“The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence.”
Prayer takes different forms. Sometimes it’s liturgical and recited aloud in a formal church setting. Sometimes it’s private, penned in one’s journal for only the author to see. Prayer might follow a formula such as ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), or it might be a simple one word—“Help!”
Psalm 107:1-43 contains four instances where people prayed using only the word, “Help!” Here’s one example—“Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. ‘Lord, help!’ they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.”
Our prayers don’t have to be long to be heard. Short ones like —“Help!”—whispered or cried from a heart desperate for God’s provision or intervention can stir Him to answer.
Are you an exhausted parent barely able to drag yourself from bed?
Are you in a marriage that’s struggling to breathe?
Are you wrestling with a major decision?
Are you baffled by a family member’s behavior?
Are you struggling with physical or mental health concerns?
Are you watching the news and feeling fear’s paralyzing effect?
Never hesitate to pray because you think your words don’t sound spiritual enough.
Who’s to say what “spiritual enough” is, anyway? God’s most concerned about our heart attitude than how many words we use or how eloquent they sound. Prayer is our way to show Him that we understand our need for Him, and we want and welcome His involvement in our lives.
Hey, my friend! Have you ever felt at a loss to know how to pray in certain circumstances? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve been there many times.
I find encouragement in knowing that the disciples experienced the same frustration. That’s why they said to Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Jesus’ response was filled with grace. He didn’t berate or belittle them: “What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you figured this out yet?”
Jesus answered the disciples’ request, and He did so immediately. He’ll do the same for us when we ask Him to teach us to pray in a specific situation.
Today’s blog is an excerpt from my new devotional book, Keeping Hope Alive: Devotions for Strength in the Storm. It’s available for pre-order now and will release on March 9th. Enjoy this sneak peek. May it encourage you when you’re in a storm and at a loss about knowing how to pray.
Teach Me to Pray
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1 (NIV)
Sudden tension in a family relationship hurt deeply. In desperation, I resorted to telling God what to do: “I need you to convict and change that person. I need you to make this strife go away.” Nothing happened prayer-wise, but my burden grew heavier by the day. Everything changed the morning I stopped bossing God.
“Father, teach me how to pray in this situation,” I said, looking at a canvas print of my extended family. This thought instantly came to mind: “Paint what you want this relationship to look like on the canvas of our hearts.” A half dozen insights about God’s role as master artist followed. Each reassured me that he would heal the hurt in his time and way. I was to trust him, practice patience, and accept the outcome. My burden lifted, and peace took its place.
Are you like me—telling God how to fix your circumstances? It’s time to let him be boss. Ask him to teach you how to pray.
Are you bossing God through prayer or letting him be boss?
God, you are all-wise. Please show me how to pray in this situation.
“The prayer we know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ came from the Lord Jesus in direct response to His disciples’ request: ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ It has always fascinated me that they never asked Jesus to teach them to preach. They never asked Him to teach them to give or to witness. Perhaps, like us, the disciples were often at a loss when it came to communicating with the Almighty.” — David Jeremiah
Life is flat-out hard sometimes. Stuff happens when we least expect it, and it can send us into a tailspin or drive us to our knees.
Sometimes that stuff lingers much longer than we’d like. We tie a knot and hang on for dear life, but fear threatens to slip our grip.
I’ve experienced “stuff”—like when our daughter was born with hydrocephalus and had to undergo nearly a dozen surgeries within her first two years. The death of loved ones. The death of personal dreams. Financial stress. Loss of mobility. Being misunderstood and wrongly judged.
I could tell many stories about the tough stuff I’ve experienced. I suspect that, if everyone reading this blog pooled their stories, we could fill a book. Or two. Or more.
So what’s the key to persevering in these seasons when they come? Here are three things to remember:
God is with us.
Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, and forgotten in prison. Talk about having to deal with hard stuff! I wonder if he sometimes felt like God had turned His back on him. Nonetheless, Scripture says that God was with him (Genesis 39).
The enemy will try to convince us that God has abandoned us but let’s not fall for the lie. God has not changed. His faithfulness remains the same, therefore, rest assured that He is with us as we deal with difficulty. He will never leave us or forsake us.
Our trials are temporary.
Joseph’s hardships lasted about 14 years. Some of you might think that’s a long time, but others might think, If only mine were so short-lived. No matter the length of time our difficulties stay, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth when we’re in the middle of the mess. The truth is – our trials will not last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Joseph’s hardships lasted until “the time came for [the LORD] to fulfill his word (Psalm 105:19). Ours, too, will end at just the right time. So, again—be encouraged. This too shall pass. We might not know when they’ll end or what the process will look like enroute, but they will not last forever.
Our trials are part of a picture that’s bigger than the one we see at this time.
Joseph’s hardships were divinely designed. Psalm 105:17-18 say, “Then he [God] sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—Joseph, who was sold as a slave. There in prison, they bruised his feet with fetters and put his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his word, the LORD tested Joseph’s character.”
Why did God deem it necessary to test Joseph using these means? Because He purposed for Joseph to become second-in-command in Egypt. God wanted to prepare him for the task, and this was the best way to do so.
God has purposes yet unseen for our lives, too. Every one of the hardships we experience are part of the pruning and honing necessary to prepare us. They’re also designed to make us more like Jesus no matter what our destiny is (Romans 8:28-29). So don’t lose heart, my friend. God’s got this, and He’s got you in His hands.
“Father God, we don’t understand why certain hardships come our way. Truth be told, we would never choose them ourselves. But we belong to You, and we want Your highest purpose fulfilled in and through us. So when those hardships come, help us remember that You’re with us, they’re temporary, and they’re part of a bigger picture than the one we see at this time. Help us to trust You with our pain and allow You to accomplish Your good work. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Today I’m pleased to host a guest blog by Kathy Howard. I’ve known her for several years and count her as a special friend. Her latest Bible study is Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts. Enjoy this excerpt, and continue reading to learn more about Kathy and this Bible study.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
My husband and I love to hike. More often than not, when deciding where to hike, we choose the longer and more difficult trails. Not because we enjoy suffering, but because those trails usually provide greater benefits. The hard trails reward hikers with gorgeous waterfalls and breathtaking views. They weave through silent, ancient forests and past abundant flora and fauna. Yes, when you’re hiking, the best trails are often the hardest.
The same is true in our walk with God. His best path for us is often difficult. The apostle Paul not only knew that truth, he fully embraced God’s will for him no matter where His path might lead. Throughout the return leg of his third missionary journey, the Holy Spirit had been leading Paul to Jerusalem. The Spirit had even revealed that trouble waited for him there (Acts 19:21 and Acts 20:22). God’s will for Paul included suffering.
We first read this incredible truth during the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. When Jesus sent Ananias the Damascus believer to visit Saul, Jesus told him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Sometimes God delivered Paul from persecution – like the time Paul escaped Damascus over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Sometimes God delivered Paul in the midst of persecution – like sending an earthquake in Philippi to open the prison stocks (Acts 16:25-26). But here, God specifically directed Paul to go to Jerusalem where suffering waited. And Paul obeyed, knowing what lay ahead.
Yet, as sure as Paul was of God’s will for him, many of his fellow believers and friends urged him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). When the Spirit showed them Paul would suffer, they reacted with a desire to keep him safe. They understandably, but wrongly jumped to the conclusion that he should run from this particular trial.
Paul stood at a crossroads. Would he turn away from suffering or would he follow Jesus no matter what lay ahead? God had constrained Paul to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). To turn away would be disobedience.
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’” (Acts 21:13).
God does not always lead us into suffering, but sometimes He does. Sometimes, God works in and through our trials to carry out His purposes. Sometimes He uses fiery trials to refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7) or deepen our relationship with Jesus (Philippians 3:10) or to proclaim Christ’s salvation to the lost (Acts 16:30-32).
Paul’s path through Jerusalem ultimately led to imprisonment in Rome. Several years later, during that imprisonment, Paul wrote these words to the believers in Philippi:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
Let’s pray: “Father, Your will is always perfect, even if it’s hard. Help me obey you wherever you lead. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.” Available now on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3rEiYRf
Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org. You can also connect with Kathy on Facebook and Instagram.
Life being what it is, we occasionally face tough situations over which we have no control. Every time this happens, we get to choose the perspective we want to hold: we can either focus only on what we see and understand, or we can focus on what we cannot see or understand. The first perspective leads to hopelessness; the latter leads to hope.
Luke 8:49-55 provides a great example. I’m including the entire passage here because it illustrates this principle so well. I’ve added the emphasis to show the contrast between two perspectives.
“While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.”50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. “
The people in this story focused on the facts as they saw and understood them: The ruler’s daughter had died, and it was too late for Jesus to do anything about it. But Jesus saw things in a different light.
Jesus’ view of the situation begins with the word “but” three times. While the people focused on all things visible, He focused on the invisible—the things seen through eyes of faith.
One focus led to hopelessness. The other led to hope.
How often do we resemble the people in this passage? How often do we look at our circumstances, assume we know everything there is to know about them, and fall into discouragement or fear?
The next time we face a tough situation, let’s ask ourselves these three questions:
How do I view my circumstances?
How might Jesus view my circumstances?
What changes must I make to align my view with Jesus’ perspective?
Let’s choose to focus on more than the facts we see and understand. Let’s choose to focus instead on the invisible and to view our circumstances through God’s promises. Maintaining that perspective leads to hope—something we all need to survive and thrive when facing tough situations.
Every so often I review, update, and recycle my archived blogs. This one, originally published in December 2019, remains eerily relevant. Scroll down to read the first paragraph, and you’ll probably feel the same way I did: it sounds just like this year except COVID isn’t mentioned.
When I wrote the following words at the close of 2019, no one suspected that a worldwide pandemic would soon descend on us, dominate headlines, and deal pain and disappointment to everyone in its wake. No one expected our normal to flip upside down and hang in uncertainty for so, so long.
Considering what the last two years have looked like, we might view 2022 with sadness, suspicion, or cynicism. Or, we might choose a different perspective: that God has demonstrated His faithfulness to us in the past, and He’ll do it again in the future. Let’s hang onto that promise and enter 2022 with confidence knowing God is already there, okay?
In the meantime, read this slightly tweaked reminder about where we find true peace in the midst of personal problems and pandemics….
“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Yesterday a news broadcaster reviewed the past year’s many tragic headlines from North America and beyond. They told of floods and fires, plane crashes, the opioid crisis, mass shootings, genocide, displaced people, and war. The collective sorrow seems incomprehensible. Those affected pick up the shards and try to carry on in their new normal. Some folks succeed; others not so much. How does one heal when the shards continue to cut to the depth of one’s soul? How does one find hope and peace amidst the chaos?
There’s only one answer. For this we have Jesus—the Prince of Peace.
Before His arrest, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).
Peace of mind and heart is a universal need. Men and women of all ages and from every culture seek it. The world offers cheap knock-offs that may provide temporary pain relief, but nothing and no one offers lasting, deep peace like Jesus.
Hours before He died, Jesus spoke of sharing His peace with us.This is a peace we can neither conjure up nor fake.
It doesn’t come through easy circumstances or having enough money to feel comfortable. It doesn’t come through having good health or relationships. Granted, enjoying these things hip make one’s life less stressful, but none of them are guaranteed. They can vanish in a heartbeat. Where does that leave us if we’ve founded our peace on their presence?
True, unshakeable peace comes from the Prince of Peace. Our circumstances change but He never will. He carries us and comforts us when life as we know it falls apart. He strengthens us and sustains us through change. He loves us and leads us like a gentle shepherd when we lose our way.
How do we experience the peace Jesus promised?
I believe aligning our thoughts with truth about who God is, is key. Apart from the truth, our minds make Him into a God too small, and attaining peace becomes impossible. So, here are several truths about God on which to meditate when life gets hard:
God is Creator of heaven and earth, and He is our Maker.
God is our heavenly Father who welcomes us into His presence.
God is the One willing to carry our burdens and give us both strength and rest.
God is good. Everything He does or allows finds its source in His goodness.
God is holy, holy, holy. He is without fault, therefore, all His ways are faultless.
Aligning our thoughts about God with truth changes everything about our perspective and brings a peace that surpasses human understanding. But there are also several practical actions we can take to keep us on that path to peace:
Refuse to entertain worrisome thoughts and fears.
Focus on God’s promises. Speak them aloud and personalize them.
Tell God about everything that concerns you.
Make gratitude a lifestyle.
Philippians 4:6-7 explains it well. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Only God knows what the new year will hold. For us, it’s a huge uncertainty. But this one thing we can know for sure—no matter what the new year’s headlines say, we can experience peace because Jesus promised.
Every so often a Bible verse presents a visual image that sticks like glue to my sanctified imagination. Psalm 125:2 is one of them: “Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forever.” This verse, especially with its use of the word ‘surround,’ has become a favorite in my prayers.
When Gene and I face major decisions, we ask God to surround us with His protection, protecting us from doing anything contrary to His purposes.
When I pray for my kids and grandkids, I ask God to surround them with His lovingkindness and protection from the evil one.
When I receive emails from readers who are going through difficult experiences, I pray for God to surround them with His compassion and a tangible evidence of His presence in their lives.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines surround as “to be everywhere around something.”
Isn’t that beautiful as it relates to the Christian life? The Lord surrounds His people both now and forever. He is everywhere around us. Nothing can touch us unless He parts the way and allows it. If He allows suffering to touch us, then He surrounds us with mercy and strength as needed. If injustice touches us, then He surrounds us with assurance that He is our Defender and will someday set everything right.
I’ve breathed many personal sentence prayers using the word ‘surround:’
“Father, surround me with Your wisdom.”
“God, surround me with Your love.”
“Jesus, surround me with Your provisions.”
Praying this way floods me with peace. How about you? What are you facing today? Stand on the truth of God’s Word and pray: “God, surround me with Your _______.”
I’m hearing the word “overwhelmed” a lot these days. It seems people are feeling this way over so many things:
Fractured relationships over the vaccine issue
News about Omicron and resulting uncertainties and restrictions
Paying the bills
Facing the first Christmas after losing a loved one
The dread of spending Christmas with testy family members
Caring for senior parents with failing health
Parenting kids bent on learning the hard way
The list goes on, right? My area recently experienced historic floods. People whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the clean-up and rebuilding they face.
As Christmas approaches, I think about teenage Mary and the challenges she faced.
Imagine how she may have felt when the angel appeared and told her that she would conceive a child. (Luke 1:26-38) We can safely assume she felt overwhelmed at the thought of breaking the news to her parents and fiancé. She may have felt the same about being the brunt of neighborhood gossip for the rest of her life, of making an 80-mile trek to Bethlehem when nine months pregnant, of delivering a baby without the aid of her womenfolk, and of raising God’s Son.
Mary faced countless unknowns, and the weight of those unknowns may have seemed too much to bear sometimes. But Mary mustered her courage and moved forward not knowing the outcome. How so? By understanding the presence and power of God in her life.
When the angel appeared, he greeted her with the words, “The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) Choosing to believe this was true gave Mary the courage to say yes to a divine assignment bigger than any human’s comprehension. She wouldn’t have to navigate it alone; God would go with her and prepare the way.
The angel also said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Perhaps, to Mary, everything about her future suddenly loomed with impossibilities. How could she become pregnant while still a virgin? How could she ever regain Joseph’s trust and respect? How could she escape the consequences of being found pregnant while betrothed to Joseph?
The angel’s reassurance that impossibilities were nothing for God spoke volumes to Mary. The sudden changes and challenges she faced may have felt overwhelming, but Mary believed that God’s power would carry her and deal with them.
And so – are you feeling overwhelmed today? If so, you are not alone. And you are not without hope.
God is with you, my friend. His presence will never leave your side. You don’t face your challenges alone, nor do you face them in your own strength. God’s power is at work in you and around you. He’s working behind-the-scenes in ways you cannot see.
May I pray for you? “Heavenly Father, You know exactly how we feel when circumstances loom large before us. You understand our fear, dread, grief, and pain because You took on human form and became one of us. Thank You for meeting our desperate need for Your presence and power in our lives. And thank You for bearing the weight of our concerns when they feel overwhelming. We choose to trust You and walk in these truths today. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me” (John 14:1NLT). His words—“Don’t let your hearts be troubled”—imply that we have control over worry and fear’s role in our lives. We can choose to let them run rampant or we can choose to trust God instead.
Letting our hearts be troubled brings us no benefit whatsoever. Worry can’t change what’s already happened and it won’t help resolve the current challenge. It does, however, encourage fear to take root. It makes it difficult for us to rest well at night and ties our stomach into knots.
I’ve let my heart be troubled too many times to count, and guess what? Doing so has never made my life easier. So why live like that, right?
When life hands us difficult situations, we don’t have to let them disturb our inner peace.
If we take Jesus seriously, then we can rest assured that trusting in God is the better way to respond. Here are five good reasons for choosing that better way:
God promises His presence. He is with us no matter what happens in the course of a day. Why, then, should we be afraid or anxious? (Joshua 1:9)
God promises to give us wisdom, and lots of it. When we face circumstances that baffle us, we can ask Him for insight, and He will answer. (James 1:5)
God promises victory. He’s on our side if we belong to Him. Who can stand against us? (Romans 8:31)
God promises to turn negative situations into something good. He specializes in transforming the bad into beauty, the sad into splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)
God promises joy. Sorrow may last for a night, He says, but joy comes in the morning. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. (Psalm 30:5)
When I read those five reasons, I feel as though the title for today’s post doesn’t do justice to Jesus. It should read , “Infinite Reasons to Trust God.” Seriously—the five reasons I’ve listed here barely scratch the surface.
Would you join me in doing something special today? How about let’s band together and list as many reasons as we can for why God is trustworthy? If someone posts your idea before you get to doing it, go ahead and post your idea anyway.
What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you wake up? Here’s a multiple-choice quiz:
It’s morning again.
My to-do list is a mile long; I don’t know where to begin.
Good morning, Lord. Thank You for the gift of a new day.
Our thoughts shape our beliefs which in turn influence our behaviors.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he,” says Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV). If we groan about morning and complain about having to get up early, our bodies will feel sluggish. A dismal attitude will color everything we do and everybody in our path. We start sounding like Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame.
If we focus immediately on the workload facing us, we’ll feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. Our bodies will start releasing stress hormones that send us into a fight, flight, or freeze response.
If, however, we train our minds to go to a place of gratitude, our bodies will respond by releasing hormones related to pleasure and contentment. Our day assumes a tone of joy and anticipation.
This isn’t just a teaching about the power of positive thinking. This is a biblical principle that proves true. The thoughts we habitually entertain—and that we train our minds to think when we wake up—really do make a difference.
God created our brains, and He knows how we function best.
That’s why He tells us how to think: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8 NLT).
So, how can we train our morning thoughts to measure up to the description in Philippians? Here are three suggestions:
Think on all things true, right, and pure as you fall asleep at night. Don’t linger on memories of how someone hurt you or of a recent conversation that left you feeling upset.
Ask God to wake you with a song. I do this, and He answers by putting lyrics of worship songs in my mind. It’s a sweet way to greet the day even before getting out of bed.
Write a Scripture verse on a recipe card and set it beside your bed. When you wake, read the verse and turn it into a prayer before doing anything else.
Your morning thoughts matter. Begin your day thinking about all things excellent, and the rest of your day will follow.
Subscribe to receive Grace's blog and/or eNewsletter and you'll receive 8 beautifully designed printable Scripture cards to help you find strength in the storm.