Just a quick evening post. This morning I skipped my morning run. A combination of mixed motives. I woke up late, decided I couldn’t be bothered to run and I really wanted to use the time to delve into God’s word. So I made running a “write-off” for the day and got stuck in: I journaled, prayed, logged my thoughts in my mini notebook, typed up themes and patterns. Overall time very well spent.
But then, throughout the day, just before lunch, I had a rush of energy and decided I’d go out running on my break. It didn’t matter to me that it was chucking it down. I just went. 7.25km in 39 minutes. Great success.
Came back in from the drenching rain, soaked through to the skin, but feeling like a champion!
While I was in the shower though, I was thinking about how God had totally honoured my decision to study His word instead of doing my exercise. Giving me an extra burst of energy in the middle of the day to revisit what I had missed.
One of the problems people tend to have with spending time with Jesus is that there just isn’t enough time in the day. We need to fit in so many other habits, reading, journaling, side-hustling, exercise, study, our job, our family etc etc…
But I know that this saying is trustworthy and true:
“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given unto you” Matt 6:33
Be encouraged today, to prioritise your time with God, and see what happens.
I recently read through the Book of Jonah and one of the things that struck me was the complete lack of initiative on Jonah’s part. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the man who God told to go somewhere and preach, who then refused, got eaten by a fish and then spewed out and given another chance to obey God.
So where is Jonah’s lack of initiative? Firstly, it is God who tells him to preach. He doesn’t see the need, and if he does, he has been ignoring it til now. Secondly, in an attempt to flee God’s will he joins a ship heading in the opposite direction. A storm comes and all the sailors are trying to work out a solution. Jonah is burying his head in a pillow when they ask him to help.
Rather than immediately explain that the storms are probably here because he’s disobeying God, he lets the sailors draw lots (in the middle of a storm)…only then (when he is found out) does he explain. Even then its the minimum amount of information. At every point Jonah is hesitant and reluctant, every time he is waiting for someone or something to initiate for him. Be it God, a storm, a lot draw, a fish, a plant to be provided, an immature attitude to be corrected…
Thankfully, the Bible goes on to tell of a God who is not so reluctant, or stagnant, who does take the initiative to rescue us (- even while we were still sinners!)
I found this table produced by John Maxwell, it summarises why we fail to take initiative, perhaps you can relate (I know I can):
But initiative isn’t just a useful approach for living the Christian life. It is also a great benefit in many other areas.
1) Building Friendships – Over the last few weeks, I have taken the initiative to plan getaways with several groups of friends, and a couple of meet ups. I have been so surprised how eager people are for meeting. Likewise, another friend recently took the initiative for meeting with me. It is an amazing feeling when a friend makes the first move. It communicates value, both to me and to the friendship.
2) Exercise – One of the reasons I don’t struggle to exercise regularly is because I take the initiative. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, I just start lifting. Even when I don’t feel like it! Often, it is only when I have started that the mood actually “takes me”. This also applies to studying, reading, working, and lots of other areas. If we want something done, we need to take the initiative. We won’t be spoon fed.
3) Battling Sin – We are all tempted, each by certain things. Sin abounds in our human nature. But we don’t have to be passive about it in our life. If we struggle we lust, let’s take the initiative to put in place accountability procedures, remove trigger points as far as we can, learn to process and understand our unwanted behaviours. What battles do you face? Think of three things you can do today to take the initiative against it. For me, I recently realised how frequently I was buying things from Amazon on an impulse. So I took the initiative to uninstall the app on my phone.
What do you want to happen, what do you feel needs to happen, where would you like to be in five years time? Now take the initiative.
One of the tools I use to keep going in my daily habits, routines and disciplines is a concept I call: “Stretching”.
As most people who have tried implementing daily habits have noticed – consistency is a struggle. What starts out as a fun and rewarding activity (such as exercise, studying, writing, reading etc) can soon become an activity we resent, get bored of, forget to do, skip and ultimately quit doing. So how can we keep going? How can we keep engaging in these rewarding projects, routines and lifestyle decisions?
Habit is, after all, the means by which we can implement steady change and growth in our lives over time. They are encouraged in the Bible (see Psalm 1:2 habits of meditating on scripture, Luke 22:39 habits of prayer and Hebrews 10:25 habits of fellowship). They are also endorsed by most popular “self-help” authors (see The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Atomic Habits)
So how do we fight against this “habit-fatigue”?
One solution is what I call “Stretching”. If we find ourselves doing the same activity over and over again we will undoubtedly get bored. So it is important to stretch ourselves in these areas. The following three ideas can help us stretch:
1) We can regularly set outselves higher goals. Often the reason we stop engaging in useful habits is because of a feeling of success, of having already “made it”. This is why it is argued that telling other people about our resolves isn’t always useful – it produces a feeling of success just by telling people what you intend to do. It’s a feeling that satisfies so much that we feel we have already “made it” and stop. When we reach the goal of being able to run 5K, we can give up. Instead we ought to stretch ourselves by setting new and harder goals, for example running 10K, running 5K in 30minutes, etc.
2) Some habits are implemented in order to achieve a specific target and so setting new goals is important. However, for other habits the goal is “infinite” and we will never get there. For example “closer relationship with God”, or “maintain healthy body”, in these cases our stretching may look different. We may instead need to stretch by switching it up. In exercise this is often called Muscle Confusion. Our muscles quickly get used to the routine we’ve set ourselves and so it is time for a switch – this is why workouts stop aching after a few weeks. We need to switch it up. For our prayer life, this may mean trying to write your prayers down in a journal, going for a prayer walk, inviting friends to pray with you or using pre-written prayers such as Lectio-365. By switching it up we can motivate ourselves to keep going in a specific direction, without necessarily having habits that have the same form.
3) A third way to stretch yourself in the habits you engage with is to teach it to others, or at least bring others alongside. Helping others to adopt the disciplines and habits of a live well-lived. This is often intimidating, especially if we don’t feel like an “expert”, but it is a crucial part of apprenticeship, discipleship and continuing in habits. It is why the last step in the Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Step Program, is to carry the message to other alcoholics.
John Maxwell calls the concept of stretching: The Law of the Rubber Band. Just as a rubber band must be stretched in order to function properly, we too must continually seek to stretch ourselves in order to grow. Habits, naturally, are a great way to consolidate knowledge, skills and patterns in our lives. But our habits must not be static – seek to stretch your daily disciplines on a weekly/fortnightly basis in order to find the motivation to keep going.
So I thought it would be really good to think about and lay out some resolutions. One of the preachers that I give a lot of ear-time to is John Piper, partly because I find myself so stretched by his sermons in my walk with God (not just intellectually!) and also because I see in his ministry such amazing points of grace. (e.g His willingness to release his books for free on pdf, just communicates a heart for building people up). Anyway, one of his talks has been so helpful for me, especially in terms of “working out” my faith.
He talks about the connection between our resolves (our good intentions, aspirations, goals, targets) which we set ourselves and God’s glory. Because of this talk, and also probably because of the wiring of my personality, I am a BIG BIG fan of resolutions. I am learning a lot recently about how we live out these resolutions (not in our own strength but God’s, motivated by the Graces we have received from God, following and imitating Christ).
My first resolution is that I want to Walk with God (Gen 5.24)
Praying – talking to God, making space to literraly walk with God, round the block or a park, to share my heart with Him and to hear His heart.
Devotional life – continue with BRT, but also being flexible as to where God is leading me in this.
Journaling – one of my favorite ways to record what God has done, and how I am relating to Him.
Seeing God’s hand in the everyday – I see this working out through taking time to reflect each evening (or at least as many as I can), to ask where was God in today, what is He teaching me.
Church – to recognize God has put me within communities of believers and wishes to grow and use me within this context. I want to play an active role in my Church community.
My Second resolution is that I want to make the most of every opportunity (Eph 5.16)
To bless/serve – flowing out of my recent studies of Abraham and his commission to bless other people
To learn – I have an amazing opportunity to grow in my understanding of God through the theological training I will receive, but I also want to work this out through reading as much as I can, listening to sermons.
To trust – as of today I am at 50% of what I need to raise financially, and whilst this will get me through at least to beginning of November I also recognize I have a great tendency to worry about these things. I need to pray that I will see this as an opportunity to turn to and rest in Him rather than finances.
To proclaim – Particularly to the lost, I want to practice how I approach strangers to share the good news, as well as friends. I want to see God’s power working through me as I proclaim, something I feel I have not taken much advantage of before. I want to practice proclaiming through writing, preaching and ordinary conversations.
To love unconditionally – not showing favoritism to people who are attractive, cleverer, popular, more similar to me, but showing God’s love as freely as He has shown it to me.
My third is that I want to use this opportunity to build really healthy habits into my life:
Relationally – be willing to meet new people and practicing hospitality
Honoring God in my work by turning to Him for regular resting, and doing everything as unto Him.
God I admit my absolute inability to live out this resolutions without Your Power, please enable me. May my life, and my work, reflect more and more of Your glory through these resolutions. I also surrender these to You and ask You to have your way and take any away that do not fit Your plan for me. Amen
And I was charity shop browsing yesterday with my wife who was looking for new work clothes. We’ve recently got into this, because we really enjoy playing board games with guests…but we don’t have many games. So one friend advised us that we shouldn’t buy games brand new, because their so expensive instead get them second hand. One thing lead to another and now my other half is exploring the novelty of cheap clothes.
Anyway, whilst she tries on a multitude of dresses, tops, trousers etc…I’m looking through the bookshelves seeing if there is anything that might be interesting (either Star Wars or theology/leadership)… I spot “the Power of Habit”.
Recently I’ve been complaining to myself about how un-disciplined and inconsistent my life seems to be. It’s not so much that I’m not exercising, or not waking up early, its that I’m really struggling to pin it down for longer than two weeks. I’ll go a few weeks reading my Bible at 5am and then stop, or go really intense in my exercising and then stop. It’s probably why “the power of habit” caught my eye.
Later that day, I’m in Starbucks reading a different book “how people grow”… and I get to a part that talks about where a husband had a control issue with his wife – always trying to control her happiness. And he learnt to yield it to God. It’s a bit confusing unless you read the details, but at some point the authors write:
Self control was the fruit of giving up the God role and regaining the human role of yielding
In your work with people, you have to be a funeral director…[showing them that] all their efforts have not worked, and they need to die to trying…
So I’m left thinking how do I die to trying to be self-disciplined, and rather rely on God’s gift of grace to allow me to be Self Disciplined. I’m thinking that Self Discipline is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore not a result of self-effort (even if that’s confusing because of the name). Therefore I need to admit to God my inability to be truly self-disciplined, and ask Him to pour out His grace to me.
All of this to say that I’m learning my God does not drive us into action but draws us into following Him.
I love this book so much! There were four things to pick this week. One of them will be a really short blog post later this week (or at least that’s the plan), because it came up last year.
9.24-27…This one fits in very well with another post I made earlier, and a theme I have been thinking about for a while (without any real answers) the tension between making every effort and doing everything in God’s strength. In this passage Paul talks about “strict training” and “striking a blow to my body”. How good Godly discipline is to our maturity. Lord please help me understand what it means to do this in a way that doesn’t lead to pride, but allows You shine brighter through me.
15.10 “By the Grace of God I am what I am…” This verse later goes on to talk about working hard but that work being God’s grace! But it was this line in particular that stood out. Paul’s acknowledgment of God’s Grace to make him who he was. Let me always be pointing to Jesus and bringing Him glory! Paul’s identity is found and so tightly tied up in God and His Grace. Lord whether I am at Sainsbury’s or Uni, with friends or whoever may I always acknowledge that I am who I am because of You.
16.2 My wife and I, have really struggled with tithing this year. Not because we can’t afford it, but because our pay has not been fixed. She got payed on a weekly basis rather than monthly, and I got paid a different amount each month according to how much overtime I did or didn’t do. Plus: Sainsbury’s pay every 4th week rather than on a set day of each month (which means we get 13 pay days a year). Because of these things, setting up a direct debit every month was not very practical. However 1 Cor 16.2 gives some really practical advice to us: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made”. Here we see very short accounts, weekly, setting aside of money.
A few years back I listened to a talk from John Maxwell, a leadership-guy from America, who said that he had a rule of five. He explained that a rule of five consists of 5 activities you try to get done every day. He compares it to cutting down a tree: if you hit a tree with an axe five times a day, eventually it will fall down.
The rule of five says it’s better to do the right thing every day, then to do big things somedays….It’s about consistency.
Here is my rule of five, recently refined.
Study – Whether it’s Grudem’s systematic theology, an exam for uni, a book on leadership, or a combination.
Rise early – I try to get up early every morning. I understand that I am more productive and think clearer in the mornings, and I want to play to this advantage.
Quiet Time – this may take the form of reading my bible, doing Bible Read through, prayer walking, journal-ing, worship…or again a combination. It is essential I am intentional about meeting with God on a daily basis.
Care of my body – I want to make sure that I am eating healthily and exercising regularly.
Discipleship – for the last few years the great commission (Matthew 28) has played a big part in my journey of faith. Everyday I try to meet with someone to build them up or have them build me up in my faith.
My prayer is that God will help me carry these out for the sake of His glory, not mine! That He would refine them where they lead to idolatry and would reveal and heal sinful motives within my heart.