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It's been a few years, but I still remember the look of pain in my daughter's eyes. She came home from first grade in a bit of a funk. When I asked what was wrong, she explained that some kids at school had called her a name.

Instantly, I felt my inner "Mama Bear" awaken. WHAT?!?!

Defying every impulse I had to call the school and chew someone, anyone, out for letting some second-grade hooligans hurt my baby, I calmly asked,  "What did they say?"

Her eyes filled with pain.

"I can't tell you. It's a bad word." There it was again...Mama Bear Rising. It took a few minutes longer this time, but I managed to control my it.

She reluctantly agreed to whisper the offensive word in my ear. She leaned close and whispered a word that is simply not allowed in our home..."Stupid." Then I saw tears fill her gorgeous brown eyes.

I held her close and assured her she is not stupid. I don't think she's stupid. Daddy doesn't think she's stupid. Most importantly, Jesus, who created her, absolutely does not  think she's stupid.

"Do you think you're stupid?" I asked. She shook her head. "Then it doesn't matter what anyone else says, does it?" The waterworks came then.

"But it still hurts!" she cried.

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless #BeIntentional | thereisgrace.com

And she was right. The old playground saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is quite simply a lie.

Words do hurt. Whether they're simply said without thinking, for a good laugh, or out of raw emotion in the heat of an argument. Once they're said, they can never be taken back. They can be repented of, even apologized for, but never taken back.

Kids are notorious for being outspoken, a little clueless, and sometimes rude. They are, after all, kids. They are also remarkably resilient. It didn't take long for Little Miss to bounce back and dive, carefree, into her latest art project. But those words will stay with her for a long time. The next time she is called something unkind (and let's be honest, it will happen), it will hurt a little more, because hateful words have already left a tiny wound.

I'd like to think that, as adults, we know better. We know to think before we speak and weigh carefully our words. But if my life is any indication I'd have to say that's not always the case.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Proverbs 18:21, The Message)

That tells me that (1) my words have the power to bring life to someone or bring death to their spirit, and (2) that I have the power to choose.

If words can bring life or death, we should at least consider the power in them before we let them tumble out of our mouths. If I held a high-powered weapon, capable of killing with a single shot, I wouldn't wave it around or shoot it off aimlessly. You'd better believe I'd be extremely careful in how I held it, carried it, and transported it. I'd refrain from using it, except when absolutely necessary.

Maybe that's what the writer of Proverbs meant when he said:

Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. (21:23)

Careful words make for a careful life; careless talk may ruin everything. (13:3)

Observe the people who always talk before they think—even simpletons are better off than they are. (29:20)

Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense.(15:2)

The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words. (10:19)

For me, it's a daily struggle, and it's worse when I'm tired, stressed out, or overwhelmed. (Who isn't all of those things most of the time?). But I keep at it. Why? Because I want my children to realize the power of their words.

I want them to understand that they possess great power in their words. And with that power comes great responsibility. 😉 Their words can bring life or bring death. They should be chosen carefully...used wisely.

Maybe our grandmas had it right after all... "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!"

Let your conversation be always full of grace... (Colossians 4:6)

BeIntentional-250How do you strive to #BeIntentional with your words? Share your ideas in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

More great reading to help you #BeInentional with Your Words:

The Words We Say

 

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The weeks leading up to Easter--Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week--are often filled with somber reflection. Even as I write this, it's a gray and gloomy Good Friday as though nature itself mourns the memory of what Christ did. I get that--we should reflect on what our sin cost our Savior. We need to remember we were lost and hopeless in our sin, and Christ paid a terrific price for us.

But Easter should be about more than reflection. It should be about celebration.

 

--we should reflect on what our sin cost our Savior. We need to remember we were lost and hopeless in our sin, and Christ paid a terrific price for us.

In reading through the crucifixion story this week, one overwhelming theme jumped out at me: God was always in control.

It was His plan. He called the shots.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ (Matthew 26:17, 18)

Did you see that? It's a whole week before Christ would go to the cross, and He's already in control of the situation. He is aware of what's coming, and He is already prepared for it.

And later, when He was betrayed...

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” (Matthew 26:54-56)

I love this moment in the story. Jesus--who is fully God even though He is fully man--had full authority to summon the powers of heaven and deliver himself from danger. But He didn't. He willingly gave himself up. Why? So that Scripture might be fulfilled...not just a centuries-old prophecy, but a promise to bridge the gap between a Holy God and an unholy people. A promise rooted in God's love for us--every. single. one. of. us.

Even in death...

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised...When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

At the moment Christ breathed His last, a great earthquake struck, tearing the temple veil from top to bottom and cracking wide the tombs. It was as though God wanted to reiterate: "This was not man's doing; this was My doing."

And my favorite part...

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb...But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen!" (Matthew 28:1-6).

This was it: the pinnacle of God's plan.

Christ came...in God's timing.

Christ died...on His terms.

Christ defeated sin, hell, and death...completing God's plan.

The cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. ~Oswald Chambers

The ultimate plan bringing the ultimate victory. If there was ever cause for celebration, I'd say that is it!

If God remains in control of the circumstances surrounding Christ's death, and if He's able to orchestrate the details of an historical ransom for the souls of His people, is He not able to also orchestrate the details of your life...no matter your circumstances?

Yes, let's reflect on Christ's suffering today. And YES! let's celebrate His resurrection on Sunday. But let's not limit our reflection and celebration to one week a year. Let's celebrate His victory in our lives each and every day!

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For as long as I can remember, there has been a piece of paper held to the front of my grandma's fridge by a magnet.

On this simple piece of notebook paper, scrawled in my grandma's handwriting, are two simple statements of great wisdom. I've read these statements many times over the years (usually as I snuck "just one more" bite of homemade cookie dough.)

When I was younger, I didn't give much thought to the words. Now that I'm a Mom, these simple statements have taken on new meaning. I don't know where they come from...if Grandma read them or heard them somewhere, or if God just dropped them into her heart one day. Because that's the sort of thing He does for my grandma.

I have watched her live these words for decades. And if I can remember these truths and learn to live them out, too, then maybe I can give my kids the love my grandma has so freely given for so long.

I don't know who (besides my grandma) to credit these great truths, but I pray they will encourage you:

Grandma's Wisdom {printable}...true then, truer now | thereisgrace.com

Grandma's Wisdom {two printables} | thereisgrace.com

Go ahead...print them out. I bet they'd look nice on your fridge.

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Three different people--in separate conversations-- last weekend told me they loved my hair. Three hair compliments in a 48-hour period is a major score for any woman, but for someone who spent months "putting on" her hair , those three statements were like gold.

What's funny is, I'm loving my hair these days, too. And not just because it's my hair (although that is a plus). I'm loving the short 'do...which is surprising, because thanks to a terrible Dorothy Hamill haircut in the eighth grade, I've been a long-hair girl most of my adult life.

Hair-over-it

Except for The Hair Catastrophe (as it came to be known) in my mid-20s...

I went in for a trim. What I got, instead, was a complete style makeover...and not a very good one. I don't remember exactly what it looked like, but I do remember standing in front of the mirror, staring in horror at my reflection. I also remember my roommate walking in with a look of concerned terror and asking, “What happened?!” The events that followed are a bit fuzzy, but they may have included tears and a few "sick" days off work.

Yes, it's just hair. And yes, it does grow back, but if you've ever been on the receiving end of an over-zealous stylist, you know in that moment all you feel is panic--a dreadful feeling of I’m going to look like this until it grows out, and there’s nothing I can do about it! I have been there, my friend. I have been. there.

I had another, similar, experience just a few years ago. It wasn't nearly as devastating as the first, but it was almost as painful. I asked for "a little shorter"  and got several inches shorter. Instantly, that same feeling of dread came rushing back. When I looked in the mirror, all I could see was my 20-something-year-old self and that devastating haircut from a decade before.

Thoughts of my hair consumed me the rest of the day. Do I like it this short? Is it really cute? Or just weird? Can I pull off hair this short? I was convinced my thick, natural curl combined with the short cut made me look like a giant Q-Tip walking around!

That evening I was still reeling from the haircut and feeling very self-conscious when I ran into a friend. She had obviously been crying. She smiled at me weakly and said through her tears, "I like your hair." Well, score one for my hair cut, I guess. But I couldn't fully enjoy the victory. I knew why my friend was crying, and it had nothing to do with haircuts.

Her family was going through a terrible trial...one I wouldn't wish on anyone, and I knew her tears were related to their situation. After my encounter with her, I began to think of my other friends who were facing overwhelming circumstances: one was still looking for a job after several months, one had lost a 9-month-old to a rare illness, one had been trying to sell a home for almost a year, one was facing surgery in just a few weeks, one had a sister battling a difficult form of cancer, one was in the middle of an unthinkable legal battle, and the list went on. I had been entirely consumed with my little world and my own insecurities, I hadn’t stopped to think about the needs of those around me.

In the previous weeks, I had spent hours talking with, listening to, and praying for these same friends and their situations. But that day it had been all about me. My hair and my situation had literally consumed my thoughts and energy.

It reminded me of how my children can sometimes be so completely consumed with their own problems they become oblivious to anything going on around them. How many times have I been in the middle of doing something for them (making dinner, doing laundry, etc.) only to have them come to me with a fresh list of demands, “Mom, I need you to…” “Where is my…” “Can you…” “He won’t let me…”

We tolerate, even expect, such selfishness from children, because self-absorption is a sign of immaturity. Children have to be taught to become aware of, and compassionate toward, those around them. It’s not often a trait they find on their own (although we’re so thankful when they do!).

Unfortunately, it’s also a sign of immaturity in me. When will I learn life is not really about me? There are times when we need to focus on our own needs--for health, for restoration, for healing of relationships. But when God brings us through those situations, we need to remember to turn our attention to others. When your biggest stress is a haircut gone awry, you're in a pretty good place; you have time and energy to spend on someone else.

God, in His grace, will help us to look beyond ourselves, our needs, our daily “emergencies,” and find needs in others. When we do that, He can use us to demonstrate His love and meet the needs of those who are hurting.

Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:4, The Message)

This thing called life is about more than my wants, my insecurities, and my to-do list. God has designed us to do life together--helping each other, carrying one another's burdens, and learning to serve one another in love. That’s what makes this thing called life worth it. That’s what God's grace in action looks like. I pray that one of these days I’ll finally get over myself (and my hair) and remember that!

How can you show God's love by helping someone in your life?

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No, I'm not single. Let's just get that out of the way. I'm happily married with two children...but before you leave, let me explain...

My husband and I started dating when we were 27 and got married when we were 30. That means I spent roughly 12-15 years of Valentine's Days single. (Technically, I spent almost 30 Valentine's Days single, but those last 12-15 were the hardest.)

single-on-valentines-day

Believe me when I tell you I know a thing or two about being single. As a general rule, I wasn't sad or depressed. I lived a full life--I had a lot of friends and a healthy social life. But there was something about Valentine's Day that seemed to bring me down, no matter how content I was with my life.

While the rest of the world is expressing their love to their most important person, you can't help feeling even more alone when you're single. Somewhere, deep down, you really are happy for all the happy couples in the world. Still, it's not an easy day when you're not one of them. I get it.

As an old married woman now, I think I have a little perspective to offer. So if I could sit down with each of my single friends over coffee and share my "big sister" advice with you, here's what I would say:

1. You are loved.

Remember this: Alone does not mean unloved.

Just because you're the only one who doesn't get roses at work or a card in the mail, it doesn't mean no one loves you. You probably know this already, but you've somehow managed to forget it in the midst of all the greeting card and jewelry commercials.

There are people around you who love you...parents, siblings, friends, family. They may be focused on their own relationships right now, but that doesn't mean they love you any less. They're just distracted. You need to know that.

And just in case you can't think of anyone who loves you, let me give you a hint...

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. (1 John 3:1, The Message)

2. God has a plan.

I can see your eyes rolling now. Because, yes, that's what I did at age 25 when someone said those words to me. It seemed so trite at the time, when I was "so old" and still single. Trust me...it's not trite. It's not cliché. It's true.

God sees you exactly where you are. He loves you exactly how you are. And He has a plan for you.

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11, The Message)

I don't know if His plan includes marriage. I don't know if it includes a relationship (and yes, I know how scary that sounds right now). But I know this: His plan is the best. And just because you're not in a relationship right now doesn't mean you'll never be. And, hear this: it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you!

3. Have fun.

This might seem a little difficult this Valentine's Day weekend when you're afraid to venture into public for fear of puking at the sight of another red heart balloon. But you can invite some girlfriends over to watch a movie (maybe not a romance) or play games. I guarantee you're not the only one without plans this weekend!

Here's the bigger idea: Instead of pining away or growing anxious about your singleness, make the most of your time. Further your education. Volunteer. Take up a hobby. Grow your interests. Press in to know God more.

In the 10 years I was a single adult, I was able to complete my education, gain valuable work experience (that's when I seriously took up writing), lead a ministry team, participate in numerous missions trips, and travel to places like Alaska and Paris. I love my life now, but trust me when I say there are no plans to visit Paris anytime soon! 😉

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Philippians 4:11, 12 The Message)

This is where I would set down my coffee cup, lean in close, and hope you really hear me when I say, Your story doesn't begin when you get married; you're writing your story now.

Yes, dear sister, dream about your future mate. And definitely pray for him. But don't forget to live your life now. God not only has a plan for your future; He has  plan for your present.

Make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Married friends, what did I miss? Any other advice you'd offer?

 

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It was Valentine's Day...our first Valentine's Day together.

We had been on dozens of dates by then, but this was Valentine's Day. I agonized over the right outfit, mourned the fact that my hair didn't do exactly the right thing, and tortured myself over whether to wear heels or flats.

He showed up on my doorstep in freshly-ironed dress pants and a crisp shirt and tie. Behind him, his SUV glistened, the result of hours spent washing, waxing, and Armor-Alling. He opened my door, and whisked me off to a magical night of Italian food, soft candlelight, and sparkling conversation. This was the stuff dreams...and jewelry commercials...were made of.

At the end of the evening, he handed me the most beautiful card. I soaked in every word, vowing to remember them all. Then I noticed a simple, hand-written note at bottom of the card: "Happy Valentine's Day! I love you, Steve." Every other word tumbled right out of my head as my eyes lingered on those three little words, "I love you." I read them again, "I love you."

I looked at up at his face, waiting with anticipation. He opened his mouth and out popped those same words, "I love you." That was the first time he'd said them to me; I floated all the way home and didn't touch ground for days.

Intentional Marriage: an effort to loving intentionally in marriage | www.thereisgrace.com

Fifteen years, two children, and a cancer battle later, our dates look a little different. Now Valentine's Day is just as likely to include a trip to the grocery store or a couple of basketball games as it is an evening out on the town. We are living the dream in a vivid state of reality, complete with sick children and temper tantrums.

These days our love is not all about butterflies in my tummy and stars in my eyes. It's not about dress pants and shiny tires. Because when the stars fade and the butterflies give way to sleepless children, job stresses, medical crises, and lost love ones, your marriage needs to be built on more.

After 15 years, his "I love you" can still make my heart soar, but now I hear it just as much in the things he does as in the words he says. I hear it when he tells the kids to kiss me goodnight and sends my bone-weary body off to bed, even though he's had a long and stressful day himself. I hear it when takes my van and brings it home with a full gas tank, freshly washed and vacuumed. I hear it when makes a special trip to the store for my favorite chips...just because.

The truth is, my husband does a much better job of being intentional about me than I do about him. Too often I let life get in the way. I get too easily distracted by taking care of the kids, the house, my health, and many other details of life that I forget to #BeIntentional about the one who means the most to me. So I am going to #BeIntentional about changing that.

I just need a little nudge every once in awhile to not take for granted the most important earthly relationship I have. You too? I thought so. So I just happen to have a couple of great resources that will do exactly that...and I'm giving them away for Valentine's Day!

Intentional-Marriage-Cover-3D-200-pxIntentional Marriage: The Art of Loving Your Husband is a 31 day devotional by my friend Crystal Brothers. In this simple devotional, Crystal gives you 31 practical ideas for focusing on your husband in a day-by-day format plus date night ideas and conversation starters. (Read more here.)

 

For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men by FWOShaunti Feldhahn will open women's eyes to what the men in their life - boyfriends, brothers, husbands, and sons - are really thinking and feeling. Men want to be understood, but they're afraid to "freak out" the women they love by confessing what is happening inside their heads.

Enter to win both books below! (Contest ends Friday, Feb 13 at midnight!)

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. ~Mignon McLaughlin

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BeIntentional-250

What do you do to #BeIntentional in your marriage? What additional resources do you recommend to someone wanting to #BeIntentional in marriage? Share your thoughts in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

 

More Great Reads to Help you #BeIntentional in Your Marriage: (Follow the #BeIntentional Pinterest board for these and other resources.)
What Love Is...Really
For Better or Worse
How to Fall in Love Better Than All the Love Songs
[Love Looks Like] 2:07a.m.
The Time I Got an Electric Griddle for Mother's Day
Building a "Real Marriage" {a review}
Trouble With Focusing on Your Marriage
10 Secrets to a Successful Marriage
Making Marriage a Priority
58 Tips from Marriage Coaches

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Church is not a new concept to me; I've grown up having to #BeIntentional about it. That's what you do in a pastor's family...someone has to be there to turn on the lights, open the doors, clean the bathrooms, and teach Sunday school. We didn't just go on Sundays, either. During the week I did my homework, practiced piano, and played hide and seek with my sisters in the sanctuary while my parents prepared for the next gathering.

Church was literally my home away from home.

My husband's experience was different. His family attended church regularly, but the 45-minute, one-way drive made it a little more difficult to be there every time the doors were open. When we got married, it took us awhile to figure out what our commitment to church would look like. I routinely felt like I wasn't doing enough, while he was happy to be more committed than he'd ever been. We had begun to settle somewhere in the middle when everything changed.

When we walked through the most difficult months of our lives, we began to understand more deeply the impact a local church can have on a family. At a time when it would be harder than ever to commit to attending church, we determined to #BeIntentional about it.

Intentional community

Many times, we showed up emotionally drained and physically exhausted from the toll cancer takes on a family. We were weary, but we went, not out of a legalistic obligation to a building. We went because, quite simply, we needed it.

We needed the worship—not just the lively music, but the atmosphere alive with adoration of a Savior and expectation of what He would do.

We needed the Word. We read the Bible daily, but on those darkest days when our faith faltered, we needed to be reminded that God is for us and fighting on our behalf.

We needed the community. Our large church grew even smaller and more intimate as people stopped to tell us they were praying for us, or offered to bring us a meal, or sent an encouraging note or e-mail. We needed every single one of them who came alongside and stood with us in faith.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

We needed connection. Everyone needs a support group, but as Christians we need more than a network of well-meaning individuals. We need to be connected to a body of believers.

For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them. (Matthew 18:20).

Week after week we found those things and more; we found the hope to make it through the coming days.

We continue to #BeIntentional about gathering together with other believers, even as we settle into our "new normal," because we realize that church is not just for the hard times. Yes, it's in the hard times that we need community, but if we only seek community when we need it, we will end up with a group of highly needy individuals who do nothing but take from others.

That's not God's plan:

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. (1 Corinthians 12:25-27, The Message).

I realize that not everyone has fond memories of church. I'm sure someone reading this has suffered a terrible wrong in the name of church or Christianity. Please understand this: That God's heart breaks over your pain. If you will allow Him, He will heal your pain and show you how beautiful His plan can be.

We are so grateful for the ways God used others in our journey. Now we look forward to God using us to help others as we continue to #BeIntentional about church and community in 2015.

Christianity is a personal relationship. It is not a private relationship.  ~Larry Osborne

BeIntentional-250Is there a group of believers with whom you already do life? How can you #BeIntentional in connecting with them? Or, do you need to #BeIntentional about finding a group and connecting? What is holding you back? Share your thoughts in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

More Great Reads to Help you #BeIntentional in Community: (Follow the #BeIntentional Pinterest board for these and other resources.)

What Starbucks Taught Me About Church
When You Need Community
3 Reasons to Attend Corporate Worship
10 Signs You Belong to a Great Church
Behind the Stained Glass
Five Benefits of Faithful Preaching
When Grace is In the Pulpit
Finding Hope in Community
When Worship is Our Lifeline
 

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Growing up in church, I did a lot of praying.

I learned to bow my head, close my eyes, and say all the right words. I could pray quietly and reverently or passionately and intensely. We prayed before meals. We prayed at bed time. We prayed at church. We even attended prayer meetings--gatherings for the specific purpose of prayer. If there was one thing I knew how to do, it was pray.

But too often, prayer often fell somewhere in the "if I can get to it" category of my to-do list. After all, if I didn't get around to praying today, there was always Sunday. Then my world was shaken.

Suddenly, my only moments of refuge from the storm were my moments in prayer. Connecting with God on a daily basis became my top priority. It's funny how a crisis will quickly put things into perspective. I no longer worried about when I'd get the laundry folded or if my floors were swept. I wasn't concerned about the format or volume of my prayers, or even the words I used. In fact, many times my prayers were reduced to the emotional ramblings of a crumpled mess.

If praying only with others is the extent of our prayer lives, we will be reduced to emergency- or obligation-only prayers. | thereisgrace.com

Jesus--who was somewhat an authority on the subject--had a lot to say about prayer.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5,6)

Jesus isn't saying we should never pray in public. He's saying prayer should be, first and foremost, a personal, private priority. Yes, we should pray with others and for others (see James 5), but if that is the extent of our prayer lives, we will not see much in the way of spiritual growth. We'll be reduced to emergency- or obligation-only prayers.

Think of your closest human friendship. It's probably the result of many private, intimate conversations. Imagine the relationship you'd have with your spouse if your only conversations were in front of others! Just as our human relationships grow through personal conversations, we must #BeIntentional about having consistent, private conversations with God in prayer.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7, 8)

If God knows what you need before you ask, why pray? Here's a hint: It's all about relationship. God wants to have a relationship with us. Prayer isn't about checking the box on a spiritual to-do list or bringing a laundry list of needs to God. Prayer is the point of connection with God through which our relationship with Him grows.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, (Matthew 6:10-13

While there's no "magic formula" to prayer, Jesus--in His infinite wisdom--gave us a guide. Personally, I think He knew I would need a little help! Having a plan, or a guideline, helps me to #BeIntentional about prayer. I don't follow a model every time I pray, but for those times when I need a little nudge, it's a great way to give my prayer time some focus. What better guideline than the way Jesus himself taught us to pray?

Our Father...hallowed be your name: Begin by praising God for Who He is and what He's done
Your kingdom come...will be done: Remind yourself that God is Sovereign...over your life and your circumstances.
Give us this day: Lay out what you need from God...in your life and the lives of others
Forgive us our debts: Ask God to search your heart and reveal areas you need to change/grow (this is also where you can ask God to help you forgive those who have wronged you)
Deliver us from evil: Pray for protection over your family and loved ones.

It's ironic that something as simple as prayer--having a conversation with God--can be  quite difficult to accomplish. It's too easy to allow the urgent tasks of my day (children, cooking, laundry, etc.) to crowd out the important things (Bible reading and prayer). That's why I'm determined to #BeIntentional about prayer in 2015!

My biggest concern for this generation is the inability to focus, especially in prayer ~Francis Chan.

BeIntentional-250How do you plan to #BeIntentional about your prayer life in 2015? Share your ideas in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

More Great Reads to Help you #BeIntentional in Prayer: (Follow the #BeIntentional Pinterest board for these and other resources.) 
The Power and Privilege of God's Children
When Prayer Comes Out of the Closet
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson
The Prayer that Changes Everything by Stormie Omartian
Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer by Max Lucado?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller

What are your favorite resources on prayer?

 

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I don't remember the issue--I was a teenager, so there were any number of them to choose from. Something, somewhere, contradicted what I had been taught and threatened to shift my entire worldview (or so my 15-year-old mind reasoned).

So, I did what I had always done...I went to my dad for advice. I'll never forget his response: "What does the Bible say about it?"

My deep, adolescent response was something like, "I dunno," when I was really thinking, Huh? I have NO IDEA what the Bible says about it! That's why I'm asking you...THE PASTOR!

I'll never forget what he said: "Why don't you find out and then we'll talk about it."

That one response rocked my 15-year-old world. I had always relied on my dad for answers to deep Biblical questions--I would ask, he would answer, and I would go on with my life. For the record, I was fine continuing that arrangement!

Since it was the Dark Ages (before Biblegateway.com), Dad gave me some passages to look up, and I went to work. I studied the Scripture, formed my own opinions then, just like he promised, we discussed it. It was a lot more work than our previous arrangement, but it taught me a valuable lesson that followed me into adulthood:

Reading the Bible Intentionally #BeIntentional | thereisgrace.com

We each have a system of beliefs and values that influence every decision of our life. If we do not intentionally build those beliefs on the foundation of Truth, they will be influenced and shaped by other influences (culture, obligations, family, friendships, etc.). Or worse, we'll end up swept along the path of "least moral resistance."

As Christians, we often end up building those values on what our parents taught us, what our church teaches, or even what we've come to justify in our own minds. Those things may not be wrong, but in the end there's only one Truth on which we should build any belief: What does God say about it? (as in, What does the Bible say about it?)

Here's the catch: In order to do that, we have to read what He has to say. (Revolutionary, I know!)

It sounds so simple, so why does it prove to be so difficult? If we fast-forward about 25 years from the scenario above, you'll find I had allowed the daily demands of life to crowd out my regular discipline of Bible reading. I had rationalized that I could coast on what I had "already stored up" through years of Christian school, Bible college, and working for a Christian publisher.

But when you face a situation that shakes you to your core, you tend to go back to the basics. So over the last year and a half, I've discovered that my spiritual life is strongest when I feed it a steady diet of God's Word.

Honestly, I still struggle with it. I have to #BeIntentional about not allowing other things to crowd out this vital component of my spiritual life. It's not easy, but things of great value rarely are.

That's why I'm committing to #BeIntentional about reading God's Word in 2015 with this simple plan:

When: The time has varied over the years--as a young adult, I would read late at night before bed. When I worked full-time, I would routinely read on my lunch break. Now, with two active kids in the house, I try to get up early and spend at least 15 minutes reading my Bible before the rest of the house stirs. With an early-riser in the house, that doesn't always happen! On those days, I rely on extra grace and plan a specific time later in the day for it.

Where: There is a specific spot in front of our fireplace where I like to settle in to read. I keep my Bible, a devotional, my journal, and a pen within reach. Settling into that spot triggers my brain (even when I'm still half asleep) to focus on what I'm about to do. And since I am NOT a morning person, I need all the help I can get!

What: I need a plan. If I don't have some sort of idea what I'm going to read, I'll spend the entire time flipping through my Bible in search of random passages. I've done all types of plans--chapter by chapter, topical studies, etc. It doesn't matter how simple or complex the plan, but I've found it is helpful to have one! There are hundreds--probably thousands--of reading plans available today in every format and on every topic imaginable. You can find a one-year plan here, or shorter plans here or here .

And for you "non-readers" out there...if the thought of sitting down with a book (of any kind) makes you break out in a cold sweat, no worries! Download the YouVersion app and listen to the Bible while you go for a run, clean the house, or fold the laundry. Or find a devotional on Audible  or Christian Audio and listen on your commute.

"If you feel uncomfortable in the Scriptures, and inadequate in the art of Bible reading, the single most important thing you can do is make a regular practice of reading the Bible for yourself."  ~David Mathis, Bible Reading is an Art

BeIntentional-250How do you plan to #BeIntentional about reading your Bible in 2015? Share your ideas in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

More Great Reads on Reading the Bible Intentionally:
Bible Reading is an Art
3 Tips for Better Bible Reading
The Bible: Fact or Fiction? 
Don't Just Read the Bible for Yourself
Finding Hope in God's Word
3 Reasons Moms Need to Be in the Word
Thirty for 30: A 30-Day Bible-reading Challenge

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12 Comments

It all happened in the same week. I was officially pronounced "cancer free" then a few, short days later I lost my mind...over a pair of gloves.

We were running late, yet no one was following the simple instruction to "please move more quickly." The whole scenario escalated until it resulted in a wild-eyed mom (who will remain nameless) barking orders at her startled children as she threw backpacks and lunches in their general direction then forced marched them, in a huff, to the waiting vehicle.

Then it happened: A sheepish voice squeaked from the backseat, "I forgot my gloves."

For a moment, I considered foregoing the gloves, but with Missouri winter setting in, and a wind chill of 26, the child had to have gloves. I slammed the door and stomped back into the house to retrieve them. Back in the vehicle--gloves in tow--we were finally off to school.

Then it struck me: I would not have reacted this way a year ago. At this time last year, my mental and emotional energy was focused on one thing: victory over cancer. That meant regular, daily, time in God's Word to hold tightly to His promises and regain control of my thoughts and emotions. It meant "little" things like lost gloves and hurried mornings didn't faze me. There were bigger mountains to climb, bigger giants to slay--I was battling cancer for cryin' out loud. Who cared about forgotten gloves?

Here I was a year later, the words "cancer free" still ringing in my ears, and I was already back to the same ol' me. I had kicked crazy to the curb, and it had bounced back and rolled right over me!

While I was thankful that life was returning to normal, I didn't like that I was falling back into the same habits. In the midst of the battle, I had been intentional about so many things--faith, priorities, commitments, even my attitudes and emotions. As a result, I had grown in many of those areas. Was I seriously going to go back to the same old habits and struggles as before? I sure didn't want to! The trial I had faced brought me closer to God and took me deeper in my faith.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2, 3)

If I was going to hold on to all I had learned over the last year, I would have to Be Intentional about it. Focusing on the important things had been easy when the rest of the world stopped--when others were bringing meals and shuttling our children about. Now that life was returning to "normal," I would have to work at it.

Finding intentionality in things that matter most | thereisgrace.com

Since I'm pretty sure intentionality isn't something I struggle in alone, I'm inviting you on the journey with me. And what better time to do it than at the New Year?

Over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring intentionality in many areas of life--spiritual, physical, and emotional. In addition to my regular posts, I'll  write once or twice a week about an area in which I'm learning to Be Intentional. I'll be honest about how I've failed or where I need improvement (as if you expected anything less) and share things I've discovered along the way. I'll also recommend resources I've found helpful or that come recommended by others I trust.

This isn't a one-sided conversation, though. I want to hear from you, too! I want to know how you've learned to be intentional and what has helped you along the way. Share your favorite tips and resources in the comments or join the conversation on social media (use the hashtag: #BeIntentional)

What areas do you need to Be Intentional in?

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