ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.30.2016

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.


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.29.2016

Do You Know What Time It Is?

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Back in the 1970s, when I was a middle-schooler, my family spent two weeks every summer at Christian camp that catered to families and singles of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The camp met at a mansion in the Hamptons, but if the place had a celebrity status back then (or if, say, Martha Stewart was whipping up a raspberry trifle on the other side of the boxwood hedge), I never knew it. All I knew was that, every year, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around so that we could all pile into Mom’s bright red station wagon (they got it used, from the fire station) and go to Camp Farthest Out.

(Which was the name of the camp. It was the ’70s, and I guess maybe “Camp Far Out” just didn’t seem far enough.)

I remember one little old lady who came every year, from someplace in New Jersey. If you asked her what time it was, she never looked at her watch. Instead, her face would light up and she would say, “It’s time to praise the Lord!”

At the time, I thought she was a little bit crazy. I mean, I usually did want to know what time it was, so that I wouldn’t be late for lunch, or Arts and Crafts, or for programs like Devotion in Motion, which was a worship-service-turned-exercise-class held on the mansion’s vast green lawn. Sometimes, though, I didn’t really care what time it was. Sometimes I just wanted to hear her say it:

It’s time to praise the Lord!

The phrase seemed funny then, coming at random intervals and when there didn’t seem to be any reason for praise. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that that old gal was onto something. It’s always a good time to praise God, and when you do, you reap all sorts of benefits.

For starters, praise opens the door to hope. When we stop and think about who God is (wise, powerful, loving, etc.) instead of what our circumstances are, problems that once loomed impossibly large begin to shrink in size. When we look at our lives through the lens of God’s love, everything shifts.

Fern Nichols, founder of the Moms in Prayer organization and author of a book called Every Child Needs a Praying Momputs it this way:  Praise, she says, “changes our attitude; brings an awareness of God’s presence; defeats Satan; releases God’s power; brings victorious perspective; provides peace; wards off the spirits of self-pity, depression, and discouragement; and produces strength in an anxious heart.”

I get that. I get it right now, in fact. Because right now I am anxious about a silly little thing that might or might not happen – I won’t even tell you what it is, it’s that little – and the ONLY thing that is helping is praise. When I focus on the “what if,” my knees get a bit wobbly. But when I focus on, say, God’s sovereignty (the fact that he is in control and that no purpose of his can be thwarted), I can stand up straight. Sure, I may still shake a little, but it’s not something that’s gonna knock me down, not when I am looking at a Sovereign God who loves me, and who has promised to work in all things for my good.

If the idea of praising God seems a little too out there (or even a little too “far out” there), all I can say is, “I get that, too.” I may have grown up doing devotional gymnastics in somebody’s front yard in the Hamptons, but now I am an Episcopalian, and if you were to ask one of us what time it was, odds are we’d say something like, “Four-fifteen.”

But here’s the thing. Praise doesn’t have to be loud, or showy. And you certainly don’t need to do it in your yard. All you have to do is tell God how great he is. And consider matching your need to his character, like I’m doing right now in the face of my worry: I am telling God how much I love the fact that he’s got everything under control. If you need guidance, focus on how wise God is. If you’re sick, praise him for being the God who heals. If you’re sad or discouraged, look to him as the giver of comfort and strength. And if you know you’ve blown it, remember his grace and compassion.

If you need a cheat sheet, or if you just want some verses to read to bolster your confidence about who God is and what he can do, click here to get a free printable that lists some of God’s attributes and where you can find them described in the Bible. That way, the next time you feel lonely or abandoned you can just say, “Hey God, I praise you because you are faithful, and I really need somebody I can depend on right now.”

It’s that easy. And that little old lady was right:  It’s always time to praise the Lord.


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.23.2016

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


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.21.2016

Should You Pray about Fantasy Football?

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Virginia and her friend Chris came home over Labor Day weekend, which I guess must be the kickoff to Fantasy Football season, because at one point Chris excused himself to go “draft” his team. I have no idea how the Fantasy draft works, but I wanted to be supportive, so I told Chris I’d pray for his picks.

If Chris thought that was strange, he didn’t say so. But when another mom (whose son was drafting his team at the same time) heard what I’d done, she lodged a protest. “Does that mean that all of the other guys are gonna get jammed, cuz you prayed for Chris to get the best players?”

I started to say that the other guys were welcome to pray about their draft picks too (or to get their friend’s mothers to pray), but my pal wasn’t finished.

Didn’t I, she wanted to know, think it was a little self-absorbed or shallow to be praying about something like football (and not even real football) when there were people with cancer out there? Wouldn’t my time be better spent praying for them? And was it even right, spiritually, to pray for a sports victory?

I’ve heard those questions (and plenty more, just like them) before.  I remember speaking to a group of young moms and, afterwards, one of them came up and told me what she’d thought of my talk:

“I don’t think it’s right to pray for my kid’s spelling test when there are people who need jobs, or when ISIS is on the loose. I don’t want to be clogging up the lines if somebody with something really important is trying to get through. And if I start praying about stuff like spelling tests, won’t God just think I am bugging him?”

I understand where questions like these come from. It can be easy to think that God is wired like we are, and that he can only handle a certain amount of stuff on his plate at any given time, so he needs to prioritize. But that’s not true, of course. And when we pray, we never bug God. He actually likes to hear from us. When we come to him with our concerns, we demonstrate both obedience (since he tells us to pray) and honor (since what we are essentially doing is acknowledging his lordship over our lives).

As to whether or not it’s okay to pray for life’s little things – fantasy football, spelling tests, and even hair appointments (which one of my friends regularly asks me to pray about, on her behalf) – I don’t know. I think if something matters to us, it matters to God, and if he knows how many hairs are on our heads, you gotta believe he knows whether we’re eyeing Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown at wide receiver. And, just like we don’t mind it when our kids ask us for a puppy, I think God doesn’t mind if we ask him for a win – as long as we leave room for the fact that he might have an even better plan in mind, and that maybe not getting a puppy right now is actually the best way to accomplish his purposes for the people and the teams that we love. (For more on this “pray-and-trust” approach, click here.)

And maybe I take things too literally, but when the Bible says that we can (and even should) pray about anything, at any time, I feel like it’s okay to jump in. Consider just a few invitations:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sings songs of praise. (James 5:13)

There are all sorts of theological reasons for prayer, but at the end of the day, I think the reason why God wants us to pray comes down to this:  God wants us to pray because he loves us. He wants that sense of connection, that fellowship, that relationship that happens when we communicate with him. And as a mom, I get that. I love it when my kids text or call. It’s almost pathetic, actually, how quickly I scramble for the phone. And it doesn’t matter how boring or insignificant the topic is (a recent call involved a discussion on the merits of commando hooks as necklace holders); I love to hear my kids’ voices.

Speaking of…  God doesn’t give a rip how we sound (he’s already heard it all, anyway), so don’t worry if your thoughts come out in a jumble, or you don’t think that you sound “holy” enough to approach him, or that you somehow have to suggest your idea or present your case in a way that will capture his interest. Just jump in and do it…whether it’s for your next draft pick, or for something really important. He is big enough to care about it all.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

 

 

 

 

 


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.16.2016

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.

 

 


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.14.2016

The Potter and the Clay

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “Really, there’s nothing else we can do. We’re just going to have to trust God.” I’ve said the same thing, myself.

We say that like it’s a last resort, like trusting God is some sort of consolation prize for folks who aren’t strong enough, or clever enough, or well-connected enough to get the job done. Honestly, though, trusting God isn’t just part of our job. It is our job. It marks the beginning, the middle, and the end of every good endeavor.

Sure, we all have stuff to do – works that God has “prepared in advance” – but, at the end of the day, he’s the one who is responsible for outcomes and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter whether the task at hand is monumental or minuscule, if something lines up with God’s good plan, he will get it done. We may pat ourselves on the back, but the credit ultimately belongs to him because, after all, he is the one who works in us to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Or, as Isaiah puts it, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

For many of us, though, putting our lives into God’s hands and trusting him with the results can present a bit of a problem. Who knows what the Potter might have in mind? What if we wanted to be a statuesque vase and, in God’s skillful hands, we start to resemble a cereal bowl? I have a whole collection of questionably shaped artifacts from the happy hours my kids spent in art class; what if my life turns out looking like that upside-down turtle shell?

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“A great many Christians seem practically to think that all their Father in heaven wants is a chance to make them miserable and take away all their blessings,” writes one of my favorite vintage authors, Hannah Whitall Smith. It’s true. All too often we think of God as Someone who has a long list of holy-sounding things that we are supposed to do, and an even longer list of fun-sounding things that we aren’t. If we decide to trust him (that is, if we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves – our dreams and our goals, our reputations and our relationships, our work and our play) and say not, “My will be done” but “Thy will be done,” we worry that we’re gonna miss out on the good stuff.

But here’s what Hannah has to say about that:

“Some of us know what it is to love, and we know that could we only have our way, our beloved ones would be overwhelmed with blessings. All that is good and sweet and lovely in life would be poured out upon them from our lavish hands, had we but the power to carry out our will for them. And if this is the way of love with us, how much more it must be so with God, who is love itself! Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure; and we would abandon ourselves to it with and enthusiasm of gratitude and joy, that such a wondrous privilege could be ours.”

Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure.

Isn’t that an awesome sentence? It’s from Hannah’s book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I recommended in a blog earlier this summer. Her theology reminds me of what Tim Keller wrote in his book, PrayerHe says, “We have the assurance that God, our heavenly Father, always wants the best for his children.” What’s more, Keller writes, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will help shape your prayers (Romans 8:26) and you can “come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

I think that’s pretty cool.

And I’ve been asking God for a lot this summer, as loved ones wrestle with health issues, career moves, relationship challenges, and a whole host of unmet longings. Thanks to Hannah (and also to Keller), I am praying specifically about what I would like to see happen – and then letting God answer according to his best plan. “Thy will be done” is not the prayer warrior’s way of throwing in the towel; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are incredibly, lavishly loved by a Father who always does immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. It is a recognition that, even though we might not understand God’s ways, we can trust his heart. And it is a signal that we are doing our job – and that we are depending on God to do his.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

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And P.S. if you are wondering why I call Hannah “Hannah” and Keller “Keller,” it’s because I feel like I know Hannah. You know how that is, with some celebrities or authors you admire? You feel like, if you could only have lunch or go on a run with her, you would be good friends. That’s how I feel about Hannah Whitall Smith. Anybody who has four of their seven children die before reaching adulthood, marries a Christian guy who repeatedly cheats on her, gets arthritis so bad that she winds up in a wheelchair, and then publishes a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is somebody I want to know.

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Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

 


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.09.2016

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)


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.08.2016

Find Your Confidence and Keep It

Okay, so maybe posting that “Rough Road Ahead” photo the day before U.Va.’s home opener wasn’t the best idea. Or offering that prayer for perseverance. I kinda feel like I jinxed us.

Honestly, though, I think we can all be a little encouraged by U.Va.’s loss. Because getting all pumped up – and then having things go utterly sideways – could happen to anyone. And when I saw the headline in the paper this week (the one that said U.Va. needed to “find some confidence”), all I could think was, “Yeah, me too.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I come up with a plan (one that I think God has inspired or endorsed) and then, almost before I get started, I find myself getting clobbered. Unexpected obstacles, frustrating delays, and stunning defeats don’t just happen in football. And it can be easy, when you find yourself on the wrong end of a whomping, to wonder if what you’re doing is worth it.

I think it was Vince Lombardi who said that failure isn’t getting knocked down; it’s when you don’t get back up again. That’s a good one. But I like what the writer of Hebrews (who, incidentally, would have made a great football coach) said even more. He knew that those early believers had faced insults, persecution, and suffering. He figured they’d keep taking the hits. But he told them to stand their ground, and he offered this game plan:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

And so here’s thing thing:  If you feel like God has given you a job to do, or if maybe your mission isn’t as easy as you hoped it would be (and I’m looking at you, U.Va.), don’t be discouraged. Instead, anchor your trust in God, get back in the fight, and stand your ground.

And, whatever you do, do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded.

We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)


ARCHIVES: September 2016


09.02.2016

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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