This year has been one for the records. A lot has transpired. Unfortunately, a lot of sorrow has swept through this world. It has not been easy. But believe me when I tell you: God is about to do some new and great things for His people. As I sought the Lord on what to write, He instructed me to ask you a question. He told me, “Ask them, where is your trust?”
I was talking to a friend who was discouraged about a difficult family matter that was impacting her young daughter in a very negative way. I had watched my friend get more and more overwhelmed by the anxiety and stress to the point that I could see her own health was being jeopardized. I was reminded that when God brought the Israelites out from their oppressive captivity in Babylon that He promised they would “go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:12). So I encouraged her that if we’re going to come out of dark places like she was in, if we’re going to stand under the trials of life, we have to come out with joy and walk in peace. We have to use joy to deliver us from anxious thoughts, defeat, and discouragement. Joy is the key, and it’s inside us.
Humanity, as the image of God, is stamped from the beginning for beautiful community. That is, we’re marked out for a God-glorifying life of unity in diversity. This is where God is taking humanity. We’re fractured and divided, but he’s going to knit the human race together under the lordship of Jesus Christ. And the church is called to pursue beautiful community in the here and now as a witness to the world of the Holy Spirit’s reconciling power. Experiencing community means experiencing a sense of belonging, of welcome and embrace, a sense of being at home. It’s the exact opposite of feeling you’d rather be someplace else. Since beautiful community is a matter of the Spirit and can’t be engineered, there’s a cost to becoming the kind of people who welcome and embrace fellow image-bearers across lines of difference.
Most children are introduced to prayer through prayers offered before meals and before bed, but when trials strike, those traditional prayers fall short of helping our kids through life’s most difficult days. Is there a prayer to pray when your best friend moves away? How do you approach God when you lose the big game? How do you face God the day after you get caught cheating on a test? What can help our kids connect with God through a more severe trial like when a family member is hospitalized or when a beloved grandparent passes into glory? The Psalms provide Spirit-inspired examples of petition, confession, declaration, and lament for our kids and us to learn and follow. Turning to these prayers in times of trouble move our focus away from our weakness and onto God’s strength.
I confess I have a prayer problem—sometimes my own prayers bore me. So boring that my mind completely wanders away from God. At times, I’ve even fallen asleep while praying! Over the years, I’ve noticed that I tend to pray the exact same phrases over and over in a kind of empty way. My prayers can be dull and repetitive. My mind and heart drift, and I feel like I’m just going through the motions instead of communicating with the Living God. This doesn’t exactly fit my image of a vibrant prayer life!
Has anyone done you wrong? How does that person make you feel? You feel angry, right? You feel resentful and you want that person to feel pain, too, right? How does it feel when that person is around? Does that person make you feel good or bad?
When someone has done us wrong, we feel negative emotions, such as hate, anger, and resentment. But when you take a deeper look at the situation, who is hurting more? Is it the person that did you wrong? Or is it you?
The Bible tells us a lot of things about forgiveness and unforgiveness. In Ephesians 4:32, it says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
We may think of journaling as a bit archaic—maybe even Victorian. I certainly did when my then-boyfriend suggested we start one together. But church history shows us that journaling does not belong to a particular time or place or age. It has been useful to Christians of all ages for thousands of years—and still is, despite the technology that threatens it. Journals are as diverse as their authors, each writing for particular reasons and benefits, though there is a common theme. Looking at examples from the last 2,000 years can illuminate the benefits of journaling in the 21st century.
The following is a collection of prayers related to the start of school. As both a professor of worship and a parent of two school-age children, I tried to imagine the sorts of things that parents and kids, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders might be feeling in light of the unpredictable realities that face them this fall. My hope is that, in praying these prayers, they will sense in palpable and deeply personal ways the care-filled love of the Good Shepherd who knows them by name. In the end, the goal is simply to pray as one can and when one can, trusting always that the Spirit prays in and for us when we can no longer find the right words or even the will to pray.
The New Testament presents the Christian life as a journey, a pilgrimage—what one Christian author has described as “a long obedience in the same direction.” In Scripture, we see a picture of the Christian life with all of its anquish and simulatenous hopefulness. A spiritual struggle, a battle, continues throughout one’s life. This struggle is quite real as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25 and his teaching in Ephesians 6:10-17. And his own difficulties on full display in 2 Corinthians 11 must not be ignored.
once heard about a husband and wife who were so upset after a big argument that they refused to speak to each other. That night, not wanting to be the first to break the awkward silence, the man left a note on his wife’s side of the bed that read, “wake me up at 6 o’clock in the morning.” The next morning, by the time the husband woke up, it was already 8 o’clock. Furious, he roared, “Where is she?” and was about to chew out his wife when he found a note on his side of the bed: “It’s six o’clock; wake up.” If we’re going to live in love, we have to learn to forgive one another. The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, but instead, forgive. And above all things, put on love.”1 That means: Above having your own way, above your own agenda, choose to put on love.