“What are you giving up for Lent?”
It’s a question that many of us have considered, or at least heard, at some point during the last two weeks. Some Christians choose to fast (from desserts, say, or maybe from a habit like smoking or drinking or Netflix); others mark the weeks leading up to Easter by adding something to their daily routine (a new devotional, morning Bible reading, extra time for prayer). Either way – giving up or adding on – the idea is to do something that reorients your perspective and draws you closer to God.
For me, neither option works too well. Giving up chocolate doesn’t seem all that hard. Until I try it, and then all I want for breakfast is a brownie. I tell myself that I should channel that craving into a hunger for Jesus, but it’s like there’s a Doppelganger in my head saying, “Yeah. Jesus and a brownie. That’d be sweet.”
And when I try to add something (like a few extra minutes in prayer as a start to my morning) I don’t fair any better. Just opening my prayer journal seems to unleash a Kraken of cares, and they all start shouting at once: “Worry about this! Don’t forget to do that! Hurry up; you’re going to be late!”
I want to quiet my heart and get ready for Easter, but I can’t.
Which is why, when I read Zephaniah 3:17 this week, it brought me up short:
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I’ve always loved the image of God as a mighty warrior, one who takes delight in his people and rejoices over them with singing. But the other day, as I struggled to get my distracted mind to behave, the phrase “he will quiet you by his love” fairly jumped off the page.
He will quiet you.
You know what that means, right? That means it’s not up to us. We don’t have to calm our own fears, or work really hard to shut out the worries and concerns of the day. We can come before God – during Lent, or at any other time of the year – and ask him to do that for us. We can relax, knowing that even as he “exults over us with loud singing,” his love will speak peace to our souls.
I don’t know what you’ve give up (or taken on) for Lent, or whether the change is helping you draw close to God. But if you’re like me and you find your mind wandering or your worries mounting or you wish you had just a little more diligence and self-control, why not ask God to help? Tell him you can’t do it on your own (which he already knows, anyway), and that you’d like him to step in. Make Zephaniah 3:17 your prayer:
Thank you for showing up as the mighty one who will save. Thank you for taking delight in me, for rejoicing over me with gladness and singing.
I am worried/distracted/fearful; please quiet me by your love.
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):
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?
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:
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:
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)
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.”
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.
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)
I love David’s prayer in Psalm 25. “Show me your ways,” he says, “Teach me. Guide me.”
I love what David is asking for. And I love what he’s not. He’s not asking God to show him the way or the path or the truth. He’s asking God to show him his ways.
Because there’s a difference.
A lot of ways might appeal, a lot of paths might look good, a lot of what we see and hear might be convincing. But if we want to be confident that we’re on the right road or making the best decision, we need to let God direct our steps. Let’s make this psalm our Friday Prayer:
Show ____ your ways. Teach ____ your paths. Guide ____ in your truth. (Psalm 25:4-5)
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)
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:
Make your righteousness real in _____’s life; may it result in peace and quiet confidence forever. (Isaiah 32:17)
So Robbie and I have been working our way through the books, Lists to Love By, and 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.
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:
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)
“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)
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:
Reach down from on high and take hold of me; draw me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)
It’s January 27. How’s that New Year’s Resolution working out?
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!):
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)
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 Husbands. Those are great for strengthening marriage, but what about all the other relationships in our lives?
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:
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)
I wasn’t much of a Girl Scout. I finished my stint with the Brownies, but no sooner had I graduated to the green dress with the awesome badges-sash when my mom (who was a Den Mother) suggested that I might quit. I don’t think it was the prospect of cookie sales that damped her enthusiasm (we loved those, still do); all I can think is that maybe she made one-too-many sit-upons:
We made them – lots of them – to take along on our Big Camping Trip. But, for reasons that were never entirely clear to me, we never actually went camping. We went to the library. Where the sit-upons worked just fine.
All of which is to explain why I can read, but I cannot build a fire. The closest I ever came to having to build one for myself was in college, when a few girlfriends and I decided to skip the mayhem that was Fraternity Bid Night and go camping. Armed with a tin of Jiffy Pop and a bottle of wine, we drove to the outskirts of Charlottesville, parked our car on the side of the highway, and started hiking. Never mind that we didn’t have any wood (or, for that matter, any sit-upons); we had an entire semester’s worth of unread Wall Street Journals we’d subscribed to for an Investments class, and they burned remarkably well.
All of which is to further explain why, when it got cold this year and I threw a log into the fireplace, my husband looked at me like I was crazy.
“What?” I said. “I am going to put some newspaper in there. What’s the problem?”
“You can’t burn one log by itself,” Robbie explained. “You need a bunch of them.”
Robbie grew up on a farm. He lived in a drafty old stone house with charming fireplaces that a smallish person can actually stand up in, and his fire-building prowess (coupled with his ability to drive in the snow, which no boy I had ever dated could do) had me smitten from Day One. And so, when he said I needed more firewood, I knew better than to challenge his wisdom. I added more logs.
And maybe this is a stretch, but I couldn’t help but think about fire-building when I read this from @DailyKeller on Twitter:
If we are made in God’s image, and He is three persons – then at our fundamental core we are made for community.
I know Tim Keller is a big City Boy now, but I’m guessing that he has been camping. Or that he grew up on a farm. Because even though he doesn’t come right out and say it, I think what he really means is that people are like firewood. We can sputter along on our own, but if we want to realize our full potential – if we want to burn brightly and well – we need to spend time with other people, people who will ignite our faith and kindle our understanding of God and his purposes.
People with whom, and through whom, we can get to know Jesus better.
Do you have friends like that? If not, ask God to give you some. He’s the one who originally said it wasn’t good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and that we are supposed to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17). He knows that we flourish in community. Here’s how he puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Two are better than one. We are created for community. And friendship, I think, is a blessing that God wants to give us.
Sometimes, though, the connections he ordains don’t look like we think they will. Be alert to the unexpected, life-giving friendships that might be in store for you this year.
And don’t be afraid to pursue them. Perhaps you know an older person who loves the Lord, and who might be willing to mentor you in the coming year. (It can’t hurt to ask.) Or maybe your church has a Bible Study or an Alpha Course you could join. Or maybe you’re feeling ambitious enough to start your own group. You could invite a few friends to come over and try one of Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, or maybe do one of the online studies offered by the gals at Proverbs 31 Ministries.
And wait. I just had another idea.
If you home or apartment is small, and you don’t have enough chairs for everybody, you could just go ahead and make your own sit-upons. It’s easy. All you need is a couple of vinyl tablecloths, a hole punch, some yarn, and that stack of old newspaper you’ve been meaning to burn…
(And okay, so while you’re making new friends and punching holes in your tablecloths, I’m gonna be taking a little vacay. I’ll still post Friday prayers, but the mid-week blogs won’t show up again until early February. Until then…lots of love! – J.)