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Overflowing With Hope - Romans 15:13

Over time, I have learned the power of praying through Scripture. So often I feel like just don't have the words. Yet what I always have access to is God's Word. For me, the practice of praying scripture started with what has kind of become my life verse:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13

I knew that reading that verse had encouraged me countless times, but I had never considered using it as a prayer. This one verse has so much substance. Hope. Joy. Peace. Power.  When I am feeling particularly weak, I come back to this verse. I find myself praying...

Heavenly Father, 
I know with all my heart that you truly are a God of HOPE. The hope you so freely supply is what sustains me in this life when darkness tries to overtake me. It is only through you that I find true JOY and PEACE. I know that when I trust in You and focus on Your will I am able to see things differently. The challenges I am facing cannot compare to Your mercy and grace. You have provided me with all I need, Lord, and I know you will continue to sustain me. I know You will give me the strength I need to get through what I am facing. Lord, I pray that I might truly overflow with HOPE by the POWER of the Holy Spirit. I know that your power is absolute, and I want the hope this ensures to spill over to everyone around me. I ask that you would show me opportunities to encourage the people you have placed in my life. May I be a source of light in this dark world. Not shining that light on myself, but using it to bring You glory! I want the people I love to know the peace you provide. I thank you for renewing my mind, and comforting my heart. In Jesus' precious name, 

I have also found that it is one of the sweetest prayers I can pray over family and friends. This is definitely the cry of my heart for the people I love, and as I sit down and really pray through this with someone specific in mind it often reminds me of ways I can be God's hands and feet and care for His people.

I love this verse SO much that I asked my dear friend Stephanie to whip up a little printable for me to share. She is just the best, and has other free printables over at Behind the Camera and Dreaming! I pray that this verse will encourage you the way it has me!
8 x 10 Printable | right click to open printable in a new window | right click and save

You can read more of my posts about prayer HERE

Do YOU have a favorite verse to pray? I would love to hear it!

Leaving a Faith Legacy

When Aiden was an infant, I used to write him a letter each month. I would record milestones and funny things he had done, and just share my heart with the sweet little boy who had changed my life in such a big way. Of course as I wrote these letters I was thinking ahead to the young man he will someday be, instead of only the tiny person he was at the time. I wrote them for him, but I also wrote them for me... so that I could remember some of the little things that I would too soon forget. I needed the reminder to slow down long enough to really see what gets missed in the chaos of life with a small child. I wanted him to be able to read back through them someday and know how treasured he has always been. Those letters were about both the present and the future. They are little glimpses of a life that moves faster than I would like, and an attempt to hold on for a little while longer.

When I started Bible journaling, I did so primarily for me. I think best by writing things out usually, and I wanted to be able to look back and see how God had been at work in my life. However, there came a point when I started writing not just for myself but also for my future daughter-in-law. Now I know there is no guarantee that Aiden will marry. And even if he does there is no guarantee he will have children or live a life anything like the one I live now. Yet I pray as I record my own journey that someday there will be a young woman for me to pass these journals on to. A woman who is just starting her journey as a wife and mother who can learn from what God has taught me.

The more I find myself learning about living life by seasons, the more I am aware of the fact that someday I will be that Titus 2 woman being given the responsibility of training up the next generation. I struggle with finding a mentor of my own, and so maybe I think more about being one for someone else someday than I normally would. No matter the reason, it is a thought that is always kind of there in the back of my mind as I study and learn. I do these things for the now - so that I can be the wife and mother that God wants me to be in this season - as well as for the future.

As I focus specifically on my prayer journey, I am starting to see how all of this is woven together. I see that my prayers for my child today can also be recorded as a legacy for his future. Whether it is to remind him of how God has always held him close through his earthly parents, or to encourage him in his own parenting... I want to start recording some of those prayers. The memories I record are treasures indeed, but knowing that God has been at work throughout Aiden's childhood is also a precious gift.

I recently came to possess my Grandma's copy of Psalms | Now, and every night as I hold it and read from it I can picture her praying in her room. I wish that I had thought to learn more about faith from her while she was still here to teach me. I adore this priceless link to her faith, but I wish there was a way to know more about how she grew into the most loving, faithful and amazing woman I have ever known. I can only pray that God will continue to work in my life to help me become a woman like that. If I can leave behind something of my journey... even if it is only for one young woman who craves guidance... it will be an honor to do so.

Over these past few years I have prayed for a mentor of my own. I have found encouragement and inspiration in the words of some amazing women along the way, even if it wasn't in that face-to-face way I crave. I know that one thing I have learned over and over again in this journey is that God always hears and always answers the prayers of His children. I know that there is a reason He is choosing to answer this prayer of mine differently than I had hoped, and I look forward to the day when I can see a glimpse of the "why" when the work is done. Until then, I will continue to pray and trust. This is most definitely a main theme of my prayer journey in this season.

I gotta confess...

I am having serious doubts about this whole writing for 31 days thing. Perhaps if I had decided to do it sooner than the day before I could have built up some posts ahead of time. I didn't do that, though, and today I just don''t want to think or feel or blog. I am tired and seriously struggling with some things. Clearly I need to spend more time praying and less time writing about it today.

I may come back to this post and rewrite it, but in the spirit of at least making an attempt to post today, I am just going to share a Bible study I put together doing teen ministry. I was going to talk about confession in today's post, and this study is what got me thinking about it. So I hope this is enough for tonight.

Taking the Joy Dare and Daring to be Imperfect

Do you ever wonder if God gets a little giggle out of those moments that make us smack our foreheads? Like right now... as I sit down to grudgingly write after throwing myself a little pity party about how life is hard right now. Homeschooling? Homeschooling is hard. Cleaning? Yeah, making myself do the dishes is pretty hard, too. Ha! I am tired and disgruntled today. I would much rather whine about wishing I could call in sick to my life tomorrow than write anything. And then... then I see I am supposed to be writing about counting my blessings and saying prayers of thanks today. Good one, God! Yeah, He made me giggle at the absurdity of my attitude. Excuse me while I take a few deep breaths and find some measure of focus...

Really, when I get to this part of my journey I am once again just sharing what someone else created that impacted my walk with God. I could keep this post super short and just send you on over to the website with the details. However, I feel like there is a reason this topic made it onto my list, and a reason it is one my list for this very day.

I was just thinking of how I have been going to bed every night beating myself up because I feel like a bad mom. We are not having a great homeschool week, and so I feel like all I am doing all day every day is nagging my child and being frustrated. Then every night I go to bed thinking that the next day will be different. I will be more patient, more attentive, more fun. I will find moments of joy instead of just trying to survive another day. And yet (surely this won't surprise anyone) I wake up the next morning and after a burst of positivity while studying my Bible the actual work of the day begins and by lunch I am a frustrated mess again.

I could say that tonight my epiphany was that if I just started counting gifts and being more thankful my problems would all be solved. What I actually found myself thinking is far from that statement. Instead I thought about this 31 day writing challenge and how I didn't want to fail. Then I thought about how every. single. time. I have started a gratitude journal or Joy Dare challenge I have failed. And THEN I thought about how absurd that is. Every time I have started one of those challenges I have spent more time being thankful and expressing that gratitude to God. Yeah, it usually tapers off and I miss some days and then quit because if I can't be perfect I don't want to do it. Before we even acknowledge how much work I need there, though, let's just focus on the fact that starting any challenge and doing good things for part of the goal time is still doing good things.

If I am counting my blessings so that I can feel good about completing a challenge then I am totally missing the point. Do I need to keep coming back to things like this that motivate me to do good things? Sure. It works for me... for a while. Do I need to stop giving up every time I "fail" to be perfect? Oh good grief, YES! It is another heart check thing... what is my motivation and how can I keep it pure? This question is one that I am sure I will need to occasionally ask throughout my life. I am human, after all.

So, NOW I will send you over to Ann Voskamp's Joy Dare page. Why do I like this particular resource?

  • I do truly believe that cultivating gratitude has a dramatic impact on both my relationship with my Heavenly Father and my life here on earth. 
  • I love being challenged to think deeper than the surface blessings that make it on to the list that is shared around the table at thanksgiving. 
  • I like being told exactly what to do with things like this, so her system makes me happy. 
  • I enjoy having a sense of community with other women doing the same thing, and when I do this with friends I always end up seeing the world in different ways!
It is good stuff. As long as I remember why I am doing it. I want to spend more time thanking God, and less time complaining and focusing on trivial things. I know God wants to hear both the good and the bad, but it is so much easier to focus on the bad! This isn't about being perfect. It isn't about what listing 3 things every day will look like or accomplish. It is about developing a natural rhythm in my prayer relationship with my Heavenly Father. One that is a little less about me and what I want, and a little more about Him and what He has done. Baby steps... baby steps. 

(Oh, and that part about how I am good until my morning quiet time "wears off" and am a mess by lunch? Go read this post ---> Lopsided Living Requires Loving God Most Good, good stuff from another #write31days blogger!)

Sharing the Gift of Prayer with Others

Why is it that so many of us are shy about our prayers? Sure, there have been plenty of occasions when I was in a position that required me to pray aloud in a group setting. However, if I am being honest I always hope someone else will take on that role. I have mentioned that me and extemporaneous speaking are not the best of friends, but in my experience even those who aren't afraid to speak in public still hesitate to lead prayer. Yet what a gift it is to pray with other believers! One of the most memorable parts of this journey of learning to pray was when I was encouraged to share prayers with others.

I can think of some special opportunities when I was given the opportunity to pray with someone at an important time. I treasure the memory of praying with my niece before she headed out to walk down the aisle at her wedding. I have prayed with others during difficult times as well. I never considered sharing prayers in written form, though. Then I walked through a particularly challenging time with a friend. You know those seasons when life just seems to fall apart for someone you care about? I was a part of one of those seasons for a sweet friend, and while I spent time making her family meals and offering to do other tasks for her, I also wished I could do more. When I felt like God was urging me to write a prayer for her, it felt awkward at first... but it also seemed like a perfect answer. 

In that example, I sat down and just prayed my heart out for this sweet family, and then asked for guidance from the Spirit in recording my prayers for them. However, I have also had times when I was praying fervently for an individual and felt like God was responding with something I needed to share with them. Taking the time to really focus on someone God has placed in your life and then writing your prayer for them is such an awesome way to share God's love. It is often in those toughest times when we can't even find the words to pray. So giving the gift of prayer in this way serves to encourage and sustain fellow believers in a very real way. 

It is important to remember that writing a prayer for someone isn't about our own words. It isn't something that should be done for any reason other than to share the love and hope that we all so desperately need! I do definitely believe that one of the primary purposes of prayer is to force us to slow down and really think about things. This gives God the opportunity to show us ways we can be His hands and feet that we wouldn't otherwise consider. When we pray for a friend who is fighting disease or facing loss, we don't (or shouldn't) do it to try to influence God. We do it because we want to support those we are blessed to walk this life on earth with. The answer to a prayer for healing may not be what we expect. It may instead be the answer of how we can help during the struggle. Taking the time to write out a prayer is definitely one way to help. 

I am definitely enjoying finally taking the time to ponder and record some of this journey that I have been on as I seek a more focused prayer life. I am so thankful for this 31 day challenge keeping me going for sure! I look forward to seeing how God uses this in my life and for His glory! Soli Deo Gloria! 

Praying in Color - Getting Creative While Talking to God

Praying in Color was a concept that was introduced to me by a friend on Instagram. I am not a terribly artistic person, but I do love colorful things and creativity. As it turns out, I also love doodling my prayer list! Here is a list of reasons to Pray in Color from the website: 

Why Pray in Color?

1) You want to pray but words escape you. 2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge. 3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer. 4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how. 5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task . 6) Your mind wanders and your body complains. 7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray.
8) You Need a new way to pray.

This is not my own idea or movement, and so I won't go into it too much, but it did play a part in my journey to a more consistent prayer life. I found that it helped me in several ways:

  • I liked the visual nature of it. It was easier for me to glance at a little picture to remember what I wanted to pray about than read through a list. 
  • Because the doodles were more meaningful to me than they were obvious to everyone, I felt comfortable hanging the list above my sink. I feel like written prayer request lists often include specifics that I wouldn't want any visitor reading, but the pictures were less personal. And hanging them up helped me remember to pray when I saw them.
  • Like any kind or written prayer (I mentioned this when writing about prayer journals) it helps me to focus when I sit down and write. The huge success of adult coloring books in recent years shows how relaxing the process can be, and I chose to focus my thoughts on prayer while coloring. 
  • It got Aiden interested in what I was doing, and he started doing his own prayer sheets! We also used it for our high school small group ministry. 
We followed the examples and used some of the handouts found on the Praying in Color website, but we also put our own spin on things! One of my favorite meetings ever with our teens is when we made "aboriginal" prayer art (based on a lesson Aiden had completed about this native Australian art). We used q-tips and paint to do dot art, as we prayed. The repetitive activity was so soothing, and it allowed us to then write in the circles what we had prayed about and heard. 

Learning to get creative with my prayer life definitely helped me to kind of break out of the box I had put this part of my relationship with God in. I find that sometimes all you need is something a little unexpected to challenge and inspire you! That is what Praying in Color did for me!

Prayer Journaling: Putting Pen to Paper

I was never successful at keeping journals of any kind when I was younger. No diaries are floating around out there revealing the thoughts of my teenage self... thank goodness! However, as an adult, I have come to love the process of putting pen to paper and recording my thoughts as I study God's Word. I mentioned in my intro post for this series that my early journals are missing the element of prayer for the most part. They are full of thoughts and reflections about what I was studying at the time, and reading back through them is always an eye-opening activity. I love seeing how I have grown and matured over time. I wish, however, that I had taken up prayer journaling sooner.

I know that there are plenty of resources out there with ideas on how to keep a prayer journal. For me, the more relevant part of my prayer journey concerns the why. Why keep a journal of prayers? Is it really a meaningful spiritual discipline? Or just another way to feel good about checking something off the "stuff good Christians do" list? That last question is such a heart issue. One that I struggle with a lot. I so quickly can get tightly wound in this web of trying to do the right things to earn God's favor. Learning to extend grace to myself and rely completely on God's love and acceptance of me has been so hard. Huge work in progress in this area for sure. 

Why do I bring this up? I want to express early on in this series that my journey to learning more about the gift of prayer has been such an up and down experience. I am constantly having to ask God to search my heart and root out any traces of pride or tendencies to rely on my works more than His grace. So even as I share what I have learned, I want to make sure that my motivations, and the motivations of anyone I connect with, remain pure. Studying Scripture, learning more about prayer, becoming involved in any kind of ministry... this is all done as a response to what is freely given. It flows from the desire to draw near to God because of what He has already done... not to earn His favor or love. Those are already ours. 

So anyway, here are my answers to those questions when I am taking care to keep my intentions pure:

  • Keeping a prayer journal provides an opportunity to slow down and really focus on this part of our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. Part of my struggle with prayer is that I am SO easily distracted. Sitting down to write my prayers out helps me really tune in to my own heart and what the Spirit has to say to me in response. 
  • Journaling my prayers gives me the opportunity to go back and see where God has been at work in my life. So often we take for granted the progress that is being made. Often we don't see the answers to our prayers until we are far removed from the daily struggle. 
  • As a spiritual discipline, making time to journal prayers gives the Spirit time to reach us. So often praying one thing will open our eyes to what God really wants us to be focusing on. I might start out praying for guidance in my parenting, thinking that I need some divine answer to how to discipline my child (which I still wouldn't mind, actually) and instead I am reminded that it is my own attitude or behavior that needs tweaking. These kind of realizations are harder to recognize when we are always praying "on the fly."
  • Any time we are stopping to realign out thoughts and priorities with God's, it is a blessing. 
So, what does my prayer journal include? I recently started a dedicated prayer journal, instead of just focusing on making sure not to "skip the 'P' in my SOAP." I start with just writing out whatever is on my heart. Like writing a letter to a friend, I just let my thoughts flow. Then I also jot down a few things that I have been specifically praying about consistently throughout the day. Maybe it is a relationship I am struggling with, a habit I am trying to kick, a friend who needs specific prayer, or a worry I can't shake. I record these with space between them so I can then record updates as I see progress. Finally, I record some things I am thankful for. I will talk more about recording gifts later this week. It is an important part of this for me. 

Of course there are lots of ways to include journaling as a part of your prayer life. What works for me may not work for you. The important thing is just to find what works for you. For inspiration and specific ideas, there is always Pinterest. Just don't get so busy pinning that you forget to start praying... like I often do! I hope to add plenty to my Prayer Board over the course of this series! If you have a prayer board, feel free to leave me a link in the comments!

31 Days of Learning to Pray - Day 1!

It seems fitting that as I begin this challenge of blogging for 31 days about prayer I have spent a long while just sitting here, staring at a blinking cursor. This is a beginning. A new way for me to step out in faith and trust that God will meet me in this space. It is a lot like how my greatest faith journey began 6+ years ago. Just a girl, a blog, and the desire to connect.

When I became a stay-at-home mama, my whole world was turned upside down. Rather abruptly, I entered a season of life that was completely unexpected. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing, but that didn't make it easy. Now that I am well into this journey I can give a little spoiler that I didn't have access to at the time - God had big plans for me in those early years at home. More importantly, He had big plans for US. Me and my Heavenly Father were about to have a whole lot more time together. Much of that time was me crying out in desperation, depression and overwhelming loneliness. And yet, I consider it one of the most beautiful seasons of my life. 

During those early years at home with Aiden, I was given the gift of time to really dig deep. I say given... though it didn't really feel like a gentle gift at the time. It was more like a desperate attempt to find some sense of purpose when I felt like I had lost so much of my identity. It certainly wasn't something I found on my own, either. Instead, I connected with the most amazing community of women to help me walk through this season. And to this day I have never met a single one of them in person. Yet they are some of the most important people God has ever brought into my life. 

Some of the women I connected with were mentors who had walked the same road and come out on the other side. Some were fellow new mamas who were "in the trenches" and struggling in similar ways. Each one touched my heart and became a dear sister in Christ. As these women encouraged me to turn to God's Word for direction and comfort, I found such a great desire to really study and just embrace this amazing gift. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but I knew that life was richer when I was making time to sit down with my Bible. The study part came more easily to me. And yet, I still struggled with prayer. 

It is no secret to anyone who knows me well that I tend to set unreal expectations for both myself and the people around me. This is one of my least favorite things about myself, and something I have been working on especially since becoming a mother. I do recognize it, though. And I think that in many ways I had a very unreal expectation for what a "good" prayer life was when I first began. I will even share a little confession with you to illustrate. 

When I decided to start using the S.O.A.P. method to study God's Word, I would sit down each day and faithfully work through those first three letters. 
  • "S" - I loved writing the Word, and found that it helped me to focus more deeply. 
  • "O" - my observations were often lengthy sections of definitions and research and I loved digging in to the Word in different ways. 
  • "A" - I would often marvel at how God had shown me exactly what I needed for where I was, and loved seeing how His Word applied to my current season of life. 
You can see all of this if you look back through my journals. You will also likely notice something else... a whole bunch of blank or missing "P" entries. I wasn't used to writing my prayers, and for some reason I struggled with this part. Now, I will say that often I would just spend so much time on the first 3 that by the time I got to the prayer section there was a crying baby needing my attention. I often rationalized that the prayer part of things could happen while my hands were otherwise occupied. This was, of course, true. I don't think it was the full story, however. I also still wish I had recorded more of my prayers from those early days. 

Over the next 30 days, I hope to share a lot more about what I have learned since those days of skipping out on writing my prayers. In fact, I have chosen to start this series with that side of my prayer journey. I have Week 1 set aside for the theme of "Praying on Paper." I mentioned in my last post that I much prefer writing to talking, and so learning to write my prayers out definitely was an opportunity for me to bridge that gap as I learned more about this part of my relationship with my Creator. I am no expert in any of this. I am still just a girl (although a bit older now), with a blog (not the same blog and I am quite rusty at this whole blogging thing after long absences), and a desire to connect (and maybe the opportunity to give back a bit and be that mom who is on the other side of the preschool years and still standing...) 

My thoughts are not those of a trained theologian, or a great scholar. They are just my own experiences, and how I have come to know my Savior on a deeper level over time. I pray that anything I write might serve my King and bring Him glory. And that the thread that connects all of it would be the grace of God that brings us to Him and covers all of our stumbling as we grow and learn. It isn't about me and what I do. It is all about Him and what He has already done. Thanks be to God!