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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Saints, sinners, and what Italy taught me about abiding

Robbie and I just got back from Italy. It was a bucket-list trip, one made all the sweeter since we went with a group of friends from our church. Billed as the “Saints and Sinners Tour,” I think the idea was to take a bunch of (mostly) old American sinners and introduce us to a bunch of (really) old Italian saints, and hope something good would rub off.

Saints and Sinners Tour book

We marveled over the humility of Francis of Assisi, a pampered party boy who renounced his luxurious lifestyle in order to “wed” Lady Poverty. That move didn’t sit too well with his father–especially when Francis stripped naked in the public square to demonstrate his commitment, leaving the Bishop to try to, um, cover things up:

Giotto's painting of St. Francis standing naked in the public square

We applauded the courage of Catherine of Siena, a spunky saint best remembered for telling Pope Gregory XI (and I’m paraphrasing here) to “Man up!” and get back to his duties in Rome. (The Pope had been living in Avignon; having been to both cities, I can see why he might not have wanted to move.)

Catherine of Siena telling the Pope to return to Rome

And we heard about folks like St. Philip Neri, a Florentine monk who thought Christians ought to be more cheerful than melancholy, and that being holy didn’t mean you had to look serious or sad. Known to carry two things in his pockets–a Bible and a joke book–Neri is one of those saints I hope I get to sit by at the welcome dinner in heaven.

I liked the saint stories, or at least most of them. Truth be told, though, they were not my favorite part of the trip. Maybe I’m just a bigger sinner than most, but what I really loved about Italy were the vineyards. Which, remarkably, seemed to be flourishing.

Vineyard in Italy

I’m no farmer, but I did take one class in meteorology at U.Va., and I could tell it was hot. Over 100 degrees, according to the weather apps on our phones. Plus, Italy was in the midst of a drought. “Pray for rain,” our tour guide pleaded, when she realized our group was on speaking terms with the Lord. “We really need it.”

Sunrise in Italy

We could see what she meant. I woke early one morning to greet the Tuscan sunrise, but I had to look down every few steps. Walking was tricky; the ground was so parched that the soil was cracked.

Cracked soil in Italy

How, I wondered, could anything survive in that heat? How could the vines keep bearing fruit? I would think they’d be spitting out raisins; how come the grapes looked so healthy and lush?

As I pondered these questions, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s whisper. “The branches survive as they stay attached to the vine,” he said. “They don’t have to try to produce grapes; that happens naturally, as they do their one job: Abiding.”

Grapes on the vine

Ahhh. A fresh twist on Christ’s words in John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Created for connection

Like grapevines, you and I are created for connection. The degree to which we stay connected to Christ is the degree to which we will thrive. But what does that vine-branch connection look like in our everyday lives? How do we, practically speaking, abide?

Back in 1900, R.A. Torrey tackled this question in a book that’s now widely considered a classic: How to Pray“To abide in Christ,” he wrote, “is to renounce all life independent of Christ, and constantly look to Him for the inflow of His life into us, and the outworking of His life through us. When we do this, and in so far as we do this, our prayers will obtain that which we seek from God.”

Put another way, when we take Jesus up on his John 15 invitation–when we say yes to dwelling in Christ and letting him dwell in us–our prayer life changes. No longer do we cultivate our own feelings and desires; rather, it is Christ who forms his thoughts, emotions, and purposes in us. And the more we allow this life-giving flow of his life into ours, the more powerful and effective our prayers become.

The more we become people of impact.

The more we live lives marked by purpose and meaning.

The more we bear lush, healthy, life-giving fruit.

Lemon tree

Lemons in Italy

(And yes. I was captivated by the ginormous lemons in Italy. They were like footballs.)

(Well okay. Footballs for children. But still.)

A harvest on the horizon

If you’re following along with our 31-Day Prayer Challenge this month (and if you are, you’re not alone; more than 20,000 people have downloaded the calendar and are praying with us!), you might already be seeing a harvest–or at least a glimpse of it on the horizon, as you allow God’s promises to give shape to your prayers. This week, for example, we invited God to animate our relationships, praying Philippians 2:3-4 (“Let me value others and put their interests above my own”) and asking him to fulfill 1 John 3:18 in our lives (“Give me friends who will love not just with words but with actions”).

 

Day 7: Friendship prayer from Philippians 2:3-4

 

Day 8: Friends prayer from 1 John 3:18

And there are plenty more topics on tap. We’ll ask God to help us to navigate suffering and grief, give us freedom from worry and fear, and teach us use our gifts and talents wisely. We’ll even pray about what it looks like to approach aging well!

31 Days of Prayer Calendar

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing we’ll face in life that God has not already thought of (and provided for!) in his Word. If you want to join us on the prayer challenge, click here for more info. If you just want to download the calendar so you can follow along on your own, click here. And if you want to dig deeper on the whole subject of staying connected to Christ, click here to get your copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God(There’s an entire chapter on what it means to abide, filled with insights from biblical brainiacs who know how to put the hay where the sheep can reach it.)

I’ll leave you with one more reflection from Italy, which comes (appropriately) in the form of a confession.

Yes, I liked the saints. And yes, I liked the vineyards. But what I mostly liked (and what I maybe got in trouble for stealing) was the secret stash of ice I found in the hotel refrigerator.

The cubes were almost as big as the lemons.

And boy-oh-boy, was I grateful.

Enjoying the fruit of the vine

 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

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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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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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Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

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

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

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

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

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

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

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

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

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

(What’s not to love about that?)

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

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

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

Closer to Christ

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

She did it to prepare me for burial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

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

Heavenly Father,

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

Amen

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Friday Prayer for a Troubled Heart

John 14-1I love that Jesus knew our hearts would be troubled.  And I love it even more that he gave us the answer for that.  Instead of trusting in well-laid plans, favorable circumstances, or good results, he tells us to trust in him.

If your heart is anxious today – if things aren’t shaping up the way you thought or hoped they might – don’t worry.  And don’t let your peace or your happiness depend on results.  Instead, stake your hope in who God is, and turn Christ’s words into a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Don’t let my heart be troubled today.  Help me to trust in you – in your character, your faithfulness, your power, and your love.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

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