Like any new year, people all around us will be evaluating their life, setting goals, and making resolutions for 2020. With this change of the calendar, it is certainly appropriate for Christians to take an honest look at the direction and progress of our lives. Let’s look at a resource to will help us do that thoughtfully and biblically.
A year ago, The Gospel Coalition published a blog called “Make Habits, Not Resolutions.” The author, Justin Earley, is a corporate lawyer who was running through life at such an unbearable pace that he drove himself into a physical and spiritual crash. As a result, he overhauled the habits and routines of his life. In February, Earley published The Common Rule which is Christianity Today’s top pick in the category of Christian Living & Discipleship for the book most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture in 2020. (You can watch some videos and read more at www.thecommonrule.org.)
As we begin 2020, there are vital lessons we can learn from the concepts in The Common Rule. In the blog, Earley says, “Don’t make resolutions, make habits. Unlike resolutions, we actually become our habits. There are no changed lives outside of changed habits. And if we want to actually change, we need to take a sober look at where our habits are leading us.”
Habits are the daily and weekly patterns and routines that shape our lives. Earley points out that our habits don’t just form our schedules; they have more influence than we realize in forming our hearts. Our life is formed by our habits, but often those habits don’t reflect the beliefs and values central to our Christian faith. He says that while the house of our lives might be “decorated with Christian content,” our habits form the structure of the house. If our habits are just like the world around us, how can we expect to live the life Christ redeemed us for and witness to those around us?
Think about your daily habits: Waking up to check social media. Driving to work listening to talk radio. Rushing through a busy day without time to pray. Skipping lunch or eating alone while you scroll through your phone. Coming home emotionally drained and disconnected from family. Escaping on Netflix before falling asleep.
Do these habits really reflect what you hold dear in your heart? Has your faith in Christ and commitment to a biblical worldview formed these habits? Or, sadly, have the habits of the world formed your heart? The tragic reality is that too many of our habits actually destroy life rather than build life!
And so, as we begin 2020, we need to shake up our routines and reformulate our habits to align with who we are in Christ – our love for him and the people around us. We need God’s grace to develop daily and weekly habits that will infuse every aspect of our life with the abundant life of Christ! As Earley says, you need to “make habits that stick instead of making resolutions you forget.”
But as we all know, old habits die hard…and new habits are even harder to develop! In fact, studies show it can take over two months of consistent practice to form a new habit of any significance. This will take time and practice. Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” The only way to kill off our old habits and grow new habits is to seek the grace of God and the Spirit of God to retrain ourselves with constant practice.
In the book, Justin Earley lays out four daily habits and four weekly habits that lead us into a full life. Consider the following summary (with some modifications):
- Prayer: Set aside a few moments every morning, every evening, and at specific times during the day to seek God. Give thanks, confess your sins, ask him for what you need, and intercede for others. Use the Lord’s Prayer as a template. Try kneeling when you pray as a way to focus. Put your phone away, and let the Spirit lead you.
- Scripture: We need God’s Word to feed our soul. Your day will be filled with all sorts of distractions and deceptions, so begin your day with the life-giving truth of God’s Word. Read through an entire book of the Bible. Use a Bible reading plan or Study Bible to help you. If you can’t focus and digest long passages, that’s OK. Even one verse can make a difference. And put your phone away for this too so the Word of God fills your heart.
- Table: There is something powerful about gathering around a table with friends or family to give thanks and share a meal together. Our hectic pace of life often means we eat on the go by ourselves. But when we do this, we miss out on a crucial opportunity for community. Jesus ate with his disciples. The early church broke bread together. There is something life-giving about family and friends leaning into a table, enjoying food and fellowship together. Sometimes basketball practice gets in the way, but do your best to make this a daily habit.
- Attention: Our phones are powerful tools, but the constant barrage of communication, notifications, and entertainment can steal life, not facilitate it. With our phones in front of us, it makes it very difficult to give God or other people our undivided attention. The opposite of attention is distraction. Earley calls this the habit of presence instead of absence. So, make a habit of spending an hour or more each day without your phone. Practice silence and just sit in the presence of God. Give your friends, spouse, and children your full attention. It will be life-giving for you and them.
- Friendship: We are made in God’s image as relational beings. Even the biggest introvert is not meant to walk through life alone. The Common Rule wisely recommends at least one hour of face-to-face conversation with a friend every week. Be real with one another. Share common interests. Laugh together. Ask deep questions, listen, pray, counsel. If you are married, this is a must with your spouse. But whether married or single, find a trusted friend to connect with each week. Schedule it and make it a habit.
- Sabbath: Most Americans are overworked, overscheduled, and overstressed. Rest, recreation, and downtime have become devalued. But God created us as finite beings that need sleep every night and rest every week. The pattern of resting one day out of seven is woven into creation. So, whether a student, stay-at-home mom, engineer, plumber, or sales manager, create the habit of setting aside one twenty-four hour period every week to rest from your work.
- Fasting: We already mentioned the blessing of gathering with others for a daily meal to give thanks and enjoy food together, but food is not without its challenges. Too many of us use food like a drug, to medicate frustration, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. We overeat as an escape. We eat junk food because it feels good. The weekly habit of fasting is like a reset. Fasting reminds you that man does not live on bread alone. In the Bible, fasting is often linked with prayer because it compels your body and soul to look to God, rely on God, feed on God. If you are new to fasting, begin with something that is manageable. Fast for one meal and consider working toward a 24-36 hour fast.
- Story: Humans have always been enthralled by a good story. Before you could stream movies online, there was broadcast television. Before TV, radio. Before radio, books. And before books, people told stories to one another that had been passed down for generations in oral cultures. Being entertained by stories (whether novels, movies, or YouTube clips) is not bad. You could argue it’s human. But what is harmful is an endless cycle of online entertainment that is pointless at best and destructive at worst. Earley teaches the concept of “curating your media.” A curator is someone who reviews a large quantity of artifacts or art and then selects only the best to display in the museum or gallery. We need to curate the stories we watch and select only the best for the gallery of our life. Choose the stories that edify you and your family. Decide how much time you have for entertainment – 4 hours a week? 8 hours a week? Curate your media and then make it a habit.
As you look back through these habits, you’ll notice each of them is much more difficult and much less fulfilling if your phone is involved. In fact, many of our poor habits are derived from our phone usage. So put down your phone more this year. Set it to airplane mode. Leave it in another room. Turn it off. Getting the most out of these habits means having a heart and mind that is focused. Don’t let your phone be the first thing that gets your attention in the morning. Begin your day with the habit of prayer and Scripture before you ever even look at your phone.
You’ll also notice that the four daily and four weekly habits that Earley recommends are primarily focused on your own soul and your relationships with others. This is a good emphasis, but we should also account for how God created us as a soul and body. To truly walk in the abundant life that Christ redeemed us for, we need to care for both soul and body – they are interrelated. And so, Christians should also prioritize these regular habits that facilitate a healthy life: Nutritious Diet, Proper Sleep, Physical Exercise, Physical Touch (affection with family and friends), and Sex in Marriage.
2020 is a new year. What better time is there to evaluate our routines and habits? As Paul warned Timothy, let’s not get caught up in the patterns of the world, “rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). By God’s grace, seek to develop biblical habits that fill your life – habits that bring you life!
Listen to a recent sermon related to this blog: Habits for Life