Psalm 121 is the passage my mom asked us to learn this year (a Scripture verse, and going to the Messiah sing-along, is what she wants for Christmas every year). With less than a week to go, I think my family might have a better shot at memorizing the Hallelujah Chorus than nailing the whole psalm, but we are trying. And I gotta hand it to her; Mom picked a good one. In addition to being just plain majestic, Psalm 121 is chock full of powerful prayer promises.
If you (or someone you love) could use an extra measure of help, strength, or protection, Psalm 121 has you covered. Try praying the whole thing, or just use the last two verses:
Heavenly Father, keep _____ from all harm. Watch over his/her life. Watch over his/her coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)
That’s the offer made inside the book jacket on this little book written by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon, three guys who’ve experienced more than a little bit of success in business, athletics, and family life. I got a copy of One Word after meeting Jimmy at a lacrosse tournament (he was coaching a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team), and I think it’s terrific.
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which, studies show, are abandoned by half of the people who make them by the end of January), Jimmy and his family pick one word–things like serving, purpose, surrender, grace, determination, connect, and shine–each year. Then they “live it”–with some pretty remarkable (and sometimes challenging) results.
If you’re tired of making commitments that revolve around things like exercising more, drinking less, or managing your money (yawn), or if you just want a fresh take on the New Year to share with your family (or with a circle of friends; a few girls and I have been “picking words” for years, and praying each other through the transformations they effect), why not give One Word a try? You’ll find tips on quieting your heart, discovering “your” word, and then learning to live it, powerfully, no matter what 2015 brings your way.
Like many of you, I have been following the University of Virginia rape story, a sensational, horrific, and (as it turns out) inaccurate account published last month by Rolling Stone magazine. As a U.Va. alum with three Wahoo daughters (two have graduated; Virginia is in her third year there now), the school is dear to my heart, and the students dearer still.
Even with the magazine’s reporting now discredited, almost everyone agrees that there are problems that still need fixing: Students drink too much, the “hookup culture” contributes to confusing relationships, and sexual misconduct – while arguably not the norm at U.Va. – certainly takes place, and no matter how you parse the statistics (and there have been dozens of studies trotted out), one rape is one rape too many.
If you’ve read even a handful of my blogs, you know that I don’t use this space for social or political commentary and – despite having a host of strong and not necessarily well-informed opinions – I don’t plan to start spouting off now. I wouldn’t even mention the story except for this photo, which Virginia texted to me early yesterday morning:
YOU ARE LOVED.
That’s the message on Beta Bridge, the oft-painted University landmark that doubles as a billboard for parties, charity events and – too often, at least this year – a community’s grief.
How fitting that these words – YOU ARE LOVED – would show up during Advent, a season when the space between heaven and earth seems to shrink, a time when we mortals may stop, even just for a moment, to consider how God sees the world. How he sees us. And how he longs to breathe new life into our lives, to fill our hearts with hope, and to show us how incredibly much we are loved.
You are loved. Amid a cacophony of finger pointing – It’s the fraternites’ fault! It’s the administration’s fault! It’s the parents! The government! The police! – this is a message that cuts through the noise. It’s a message that offers hope. It’s a message U.Va. needs to hear.
It’s a message we all – with our anger, our pride, our confusion, and our pain – need to hear.
Hear it now: You are loved.
I suppose every community in America has its own version of a Grand Illumination, but I must admit to being partial to 43rd Street in Virginia Beach, which gets “lit again” every year on the first Sunday in December. It’s a tradition that reportedly began when a few well-intentioned residents put up colored lights for their kids and drew the ire of the more socially respectable “white lights” crowd–whose complaints sparked a rebellion of Christmas cheer. Take a stroll down the pedestrian-friendly block today and you’ll find everything from dancing Santas and falling snowflakes to a giant replica of the “fragile” Leg Lamp made famous in A Christmas Story.
It’s a remarkable, joyful display. That being said, the residents are not professional decorators or master electricians, and things don’t always go as planned. One year, one of the homes featured a real live corps of marching tin soldiers. It was a brilliant concept tempered only, it would appear, by an overabundance of eggnog. Another time, one holly jolly husband decided to board up all the windows on his house so as to be able to “wrap and bow” the whole thing–an ambitious move that probably triggered some sort of post-traumatic holiday disorder in his wife, who was condemned to spend the entire season in darkness.
Perhaps my favorite whoopsie, though, happened last year. Robbie and I were bundled up against the cold, along with several hundred happy revelers, and as we made our way down the street, we came upon a beautiful old beach cottage. The crowd prepared to take in this new display, the homeowner flipped the switch, and…Peace On.
That was it. Maybe it was the fact that it had rained earlier in the day, maybe it was a faulty extension cord, maybe it was some “Made in China” conspiracy to derail the American Christmas spirit, but for whatever reason, that’s all we got. Not Peace On Earth or Peace be with You or even Peace Out. Just Peace On.
And it was perfect.
It reminded me of John 14:27, where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Paraphrased (and perhaps with a nod to the ’70s), I think the Lord might well have been saying, “Peace on.”
We live in a world that is anything but peaceful. But let’s not grow anxious or upset, and let’s not give into fear. Instead, let’s keep God’s promise in mind. He has given us peace–he IS our peace–and even if we can’t memorize the whole of John 14:27, we can still take hold of the unshakable security that comes when we put our trust in Christ and proclaim, along with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I don’t know about you, but as the days grow shorter and the darkness comes early, I find myself longing for light. Any light. Whether it’s a fire in the fireplace, the twinkle of Christmas lights in the neighbor’s yard, or the glow of a lantern in the snow, light just makes everything better! No wonder God told us to let our light shine–and here’s a verse you can use to pray for yourself (or for someone you love) and scatter the darkness with goodness and glory!
Lord Jesus, let ______’s light shine before others, that they may see his/her good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
I’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.
Think about it. Unlike the “My Size” Barbie we gave Annesley on 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:
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 Teens, which 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!)
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.
Another Christmas fail.
(And Kids, please forgive me for posting this pic. You know I had to do it.)
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: Her Bible verses have been a far better (and infinitely more comfortable) 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 Gammy’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.
I’m going to write more about the gift of prayer in my next post–and I’ll show you an idea that my kids actually did (and still do) like–but for now, would you just say a prayer for me? I haven’t yet picked this year’s group gift, and I’d be much obliged if God (who, according to Matthew 6:11, actually knows how to give “good gifts”) would weigh in with some ideas.
Insert your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in today’s prayer verse for hope, joy, and peace:
Heavenly Father, you are the God of hope. Fill ______ with all joy and peace as he/she trusts in you, so that _____ may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
THANK YOU for signing up to receive my blogs via email! I am grateful for you.
Here’s hoping that you get some really good help in the kitchen this year!
Happy Thanksgiving! And remember…
The righteous eat to their hearts’ content! (Proverbs 13:25)
I don’t know about you, but the torrent of “Black Friday” emails is stressing me out. I don’t want to start my Christmas shopping; I’d much prefer to savor the tryptophan hangover with a good book by a warm fire. I know I might miss my Big Chance to get 40% off a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System, but you know what? I can live with that.
Speaking of good books…have you read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs? It came out last year, to great acclaim. The book revisits the birth of Christ through the eyes of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, and if you are looking for an uplifting Advent read (or simply a way to put off going to the mall), look no further.
Higgs mixes familiar Bible passages with a warm and sometimes humorous narrative, and we find ourselves captivated not just by this fresh look at historical events, but by also by depth of wonder and transformation these “women of Christmas” experienced—and that we can, too.
A few nuggets:
About Elizabeth, the barren woman for whom God’s kindness took away her “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25), Higgs writes, “Through all her years of feeling less-than, Elizabeth had worshipped a more-than God.”
About Mary, who received an unheralded and unexpected angelic visitor: “In the same way, while we go about our daily tasks, God’s divine plan is unfolding. At any given moment our lives could change dramatically. No surprise to God, yet a big surprise to us. That’s what we find happening [to Mary].”
And about Anna, the old widow prophet who worshiped night and day at the temple: “She was standing nearby when she saw Simeon holding a babe and praising God. Her heart must have leaped for joy. The Messiah! ‘God, who had cared for her so faithfully all these years, saw to it that she didn’t miss that sacred moment.’”
…and she gave thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)
Verse by verse, vignette by vignette, Higgs gives us the chance to get to know this trio of women who lived in a world not all that far removed from our own, a world in which turkey dinners and online shopping deals can take our eyes off the off the real news of the day:
“All across Judea people went about their business, making their goods and tending their flocks, unaware, unprepared. But Mary, Joseph, and all of heaven knew.
“He is coming.”