When We Want to Pray Like Jesus Did

Over Christmas, I purchased my very first guitar.

I have no plans to take the music world by storm. I simply want to add acoustic beauty to the end of my personal quiet time each day. Just for me. Just for Jesus.

When I step out to learn something new, I intentionally seek out the best teacher. After purchasing a beginner's guitar book with DVD online, I asked one of my friends who plays in his own band to teach me the basic chords that comprise most songs.

When it comes to prayer, I want to seek out the best. Because sometimes my words or attitude don't make music. Sometimes I hit wrong chords or miss a beat through self-centeredness. Praying the "right" words is not my concern as much as learning to pray with heart and soul leaned in to Jesus.

Prayer is not so much a formula as it is the desire to seek God wholeheartedly in all things. To be an intercessor. So to learn, who would know how to pray better than God in the flesh?

How and what did Jesus pray for?

Jesus prayed before meals.

Before the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus prayed. "Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass and taking five loaves and two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing." (Matthew 14:19) Scripture doesn't record what Jesus prayed. It was likely a standard meal blessing. But He prayed. He acknowledged that the blessing they were about to receive came from God and no one else.

In the upper room with the disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper -- the ultimate meal. Scripture records: "And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to them." (Mark 14:22). Even knowing He would die within 24 hours, Jesus still gave thanks for the meal that God provided.

Jesus even sang some prayers. When He and the disciples left the upper room on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, they sang the "Hallel." This traditional hymn was comprised of Psalms 115-118 and sang during the time of Passover. Jesus sang even though He knew that He would die within 24 hours.

I wonder. If we knew the date and time we would die, would we still be able to sing?

Jesus also offered prayers of thanksgiving.

"At that time Jesus declared, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little children, for such was your gracious will." (Matthew 11:25-26) When we fail to give thanks to God, it reflects the condition of our relationship with Him. Not offering thanks for God's rich blessings is a sign that we take those blessings for granted.

When was the last time you thanked God that you were born in America? That in this wonderful nation, we enjoy the finest medical care, freedom to worship, the opportunity to learn, and even for the electronic device we are using right now. Giving thanks keeps us humble and provides a proper perspective.

Jesus also prayed before making important decisions. He prayed for the disciples.

But the coolest thing? He prays for YOU and me.

Right now. Even as you read this, He's praying for you: "He always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus is before the throne of God interceding on our behalf 24/7/365 because Satan is there accusing us 24/7/365. Jesus intercedes for us so that God sees us through His sacrifice, through His blood shed for us, and sees us as blameless.

Jesus didn't pray for wealth, fame, or more social media followers. He prayed for things and people that could make an eternal difference.

Those prayers make beautiful music for heart and soul.

May the same be said of us.

When We Need to Know Who We Are Praying To

Whether it's first thing in the morning, or before turning in for the night, prayer can be hard on some days.

Depending on our circumstances, some days we want God to be massive and huge. We need Him to take on our bullies and win with one hand behind His back.

Other days, we need Him close enough to catch our tears and hear words we can only whisper.

The good news is that He is both.

Simply looking at the universe confirms that God is far bigger than we can ever grasp. We live on a little blue globe that orbits in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the known universe. In fact, Earth isn't even the biggest deal in our own solar system next to Jupiter.

Yet Earth is the one privileged place where God chose to place His most precious creation: mankind. We are the only things in ALL of creation made in His image.

Heaven's expanse declares the size and glory of God. We cannot measure God with a tape measure, ruler or yard stick. In the economy of the universe, He is measured in light years. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second and one light year is 5.58 trillion miles.

Yet God didn't even lift a finger to create the heavens and earth: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." Psalm 33:6

Our God breathes stars and galaxies.

Yet in spite of God's vastness, He chose to make us. Fragile, demanding, unruly, self-centered us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God Himself.

Out of the seven billion people currently on Earth, no two are alike. For each person, God mapped out and wrote a brand new DNA code that had never before existed, nor will ever exist in the future. You and I are the definition of "custom made."

Each of the 75 trillion cells in your body consists of a DNA that makes up unique, miraculous you. You may not think that you are special, but you are a walking miracle.

God promised that for those who trust in Him, He will hold them in the palm of His hand and carry them all of the days of their life.

Even when we can't fathom His bigness, even when we can't feel His closeness, He promised us something incredible:

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17

So when you're facing your toughest day, your hardest trial, how do you know if God can hold you together? Because He promised it.

He may not change your circumstances -- He didn't change them for Jesus -- but He works in every circumstance to bring about good.

So as we pray, we are communicating with the universe maker who became mankind's Savior.

The star breather who became our sin bearer.

And He holds us in the palm of His mighty hand simply because of how much He loves us.

The Prayer that Works 100% of the Time

One day Jesus stepped away from his disciples to pray. When he returned, the disciples asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). 

Now these Jewish men, for the most part, grew up attending synagogue. They knew how to pray. But they noticed something different when Jesus prayed. So they swallowed religious pride and asked Jesus to teach them.

Some people say that prayer is "just a conversation with Jesus." However, Jesus would be the first to say that there's much more to it than that. We need to learn to pray -- just like we needed to learn how to walk, talk and eat. 

As a new Christian 25 years ago, I had to learn that prayer was more than just something uttered before a meal. But it wasn't until five years ago that I actually began praying on a regular basis. The journey has been life-changing. I learned how to pray from Jesus' words in Matthew 6.

This model for prayer works 100% of the time. 

"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Matthew 6:6-8

It was odd for Jesus to say to go into your room and close the door, because most houses in his day consisted of one large room and no doors. But in our culture, we clearly understand. Prayer means getting alone with God, away from other people to shut out distractions, turn off technology, and focus solely on God.

Jesus let us in on a secret: God will reward us. Of course we don't pray pray to receive reward, yet Jesus tells us that reward will come. He's not referring to cars, a special relationship or money, but something FAR greater: peace.

He teaches us to pray like this:

(1) Declaring God's greatness: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." Matthew 6:9

Jesus invites us to get up close with the One who seems most far away. God invites us to be near Him with no strings attached. And His name, above all, is hallowed. It is holy, set apart and reveals God's identity: Father. A tender and intimate relationship, yet one full of authority. This part of the prayer invites us to pause and remember the bigness of our God in the smallness of our existence. And yet the attention of our all-knowing and all-powerful God rests on US. The more time we spend in this part of the prayer, the less time we'll to spend on the rest. Declaring all of God's greatness provides proper perspective about the significance of our own issues.

(2) Surrendering your will: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:10

This is where we need to pause and hit the brakes. In other words, before we focus on our own kingdoms, we focus on His. We all have our own kingdoms and desire to be King in our land. We want God to fix our kingdoms first. But this prayer declares to God that we are more committed to His kingdom than to ours.

We also have our own wills. We want what we want when we want it. In other words, my will be done. But the purpose of prayer is to surrender our will, not to impose it. This determines how long we pray. If our will lines up with God's, then it's easy. When Jesus' will lined up with the Father's will to raise Lazarus from the dead, that prayer took all of 20 seconds because they were in agreement. But when Jesus had to lay down his life, he prayed all night. We need to remain here until we can pray with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, "Thy will be done." Even if we hate it or disagree with it. We bend our will to His, because we don't want a god so small that he bends his will to ours.

"Thy will be done" works 100% of the time. When we pray like that we will be rewarded -- not with money or fame -- but with His peace that passes all understanding.

(3) Acknowledging our dependence on God: "Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Matthew 6:11

We close out our prayers by thanking God for His provision (daily bread), pardon (forgiveness), and protection (from temptation and evil). Only at the end do we finally arrive at the "give us" part. Notice how it comes LAST? It's not because our concerns aren't important, they are just not more important than declaring God's greatness or surrendering our will to His. 

So our prayer model is simple:  
D - S - A. It means "Don't Start off Asking."

This prayer works 100% of the time. Not because it moves God.
But because it moves us.  

Each morning, will you commit to meet with God in prayer? He's waiting for you.

When We Need to Slow Down and Focus on Advent

Sometimes the speed of life races past at the speed of light.

Way. Too. Fast.

In this season of Advent, I am intentionally pausing. To be still. To reflect on the Light of the World that came to us at Christmas.

Throughout this month, I am sharing daily Advent meditations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest paired with pictures that I've snapped around the world.

Rather than a weekly blog, we're enjoying a daily reminder -- to let the season breathe. To allow Him to breathe new life into us.

I warmly invite you to join me. Let's apply the brakes before we break into a thousand glass pieces this Christmas.

So until January, look for these daily meditations instead of this weekly blog:

I pray that you and your loved ones enjoy a blessed, holy Christmas!
  With love from my home to yours. 

How to Balance Life While Writing a Book

With two published books under my belt, I finally feel qualified to write this post. Perhaps it's just the experiential miles talking.

I have started drafting my third book, so the principles I'm sharing here today are about to kick into high gear when 2015 rings in.

As an author, the question I field more often than any other is: "How do you have time to write books, work full time, travel to speak, and keep up with life?"

The simple answer is the amazing grace of a faithful God and the incredible support of family and friends.
But there's more.

It takes commitment. Sacrifice. Focus. Organization. And no small amount of blood, sweat and tears.

Through trial and fire, I've discovered five specific ways to stay sane while meeting manuscript deadlines. There are many more, but these five help the best. Here goes!

     1) Say NO to new commitments until the manuscript is turned in.

The moment you commit to a writing deadline, trust me, new and cool opportunities will start pouring in. It's kind of like when you commit to eating healthy -- all of a sudden chocolate appears at every turn. But resisting the urge to add entries to your calendar is crucial to protect and nurture your writing time. 

     2) Take a sabbatical from voluntary, time-consuming commitments.

I sing on my church's worship team and absolutely love it. However, it requires weekly rehearsal, run-through, time learning music, and singing at both services on Sunday morning.

I took a sabbatical from the worship team for the two months prior to my last manuscript deadline to shift that time toward writing. The team's support and prayers touched me to the core. The cool thing? A few new worship leaders stepped forward and have been a huge blessing to our church. 

     3) Commit to writing a certain word count each day.

I created a 3-month chart by day/hour containing current commitments. It allowed me to ascertain at a glance which days/evenings could be devoted toward significant blocks of writing time.

Regardless, I committed to adding 1,000 words to the manuscript each day. Some days I only added 500 words, but others reached over 3,500. The chart kept me on track right up to the deadline.

     4) Sign off of social media and devote all spare time to your manuscript.

If I had 30 minutes or more to write, I wrote! I loaded my manuscript onto a dedicated thumb drive and carried it with me everywhere. I wrote during lunch breaks at work, while waiting at the airport, during flights, etc. You'll be surprised at how much you get done.

Also, I scheduled a week of vacation from my full time job right before the deadline. I sequestered myself at home to focus 100% of my time and energy to the book. I took a three-month sabbatical from my blog, as well. I also signed off of Facebook and Twitter for the final ten days to eliminate social media distraction.

     5) Become slightly anti-social.

This one is extremely tough. Many people believe writing involves strolling along a picturesque river at sunset while eating French bread washed down with wine while pondering deep thoughts that will eventually be captured on our laptop.   

Well, I hate to break the idealistic bubble, but writing entails long hours of research and typing on a computer/laptop with complete focus. Headaches, backaches and stiff necks go with the territory.

Explaining my deadline and commitment to family and close friends included them in the process instead of shutting them out. They understood that I wouldn't be up for any impromptu movie nights until after the deadline. Their encouragement and prayer support kept me going during those tougher writing days (yes, they happen).

I am looking forward very much to the upcoming holidays, because in January I will buckle down, put these five items into high gear and complete the manuscript for my third book before Spring arrives. 

Bottom line? There are many ways to carve out the necessary time to meet your writing deadlines. Just prioritize, organize and jump in with both feet, remembering:

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."
Colossians 3:23

If you're an author, what could you add to the list? 
If you're an aspiring author, did you find anything surprising?

Thank you, Veterans

I don't remember Dad in uniform. He served in the Air Force before I was born.

But I remember his big, knobby knuckles flipping through old photos to show me his buddies and where he served.

I've seen pictures of my uncles, long since passed away, in military uniforms as they served our country in wars and conflicts past.

Today is Veteran's Day.

This day is set aside to honor, remember, and pay tribute to those who have allowed the United States of America to remain the land of the free. These incredible men and women make this the land of the brave.

If you know a soldier, present or past, I pray that you go out of your way today to thank them.

And above all, pray for the safety of our active military across the globe.

They put their lives on the line each day and sacrifice time away from family and friends to keep our borders secure.

So, dear Veterans, thank you. You are not forgotten.


Today, we salute YOU.

Dear Christian: How to Love an Atheist

A few years into our friendship, one of my best friends told me that she was an atheist.

As a committed Christian, it was shocking news. I thought I knew her well. I'm not sure if other Christians think about how you would respond in a similar scenario, but I do.

Twenty years later, our friendship has deepened and she has become one of my dearest friends.

And it's not because I'm trying to make a point or hold myself out as a diverse thinker. It's because I love her. Plain and simple. 

She is one of the most well-read, smartest people in my circle of friends. I don't hide my friendship with her, because I value her opinion and trust her judgment. We share a love for cats, coffee, chocolate, and traveling the world (which we have done together several times).

She is kind, compassionate and honest. Let's face it, we all need friends with those admirable characteristics. The friends I hold most dear are the ones who love me enough to courageously tell me when I'm acting like a bonehead. I trust her with my life, and know without reservation she does likewise. 

Jesus didn't hide or sneak around to spend time with the people whom the religious leaders heartily disapproved. He went out of his way to have meals with them, visit their homes, and demonstrate unconditional love.

That's how you love an atheist friend. That's how you love an LGBT friend. That how you love someone who's had an abortion.

That's how we are to love everyone.

Some Christians may not approve of me being close friends with an atheist. Perhaps some of you have been shaking your head, praying for me to see the light, or preparing to unfollow me. But, with all gentle respect and understanding, your approval is not my concern.

This isn't about your approval or opinion. It's so much bigger than that.

This is about loving people -- all people -- like Jesus did. Unconditionally.

 "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whosoever believes in him will never perish, but have everlasting life
." John 3:16

This isn't about saying you love all people from a safe arm's length distance. It's about a demonstrative, unapologetic, open-hearted kind of love. The kind that gets up close, involved, and never gives up.

I pray for her every day to come to know Jesus as her Savior, but it's not my job to make her believe. I leave that to God. My job, according to Scripture, is to love her. Not judge. Not abandon. Not ridicule.


I also pray for God to shield her from people who may think she is less-than or unintelligent without ever taking time to actually know her. I also pray to God that she won't allow unChristlike treatment she might receive from misguided Christians to drive her further away from the One who loves her most.

I think many Christians live in a Christian bubble where it may be easy to judge those who believe differently. But the only way to reach the world for Christ is to burst that bubble and walk toward them.

I pray for God to shine His love in my friend's heart because the thought of not spending eternity with her keeps me up some nights. In the meantime, I have the incredible privilege of giving her a glimpse of His love through our wonderful friendship.

Jesus did not turn his back on people who thought differently than Him or doubted His sovereignty.

By God's grace, that's the kind of friend I hope to continue being -- whether or not they are an atheist.


The Lamaze Principle We Need to Handle the Holidays


There are days that we need endless sky and wide open spaces and uninterrupted time.

To simply breathe.

It's the Lamaze principle of this laborious life.

To just breathe. Just be.

In three weeks, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Then comes Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. First Advent Sunday. Followed by Cyber Monday. And then Giving Tuesday.

And we limp into the Wednesday after Thanksgiving battling undigested turkey while watching the Christmas countdown run like sand through an elf-shaped hourglass.

Perhaps we'll call it Worn Out Wednesday.

We run and labor hard to breathe but seldom stop to catch our breath.

After all, there are parties to host, the perfect gifts to find, the Pinterest crafts to make, and our routine quiet time with God becomes anything but routine. 

And yet He is One who enables all breath:
“The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are infrequently pronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable….This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing. The holiest name in the world, the Name of Creator, is the sound of your own breathing."
      ~Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
God's Words aren't meant for us to gulp and rush forward. They represent our very life breath.

"In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind."
Job 12:10

As we ready ourselves to give thanks to the Lord for His merciful goodness, and to ponder the Word made flesh at Christmas -- we pause today.

And take a deep breath.

To inhale His peace. And exhale the world's addiction to speed.

And this Lamaze principle of breathing gives birth to a soul renewed by His peace and contentment.

We pause and behold the magnificent glory of God in the beautiful, simple blessings of faith, family and fellowship.  

To give thanks.

And remember His many blessings -- never forgetting Who they are from, and Who they are for.

To pause and worship God, whose glory fills the whole earth.

To replace our holiday to-do list stressing, with His breath and peace-filled blessing.

Do you find it challenging to create breathing room during the holidays?

The Secret to a Meaningful Life

At one time or another, we have all asked the question: "What is the meaning to life?"

Last week, I conducted an informal Facebook poll asking people to rank these five things in order of importance: health, happiness, love, fame, and money.

How would you rank them?

I intentionally left God off of the list, because all of those things can be used for His glory. It is how we choose to wield them that defines us. 

The results were interesting. Love was the clear winner by a margin of 2 to 1. 

As Christ followers, love is most important because love is the language of Truth. God is love. God never lies.

Without love the enemy divides the Body of Christ: If you disagree with someone on one point – then you must dismiss them entirely. And if you acknowledge someone – then you must agree with them entirely. That is a deadly lie meant to divide, and it must be broken.

But love? We never have to be afraid of love, because it can never silence Truth. Truth is best understood when spoken in love.

Having Christian convictions never negates extending Christ's compassion.

Christ was never scared of guilt by association. He hung around the sick, ate with sinners, rubbed shoulders with tax collectors. All because He was showing them love.

We never have to be afraid of love, because radical love is the only thing that ever changes anyone. Without love, Christ didn't send you.

God holds out His hand to us — the sinful and disobedient — because God's love is the most powerful of all. With His love living inside of us, we are called to be peacemakers, fence destroyers and rift menders. Without it, we are peace destroyers, fence builders and rift makers.

We don't have to be afraid of guilt by association, because if we don't cross fences and climb walls, how will anyone come to understand His boundless grace?

Jesus put it this way: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

We can have the right doctrine, but without love, we allow the harshness of pride to build walls of division. Christ in us moves us past fearing guilt by association to be people ready to live grace by association.

We have the privilege to be the ones who can make a kingdom difference because His kingdom is an eternal one. Not this blip-on-the-map, temporary existence on earth.

In case you're curious, the survey ranked happiness #2, health #3, money #4, and fame #5.

But love? It will always rank #1.

Because the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).

Community is built by living out love and humility, not by having the right books on our shelves or the approved conferences on our calendars.

So what is the secret to a meaningful life? LOVE. 

Receiving God's love. Allowing it to flow through you to the people He places in your path. Allowing it to be a place where Truth can be understood.

A place where we live out grace by association.


What We Need to Understand About Contentment to Survive


There are mushrooms in my back yard.  

A cluster function all their own.

I didn’t plant them. But I don’t intend to do anything about removing them either. I kind of like them. Come next week they'll be a distant memory anyway.

I walk into the house and inhale deeply. It's been nearly five years, two books, countless Bible studies, and lots of travel since the day my ex-husband closed the door behind him and left this house forever.

We looked for a modest home a year after we got married. One that we could sustain on one income should something happen economically. We chose this house in north Houston because it fit us and was an easy commute between church and jobs.

The house bustled with life as we unpacked boxes, set up our own studies, and furnished the guest room to welcome visitors. On the first night between the stacks of boxes we told each other we would be here for a very, very long time.

We were content. We planted roots. We invited Jesus in. We sowed seeds for our future.

Then one rainy night, life uprooted as he closed the door behind him one last time. I cried. I got angry.

We got divorced.

And this house wrapped its arms around me and became my safe haven from an unsure future.

I didn't know if I would be able to keep it. I never thought our plan of surviving on one income would ever become a reality. There are memories in every corner, many more good than bad. I budgeted, cut back, and pressed forward.

I didn't plan on putting down roots here alone. But I remodeled the interior to reflect my personality, and the roots sank deeper. No matter how fierce the spiritual or emotional storms raged during that terrible season, this house was home. Jesus did a lot of ministry in my heart between these walls.

I was content. 

Because true contentment isn't about acquiring stuff, it's about allowing our Savior to inhabit our days.

When we grasp that truth, God turns our surviving into thriving regardless of our circumstances.

I didn't dream for a bigger and better house. I dreamed for God to fill this one with joy, love, and laughter once again.

And He has. As wonderful family gatherings, lunches with friends, ministry celebrations, and holidays filled it, I saw John 10:10 take on new meaning: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

A full life isn't about a bigger house, it's about a big God who turns a house into a home.

So much life and love spills out of this house that the very walls have stretched to accommodate it. And with it, the roots have gone even deeper.

I get down on my knees in the flower bed and pull weeds. It's amazing the beauty God allows us to see when contentment reigns. The same soil produces flowers and weeds. It's what we allow to take root that makes all the difference.

My unexpected life. In all its glorious disarray.

Life and Grace.

This house. Old memories and new. A cluster function of mushrooms and a bed of beautiful roses.

I bury them in my heart, walk back inside, and exhale.

What does contentment look like to you?