Guest Post

The Gift of Prayer

It’s an honor to invite a fellow writer to share their work, especially when they have just published their first book.  Jennifer’s energy and spunk will delight you as she takes you on a journey through the book of Luke in Counting Up to Christmas: Twenty-Four Gifts from the Gospel of Luke.  Today she is sharing with us on The Gift of Prayer and she has included all kinds of fun extras!  It’s my pleasure to welcome Jennifer to the blog today! 

The Gift of Prayer – Jennifer Elwood 

“And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” – Luke 1:10, ESV

Have you ever missed seeing a wrapped package tucked into the layers of a Christmas tree? Or perhaps like the Red-Rider BB gun from one of my favorite Christmas movies, the gift was held back purposefully and revealed with great fanfare. The excitement of the morning waned and the floor was covered in a colorful mess of paper and boxes . . . but there was one last, special gift waiting just for you.

As I wrote my new book, Counting Up To Christmas: 24 Gifts from the Gospel of Luke, I discovered this is how I felt about Luke 1:10. In a detail-filled chapter which contains so many astounding events, it’s sitting right in front of us, beautifully wrapped. It’s not only something we want, but desperately need to open: the gift of prayer.

To understand the significance of this simple but powerful gift, let’s open the scene where Luke 1 took place. Let’s consider how that day may have looked as a woman in the Jerusalem crowd more than 2,000 years ago.

I was up before the sun rose that morning in our simple home on the outskirts of Jerusalem. My family is among the faithful continuing to hope in the Lord, but 400 years have passed with no prophetic message in Israel. Our souls are dry. It was quiet in my home as I prepared for my family to rise, but across the city, the Temple bustled with activity. A family clan[1] within a division of about 5,000 priests[2] purified themselves and prepared for the day’s tasks while I cooked breakfast. 

I set out with children in tow, and we climbed up to the Temple just as the sun broke over the horizon. It wasn’t just a few hundred people we were joining—the whole assemblage was present in prayer that day. We squeezed in and repetitively bowed in prayer.

Inside the Temple, the third lot of the day was cast to choose which priest would light the incense in the Holy Place.[3] Zechariah was the one chosen for this once-in-a-lifetime task. “The blessing of Heaven-sent bounty and prosperity”[4] was on its way.

Or was it? Suddenly we heard news whispered through the streets: the priest who offered the incense could not speak! Those passing on his gestured message told us he experienced a vision. We wondered what it could mean.

About six months later, rumors revealed that the elderly priest’s wife Elizabeth was pregnant. The offering of incense, a representation of prayer, was the conduit to answer their prayer for a baby. We wondered: Could it be that this extraordinary child was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy?

            “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight

            in the desert a highway for our God.” – Isaiah 40:3, NIV

Her hope in the Lord was not in vain. The one to precede the Messiah was there, and little did she know, Jesus was on His way. Devout prayer was not only a gift to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but for her—and for us.

Is prayer just as important to us now as it was then? It should be. We need prayer in a desperate way, particularly as we approach a more-challenging-than-usual holiday season. Christmas is wonderful, joyous, and highly anticipated. However, decorating, baking, pressure to purchase all the things—and additionally this year, cancelled activities we typically enjoy—can distract and unnerve us if we allow them to.

Instead of spending this season burdened by stress, let’s daily ignite our internal incense and have intentional, unrushed prayer. Let’s weave our words into rising praise and gratitude. From that place, we can find grace for others that would be impossible on our own.

I encourage you to write your own prayer to set the tone for the month of Christmas. In mine, I followed the format of Mary’s Magnificat.

My soul sings praise to the Lord! I rejoice in You, Jesus. I am fortunate that You look at my mess and have kind thoughts of me. I am grateful that You, Lord, are holy and mighty. You are merciful to every person who ever lived. You are mighty and strong and Your justice is perfect. Thank You for giving me a heart for the Church and for the land and people of Israel. I worship You and am grateful that You are helpful and wise. Thank You for sending Your Son so that all who believe will live with You forever. Amen!

It is my honor to invite you to Count Up To Christmas in the Gospel of Luke with my new book and a fun, encouraging on-line community. Here are the links you need. I hope you’ll join me!


I’m also including a recipe for Challah from my Counting Up To Christmas Recipe Book, which is available when you subscribe to my blog. Perhaps our friend in Jerusalem all those years ago had bread, similar to Challah, prepared for her family’s breakfast. I typically make them as our bread for Christmas—shaped into the symbol for Christ. Enjoy!

To purchase the book on Amazon:

Freebies for the book, including the complete Counting Up To Christmas Recipe Book subscriber benefit, at:

Counting Up To Christmas FB group:

Counting Up To Christmas on Instagram:

An online shop with “true peace” gift items:

Challah: adapted from “The Nosher” {}


1 1/8 cups warm water

1 Tbsp dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

4 1/2 cups flour (I prefer Caputo European flour, ordered from Amazon)

1/2 Tbsp salt

1/4 cup sugar (I typically cut this out or use coconut crystals. If you like sweet bread, go for it.)

2 eggs, plus an extra for glazing later

1/4 cup vegetable oil


  1. Put the water, yeast and 1t sugar in a small bowl and mix. Allow bubbles to form so you know the yeast is working.
  2. In a larger mixing bowl, give the eggs a whisk, then add the oil, sugar, and salt and mix again. Then, add the bowl of liquified yeast. Add the flour bit by bit until is it well incorporated.
  3. Now, you have a choice. You can knead with your hands on a floured surface for about 15 minutes or use a dough hook on your mixer for about 10 minutes. The point is to develop the gluten, which makes the dough stretchy. You should be able to stretch a piece of dough and have it not break. (Look up a ‘window test’ on YouTube if you’re unfamiliar with making bread.)
  4. Pour a little oil over the bread to lightly coat it and cover the bowl with a clean towel. Put in a warm place for about an hour until the dough doubles in size.
  5. Punch down that beautifully puffed up dough and knead again for a few minutes. Divide the dough in two.
  6. Prepare the dough to braid and place a non-stick mat or parchment paper on your baking sheets. I gently roll each lump of dough into three strands for braiding. You can do a simple braid, or after you’ve made this a few times look up some fancy configurations and give them a try! Let the dough again rise for an hour. Set a timer so you don’t forget to pre-heat the oven to 350 about 10 minutes before you need to put the bread in.
  7. Brush the dough with a beaten egg, that’s what makes it shine. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds to add a little crunch.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes. You may salivate as you wait—that’s ok. It’s to be expected. When the top is a lovely golden color, and a tap on the bottom of the loaf reveals a hollow sounding knock, it’s ready! L’chaim! 

[1] A Day in the Life of the Holy Temple – Part I. (2020, March 16). Retrieved July 25, 2020, from

[2] Dobson, K. (2014). Luke 1.8 Zechariah’s division. In NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in its Jewish and Early Christian Context (p. 1287). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] A Day in the Life of the Holy Temple – Part 7. (2020, March 16). Retrieved July 25, 2020, from

[4] ibid.

Jennifer Elwood resides in Yakima, Washington. She is a lover of Jesus, wife of Tom, mom of three, and bonus mom and grandma of many. She enjoys rich coffee, European chocolate, and the color orange. Going to Israel for the first time in 2015 sparked her desire to write and she has not stopped since. Counting Up to Christmas: Twenty-Four Gifts from the Gospel of Luke is her first book. Stay up to date with her, download freebies, and receive the recipe book that accompanies Counting Up To Christmas, at

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