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Praying for Churches in Headline Areas

Parachute PrayerI stumbled upon a new Parachute Prayer last week that I am so excited to share with you today. We were visiting a church in our community that we are blessed to attend from time to time. When the associate pastor stood up to pray, after a great time of worship through song, he took some time to pray for churches located near significant headlines of the previous week. For example, if he were to do that this week, he’d pray for churches in Northern California where the earthquake hit, churches in Iraq and Syria where all is in turmoil right now,  churches in Ukraine, Russia, Liberia, Iceland . . . you get the idea.

In previous Parachute Prayers, I’ve encouraged you to pray the headlines for those impacted by them and for rescue workers and decision makers involved in crises, but praying for nearby churches is a great idea, too! We may not be able to go to those places to help, comfort, and encourage, but the people of churches there can and are. And in some cases, they must risk their lives to do so.

When news headlines catch our attention, let’s whisper prayers for churches located nearby as we pray for victims, about conflicts, and for all people involved in trying to set things right again.

Father, when headlines break our hearts, please call us to pray. We aren’t there, but others are. Please use their hands, feet, voices, minds, and hearts to comfort, encourage, and mend as only You can. Amen.

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When You Struggle to Find the Right Words

I don’t know how it is for you, but of all the elements of prayer, I struggle most with worship and praise. It’s not that I don’t feel worship and praise or believe that God deserves all worship and praise. All glory and honor and praise are His! I just sometimes struggle to find the words.

DSC01019eThat seems like kind of a strange comment for a writer to make.

Yet our almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God Who created the whole universe, Who exists in a realm we can only imagine for now, seems so far beyond any words I might be able to arrange as a loving offering to Him.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to live up to my personal perception of what such an awesome God should expect. He gracefully accepts whatever I have to offer when I choose to offer Him my best.

Yet sometimes I still feel stumped. Prayer requests—I’ve got those. Confession—God’s Spirit lets me know what we need to discuss. Intercession—I’m aware of the needs of my friends and family, world, church, and community. Thanksgiving—This one is often mistaken for praise because it’s just so easy to slide from telling God how amazing He is into thanking Him for all He’s done. Thanksgiving is simply counting blessings and giving God due credit for each.

These elements of prayer (requests, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving) are essentially a matter of presenting the facts of each to God, anticipating His response when we have asked for one. Praise and worship, however, requires contemplation, creativity, even a touch of poetry. Praise and worship is a gift! God deserves to hear us express our deep love.

I wonder if David or Solomon or Asaph or any of the other psalmists ever struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read some of their first psalm attempts? I wonder if they tried and tossed out some lines from first drafts, playing with the words until they sounded just right. I suspect they probably did!

We may not be able to read those first drafts, but God has given us a collection of their completed projects in the book of Psalms. When we struggle for words of our own, we can read these, pray along with them, and let them prompt words from us. Here’s an example, using the first four verses of Psalm 8 (The words in brackets are mine.):

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
[People all over the world can see your glory, Lord, just by looking up into the sky!]

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
[Your name alone is so powerful that even the most vulnerable find strength and courage when they praise You.]

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
[I can’t even begin to imagine how big You are, Lord! You’ve held planets in Your hands.]

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
[And yet You do care! You see each person You’ve created. You even know us intimately.]

DSC01029eWhen we pray this way, we’re agreeing with the psalmist’s words about God, offering extra praises as we think of them. We clarify the psalmist’s thoughts with our own words, cementing the understanding of our amazing God in our minds.

Since psalms are actually hymns or songs, we can also turn to the words in our hymnals for praise and worship words to agree with and expound upon, using the same technique:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” 
Blessed Assurance
[Jesus, Your Presence in my life gives me a taste of Heaven. I’m looking forward to living there with You someday!]

If you don’t own a hymnal of your own, you can Google the words to your favorite hymns and pray from your computer. Better yet, ask your pastor if there happen to be any retired hymnals hanging around in forgotten places at your church. As a pastor’s wife I know first-hand that most churches have some hiding somewhere where they aren’t doing anybody any good. Now that many churches have switched from traditional hymnals to overhead projectors there are even more! Your pastor may let you borrow one or have one to keep. (If your pastor lets you keep it, put a little extra in Sunday’s offering plate.)

[Dear churches that have no-longer-in-use hymnals lying around collecting dust in storage closets, please consider clearing out the clutter by giving them away to members of your congregation for personal worship and praise.]

I have one last praise and worship idea to share with you. This also comes from the Psalms. David wrote many of his psalms while sitting outside watching sheep. We may not have any sheep to watch, but perhaps we have children or pets we take outside from time to time. Or maybe we just like walking or running or sitting in the park and watching or flower hunting. If so, noticing the created world around us will fill our minds with words of worship and praise. If bowing your head and closing your eyes leaves you sitting in the dark with nothing to say, open your eyes and make note of all the wondrous sights around you that reveal the greatness of our amazing God.

Next thing you know, you’ll be writing psalms of your own. And God will be delighted to receive your worship and praise.

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Finding the Right Path Through God’s Word

There are so many ways to study the Bible! It’s a good thing, too, because there’s so much of the Bible to study! Lately, God’s been leading me into a new understanding. I’d be privileged to share my thoughts with you:

Red LeavesFor several years now, in my personal study time, I’ve been reading through the Bible—again and again and again. I start in Genesis, read through to Revelation, then start all over again. Sometimes I switch translations, but I always find my way back to the NIV. That version, even updated now, just feels like home to me.

In any case, through the past few readings, I’ve started lingering longer and longer in some passages, wanting to get as much from each as I can. I know that once I move on, unless we study the passage at church or I encounter it in a book, it may be a few years before I circle around to it again. (I don’t read the Bible through in a year. If you’re curious, click here to learn why.)

This slowing down reminds me of a quote by Quaker minister Stephen Grellet, “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Grellet was talking about ministering to people—grasping every opportunity—rather than getting the most out of Bible verses, but the idea is the same. Unless God decides to take me home, I know I’ll eventually read whatever passage I’m on again, but I also know it could be a while until I get there, so I hate to move on until I’ve absorbed as much truth from it as I can.

The point is: God is starting to slow me down—even more—again. But for me this is just as scary as moving on too soon! If I slow down, I may never reach a passage that I really need to read! Do I stay or do I go and how do I grasp everything I need to in God’s totally amazing, yet great, big Book?

I think this may become another exercise in trust. Can I trust God to lead me through His Word at His pace and in the order He determines in order to communicate everything to me that I need to know at just the right time I need to hear it?

That is the question.

1-23-14 PostSince December 1st, I’ve been reading a daily devotional that has weekly themes. Each week, there is a prayer to open with and a prayer to close with. There are devotional readings and Scripture passages that change daily, yet correspond with the week’s theme. There is also a Psalm for the week.

Funny thing is: praying the same two prayers every day for a week doesn’t faze me. I’m enjoying that, coming to understand what I’m asking God to do, and why, and truly making the prayers my own. But I’ve been feeling quite rebellious about reading the same Psalm each day for a week. Something inside me wants to read it, reflect on it, and move on.

I’ve been playing along, though—and, at first, I think it really was playing. But something interesting has happened the past few weeks that’s making me appreciate this discipline more. The first two or three days that I would read a Psalm, I’d think I had it and was ready to move on. But then, on the third or fourth day, something new would jump out at me, allowing me to see the passage in a whole new light. This week something new jumped out the day after that happened, too. Two brand new truths from one Psalm in one week! I can’t wait to read it again tomorrow. Who knows what is waiting for me?

I once knew a pastor who lived only in the Book of Hebrews for three whole years. I was a high school student at the time, so three whole years sounded like an awful long time for studying just one book! Now I think I’d understand if he wanted to stay even longer—just there—if it was what God led him to do.

I attended Bible study class this morning. We’re just starting on the Book of James. As our teacher started talking and classmates started answering her questions, I started remembering all sorts of things I’ve ever learned about that amazing book. But then I stopped myself (or maybe God stopped me). I wasn’t there to remember past lessons, though they are good and true and foundational. I was there to learn something new. So I asked God to open my mind and my heart to new truths. And God answered that prayer.

I hope this post hasn’t annoyed you too much. It’s kind of a ramble, not my usual style. But these are the thoughts that have been roaming through my mind on the subject of grasping hold of God’s Word. For now:

  • I’m going to continue reading through my Bible, beginning to end, but I’ll be more open to His direction should He lead me to reread something, jump ahead, go back, or switch versions. Bible study doesn’t have to be an orderly pursuit.
  • I will let God facilitate my personal study time, knowing that if I just plow ahead, I may actually be missing something good! I’ll approach every passage I encounter, whether in personal study time, in my Bible study class, in a sermon, or in a book, as an opportunity to learn a new truth—even if, maybe especially if, it’s one I’ve known from childhood.
  • I won’t let the size of the Book intimidate me. Instead, I’ll trust God to use it as His perfect tool for instructing me—and each of His children—in all we need to know. If I find myself reading the same Psalm every day of every week for a year, I won’t worry about whatever the next one holds. God will lead me to it in His time. For now He has me studying all that He needs for me to know.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Please forgive me for rationing it out carefully, controlling the intake so I’ll get equal amounts of each priceless verse. Help me to trust You with the pace and content of my Christian education. It’s Your Word—that makes You the perfect teacher Who knows just what I need to know. Open my mind and heart. I want to know what You want me to know about You, Your Kingdom, Your ways, and Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.

How do you study the Bible?

What book are you reading now?

In one sentence, what’s a recent lesson you’ve learned?

This post is linked to Missional Women’s Faith-Filled Friday Blog Link-up.

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Freedom’s Door

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.’” –Exodus 6:9-11

The Israelites had been in bondage for years. You would think they’d throw a party to celebrate and run to pack their bags on hearing Moses’ report that God was preparing to set them free. They didn’t, though. They were so discouraged and beaten down by bondage that they completely ignored the messenger and refused to believe the good news.

At this point, God could have said, “Well, fine. If you aren’t interested in being rescued, I’ll just leave you there.” But He didn’t. He loved his people too much for that; He wanted the best for them. So He went to work doing just what He’d said He would, showing His power and putting Pharaoh in his place. It was the beginning of the second greatest rescue of all time!

Second greatest? Yes! The Israelites were in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But all of humankind is in bondage to Satan and this world. Some people are so discouraged and beaten down by this bondage that, like the Israelites, they can’t hear or understand the good news. God has opened the Door to their freedom anyway! Captives discouraged by sin don’t stop Him from putting His plans into action.

The plan? God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and rise again that all people can be free. We’ve just celebrated that coming, and now, as a church, we’re contemplating Jesus’ growing up years and His ministry in anticipation of Easter’s celebration: God’s rescue plan fulfilled in Christ. As I consider Exodus 6:9-11, I’m so thankful God sets His plans in motion, even for people who can’t see the path out through their pain.

But it still comes down to personal choice. It always has. The Israelites didn’t have to leave Egypt. They could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks. You’ve opened the door, but we’re not walking through it. We’ll stay here and suffer rather than follow You to that so-called Promised Land.” They didn’t say that, though—well, they did, but that was later when they were on their way and discovered that the path to the Promised Land wasn’t a cakewalk. But that’s another story about another spiritual issue. What matters today is that the Israelites chose to follow God out of bondage, to begin their journey to the Promised Land. That choice is now available to all humankind: to follow Jesus out of bondage to sin and to begin the Christian’s journey to our eternal Promised Land.

Remembering the story of the Israelite response to Moses’ good news, let’s pray for today’s discouraged, burden-laden captives. Whenever we encounter people who can’t hear the good news over the screams of the captor bent on their abuse and destruction, let’s pray that God will speak a little louder and that He’ll make the door frame a little brighter and that He’ll show His power in miraculous ways so that the captives will see and believe and let Him set them free! Our all-powerful God is more than capable—people just have to follow Him out of sin’s prison door.

For more thoughts based on God’s Word this weekend, visit The Weekend Brew and Spiritual Sundays.

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Luke 2:7 on My Mind

NewOMM“She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” –Luke 2:7, NLT

Yesterday morning, we sang a hymn in church that I haven’t heard in so long it was almost new to me. My husband and I both struggled to follow the words while singing the right notes. More amazing, it’s a Christmas carol! I guess it’s one that’s sliding into obscurity, but I enjoyed the visit yesterday.

The name of the carol is Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne. The words ponder how it was possible that God’s own Son, King of Kings and Lord of Lords Himself, could have left the splendor of Heaven where He was celebrated by angels only to find no room on earth: no room in the inn, no place to lay His head, no acceptance by His own people, only their scorn and a crown of thorns.

In the words of the chorus, the grieving lyricist does her part to set things right with this invitation: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee. Then, after the final verse, she looks to her future in Heaven: My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.

So many aspects of Christianity have a past, present, future element to them. The first Sunday of Advent, celebrated yesterday, is one beautiful example of this. It’s a day of anticipation and expectation: we remember how God’s people were waiting for the first coming of their Messiah, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrate that historical coming as we thank Jesus for it through this present season. Yet we also look forward with hope to the expected and much anticipated second coming of Christ to occur on some future day. (Or maybe even today!)

We see the same in Luke 2:7 combined with the words from this almost forgotten hymn. We remember there was no room available for Jesus when He first came—and we grieve the tragedy of that. We thank Him for preparing a place in Heaven for us someday, for making it possible for us to find room with Him. Finally, we examine our own hearts to be sure that right now in this moment, nothing is trying to push Him out of His rightful place. If we’ve invited Jesus to live in our hearts, to be Lord of our lives, we don’t want Him to have to compete with any other person, place, or thing.

Jesus, I’m sorry there was no lodging available when You came to earth as a baby so long ago. Thank You for not holding that against us, though. Thank You for completing Your mission, for fulfilling Your purpose, that You could offer us the promise of eternity in Your home. Please search our hearts now and point out anything You find there that may be crowding You. That space is Yours, Lord Jesus. Our hearts are Yours. Amen.

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Finding Home

Finding HomeIn honor of my newly released book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, I’m launching a regular feature on this blog called Finding Home. Like my book, these posts are primarily for women who are moving, especially those who move often such as military or ministry wives. (Of course, I just happen to be both–a military and a ministry wife. One husband. One adventurous life!)

Since the key to finding home, however, is learning to be content wherever you are, whatever your circumstances–a condition that comes of knowing Christ as Lord of your life–I invite other readers to find encouragement in these posts as well. Sometimes life situations far out of our control can make us feel as if we’ve been kicked out of all that’s familiar. We may not have moved anywhere, yet we still long to find home. If you’ve ever felt this way, these posts are for you, too:

“Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow.” -Chris Tomlin, I Will Follow

We sang this song in church yesterday morning and it had quite an effect on me. The powers that be are talking about my husband’s next assignment, and so, we’re praying, again, about my husband’s next assignment. I’m willing to go wherever, but the anticipation of where that’s going to be still has a tendency to rattle me. I just want to know what’s next!

But that’s one of the joys of Army life. You never really know where you’re going until you get there, and even then, the Army can change its mind. This can be perplexing, but the Army sends us where the Army needs us. There’s a bigger picture than what we can see. What perfect training for obedient Christian living! We see this pattern all through the Bible:

God had a plan to create a new nation. This plan required that Abraham and Sarah move. God didn’t even tell them where they were going. He just told them to pack it up and leave.

God had a plan to spare His new nation. This plan required that Esther move–right into the palace where she had to risk her life to save God’s people from genocide.

God had a plan to encourage that nation in its captivity. This plan required that Daniel be taken captive, too. He moved with the people he served, suffering as they did, too.

God had a plan to redeem the whole world. This plan required that Ruth the Moabite woman follow her mother-in-law and move. Ruth didn’t even know the God she’d come to serve, and yet, He used her in a wondrous way. (She’s part of the lineage of Christ.)

These are just a few examples. There are so many more: Joseph, Moses, the disciples, Paul. In order to make a difference for God, they all had to leave home. None knew how it would turn out. (For more information on any of these people, visit BibleGateway.com.)

When I was a teenager, and even a young adult, a lot of my friends talked about being afraid to follow God for fear that He’d call them to be missionaries in Africa. I wanted to be a missionary, so this just tickled me. The truth is, God doesn’t call too many people to move far away from all that’s familiar, from the people they love. (If you picture yourself helping Jesus pack belongings into big moving boxes whenever you sing, “When you move, I’ll move,” you are one of these few.)

What God does call us all to do is obey Him, to do whatever He calls us to do. When we sing Chris Tomlin’s song, obedience is what we’re all pledging. Some of us just get to follow literally like Ruth, and we trust, like all the movers of the Bible, that God sees and blesses this, too.

Father, where You go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow–each day. Thank You for leading. I’ll entrust the outcome to You. Amen.

For more about what people are discovering at church, visit Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.

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Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.

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Turning Off the Voices in Our Heads

Words Aptly Spoken“Most of us, these days, spend much of our lives in our heads in a state of preoccupation and self-absorption, wrapped up in our anxieties and harangued by familiar voices that seem to run in an endless tape loop in our minds. We are obsessed with the things we have to do, or with how we can best play the starring role in what one of my students called, ‘the movie of my life.’ We rarely notice what is outside of us, right now, in the present moment.” –Barbara Baig, How to Be a Writer, p. 76

These words challenged me today. I’m all too aware that often they are true. Turning off the voices in our heads which demand we compare, contrast, worry, obsess, meet expectations, have our thoughts and opinions heard, or complete so many tasks in a day—too many tasks if they keep us from hearing others—can be difficult.

So let’s rise to the challenge today. Let’s make every effort to ignore those familiar, but pesky, voices, and use our senses to truly take in the action all around us. Let’s see the smile that’s not really a smile, so we can ask what’s really going on to show we care. Then let’s hear the story as it’s really being told, striving to get inside the talker’s head. Let’s smell Autumn in the air and taste whatever we eat—especially if we’re taking communion at church today! “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a)! And don’t forget to touch. Greet each other with hugs and firm handshakes, being sure to take the time to connect with each other’s eyes. Let your friends know they are loved by offering your senses to them instead of to the voices in your head.

Then don’t forget to do the same for God. As I mentioned a few days ago, He’s all around us, waiting to be noticed, longing to be heard and loved. Make every effort today to listen for His voice, to see His face hidden all throughout this world. He promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s devote our hearts to finding Him this day.

Father, thank You for this day. Help us, please, to live in the moment, noticing all that surrounds us, all You’ve given us to enjoy. Help us devote our senses to finding You and to loving the people You bring into our lives. With grateful hearts and Your Spirit’s help, we’ll train ourselves to live this way, intentionally, all the time. In Jesus’ name, amen.

What are you more likely to notice when you try to live this way? (The Leave a reply button is at the top of this post.)

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays.