The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Note:  This post appeared earlier this week on Club31Women. They’re featuring a “Fresh Start” series in January, with tips on everything from organizing your home (yes, please!), to meal-planning and parenting helps, to a 100-Day “Love You Better” Marriage Challenge in the New Year. Good stuff, all around!

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Which habit do you want to carry into the next year?

We were three hours into a family car trip during the Christmas holidays when my daughter pulled that card out of the box. It was a good question. Looking ahead to 2020, which habit would I choose to continue?

My mind cataloged all the usual suspects:  Exercise. Organization. Healthy eating. Financial fitness. I’d made small gains in each of these areas in 2019, and I knew I wanted to keep honing those habits. None of them, though, felt particularly dynamic or productive, at least not in a life-shaping way. I kept thinking.

And I remembered a line from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life:

“No other habit,” Warren wrote, “can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflections on Scripture.”

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

Daily reflections on Scripture. That was it. That was the single most valuable habit I wanted to carry into the new year. I don’t just want to read my Bible; I want to reflect it. To examine it. And to let it examine me – shaping my thoughts, my actions, and my conversations – so that my life dovetails with God’s designs, and so that my prayers line up with his purpose.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at in John 15:7, when he made one of the most jaw-dropping statements in the Bible. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” he said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Put another way, what this promise means is that the more we allow Scripture to penetrate our hearts and our minds – pruning out the bad stuff and breathing life into what’s good – the more our desires (and our prayers) will reflect what God is already planning to do.

I can’t think of a better jumping-off place for 2020 than that.

And honestly? All of those other good habits and resolutions – from taking care of our bodies to managing money wisely – find their inspiration in Scripture. There is not a need we will face, a goal we can set, or a healthy discipline that we can practice that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in his word.

Effective time management? “Teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Dealing with things like worry and fear? “Let us not be anxious or afraid, but instead cast our anxieties on you, knowing that you care for us.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Increasing your giving, or your kindness toward others? “Prompt us to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Those are just a few of the life-shaping prayer prompts we find in the Bible; there are countless more to discover. And the best part? The best part of Christ’s John 15:7 promise isn’t just the fact that we can ask for whatever we want. The best part is that when we take God up on his invitation – abiding in him, and letting his words abide in us – we get to live out John 15:8:  We bring glory to God. We become productive, fruit-bearing people. And we discover the security of knowing that we are Christ’s disciples, that we belong.

31-Day Prayer Habit

If you like the idea of reflecting on Scripture each day – of allowing God’s word to shape your perspective, as well as your prayers – can I invite you to join me in a 31-Day Prayer Challenge? Let’s kick off the new year by looking at the Bible not just as something to read, but as something to pray. Let’s allow the words that we read – words first spoken by God – to animate our conversations with him.

Any passage will do (because again, Scripture is full of transformational promises, principles, and prayer prompts), but if you’d like some help getting started, you can download a printable 31-day calendar here.

There’s a different verse for each day of the month, with topics ranging from relationship needs, to character qualities, to ways to develop and strengthen your faith. Pray through each day’s verse slowly, out loud if you can. And whether you’re praying for a family member, a friend, or yourself, try to return to the prayer several times during the day so that God’s word will take root and give birth to hope in your heart.

“My word,” God promises in Isaiah 55:11, “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

So which habit will you carry into the new year? I hope you’ll join me in letting the power of God’s word accomplish his very best plans in 2020, both in your life and in the lives of the people you love.

Heavenly Father,

May we delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so that we will yield fruit in season and prosper in all that we do. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Amen

And P.S., if you want to know where we got the question game for our car trip, it was a tip from my son-in-law, Charlie, who saw it advertised on Instagram and thought, “That looks like a Berndt thing.” He was right. We loved it. And if you want your own game, you can order it here.

(There’s also a set designed just for couples…which Charlie got in his stocking this year. #Mother-in-Law Goals.) 😊

(I only recommend books and other products I really like on this site, and if you order via a link that I share, Amazon sends me a small commission…which, as you know, I almost always spend on more books so I can share the really good ones with you!)

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Perception: A Good Word for 2020

Perception.

It’s a great word, particularly at the start of a New Year, when we long to see what God is doing (or what he might want to do) in our lives.

Because it can be easy to miss – or misunderstand – what he’s up to. It can be hard, sometimes, to realize that he is  accomplishing his purposes, right in front of our eyes. For instance, when the woman poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus, his disciples objected. How much better, they thought, it would have been to sell the precious ointment and give the money to the poor.

“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.

U.Va. cornerback Bryce Hall could have asked the same thing. A solid NFL prospect and the team’s defensive star, Hall considered bypassing his senior year in favor of the draft but sensed God calling him to return to Virginia. Midway through the season, though, he suffered a freakish injury that ended his college football career.

Once the shock wore off, it would have been oh-so-easy for Hall to take up a mantle of confusion. He could have grown bitter in the midst of the pain. Angry, even. Nobody would have blamed the All-American had he looked at God and said something like, “I trusted you, God. I did what I thought you wanted me to do. What a waste.”

But…that’s not how Hall saw things.

Bryce Hall

The Power of Perception

“The word I’ve been (coming back to) in this process is perception,” Hall told a reporter, in a lead-up to this week’s Orange Bowl. “Are you going to get bitter or are you going to see the lessons that are in this and know that everything happens for a reason and that God works all things out for our good?”

Hall was referring to one of the best-known verses in the New Testament, Romans 8:28, which promises that God works in all things – even the confusing, painful, and unwanted stuff – for the good of those who love him.

In Hall’s case, some of that good is already taking shape. He’s forged a closer bond with the team chaplain, grown in his relationship with the U.Va. coaches, and emerged as an even stronger team leader. Plus, thanks to the extra free time in his schedule, Hall started dating a U.Va. field hockey player who shares his Christian faith.

(What’s not to love about that?)

Even more significant, though, is Hall’s deepening relationship with the Lord.

“When I said that about the Lord calling me back,” he said, “we have our own plans and our own ideas of what that might mean, but ultimately he’s the one. He sees everything and he knows what’s best for us.

“I feel like through this injury, it’s brought me a lot closer to him.”

Closer to Christ

Which, in a roundabout way, is the same thing that happened with Jesus and the perfume. Because rather than being “wasted” on him, it was used for the most exquisite of purposes. “Why are you bothering this woman?” Jesus asked the disciples. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

She did it to prepare me for burial.

She did it, in other words, so that all of us could one day be brought closer to Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the cry of my heart for the New Year. I want to be, to borrow Hall’s words, “brought closer” to Christ. And when circumstances or events leave me confused or hurting, I want God – the one who sees everything – to give me eyes to perceive his purpose in the pain.

(And to remind me that I can still trust him when I don’t.)

Which is, I think, the very thing that God wants for us, too. One of my favorite New Year scriptures – a passage I return to, year after year – is Isaiah 43:18-19:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

In God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste.

I don’t know what pain you might be carrying from last year into this one, or where life has left you confused. But can I encourage you, as we turn the page on the calendar, to consider the fact that, in God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste? He uses it all – the good stuff and the bad – to accomplish good things in our lives.

So let’s ask God to open our eyes.

Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.

And, most of all, let’s ask him to bring us closer to Christ.

Heavenly Father,

Free us from our tendency to dwell on the past; open our eyes to the new thing that you are doing. You are making a way in the wilderness, pouring your Spirit into the dry places of our lives. Let us perceive it and proclaim your praise! (Isaiah 43:18-21)

Amen

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