Learning to Listen to God






Learning to Listen

February is a good time to make New Year’s resolutions since most resolutions made in January don’t stick!

One resolution I encourage you to consider is learning to listen to God in prayer.

Most of us are not good listeners. In our conversations with others most of us prefer talking over listening.

Often prayer is explained as “talking to God”. The problem with that definition is that prayer is often a monologue with God rather than a conversation where we actually listen to what He has to say.

In 1 Samuel 3:1-10 Eli the priest taught Samuel who was just a boy, an important lesson – how to listen to God. It was a lesson that Samuel used in making important decisions as an adult when he was the spiritual leader of Israel. The decisions he made, I believe, would have been different if he had not listened to God first.

Here are three times in Samuel’s life when listening to God made a difference in his decisions:

I. When Israel demanded a King

I Samuel 8 begins by stating that when Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders but the people rejected them because they were “…dishonest…accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (v.3)

Instead, the people demanded,“Give us a king to lead us,”  (v.6). That verse explains Samuel’s response to this, “this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.”

God’s response to Samuel must have brought clarification of the problem and some relief to the prophet.  “The Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king”. (v.7)

Samuel went on to explain the disadvantages of having a king but the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “’We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.’ (vv.19,20)

Once again Samuel took it to the Lord and the Lord said,“Listen to them and give them a king.” (v.22)

What a difficult place for Samuel to be in! He wanted to stay faithful and true to the Lord but the people he was leading did not.

Many ministers and other church leaders find themselves in this situation. How can they serve a congregation when they know the congregation is making the wrong decision or are not committed to following scripture?

Do they quit and walk away? That was Samuel’s choice.

He could have fought with them. He could have argued that his unworthy sons were better than a king. He could have dwelled on his failure to raise his sons to be godly leaders.

Instead, he set aside his feelings, listened to the Lord and did as the Lord instructed. I think God’s decision to let them have a king is not the decision that Samuel would have made if he had not listened to the Lord.

Listening to the Lord can help you keep your own feelings and opinions out of the way so that you can obey the Lord.

II. Getting over the disappointment of Saul as king

Saul was chosen as the first king of Israel but he soon proved to be a poor leader. He was proud, rebellious, disobedient to the Lord, made excuses for his sinful behavior and blamed others for his wrong choices. In chapter 15 Saul is informed by Samuel that the Lord rejected him as king and that another king would be chosen to lead Israel.

The chapter closes with these two statements:

Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Sam 15:35)

Samuel was heart-broken by Saul’s failure to be a godly leader. He had invested much in Saul and had been there as a spiritual leader but Saul did not have the heart of a godly man, and Samuel mourned. He likely mourned for both Saul and the people, for a leader’s failure always impacts those he or she is responsible to lead.

1 Samuel 16 begins with “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

God understood Samuel’s grief and sense of loss but He did not allow Samuel to get stuck in his grief.

After a great disappointment or loss, people often do get stuck in grief. It is important to acknowledge our losses. When grieving the loss of a loved one it is helpful to remember that you don’t get over it but you can get through it. The key is to get through it and not to get stuck there.

By listening to God Samuel knew when it was time to move on and to take action.

III. When Samuel anointed David

God told Samuel that the next king would be one of the sons of Jesse but He did not tell him ahead of time which one that would be. In chapter 16 each son of Jesse was told to stand before Samuel.

When Samuel saw the oldest son he was impressed and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” (v.6)

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (v.7)

Samuel had the next son stand before him and the Lord said that this was not the one either. When the last son stood before Samuel he must have been ready to anoint him but the Lord said: “not this one”. Samuel must have thought the Lord had made a mistake! After all, Samuel had followed the Lord’s instructions. He must have wondered, “Did God make a mistake or did I?

Have you ever asked yourself those same questions? I have.

Samuel listened to the Lord and then asked Jesse if he had any more sons. There was one more, David. Once he came and stood before Samuel, the Lord said. “This is the one.” (v.12)


By learning to listen to God, Samuel was able to make decisions that had a great impact on his life and the lives of others.

  1. He was able to obey God when he disagreed with the people he was leading.
  2. He was able to move on and not get stuck in grief and disappointment.
  3. He was able to choose God’s man for king even when it looked like God had made a mistake.

So, how do we learn to listen to God?

Let’s go back to 1 Samuel 3.

  1. Find a place that is quiet – God spoke to Samuel at night (v. 2). Both he and Eli were lying down. It was quiet.

Do you find it a challenge to find quiet in your day? I do!

Ruth Haley Barton in your book,  Sacred Rhythms writes,

I am aware of longings that run much deeper than what technology can address. I am noticing that the more I fill my life with the convenience of technology, the emptier I become in the places of my deepest longing… I long to be one who waits and listens deeply for the still, small voice of God, even if it means I must unplug from technology in order to become quiet enough to hear…Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this cycle by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing. (p.36)

Decide on a quiet place in your day. For me, it is morning, before breakfast, before listening to the news, and before checking email. For you, it might be during your lunch hour or late in the evening.

  1. Take on the posture of a listener – Eli’s advice to Samuel is good advice for us to follow. He told him to say to the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (v.10) In your quiet place, practice saying those words and then stop and listen. At first, it is uncomfortable and the temptation to talk is very strong. However, this takes practice and patience. Remember too that this discipline will not manipulate God to appear on cue! God will speak when He wants to. We cannot determine that but we can prepare ourselves by practicing being quiet and learning to listen.

If you want to deepen your prayer life, I encourage you to develop the discipline of listening to God in prayer. It will bring more intimacy into your relationship with God and it will impact the decisions you make that could change your life and the lives of others.


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Three People Who Influenced My Life

I took a longer break over Christmas and New Year’s than I had planned. I tell you why in this episode where I talk about 3 people who helped me become the person I am today:

  1. My father

  2. Rev. Don Krause

3. Helen Keirstead – click here to read the post I wrote about her in 2016.

We can’t become the people we want to be without the influence of others.”

As I reflect on their lives and their influence on me, I am filled with much gratitude!

What about you?

Who has deeply influenced your life? Who comes to mind when you read these words of the Apostle Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3)?

I welcome you to share your reflections below or send me an email.

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What Word Best Describes Your Christmas Experience? Joy?

What word best describes your typical Christmas?

  • busy?
  • chaotic?
  • food?
  • frenzy?
  • debt?

How about joy? Yeah, I’m serious!


For many of us, joy is just a theme of one of the Advent candles or a frequent word that appears in the Christmas carols we sing.

However, joy is a major theme in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth.

To the shepherds, the angel said,

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

The shepherds glorified and praised God when the saw the infant Jesus (Luke 2:19).

When the magi followed the star that led them to the house where they found the baby Jesus, they were overjoyed (Matthew 2:10).


Why is it that the news of Jesus’ birth brought such joy to those who first heard it but to us who celebrate His birth each year,  our experience is far from what could be called joy?

Have we lost the joy of Christmas? If so, how has it happened?

-has it been neglected in our frenzy of buying?

-has it been buried far beneath the busyness and exhaustion of the season?

-has our joy and our ability to experience joy been deadened by the duties and obligations that go with this time of year?



If you think your joy is absent or may be absent this Christmas, try doing the following:

1.Focus on your presence not on giving presents.

Your time is a greater gift than anything that could be put under a tree.

2.Do less.

Joy seldom is experienced by those who are stressed, tired and grumpy. Choose carefully how you will invest your time this season.

Christmas is a delightful disruption of the way things normally go.” Dean Willimon

Jesus’ birth was a disruption in the lives of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men – a disruption that brought joy.

We need more flexibility in our time in order to make room for God’s interruptions.

3. Examine your expectations.

Perfectionism is a perversion of the Christian way and to impose it on oneself or on another is decidedly not the way of Jesus.” Eugene Peterson, The Jesus way

Brokenness shared in DivorceCare and GriefShare groups help bring healing to participants. Surviving the Holidays (for DivorceCare, for GriefShare) helps hurting people examine expectations they have of others and that others have of them for the Christmas they are about to face.

Plan ahead and talk about your expectations around Christmas. Trust God with the less than perfect events and people in your life.

4.Remember the one person who should be on your gift list.

When Jesus was born gifts were given to Him, not to everyone who came to celebrate His birth! What gift will you give this year:

-more time in prayer and worship?

-forgiveness of someone who has hurt you?

-a change in attitude?

Now your gift list is complete!


May your Christmas be joy-filled!


Next week is Christmas so I’ll be taking the week off from podcasting, but I’ll be back in January.


Deeper faith. Greater joy this Christmas.

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Ministry in the “Third Space”

Show Notes

In last week’s episode,  Would Jesus Waste His Time on Facebook? I mentioned how Jesus deliberately sought out people who needed him, like Zaccheus, the woman at the well and Blind Bartimaeus.

The followers of Jesus are called to do the same – seek out the lost.

  • free online magazine by Christians for Christians using technology for ministry and personal spiritual growth (ministrytech.com)


Third Space missions focuses on turning strangers into neighbors. Third Space missionaries join gyms, frequent coffee shops, join clubs or walk in the same parks and meet new people. They are open to others and seek to build relationships them. “ (White)


  1. Not try to get the lost to come to church but on “the church going to the lost”.
  2. Not use large events to draw people but focus on one-to-one relationships.
  3. Not treat people like projects like friendship evangelism can (I know from personal experience.).
  4. Not focus on numbers. ”They make commitments to people, they don’t try and get commitments from people.” (White)
  5. Not require special training or gifting so anyone can do it. It does require love, accepting people as they are,  authenticity and faith in God to work in and through the relationships.


The danger of distinguishing this space from two other spaces where we spend time,  domestic (home and family) and civic (work and school), is that some people may focus only on the third space and ignore their responsibility to live Christ-like lives at all times and in all places.


Read about a “cafe church” on Brick Lane, in the heart of East London (https://www.cmalliance.org/alife/third-space-grace/).

Most find it refreshing that this place exists to give back to the community and engage social causes while creating a unique space for people to discuss real life and spirituality…Ultimately, our mission is to ‘make disciples’ and see life brought into its fullness through Jesus Christ.”

People should be pleasantly surprised more often by the church.

Rather than fear, guilt, or shame, let’s inspire people with hope, beauty and courage. Let’s fascinate, not force, people toward the gospel.” Eugene Cho, Overrated (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2014) , p.227


I would appreciate your feedback on this topic by filling out this anonymous, quick, 5 question survey  (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RVSYZMC). Thanks in advance!


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Deeper faith. Greater joy.

Would Jesus Waste His Time on Facebook?

Show Notes

Would Jesus waste his time on Facebook?

No, and probably yes.


No, Jesus would not waste His time. Jesus is not like many of us who mindlessly click on links, videos, ads and posts just to satisfy our curiosity or to put in time as we procrastinate doing something that needs to be done but we don’t want to do it.



Jesus was very intentional about the use of His time and He knew His priorities. He had only 3 years of public ministry to accomplish the Father’s will, which He did.

Jesus was intentional even when His priorities differed from those of His disciples and others:

  • In Mark 1:36-39 Jesus got up very early in the morning, left the house and found a solitary place to pray. His disciples came looking for Him and when they found Him they exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!“ Jesus replied in verse 38, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Jesus was not distracted by the expectations of His disciples or even by human needs that surrounded Him.
  • Jesus took time for children. In Matthew 19:13,14 people brought little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them but the disciples rebuked them. However, Jesus’ response was, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (v.14).
  • Bartimaeus was a blind man who in Mark 10:47 called out to Jesus as He passed by, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many people in the crowd rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more. Jesus heard him and stopped. He listened to his request and He restored the man’s sight.
  • Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends but when He told Jesus that Jesus should not suffer and die, Jesus’ response was harsh. He said, “Get behind me Satan…You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus was not distracted even by those who were concerned for His well-being.



Jesus could be intentional and focused because He knew His priorities which could be summarized in this – doing the will of His Father. Jesus often spoke of doing His Father’s will, such as in:

-John 4:34 -“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

-John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”

Jesus sought the Father’s will in prayer before choosing His 12 disciples and in Gethsemane as He wrestled with God’s will for Him to go to the cross.

In order to fulfill God’s will, Jesus came as a servant. Jesus expressed it this way, “I came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

It would be possible for Jesus to pursue the Father’s will using Facebook, but would He? I think probably, yes.



  1. His mission

Jesus would use tools to help Him go where the people are. In His earthly ministry, He sought out people who were rejected by the religious leaders and others, those who felt like failures, those who were hurting, those with physical and emotional needs, those who were searching for God, for meaning and purpose in life.

2. Facebook’s Mission  

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.

I was quite astounded by these Facebook stats:

  • 1.37 billion daily active users on average for September 2017
  • 2.07 billion monthly active users as of September 30, 2017


I think Jesus would be quite interested in this platform for His ministry!



Jesus would use Facebook differently than many of us. He would seek not just to communicate but to connect with people.

One way He did this in the gospels was through quality conversations. Two such conversations were with:

Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10) who after having Jesus in his home decided to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back anyone he cheated four times what he stole from them.

the woman at the well (John 4), an outcast in her own community who shared with her community her experience with Jesus and because of that many people put their faith in Him.



Jesus lived in a world 2000 years ago that was very different from our world today.

Imagine living in a time:

  • that was not constantly interrupted by screens, dings, rings, and beeps?

  • where people were not dependent on technology and electricity?

  • when there were no motorized vehicles?

  • when there was little access to other countries and cultures beyond one’s borders?

One very significant difference between Jesus’ world and ours that impacted how He did ministry was that Jesus had to walk everywhere he went. Some people estimate that Jesus likely walked 15,000-21,000 miles in His lifetime. In spite of all these steps, He didn’t go far from where He was born (see One Solitary Life originally written by James A. Francis).



Besides conversations, Jesus connected with people over food. He often ate in the home of three single siblings – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. After Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, Lazarus held a dinner in his home to honor Jesus (John 12:1-8). This is when Mary poured perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Another dinner was given in Jesus’ honor by Levi after Jesus called Levi to follow Him (Luke 5:29).

Jesus was accused of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19), an accusation that would not have been made unless He had spent time with those who did eat and drink too much.

Jesus also enjoyed larger celebrations such as the wedding at Cana where He performed His first miracle.

Jesus lived quite differently than many of us.

Skye Jethani observes how private and isolated the lives of westerners have become:

Family zones are demarcated by fences. And within the home, family members are zoned into private bedrooms – each with a television, Internet connection, and telephone. The suburb, like the consumer worldview from which it came, forms us to live fragmented and isolated lives of private consumption.” (Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity, Zondervan, 2009)



Instead of asking if Jesus would be like us, wasting time on Facebook, we should turn the question around and ask if we would be like Jesus if He were on Facebook?

  1. Be intentional about your time.
  2. Seek to connect and not just communicate.
  3. Seek to minister to the needs of people you meet on Facebook.







Jesus’ Surprisingly Simple Strategy to Change the World

Show Notes

4 words that describe Jesus’ strategy for changing the world:

  1. Small

Jesus chose only 12 disciples. He could have chosen more. At times He appeared to discourage others from becoming His disciples, particularly when the crowds grew large, such as in these examples:

a) Matthew 8:18-22

b) Luke 14:25-27 

c) John 6:56-66  



God thins out Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 (Judges 7:2-8)  so the men will not boast of their strength.

Jesus chose a small group of disciples so that their great accomplishments would reveal God’s power.


2.  Slow & Subtle

Jesus explained spiritual growth and change using examples of things that work slowly and in a subtle way, like seeds, yeast, and salt.

Jesus explained the new birth to Nicodemus in John 3:8 by describing the Holy Spirit like the unseen wind.

Unlike most of us God is always at work but never in a hurry.

(God is not always subtle. Sometimes He is very dramatic and demonstrates His power in amazing ways, such as in some conversions like that of the apostle Paul and in healings and other miracles. But even then, God is usually at work quietly behind the scenes before His power is demonstrated.)


  1. Service

The gospels are full of Jesus’ teaching about the importance of small acts of kindness, such as:.

  • the parable of the Good Samaritan
  • the command to love our neighbor and even our enemies
  • commands to care for the poor
  • the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus himself demonstrated His commitment to serving others:

a) He washed the feet of His disciples and told them to go and serve others (John 13:1-16).

b) He gave His life on the cross  (Mark 10:45).



The vehicle God has chosen for this strategy for changing the world is the church.

We can change the world as individuals working without the help of the local church but our impact is much greater when we work with the church where there are spiritual gifts that we do not have ourselves.

The church is far more important for the transformation of a society than the president of the nation, its legislators, or its business leaders. The principal and most strategic institution God appointed to carry out His big agenda is not found in political or economic spheres. Instead, it is the church.”
If Jesus Were Mayor, Bob Moffitt with Karla Tesch, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2006), p.94


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Change the World? Yes! But Not With This Strategy.

Show Notes

Every Christian is called to be an agent of change.

Our Mandate

-the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) –  Change the world by making disciples (Learn more by listening to the episode , “The Church’s One Thing”).

-the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40) – Change the world through love.

Jesus’ Mission

-Luke 4:18,19

to proclaim good news to the poor…

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ Message

Matthew 18:3

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:17

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!“

 Jesus’ Method?

One strategy of some Christians to change American culture is that of INC Christianity. I found this fascinating article at www.fastcompany.com written by Brad Christerson and Richard Flory on March 17, 2017. It helped me gain a better understanding of what is happening in American politics today.

My purpose in this post though is not so much to be political but to look at the strategy these Christians are using.

INC Christianity

According to this article, INC Christianity is led by a “network of popular independent religious entrepreneurs” who have close ties to many conservative U.S. politicians, including President Donald Trump.

The strategy of this movement is different from that of most churches, denominations and Christian movements in several ways but the one that I am most interested in is their strategy to change American culture by putting Christians in positions of power. Seven areas of influence or “mountains of culture” are identified as: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion. The belief, according to the article is that “if Christians rise to the top of all seven “mountains,” society will be completely transformed”.

While I applaud the approach of engaging in culture rather than running from it as many Christians do, this strategy is doomed to fail for two reasons:

⇒ the nature of the human heart

⇒ the nature of politics

This approach is very human-centered. Any group wanting to change the culture would adopt this strategy, but it is not God’s way. It does not require relying on the spiritual resources available to Christians.

And, it was not Jesus’ approach.

If it was such a good idea, why didn’t Jesus use it? His approach is very different and He continues to change the world!

I believe Christians should be in places of influence but the examples we have in scripture of people like Esther, Joseph and Daniel (Listen to podcast episode Facing Present Crises By Looking to the Past) show that God put people in positions of power after they had been tested and learned to trust Him and His guidance. They rose to power in God’s time, not according to their ambitions and agenda.


What then is Jesus’ method for changing the world? Check in next week to find out!



Your feedback is welcome!

Living in 3D blog – www.shirleydemerchant.com


Email – sldemerchant@gmail.com



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Look Before Your Leave

Christianity may have more to offer than you have experienced so far

Show Notes

Have you ever bought something only to find that you already had it at home?

Some people leave the Christian faith to go elsewhere to find what they are looking for not realizing that it was there all the time.

What some people are looking for that they don’t always experience in Christianity or in the local church

  • to be less busy and invest time in meaningful activity – (not usually found in church meetings!)
  • to connect with nature because it makes them feel calm, peaceful and connected with God

Psalm 8: 3,4

Revelation 21:1-2

  • joy
  • connect with people on a deeper level

Acts 2:42-47; 4:32

Biblical Christianity offers all this and more. Don’t give up on the Christian faith or on your local church just because you have not yet experienced these.


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What is the Church’s ‘One Thing’?

Show Notes

The One Thing – the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results, published in 2013 was written by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan. 

The ‘one thing’ is important to ask ourselves if we seek to be productive and focus on what is most important.

It is essential for the local church to know its ‘one thing’.

Things a local church may do well

  • worship music
  • preaching
  • youth ministry
  • church suppers and yard sales!

But what SHOULD be the local church’s priority?

It is found in the Great Commission – Matthew 28:19,20 – to make disciples.

This priority was not only commanded by Jesus, it was demonstrated by Jesus. He was able to leave His work to be carried on by the men He had discipled.

Story of the landlord and his parking lot – from Ruth Soukup –www.livingwellspendingless.com.

Do you agree?

Let me know if you agree or not. If you don’t, tell me what you think the church’s ‘one thing’ is supposed to be. You can comment on my blog at www.shirleydemerchant.com or on the LOOKING FOR MORE PODCAST COMMUNITY Facebook page.

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Forget Google Play. Try Google “Pray”!

How to use Google Calendar to improve your prayer life


Show Notes

3 reasons why I like Google Calendar for prayer:

  1. Quick and easy to input requests.
  2. Many options for scheduling your prayer requests – Different frequency choices throughout a calendar month or several times during the day.  An old hymn  – “Whisper a prayer in the morning, whisper a prayer at noon, whisper a prayer in the evening, ’twill keep your heart in tune. “
  3. Easy to update. Use the note section for recording the details of the prayer request. When you update that information “Save for future events” and all subsequent times that name or need appears on the calendar will be updated.


Use Google Calendar (or another digital calendar) to help you remember:

who to pray for by putting each name or need on your schedule

what to pray for by using the note section

when to pray by scheduling the frequency of a request

By using this tool,  you will free up your mind from trying to remember details so that you can concentrate on actually bringing those needs before the Lord.

Make technology work to improve your prayer life so that you can “Pray without ceasing”.


LET ME KNOW what digital tools you use for prayer by leaving a comment on the blog post or on the LOOKING FOR MORE PODCAST COMMUNITY Facebook page.


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