Ann Spangler

Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker.

Bless the Lord, O My Soul

A man looking up to heaven (blue sky above)Perhaps you know that observant Jews pray at least one hundred prayers every single day. Called berakah, these prayers offer continual thanks to God for his many blessings. There’s a blessing to say when you get dressed, before you eat, after you eat, when you survive danger or illness, when you hear thunder, when you see a rainbow, and even when you encounter a particularly beautiful person. I especially like the blessing you say when you wake up in the morning. It’s one of the first prayers a Jewish child is taught. Here’s how it goes:

I am grateful before you, living and eternal King for returning my soul to me with compassion. You are faithful beyond measure.

Imagine praying this simple prayer with intention every day for seventy, eighty, or even ninety years. Wouldn’t that shape the course of your life, helping you to be mindful of God, aware that he is the Keeper of your soul, the Creator who calls you to rise up and enjoy another day of life?

Perhaps you think praying all these prayers would be tiresome. But what if such prayers trained you to always be looking in the right direction, proclaiming God’s faithfulness throughout the day? What if they prevented you from acting as though everything depended on you and nothing depended on God? What if they made you realize you are never alone?

As Christians, we could benefit from adopting a similar practice. Our prayers don’t have to be long, but they do have to be intentional, peppered with praise and thanksgiving. This week, why not consider praying the Modeh Ani, the Hebrew name for the prayer above, before you even step one foot out of bed? As you pray, remember that one day you will awake to pray it with a resurrected body that will never be touched by illness or death. 

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A Mission for Your Mouth

tongueStop it!” I screamed, threatening violence if she did it again. An instant earlier, my mouth had been munching contentedly on a peanut butter cookie. Now it was launching ballistic missiles. What happened? I had been standing in the kitchen, balancing precariously on crutches after a recent foot surgery, when one of my children snuck up behind me and began tickling me. Not what I needed! But, really, did I have to threaten violence, overreacting to her little prank?

Our mouths can get us into so much trouble, propelled by emotions that move at lightning speed, unleashing primal urges. Why is it that most of us can control every muscle in our bodies but one? No wonder James likens the tongue to a flame of fire or a dangerous poison (see 3:6-8). According to Jesus, the tongue is unique because it is connected to the heart. Of course, when the Bible speaks of the heart, it is not talking about muscle tissue but about the very core or center of human beings.

The only remedy, then, for dealing with a tongue problem is to attend to the heart problem. We need more of God’s Spirit transforming us on the inside so that what comes out of our mouths will build up and not tear down.

In his book War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles, Paul Tripp makes the vital point that we are Christ’s ambassadors, his primary representatives on earth. Because of that, he says, we need to understand that God has a mission for our mouths.

What is the mission God has for your mouth today? Ask the Holy Spirit to shape your heart with his presence so your words will fulfill his purpose.

(Image courtesy of iprole at freeimages.com)

Praying For Your Children

Silhouette of woman holding child at sunsetBecause of her many books on the topic, Stormie Omartian has become well known for her confidence in the power of prayer. But what many people don’t know is that as a young girl she was physically and emotionally abused by a mother who was mentally ill. Her book Stormie is the account not only of the pain she suffered but of the gracious God who reached through her brokenness and brought healing to her life.

Because of the abuse she suffered, she was terrified that she, too, might become an abusive mother. When her first child was born, she developed tremendous fears for his physical and emotional safety. Though never abusive, she was always anxious, filled with fear that something might happen to her son. One day she cried out to God, saying, “Lord, this is too much for me. I can’t keep a twenty-four-hours-a-day, moment-by-moment watch on my son. How can I ever have peace?”(1) One of the answers to her agonized plea was a sense that she and her husband should cover their son in prayer.

Since that time, she has experienced countless answers to prayer and has taught thousands of people to pray, one of whom is her daughter, Amanda. Here’s what Amanda had to say when she was just thirteen years old about how prayer made a difference in her life:

“At my school, I had a classmate who was very mean and I never wanted to go near her because she scared me. When I told my mom, she decided we should pray together for this girl. I thought that was a good idea and so we prayed nearly every day until school was out and through the summer too. The following school year, a miracle happened and that girl changed completely, and she became one of my best friends. It affected my life and it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.”(2)

What a privilege it is to be able to pray for and pass on the practice of prayer to the next generation. Prayer reminds us that, though we have a role to play, our burdens ultimately belong to God, who graciously listens as we cry out to him.

1.  Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Parent (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 16.

2.  Ibid., vii.

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Gratitude, Sharp and Sweet

A field of purple and yellow crocusesIf you live in a northern climate, you know there are few joys as sharp and sweet as spring, unfolding slowly into lush abundance at the end of a long, harsh winter. The sunshine, the colors, the smells—everything conspires to make you glad.

Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it for a time, like the woman who walked into her doctor’s office complaining of a pain and walked out knowing something might be seriously wrong. “I walked out feeling stunned,” she said. “Yet I walked out into the street and it shone like the New Jerusalem. . . . Houses, shops, pavements, bare winter trees, were all incredibly beautiful to me that morning. Everything was transfigured. Even the fishmonger’s smile, when he handed us two cod fillets, seemed beautiful and very precious, as if it was a gift. In fact everything seemed to be an astonishing gift on that bleak morning when I wondered whether I was being asked to give it back again.”(1)

Life can bring such joy and pain, a contrast of light and darkness. If we let them, the losses we suffer can be a filter through which we see the ordinary gifts of life in sharper relief—the ability to breathe, walk, hear, sing, pray, hold another’s hand. All these can be occasions for gratitude, even when life is difficult.

Today, let us focus not on our losses but on all we have been given. Let us live with eyes wide open to God’s many blessings.

1. Jo Farrow, quoted in Christine Whitmire, Practicing Peace (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2007), 110.

(Image courtesy of hirekatsu at freeimages.com)

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