I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting),
so this is a pre-scheduled post for your encouragement, education and enjoyment!
I came across a GREAT post about personal discipline – in particular personal HABITS that I thought was worth passing along. We all have the struggle to keep our good habits going and kill our old ones. This post was all about creating new ones and keeping them alive (particularly scripture reading and prayer). So… here’s the 13 tips it gave… and if you want to read the entire article – you can do that HERE.
- Motivate yourself by preaching to yourself the gospel of grace. Why do you want to develop the habit in the first place? Are you just gritting your teeth and “doing the right thing”? Are you trying to conform to the expectations of others? Are you trying to make yourself closer to God through your efforts? I hope you agree, these are all terrible motivations. Instead, preach the gospel to yourself: remind yourself that you want to develop the habit because the Spirit of God is at work in you; the Spirit who has brought you as close to God as you could possibly be through his son Jesus and who has changed the entire orientation of your life, making you want to serve him and grow in your knowledge and service of him. Keep coming back to God’s grace over and over again.
- The ultimate goal in developing a particular habit is coming to the point where you love to do it. You know you’ve truly got a good, lasting habit when it’s an essential part of your life, and it feels right. In fact, you feel bad not doing it. This is even true of uninspiring things like brushing your teeth. When you don’t brush your teeth, you feel yuck all day. How much more should this be true of daily prayer, the amazing privilege of speaking to the creator of the universe?
- Realise, though, that the goal I mentioned in the previous point (to love what you’re doing) will probably take a very long time to develop. In the case of daily prayer, it will probably take months or years to even get a small way towards that goal, and will continue to be a struggle until Jesus returns.
- Don’t be a hero—you’ll only set yourself up for failure. If you’re not reading the Bible at all, for example, don’t jump in with a plan like, “I will read the Bible for an hour every day”. Sure, it sounds like a noble goal. But then, when you read the Bible for 30 minutes one day, you’ve failed. Instead of rejoicing in God’s word to you, you’ll just give yourself needlessly negative vibes because you don’t measure up to your own arbitrary standard. You won’t love what you’re doing if you feel like you’re failing all the time. It’ll feel like you have to climb a mountain every day. And you’ll end up fearing and hating it. You might recognise this scenario as the ‘New Year’s Resolution’ syndrome. Don’t fall into the trap.
- The flipside of the previous point is to start small. In fact, make deliberately small plans at the start. Set yourself the goal of reading the Bible for 5 minutes each day, for example. And each day, leave yourself wanting more. Leave yourself with the feeling, “I liked that, I want more”. Then, the next day, you’ll be motivated to do it again.
- Start now. Just do it. This is linked to the previous points. If you have a gigantic heroic plan, you won’t be motivated to start until the conditions are perfect. But if you plan to start small, you can start straight away.
- Think creatively about ways to fit your habits into your life circumstances. Think in terms of people, time and space. What are your relationships? What are your commitments? What’s your daily routine? What times of the day do you enjoy the most? Where do you enjoy to be? If you can, try to practice your habits in the times and places that you love to be, rather than in the downtimes or the uncomfortable places. Spiritual warfare is hard enough without making it harder on yourself.
- Learn from the habits of others, but don’t follow them slavishly. I was once inspired by a godly Christian father I knew who often urged us younger dads to lead regular times of family prayer and Bible reading ‘at the breakfast table’. I thought that was a great idea, except for the word ‘breakfast’. The thought of trying to do anything constructive with that bleary-eyed half-conscious Weetbix-encrusted crew that is our family at the breakfast table was not a happy one. There was no point following his advice to the letter (and he wasn’t expecting us to anyway). We had a go at doing it at the dinner table, which works far better for our family.
- When it comes to habits, simple regularity is much better than sporadic brilliance. Don’t expect your Bible reading to be constantly wonderful and filled with awe-inspiring insights. If you have a spectacular, life-changing quiet time one day and then don’t pick up the Bible for a month, you’re not going to get very far. It’s much better to have simple expectations, and to rejoice each time you open God’s word, even if you learned something that seems small and insignificant at the time.
- Make your habit-developing plans simple (e.g. “I’ll read the Bible for 10 minutes a day”), not complex (e.g. “I have a Microsoft spreadsheet setting out my Bible reading plan every day for the next 10 years”). Simple plans are more flexible than complex plans; they’re easy to adapt to changing circumstances. Life is full of unexpected events: we make plans, but God has his own ideas about how life is going to turn out (Prov 16:9). We have to deal with sickness and emergencies (in fact, when I first sat down to write this article, my wife called to say the car had broken down on the way to school and my plans went out the window!). If you have a complex plan, and then an unexpected interruption comes which throws it all into disarray, you might be tempted to get frustrated or angry or just to give up. If you have a simple plan, you can adapt it.
- Develop the super-habit of regularly reviewing your habits! This is especially important because your circumstances will change over the course of your life. Since habits are integrated with your life circumstances, whenever there’s a change in your life circumstances, your habits will suffer. That’s normal. Sometimes you might have to go back to square one and completely reassess your habits. When we had very young children, we found that our daily ‘routine’ was changing every few weeks, as the kids’ sleeping and feeding patterns changed. When this happens, don’t (as I sometimes did) use it as an excuse to give up on your habits. Rather, adapt your expectations to your circumstances. Then start again. And when you do start again, start small, and don’t be a hero (see above).
- Use the relatively good or easy times in your life to work hard at developing your habits. When the hard times come, and/or when life changes, you’ll have spiritual resources to use.
- I said it at the start of the list, and I’ll say it again at the end: keep coming back to God’s grace.