The One Thing I (Almost) Always Pray For Each Night

with 2 kids under age 4, every evening is an ordeal getting the packages securely into bed. we would love to be the parents with always-consistent-routines and self-discipline that never allows for deviations, but those kinds of nights rarely happen for us. most nights, shanna and i look at each other and without words say “i don’t care how you do it, just get this one into bed, and get them into bed quick.” to be honest, many nights we feel like a struggling high school football team just trying to get something on the scoreboard… it doesn’t have to be pretty, just get the ball across the goal line.

whether they brushed their teeth or not, whether i remembered to change his diaper or get her in pajamas, whether they got  2 songs and a story or neither… i try really hard to be consistent with one thing: i try to always pray in front of them before they go to sleep.

the prayer changes from day to day. often we thank God for something we got to experience during the day, or someone we got to share some time with. we sometimes pray for the people we plan to interact with tomorrow, and we even include knock-knock jokes from time to time to see if Jesus will laugh. most everything we pray about changes from one night to the next, but there’s one thing that almost always stays the same. 

with rare exceptions, i pray every night that my kids grow up walking closely with Jesus.


here’s what i know: as parents, we all have dreams for our kids.

and none of them are bad…

  • we want them to be successful,
  • and athletic,
  • and musical,
  • and good looking,
  • with good people skills,
  • and a hard work-ethic.
  • we want them to have just enough self-esteem,
  • but not too much arrogance.
  • we want them to have good jobs,
  • have good friends,
  • be good friends,
  • have a sense of humor,
  • get good grades,
  • go to a good college,
  • and go there with a full scholarship.
  • we want them to not be interested in dating until they’re 30,
  • and eventually marry the right person (that we select ourselves),
  • avoiding every form of pain and hardship,
  • and be self-sufficient enough to support us in our later years.

but to me, the most important thing – more important than anything on the list above – is simply that they get to a point where they understand that life only makes sense through an authentic relationship with Jesus, and that that relationship isn’t the side show in their life, or the thing they do on the weekend, but that it is the life-blood of everything they are.

maybe it’s because pastor’s kids get it rough, and many times come out the other end jaded by the church. and maybe i’m paranoid that my own kids will someday interpret what i do for a living as a job rather than a calling. but i just want them to know the Jesus i know, not because they “inherited” this faith or because they want to please their parents, but because they honestly searched it out themselves and came to the same conclusion that i did one day.

there are many things down the road that will affect this dream, for better or for worse, and more of it is out of my control than i’d like to admit. but i can pray about it. and i can pray about it every night.


A Direct Relationship Between Your Productivity & Your Connection With God

i have noticed this too many times and too consistently to wonder if it’s a coincidence.

the days i start by connecting with God, praying, reading His Word, and nurturing my own soul tend to be way more productive than days that i don’t. on the flipside, the days that i just rush into my to do list without first pausing to connect with God are the ones that i find myself spinning my wheels, struggling to complete tasks and move the ball forward.

just curious, anybody else notice this same thing?

Having A Meaningful Time With God For Your Own Soul


a few years ago one of my adult youth leaders handed me a leadership training seminar on CD to listen to.  not thinking it was anything special, i popped it in the car as i drove around town and was immediately drawn in. i’m so thankful for that gift and that i didn’t blow it off. it has been one of the best leadership talks i’ve EVER sat under, and i’ve since listened to the whole thing several times through. totally worth the $35.
just a few weeks ago i had the opportunity to sit in on one of dan webster‘s seminars, and he shared in detail something worth posting here. as the youth pastor at willow creek for years under hybels’ leadership, dan used the following method to personally connect with God and lead his student ministry from an authentic heart.
as youth pastors, we’re often great at telling our teens that they should be doing regular devotions, but terrible at doing our own, for a variety of reasons…
  • the never-ending stress-inducing work load
  • sporadic, inconsistent schedules (it’s just part of the job)
  • we’re already in God’s Word alot as it is prepping for messages & events
  • 84% of us have ADHD and have a hard time focusing on anything for an extended period of time
what i love about this plan is that it address all of these road blocks.



there’s nothing sacred about doing your devotions every day. in fact, it’s probably not even practical for many of us in ministry. 4 hours a week is still > 15 minutes every day of the week. webster said he did it every tuesday and thursday morning when he first got into the office.


do it during your office hours. tell one of the secretaries where you’ll be in case of an emergency, but don’t tell anybody else. put your phone on airplane mode. be in a place where you’re completely alone and free from distractions.


a pen, your bible, a journal, a blank pad of paper, and some greeting / note cards.


if you’re reading through a book of the bible or some kind of reading plan, pick up where you left off and just read. there will naturally be verses and phrases that jump out at you to “preach” in upcoming messages – this is ok… it’s what we do and we can’t turn that calling off.  jot them down on the blank pad of paper to come back to later.  as to-do items and other unrelated things pop into your mind as you read that you don’t want to forget, jot them on the paper as well.  once you write them down, your mind is released from thinking about them and you can refocus back on your own soul.
when you finally get to a verse or phrase that is meaningful for you personally, spend time with it.  write it out in your journal. meditate on it. memorize it.  pray about it. worship and praise God with it. argue with God about it.


after focusing on scripture, spend time in prayer.  there are always people with big needs on our hearts – take this time to pray for them. there’s the ones we’ve told we’re praying for, and of course there are others we just can’t get off our minds. our families are always on our heart. and we always feel guilty for not praying enough for the teens we’re intentionally discipling and mentoring. use this time to pray for each of them.
one of the most powerful things we can do though happens after we pray for them. simply ask God “what do you want me to know about this person?”. and then stop praying and be silent.  sometimes you won’t hear anything. but there are other times when God’s spirit will whisper a prompting.  a specific verse may come to mind.  or a word of encouragement.  or sometimes a sense of warning and concern may surface.


once you’ve prayed for someone and listened for God’s perspective on them, write them a note to encourage them.  let them know you prayed for them, and include a verse or prompting that God left you with. it can sometimes seem incoherent to us, but it’s amazing how much it’ll connect with the person when they get the note.
dan webster shared the story of a time he did exactly this. he was praying for one of his adult leaders, and when he asked for God to speak up after praying for him, a strong sense of concern overwhelmed him.  he thought of a leadership retreat they and the rest of the team attended recently, and how he seemed to be a little “too friendly” with another leader he wasn’t married to, and a strong sense of darkness came over him in that moment. he proceeded to write a note reminding this leader of the importance of purity and how sin can ruin everything in our lives and ministry.  believe it or not, when the note arrived at this guy’s mailbox, it happened to arrive on the very day that he was planning to initiate sexual contact with this woman. he was on his way out the door when he read the note… stopped dead in his tracks… and turned right around.
kinda freaky… but at the same time not surprising (since the spirit of God in you is the same as in other believers).

let’s get better at connecting with God, caring for our own souls, and leading from that place.



Loved But Not Entitled

this prayer has been stirring in my heart for the last few weeks, but until now i have not been able to quite articulate it.

Dear God,

Help me teach our students that they are LOVED, but not ENTITLED.

That the value you’ve placed on their existence is far greater than they could ever imagine or will ever be told by another human being…

and yet,

that they are not above anything or anyone, and that they’re not free from the responsibility you’ve placed on their shoulders.

“I’m Here”

have you downloaded Marko‘s free e-book A Beautiful Mess yet? if not you can grab it over here, at least for now.  i just started reading it and fell in love with the story below. i love how as youth workers we often have no idea the impact we’re making and we’re so often in the dark, but underneath God is moving students’ hearts and answering big prayers.

A modern-day story, shared with me recently by a friend of mine, gifted veteran youth pastor Sam Halverson:Sam had a teenage guy in his group (we’ll call him Tim) who’d shown no spiritual interest whatsoever and was normally brooding and dark in his outlook. At a particular worship time, the students in Sam’s group were given some space to reflect on their spiritual lives. Tim sat by himself and was drawn into a very personal something. Sam couldn’t tell what was going on, whether Tim was having a profound spiritual moment, or was angry, or something else. He noticed Tim with his head down; as Sam moved around the room and neared Tim, he could tell Tim was in the midst of something intense. Sam said he had no idea what to do. Should he interrupt what was possibly a personal moment between Tim and God and ask Tim what was going on? Should he lay hands on Tim and pray for him? Should he leave Tim alone? Sam, feeling helpless and bumbling, lightly touched Tim on the shoulder and said, “I’m here.” Tim only nodded but said nothing. As he walked away, Sam felt he’d probably blown it, that there was likely something better he should have done (but he had no idea what that better thing would have been). A week later, Tim’s mom called Sam about another issue. At the end of the call, she said, “Oh, and I wanted to tell you thanks for what you did for Tim.” Sam was confused. Tim’s mom continued, “Tim told me that he was really struggling with whether or not God even exists. In that prayer time, Tim was begging God to reveal himself. He prayed, ‘If you’re real, God, then do something—right now—to say “I’m here!” ’ Tim told me that the second he prayed that, you put your hand on his shoulder and said, ‘I’m here.’ ”

When Nobody Shows Up To Your Event

one thing most of us in student ministry are well aware of – especially during the summer months – is how unpredictable attendance can be.  families go away on vacation, some teens are in summer school, sports camps & band camps are in full swing, and some teens just can’t get a ride. we tend to envision big turnouts, plan for high numbers, but then feel discouraged and defeated when the actual number comes in low.

so how do you still do the event without being discouraged? every summer we face this in some form or another, and this question surfaces in my brain a lot.

resist the temptation to think about who’s NOT there. 

i’m all for tracking attendance and charting numbers.  i have big goals for our sunday morning attendance 2 years from now. but when it’s go time and the event has started, i’ve learned that if i don’t walk in the room forgetting about who’s not there, i’m gonna waste some important opportunities with those who are.  if i’m not grateful and thankful for who did show up, the lies of defeat will slither in my mind and try to discourage me.

here are 3 things you can do to help you forget about those who aren’t there:

1. pray through the list of students who are signed up. it’s amazing what happens when we get away and pray. it doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t have to get up before the moon goes away (that aint happening for me)… but just pray.

2. think about their individual stories (and the big voice you have to speak into their life at this event). some of them have had a rough year. some have been in the middle of their parents’ fights. some have endured bad breakups. some have been asking big questions about their identity but haven’t verbalized it to anyone yet. some have just started cutting. some laugh when everyone’s around but cry when they’re alone. some just need a new friend network, and they’re trying your event in order to find that. 

3. make it the best event for them that you possibly can. they’ll likely go back to the rest of the group and let them know all that they missed. it’ll make a make a big difference in their life, and other people will see the change. there’s value in simply providing an atmosphere where students can have the time of their life.

Prayer Does Stuff

i posted yesterday about last weekend’s hunger for hope event and how some students now believe in prayer. here’s what happened:

at the end of the event, Todd told the teens how we had planned in advance to skype mozambique so that we could see and hear each other during the event. as leaders, this was the part of the event that we were probably most excited about to really drive home the connection. our friend Ercilio was the guy on the ground organizing it to make it possible, but he got very sick with malaria and was unable to see it through. for our students and leaders who have been on the 2 trips before, Ercilio is a dear friend and high level leader in many parts of the project, and for us to hear that he was sick and not doing well brought us to our knees really quick. Todd mentioned this at about 6:00, and then we all united in prayer for Ercilio’s health at that time.

many went home from the event with heavy hearts… knowing that even though money was raised, it didn’t change the fact that a close friend may not make it through the night. this is the reality every day for so many in third-world countries, but this time it was up close and personal.

Todd spoke to the teens at both services the next day, and as he started the message, he brought up on the screen an email he just received from Ercilio. in the email, Ercilio stated how God awakened him at around midnight to let him know it’d be ok. and then by 6 in the morning, he was feeling much better. the medicine was beginning to do it’s work, and he is on the mend!

but then Todd reminded us of the time change. mozambique is 6 hours ahead of us!!! so… when we prayed at 6pm on Saturday night, that’s the very time when God awakened him to let him know he’d be ok!  and as people with heavy hearts went home continuing to pray, God began healing him of the deadly virus!

some students now believe in prayer… and as the pastor of these students, i’m beyond thrilled right now!