The Christian life is a disciplined life. It is a life full of activities that guide the formation of the new man in Christ. At the foundation of that spiritual formation you will find the necessity for constant saturation of Scripture, prayer, and fellowship.
As humans we seek, and often require, explicit step-by-step instructions for the how-to of the Christian life. We want to know what our posture of prayer should be, the length of time we should be praying, and how frequently we should be praying. Rarely will we find such direct instructions (although Paul does say to pray continuously in 1 Thessalonians 5:17). However, the importance of such disciplines are conveyed with a notable emphasis that leaves little doubt as to their role in the Christian life.
An honest self-assessment in the mirror of God’s Word (cf. James 1:23-25) will reveal for most of us our inadequate attention to some of these primary practices. Yet, their function to forming a foundation necessitates attention to them in our lives. As part of our daily practices, they should be instinctive to our routines. They require active attention and purposeful development to the point that they are made habits within our own lives.
It is often noted that bad habits are hard to break, while they are easy to make. Good habits can often be just as easy to make and just as hard to break. There is added difficulty though when trying to break bad habits and replace them with good habits. If spiritual disciplines are to be so routine that they are indeed ‘habits’ what is one to do?
My personal walk has been plagued by own sin of inability to follow through. Developing these habits have been excruciatingly difficult . . . more than they should have been. In that confession, I have found I am not alone. The Lord has shown grace by providing me with tools to help aide in such a reinforcement of behavior.
As each of us seeks to grow in Christlikeness through the employment of such disciplines, or habits of grace as David Mathis would call them, I hope to offer three devices that may aid us in such a development:
- Apps: For some, the use of technology for basic disciplines of the Christian life seems to cheapen such God-given graces. However, used rightly, technology can be of great help to each of us. There are prayer journal that track requests, answers to prayer, and can even help in developing a prayer schedule. For myself, I have been using apps simply to track my progress in completing goals. If I want to read Scripture five times a week, I input that in and keep track through the week. At the end, I can visualize my progress and be encouraged by it. It also helps me to visualize patterns. For example, am I always falling short on Wednesdays? Then perhaps there is a barrier I need to get rid of. Remembering words from David Murray, “Technology can be a wonderful servant, but a terrible master” make the tools work for you.
- Accessibility: Be accessible. What does that mean? It means make yourself available to those habits. We tend to create schedules for other tasks, and decidedly say, when I can sneak in my time of prayer, or reading, and fellowship. The problem is that it always gets put off. Instead, make your schedule function around those tasks. Maybe you’re just not coherent enough to spend time reading God’s word in the morning. Then find another time that works for you; the key is to find a time/place that works and make it a daily routine.
- Accountability: The most magnificent resource God has given us is each other. I understand that we often don’t want to share our struggles with others because we look weak. Yet, God has given us the grace of fellowship so that it may be used in this way, to spur one another on to growth for His glory. God’s work through accountability with others is one of the most effective means of transformation.
Three sources, each functioning differently, can be used by God to develop much in the Christian life.
Certainly, there are other disciplines in the Christian life that are mentioned as important (stewardship of time and money as examples). Yet, prayer, reading, and fellowship are foundational to the Christian life. Without these three the others will cease to be relevant in our lives. Scripture repeatedly draws our attention to them, thus there is a great need to pay special attention to the development of such habits.
We must be clear though. None of these are merely meant to be ‘habits.’ In no way should we reduce the practices of grace to a list of daily habits that get checked off on our to-do list. Instead, their impact is far grander in the Christian life. The idea is to develop the disciplines in order to develop the person. I emphasize to you the reinforcement of habits as a starting place, as a first priority, because if we aren’t doing them in the first place, the application of them is hallow.
We are creatures of habits . . . and if you don’t believe that then think about where you and others sit at church every week. Usually it’s the same spot. At the birth of a child what is one of the first suggestions given? Get your child on a routine. We need ‘routine with a measure of flexibility’ to function at our highest capacity. For the Christian, apart from the input of these three disciplines into the mind and heart, there will be no outpouring of God from the mind and heart.