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Firmly Establish These Powerful Habits of Discipleship

Christian living comes down making a handful of disciplines into habits. The disciplines are not Christian living—in some ways, they are the opposite of Christian living. Christian living is about walking in grace. It is about walking on purpose. It is about basking in acceptance. It is not about trying really hard to be good. It is not about trying hard to be good enough that God will accept me. It is quite the opposite of that. It is reveling in the fact that He has already accepted me. Nothing I could do could change that, but my heart is prone to forget.

This is why I need the disciplines. However, I don’t think discipline is quite the right word. The word discipline, at least to me, suggests duty and obligation. It suggests that I don’t really want to pray, but I pray anyway. It hints that I don’t really want to spend time in the Word, but, because I am disciplined, I do it anyway. Discipline hints that I don’t really want to do something, but I do it anyway. This is not Christian living—not Christian living at its best.

There is a place for discipline, and discipline may be necessary for habits to form. But once they are formed, they become automatic. You don’t think about them. Disciples don’t think about whether or not to have a quiet time; this is just how they start their day. They have done it so consistently for so long that they don’t think about it. It is who they are. It is what they do. It is their normal.

Having a quiet time is either a habit, or I bet you didn’t have a quiet time this morning.

Developing the Habits

Now for some good news. Science has done a lot of research in recent years on how habits are formed. I wrote a whole book on this, and if you would like more information, see my book Break a Habit: Make a Habit. Here is a summary:

  • One habit at a time. Because habits are so hard to form, we do well to work on one at a time. The reason we fail to keep New Year’s Resolutions comes down to one letter—”s.” If we would work on one New Year’s Resolution (no “s”) we would have much better success. We need to have the humility to appreciate the difficulty of forming a habit and marshal all of our effort and skill toward one habit. Diffusing our effort across multiple domains will almost guarantee failure in all of them. Every New Year we are going to start reading our Bibles, start exercising, start eating better and lose some weight. Well, we might start. The goal is to finish.

  • Bring a friend with you. Science and the Bible agree: We are profoundly influenced by the behavior of the people we consider to be “our people.” If you want to develop a new habit, take a friend with you. There is a reason why Weight Watchers works. And it is not because the diet itself is an amazing diet. It is easier to lose weight if you do so with a friend. If you want to develop the habit of a quiet time, bring a friend with you. If you attend a small group Bible study, you might ask the group if they would like to go through this book together, and encourage one another to have a daily quite time. Neil Cole suggests you get together in groups of two or three once a week for accountability. When you get a fourth person, the group divides. Everyone in the group reads the same section of Scripture.
  • Make it as easy as possible. People who eat off of smaller plates consume fewer calories. One man wanted to develop the habit of running first thing in the morning, so he slept in his gym shorts. If you want to develop the habit of practicing the guitar and not watching so much TV, put the guitar closer to you than the remote. Habits are hard. Don’t make it any more difficult than it is. If you have our quiet time in the same chair you watch TV in, and you are tempted to watch TV rather than read your Bible, I have a simple solution. Put your Bible nearby and your remote control in the other room. It is not just about trying hard; it is also about adjusting your environment to make habit forming easier. I keep a bowl of apples in the middle of our kitchen and often munch on one or two through the day. If there were Snickers in that bowl instead of apples, I would eat Snickers and would weigh 50 pounds more. It is not about trying hard. It is about having apples instead of Snickers in the bowl.
  • The power of a list. Come up with a long list of reasons you want to have a quiet time. You will be closer to God. You will sin less than you do. You will be an example to your kids. You will know the peace that passes all understanding. On and on. With a strong enough why, the how will nearly always take care of itself. Come up with a long list of reasons why you want to have a quiet time.