Best of the Net: Ann Voskamp

I love Ann Voskamp’s blog, Holy Experience. Ann is a farmer’s wife and home schooling mother of six who lives on a farm in Canada. Her writing is some of the most beautiful, gracious, and peaceful writing I have ever read. Her post today about how her family reads The Word together is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it.

Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the Lord!

The story in Ezekiel 37 has always been one of my favorites. Like, one of my most favorite stories in the whole Bible. It is incredibly exciting to me and FULL of HOPE! Here’s what it says:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and they stood up on their feet – a vast army.

Then he said to me; “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.”

There is so much good meat in these verses that I could talk about it all day. I won’t. I’ll just give you a few observations.

1. After the Holy Spirit has shown Ezekiel the valley full of dry bones, He tells him to speak to the valley. He doesn’t tell him to ponder what He says. He doesn’t tell him to believe what He says. He doesn’t even tell him to understand what He says. Because Ezekiel’s understanding is not important here. The Holy Spirit tells Ezekiel to speak what He says. Our words are so incredibly important. They have power to uplift and encourage and they have power to tear down and deetroy. Our words have lasting significance. It is crucial that we choose our words carefully in order to build up and not tear down. We might not be able to keep negative thoughts from entering our minds, but we absolutely must have the self-control to stop them before they become words in our mouths. And when we have occasion to speak encouragement, peace and life to someone, for goodness’ sake, DO NOT remain silent. A verbal (or written) “thank you” can lead someone to keep going when they have been feeling frustrated. Your words can change someone’s perspective for the good or for the bad.

2. Ezekiel had not finished speaking what the Holy Spirit told him to say, when God began to use his obedience to accomplish His purpose. Ezekiel couldn’t even finish his sentence before God had already begun to rattle those old bones and bring them back to life. Our obedience accomplishes God’s purpose in this world. And oftentimes, it accomplishes it quickly. What a blessing that He would involve us in His work!

3. If God can make a vast army out of a valley of old, dead, dried up bones, just imagine what He can accomplish through you and me when we surrender our lives fully to Him! When we allow Him full control, He does things through us that we never even imagined possible. But when He speaks the next step to us in His still, small voice, we must DO IT, no matter how strange it seems to us. He sees the entire plan and we see merely a very small portion.

I have received so much encouragement from this passage. I would love to hear if it has impacted your life as well.

Justice vs. Mercy vs. Grace

I have spent much of my adult life wondering how God is just and yet is merciful. And what’s the difference in mercy and grace? I heard a pastor give such a simple explanation the other day that it all became pretty clear. I hope it helps you, too.

He said, “Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”

Read that statement as many times as you need to in order to let it sink in. Be blessed!

PS: I so, so wish I could remember which pastor it was that gave that explanation, but for the life of me I can’t remember. It was one of those statements that didn’t really hit me at first, but I really got it later on. By then I couldn’t remember who it was that had said it. I know it was a pastor on TV in B’ham on Sunday morning, but that’s as far as my credit-giving can go.

My Titus 2 Friend

” You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine… Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can teach the younger women…” Titus 2:1, 3-4

I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone in your life who was a spiritual mentor to you. I hope you have been so blessed. I have, and I don’t take it for granted because I know not everyone has that opportunity. In fact I have had several women who have invested themselves in me, and they have each brought something different to my life that I otherwise would not have known or experienced. One of my favorites is my friend Carol Anne.

Carol Anne is not much older than me, only a couple of years, in fact. But for five years, she gathered with a small group of our friends and taught us… well, it’s hard to put on paper (or a computer screen, as it were) just how much she taught us about God, His character, His word, His will, how to love Him, how to be in His presence, the benefits that are ours as His children. Every Monday night at 7:00 our friend Melinda’s living room became holy ground. It became a sanctuary where we met God face to face. We laid it all before Him and let Him wash us with His word. We learned how to humble ourselves before Him. We learned how to be quiet and listen to Him. We learned how to search out His will in scripture. We learned how to use His word as the Sword of our spirits. We learned how to approach His throne of grace with confidence and boldness. And Carol Anne faithfully led us there.

She would tell you that she didn’t teach us as much as she learned along with us. Any maybe that has some truth to it. But I do know that every Monday night for five years we would all set aside “real life” to spend time with her as she spent time with Him. She faithfully prepared our lessons, spending who-knows-how-long searching the scriptures and praying about what she would share with us. We were not always the most attentive students. Often times we laughed and talked and chased rabbits so much that she had to wrangle us back. That makes me love her even more because I know she wanted to get finished and go home, but she was so patient with us.

I am so much richer for having had this season of my life. My Monday girls are forever ingrained on my heart. Their burdens are my burdens and their joys are my joys. We have been through the extremes of life together. I have stood outside their hospital door with my ear to the door listening as their babies were born. They have brought food and gone to funerals when grandparents died. We have prayed for healing for our children’s various medical issues. We have gone to battle for each other’s marriages, families, careers, dreams and goals. When our friend Enley got tickets to Oprah and flew off to Chicago, we even prayed that it would be “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” And do I even have to tell you that she called me after the taping and said, “Ashley, the favor of the Lord is on me. I was just on Oprah’s favorite Things”. I am not creative enought to make up the ways God answered those prayers during that time. He was just so good to us.

And He still is. He is still hearing and answering our prayers today. One of the most pressing matters for me is that my beloved Carol Anne has been sick. Really sick. She’s no stranger to sickness, for she has lived with MS since she was sixteen years old. But this time is different. She has something that has so far gone undiagnosed. Her doctors believe that it has something to do with her endocrine system. Because God loves her more than I do, He has given her the best this world has to offer. She flies out this weekend to California to see the world’s front-running endocrinologist in the disease which he believes she has. How good is He to her?!? Of course, we have known all along that she is under the care of the Great Physician and that earthly physicians, as talented as they are, are merely vessels for the work He wants to do in her.

Would you join me in praying for my friend? She is facing a trip across the country, new doctors, new tests, new medicines, an unknown diagnosis, possible surgery, additional expenses, and time away from her precious family. And I want her to get better. I’m selfish like that. I still have a lot to learn.

This Is Why Easter Is My Favorite Holiday

Sorry it’s been awhile since I last posted. The pollen got the best of me last week, and I rebounded just in time to make a mad dash to the grocery and mall to finish up last minute Easter shopping.  That didn’t leave much time for blogging, or anything else for that matter. I rallied on Friday long enough to take the girls over to the Botannical Gardens for some Easter pictures.

I hope you had lovely Easter. It’smy favorite holiday of the year. I love Easter dresses and the pretty flowers that bloom, but most of all I love the Risen Savior that the holiday celebrates. This year, I reflected on Matthew 27:50-51, which says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

The veil referred to here is the veil in the Temple, which separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place. The Holy of Holies was the part of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was stored. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once per year. It was the portion of the Temple where the Spirit of God dwelled. Common people, because of their unholiness, were never allowed to enter the Most Holy Place or they would die. Their unholiness could not stand up to the holiness of God. They were unworthy of being in His presence.

When Jesus, our Perfect Redeemer, became our Sacrificial Lamb and gave up His spirit on the cross, the Bible says that the veil was torn in two. No longer was there a separation between unholy man and Holy God. And did you notice that the veil was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing this restoration came from God to man and not the other way around? Without our Redeemer, we are dead in sin and completely hopeless. Without Him we have no way of ever being in communion with God. But Hallelujah, He arose on the third day, breaking the power of sin and splitting the veil, so that we can enter freely into fellowship with God. That is the true meaning of Easter!

The Breastplate Prayer of St. Patrick

This beautiful prayer was written by St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. It has come to be known as the “Breastplate Prayer”. The stanza that begins “Christ be with me” is most widely known, because it is reportedly the portion inscribed on his breastplate. However, that portion was only a part of a longer prayer, which, in its entirety, was used by St. Patrick as he fought against the spiritual darkness that was so pervasive in Ireland at the time.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.


An Irish Blessing for Today

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. In honor of the patron saint of Ireland, I give you an Irish blessing…

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Prayer Journal: Where Do I Start?

A prayer journal is something that will evolve over time, and each of ours will look different as we figure out what works best for us. I started out with the pretty spiral bound journals that you see in bookstores, but found out that they weren’t very practical for me. As prayers were answered and marked off the list, I would end up with gaps in my journal that drove me crazy. I know, it doesn’t take much to drive me crazy! But I have found that a small looseleaf binder works best for me. I add pages as I need them, and I can use dividers to keep things in order.

My best advice on getting started is… get started. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just get it all on paper, and figure out the best order as you go. Make a list of all the things you know to pray about. Start with your own family. What do you know of that needs God’s attention? Is someone sick? Stressed? Having a hard time emotionally, spiritually, financially? Are your children having a hard time in school? Does your relationship with your spouse function like it was designed by God? Move on to friends. Who has asked you to pray for them. Does your Sunday school class keep a prayer list? Write. It. Down. If you don’t write it down, you will forget you prayed over it. Then when God answers, you miss the victory because you are already on to the next thing.

Be as specific as possible. Instead of writing “Help Kate in school,” drill down to “How can I help Kate understand fractions better?” or “Lord, please restore Kate’s relationship with Jenny so that they are close friends again.” As you work to identify problems more specifically, you can then see progress much more clearly than if you just prayed a general prayer. When He provides you with the next move (Maybe you sense him urging you to invite Jenny and her mom to meet you at the park.) write it down, and DO IT!!! I know that sounds so simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I have sensed God’s leading during my prayer time, but have failed to follow through, or failed to write it down, and so forgotten what He said by the end of my prayer time. And then I wonder why it takes so long to see change.

Incorporate scripture into your journal and your prayers. I have been fortunate to have some spiritually strong women who taught me the beauty of praying God’s word back to Him. It is, after all, His will. When you see His promises in His word, you don’t have to question whether they are applicable to you (unless they were being promised to someone specific). When you are praying about someone’s health, look up scriptures that deal with healing or health. When you are looking for direction, look up scriptures dealing with God’s wisdom and revelation. When you are praying for your children’s lives, look up and incorporate scripture that deals with issues they might face. Write the scripture verses in your journal beside the prayer request it refers to. God will honor His word.

Don’t wait for problems to arise. Cover your loved ones in prayer even when things are going well. Pray against those things which MIGHT arise, were it not for the fact that you have prayed about it. Please note, this does not mean that you sit around imagining things that could happen and get yourself worked up into a worried frenzy about things. The purpose of praying for them is to release them into God’s hands, knowing that He loves them more than you ever could, and then you will have no reason to worry. Make sense?

If you need outside resources, don’t be afraid to use them. Some of my favorite books on prayer are by Stormie Omartian. I daily use Power of a Praying Wife (for use in praying for my husband), Power of a Praying Parent (for use in praying for my children), and I have just recently picked up Power of a Praying Woman (for use in praying for myself). I have uncovered many things that I never thought to cover in prayer from reading these books, and I use the prayers as a starting point, adding my own thoughts and verses as needed. I use them as an accompaniment to my journal, making notes and adding thoughts to the margins.

This post has ended up containing far more info than I originaly intended. However, as you can see, prayer is an area that I am passionate about. The people we love are too important to entrust their lives to randomness, luck or chance. We can play a vital part in ensuring things happen for our loved ones according to God’s perfect plan if we will cover them in prayer.

Questions about anything I have mentioned today? Just leave your comments or email me if it’s too personal.

To Journal Or Not To Journal

I am a journal-er. I have been a journal-er for a loooong time. My journaling, though, is limited to my prayer journal. Goodness, as scattered and random as it is inside my head, I don’t need to write down every thought that enters, but I do have a journal (or ten) where I keep up with things people have asked me to pray about or things that are on my heart and mind.  I can’t even remember when I started keeping a prayer journal, but the seeds were probably planted many years ago when I would meet my youth pastor one morning each week before school for intense Bible study and training in Godliness. He held us accountable for our prayer life and Bible study, and I did not want to disappoint him. The more I grew spiritually, the more I saw the benefits and joy in journaling. The joy wasn’t in recording the requests, but rather in writing the answers to those prayers. Sometimes God answered in a great big way, and I could mark those requests off my list. Sometimes the answers came as more of a process, but it was still exciting to record each step of the way. Sometimes the delay in response were emphasized by a big empty space where I felt like answers should have been scribbled.

Since I have been a journal-er for such a long time (like, maybe twenty years?) I have lots of pages of notes. Notebooks of them, actually. It is such a joy to look back over them and see how far I have come spiritually. The early days held prayers for things that now seem so superficial. And, admittedly, these days those same pages hold many requests that seem so impossible that I might as well go ahead and mark them off, because there is no chance. My requests have become bigger and deeper and more unrealistic. But I have also come to learn through the pages of these many journals that I am praying to a God who isn’t realistic. He creates His own reality. If He is imaginative enough to create kiwis and stars and personalities, He is creative enough to make a way where there seems to be no way. He isn’t bound by medical statistics. He is THE Healer. Oh, how I have seen that with my own eyes. He isn’t limited by a lack of money. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. His purposes will prevail over lack of vision, lack of knowledge, and lack of faith. He is the Giver of All Good Gifts. He can change the world, and He can change our hearts. This is the pattern I have seen as I look back over years of journaling.

As I have learned about praying scripture, I have begun to write applicable verses along with my requests. I have seen that He is so true to His word. He says that He will exalt His Name and His Word above all else, and I have seen it to be true through the pages of my prayer journal. I encourage you to take the time to create a prayer journal for yourself. As you write more and more in it, you will see in black and white how God’s ear is always bent toward us. He hears us!

Loved This Prayer…

from Stormie Omartian’s book Power of a Praying Parent: “Lord, may the beauty of Your Spirit be so evident in me that I will be a godly role model for my child.”

Amen, Sister, amen!