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Okay, Stones – Your Turn!

Dear Blog World,

I’ve missed you! I hope you’ve missed me, too. I also hope you’ll forgive my extended absence and welcome me back. I really do have a lot to say. In fact, I’ve been saying it in my journals all along, processing . . . learning . . . praying . . . absorbing. Now I’m ready to write out loud again.

Where have I been?

In April, we added three new children to our family. I still feel kind of like I’m not quite telling the truth when I say that I have seven children, but I do. God has grafted a total of four beautiful girls – biological sisters – into our family tree in the past year and a half in much the same way He grafts those who receive His Son as their Savior into His. (Someday I’ll have to write more about that.) But in case you didn’t know this, whenever you add a family member, whether by birth, marriage, adoption, or alien invasion, there are adjustments to make for all involved. These adjustments pretty much filled my brain with fuzz.

And then I got sick. One day I was fine. The next I woke up and was not. We’ve only recently gotten a partial diagnosis about what’s going on. The good news is it’s not life-threatening. Now we’re just waiting to see if what it is can be treated or if I’ll have to learn to live with it. I’m already doing the latter, hoping this living-with-it-thing is temporary, but knowing that life must go on. If you think of me, please keep me in your prayers. (Maybe I can even be one of your Parachute Prayers . . . whenever you see a wildflower . . . I’ll let you work that one out.)

One of the limitations of this mystery illness is that I can no longer sing. Okay, so all I really did before was make joyful noises to my King, but now I can’t even do that. When I go to church on Sunday, I stand and listen and pray the words to the songs. If I try to sing, my lungs hurt, my heart flutters, and I have to sit down and assure myself I’m okay. The doctors in the ER don’t want to see me anymore. (That’s okay. I never wanted to see them in the first place. Not that they aren’t perfectly nice people, but . . . well, they’re in the ER.)

A few weeks ago, instead of listening and praying, I was whining to God about the situation. (Technically, that’s praying, but it’s not very worshipful.) The following verse came to mind: “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out'” -Luke 19:40. I almost laughed out loud, thinking, “Okay, stones. It’s your turn!” I’ve had that thought in my head each worship service since.

Our God is so amazing, He just has to be praised. If the Pharisees try to shush His people, He can make the stones cry out instead. If one of His children has a physical limitation that keeps her from adding her voice to the mix, He can call in a few rocks to fill in for her too. So far He hasn’t chosen to do this.

But He could. Wouldn’t that be something?!

Lord, how I thank You that one way or another, Your Name will be praised. And one way or another, I will find a way to praise You even if I cannot sing! You have worked miracles on my behalf and for the benefit of my family this year. I’ve been amazed to see what You can do when You decide something must be done. Nothing and no one can stand in Your way. I’ve seen the truth of this – and I love You for it! No one else deserves my trust, my life, my heart like You do. I will praise You however I can. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Praying for Healing Needs

James 5-16

Yesterday morning, our pastor included a time of prayer for physical healing in the worship service. He invited people with specific concerns to come forward to be anointed and prayed for publicly. Friends and family gathered around to support them in prayer, too. As I was praying for these, I thought of friends and family far away who also need physical healing. I prayed for them, then, because physical needs are often accompanied by emotional needs, I went on to pray for people who need to be healed emotionally. Of course, this reminded me of people in need of social healing—people suffering relational wounds, attachment injuries, separation from loved ones, loneliness. These need healing, too. I was just beginning to pray for people in need of spiritual healing when prayer time ended and the service went in another direction. But I liked praying this way. That’s why I’m sharing the idea with you today.

Is this a Parachute Prayer? Not really, but it’s close. When we pray this way, we are using a prayer prompt, and perhaps, you never know, God’s Spirit will bring it to mind at some random moment, calling us into God’s Presence to pray for loved ones and acquaintances in need of healing. In that case, it would become a Parachute Prayer.

But I see this more as a tool for a time of more concentrated prayer.* We all know many people in need of different kinds of healing. Sometimes we tell them we’ll pray for them and whisper a quick prayer in the moment but forget to bring the need before the Lord in a deeper way.

I always feel sad when I realize this has happened; I try to remember. I know it’s important. But sometimes I forget. I believe this new prayer prompt can help.

Whenever we go to God with a healing need, let’s take the time to let God’s Spirit lead our thoughts to other people with similar needs. As time allows and as we exhaust one list, say our list of people who need to be healed physically, let’s move on to people who need other kinds of healing: emotional, social, spiritual, mental. There’s no need to worry about saying a lot of words about each need. We’ll just talk to God about each person’s situation, how we feel about it, what we’re hoping He’ll do for them. Then we’ll reaffirm our trust in His perfect wisdom regarding the situation and thank Him for working in and through each person’s life. He loves all the people we’re concerned about, and He’s already working faithfully for their good.

Father, we thank You for teaching us to pray and for calling us into Your Presence on behalf of people who need to be healed. Remind us to pray for them often, enjoying time with You as we do. Amen.


*To learn more about this, read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Available at Amazon.

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The Challenge and Blessing of Change

Bluebonnets

Change.

Life seems to require it.

But the pain of going through it brings blessing.

When we cooperate.

This has been on my heart these past few weeks. Twenty Sixteen is already proving to be a huge year of change!

At the moment, I’m sitting in a functional house full of boxes that need to be emptied. Yes, we’ve moved—again. This time by choice. How weird is that? We just couldn’t find peace in the house we were renting; we felt unsafe. So we moved. And we’re so glad we did!

DSC01646Yesterday, to take a break from the boxes, I tried something crafty, and it worked! I covered our front door’s windows for privacy and made them pretty in the process. (Click here to learn how.)

I also went on the season’s first flower hunt yesterday. I’m back in Texas where this passion began, but I’ve found new places to explore. I’ve made a list. I visited the first site yesterday where I found curious buds about to bloom, but not quite. Soon I must go back to see what’s hiding in those green packages.

Our God made all growing things to change.

A few years ago, my brother gave me a spice rack, hoping to encourage me to cook with something more interesting than salt. I took him up on the challenge, found at least one recipe for each spice, and blogged about my experiences in learning to cook. I went from cooking quick and easy for a family of five that included three young boys to cooking more creatively for just two. Then, by necessity, I learned to cook with less dairy, no soy, then no gluten—and sometimes, when extended family visits—without nitrates or eggs. Now, as we prepare to adopt a child or two or four, I’ll need to learn to cook for a family again. This time I’ll be looking for quick and easy without the ingredients we can no longer handle. And now I have a whole spice drawer to go with the spice rack I often refill! I think I’ll start blogging about my experiences in learning to cook all over again—again.

MysteryPlantLearning one set of successful recipes wasn’t enough. Even my cooking must change. I’m excited about the challenge.

I think I used to think that childhood was the time for change, that once a person reached adulthood, things stayed pretty much the same until death. Spouse, career, family, home. Unlike the Hobbit, I welcomed the adventure God called our family into—military ministry. But I think maybe I wanted (or expected to get) that adventure on my terms. I wanted to pick and choose my challenges. I had expectations of what I’d find in each place and how I’d deal with it and how life would respond to me.

Tolkien got it right when he wrote The Hobbit. Life is best when it’s full of adventure and challenge and change—even if that adventure, challenge, and change mean dealing with something difficult right where you are. These are the gifts God uses to help us learn to rely on Him and to mature. Sometimes He lets us choose our challenges, but even then they come with surprises. All we really have control over is how we choose to respond. We can ask God for more of His strength, courage, power, and wisdom as we handle life with thanksgiving, dignity, and grace—or we can whine, complain, get angry, and demand our cozy Hobbit hole.

That won’t do us any good, though. The neighbors have already auctioned off our stuff and leased the space to someone else. When one adventure’s over, a new one must begin. Even if we settle down, life will continue to change.

We don’t always have a choice about the changes in our lives. Illness, death, downsizing, disaster. These come upon us, and our only choice is in how we respond, what work we’ll let God do in our lives through the trouble that has come our way. But when we do have a choice, if we always make the safe choice, let security determine our path, we’ll never change and grow—and we’ll miss out on many blessings God has planted along our way.

Yellow from a DistanceWhen I went flower hunting yesterday, there was a paved path along a creek. Some flowers were close to the path, but the bluebonnets I was most excited about were scattered in a field several yards away. I’ve walked on the path before and seen all kinds of critters scamper across it—including big spiders and snakes. (Okay, the snakes don’t really scamper.) I knew these were lurking in the field between me and the flowers I wanted to photograph.

I really don’t like spiders or snakes.

In some places, the grass around the flowers was tall, giving critters great hiding places. I stayed on the path and took pictures from a distance here. In other places, though, the grass had been cut right up to where the flowers were. Walking to the flowers was still a little risky, but not so much. It was a calculated risk worth the effort with care.

As we navigate our way through this life, we can prayerfully take such calculated risks with care, as God leads, in order to change, grow, and mature—and enjoy great blessings along the way! In fact, on the walk back to my car, I saw a mother with two little girls heading straight across the field to the flowers, no hesitation, only joy. As we grow to trust our heavenly Father with whatever comes our way, we’ll find such freedom to enjoy each new adventure in our lives.

Thanks for letting me ramble on and reflect a bit today. I hope to get back into my regular writing routine within a few days—unless things change.


Are you moving this season, too? Check out my devotional for encouragement as you do: Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway.

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The Conversation Begins: Confession

The Conversation Begins“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”Psalm 32:3 and 5

At the beginning of this Psalm, David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” The rest of the psalm tells us how to enjoy this blessing. We do so by confessing our sin.

Confession is agreeing with God that sin is sin, talking to Him about any sin in our lives, asking Him to forgive it, and promising to turn away from it with His Spirit’s help. When we argue with God about what is or is not sin, denying the truth that He has placed inside of us, there is deceit in our spirit. We are lying to ourselves and to God. Sometimes we’re really good at this, but God’s Spirit knows the truth and works to reveal it to us. Until we confess, we will feel God’s heavy hand on our hearts (Psalm 32:4).

Psalm 32-6When we sin, God’s Spirit convicts us—not because He wants to condemn us or make us feel badly about ourselves or our failures, but because He wants to heal us and set us free. Sin is a toxic disease! Whether or not we or our society agrees with God that sin is sin, if we are doing something that God has told us not to do—for our own good and for His glory, we will suffer sin’s effects. Psalm 32 shows this. Until David decided to confess his sin, to stop keeping silent about it and covering it up, he felt the pain of it clear into his bones. David’s sin made him miserable!

But once he confessed, God set him free. David wrote Psalm 32 to encourage others to find this freedom and to enjoy all of its benefits:

“Let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (v. 6).

“I [God] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (v. 8).

“Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (v. 10).

Confession sets us free from actions and attitudes that cause us—and sometimes the people around us—harm. It also brings us into God’s presence where we’ll enjoy His love, His guidance, and His peace. God offers us an abundant life full of joy, and He has graciously shown us how to receive it. We start by asking Him to forgive and remove the disease of our sin.

Search us, God, and know our hearts;
    test us and know our anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in us,
    and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen. (from Psalm 139:23-24)

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Our Brains on Technology

Psalm 46-10“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” –Psalm 46:10

I read something interesting recently. Scientists have discovered that all of our electronic gizmos and gadgets may be doing yet another type of harm to our brains. (Or perhaps we’re allowing them to do this by not using them with care.)

Now I don’t have anything against electronic gizmos and gadgets. I listen to my mp3 player when I run. I check in on social media sites several times a day. I prefer typing on a keyboard to writing with a pen. I take my cell phone with me wherever I go.

But that’s why I found this study interesting.

You see, lately I’ve been longing for silence more and more. I leave the music off while driving in my truck. I say, “That’s enough,” and shut down my computer for the day. I often sense my eyes and my ears and my brain telling me to remove the noise—for a little while, at least, —so I let them rest by doing non-electronic things.

And that’s what this study has found we all need.

The scientists discovered that after we take in new information, our brains need downtime to process it. They need time to chew it up and absorb it, so it can stick with us. If we’re always taking information in without rest, the information can’t stay. So if we’re listening to music while talking on the phone while surfing the internet, we may think we’re relaxing, but we’re really stressing our brains out. Our electronic gizmos and gadgets allow us to multi-task like never before, but scientists say they are wearing us out.

I think this study shows that God knew what He was saying when He told us to “Be still and know that I am God.” If we really want to know something, we have to take time to be still. And what is more important to know than that our God is God! He will be exalted in the nations; He will be exalted in the earth!

Maybe this is why the things God taught me during my quiet time refuse to come back to me until I’m driving down the road in my truck or cleaning the floors in my home. Maybe mindless activity isn’t mindless at all—it’s time our minds can use to process and sort recent input. It’s also time our God can use to firmly stick His Truth to our brains.

Maybe this is why I learn best by rewriting headline verses and truths, praying about them, journaling my thoughts, and thinking about them in quiet moments over several days. If we want something to stick, we have to learn to be still.

Lord, please help us use technology wisely and well, turning off the noise when that is what we need. Remind us to be still, to know that You are God—to hear what you want us to hear—to carefully keep thoughts you want us to keep. Our minds are fearfully and wonderfully made—by You! Help us protect them, and use them in the way that You want us to. Thank You, Lord! For Your glory, Amen.

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Praying for Those Taking Final Exams

Parachute Prayer PostDepending on where children live and what grades they are in, finals week can start as early as today (maybe earlier—I’m already seeing graduation pictures on Facebook!) or as late as two months ago. Regardless, it’s finals season! So let’s start praying for our kids—whether they’re our kids, our grandkids, someone else’s kids, or all the kids of our nation or even of our world. Finals are stressful! The pressure’s on; let’s pray.

I’ve come up with two prompts for this particular prayer. First, whenever you see a Number 2 pencil, pray. You know why, I’m sure, so I won’t explain. But if you’re praying for a particular child on a particular set of days, put a Number 2 pencil where it doesn’t belong, where you’ll see it often, where it will remind you to pray. I’m taping one to the microwave just as soon as I finish writing this post. My boy’s finals start today!

Finals Prayer PromptYou’ll encounter the second prompt when you go shopping. Graduation cards, invitations, and decor displays are starting to show up everywhere. Congratulations Class of 2015! We’re so proud of you! We’ll be even more proud once it’s official. Before these kids (and young adults) can graduate, they have to pass their finals. Let’s let these store displays remind us to pray.

Father, a good education is so important. We want our kids to develop healthy minds, to learn all they’ll need to know to enjoy the blessings and responsibilities of adulthood. As this school year comes to a close, please remind us to pray. Please help our kids to remember all they’ve studied and to be pleased with the results of their efforts. Thank You, Lord! Amen.


For more prayer prompts to practice, read my new book, Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually! Available here.

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Unbalanced, Resting, and Free

Words Aptly Spoken“One of the favorite words in the Rule is ‘run.’ St. Benedict tells me to run to Christ. If I stop for a moment and consider what is being asked of me here, and what is involved in the act of running, I think of how when I run I place first one foot and then the other on the ground, that I let go of my balance for a second and then immediately recover it again. It is risky, this matter of running. By daring to lose my balance I keep it.” –Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction

I came across this quote this morning in the daily devotional I’ve been reading this year, A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, and it really made me think—especially when I put on my running shoes and took off for five and a half miles shortly after. I put the quote to the test, confirmed it was true, and made a few discoveries of my own to share with you.

When we run, we launch ourselves into the air with one foot then catch ourselves with the other. We don’t really think about this; we just do it. (No Nike reference intended.) But the launching is risky. It’s like singing a Capella for a moment, hoping that when the accompaniment starts again, we won’t have slipped off key for our audience to hear. If we don’t hold our feet just so while in the air, we’ll fall when gravity pulls us back to earth.

This means walking is safer. When we walk, one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground. (This is part of the definition of walk.) The motion is the same; we’re still pushing up with one foot while supporting ourselves with the other. But we never actually leave the ground.

So we have a choice to make. Walking is safer, but when we run, we enjoy a moment of freedom from the earth—we soar! And it’s in this moment of soaring that we rest!

That’s right. We rest. We rest while we run but never when we walk.

Most fascinating of all: those who’ve learned to run the fastest, rest the most. Have you ever watched an Olympic runner sprint? Their strides are longer than their heights. Those runners get air!

10-29-14 PostMe. My stride needs work—lots of little jumps. I’ve read that if I boldly allow myself to enjoy a longer stride, I’ll find myself running faster with less effort. That change will take courage because it will involve greater risk. My stride won’t lengthen until I trust myself more, until I stop believing that if I stay in the air too long I will fall.

This trust is what running through life with God is all about. God offers us freedom and rest, but we have to be willing to jump, to work on our stride. This will leave us feeling unbalanced at times, but it sets us free. It lets us rest. No worries about the future; it’s in God’s hands. No struggles to be met in our own strength, with only our own resources. Just confidence in the One Who’s leading us where He wants us to go, where, ultimately, He knows, we most want to be. This running is risky, but God won’t let us fall. He’s teaching us to trust Him, so we can run with Him for all eternity.

Father, please help us to run with confidence and strength. Set us free to enjoy life Your way. Enable us to rest in You. Amen.

Related Bible words: Hebrews 12:1, Isaiah 40:31, Proverbs 3:5-6Proverbs 3:26

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Praying for Those Held in Addiction’s Chains

The song Set Me Free by Casting Crowns played on my MP3 player the other day and prompted a Parachute Prayer. If you aren’t familiar with this song, the melody is haunting, making the message even more powerful. It’s the story of a demon-possessed man healed by Jesus (Luke 8:26-39). As you read the first verse and chorus, consider how this man would have felt:

It hasn’t always been this way
I remember brighter days
Before the dark ones came
Stole my mind
Wrapped my soul in chains

Parachute PrayerNow I live among the dead
Fighting voices in my head
Hoping someone hears me crying in the night
And carries me away

Set me free of the chains holding me
Is anybody out there hearing me?
Set me free

We don’t hear a lot about demon possession in our society today, but there is a group of people living in chains, sometimes living on the streets instead of home with their families. When they are in their right mind, they long for the former, brighter days. But then they give in to what has stolen their minds, wrapped their souls in chains, and left them fighting voices in their heads. These are the people who’ve become enslaved to their addictions, who will give up everything of value in their lives for more, just a little more, the more which is never enough.

This week, when we see chains of any kind (holding fences closed, keeping bicycles safe, blocking off driveways, worn as an fashion-statement accessory), let’s ask God to set people free from their addictions. Jesus set the demon-possessed man free and sent him home (verse 39). He can do the same for those held tightly in chains today.

Father, the chains of addiction are powerful, but You are stronger. This we know! Please set people free today. Amen.

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That Spinach Sure Is Sneaky Stuff

“Wait! What did I just do?” I asked myself in horror while cooking dinner the other night. I had added spinach to an old favorite recipe—just because it seemed like a creative idea. By choice?!

IMG_6328eBut I don’t like cooked spinach. I don’t. It’s just plain yucky stuff!

When I was a child, I refused to eat spinach except under parental duress—even then, I went to great lengths to disguise the taste. You’d find my technique disturbing. As I think of it, I find my technique disturbing. I suspect it’s why all three of my children absolutely refuse to eat mayonnaise. (Not even in potato salad!) The trauma went just that deep, embedding itself into my DNA for my kids to inherit.

It wasn’t until we moved to the Netherlands that I learned one could eat spinach raw—and I discovered that I like it that way. I’ve been okay with spinach in salad ever since. But you have to admit, served raw it’s an entirely different vegetable, part of the crisp lettuce family as opposed to the slimy algae clan.

In Colorado, I discovered spinach quiche and decided that cooked spinach is okay when buried in egg and cheese. But I determined my terms of acceptance would absolutely end there. My children were blessed with a spinach-free life. My husband never complained.

We’re trying to eat healthier foods now, though. Mike, by choice, me, because of a body that’s decided to stop tolerating foods that contain milk or soy. If I had my way, I’d probably serve cheeseburgers with French fries for dinner every night—with chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

Okay, not really. But doesn’t that sound good?

Back to my story. While visiting my mother-in-law last month, Mike found spinach in her freezer and decided to cook some up to serve as a side dish with some baked potatoes. He really liked it. He asked me to get some for him to enjoy in our home from time to time. I did. He’s fixed it for himself a few times and raved about it.

And evidently, thoughts of spinach got stuck in my head. Because as I was cooking dinner the other night, I thought, “This might be really good with some spinach cooked into it.” And just that fast, I added spinach to our perfectly good meal without even thinking about it.*

And it tasted good.

The author of Hebrews used the concept of maturing food tastes to illustrate spiritual growth. In Chapter 5, he writes, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (verses 12-14).

Just as my tastes had to mature (a lot) before I could accept spinach into my diet, Christians grow into the more difficult Bible passages, the deeper Scriptural truths. We wouldn’t expect preschoolers to read Leviticus or to understand Paul’s letters. We introduce them to the Bible through its stories of history. When introducing adults to the Bible, we teach them the essentials of the faith first: Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and so on. We have them start with the Book of Luke and let them grow into the complexities of Job and Revelation over time.

So what’s my point? If you haven’t learned to love Deuteronomy just yet, that’s okay. Take the more challenging books in smaller doses. Spend most of your study time on the books you love.

But don’t neglect the more challenging ones. Discipline yourself to ingest them in small doses. As you become more familiar with them, you’ll gradually get to know the people behind them, the overall themes, and, best of all, the God Who was at work when events happened, later as they were recorded, and now as we read of them. If you stick to it, you may decide you’d like to digest Isaiah someday.

And you will discover it’s good.

Father, please encourage us to keep on reading. Open our hearts to the truth of Your Word. Use it to help us grow in faith and in fellowship with You. All of Your Word is good. Amen.

*Click here to find the recipe on my Facebook page.

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Praying for Our Hearts

Parachute Prayer“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”Ezekiel 36:26

Though most Parachute Prayers are meant to remind us to pray for other people, sometimes we need to pray for ourselves. And if we’re trying to follow Jesus who told us to love God above all others and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31), I think praying about the condition of our hearts is one of the most important prayers we can pray for ourselves. This world is designed to harden our hearts, to turn them to stone, to keep us from loving anyone well. This is something we must guard against (Proverbs 4:23).

Keeping this in mind, when we see stones, whether pebbles in a stream, rocks used as decorations outside a store or home, or boulders built into monuments, let’s pause and ask God to soften our hearts. Then, when time allows, let’s use that time to examine our hearts more thoroughly, giving God the time He needs to fully answer that prayer. Heart surgery can’t be done in a moment, but the Parachute Prayer can initiate the process, so God’s Spirit can begin to work, to let us know what attitudes need to change, so He can soften our hearts.

Father, thank You for designing us with a great capacity to love. Help us to protect our hearts, so we can continue to love You and others well. Please reveal any hardness in our hearts. Then show us how to cooperate with Your Spirit, so You can bring healing. Teach us to love as You do. Amen.