One of my favorite things about a new year is the feeling of a clean slate. It serves as an opportunity for a fresh start, a demarcation between the old and the new. However, new beginnings can’t happen with old habits.
With that in mind, I’ve recently read three incredible books on habits:
Through many studies, it’s been proven that habits are not solely the result of a timeline (in case you’ve ever heard someone say it takes 21 days to form a habit), but rather, they are engrained through frequency. Simple repetition can make things stick, and it’s important to make sure we have the right habits to reach the desired outcome.
As we prepare for our Habits series at Compel, I thought it appropriate to discover 7 Spiritual Habits that we all benefit from in our lives. Don’t feel compelled to tackle all seven, but find one that will help you grow in your faith in 2020.
7 HABITS TO GROW CLOSER TO GOD
1. Read the Bible & Do What It Says
The Bible serves many purposes in our life. In it, we discover God’s message of hope and healing for us. We see His love, grace and mercy at play as it uncovers timeless truths for our lives.
The Bible serves as a filter, helping us distill truth in a polluted world. It supersedes our emotions and answers the questions we ask most, giving us clear outlines for what wisdom and true love look like. In fact, a recent study shows that people who engage with the bible 4x/wk are 30% less likely to feel lonely.
By doing what it says, we see the evidence of our trust in God. I believe the more you read with an open and sincere heart, the greater your love for God and others will become.
If you haven’t picked up your bible in a while, it’s okay. Stop beating yourself up and get started today.
While I love marking up a physical bible, technology affords many the option of using great bible reading plans through the YouVersion Bible app. If you haven’t downloaded it, I strongly recommend doing so. You can keep track of streaks and even read with your friends.
2. Pray & Obey
Over the years as a pastor, I’ve come to recognize that talking to God is one of the most misunderstood and difficult habits for many Christians. It’s not that people don’t want to pray, many simply seem to believe that they just don’t know how to.
Let me put you at ease for a moment. There isn’t a magical or mystical recipe when it comes to prayer, but there are some healthy elements that can help, such as what Jesus outlined (Luke 11:14). Prayer, in its simplest form, is talking with God. You speak to Him, and He speaks to you.
Personally, I believe that prayer is best coupled with reading your Bible because it exposes you to His voice, character and nature. The more you know about God, the easier it becomes to recognize His voice when He speaks in prayer. But how do we cultivate the actual habit of prayer?
The Bible reveals that Daniel (6:10) was facing intense pressure not to follow God. His response was prayer. “…He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Not only did Daniel go to God when things got tough, he also had developed the habit of going to God multiple times throughout the day. As a follower of Jesus, it’s important that we not see prayer as an event that starts and finishes, but a conversation that can be carried on throughout our day.
If you’ve been struggling to pray, start by working it into your regular routine. Talk to God after you work out, while your putting on your make-up, on your drive to work, wherever. The important thing to remember is starting is half the battle when it comes to cultivating the habit of prayer in your life.
3. Strive For Growth
One of the common phrases within our church is, “take your next step.” In most situations, growth is gradual.
Want to pray longer, start by praying for a minute.
Has God put it in your heart to write a book, start with a sentence.
Want to start a business, work your side hustle.
Want to read more, start with a page.
Want to eat healthier, start by mixing in a vegetable each day (one I’m working on right now!)
Want to change the world, start with one person.
Studies have proven that simply starting can prime the pump for greater effectiveness in the long-term. The cool thing about habits is that they aren’t isolated, but they actually compound over time.
When you start writing a sentence a day, eventually you end up with a paragraph, then two, and then a page – you get the point.
Maybe you’re struggling to start. You’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to start your business or go to church. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Once we come to grips that the stars may not align the way we thought they would, we can take solace in beginning our journey.
If you’re struggling today, just take your next step – you might be surprised what happens next.
4. Find Community
Truth be told, I love listening to preachers online. Many are phenomenal and gifted communicators. I also know that I’ll never find community that way. It’s great for inspiration, poor for accountability.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Part of finding community is opening your life up to others. The awesome part about this is that not only will you grow as others help cheer you on and pray for you, but you have the opportunity to do the same for others!
When you develop the habit of coming to church and commit to joining a community group, you get to live out Paul’s charge to us in Galatians 6:2, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Always remember, you have something to offer that someone else needs!
5. Serve Others
When I first gave my life to Jesus, I thought, “there has to be something I can do.” I wasn’t a singer, so no worship team. I wasn’t techy, so that removed some of the media options – though I may have been able to put transparencies on the overhead projector! So, what did my youth pastor have me do? Set up chairs. Every week. And I loved it!
I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of others by helping create a space and atmosphere for people to discover and worship Jesus. That’s what serving is all about.
In fact, Matthew 20:28 says that, “…the Son of Man (Jesus) came not to be served but to serve…”. If our ultimate goal is to be like Jesus, then we must cultivate the habit of serving.
In my experience, many people don’t understand the benefits of serving, and instead, see it as a chore to be done when opportunities arise rather than a habit to be integrated into their lives. This saddens me.
Science and studies have shown that people who serve regularly are happier and healthier. That’s right, serving isn’t just beneficial for those you are serving, but it’s beneficial to you as well. It’s almost like God designed us this way!
When you serve, you set the stage for God to speak to others. If you think, “I’d love to serve, but I don’t know where”, talk with your church. My guess is that they’ll have plenty of opportunities for you to get involved.
6. Live Generously
Many people today carry around the mindset that God wants them to suffer and, as a result, they hold back on what they have to give because they’re not sure if God will provide what they need.
The good news is that God wants to bless you! While it doesn’t mean you’ll be rich or have everything you want, it does mean that He will provide everything you need. Of course, he blesses us because we are His children, but He also blesses us so we can be a blessing to others.
The Message version of Proverbs 11:24-25 sums up this idea perfectly, “the world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.”
As we learn the habit of living and giving generously, we begin to see God’s blessing of provision in our life like never before. If you’re struggling to give today, start by giving something and watch as God exceeds your expectations!
7. Live Out Your Faith
I often say, “your faith is personal, but not private.”
The truth is that culture has shaped many of our habits, some of which are not always for the better. I say this because sharing one’s faith has become increasingly optional for many followers of Jesus, as evidenced by a Barna Group survey.
One of the greatest objections people have to sharing their faith seems to based off of their experience, not necessarily what the Bible says. The truth for many is not that they have grown weary of God’s message of hope and love, but they have grown tired of watching some Christians beating others over the head with a message that is supposedly loving. I’m not suggesting you can’t take a stand for your faith, but our approach in sharing our faith matters to God and to others.
When it comes to the habit of living out our faith, it really begins with ourselves. When we look in the mirror and realize how much grace we’ve received from God, we won’t come with a message of condemnation or try to do God’s job of changing one’s heart. Instead, we will simply share the story of what God has done in us.
Throughout the Bible, we see people living out their faith, people bringing others to Jesus. This is who we ought to be and who I want to be. My story is probably similar to yours. I was lost, but God found me, and now I want to help others be found by Him as well.
Successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally. This year, let’s live with consistency and faithfulness.
Let me know what habits you’re working on this year. I’d love to hear from you!