10 Things Christians Get Wrong about Loving Their Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31). Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement? When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of ...

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“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31).

Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement?

When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of course I love my neighbor. God told me to.

It’s easy, right? Well, yes—until it’s not.

Because reality is rarely as simple as the theoretical. I love the idea of loving my neighbor, truly. I profess love and try to live in such a way as to practice it. I want to offer to others what God gave so freely to me.

But when I look, literally, around my neighborhood, what do I see? Houses I pass every day filled with people I’ve never seen. People to nod at as we drive past, but whose names I do not know. Houses that are suddenly empty, and I can only assume someone passed away because my impression is that an elderly man once lived there, but I’m not even sure.

What kind of neighbor does this make me? I’m not wanting to beat myself—or you—up, but the truth is, we all make mistakes when trying to love our neighbor. Even if we mean well, even if we’re intentional about reaching out, there are likely things each of us could do better. Let’s look at 10 of the mistakes every Christian makes when trying to love their neighbor.

1. We forget that loving our neighbor is the second most important commandment, and we skip the first one.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

In order to love our neighbor, we must first love God with our whole selves. It is this kind of love that equips us to reach outside of ourselves to love someone else—because once we have personally been on the receiving end of the love of God, we can’t help but share it.

2. We think we’re going above and beyond, when actually this was a basic, foundational instruction.

It feels good to help someone, and it’s nice to get recognition. But just like a student doesn’t get extra credit for merely completing the original assignment, we don’t get bonus spirituality points when we show love to our neighbors. Jesus didn’t say this was graduate-level work; he just said to do it. None of our excuses matter.

3. We pick and choose which neighbors to love.

Have you ever thought, Sure, I love my neighbors—but not that one. Not the one who is difficult to love. Not the one who lives in the bad neighborhood—or a mansion. Not the one who worships another God (or none at all). Not the one who makes bad choices. Not the one who doesn’t like me, or makes me feel inferior. 

If the Bible gives qualifiers like that, I’ve never seen them. Jesus continually leveled the playing field. No one sin is greater than another. If we think it, we have done it. The least are the greatest. The poorest are the richest. In God’s economy, it all balances out—and it all comes back to one thing. We cannot earn God’s love, and He withholds it from no one. So who are we to think we get to stipulate who should receive the love we have to give?

4. We assume “love” equates to “help” or “rescue.”

We think of our neighbors as projects rather than people, or we enter into the relationship with an ulterior motive—if I help them, they’ll have to come to church. But as a friend pointed out, “Jesus didn’t heal the blind man and then say, ‘You’re welcome! And hey—I’d love it if you came by the shoreline later to hear me preach.’” When we make our love conditional, it ceases to look like the love of God.

5. We think that loving someone involves voicing all of our convictions about their sinful life.

God is the one who will convict someone of a sinful lifestyle or need to repent. It’s hard to convince anyone our love is genuine if it’s phrased, “I love you, BUT…” Live your life in a way that shows the generosity, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God; if you do, people will see that and will want to find what you’ve found. Live for God yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives.

6. We ignore a need because it looks too big, or hard, or time-consuming, or complicated.

We resist entering into someone else’s life because our own lives are messy and it’s not a convenient time. The problem with that line of reasoning is that problems don’t wait until we have time for them. And people need us now, even if it’s inconvenient.

7. We think we have nothing of value to offer.

It’s easy to be paralyzed by the thought that we aren’t qualified, don’t have enough, or can’t do enough to make a difference. Often, what people need is simple: to be seen, heard, noticed. To find a safe place. To share a fleeting moment or two of a life. To have a friend. We attempt to quantify and solve a situation before we step into it. But if God has something for us to do, He will equip us. The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t mean we need to identify and solve our neighbors’ needs, just that we should show up—and pay attention to what He asks us to do.

8. We do it with our own power and forget to seek God’s direction.

We don’t need to ask God if we should love our neighbor; He made that clear. But beyond that, we can show love by lifting our neighbors to God in prayer. By interceding in a way that can make a difference in even the most impossible situation. It’s not our job to guide our neighbor’s life and decisions, but we can—and should—pray about the extent of our involvement and what God is asking us to do.

9. We convince ourselves that someone else will step up if we do not.

One day as I prayed for a woman at my church, I said, “Lord, surround her with people who can help her.” I felt God’s reply: “You’re a person.” True, maybe someone else is better equipped or has more free time. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. If we feel that love is an obligation, we’re not truly loving. Ask God to help change your heart so that you’re connecting authentically and without reservation.

10. We think loving our neighbor is about us, or even about our neighbors, but really, it’s about God.

 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The most effective way to witness to someone is to live it, not to preach it. God changes lives, and the most powerful way to tell that story is to let other people see how He has changed you into someone more like Him.

Please pray with me: 

Dear Heavenly Father, “love one another” is such a simple command, yet we make it complicated. Release us from the biases and judgments and insecurities that keep us from obeying. Open our hearts so that we may love our neighbors freely and without reservation. Equip us, guide us, and shine through us as we show others the love You already gave us.

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com.

 

 

 

How to pray without ceasing

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there ...

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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there was no medicine to help. Life was dangerous and fragile, and people weren’t distracted by social media and cell phones. But today? Who could be expected to keep their mind on God at all times? Surely God wouldn’t expect that of us, because He knows more than anyone how flawed we are, and how short our attention spans are.

Except that nowhere in the Bible is there an asterisk after that verse that says, “*unless you’re really busy.”

Here’s the good news. Not only is it possible to pray without ceasing, but it’s possible to do so without making any significant changes to your schedule or time commitments. It’s all about shifting your thought process and turning everyday moments into prayer. My friend Lisa gave me the best explanation I’ve ever heard: it’s like keeping the radio playing in the background. Keep that connection open and talk to God as you go through your day. Here are nine ways to pray without ceasing:

1. Begin with gratitude.

Psalm 100:4 says “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

In other words, start by telling God what you’re thankful for. Prayer doesn’t have to be asking for something; it can simply be thanking Him from your heart for what He has already done.

2. Get real.

If prayer had to be a stiff, formal language—“our most holy and mighty God, we beseech ye…”—first of all, we’d be bored and feel out of our element most of the time. And secondly, we would find it hard to keep that up for an extended period of time. But prayer is simply a conversation. Talk to Him the way you would talk to a friend. Sit down with a cup of coffee and just let the words pour out, casually, simply. Just be real.

3. Incorporate prayer into everyday chores.

Let your everyday tasks become acts of worship by turning them into times of prayer. As you fold laundry, pray for each family member—and then if your laundry piles are as high as mine, and you’re done praying but not done folding, branch out from there. Pray for your child’s soccer teammates, for the teachers standing in front of your children’s classrooms, for the partner who works hard to pay the bills, for health to stay active, for the workplaces where the clothes are worn. Or simply give thanks for the warmth of the home where you relax in those pajamas.

4. Tell Him what He already knows.

When my first child was in kindergarten, I realized that although I had a pretty good idea what she did at school, I didn’t need to know the details. But when she told me about how she and Jacob played at recess, or laughed as she tried to tell me the story her teacher read that day, it deepened my connection with my daughter. I got to see her life through her eyes and I reveled in her unique perspective. Of course, God already knows what’s in our hearts—but when we offer our thoughts to him, it turns what might be a solitary life into a richer, more meaningful relationship. And I think God delights in this.

5. Pray while you wait.

Most of us waste a lot of time while we wait for our daily grande nonfat mochas—or whatever. A quick online search reports that we each average two years of our lives waiting in line, and the average commuter spends 38 hours a year in traffic. Turn your car into a prayer closet, or let your mind take you someplace else while the person in line ahead of you buys her drink using four nearly-empty gift cards and then empties her coin purse of pennies.

Transform that “wasted” time into something meaningful—pray for the people you expect to encounter that day or the tasks you need to accomplish. Give thanks for your day, for the job paying for your favorite caffeinated beverage, for the young man working as a cashier to pay his college tuition, for the extravagant blessing of a giant store stocked with more products than we need. Count your blessings—because they’re everywhere—and make those minutes count.

6. Sing a song of praise.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).

Often, we think of prayer as what to do when we need God to fix something or when we’re unhappy. But the Bible encourages us to pray at all times. Remember the idea of prayer being like a radio playing in the background all the time? Make that literal by listening to worship music. As you sing along, offer it to God as your prayer. Or, better yet, make up your own song along the way. Nobody is listening but Him, so don’t worry if you’re out of tune.

7. When you mess up, admit it.

I don’t know about you, but I could spend most of my praying-without-ceasing time simply confessing a litany of my sins and failings: I just yelled at my kids; I’m jealous of the perfect little family one my friends posts about daily on Facebook; so-and-so is a real jerk and I don’t like him… and so on. Luckily, when we confess, God forgives us, so we don’t need to dwell there. That in itself is another reason to praise Him.

8. Give up worrying.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We’re not meant to worry, and we waste too many minutes doing just that. Next time something weighs heavy on your heart, envision yourself extending it up to God and letting Him hold it for you. Ask Him what your role is and if there is something you need to do; if so, do it. But don’t take back the weight of the worry. Then start thanking God for who He is and what He has already done for you, and you’ll feel the weight lifting off your shoulders as the words come.

9. Stop talking once in awhile. Instead, just listen.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

The number (or quality) of words you use in prayer doesn’t matter, because prayer is about God, not about us. Allow yourself to contemplate the nearness of God. Trust that He is your constant companion. Don’t monopolize the dialogue, but spend some of your time just being, simply sitting and resting in His presence. And keep in mind that the best conversations are two-sided, but you won’t hear anything if you never stop to listen.

Start Praying Now

Dear Lord, I believe that prayer matters, but I also think that we shortchange ourselves by limiting our definition of prayer. Open my mind to all that it can be. Help me become aware of Your nearness and abide in Your presence. Teach me to talk to You—and remind me to listen. Overflow my heart with gratitude for all that You’ve done and who You are. Let my life become a never-ending prayer to You. Amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

When the joy is hard to find

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, ...

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Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, well, let’s just say whatever wisps of joy I’d managed to salvage fizzled out too. Nothing was the same, and I didn’t feel like celebrating. Not a big surprise, but also not something I had much desire to change.

Along the way, a little over a year ago, I met this sweet, sunny, vivacious woman named Jodie at the Suzie Eller Retreat. Loved her right away, and enjoyed her even more the second year we attended together. She’s all about prayer and spreads love, genuinely, wherever she goes.

Last year I discovered that she had hit upon a meaningful way to celebrate Christmas. It was all about meeting God under the tree in prayer, and she had written prayer prompts for each day of Advent—kindred spirits, right? When she asked me if I’d put together a prayer calendar to go with the release of her new Advent devotional, of course I said yes.

And then the unthinkable happened: Jodie’s 22-year-old son died suddenly in a tragic incident. Every time I looked at my own son, I could barely hold it together. I saw pictures she posted online with her son, and the way they interacted in those photos reminded me so much of my son and me that it completely broke my heart. A group of us who were brought together by this retreat have been praying our hearts out for her and her family, feeling the loss so deeply that it can only be explained by God’s intercession. That’s one of the most beautiful gifts of praying for someone else—I can’t explain how it happens, but I’ve experienced firsthand how God allows us to experience some of the love HE has for that person. It changes your connection to them, and it expands your awareness of the loving character of God. It’s a beautiful thing—even when the prayers are initially prompted by sorrow.

I haven’t written about what happened to Jodie anywhere because it felt too private. I don’t want to attempt to co-opt her tragedy for my own purposes, nor do I want to suggest that what I feel in any way compares with what she feels. But today I’m telling you about her for one important reason. Watching Jodie’s faith, seeing how deeply rooted she is in the truth of God’s goodness and love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s impossible, even when she is hurting and angry… well, it has changed me. I now have witnessed first-hand what it means to have a sustaining, life-giving faith. I’m watching her feel her way forward, spending time with God in prayer, feeling compassion for others affected by this horrific accident, always looking for God in the midst of the sorrow and pointing people towards God without fail.

Jodie inspires me tremendously—because she reminds me that the joy God offers is not dependent on circumstances. But this is not something new. She’s having to live out her faith in a way she never wanted to, but it didn’t just start right here. Rather, the roots of her faith go deep, and they were planted in joy.

Jodie’s brand new book, Jingle and Joy, just came out last week and popped straight to #1 in Amazon’s prayer category. I had the privilege of reading it before it released, and what struck me the most was the joy filling the pages. It’s full of deep insights in short devotions, just right for busy women during the busiest time of the year. And to make it even better, it’s all about finding that joy through time spent in prayer. Prayer is where we can find peace, and it’s where we grow closer to God.

I look back now at my stubborn refusal to enjoy Christmas because it wasn’t on my own terms, and I see how immature that response is. We all have situations and people and losses and sorrow that interfere with our ability to celebrate sometimes. But I think this book is a great first step towards finding our way back.

So today I am honored to be able to offer you my free December prayer calendar with Jodie’s prayer prompts. To download it, click here.

And since this is a season of giving, I’ll also be giving away a free copy of her book. To enter, leave a comment after this post (or on my post about this book on Facebook) sharing what your biggest struggle is with keeping your thoughts on the meaning of the season. I’ll pray through your responses, because prayer can change things we can’t, and because this time of year can be especially hard. I hope that you will consider grabbing a copy for yourself, and one for a friend. As another friend said, this book is a great addition to your nightstand this season. 

More than that, though, it’s about what it will do for your heart… what God longs to do, if you’ll just slow down and sit with Him. He’ll show us, individually, personally, the abundant gift we have to celebrate at Christmastime—and always.


One quick note: you’ll see that this calendar looks different than my usual ones. For one thing, it’s vertical, and for the other, it was designed as a perpetual calendar, which is meant to be used year after year, and therefore does not have the prompts in a calendar grid under headings for each day of the week. I was going to create a version of this in my usual format for use by my subscribers, but honestly, I liked the one I did for her better. So if you’re someone who collects these and is aggravated by the inconsistency, please forgive me. It’s a one-time thing, I promise :-).

Giving Away “Giving”

I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to ...

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I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to do for someone, the perfect quirky gift, the thoughtful and surprising things no one even knew they wanted until they opened it… But I also like to give money when I can—to people, to my church, to other organizations I believe in. Which is why I’m excited today to announce the release of a new book, which I cannot wait to share with you.

My friend Kelsey Timmerman is an all-around great guy. He adores his children, is kind to everyone he meets, tells great stories (and founded a nonprofit to help communities share their stories)—he’s simply a ton of fun to be around. The more I am around him, though, the more I realize how much depth and kindness and compassion and integrity he has. He also just happens to travel the world and write about the stories of those he meets, which is way cool—and he does so with a sense of empathy and awareness. I loved his first two books, Where Am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes, and Where Am I Eating?: An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy with Discussion Questions and a Guide to Going “Glocal.” Today his latest book comes out, and it’s called Where Am I Giving?:A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference.

I want to give generously—and I think this book will help me know how best to do that. What I can do that actually helps. What might not help as much. And what qualifies as “giving” besides sending someone money. (That’s probably the part I’m most excited about.) At the same time, it is filled with Kelsey’s stories of the people he met around the world, what they had to say, and how they actually give, so it allows us glimpses into these lives around the globe that we would otherwise never encounter. I’ve ordered a copy for myself, but I want to give away two more copies.

To enter a free giveaway for one of two copies of this book, comment below (either on my blog or on Facebook or Instagram) and tell me something about giving: a quote that inspires you, or a story about a time you were the recipient of a thoughtful giver, or about what you would like to be able to someday do for someone else. Drawing will take place August 21.

I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but I did get a sneak peek at a couple chapters, and I think this is going to be his best book yet. If you’d like to know more, you can click the book image below or click here to read the description on Amazon. The book even includes discussion questions and a guide to giving locally and globally, which means it would be a great book club pick, too. Buy it today for someone you know who likes to give or wants to know more about giving thoughtfully and with wisdom—a great way to ignite a trend of giving, don’t you think?

It’s a process (how I create my prayer prompt calendars)

Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I ...

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Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I could try. (If you’re not really interested in the process, I won’t take offense—simply click here to go straight to the August calendar download.)

Before I tell you about how I create these, let me back up and tell you about why I started doing them in the first place. In order to find a publisher, an author usually needs a good “platform”—which, simply defined, is the audience the author has influence with, usually consisting of social media followers, blog readers, and so forth. One of the tried-and-true ways to increase blog followers is to offer free downloads as an incentive for subscribing. Many other Christian authors offer free downloads of inspirational quotes or scriptures. As a designer, it would be simple for me to do the same thing, but then I realized that as nice as those are (and I hope to offend no one when I say this), those weren’t really something I wanted or downloaded for myself. So I started researching, looking for something I could offer that related to my book (Praying Upside Down) and seemed specific to me. My Pinterest board from that time was filled with downloadable quotes, prayer journal pages, etc… but nothing really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to do something just for the sake of having something, but I wanted to create something useful. Then I saw a calendar somewhere, and I thought, hey, what if I made a monthly prayer calendar? When I sat down to do it, I grabbed a bunch of random, colorful photos and started playing around. The first several months were completely haphazard.



Over time, the process evolved, becoming less random and more intentional. I started thinking about themes (beginning with giving thanks for November), and then, apparently, I got tired of bring confined to the straight calendar grid and started breaking out of that structure.

People started responding to the calendars, and I started keeping a list of potential themes or graphic ideas when I saw something that inspired me. I’ve done a few calendars tailored to the content of some books I loved (Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, Rush by Jayme Mansfield, and The Spirit-Led Heart by Suzie Eller), and some just based on fun or graphic images I found.



Somewhere along the way, these calendars became one of my favorite things to do. They’re all about prayer… creativity… coming up with something new… having fun… finding a new look, a new approach—a combination of words and images and prayer that I’m uniquely suited to create. I’ve been making these monthly since March 2015—over three years—and I’m not tired of it yet. As you can see, especially when you compare these to the first calendars I did, they’ve definitely evolved over time!

___________________________________________________________________

OK, so now that you know the background of the calendars,
let’s talk about the specific process of making one.

__________________________________________________________________

I start with just a vague idea about possible themes, usually tied in somehow to the month. If it’s spring, it might be focused on growth, or words and phrases connected to the color green. Summer might be about freedom. September might be back-to-school (even though our schools start in August—old habits die hard)—perhaps a chalkboard theme, or teaching or learning. Some of the holiday months are pretty obvious—gifts for Christmas, gratitude for Thanksgiving.

For my August calendar this year, I considered some concepts related to the month—the colors of the August birthstone, definition of “august,” checked out the holidays that month. In the end, I chose the theme of travel/exploration/adventure, simply because I was preparing for a trip to Malta and that was the mood I was in.

From there, I went to Shutterstock.com, a stock photography and illustration site I subscribe to for my graphic design business. I scribble ideas on a piece of paper and start searching related words, looking for some kind of overall graphic look. It might be a complicated illustration, or a border and a bunch of little pieces. I collect them in a “lightbox” until I have plenty of possibilities. Using Adobe Illustrator, I can change colors, modify shapes, and so on.


I decided that I loved the look of the retro travel stuff, the postmarks and luggage tags, so I started playing with the airmail envelope border and then filled in with smaller graphics related to the individual prayer prompts. I also picked one graphic to use as my primary color palette (the six postcards in the third graphic in the row above this paragraph). Starting with my calendar template in Adobe InDesign, I began copying and pasting individual elements to try to come up with a workable structure.

After playing with images for a while, I went back to words. First, I searched for travel idioms to inspire the prompts…

  • Mile a minute
  • Bad news travels fast
  • Have __, will travel
  • Travel light
  • Off the beaten track
  • Travel broadens the mind
  • Travel with someone
  • Right up my alley
  • Whatever floats your boat
  • Jump ship
  • Train of thought
  • Step it up a gear asleep at the wheel
  • At a crossroads
  • At a fork in the road
  • Backseat driver
  • Put the cart before the horse
  • Cool your jets (calm down)
  • Fifth wheel (someone who’s superfluous)
  • In the driver’s seat
  • Ships that pass in the night
  • Middle of the road (moderate)
  • My way or the highway
  • Road rage
  • On the right track
  • Going nowhere fast


Then I looked for more graphics on Shutterstock related to some of the key words that seemed to have potential.

  • travel
  • map
  • suitcase
  • Airport/airplane
  • cars
  • trains
  • boats
  • tickets
  • world
  • globe
  • stamps
  • coins

Next, I pulled out some of those pictures and scattered them around the page, then started typing in (in a random order) some of the prayers inspired by the images. I keep paper in front of me so I can jot down ideas as they come.

  • Someone who feels lost
  • Sunglasses – what people see
  • Camera- something you’d like to capture, seeing the beauty
  • Vintage travel – suitcase
  • Suitcases – heavy – carrying something they shouldn’t
  • Wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round – someone who’s spinning in circles, getting nowhere
  • Give thanks for the life you have, not the life you want
  • Train tracks, ships that pass in the night
  • Train coming out of a tunnel – pray for someone to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, or pray for someone passing through

From there, it’s simply a lot of back and forth… a few prayers, a few more images, a few more prayers inspired by those images. It’s like a giant crossword puzzle, and I keep moving things around until they fit. I add some color here and there, add things in, take a few things away, substitute shapes and color blocks for some of the calendar squares… Eventually, all the squares are filled, and I’ve squeezed in whatever graphics I can and found a reasonable overall balance to the page….

And voilá! The calendar is ready to download.
[Click here to download your August prayer prompt calendar.]


It’s always just a trial and error process, one in which I follow my gut instinct and operate on a whim. I try to find funny twists on the words and graphics, and I don’t shy away from irreverence. I want this to be fun, and real. I want people to know that prayer doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, that it can be fun and whimsical.

And from there, I hope people will take the same approach I used to create these—and run with it. Use the prompt to get you started but let your mind roam freely from there. Follow the seemingly random connections. Let God bring people to mind and use your individual thought processes in a creative way to guide your prayers.

I can provide a starting point, but it’s up to you—and God—where you go with it from there. Just as I go back and forth, following whatever obscure connections I see in the space between the words and the pictures, I hope you will follow those trails through your own brain. We’ll never get it all. We’ll never pray about every situation that needs prayer. We’ll never remember everyone we care about. The world’s needs are too great. People are too numerous. We’re too limited.

But our God is a creative God. I believe He delights in us when we offer our creative selves to Him, when we try to channel that creative energy that is at the foundation of who He is and all that He creates. I believe He uses these calendars—not because of anything I did, in particular, but because each one of you opens yourself up to His leading when you open your mind to prayer.

I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it.

Pop Quiz: Evaluate Your Thoughts

Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14. Ever ...

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Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14.


Ever felt that panicked feeling?

It’s that oh-no sense you get when you ram your car against the one behind you. Or when you smash a heavy door right on your baby’s 10-month-old toe (yes, this did happen to me). Or when you speak what should have remained the unspeakable. Or when your deepest fear is about to come true.

Panic steals peace. You cannot have both. Which is why, about a year-and-a-half ago, I decided I needed to learn how to be Battle Ready. I was tired of the same old trials and tribulations tumbling me to the floor with stress, worry, and panic. Something had to change.

Are you in this place? Do horrible things keep on happening to you? Do those same feelings of angst, trepidation and fear keep coming? Do you easily lose faith in God’s ability to come through for you?

It doesn’t have to continue. Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Just as we love to see our children grow and learn, so does God love to see us forge a new direction with Him…

…especially with our thoughts. How do you think? Consider…

Scenario 1: You trip over the shoes that you left in the hallway last night. Your chin hits the floor with a loud thud! You mean to move them earlier, but you forgot.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I’m so stupid, I am so forgetful,or I am always doing dumb things?
  2. Or, It’s okay. Everyone forgets things sometimes.

Scenario 2: You blurt out, “When is the baby due?”, or some other statement that you immediately wish you could take back. You know you shouldn’t have spoken like you did, but it is too late. The words are out.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I am such an idiot, I am rude, I am always making a fool of myself or I am horrible.
  2. Or, I am learning how to use wisdom with my words. God will be faithful to teach me.

Scenario 3: You share a lot one evening when you’re together with a group of friends. You talk about things you’re excited about. You tell people about some things you are going through.Do you say to yourself:

  1. I over-talked. I take up too much space. I come across too (smart, much, arrogant). People think I’m annoying.
  2. I can be who God created me to be. I don’t have to fear what people think of me. God made me just right.

How we think in specific scenarios says a whole lot about how we think in life. Begin to observe your thought-life patterns. Thoughts are usually clear-cut: you’re either hard on yourself or full of grace, full of God’s truth or dwelling on lies, standing in faith or faltering in doubt.

You either think: God is for me or God is against meGod is with me or God is abandoning meGod will never…or God will certainly….

But know this: how you think can change.

People who are walking full of God have to work on it. It doesn’t come naturally. They renew their mind in Christ Jesus, they filter their thoughts, they consider the strategies that work so that they walk with God continually. These are the attributes of a person who is Battle Ready.

There are, in fact, specific strategies to stand strong and firm with Christ. Did you know them? Do you know how to respond proactively, rather than reactively? How to change bad habits? How to renew your mind in Christ?

Many people think it starts with these 5 steps…

  1. Think about what you are thinking about.
  2. Check to see if aligns with God’s truth.
  3. Replace the lies with truth.
  4. Take action based on that new thought.
  5. Notice the better outcome.

…but a life full of faith, full of peace and joy, transcends this. This is a good start, but not the finish line. The finish line is a life that stands on God’s Word as if it is the ground it walks on. It is a hope so secure it feels it is as though it is already won. It is belief so strong, that no man can shake it. It is a life so on purpose, it does with no regrets.

You can get there. You can be full of faith, strong in battle, sure when challenges hit and unwavering when enemy forces come up against you. You can be Battle Ready. There are scriptural tips, biblical stories, practical wisdom and scientific studies that will help you seize new habits, forge new thought patterns and change your life.

Why not proactively prepare your thoughts today to seize great faith?

About Battle Ready: Train Your Mind to Conquer Challenges, Defeat Doubt & Live Victoriously

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!” ~Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

Buy Battle Ready here: https://amzn.to/2l5qQrw

To get Battle Ready freebies – printables, devotional reminders, a customizable daily Battle Plan and the “Find Your Battle Style” quiz, visit: www.iambattleready.com  

To order the companion Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal that will help you practically change your thoughts, then your life, click here. 

 

Kelly Balarie, an author and national speaker, is on a mission to encourage others not to give up. Through times of extreme testing, Kelly believes there is hope for every woman, every battle and in every circumstance. She shares this hope on her blog, Purposeful Faith, and on many writing publications such as Relevant, Crosswalk, and Today’s Christian Woman. Kelly’s work has been featured on The Today Show, 700 Club Interactive, Moody Radio and other television and radio broadcasts. When Kelly is not writing, she is chilling at the beach with her husband, a latte, and 2 toddlers who rightfully demand she build them awesome castles.

And Then I Blinked

My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her ...

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My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her wise observations and the truths she’s learned. I hope you do, too.


I’m not the same person I was five years ago. There are the obvious reasons, such as the fact that I am five years older, and my energy level has changed. But those things are not the real reasons. Five years ago I was one-half of a couple. Five years ago all the major decisions were made by two people. Five years ago we were both working; my husband full time and me part time. Five years ago we went on vacations and planned new ones to places we wanted to see. Five years ago I was grudgingly picking up socks and underwear and towels and papers and dishes…

And then.

It was a phone call. And a whole string of what-ifs. Followed by a thousand why, why, why, whys. It was a thundering of blood pumping in my ears, my heart beating so fast I thought I might pass out. It was my body shaking so hard I couldn’t imagine driving myself anywhere. And it was the end of normal as I knew it.

March 17, 2013. St. Patrick’s Day. Beautiful, sunny, deceptively peaceful and perfect. You can’t imagine such a thing happening to you on a day like this. But it did. Life as I had lived it for almost forty-seven years came to a halt.

It was entirely the fault of the widow-maker, that type of heart attack that kills quickly and surely. My husband was healthy, in great shape, training for his third marathon, eating well and doing everything right. Then I blinked, and he was gone.

Reality is like a sharp knife. It cuts your past from your future with an accuracy that stuns. Like magic, what was is gone and what is to be is hidden behind a curtain of grief, the sorrow weighing you down so that you find it impossible to stand. And then in that weak moment come the henchmen; anger, denial, depression.

Wow. So where was my faith in all of this, you ask? Great question. And I’m not sure I have a clear-cut answer. Looking back over these five years since I became a widow (a word I hate with all my heart), I’ve searched for the threads that lead back to that day. Five years ago I was indescribably angry. I spent day after day ranting at the God who took away my husband. Betrayed, let down, disappointed, heartbroken, so alone, discouraged, weary, and feeling deserted, I was certain God had left me. I couldn’t find Him or feel Him anywhere. What kind of God leaves you like that? Consequently, I lost the faith I’d had in Him my whole life, or so I thought.

But here’s the thing. Anger is black, opaque, un-see-through-able. And necessary. God stood beside me, watching, loving, and protecting all the while I was ranting at Him. As the anger diminished, His presence gradually became obvious. He’d never left my side as I thought He had. In fact, He had spent much of that time carrying me as He allowed the anger. And although my faith took a real beating in those weeks, it was always there. The result of my loss was to learn that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how bad it gets, if you believe in the same God I do, He will stay with you always. ALWAYS. Especially in the hard times. Even when you can’t understand the why of it all.

The best way to explain it is to refer to an old story describing our lives as a tapestry we see only from the back side. There is a dark and ugly mass of strings in varied colors, some cut and woven back in and others continuing on. It’s messy, with knots and jumbled threads. None of it makes sense. It isn’t until we see the finished workmanship on the right side of the tapestry that we realize what a magnificent masterpiece it is.

This is what I take from that; I’m still seeing the underside of the tapestry, and for the past five years I’ve been trying to follow the threads that run consistently through the it. The thread of faith can be hard to find because it’s hidden for a time under other threads, but it always reappears at some point. It always reappears. Imagine someday seeing the right side and saying, Oh, look what the Master Weaver did with my life!

I am not the person I was five years ago. I’m older, yes. But that’s not the point. I have learned so much about trust in God, a God who loves me more than I can fathom; I have learned about my own faith, a faith which has grown and blossomed and become the center of my life. I have learned about dependence, a complete surrender to the God who planned out every second of my life before I was even born, and who knows exactly what will happen every second of the life I have left. I have learned how strong I am. I have learned how hardships and difficult circumstances molded me. I have learned how much I still have to learn.

That thread of faith that seemed to disappear right after my husband’s death? It was there all along, and now I’m learning to embrace it, holding it close and letting go of all the doubts and fears, and yes, the anger, that I used to allow free reign.

Because I don’t have the ability to see what’s ahead for me. But I know Who does.


If you’d like to read more about her journey, or know someone else who’s on this road with her, check out her book. It’s wonderful (and so is she).

A letter to the woman who hates Mother’s Day

I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails: Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special? Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3 Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination ...

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I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails:

  • Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special?
  • Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off
  • Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3
  • Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers

And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination supplies to celebrate? Don’t get me wrong, I love office supplies more than the average bear. But still.

The thing is, Mother’s Day is the holiday I like least. It’s never been a particular favorite anyway, but since Mom died almost seven years ago, I’ve really loathed it. Some days I feel as though I must be totally alone in this. After all, when someone at church mentioned that this is the month of Mother’s Day, people cheered. Apparently, I’m an anomaly—but I don’t think I’m alone.

So I just want to say a few things to some of you who might be reading this.

To the woman who loves her kids but is exhausted and just wants someone else to clean up the kitchen for once…

To the woman who had to somehow walk away from the grave of her child, or spend months in hospitals watching her suffer, and lives in fear that they’ll find themselves back in that place again…

For the woman who has felt lost ever since her mom left this earth…

To the one whose mother really screwed up her head…

To the one who misses the grandmother who essentially raised her…

To the one whose child has cut her out of his life for reasons she cannot understand…

To the one who wonders if she’ll live long enough to finish raising her child…

To the woman who quietly mourns the child she miscarried, that no one wants to talk about…

To the mom who chose to let another family raise her baby but never stops thinking about him…

To the one who’s overwhelmed by all that her kids demand…

To the mother whose teen is out of control, who lies awake at night wondering what she did wrong…

To the one who always wanted a baby but the timing was never right…

To those who went through crazy amounts of medical intervention (or months of ashamed silence) waiting for the stripe on the pregnancy test to finally show up, but it never did…

To the woman whose mom means well but drives her crazy…

To the woman whose mom doesn’t mean well and is just flat-out mean…

For the one who is watching her mom (and her memories) gradually fade away…

To the one whose body aches from the hard work of being her mother’s caregiver…

For the one who has a dysfunctional relationship with a mom or step-mom or mother-in-law…

For the one whose mom lives halfway around the world wearing a soldier’s uniform…

To the one who raised a strong, independent child whose career took her far away from home…

For the woman whose mom disapproves of her…

For the one who struggles and fails to make the right choices…

To the woman who chose not to become a mom, but no one seems to understand…

To the one whose mom wants nothing to do with her…

For the one who has no help at home and no one to remind the kids to celebrate you…

To the one whose memories of her childhood bring sadness rather than joy…

To the one who never had anyone show her what it looked like to be a good mom…

For the one who doesn’t know why, but just feels ambivalent about this day…

To all the women who struggle to celebrate, for whatever reason…

I acknowledge you. I see you. I feel for you. I hurt for you.

And I want you to know this: in spite of your pain, because of your pain, I celebrate you today.

Even if people don’t seem to see what you do. Even if your wants and needs and actions are overshadowed by everyone else’s. Even if you feel as though no one else understands. Even if no one acknowledges you today. Even if there is nothing about this day that makes you happy.

Because you are wonderful. I am praying for you to find the strength to get through this holiday. The good humor to endure. The grace to forgive those who hurt you. The ability to smile, and someone with whom you can trust your true feelings. The faith to believe that God can heal whatever is broken inside—and for you to believe me when I say you are worth celebrating.

I see you today—and God sees you every day. You are not alone.

And you are so very loved.

Empowered by the Spirit (freebies and a giveaway!)

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32 Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels ...

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They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32

Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels as though your heart is on fire? When the hope wells up and overflows? When emotions are high and everything feels possible?

When you know—just know—that God is near?

This verse from Luke kept running through my mind as I read Suzanne Eller’s new book, The Spirit-Led Heart.

I have always connected closely with the idea of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because I go to a Pentecostal-ish church and we operate by the Spirit, seeking after Him, not making excessive plans for the service but instead trying to connect and follow the Spirit. Maybe it goes back to the early, exciting days of my faith, when God opened my eyes to see Him in new ways, and I devoured books like Catherine Marshall’s The Helper. Whatever the reason, the minute I heard the name of Suzie Eller’s new book, I knew that it would be one that would be important to me.

When I had the chance to be an early reader, I jumped at it, and even so, it exceeded my expectations. It’s one thing for someone to inspire you, and Suzie is one person I watch and learn from. She’s the real deal, and I’ve learned to trust her guidance because I’ve seen how she truly lives her faith and always points people back to Him. She tries to never get in the way but to do her part and then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

But it goes deeper than that. This book woke up my spirit again. It reminded me why I love my God like I do. It reminded me of how the Spirit enlightens and informs and encourages and empowers. And it made me realize how much I was shortchanging myself by not embracing the Spirit in every step that I take.

It showed me that I may be walking that road to Emmaus, just as the disciples in the book of Luke, and I may be talking about God, but so often I find myself oblivious to Jesus’ presence and forget that He is RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW.

Here’s the promise: that God is near. And WITH GOD, all things are possible. The gift of the Spirit isn’t something for a select few—it’s a treasure that we can open again and again, every single day. It will shape every moment and change the way we live.

When I finished reading, I asked Suzie if she would consider allowing me to design my May prayer prompt calendar around themes from The Spirit-Led Heart. Graciously, she said yes.

So this month, as always, I’m sending you a prayer prompt calendar to help jump-start your prayers for the month. But this time it feels different to me. The gift Suzie gave to me when I read her inspired words is impossible to measure or quantify, but it was huge. By offering this calendar to you, I hope that I am offering you so much more than another colorful piece of paper. And when I recommend this book to you, I hope you believe me when I say this is not a lukewarm recommendation. I’m not supporting the book’s message out of obligation or charity. I’m involved with it because it changed things for me, and it has the potential to do the same for you.

So right after you download the calendar for May, I hope you’ll click over to Amazon (or your favorite bookseller) and order a copy or two. Ask God to show you who you should share them with. Give yourself this gift and let the book open up discussions about the Holy Spirit with your friends and family.

DOWNLOAD THE CALENDAR HERE
and then read on to enter a GIVEAWAY and get some awesome freebies!

If you order the book before May 1 (the release date), Suzie is offering some awesome pre-order bonuses on her website.

  1. Two chapters delivered immediately to your inbox so you don’t have to wait to get started reading
  2. A gorgeous printable Spirit-Led Heart Manifesto
  3. Be entered to win full registration fee to Suzie’s fall women’s retreat (I’ve been and it is awesome!)
  4. And, of course, the printable 30-day Spirit-Led Heart prayer calendar designed by yours truly (which you can get anyway since you subscribe to my newsletter)

The details of how to get your downloads are on her website, too.

Also, I’m giving away two copies of this book! To enter to win, simply tag a friend on Facebook below my post about this and say why you want her to read the book or download the calendar. If you’re not on Facebook, print an extra copy of the calendar to share with a friend and comment below this blog post telling me you did so. If your name is drawn, I will mail you twocopies of the book (one for you and one for your friend), along with print-outs of this month’s prayer calendar. Deadline to enter is May 5 (date randomly chosen because 5 is the number of grace), so be sure to comment now so you don’t miss your chance to enter.

Lord, I pray for every person reading this prayer, that they may come to know the fullness of the power of Your Spirit. That they might embrace it and see You. I ask You to banish their fears and let them be confident in Your love. I implore You to empower them with supernatural power—inspire them, heal them, lead them, inform them. Love them as only You can love. Amen.

A Prayer for Those Who Are Moving Forward—like it or not

Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until ...

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Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until this past summer. Losing him was devastating and heartbreaking and all that you would expect it to be.

I’ve had my ups and downs. This past couple weeks has seen more tears than usual, though, because for these past seven months, we’ve been trying hard to do things the way Dad would have—matting and framing his art, putting on a sale of his remaining pieces that he would have been proud of, steadfastly refusing to move a thing on his credenza. It was like if we didn’t disturb his brushes and paints, we could hold on to him a little longer.

But the truth is, we can’t get him back.

Nevertheless, when I hired a guy to repaint the walls (going from Dad’s country blue and tan to my bolder eggplant purple and warm gray), I felt like I was painting over him. Erasing his presence. When I moved his painting stuff out of the way of the painter, I fought tears, because it felt wrong to change things.

And then I came home and cried all night.

Sunday morning, as I stood in the second row of my church, I felt the words of the praise song wash over me. We sang the chorus again and again and I felt a kind of exhilaration rising up within me—hope, God’s promises of renewal. Quietly, I stood there, eyes closed, arms raised, thinking about moving forward. Wanting God to heal me, to make me new and whole again. To help me stop hurting.

We were singing the song “Moving Forward,” and it contains these lines:

I’m not going back, I’m moving ahead
Here to declare to you my past is over in you
All things are made new, surrendered my life to Christ…
Yes, you make all things new and I will follow you forward

I think when people talk about wanting to put their pasts behind them, they’re usually talking about their sins… Mistakes, what we’ve done wrong, destructive behavior. Regrets. We all have plenty of that. But what I realized Sunday morning is this: sometimes the past is behind us even if we don’t want it to be. I’d give anything to go back, for my dad to still be alive. But I can’t make that happen.

And although it’s tempting to try to hold on to that—to create a shrine to my dad, to tiptoe around his studio space and blow the dust off of his things that I’m refusing to move because of the fact that he was the one who put them there—it doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t make me miss him any less. It doesn’t help me heal.

I feel like God showed me that being there, inhabiting that space in my own way, is part of my healing. That there’s healing in moving forward—in looking towards what God has for me, and not dwelling in the sorrow. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing him. It doesn’t mean I’m glad he’s gone.

It just means that God’s not done with me. I’m still here and there’s still hope. There’s still redemption. There’s still growth and joy and happiness. And they don’t only exist behind me, but they’re waiting for me when I take some small steps forward.

Oh, hey, what a moment you have brought me to
Such a freedom I have found in you
You’re the healer who makes all things new…

Lord, let the Holy Spirit wash over those who are reading this, who are listening to this song… soothe the hurts and heal the wounds of those who are missing someone. Who feel lost or alone. Who are sorrowful or paralyzed by their grief. You are with the ones we love. You are closer to them than we are, and we know they’re in good hands. We also know that those very same hands can hold us close and bring us comfort. Lord, hold us tight and don’t let us go, and let us find hope and empowerment and renewal with you. Amen.

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