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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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How to Keep Christ in Christmas (even if Jesus goes missing)

I was addressing Christmas cards – I’d gotten all the way to the “H’s” – when I heard a jingle-jangle in the next room. It wasn’t quite sleigh bells; it sounded more like…ornaments.

Before I could get up to investigate, Minnie poked her head around the corner. #Busted.

Minnie busted

Minnie's mouth

Minnie and Ornament

I didn’t blame her, though. The fact that the puppy had such easy access to the Christmas decorations was mostly my fault. In my haste to get the house prepped for the season (I had cards to mail! Presents to buy! Cookies to bake!), I’d played “beat the buzzer” one afternoon. I’d grabbed the boxes out of the attic, set a timer, and decked the halls quick as a wink.

(It wasn’t quite like my friend Jeannie, who got shatterproof ornaments this year so that her husband and sons could just throw them at the treecheck out the video on Instagram @JeannieCunnion – but it was close. Safe to say that none of our stockings were hung by the chimney with what Santa would think of as “care.”)

And honestly? My B+ attempt at decorating (okay, C+) didn’t bother me much, not even after Minnie rearranged things a bit. What got me was when I walked past our Nativity set and noticed that something didn’t look right…

Nativity with emoji

Jesus was missing.

Jesus was missing.

Now, I know some people don’t put their baby Jesus into their manger scene until Christmas morning, but not us. We let him lie there, under Mary’s watchful gaze, all season long. I like looking at him, too.

I couldn’t point the finger at Minnie this time. Not because Jesus didn’t look chewable, but because our set is up high, out of her reach. Where could Jesus have gone? I mean, I always take such good care of him, nestling him in the box right next to Mary when I put them back in the attic each year.

The box…

I scrambled back up to the attic and shoved my hand into the carton. Sure enough, amid wads of old newspaper and tissue, I felt something small and hard. It was Jesus, wrapped up in his manger.

I wouldn’t have thought it was literally possible to take Christ out of Christmas, but I’d pretty much done it. Racing around like a deranged elf on a holiday bender, I’d spent myself on all the wrong things. I’d been prepping my home, not my heart. And I was #busted.

Let every heart prepare him room

I needed to change. But I didn’t know how. So here’s what I did.

I asked God for help.

“I want to see Advent like the angels,” I said. “I don’t want it to be all about cookies and gifts (although I do like those things). I want my heart to be ready for Jesus. Please help.”

I waited awhile, and an impression – one that felt like the Holy Spirit’s imprint – began to form in my mind.

Give your agenda to me. That was the first thing. Instead of just making my to-do list and then knocking things out, I sensed God prompting me to pray over each day, inviting his presence into the things that I thought had to “get done” (and being willing to release them when he showed me that they didn’t).

Thank me each night. That sounded like a good idea too. Instead of collapsing into bed after a long day of wrapping and tagging, I resolved to replay the hours in my mind, reviewing conversations I’d had, emails I’d sent, the errands I’d run. I realized that if I paused long enough, I would see God’s hand in the mix. I could thank him for the guidance he’d given along the way – as well as for his forgiveness, when I failed to heed it.

Pray for your Christmas card friends.  Ahhh. God was reminding me of a long-held tradition in our family, one where we’d open cards together each night and pray for the families who’d sent them. That pattern started when our kids were young and we moved every few years and we wanted them to remember the friends we’d made along the way. Praying through the cards seemed like the best kind of connection. As empty nesters, Robbie and I had gotten away from this practice; God was nudging me to renew it.

Those three thoughts didn’t sound all that life-changing, but I’m trying them out. And they’re helping.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

What about you? Are there Christmas traditions or habits that help keep you focused on the Reason for the Season (which, by the way, is my favorite ornament, and one that I put waaaay out of Minne’s reach)?

I’d love to hear your ideas, and I bet others would too. If you’ve got a minute and can pop over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment on this post, I’d be grateful.

And in the meantime, here’s a prayer that could well have inspired that “prepare him room” line in the Joy to the World song. This one was originally written by the Apostle Paul, and I think it’s a great verse to carry us through the next two weeks – and  beyond!

Heavenly Father,

I pray that out of your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit, so that Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NLT)

Amen.

 

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Black Friday Favorite (Plus a Promo Code!)

It’s Black Friday. Which means that nobody has time for blog reading. So I’ll keep this one short.

Because if you’re like me…

You’ve built your day (okay, your season) around football. Specifically, you’ve built it around today’s matchup between the Beloved Cavaliers of U.Va. and the Reviled Hokies of Virginia Tech. Never mind that Virginia hasn’t won this particular contest in 15 years; Vegas oddsmakers are calling this one a toss-up.

(Which, as every diehard U.Va. fan will tell you, means that there’s a 90% chance we will lose.)

(But hey. Faith the size of a mustard seed, and all that.)

And if you’re like the rest of the tryptophan-coma’d Americans…

You’ve built your day around shopping. And I’ll let you get to it. With just one little recommendation, before you go.

Get yourself a Growth Book.

Growth Book Insta pic

I didn’t even know such a thing existed a few months ago, but now that I have one, I’m hooked. Part prayer journal, part accountability partner, part “dream big” encourager, the Growth Book can literally be a life-changing tool.

Unlike most journals, this one comes with prompts. There are sections for setting goals, keeping track of your prayers (and God’s faithfulness!), and recording which parts of the Bible you’ve read.

Bible Reading Record

And, since the pages are designed with dots (they’re not blank; they’re not lined), there’s room for both the creative types and the more anal among us to flourish. For instance, here’s how my daughter Hillary might opt to memorize Scripture…

Growth Book illustration

…and here’s how I’d do it:

Memory Verses in Growth Book

Best of all, you get to decide how you want to use your Growth Book. Thanks to a clever system of stickers and labels, you create your own Table of Contents…

Growth Book Contents

…meaning that if you take notes on a sermon or podcast one day and then start noodling about career dreams the next, you don’t waste any pages. You just put a handy little marker in your book so you never have to say, “Shoot! I know I had a good idea last month. Where did I put that?”

There’s so much more to say (like, I love the big post-it notes that you use every month to see what’s working well and what isn’t), but I know. Amazon’s calling. So get back to your Black Friday shopping. First, though, can I just give you a little Black Friday present?

I met Bree (the brainchild behind the Growth Book) when she gave me my book. And even though I’ve only known her for a few months, I feel like we’re friends. Good enough friends that I could say, “Can I please have a promo code?”

And she said yes!

So if you want your own book, click here to visit the Growth Roots Co. website. And if you want to know more before you jump in, click here to see what’s inside. And if you want to get 15% off (um, that would be a yes please), put JOY15 in the promo code box before you check out.

And for those who don’t want to buy anything but still want to grow, here’s a Black Friday Prayer that can help:

Heavenly Father,

May our roots grow down into You, and may our lives be built on You. Cause our faith to grow strong in the truth we were taught and let us overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)

Amen

❤️

P.S. One more thing. Maybe two.

First, to all of you “I need to do this the right way” people (anyone? anyone?), here’s a little heads up:  Don’t obsess. You’ll get your book and you’ll be intimidated. I was. I kind of still am. The pages look so good blank and you won’t want to mess ’em up until you know what you’re doing. But don’t wait. Jump on in. You’ll figure it out as you go. Plus, Bree offers all sorts of tutorials on Instagram (@growthrootsco), and there’s actually a new “how to” page that comes with every book purchase. #Helpful

And second, consider giving a Growth Book to your friends. It meets all of the “must have” Christmas criteria:  Something you want (to grow closer to Jesus), something you need (to grow closer to Jesus), something to wear (the book can double as a hat in the rain – trust me), and something to read (because you’ll return to what you’ve written, over and over again).

Growth Books for Friends

 

 

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Parking Place Prayers: Yes or No?

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to travel around the country and talk about how we can pray for the people we love. And one of the people I love just happened to be able to join me earlier this month at an event in Greenwich, Connecticut…

Our daughter Virginia thought she was just there to listen, but when we got to the Q&A part of the evening, someone in the crowd had a question for her. “How did you feel,” the woman wondered, “about growing up with a mother who prayed?”

Never one to shy away from an honest question, Virginia got up and grabbed hold of the mic.

“I didn’t like it,” she said.

I held my breath. This could go any number of ways.

“For starters,” Virginia said, “Mom was always praying that if we did anything wrong, we’d get caught. And we were always getting caught.

“And,” she continued, “She made us pray all the time. Like, if we were going to the mall, we’d pray about what we had to buy. And we’d ask God for a parking space. Or to give us energy, if we felt tired. It all just felt like…a lot.”

I could feel the crowd tensing up. I knew what they were thinking. They’d been tracking with me during my talk (when I’d covered things like asking God to provide self-control in our children, protection for our teens, and help for our older kids as they battled addictions, marriage break-ups, and other grown-up issues), but this was new ground. Shopping trips? Parking places? Energy levels? Were those really the sort of details we should be bugging God with? Doesn’t he have more important things on his mind?

Happily, Virginia wasn’t quite finished.

“It seemed strange, at the time,” she said. “Looking back, though, I think it was really good for us to hear, and be part of, prayers about everyday things. It made talking to God so much more real and relational, rather than something that we thought of as scary, complicated, or just plain hard to do.”

I exhaled, wiped an invisible bead of sweat from my brow, and thanked Virginia for her candor.

Is it okay to pray about life’s little stuff?

Later that week, though, I started to wonder. Is it okay to talk to God about life’s little stuff? Like, I would never want my familiarity with him to take away from his holiness, from the fact that he is actually God. And if I did not get a primo parking spot, I hoped he knew that I’d be okay. It wouldn’t derail my faith; rather, I would probably reason that God knew I needed the walk–and maybe even that I needed to thank him for the fact that I could walk.

Still though, the question lingered. I had a professor in college who admonished me for “talking a lot, but never saying anything.” I didn’t want God to see me in the same light, as though my prayers made him think of a small yappy dog.

And then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang. It was the Amazon guy, bringing me a new book:

How to Pray Pete Greig

(Sidebar:  If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a bit of a #hoardingsituation going on when it comes to books about prayer…

Books about Prayer

…that pic is only about half of my stash.)

Anyhow, I opened How to Pray and (not making this up) I read this:

“One of the greatest theological questions of our time in the realm of petitionary prayer appears to be whether we should ask God for parking spaces.”

Seriously? Was Pete Greig – co-founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement – really going to write about parking spaces? He was!

“It seems to me,” Greig went on, “that the answer is clear:  Yes, we should indeed ask God to give us parking spots. Why? Because when we pray for places to park, we become the kind of people who worship God for a patch of concrete outside a supermarket on a rainy Saturday in January.”

Ahhhh. I loved that. I felt like Greig, a self-described “Scruffy Brit,” understood my motivation. In asking God for a parking place, it wasn’t that I felt entitled to one, or that I could “claim it” in prayer or whatever. Rather, my request was born more out of relationship, out of an understanding that every good gift–the big stuff and the small–is, as James said, “from above.”

I read on.

Living with “Greater Gratitude”

“When you pray about the small things in life,” Greig said, “you get to live with greater gratitude. If you only ever pray about big, ugly, gnarly problems that seem onerous and serious enough to warrant divine intervention, you will only very occasionally experience miracles. But when your learn to pray about trivia…you start to notice how many minor miracles are scattered around in the course of an average day.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I mean, literally:  I couldn’t. Every single chapter in Greig’s book features wiser, kinder, and more well-informed insights on prayer than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t even have to pray about putting this one in the stockings, this year. It’s such a better Christmas morning surprise than the posture brace. (Which, if you’re new to this blog, explains why Yours Truly really does need to pray about shopping. God had no part in choosing that particular gift.)

And honestly? You’re gonna want a copy of How to Pray for yourself. Because it’s that time of year, and when you come out of the store loaded down with a cart full turkey, potatoes, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in a Can, you’re either gonna want that sweet parking spot, or you’ll want the reminder to be grateful that you have a car in the first place.

Even if it is parked a half-mile away. 🙂

Heavenly Father,

Teach us how to pray, and to live with greater gratitude. May we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Amen

 

P.S. I only recommend books that I really do love, and if you purchase via the link in this blog, I get a tiny credit from Amazon. Which I will most likely use to purchase more books about prayer.

Either that, or something for my kids that is better than this:

photo 2

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