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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.

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Enjoying a Season of Rest Effectively

Finding Home“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”Psalm 23:2-3

Not too long ago I visited with a seasoned military-wife friend who told me she’d been involved in everything possible at her husband’s last duty station but that she was using this assignment to rest. I understood completely and was thankful to learn that I’m not the only one who has ever found a need to do this.

Ordinarily when we move, we want to plant our pulled-up roots into new soil as quickly as possible by getting to know our new surroundings, making friends, and getting involved in activities as God leads.* If we move often enough, though, God may lead us to rest—especially if our relational roots were wounded or torn in our previous location or if we’re simply so exhausted that the new soil seems too hard to dig into. Transplanting our lives takes time and energy. Sometimes we need a season of rest and renewal.

There are two things we must remember should God lead us to rest, though:

1. This isn’t a time to withdraw into a “kingdom of isolation where it looks like [you’re] the queen.”** Yes. You are protecting your roots so they can heal or grow, but they’ll rest best in God’s Presence (through Bible study, prayer, and church attendance) and growing strong among the permanent people of your life: spouse, children, parents, faithful friends who keep in touch no matter where you live. God created you to interact with Him and with other people. Use your season of rest to build the most important relationships of your life.

2. This season of rest is only for a season. Enter it as God leads. Leave it the same way, whether after just a few months, a year, or a full assignment. If you try, because of false guilt or pressures from within or without, to jump back into too many things too soon, God will let you know that you still need to rest. If you get too comfortable in your resting place, however, God will do whatever it takes to “encourage” you to get involved again. Make this timetable a frequent topic of prayer. Cooperate as God leads.

Father, thank You for the seasons of life, both active and restful. Thank You for leading us into service and fulfilling activity in most of the places where You take us in life. Thank You also for leading us beside quiet waters where You can refresh our souls. Please give us the wisdom to know the difference. Help us to recognize Your guidance and to cooperate fully. We trust that You will give us all we need to serve You well wherever You send us and in whatever You lead us to do. Thank You, Lord. Please find us faithful. Amen.

*To learn more about this, read my book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway. Available at Amazon.com.

**Quote taken from the song, Let It Go.

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Praying for Healthy Growth

Parachute Prayer

 

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”Luke 2:52

I’ve been praying Luke 2:52 for my children since they were born. I continue to pray it for them even now, though they’ve most likely reached their full stature by now. I want my children to grow like Jesus, and I know this is something God desires for them, too. Luke 2:52 covers every aspect of human growth:

In wisdom = mental growth
In stature = physical growth
In favor with God = spiritual growth
In favor with man = social growth

People who grow steadily in all four areas are well-rounded and healthy human beings indeed.

So let’s turn this verse into a Parachute Prayer!

First, if you haven’t done so already, commit the verse to memory. You’ll need to keep it in your brain for use whenever you’re reminded to pray this prayer. It’s an easy verse to memorize because it’s short and it’s a list. All you have to remember is that Jesus grew and that He grew in four ways: in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Now here’s the trigger. Whenever we see a ruler or a measuring device of any kind, let’s let it remind us to pray. We can pray for our kids and/or grandkids, for our neighbors’ kids, for kids who go to our churches, for nieces and nephews, and for our kids’ friends.

We can also pray for grown-ups who are striving to grow in any of these areas. (When I do this, stature represents health in my prayer.) Until we reach Heaven, we all must strive to grow, prayerfully allowing God’s Spirit to make us more like Christ. So from now on, whenever we stop to measure something, let’s also pause to pray.

Father, thank You for making people able to grow, and thank You for Jesus’ example to follow. Please turn the measuring tools we use so often into reminders to pray about this process so crucial to all-around good health. Amen.

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Book Review: “Never Ever Give Up”

NEGUAs I mentioned yesterday, Never Ever Give Up: the Inspiring Story of Jessie and her JoyJars® made quite an impression on me. It’s the story of Jessie Rees, her battle with an inoperable, incurable brain tumor, and what she did to change the world in her last ten months of life. Her father, Erik, tells the story.

When I got to the part of the book where the doctor gives Jessie’s parents the news, I was stunned. I closed the book, carried it in to where my husband was, showed him the cover with Jessie’s picture, summarized the story, and said, “This doesn’t happen. Not in this day and age. Not to children and their parents. No.” (I continued to give Mike updates as I read the book over the next three days. Now he probably feels as if he’s read the book, too.)

We hear so much about cancer research and progress made. I guess I thought that, at this point, there must always be some kind of treatment to try that may or may not work depending on how healthy the person is, how soon the cancer is caught, or how aggressive the cancer is. What I didn’t realize is that each kind of cancer must be researched; each needs its own treatment and cure. While researchers have made great strides with some, like breast cancer, others, like the kind that Jessie Rees had and many other forms of pediatric cancer, have hardly been looked at yet. These need attention and funding. The timing of this book’s release is no coincidence: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Jessie’s story opened my eyes to this great need.

It also inspired me. Jessie cared about other people and wanted to help them however she could. Her father says, “She didn’t wait for permission or instructions. She just thought to herself, ‘What can I do to make someone feel better today?’” The JoyJars® were one of her responses.

Can you imagine a world where everyone in it thought this way . . . then acted on their response?

Zondervan Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. It’s easily the most educational and inspirational book I’ve read this year. I hope everyone who reads this will go out and read Never Ever Give Up, too.

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Testing New Ideas

“Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”Job 12:11-12, NIV

DSC01967eMy husband has always been pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. The more exotic the better for him. Me, not so much, though I am becoming more willing to experiment. A little. Just a little. My favorite is still a cheeseburger with fries. (Though now I have to enjoy this without the soy-filled bun.)

When our boys were younger, if my husband ordered something unique at a restaurant, he’d sometimes offer to pay the boys (a nickel, a quarter, on occasion even a dollar) to give the new food a try. They rarely took him up on it. They knew that some things, like happy taste buds, are much more important than extra spending money.

If they did decide to try the new food, though, they were always so cautious! They’d touch it with the tip of a tongue. If it didn’t bite them first, they’d nibble just the tiniest bit. If that didn’t poison them, they’d try a small bite. Of course, if one approved, they all wanted to try the food—expecting to get paid, of course.

Wise adults probably don’t need to be quite so careful when tasting new foods. But this is how we’re to test new ideas.

  • First, we pray for wisdom.
  • Then we determine if the source of the words is trustworthy.
  • Next we read or listen carefully to be sure we understand.
  • Finally, we compare and contrast the new idea with words we know to be true: those coming from the Bible or from trusted Bible teachers who’ve proven their determination to study God’s Word and present it accurately.

We don’t accept the new ideas as healthy ones unless they pass these tests.

As we grow older, if we’re persistent about testing words in this way, we’ll become more familiar with God’s Word, we’ll come across fewer new ideas, and we’ll more quickly ascertain what’s worth our time and what’s not. God’s wisdom and understanding will have taken firm root in our life. We’ll know where to go when we need healthy words to nurture our souls.

Lord, please teach us to test new ideas with caution as if tasting a new food. We want to grow in wisdom, to fill our minds and hearts with words that honor You. Amen.

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Intentional Goals for a Growth-Filled Week

DSC01962eGood morning! Happy Monday! Welcome to a brand new week!

Have you prayed over your agenda yet?

The Bible says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

We can strive to do this, too!

  • How do you plan to exercise your mind and your body this week?
  • How do you plan to build your relationships with God and with other people this week?

Our goals don’t have to be huge. Small steps over time will carry us as far as we need to go.

But we need to plan to take those steps or another week will pass without our moving forward at all.

Father, please guide our steps this week. Help us to grow like Jesus did. Reveal opportunities for mental, physical, spiritual, and social growth. Give us the wisdom to set reasonable goals and the courage and strength to reach these. For our good. For Your glory! Always. Amen.

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Reflections on Reading for a Restful Day

Books!Well, I didn’t end up resting as much as I’d hoped yesterday, so I’m trying again today. Don’t worry, though! I have three blog posts wandering around in my head that I hope to move onto the computer screen next week in the form of a short series. I’ve been reading through Isaiah and am finding some serious words to ponder there!

I’m just playing today, though (while the washing machine does my laundry . . .) I found this fun quiz for book lovers at Books and Beverages. Since talking about reading is almost as much fun as reading itself, here are my answers:

What are your top three book pet hates?

  1. Finding folded corners in place of bookmarks
  2. Receiving a used book ordered on-line that was labeled Like New but looks like it’s been through the washer a few times
  3. Having books that are part of a series in different formats (hardback, paperback, digital) instead of all matched

Describe your perfect reading spot.
A comfy couch by a window with lots of sunshine coming through

Tell us three book confessions.

  1. When I was in high school, I folded corners instead of using bookmarks. (I’d seen somebody do that on TV. I don’t remember who it was, but she was a bad influence.)
  2. I don’t go to the library very often, but getting a new library card is always a top priority whenever I move to a new home. If I have access to a community’s library, I know I belong. (I wrote more about this in one of the devotionals in my book for women who move often, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway.)
  3. I love Kindle Freebies, but they are usually last priority on my TBR list. Books I’ve promised to review come first, then books I chose to purchase. This tends to be true even if the Kindle Freebie is one I would have purchased had I not found it for free.

When was the last time you cried during a book?
I was reading A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander. In one scene, a main character is forced to institutionalize her father who suffers from dementia, and he becomes angry and violent because of it. The injustice of the situation, the girl’s pure motives being so misunderstood by the one she was trying to help, broke my heart. I had to set the book down and come back to it on another day.

How many books are on your bedside table?
None. I have little piles of books-in-progress scattered all around the house, but there are none on my nightstand.

What is your favorite snack while you’re reading?
I rarely eat while I read. How would I turn the pages? I do drink coffee while I’m reading, though.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.
Besides The Bible, I recommend Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. (That’s right! I did it! Just three!!!! If you want more recommendations, though, visit my GoodReads page.)

Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.
One shelf? One bookcase? I don’t understand the assignment.

Write how much books mean to you in just three words.
God. People. Books.

What is your biggest reading secret?
I have a carefully developed system for managing my TBR list and its sub-lists and for choosing which books to read when. It’s kind of like a food pyramid for my reading diet, existing to make sure I don’t ingest only dessert (Christian fiction) but read a little bit of everything I love: biographies, classics, Christian non-fiction, writing, and psychology.

  • How would you answer some of these questions? Any book confessions of your own to make? Feel free to leave comments about your own reading habits. I look forward to reading them!
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Giving God Time to Heal Our Wounds

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.'”Luke 10:41-42, NIV

“Be still, and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10, NIV

A few weeks ago, God pointed out an unhealed wound that should have been taken care of long ago. He let me know He’s ready to heal it; I’ve been trying to ignore it, you see.

California PoppyThe problem, though, with ignoring an emotional wound is that you still feel the pain. Figuratively, you slap a bandage on it, so you won’t see it. Then you cover that bandage with a cast to protect it. You lock yourself in a room, so to speak, so no outside force can cause more pain; then you surround that room with an impenetrable wall. Finally, you dig a tunnel under the whole thing, creating a bomb-shelter-type panic room that totally isolates you from anyone or anything who can cause you more pain. But none of it helps because the pain is inside you–and the wound is festering.

As God revealed the problem, I prayed, “Lord, I agree. I’m broken. Please fix me.” He kept sending gentle reminders. I kept praying the same prayer, expecting God to act. Until Monday morning in the middle of my quiet time, when God responded by pressing this thought into my head: “I’m trying to help you, Janet! But you won’t sit still!”

I almost laughed out loud as I realized the absolute truth of that statement. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a good Martha scolding. But God showed me I needed it this time. Even my quiet time with God has developed an agenda, a to-do list for the time. Some days God calls me to look at something a little more closely, and I’ll pray, “Sorry, Lord, I’d love to talk with You more about that point, but time’s up. We must move on for now.” I’m pretty sure that makes God sigh.

How did I slip so subtly into that?! No wonder that wound hasn’t healed.

If our car has a problem, we don’t expect the mechanic to come to us, strap himself onto the bottom of the car, and do his job underneath while we drive the car down the road. If our appendix bursts, we won’t expect the surgeon to operate while we type at our computer or wash dishes at the sink.

No. That would just be absurd–and seriously painful.

Just the same, when we suffer an emotional wound, we must make time to sit in God’s presence to let Him deal with it.

That same Monday when I felt like God was scolding me, I read a chapter in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Each chapter explains a different kind of prayer. That day I read about the prayer of rest. Such perfect timing! This prayer involves sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening for His voice. As we do so, outside stresses will come to mind, things that normally demand our attention, claiming urgency. And as each one arises, we choose to let it go, giving God all rights to our time. It’s only when we’ve let all other claims to our attention go, that we’ll discover genuine rest in God’s presence. That’s when healing can begin.

And the process will go much more quickly and involve less pain if we’ll simply take our wounds to Jesus while they’re still fresh or merely bandaged instead of waiting for Him to coax us out of underground panic rooms. Thankfully, He hates to see His children hurt. He seeks us out with gentle reminders of the work we must let Him do.

Lord, thank You for calling us to be still, to know that You are God, and to let You do Your healing work in our lives. You are our Lord, exalted above all things! You are also our loving, heavenly Father Who cares. Whenever we hurt, please call us to come to You first. When we’re broken, You long to fix us. Yet You will wait until we are still. Thank You, Lord, for Your patient, yet persistent work. We love You so! Amen.

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Psalm 18:36 on My Mind

NewOMM“You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.”Psalm 18:36, NIV

I’m approaching today’s verse, the last of five in this series, with just a little bit of fear and a whole lot of laughter. You see, several years ago, I happened upon Proverbs 3:26“For the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared,” on a day when I’d accidentally impaled my foot on a nail. (I’ve never believed the timing was a coincidence!) Then this morning, I almost tested gravity on my treadmill. Thankfully, my ankle did not give way.

When I run, I’m really finicky about my shoes. Before I tie them, I make sure I don’t feel any sock seams or folds that might rub blisters. After I tie them, I double check because I really hate blisters! I double knot my laces, so they won’t come untied to trip me. Then I move my foot around a bit to make sure I haven’t tied the laces too loosely or too tight. Either can cause problems that will haunt me for the rest of the day. It takes a few extra minutes to get my shoes just so, but it ensures my run will be more comfortable–which usually means I can go further!

This morning, however, even though I’d double-knotted my laces, one bow somehow slid to the side, far enough over that I actually stepped on it a few times and almost tripped. I can’t even imagine how painful a fall on a treadmill would be, but I’ve witnessed several on TV. (Our family really loves watching AFV!) I’m thankful I didn’t experience such a fall today. And, as I did back when I discovered Proverbs 3:26, I’m groaning and giggling over today’s verse.

I just love You, Lord! Your timing confounds me. It also tickles my funny bone.

I hope you’ll join me as I memorize Psalm 18:36 this week. Our Father loves us and watches over us. He provides all we need! We can trust Him as we follow Him through life’s spiritual journey. We may trip and fall physically, but if we’re living in His presence, spiritually He’ll ensure we will stay healthy and strong.

Father, we thank You! Help us to stay on the path You provide and stick close to You always. Amen.

To review the full passage we’ve been contemplating for the past few weeks, click here. Did anyone memorize all five verses? Congratulations to you!

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Book Review: Running Lean

Running Lean by Diana L. Sharples is a Christian fiction novel for teens, published by Blink. It’s the story of two teenagers who have been dating for several months. Stacey is from a non-Christian family who moved to town to escape a hurtful situation. Calvin is from a large Christian family still reeling from the death of the oldest son. Stacey and Calvin were drawn together by their shared pain, yet are running into obstacles trying to help each other move past it.

Overall I liked this story, but I had a few concerns. First, few of the adults in the story were aware of or sensitive to Stacey and Calvin’s needs. Rather, the adults were self-absorbed and out of touch. Teenagers see adults portrayed this way enough on secular TV. They don’t need to have this idea reinforced in the Christian novels they read. Ultimately, the parents came through in crisis, but I would have preferred more competent involvement from them throughout.

Second, in the hands of a girl on the edge of an eating disorder, Stacey’s dive into anorexia will read like a how-to manual. I understand that the author wants to warn young girls away from this, but I am concerned that some will write the consequences off as fiction while noting Stacey’s methods of hiding what she’s doing. I wouldn’t recommend parents give this book to any girl at risk of this.

I liked the three-fold concept of “running lean,” though: Stacey’s lack of food, Calvin’s motorcycle’s fuel deficiency, and both teens trying to fix all without God. The lesson was clear, easy to grasp, and memorable, as well as interesting. I thank Blink for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.