Part of Me Blog

the one tool that has radically changed my parenting and my prayer life


I am no expert on parenting. My oldest is currently 6 years old, so I'm still new to the game. I have, however, made it out of the foggy rollercoaster of the toddler stage with at least one kid (still gripping that handrail preeeetttttyyyyy tight with the second kiddo, though...)

Read to the end to see what these water bottles have to do with my prayer life! 

Read to the end to see what these water bottles have to do with my prayer life! 

We'd prepared for our firstborn son, Knox, with great intention- researching name meanings and praying over God's Word for a life verse that would help him define his purpose in the world. But now that he was here- the only prayer I got around to was, "God, please let me get some SLEEP!" (Let's be honest, I still say that one a lot).

And unfortunately, that is my prayer default: fear or stress-driven pleas for a change of circumstances or a detached "please help so-and-so". My prayers lack the depth and communion with God I so desperately need. But in those rushed moments, I find it difficult to tap into God's truth for my life so that I can pray with the right perspective.

So when I first heard my dear friend, Joy, speak on this subject, it was such a breath of fresh air! I'm so thankful she chose to share this method. Because I have my "focus words", I can pray with intention for anyone- or anything- in a powerful, intentional (even measurable!) way. I can't wait for you to hear about this- because I think it will immediately transform your prayer life, just like it has mine.

And now here's Joy:

Image by Patty Urlaub

Image by Patty Urlaub

Hey everybody! My name is Joy Urlaub. I’ve known Lissa for about 12 years. She is definitely my coolest friend and I love getting to share life with her! My husband, Brandon, and I have been married almost ten years. We have two kiddos. Barrett is six and Analeigh is three.

I am excited to share something with you today that has transformed the way I pray. I call them “focus words.”

Before I began using focus words to pray for different people, the list of prayer requests and people I wanted to pray for became so overwhelming. I didn’t even know where to start.  Sometimes, with my all-or-nothing mentality, I became so overwhelmed with prayer needs that I just wouldn’t pray at all. I would think about different issues and circumstances throughout the day, but thinking and praying are two very different things. I didn’t feel like my prayers were adequate. They definitely weren’t specific. My prayers lacked power. When I pray through a focus word, I am able to take what were once blurry and rushed prayers and bring them into focus. They create a focused and meaningful prayer time for me, especially when I pray for my family.

I’ve explained it all below, but if you would rather watch a video, I've linked two sermons I preached a while ago using the same concept at the bottom of this post. I hope you find this method of praying for your family to be encouraging! 

Do you remember the old prayer acrostic “JOY”? Jesus. Others. You. It was a model for how to pray. Praise JESUS for what He has done. Pray for OTHERS. Pray for YOURSELF. Focus words are essentially the same thing—an acrostic that serves as a model or guide for your personal prayer time. I have chosen different words for specific people in my life. I pray the word MIGHTY over my son, Barrett. Below is an example of how I would pray through the entire word. 

Lord, I pray you would raise Barrett up to be MIGHTY for the Kingdom of God. 

M--I am so thankful that he MADE a decision to follow Jesus this year! (Side note: When my husband and I started praying the word MIGHTY, one of our prayers was that Barrett would MAKE a decision to accept Jesus and that he would truly begin to understand salvation. That is one of the specific prayers God answered this year! Barrett accepted Jesus last October.) Help Barrett to MAKE good friends and MAKE wise choices. Allow us to MAKE time to connect as a family. I pray Barrett would be a godly MAN in the way he protects and treasures women and in the way he fights for the powerless. 

I--I pray Barrett would be a man of INTEGRITY. Develop in him honesty, a strong work ethic, and character that is above reproach.

G--GUARD him and GUIDE him. GUARD his heart with peace, his eyes from impure things, and keep him safe. GUIDE him. I pray that his heart would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Help him to hear you above the noise in our world.

H--May Barrett be HOLY and set apart in his generation. Give him a HUMBLE heart. 

T--Let Barrett know the TRUTH about who he is and to whom he belongs. He belongs to you, Lord. He is yours, and you have entrusted him to our family. I pray he would always feel secure and loved. Help us teach him how to be a responsible member of our family. I also pray that you would give him a TEACHABLE spirit. 

Y—I pray Barrett would live for you all of his days. Let him live for you while he is YOUNG. No fear…no regrets!

One of my favorite things about using focus words is that when I have time to pray through the entire word, I can do so. Other times, when Barrett just crosses my mind throughout the day, with a single breath I can pray, “Lord, make Barrett MIGHTY.” God knows the depths of that word for me and I know all that it means. So, with a simple, one line prayer, I am speaking truth and power over my son. 

We've been intentional to post this in August, because so many parents are sending their kids to school this month. Because of that, we have a great opportunity and responsibility as parents to pray for our children.

As a mom, one of my greatest callings is to pray for my children. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” I am called to be a warrior for my kids. The best way to fight for the hearts of my children is through prayer. Barrett started kindergarten last year. I have never felt so out of control as I did the morning I left him at school for the first time. I actually remember wearing a t-shirt that said “warrior” on it that day. I needed the reminder that even if I was a weepy warrior, I was a warrior nonetheless. There is a war waging for our families every day. There isn’t time for me to feel overwhelmed. There isn’t time for vague and generic prayers. It is time for me to pray powerful and effective prayers for my family.

My husband is a youth pastor and every semester I lead our teenage girls in a Bible study. Last fall, we read The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. (If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it!)  In one particular chapter, Mark Batterson talks about the responsibility of a parent to pray for their children. During our discussion that week, I asked the girls, “How many of you know your parents pray for you?” Almost all of them raised their hands. Then I asked, “What do your parents pray for you?” Only one of the fifteen girls in my living room could answer that question. Only one could tell me specific prayers her parents prayed over her. Do you know how she knew? Her parents pray using a focus word. She knows her word and all that it means. I want my children to not only know that I pray for them, I want them to know what I pray for them. I want them to be able to rejoice with me when we see God answer a specific prayer in their lives. 

If praying this way is appealing to you, here are a few suggestions as you get started:

  • Brainstorm some ideas. Include your spouse and even your child if they are old enough to help think through the word. Before my husband and I landed on “mighty”, we thought about other words like “brave” and “strong.” “Mighty” just came together powerfully for us. The longer you pray through your word, it will expand and revise itself. You may even have different words for different seasons of life. You don’t have to pick one and stick with it forever.
  • Once you choose a word and complete a meaning for each letter, go back and find promises in Scripture and other meaningful verses to go with each letter. Praying through and memorizing Scripture is crucial. Here is one example of Scripture from Barrett’s word. For the letter G, GUARD him and GUIDE him, I pray Philippians 4:6-7 over him. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will GUARD your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • Every morning before Barrett leaves for school, we ask him, “Who are you?” He replies, “I am a MIGHTY warrior.” He has also memorized Judges 6:12. “The Lord is with you MIGHTY warrior.” Choose a mantra for your child that declares the word you are praying over them and say it often!
  • Use a visual aid! Make a notecard or sign (or we have a really fun way below!) with your focus words and meanings and place it on your child's bathroom mirror or in the car so you can see it on your way to school.

Check out these videos to hear me speak more about the focus words I pray for the girls and guys in our youth group:

It's Lissa again...

Isn't that incredible?! I love that focus words give you the opportunity to really consider how you intercede for others and specific points to pray about. This year, I am making some custom vinyl decals for Knox's school supplies that include his focus word and offering them to you!

You can stick the decal on your child’s pencil box, lunch box, water bottle, etc. and every time they reach for that item, they are reminded that they have warrior parents and a faithful God who is working to accomplish great things in and through them. These also make great name labels!

Type in the promo code "JOY" at checkout to receive 30% off 3 or more decals!

I will close orders August 18th.