involves stopping traffic and checking around the ankles for stray poison ivy!):
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And speaking of Easter traditions…thanks so much to everyone who posted a comment on last week’s Easter Basket Giveaway. I LOVED hearing your stories and reading about all the ways that you celebrate our Risen Lord!

Congratulations to Laura in Charlottesville, Virginia, who won the One Word Cards from author Susan Alexander Yates and artist Christy Yates (who, coincidentally, is also from C’ville)!

And to Emily in Leesburg, Virginia and Sally in Winston-Salem, NC, who each received a copy of the new book, Unshaken. Sally, lots of readers told me how much they liked your story about setting your alarm for 1:45 a.m., dragging your blanket-wrapped kids out of bed and onto the front porch, and listening for the sounds of the Moravian Band and their 1.5 minute-long rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That took top honors in the unofficial “favorite memories” contest!

And finally, a shout out to Cindy in Chesapeake, Virginia, a next-door neighbor to Virginia Beach, who got her teenagers up for the sunrise service at the beach – after they’d been out super late the night before at a Youth Group event! Double points for the parenting effort we all know that took! Cindy won the limited edition Scripture Prayer Cards that were lovingly created by the gals at Sisters Ink. (You can’t buy the cards, but you can contact the Sisters for wedding invitations, exquisite stationery, and more!)

Many thanks…lots of love…and He is Risen Indeed!

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A Good Friday Prayer

For God so loved

You know the verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But here’s another nugget, one that brings John 3:16 into a little sharper focus: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

I’m letting these verses – the one so familiar, the other so sobering – make camp in my heart. Taken together, they’re giving shape to our Good Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you.

Amen

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Refresh and Be Refreshed

A generous person will prosper;whoever refreshes others will be refreshed

Well, hello there Spring! It’s refreshing to have you back!

And speaking of…

I love what the Bible says about refreshment: In a nutshell, we get what we give. So let’s look for ways to pour our time and talents into other people’s lives, sharing our resources to revive even the weariest heart. Let’s make this our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be alert to opportunities to exercise generosity. Let me refresh other people and, in turn, may I be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Amen

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An Easter Basket Giveaway…for Mama Bunny!

I love Easter.

I love the joyful songs (Christ the Lord is Risen To-Day-ay…Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-loo-oo-yah!), the fragrant lilies, and the occasional bonnet that shows up in church (particularly when the ‘Hoos are still in the hunt, like they were on Easter Sunday last year):

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I love dragging our big plywood egg out to the street late Saturday night (under the cover of darkness), and then waking up to the Good News Sunday morning:

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And I love stuffing Easter baskets. One year, we had 23 college kids stay with us for the weekend. Never have I been so grateful for the Dollar Tree and its affordable stash of plastic eggs, candy, and gifts. Because nothing says “Happy Easter” like a chocolate bunny, a new toothbrush, and a tattoo sleeve:

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This year, we won’t be welcoming any college students (other than Robbie, who says he mostly just wants to come home and sleep). Which is kind of a shame, cuz I have some basket upgrades in mind – upgrades that, truth be told, Mama Bunny will like even more than the kids:

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a free giveaway, so how about this? Post a comment on this blog – share a favorite Easter tradition, a prayer verse you like, or anything you want to wish others a Happy Easter – and you’ll be entered for a chance to win one of the treats in this basket (which, incidentally, would also make a great Mother’s Day gift). Here’s what we have:

Unshaken. This new book from Sally Burke and Cyndie Claypool de Neve (order your copy or download a free chapter here) outlines a four-step prayer process to help us keep our eyes on the Lord and pray with confidence, even when everything around us seems to be shaking.

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I love the real-life stories these gals use to illustrate their prayer principles. And, as a bonus, they offer cleverly designed pages that are meant to be copied and shared:

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One Word Cards. These beautiful 5×7″ cards pair the devotional musings of author Susan Alexander Yates with the stunning artwork of her daughter-in-law, Christy.

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The cards – which feature one key word, a relevant Bible verse, and a simple prayer – come in four different sets (click here to see the collection), along with a wooden easel you can use to display them:

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Scripture Prayers and Blessings. I created these little cards with help from the talented gals at Sisters Ink; they represent twelve of the best-loved Scripture prayers from my books. The marbled stock is scrumptiously thick and perfect for tucking into a child’s backpack, slipping into a note to a friend, or just keeping in your purse or car as a reminder to pray.

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So how about it? Post a comment, share a story, offer up one of your favorite prayers…and you’ll automatically be entered to win. And since there are three prizes in the basket, we’ll have three winners…so hop to it, friends! Get a little something for Mama Bunny this Easter!

And for those who think that what Mama Bunny might really want is a new tattoo, try these. I can’t vouch for the design or the quality, but hey. They’re removable.

You’re welcome.

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Bible Xanax for the Anxious Heart

Cast all your anxiety

What are you worried about?

Over and over again in the Bible, God tells us that we shouldn’t be anxious. Instead, he says, we should come to him with our concerns and requests. Because whatever it is – your job, your relationships, your finances, your kids, your health – God already knows. And he cares.

Let’s take a little Bible Xanax today, casting our cares on God and exchanging our fear and worry for his peace:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you are a God who cares. I am worried about ______today. Help me cast my anxiety on you, knowing that I can trust you to care for me and for the people I love. (1 Peter 5:7)

Amen.

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Let’s Meet at the Rock

So when I saw these turtles climbing all over themselves in their effort to get to the rock, I had just one thought: Wouldn’t it be awesome if every believer was like these guys, determined and eager to get to the Rock?

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And what if, instead of telling ourselves that we don’t need the fellowship of other Christians, or that we don’t have to be engaged in a church community in order to experience all that God has for us, we took God at his word and showed up on Sunday? What if we saw verses like Hebrews 10:25 not as a suggestion, but as a command – one that was written for our benefit, rather than God’s?

The Bible says that God is our Rock, and that all his ways are perfect. Let’s do all that we can to draw close to him, and to bring other people along. Let’s make these words our Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of your return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Amen.

 

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Get a Garland of Grace

So I was looking through Hillary’s wedding pix the other day. I came upon this shot of the bride with her young cousins (who did a stellar job as her flower girls):

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Looking at this photo, I was reminded of what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. Wisdom protects us, the writer says, and when we get it – when we “cherish her” – here’s what happens:

She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown… When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:9-12)

A garland of grace. A glorious crown. And the ability to navigate life without tripping. I thought all of these things sounded great. But you know who didn’t?

The dog.

Come wedding day, the florist spent ages working on a spectacular wreath for Khaki to sport – a creation that looked every bit as glorious as the bride’s bouquet – but that mule of a lab wasn’t having it. She refused to be garlanded:

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And all I could think, as Khaki wandered around naked, was that she had missed out. She could have looked really good at the reception, but she blew it.

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times has God held out a crown – a garland of grace, woven by wisdom – only to have me walk right on by? And how many times have I gone my own way, ignoring his counsel, and then stumbled straight into a ditch?

Oh, Lord, don’t let me be Khaki. Or Max. I love our dogs but, IQ-wise, I wouldn’t want to be them. (Remember when Max ate the driveway? Yeah. Me, too.)

Instead, I want to get wisdom. I want to take hold of God’s words – his garland of grace – so that I know how to live. When God’s offers a crown, I want to say thank you. And I want to wear it.

If you do, too (or if someone you love would look good in a garland), why not turn Proverbs 4 into a prayer? Click here to get the big picture, or (if all you’ve got time for is the condensed version) try this:

Heavenly Father,

Show _____ how to pay attention, gain understanding, and take hold of your words. Lead _____ along straight paths. Crown  _____ with a garland of wisdom and grace. (Proverbs 4:1-11)

Amen.

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Painting with a Purpose

I love the inspirational, open-ended beauty of 1 Peter 4:10. “Each one of you,” Peter writes, “should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Each one of you should usewhatever gift you have received to serve others

Last month, I got an insider’s look at a woman who is living out this verse in a big way. Anne Neilson (anneneilsonhome.com) is a talented and visionary artist whose paintings have garnered attention from some of the art world’s most discerning collectors. What makes her work particularly distinctive, though, is not just how good it is. Rather, it’s the fact that Anne paints with a purpose, using her platform to help eradicate homelessness, fund cancer research, and help other artists find their place.

In all of these efforts and more, Anne shines the spotlight on Jesus.

I’m no artist, but as I looked around Anne’s studio, I was reminded that all of us have unique talents and abilities. So do our children. And God knows exactly how each one of us is wired; butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker, we are all his handiwork, and he has good stuff for us to do.

Take a few moments today to thank God for the way he created you (or your kids), and then ask him to help you use what you’ve been given to serve other people and point them toward his amazing, life-changing grace.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the way you made _____. Show _____ how to use the gifts he/she has received to serve others, faithfully administering your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

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Righteousness, Peace, and Confidence. Forever.

To a lot of people, “righteousness” is a dirty word. It smacks of finger-pointing, judgment, and pride.

But it’s not, at least not in God’s lexicon. When he uses the word, it brims with refreshment – with things like honesty, justice, and grace. And when he calls us to pursue righteousness as a lifestyle, it is his invitation to let our lives line up with his commands – not so much for his sake, but for ours.

Because living like that – letting God’s righteousness shape our actions, as well as our attitudes – leads to good things! As the Bible puts it, “The result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever.” (HCSB)

The result of righteousness will be peace;the effect of righteousnesswill be quiet confidence forever. (1)

If a life marked by peace and quiet confidence sounds good to you (and it sure does, to me), make this verse your Friday prayer. Pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Make your righteousness real in _____’s life; may it result in peace and quiet confidence forever. (Isaiah 32:17)

Amen.

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The Words We Speak

So Robbie and I have been working our way through the books, Lists to Love Byand guess what? I’m realizing afresh that what the Bible says about the words we speak (“The tongue has the power of life and death”) is really true!

And I need help.

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I want my words to be helpful and encouraging. I want them to build people up. I want to be someone who gives life – not death – in the things that I say, whether I’m talking to Robbie, my kids, or anyone else.

If you want that too, why not join me in making Ephesians 4:29 your Friday prayer? Here it is. You can pray it for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Let no unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, but only that which is helpful for building others up, that it might benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Amen.

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Reach Down from On High

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”

If you’re using the Bible in One Year (a free reading app that comes with commentary; click here to get it), you read about David’s distress – and God’s incredible deliverance – in Psalm 18 this week. God hears David’s cry and, after an earth-shaking display of majesty and power, he reaches down – “all the way from sky to sea.”(MSG)

he reached down from on high and took hold of me...

If you find yourself in David’s place (pursued by foes, feeling overwhelmed and entangled, or just needing to know that your Daddy is there, and that he hears you), take heart. “He rescued me,” David says, “because he delighted in me.” I like how the Message translation puts that line:  “I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!”

God delights in you.

God delights in you! And he is ready to save.

So…ask for his help. Call on him. Make Psalm 18:16 your prayer, knowing that you (and your children, if you’re praying this prayer for them) are never out of God’s reach:

Heavenly Father,

Reach down from on high and take hold of me; draw me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

Amen.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for a Fresh Start and New Mercies

It’s January 27. How’s that New Year’s Resolution working out?

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According to a couple of brainiac professors at U.Va. and the University of Zurich, most of us have higher expectations that we can successfully take on a new goal when it syncs with a new time period. Apparently, it doesn’t matter whether we want to drink less, hit the gym more, or stop gossiping, we figure that our chances for an effective launch are better if we start on the first of the year. Or the month. Or even, actually, on a Monday.

Trouble is, just having a fresh start doesn’t mean that the same old temptations and obstacles won’t pop up. You can read the U.Va. findings by clicking here, but if what you really want is some Divine help, why not ask for it? The Bible says that God’s mercies are new every morning (talk about a fresh start!), and that it is his grace that teaches us how to live wisely and well.

Here’s a prayer you can pray for yourself, or for someone else who might need God’s grace in 2017 (and beyond!):

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Show _____ how to turn his/her back on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life…one that is starting right now! (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV and Titus 2:11-12, MSG)

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayer for Better Relationships

Earlier this month, I told you how much I like Mark and Susan Merrill’s books, Lists to Love By for Busy Wives and Lists to Love By for Busy HusbandsThose are great for strengthening marriage, but what about all the other relationships in our lives?

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What about our other family members? Or our friends? How can we improve connections and strengthen ties with our parents, siblings, and in-laws? What about teammates and coaches…or that tricky roommate…or the co-worker who always seems to find a way to pinch our last nerve?

Philippians 2:1-18 offers some guaranteed-to-work tips for every relationship. (They work because, basically, they compel us to think and act more like Christ.) Read the whole passage by clicking here, or start with just two little power-packed verses and turn them into a Friday prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, cause _____ to value others above him/herself, not looking to their own interests but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Our Work

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January is a often a time for reflection. For evaluation. For looking back…and, even more, for looking forward.

For me, it’s a time when I think about things like work and purpose. I want to be sure I am investing time and talent the way God wants in the year ahead, and I want him to help me get the job done.

One of my favorite “work” prayers comes from Psalm 90, which is a prayer that Moses prayed. Here’s what he asked God to do; feel free to borrow this one for yourself, for someone you love, or maybe even for your church, organization, or business:

Heavenly Father,

May your favor rest on ______. Establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Amen

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Friday Prayer for the Laundry Pile

(Note: I first posted this prayer two years ago, but as I stare down the pile of bedsheets, tablecloths, and dirty socks and towels that represent Christmas Past, I feel like I need it today. Maybe you do, too. Because some prayers are like laundry:  You just gotta do them again.)

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Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:

Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.

Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt. I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.

Here’s one of my favorites. This year, instead of groaning over the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer? It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow:

Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved.  Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

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What Will the New Year Bring?

We’re on the cusp of a New Year! What will it bring?

A quick spin through Google reveals all sorts of prognostications – some funny, some serious, some terrifying. But here’s one thing we can know for sure: When our trust is in the Lord, we can live lives marked by confidence and joy rather than worry and fear, no matter what the future holds!

Consider what the prophet Jeremiah had to say:

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.

Let’s take this promise and make it our Friday prayer…or maybe just use it to cover all of 2017. You can pray this one for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ trust in you. Let his/her confidence be in you. Keep _____ free from fear and worry, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable the world gets. Bless _____ with a fresh and fruitful life! (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Amen.

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A Stump, a Branch, and a Prayer

a-shoot-will-come-up-from-the-stump-of-jesse-from-his-roots-a-branch-will-bear-fruitA shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

That’s Isaiah 11:1, and it’s a verse our minister, Andy Buchanan, covered in his sermon a couple of weeks ago. The gist of the message was not so much about the stump, or even the branch, as it was about the question: “Will God really dwell among us?”

Happily, the answer is yes. And for us, the promise is this:  God brings life out of things (like stumps) that appear to be dead.

If you’ve got 15 minutes and you want to listen to Father Andy’s sermon, click here and scroll down to the 12/4/16 message. If you’ve only got time for a prayer, why not do like the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and partner the Isaiah promise with a prayer? Paul quoted Isaiah:

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:12)

And then he prayed this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

The Root of Jesse is Jesus, the one who offers us joy, peace, and hope. Can there be any better Christmas prayer? I’m praying Romans 15:13 for you, and for your families, today!

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Friday Prayer for a Crown of Beauty

may-they-be-brought-into-complete-unity-toI love the book of Isaiah. Especially now, at Christmastime, when so many of the prophet’s words point to the hope that Jesus brings. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who binds up the brokenhearted and sets the prisoner free. He is the one whose coming is the glad tidings – the good news – our hearts are yearning to hear.

And he’s the God who changes things.

If you long to experience this hope, or if you know somebody who does, here’s a prayer from one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah:

Heavenly Father,

Bestow on _____ a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Peace in Every Circumstance

may-the-lord-of-peace-himself-continually-grant-you-peace-in-every-circumstanceChristmas is upon us…which means we are stacking our desire for “peace on earth” against the chaos of too-busy schedules, relationship challenges, and a barrage of advertisements and emails that seem anything but peaceful (23 shopping days left!!).

If you find yourself taking deep breaths and longing for the peace that Jesus brings, you’re not alone. In fact, Paul closed one of his letters with that very prayer, one where he asked God for continual peace in every circumstance.

Continual peace? In every circumstance? Yes. Yes, please!

If that’s what you want (for yourself, or for someone you love), join me in this Friday Prayer:

May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant _____ peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NKJV)

Amen.

 

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Praying the Scriptures for Your Football Team

img_8445Okay so it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Which means football.  Which means U.Va. plays Virginia Tech.

Which means I’m devoting this Friday Prayer space to my team.

Virginia fans will tell you that our beloved Wahoos have not won the annual contest in the last twelve years, and that our record this year (2-9) has not exactly positioned our team as a threat. Alert fans, though, will point to that heady season between 1895 and 1904 (a glorious stretch where we beat the Hokies every single year) as proof that we have winning in our genes.

If you’re not the type to pray about what coaching legend Vince Dooley’s wife Barbara calls “bawl games,” feel free to quit reading now. No hard feelings. Seriously.

But if you like the idea of doing all you can for your team, feel free to join me:

Heavenly Father,

U.Va. Football has suffered for more than a little while; may this be the year that you restore us and make our team strong, firm, and steadfast. Put your law in our players’ hearts so that their feet will not slip, and command your angels to guard them in all their ways. May they be on their guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, and be strong. (1 Peter 5:10, Psalm 37:31, Psalm 91:11, and 1 Corinthians 16:13).

I know, I know.

Some of you are saying it’s not fair to pray for one team over another. I get that. Plus, I have two Hokie sons-in-law, and I really should show them some love. And so, in the interest of keeping things on the level, here’s a Friday Prayer for the other guys:

Heavenly Father,

You are the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. If the Tech folks feel sad, or even devastated, after tomorrow’s game, may your unfailing love be their comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3, Psalm 119:76)

Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all! (And #GoHoos!)

 

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Friday Prayer to Be Satisfied

satisfy-us-in-the-morning-with-your-unfailing-love-that-we-may-sing-for-joy-and-be-glad-all-our-daysThis month, we’re exploring what it means to discover the blessedness of waiting on God, of learning to put our trust in him instead of in the outcomes or answers we expect.

I love the promise Psalm 90 offers: That we can be satisfied not with God’s gifts or the things he provides, but simply with the warmth of his love. Let’s make this one our Friday prayer, either for ourselves or for someone whose heart longs to be filled:

Heavenly Father,

Satisfy _____ in the morning with your unfailing love; let _____ sing for joy and be glad all his/her days. (Psalm 90:14)

Amen

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Lord, Hear Our Cry

i-waited-patiently-forthe-lordThis month’s posts and Friday prayers are designed to help us discover the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God as we learn to trust him in the sometimes unexpected (or unwanted) circumstances of our lives.

Psalm 40 offers a beautiful picture of how God hears us, rescues us, and gives us a firm place to stand. Here’s how the first few verses in this psalm can be used as a prayer for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

I am waiting patiently for your help. Turn to me and hear my cry.

Lift me out of the pit of despair, the mud and mire of life. Set my feet on solid ground and steady me as I walk.

Give me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise – and may all who see what you have done be amazed and put their trust in you. (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Walking in the Light

blessed-are-those-who-have-learnedWhat’s the secret to a happy life?

Psalm 89:15 offers a good answer:  “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” That’s the  NIV; other translations (like the Amplified Version) tap into the original Hebrew and call these folks “blessed and happy.”

Whichever word you choose – blessed or happy – this verse is a beautiful way to pray for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ be blessed because he/she has learned to acclaim you; let _____ walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. (Psalm 89:15)

Amen.

(And P.S., that’s a picture of Robbie, walking in the light in Iceland, where he says it never really got dark. I wanna go there.)

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Friday Prayer to Enter His Gates

psalm-100-4Yesterday, I wrote about the power of praise in our lives. We shouldn’t be surprised to see how things change for the better when we praise the Lord; after all, the Bible says that God inhabits, or is enthroned on, the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). It also says that praise and thanksgiving are the ways that we enter into his presence.

Let’s draw near to God today as we make Psalm 100 our Friday Prayer. You can pray these verses for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ enter your gates with thanksgiving and your courts with praise. Let _____ know that you are good, that your love endures forever, and that you are faithful through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Debate Prep

gty_donald_trump_hillary_clinton_sk_150619_16x9_992The first presidential debate is just a few days away and the candidates have a dicey job to do, particularly when you consider the advice couched in this debate-prep nugget:  Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

Knowing that Hillz and The Donald are going to have to open their mouths at some point, I went looking for a verse we could borrow for this week’s Friday prayer. The Bible has about a jillion things to say about the power of words, but given where we are as a nation, I think Proverbs 12:18 is the one I want. Feel free to join me in praying it for “your” candidate…or for both candidates…or even for yourself:

Heavenly Father,

Keep ______from speaking reckless words, which pierce like swords. Instead, may _____have the tongue of the wise, and so bring healing. (Proverbs 12:18) 

Amen

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Friday Prayer to Rise and Shine

isaiah-60-1Prayer prompts show up in all sorts of places. Like yesterday, I found one on my Vitamin Water:  Rise and Shine.

Not sure if the water people knew they were putting a Bible verse on their bottle, but either way, it makes a good Friday prayer for yourself or for someone you love. Or maybe just for anybody who doesn’t love getting out of bed in the morning. Here you go:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ arise and shine, knowing that Your light has come and that Your glory is rising upon him today! (Isaiah 60:1)

Amen.

 

 

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God Won’t Forget You

hebrews-6-10A friend recently shared this verse with me. I want to pass it on to you today, along with a prayer that you will know how much God loves you, and that he will never forget the beautiful things that you do:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10)

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Friday Prayer for Perseverance

James 1-2-4Several of the folks on my prayer radar are walking a rough road right now. Some are facing obstacles that make it tough to see a way forward. Others are grappling with rejection and disappointment in jobs and relationships. And still others have come face to face with failure, whether it’s a short-term setback or the total death of a vision.

I’ve been praying for these loved ones, asking God to help them find joy. I know what the Bible says:  It says that the trials we go through produce perseverance, and that ultimately leads to good things. And this week I read an article that offers scientific evidence to confirm this truth.

U.Va.’s Jennifer Chiu wrote the piece, which you can read here. She maintains that reaching your goals “often involves persevering through failure, learning from mistakes, and the motivation to keep trying to find solutions or address problems.” Success, she says, isn’t always about getting it right. Sometimes, it’s about “daring to make mistakes and learning from failure.”

If you, your child, or anybody else on your “love list” is struggling with a setback, why not ask God to put that trial to good use so that it will produce long-term benefits?

That’s the motivation behind this week’s Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help _____ to consider it pure joy when he faces trials of many kinds, since the testing of his faith develops perseverance, and perseverance is what works in us to make us mature and complete, not lacking anything. Make _____ mature and complete, Lord. (James 1:2-4)

Amen.

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A Firm Foundation

Luke 6-47-48One of the things that first drew me to our home was it’s “old house” feel. It came with leaded-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, and hardwood floors that buckled and swayed.

I thought it was charming; the builder we hired to do renovations, not so much. He said the house had not been built on any foundation. It had a basement, so I didn’t understand what he meant – until I descended the steps and found myself in what was basically a very big hole, with all sorts of wedges and carpentry shims stuck into the walls and the dirt at various angles, propping the place up.

To the builder, this was not an insurmountable problem. He hired a foundation contractor to come in and re-do the thing, and before we knew it, the floors had leveled out. I was kind of sad, because I liked the wavy feel, but Robbie was happy and, since he had let us buy the house without him ever seeing it (#BestHusband), I didn’t complain.

We were able to use some of the original bricks in the re-do, and when all was said and done, we had a few left over. Most homeowners would have disposed of the pile, but not me. I like old bricks, and you never know when you might need ’em for some sort of project. Plus, they remind me of the value of having a firm foundation in life, which is the request in today’s Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ hear your words and put them into practice so that the “house” of his life will have a firm foundation that cannot be shaken by floods, torrents, or any other storms of life. (Luke 6:47-48)

Amen.

 

 

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Host a Back-to-School Party with this Free Download!

Back when our kids were in elementary school, we’d get together with another family the night before school started. The chief purpose was to pray for the year ahead, but we’d throw in ice cream sundaes to get buy-in from the kids, and the evening became a much-loved tradition.

As the children grew, the friend group expanded. One year we had eight families show up. To keep things moving (and wrap up in time for the kids to go home and finish their summer reading), each family got a topic. One prayed for the teachers, one for the school’s athletic teams, one for the kids’ academics…you get the idea. Everything went pretty smoothy – except for that year when the school bus crashed into a fence on Day One. Nobody got hurt, but the dad who had prayed for “Carpools and Bus Safety” lost some of his cred.

Our kids are mostly grown and, with only Robbie celebrating the “first day,” we aren’t eating much ice cream. I miss those days. This year, though, I’ve heard from three moms who have put their own twist on tradition. One’s dishing up pizza-and-prayer with the neighbors, another is having women over for a back-to-school prayer coffee, and a third told me she’d purchased copies of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for a group of her pals and invited them to come for “Wine, Cheese, and Prayer.”

That’s my kind of Girls’ Night Out.

If you’re sending kids back to school this month, why not host your own prayer party? You’ll can come up with prayer prompts of your own, or download this free printable collection:

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These prayer cards are a sneak peek at some of the “wisdom” verses from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. I use them for my grown-up kids, but they work well for all ages. For instance:

Teach ______ to listen to advice and accept instruction so that he will be wise. (Proverbs 19:20)

Show ______ your ways and teach her your paths. Guide her in your truth and teach her. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

 

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Friday Prayer for Your College Student

Proverbs 2-2-4I love old books and libraries. Like old friends and old wine, they just get better with age. I know the trend is toward digital readers and LEED certified spaces that come with recycled desks and energy efficient lighting, but give me a cramped linoleum workspace hidden behind rows of stacks, and call me happy.

The pic in today’s post is from Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. To me, it’s the perfect backdrop for today’s Friday prayer, which comes from the Bible’s best known “wisdom” book. It’s one I am praying for Robbie as he heads back to college this weekend; join me in praying it for your own kids, whether they are four years old or 40!

Heavenly Father,

Turn _______’s ear toward wisdom and his heart toward understanding. Give him a teachable spirit, one that looks for insight and understanding the way he would hunt for a hidden treasure. (Proverbs 2:2-4)

Amen.

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Back-to-School Prayer

Daniel 1-4I know there are mothers out there who look forward to the end of summer and getting the kids back into a routine, but I’m not one of them. I love everything about summer:  the long days, the starry nights, the cool popsicles, the relentless heat. (I really love the heat.)

But everyone has to hang up their flip flops at some point. And when we do, here’s a good back-to-school (or, for some of us, back-to-work) prayer:

Heavenly Father,

May _____show aptitude for every kind of learning and be well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve. (Daniel 1:4)

Amen.

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Michael Phelps, Dots, and Jesus

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I’ve seen those dots before.

The kind of bruises that Michael Phelps is sporting in Rio look painful. I first saw the circular marks years ago, when I visited my brother in China. David asked if Robbie and I wanted to get a massage after a long day of hiking on the Great Wall, and we agreed. Until we saw the “spa.”

It was a place on the street (one of many similar establishments, as it turned out) where folks could pop in on their way home from work or wherever to relieve sore muscles and stress. I stared, baffled, as one after another Chinese person lay, face down and without an ounce of self-consciousness, on little cots tucked side-by-side, in full view of the sidewalk. The technicians (masseuses?) would cover their clients’ backs with little glass cups, let them sit for a bit, and then pull them off with a thwock, leaving a collection of pinkish-purple spots, each a little bigger than an Oreo. The Chinese people seemed very happy with the results; to me, they looked possibly awkward and definitely uncomfortable.

When our turn came, Robbie demurred, but on the “when-in-Rome” principle, I plopped down on a cot and asked my gal for “no cups, please.” I guess something got lost in translation, because what followed was second only to maybe childbirth in the “sensations I’d like to forget” category. And I actually did forget, mostly–until I saw Phelps and his majestically dotted shoulders.

And then I remembered the cups, and I thought two things.

The first was that, as I’ve said in this space before, “People vary.” Phelps and a handful of his fellow Olympians credit the treatment with providing healing and relaxation. It’s just “superficial bruising,” they say (which I guess makes it more appealing than the normal kind of bruising). Again, people vary.

The second thing I thought was that people will subject themselves to pain for all sorts of reasons. Phelps & Co. do it to heal themselves; Jesus did it to bring healing to us. The Bible says that he was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Thinking about these two guys today, Michael Phelps and Jesus, I am struck by how each got what he wanted. Phelps has 25 medals (and counting); Jesus has the salvation of our souls. That same Isaiah passage says he suffered and then, when he saw what his pain had accomplished, he was “satisfied.”

So here’s the good news, for all of us:  If you want to be like Mike and try the ancient Chinese secret, you can actually order your own set of cups on Amazon for about twenty bucks. If you want to do like the old song says and “try Jesus,” you can do that for free.

(Having been up close and personal with both–and with all due respect and a boatload of admiration for Phelps–you know which treatment I’d pick.)

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Friday Prayer for a Dwelling Place

So you already know that Virginia moved to New York City this week. The first item on our agenda was to find her a place to live. Here’s how we looked, starting out:

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By the end of the next day, we weren’t smiling quite so much. Apartment-hunting is hard, and I am sure I speak for every mother when I say we want our kids to land in a place that is safe and secure. A place like the one God promises in Isaiah 32:

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
    in secure homes,
    in undisturbed places of rest.”

If your children are on the move (whether they are looking for an apartment, heading off to college, buying a home, or in the midst of some other transition), why not join me in turning this verse into your own prayer? Here it is:

May ______ live in a peaceful dwelling place. Keep _____ secure, and may he/she enjoy undisturbed places of rest. (Isaiah 32:18)

Amen.

Isaiah 32-18

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Friday Prayer for a Family Blessing

Isaiah 61-9

I’ve just finished a chapter for the new book about praying blessings over your children. Here’s a sneak peek with one of my favorites; pray it for your family or others you love today:

May _______ and his/her descendants be known among the nations, and may all who see them acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (Isaiah 61:9)

Amen

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Rescue from the Storm

Who doesn’t love a good summer storm?

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Nature’s beauty, though, doesn’t come close to the power of God. Consider the glimpse we get into his majesty from Psalm 18. Verse 6 sets up the story:  In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

God hears. And here’s how he responds:

The earth trembled and quaked…He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

That’s just part of the picture; you can read more about God’s thundering voice, his smoking nostrils, and the blazing coals if you read the whole psalm. But when you do, don’t miss verse 16. It’s tucked in there amid all the clanging and banging, and it’s easy to overlook:

He reached down from high and took hold of me.

Wow.

You have to admit, that’s pretty amazing. Here’s God, thundering in the clouds – with fire coming out of his mouth and bolts of lightning going everywhere – advancing with so much power that the mountains shake.

Why? Why would he do that, just because he heard someone cry?

I’m tempted to quote The Princess Bride (again) and say, “True Love.” But in the interest of not offending anybody who can quote verses like Deuteronomy 4:2 (which warns us not to add anything to God’s word, or take anything away from it), I’ll just stick to the Psalm. Because verse 19 gives us the answer:

He rescued me because he delighted in me.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to believe that God could delight in me. But he does. And delights in you, too. And so the next time we see a storm racing in off the horizon (whether it’s a literal storm, or the scarier, metaphorical kind), let’s remember Psalm 18. Let’s remember that we serve a God who is powerful enough – and who loves us enough – to show up.

And, when he hears our cry, to reach down.

 

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A Prayer for Guidance

Isaiah 30-21

There are plenty of times in life when we don’t know which road to take, or even where the road we are on is going. If you feel like you could use a little divine guidance today, try these words from Isaiah as your Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen.

 

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Jellyfish and You

1 Peter 2-9So we visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore this week. Being from Virginia Beach, I didn’t particularly need to see the jellyfish exhibit. (We get plenty of those every summer, and it’s not like anybody likes them.) But the Robbies were curious, and so we checked ’em out.

And oh my. Floating there in the light, they were…captivating. Beautiful. Exquisite, even.

Which is exactly how God sees us.

We may think we are nothing more than a drifter, a nasty blob that nobody could ever like (okay so maybe you’ve never thought that, but I have). But that’s not what God says. He calls us into his light and says we are chosen, that we belong to him, and that we have a purpose.

Maybe you or someone you know needs to be reminded of that today. If so, here’s how you can pray:

Heavenly Father,

May ______ know that she has been chosen by you, that she is beautiful and holy in your sight. Remind _____ that she is your very own possession. Prompt _____ to show others your goodness, since you called her out of darkness and into your wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NLT)

Amen.

 

 

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Love and Good Deeds

This month, about 250 folks in our church have lumped themselves into informal “Lent Groups,” small gatherings of a dozen or so people who meet weekly to discuss various passages from the gospels. Robbie and I host a group where we don’t know all of the participants very well, and this week, our new friend Nicole brought me these flowers, which she said were “just a little something from the garden.”

Hebrews 10-24

To Nicole, the bouquet was a simple hostess gift. To me, it was a huge blessing. And it brought to mind the words from Hebrews 10:24-25:  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What a wonderful charge, particularly as we move toward Easter! Let’s use these verses to heighten our awareness of how we can encourage others, turning them into today’s Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me consider how you might be nudging me to spur others on toward love and good deeds. Renew in me a desire and a commitment to get together with other believers, and let me be a source of encouragement and strength to those who need to know more of your love.

Amen.

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#Grateful

IMG_8137Hillary is now Mrs. Charlie Blakeley, and we couldn’t be more #grateful.

I’ll write a longer post with more details next week, but since Fridays are  prayer days I want to share part of the passage that Charlie picked as one of the readings during their ceremony. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Overflowing with thankfulness.

That pretty much describes how Robbie and I feel right now (although overwhelmed might be a better word than overflowing, cuz we are just sort of awestruck). I’m praying the Colossians verses for the newlyweds as they begin their new adventure, and I want to invite you to consider God’s blessings in your own life, and join me in this prayer for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May ____ continue to live in Christ Jesus. Let ____ be deeply rooted and built up in Christ so that his/her faith will grow strong, and may he/she overflow with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7)
 
Amen.

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Friday Prayer for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34-18A dear friend and her family are hurting today, grieving the impending loss of a loved one.  I’ve been praying Psalm 34:18 for them; maybe you know someone who could use this verse as a prayer today:

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted and promise to save those who are crushed in spirit.

Be close to _____ today; let her sense the comfort of your nearness.  Wrap your saving arms around _____ to heal and protect her spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Good Men

IMG_2536Well, Annesley and Geoff are now Mr. & Mrs. Cole, and we couldn’t be happier!

I’d fill you in on the wedding details, but since Friday’s posts are meant to be prayer helps, I want to back up and give you a peek at something I prayed for Geoff last week.  (If you want wedding stories, check back in the next week or two;  for now, consider borrowing the prayers in this post for your own son-in-law, your son, your husband…or your hoped-for husband!  It’s never too early – or too late – to start praying for your man!)

First, though, a bit of background:

You know how if you’re in the market for new rug or paint color you can’t go to anyone’s house without noticing their floors and their walls?  Well I think it’s the same way with the Bible.  Whatever you’re in the market for tends to be what you find.  Which is exactly how, for me, the Christmas story turned into a Friday Prayer for Good Men.

Like many of you, I like to have a strategy when it comes to Bible reading.  I can get easily distracted, and having a plan for what to read each day helps keep me on track.  (It also means that, eventually, I will have to get around to the parts I wouldn’t normally read…and as some of you know, one of my greatest fears is showing up in heaven and having someone like Obadiah say, “How did you like my book?”  I want to be ready for that!)

Anyhow, right now I am on a two-year reading course (if you want to download the plan and join me, click here) that currently has me in Matthew.  I’ve probably read the Christmas story a zillion times and I’ve always admired Mary, but last week, as I thought about my own daughter and her impending nuptials, I found myself drawn to Joseph.  He doesn’t get much press coverage, but if you read Matthew 1 and 2 with an eye toward discovering a little bit about his character, you’ll find a treasure trove.

Here are just a few of the nuggets:

Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph a “righteous man” who didn’t want to expose Mary to “public disgrace.”  In an age where reality television has made revenge and public humiliation an acceptable response to just about any offense, we might not have blamed Joseph if he’d pointed a few fingers.  He had to have figured that Mary had cheated on him, but instead of ridiculing her or doing something to salvage his own reputation, he planned to end things quietly.  Classy guy.

And in the very next verse, when the angel shows up to set the record straight, Joseph doesn’t protest.  He had to have been thinking, “Whaaaat??”, but instead of peppering the angel with a bunch of questions, he simply accepts God’s word as truth – and he acts on it.  A man of genuine faith.

And that acceptance becomes a pattern.  Again and again in the narrative, we see Joseph following God without hesitation, even when the instructions seemed a little incomplete, or when obedience meant getting out of bed and fleeing during the night, with a wife and a baby in tow (see Matthew 2:13-14, 21, and 22-23).

What a guy!  And what a model for our prayers!  I used Joseph’s example as a way to pray for Geoff, as well as for my husband, my son, and my future son-in-law, Charlie.  Go ahead and put the name of a man you love right into this prayer, and make it your own:

Heavenly Father, make _____ like Joseph.  Let him respond to insults and offenses – whether real or perceived – with wisdom, tact, and grace.  May he always put the needs and reputation of others ahead of his own.

Give ____ a keen sensitivity to your Holy Spirit.  Speak to him, Lord, and tune his ear to hear your voice.  When you give him instruction, equip him to follow it wholeheartedly and without hesitation.  Strengthen his faith so that he will stay when you say “stay” and move when you say “move.” 

As _____ cares for his wife and family, be his protector, his guide, and his Father.  May he always put his trust in you.  

Bless him, Lord.

Amen.

 

 

 

Bible reading plan

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Friday Prayer for Waiting

FullSizeRenderIt’s peony time in Virginia Beach.

Every year, I watch the stems sprout up from the ground and form buds. It seems to take forever and then – just like that – they pop into bloom, great bursts of white and pink that can fill an entire house with their marvelous, heady fragrance.

I clipped this bunch this morning and thought about the waiting process. I don’t like it (who does?), but as I walked around the garden, I realized how creative God is. I would have had all the plants pop at once – one big noisy show of azaleas and hydrangeas and peonies – but then it would be over. God, in his wisdom, tells each flower when to “go,” and the result is a beautiful, season-long symphony.

When it comes to waiting, David was way ahead of me. Psalm 27 shows him surrounded by enemies, facing a day of trouble, and calling out to God for help…and yet there is no sense of panic or fear. Instead, David is confident that God  will show up. He knows God is good, and that his timing is perfect.

As we look to the Lord to work in our lives today – to be our helper, our teacher, our place of safety, and all the other things he is in Psalm 27 – let’s not give in to worry or fear, even if the answer seems to be taking longer than we’d like.  Instead, let’s borrow a prayer from David, and ask God to fill our hearts and minds with confident expectation:

Heavenly Father, let me be confident in your goodness.  Help me be strong and take heart, and to wait for you.  (Psalm 27:13-14).

 

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Friday Prayer for Being Still

Exodus 14-14I texted a friend yesterday to ask her to pray for me, since I felt weary.  She immediately shot back this promise:  “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I loved that!  Who wouldn’t?

Those simple words changed my perspective and carried me through a jam-packed day with grace and joy.  If you find yourself needing a break today – or better still, if you have a friend who could do with turning her battles over to God – why not turn Exodus 14:14 into your own personal prayer?

Heavenly Father, thank you that you know all that I am up against, and you promise to fight for me.  Quiet my heart and help me to be still, trusting in your sovereign power and endless love.  (Exodus 14:14)

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Friday Prayer for Your Diet

Leviticus 3-16Diets are all well and good (particularly if you are Annesley, and your wedding prep consists mostly of mac-n-cheese), and yet everyone has their limits.  I recently took a walk with a highly disciplined friend who’s dropping the pounds, but even she faced an emotional crisis when the trainer suggested she cut her daily almond intake from 17 to 9.

Nine almonds?  Seriously?

Anyhow, with swimsuit season just around the corner, I thought it might be time to trot out one of my favorite Bible verses.  Leviticus 3:16 says, “All the fat belongs to the Lord.”   To me, that has the makings of a mighty fine prayer (particularly for those who are just plain tired of counting their almonds):

Heavenly Father, all the fat belongs to you.  So does all of the protein, carbs, and the hipster stuff like quinoa and kale. Please give me wisdom and discipline to make wise dietary choices…and grace for the times that I don’t.

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Friday Prayer for Answers

You know how life can be kind of confusing?

Maybe you are wondering whether you should take that new job, get out of an iffy relationship, or (if you watch the ads on Fox News at night, like we sometimes do) talk to your doctor about whatever it is that you think you might have.

Or maybe you’ve just gotten yourself into a slightly awkward position, and you aren’t quite sure what to do about it:

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Anyhow…there’s a prayer for that.

Way back when Jeremiah was in prison (and maybe wondering why he ever got into the whole prophet gig), God made him a promise:  “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

That pledge wasn’t just for Jeremiah; the accessibility of God’s guidance is a theme that runs throughout Scripture.  When we aren’t sure which way is up (or even what we are looking at, options-wise), God can help.  When we need  wisdom and direction and answers, he promises that, if we earnestly seek him, he will deliver.

Whatever your need or uncertainty is today, call on God.  Seek him.  Make Jeremiah 33:3 your own personal prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am calling on you now.  Please answer me, and tell me great and unsearchable things that I do not know.  (Jeremiah 33:3)

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Friday Prayer for a Satisfied Soul

Psalm 63-5No, I am not going to turn into a foodie blogger.

And if you clicked on this post in search of a recipe, I’m sorry.  This pic was from a food tasting (which is probably the best part of wedding planning), and when I saw it in my camera today, I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 63.

David wrote that psalm when he was in the desert.  Physically and spiritually, he felt dry and tuckered out – but when he turned his attention to God, everything changed.  He knew God’s love had the power to sustain him.  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;” David wrote, “with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

How’s your soul doing today?

If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed, tired, spiritually dry, or just plain hungry for something more, try turning Psalm 63:5 into a prayer.  It might not be a recipe for beef tenderloin, but it sure can help turn an achy soul into one that sings for joy!

“Heavenly Father, satisfy my soul as with the richest of foods; may my mouth sing praise to you.”  (Psalm 63:5)

 

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Friday Prayer for the Path to Peace

Luke 1-79

The Bible says that, as far as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).  Sometimes, that can be a tall order – especially when we aren’t sure how to get there, or what we can do to promote peace or “make things right” with people.

Happily, we don’t have to figure it out on our own.  Luke says that Jesus came to shine on those living in darkness, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.

If you find yourself at odds with someone today, or even just craving peace to quiet your own anxious heart, why not ask Christ to help you?  After all, that’s what he came for, right?

Here’s a simple prayer you can pray today for yourself, for a troubled relationship, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father, I feel like I am living in darkness.  Shine your light on me, and guide my feet – my thoughts, my words, and every step I take – into the path of peace.  (Luke 1:79)

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Friday Prayer: Just Do It

Philippians 2-14This week’s prayer verse is one I used to pray a lot for our kids when they were younger.  Now, I think maybe I need it more.

In any case, it’s short and to the point – and it’s a good one to have in the memory bank for whenever you or your loved ones need an attitude adjustment or a little divine motivation to “just do it.”

Heavenly Father, help ____ to do everything without complaining or arguing.  (Philippians 2:14)

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Friday Prayer for Hope and Healing

Isaiah 58-8-9All week on the blog, we’ve been talking about sexual assault and how to prevent it.  I am grateful to author Wendy Blight for her willingness to share her story (which, if you’re just checking in, is the subject of her book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner:  The Transforming Power of God’s Story).

Today, I want to offer a prayer for anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual violence.  Please join me  in praying this for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father, may your light break forth like the dawn in _____’s life.  May her healing quickly appear, and may your glory be her guard.  When ____’s calls, answer her.  When she cries for help, let her hear you say, “Here am I.”  (Isaiah 58:8-9)

 

 

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Friday Prayer to Refresh the Weary

Jeremiah 31-25Ahhhh.  Daylight Savings Time is finally here.  The beginning of happiness again.

Add a bunch of grocery-store tulips and a breath of a prayer, and hang in there.  I promise:  We’re gonna make it!

Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who may need God’s help to move from weariness and defeat to a place of joy and strength:

Refresh my weary heart, O Lord.  Satisfy me when I am faint. (Jeremiah 31:25)

 

 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

So a few weeks ago, I got an email from my rocket scientist of a daughter, the one who just got engaged.  (Whoop! Whoop!)  To those who caught the reference in last week’s blog and then called or emailed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I’m so sorry.  I thought I was the only person who stunk at social media; I figured if I knew the big news, everyone did.

Look.  I’ll make it up to you.  Here’s the photo Hillary’s beloved posted to announce the news:

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(I know that’s not the world’s best shot of Charlie, but trust me:  He’s adorable.)

Anyhow, Hillary has never been the most tidy or organized person, and she was writing to crow about new scientific evidence to indicate that the most creative people actually flourish amid clutter.

I read the article and then, curious, I asked Hillary to send me a snap of her desk at NASA:

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Eeek.

So what’s with the hubcap on the left? I wanted to know.

“That’s not a hubcap,” she told me.  “It’s part of a heat shield.”  (Of course.  I knew that.)

And, um, the tiara?

“My thinking cap.”

I was afraid to ask about the screwdriver.  I mean, if NASA is letting kids who are just two years out of engineering school tighten their nuts and bolts, do we really want to know about it?

I couldn’t live like that.  Heck, I couldn’t last five minutes with that desk.  But Hillary is thriving, and as I studied the photo (longing, I will confess, to get in there with a Hefty Cinch Sak, even if it meant setting the whole “Let’s go to Mars” thing back by a few thousand light years), I was reminded of Psalm 139.  God knows how each one of us is made – messy or clean, wavy or straight, relaxed or uptight – and, in his eyes, we are all wonderful!

So here’s the thing:  If you look at your desk, your house, or your life today and you feel like you just can’t get it together, don’t despair.  God loves you, just the way you are.

Likewise, if you look at your children and you feel like they can’t get it together (not that I know anyone who would worry about their kids’ domestic standards or anything), don’t worry about that, either.  God loves them just the way they are.

Instead of fretting, take a deep breath.  Take a gander at Psalm 139, and let these words permeate your soul:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because my kids/my spouse/my mother/my friend is fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  (Psalm 139:14)

Isn’t that, I don’t know…refreshing?

 

(And P.S.:  Even without the hubcap and the tiara, I know that God made Hillary fearfully and wonderfully creative, and I am grateful.  I’m just hoping, as they celebrate Week Two of their blessed engagement, that he made Charlie fearfully and wonderfully good with a vacuum cleaner.)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Anxious Minds

Earlier this week, I wrote about giving up worry.  I’m trying to give it up for Lent; I’d like to get rid of it forever.

Philippians 4:6 is, perhaps, the Bible’s best-known “anti-worry” verse.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Then comes the promise:  “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (v. 7)

That’s all good – great, even.  But how do we do that, really?  How do we stop being anxious?

Philippians 4-6-8I think the answer comes in the very next verse, and it’s what I was trying to get at in my blog as I blathered on about cows in cornfields.  We train our minds to move along familiar pathways.  If we truly want to move from a place of worry to a place of peace, we need to heed Paul’s advice to the Philippians and focus on those things that enable peace to thrive:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

(Now there’s a little Bible Xanax to get you pointed in the right direction!)

If you wrestle with worry (whether it’s once in awhile, all the time, or as part of your Lenten fast), turn Philippians 4:6-8 into a prayer and get started on retraining your mind:

Heavenly Father, don’t let me be anxious about anything.  Send your peace to guard my heart and mind.  Help me think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

 

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Friday Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Hebrews 10-33 (2)For Christians, persecution is nothing new.  Way back when the Apostle Paul was sending letters from prison, he warned his young protege, Timothy, that such suffering was part and parcel of the Christian life.  “In fact,” Paul wrote, without any attempt to sugarcoat his message, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Shortly after writing these words, Paul was martyred.

Persecution is nothing new, nor (if we believe Paul’s words) should it surprise us.  Still, though, we recoil from the horrific videotaped execution of 21 Egyptian Christians, or the news that 150 of our fellow believers – women, children, and elderly people – have been abducted in Syria.  We grieve, we get angry, we feel impotent.

And, even though we may live half a world away, we can relate to the Assyrian Christian woman interviewed by the Associated Press this week:  “I just feel so helpless,” she said, as she awaited news of her relatives’  fate. “I cannot do anything for them but pray.”

I cannot do anything for them but pray.  That sounds so insignificant, yet it holds so much power.

Encouraged by the #Pray703 movement, which calls people to pray for the persecuted Christians at 7:03 a.m. every day, I began praying in earnest this week.  I started by looking up verses about persecution, and was immediately captivated by Hebrews 10:33, written to a group of people who had faced more than their fair share of suffering:  “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times, you stood side by side with those who were so treated.”

That’s what I want to do.

I want to stand side by side with my brothers and sisters in Libya, Syria, and all over the world.  I want to stand side by side with them in prayer.  They may be out of my reach, but they are not out of God’s, and I know that I can count on his infinite love, his limitless power, and his faithful promise to work “in all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Here are just a few of the verses I prayed this week, if you want to join me:

Show yourself faithful, O Lord.  Strengthen and protect our brothers and sisters from the evil one.  (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

Remind these persecuted Christians that nothing – no hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword – can separate them from your love.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Thank you for our brothers and sisters who have given an answer to those who have asked about the reason for their hope.  Thank you for their gentleness and respect.  May those who speak maliciously against them be ashamed of their slander.  (1 (Peter 3:15-16.)

Let our brothers and sisters take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, bless them, and surround them with your favor as with a shield.  (Psalm 5:11-12)

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said that evil men would go “from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  Those words might as well have been written yesterday; they were true then and they are true today.  And yet neither Timothy nor Paul lost hope.  Instead, they stood side by side with their fellow Christians, enduring unimaginable hardship, trusting God, and proclaiming the name of Christ.

Side by side.  Let’s stand with them, together.

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Friday Prayer for a Clean Heart

To me, few things are more lovely than freshly fallen snow.

IMG_2330When my pal Laura sent me this pic, taken from her Charlottesville window, I couldn’t help but think of King David’s prayer in Psalm 51.  He’s painfully aware of the consequences of his actions (he’d slept with another man’s wife, then arranged to have the fellow killed), and when you read his words, you get the idea that he is just desperate to get rid of his guilt.  David longs to experience freedom and joy, and to have a clean heart again.  “Wash me,” he prays, “and I will be whiter than snow.”

Haven’t we all been there?  Haven’t we all said or done something we wish we could undo, something that fills our hearts and our minds with shame?  Haven’t we all longed for a clean slate?

I’ve been mulling over Psalm 51 all week, grateful that we serve a God who can – and will – do that which we cannot:  blot out our sin and restore our joy.  Imagine my surprise (my delight, actually) when Robbie and I went to the Ash Wednesday service and Psalm 51 was read aloud while our minister “imposed” the ashes (at least I think that’s the right term for what happens when you get them on your forehead).

Turns out, Psalm 51 is always part of the Ash Wednesday service, at least in the Anglican tradition.  Who knew?

(Well, probably a lot of you.  But, not being much of an Ash Wednesday girl, it was news to me.)

I can’t think of a better season than Lent – a time when our focus is on drawing closer to God – in which to borrow a prayer from Psalm 51.  You might find a verse or two that you like better in there, but I’m picking 10 and 12 as a prayer for myself, and for my loved ones, this week:

Create in ____ a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit in me/him/her.  Restore to _____ the joy of your salvation, and make me/him/her willing to obey you.  (Psalm 51:10 & 12, NLT)

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Friday Prayer for Overflowing Love

1 Thess. 3-12With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I figured this would be a good time to offer a prayer verse about love.  The good news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from.  The bad news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from.

We are called to love God, love our enemies, love each other.  We see links between love and obedience, love and blessings, love and fruitful lives.  We read about God’s lavish, unfathomable, and unconditional love for us.  It’s all pretty incredible.

In the interest of keeping things simple, and because we could ALL do with a little more lovin’ in our lives, here’s the verse I picked – pray it for yourself or for someone you love this week:

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”  (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

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Friday Prayer for the Weary

Galatians 6-9Okay, so it’s February.  The Christmas decor is put away (well, most of it; never mind the knot of lights that my Instagram friends see dangling from the dogwood tree outside my window…44 days and counting, BTW), and the promise of Daylight Savings Time is still too far away to be counted on as a spirit-lifter.  If you’re like me, you might be feeling a bit weary.

Which is where Galatians 6:9 comes in.  This is my all-time favorite prayer verse for teachers (those blessed souls who keep at it with our kids, day after day), but it’s also a good one for anyone who might be struggling to restore a relationship, extend forgiveness, get out of debt, or just stick with the goals they set for the new year.  Any good thing that can sap your strength and make you want to quit the race can be targeted with this prayer verse.  Why not try it today for yourself, or for someone you love?

Heavenly Father, let ____ not become weary in doing good, but help him/her/me remember that at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9)

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Friday Prayer: You are Loved

photo 4Back in December, I wrote a blog about a message that had been painted on Beta Bridge at the University of Virginia. Driving through Charlottesville yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that the bridge – which sometimes gets repainted twice in the same night – still had the same message:  YOU ARE LOVED.

Clearly, it’s a promise that means a lot to the students.  It’s a promise that also means a lot to me, and it’s one that calls to mind the beautiful words Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, as he sought to reassure them that, despite the trouble and hardship they faced, God was on their side, and he was working for their good.

Today, if you need help remembering that God is for you – and that nothing can separate you from his love – turn these words into a prayer.  Or pray them for someone you love.

Beta Bridge is going to get repainted one of these days, but the words that are on there right now will never change.

You are loved.

 

Heavenly Father, help _____ be convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that you have for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

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Friday Prayer for Good Communication

James 1-19If you saw Wednesday’s blog, you know we’ve been focusing on good communication in the marriage course that Robbie and I are doing at church.  But the “bad habits” outlined in that post don’t just plague marriages; every human relationship can benefit from better listening skills.

The Bible is full of good advice for improving communication, but few verses are as succinct and powerful as James 1:19.  Here’s how you can turn this verse into a prayer for your marriage, your friendships, or your kids, as they relate to their friends and to each other:

Heavenly Father, may ______ be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

(Photo Credits:  Many thanks to my daughter, Hillary, for getting one of her co-workers to snap the pic that goes with this prayer. Honorable mention goes to Annesley’s roommate, Kate Martin, who submitted this photo of her dog, Riley, whose bladder control issues are clearly offset by what looks like a keen ability to listen.)photo 1

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Friday Prayer for a Flourishing Life

I am not much of a cold weather gal.  I think I might have been the first person ever diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); thirty years ago, the doctor said I could pick anti-depressants or sunshine to fix what ailed me.  At first, Robbie thought I was making it up (“Honey, the doctor says I have SAD and we need to go someplace sunny!”), but now he knows better.  And when he came home over Christmas and told us that he’d booked a four-day trip to Captiva Island, Florida for the whole family, I was ecstatic.

photo copy 3If you haven’t been to Captiva, you should give it a try.  Sandpipers compete with shells for space on the beach, and the dolphins come THIS CLOSE to the water’s edge (meaning that even people like me, who don’t tend to get wet, can get an eyeful of Flipper; truly, if that thing had come any closer, I would have offered it a beach chair).

It was marvelous.

But this isn’t a travel blog, it’s a prayer blog, so I will hasten to add that the island also has palm trees, and when I looked up from my shell hunting and saw the one pictured here, Psalm 92 popped into my mind.  (I didn’t know it was Psalm 92, but I once had a friend who was Treasurer of the National Palm Tree Society–who knew?–and he signed all of his letters, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.”  Which, for those who don’t already have that one memorized, is from Psalm 92.)

2So anyway, I went home and looked up the verse in Matthew Henry’s commentary.  (I know, I know.  I am so much fun at the beach.)  Here’s what he has to say about Psalm 92:12-15 in general, and palm trees in particular:

First, palm trees grow (evidence that where God gives some grace, he will give more grace).  As a result, they become stronger, and fitter for use.

Second, palm trees flourish.  Palm tree people (my term, not his) are  “cheerful themselves and respected by all about them,” flourishing “in their profession and in the comfort and joy of their own souls.”  Plus, Henry says, palm trees are marked by a “stately body” (and hey, if you want to quit reading now and just skip to the prayer, that’s cool).

Third, even the harshest conditions don’t impact a palm tree’s health.  Palm trees are long-lived, Henry says, and (unlike some people) not changed by the winter.  In fact, it can be said of palm trees (and here I am quoting again, although I am sure this is a familiar refrain around your house):  Sub ponder crescit.

In other words, The more it is pressed down the more it grows.

Seriously.  Who wouldn’t want to be a palm tree?

But wait.  There’s more.  Verse 14 says that palm tree people, like the actual plants, will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.  “The last days of the saints are sometimes their best days,” Henry writes, “and their last work is their best work.”

As a SAD person who is sliding down the backside of life, I can’t think of a more encouraging promise than that!  Stately body notwithstanding, I really want Psalm 92 to be true in my life.  The next time you see a palm tree–or even just a picture of one–let it guide your thoughts toward these verses, and pray them for yourself or someone you love.

Heavenly Father, may _______ flourish like a palm tree, growing and bearing fruit–good words and works that glorify you and bring strength and grace to others–even in my/his/her old age.  (Psalm 92:12-15)

 

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Friday Prayer for Generosity

1 Timothy 6-18If you saw Tuesday’s blog, you know that generosity is one of the biggies when it comes to happiness in marriage.  While that finding came out of the National Marriage Project, you don’t have to be a sociologist or an expert researcher to know that generosity is a pretty great thing to have, regardless of the relationship.

Here’s a simple prayer that packs a powerful promise.  Try praying it for yourself or for someone you love:

I pray that _____ would be rich in good deeds, generous, and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:18)

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Friday Prayer for Kindness, Humility, and More

Colossians 3-12Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:

Wash.  Dry.  Fold.  Repeat.

Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt.  I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.

Here’s one of my favorites.  This year, instead of groaning when you see the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer?  It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow.

Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved.  Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

 

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Give the Gift of Prayer

photoI’ve already told you that I am not a good shopper (the posture brace featured in Tuesday’s blog is just one in a long line of epic fails), but I’ve found at least one gift that’s pretty much always a winner, whether it’s for my kids, my husband, or anyone else.

Prayer.

Think about it.  Unlike the “My Size” Barbie we gave Annesley one year (whose main selling point seemed to be the ability to “share” her clothes, and whose allure dropped considerably once they came off), prayer is a gift that lasts.  And not only that, but because it taps into the power of a God who is both loving and strong, prayer has the ability to open the door to wisdom and favor, to provide blessings and protection, and to shape and influence lives.  What parent wouldn’t want that for her kids?

One of my favorite ways to pray for my children (or for anyone) is to use Scripture–the actual words and promises you find in the Bible. I do this fairly regularly on an as-needed basis (Ephesians 4:29, which swaps out “ugly talk” for words that bless and help other people, became like a mantra when our kids were young), but each December, I try to ramp it up a notch.  I spend some time thinking about each one of my kids, considering where they are–emotionally, physically, spiritually–and what their deepest needs might be.  I ask God to give me a glimpse of what he wants to do in their lives, and then I find a verse that I can pray throughout the new year.

When Virginia was in the first grade, for example, she had plenty of boldness.  What she lacked–as evidenced by her willingness to tell other youngsters who didn’t believe in Jesus that they were “going to hell”–was tact.  And sensitivity.  And probably a few other things.  I didn’t think God wanted to dampen her evangelistic spirit, but I figured we’d all be better off if he would temper it with a little grace.  I found a perfect prayer tucked into Daniel 12:3:

photo

I pray that Virginia would be wise, shining like the brightness of the heavens, and that she would lead many to righteousness, and thereby shine like the stars for ever and ever.

Then I did what I always do:  I traced her hand on a piece of colored paper, wrote the verse on it, dated it, and took it to Kinkos to get it laminated so that it could live on the refrigerator for a year, both as a reminder to me to pray and a sign to Virginia that God was working in her life.

And he was.

I don’t want to get all mushy in a blog, but I stand in awe of the way God used that simple prayer to shape a little girl’s life, growing her into a young woman who loves the Lord and who longs to make him known.  She can still be–as her grandfather used to put it–“seldom right, but never in doubt,” but even when she gets her facts mixed up, one thing is certain:  Virginia cares deeply for other people–and thanks to God’s grace, she has learned to love wisely and well.

God has breathed similar blessings into the lives of all of my kids, working in response to the prayers that he prompted.  I no longer post their laminated hands on the refrigerator–they are all young adults, and to be honest, laminated hands look kind of creepy once you get out of elementary school–but I still make them.  And every year, on January 1, I show them to the kids.  It’s pretty cool, because even though all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped (and, if they were from me, most likely returned or exchanged), the kids know that there is still one gift–one good gift–that will grow and bear fruit all year long.

(Need some prayer verse ideas for your family?  You’ll find hundreds of them in my books, Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenswhich are arranged according to topic–just go to the back of whatever chapter interests you and you’ll find all sorts of good promises to pray!)

 

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Friday Prayer Verse for Peace & Thankfulness

Colossians 3-15

Yesterday, I wrote about the condition of our hearts, and the need to be grateful–particularly now.  (I mean, if you can’t count your blessings come Turkey Day, when will you ever be in the mood?)

Today’s prayer verse follows up on that theme.  Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”

So often in the Bible, peace is linked with words like rule, or the idea of authority, or of standing guard.  The peace that God gives does guard our hearts; it serves as an umpire of sorts, knowing when to call something a “hit,” or when it is a foul.  When we live under this banner–with God’s peace calling the shots in our lives–thankfulness has a place to flourish.

Needing a little of that peace today?  Put your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in this prayer:

O Lord, may your peace rule in _____’s heart, and make him/her/me thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

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Friday Prayer Verse ~ Psalm 5:11-12

Lots of people post “Friday Favorites.”  I’ve picked up shopping tips from Melanie Shankle, followed Kate’s pregnancy the eyes of new mom Elizabeth Robertson Williams, and snagged more than a couple of good recipes from any number of Friday bloggers.  But, not being much of shopper (or a royal watcher; has Kate had that baby), you won’t find those types of good tips here.  And while I might share a recipe once in awhile, I currently conducting experiment to prove to Robbie that eating out–if you find the right “deal”–might actually be cheaper than cooking at home, now that it’s just the two of us.  (Wish me luck.)

When I use the word “favorite,” it is often in the context of a Bible verse.  Some people have their “life verse,” and they can tell you what it means to them, and why.  Not me.  I have any number of Bible “favorites,” and they change almost daily.

For me, then, Friday is going to be the day when I post whatever principle or promise has captivated my heart that week.  And, banking on promises like John 15:7 (“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”) and Isaiah 55:11 (which tells us that God’s word does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent), I will offer these verses in the format of prayers, with blanks where you can insert your own name, or that of someone you love.

I hope you enjoy praying this way, and that these words will serve to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.  I hope they will transform your perspective and breathe fresh hope into weary or challenging situations.  And I hope, actually, that some of these verses will become your new favorites.

Here goes:

Spread your protection over ____ and bless him/her.  Surround ____ with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

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