One summer, upon returning from a year in Russia, Brian and I along with our small boys needed to live with Brian’s parents while we hunted for a place to live. After living in Russia we relished in all the American goods, but especially in comfort foods. You know what I mean– the food that makes everything better, well at least temporarily. Brian’s parents kept a sweet supply of Bluebell ice-cream– about 5 different flavors at a time. Each night we would enjoy a different flavor. The big decision of the evening was which flavor to try, or what flavors to try. Having ice-cream each night became a part of our summer routine. By the end of the summer we discovered we had put on quite a few pounds. “What was up with that?” I had never sat down and ate a whole half gallon of ice-cream, and I usually scooped just one, good-size serving each night. I never thought to myself, “I hope I gain 5 or 10 pounds this summer.” But the pounds seemed to come on one scoop at a time.
There are of course habits we establish that help us to get where would want to be: like getting up a little earlier, finding a friend to run with, or setting aside time a to study. Then there are those habits which seem to take us back a few steps, or maybe put us on a completely different path than we expected– which can be devastating. If I knew when I was younger that there were habits and patterns that would help me to flourish 5, 10 or even 20 years from now, looking back I would have wanted them as a part of my life! By flourishing I mean, a life that is purposeful, growing, and centered on God and His purposes. In this post, I want to continue from: Three questions to ask yourself for a flourishing year and look at the second question.
Question 2: What are habits or patterns you want to establish now that will help you to flourish in the years to come?
Knots that are difficult to untie
I think it is easier to tie a knot than to untie one. I find myself in a position regularly being asked to untie knotted shoelaces, twisted yo-yo string, rope and many other things. I didn’t realize when I had kids that “knot untangler” would be part of my job description. But I can tell you, from lots of experience, untying knots takes lots of patience. It would be much easier to cut up the string than tediously work out the knots! It is similar with unwanted habits– once something becomes a pattern the knots are formed and difficult to untie. The knots just seem impossible to get out.
Recently, I talked with a number of friends, or recent grads who are finding them self in a place they never expected; and the knots seem to be knotted too tightly, making it too difficult to untangle. They were not planning on sleeping with another guy. They can’t believe they are carrying so much debt, allowing their job to own them, or going to that site again. Weeping, my friend didn’t expect the pain and difficulties of life to shatter her marriage and her relationship with her kids after 20 plus years of marriage. No one hopes that the flame will go out, their faith will turn lukewarm or seemingly, non-existent. They are living a life, they in no way intended for their future. The knots are tied.
Habits needed: not just for surviving today, but that will pay dividends in the years to come.
1. Engaging in the Word by faith
The first habit that is invaluable is developing a pattern of regularly being in God’s word. When you hear that it is a “good idea to read the bible” or have a “quiet time” each day, what do you think? It may seem to you that you should do it, have to do it, or ought to do it. You may feel better when you do “it”, kind of like you feel better when you exercise. When we don’t “do it” or meet our expectations, we may feel guilty or discouraged. Yet spending time in God’s word is so much more than a routine, even though it may start with a penciled in time on our calendar.
In the Christian life, we need training wheels to help us get started– and setting aside a regular time to be in God’s word is kind of like that. But at some point God’s word must become, not just something we do, but a necessity in our daily life. It isn’t that I have to read the bible, it is that I need to read it. It is my living bread.
Not only do I need it, but God encourages, directs, challenges and works in our lives through His living word. God’s word is a primary way He brings growth and maturity in our life. We are not meant to sustain our Christian life on our own. There is a mystery in it– but some how His word is transformational. So, whether I read it by faith for 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30– His Spirit is at work. As we read the word we begin to find it is real, and life changing. With a teachable heart, we will see flourishing in our life now, and in the years to come.
If I find myself spending little time in the word, feeling guilty for not doing it or doubting the necessity of it, this is a red flag.
2. Daily Confession
If having a regular time in the word is like training wheels, then confession is something that helps us to stay on the bike or get back on when we fall off. Honestly, I think the gradual lack of confession in our life is a major threat to flourishing in the future. We don’t want to lose the habit of confession.
I tell my kids that unconfessed sin is like bricks in a wall. Soon the bricks form a barrier in our relationship with God and with others, one brick at a time. As we keep to ourself, hide, justify or keep secret our sin, we put another brick up. This wall keeps us from feeling intimate with the Lord or leads to feeling doubtful and distant. Confession of our sins, removes the bricks, one brick at a time. As we confess a sin and are honest, we find ourselves experiencing more deeply God’s love and forgiveness. Confession gets us on the bike again.
It is not a good sign if I realize I am keeping secret sins, not bringing them into the light or not confessing sin along the way as I am made aware of it.
3. Regular Connection with a Christ-like Community
A primary thing God uses in our own lives are the lives of others, who encourage, love and challenge us. We need the habit of connecting with other like-minded people, who will point us to Christ and truth. We also need to be that kind of person for others in the context of a community.
In this habit, it is as if we have the training wheels on and someone is running alongside us, helping us along the way. I remember teaching each of our kids to ride a bike. We would take them to a bike path close by, which had grass along either side of the side walk. I would hold on tightly to the back of the bike, running with them at first. Then as they seemed steady I would run alongside them and cheer them on. If they fell into the grass, I would help them up and encourage them to try again. Sometimes they were done and were sure they would never want to try that again. Another day I would gently suggest we try again.
To be flourishing in the years ahead we need others we are connecting with who we run alongside and encourage and they also run alongside and encourage us.
If I find myself thinking I don’t need anyone or separating myself from others, I need to seek community out.
4. Choosing Transparency
This next habit it closely connected and intertwined with the last one. In our nature is a desire to hide our imperfections, sin and brokenness. At the same time there is a desire to be known, even though it is a little scary. God sets the example of completely knowing us and accepting us, for Psalm 139 says he knows us inside and out, even our thoughts. Yet, He still loves us. To be loved like this is freeing, not constricting. God knows we need to experience this complete love in our everyday life. What we need is a few friends we can be transparent with. We need to have people in our lives who need us, and we need them.
Back to the bike example– we will find ourselves falling off the bike, and feeling like a failure at times. This is when we seek out the counsel of others– asking questions and finding encouragement. A flourishing life isn’t just struggling quietly, trying not to disturb anyone or failing to ask for help. We are all needy, broken and in need of being known and loved completely. Transparency is just that, taking the risk to be known and loving others well, as you “know” them. It is making our sin and brokenness known so we can come out clean, find accountablility, find comfort and healing. This is part of the path to growth and flourishing.
If I find myself failing to have transparent connection, or if I am finding isolation, loneliness, loss of purpose, or even pride (that we don’t need anyone.) mounting, I should see this as a red flag.
5. Engaging in a big purpose– the habit of making disciples
This may seem strange. You might ask, “How is this a habit?” Christ gave the commission to his disciples to go “make disciples.” Their primary responsibility was to make disciples–not to be happy, positive, comfortable, or successful. This is our responsibility as well. He said to “go,”and as we are going along in life we are making disciples. What if I forget this purpose? What if I don’t regularly invest in making disciples?
They say you don’t forget how to ride a bike. But possibly, we gradually stay away from the bike and it becomes outdated, rusty, and feels unpurposeful. We begin to wonder why we even have the bike and consider selling it for something better. This is like losing sight of the bigger purpose Christ has for us– to make disciples. The best way to keep this purpose in mind is have our life centered around Jesus and to be about making disciples. If I am not connecting with Christ’s mission, life slowly begins to be about other things. Making disciples is no longer central to our lives.
Some things that may help with this are:
- Connecting with others who are about making Christ known.
- Giving joyfully financially to these causes.
- Seek and receive continual training and equipping in making the gospel known to those you rub shoulders with.
- Take regular steps of faith in this area
My freshmen year in college I decided to start a bible study in my dorm room with my pledge sisters. My life had changed so much the first semester that I thought everyone would want to grow in a relationship with God if given a chance. So I decided to take a step of faith and offer a bible study. One girl came and that was it. During the time she opened up her heart to me of some regrets and I was able to pray for her. During the times that no one showed up, I was able to pray for my sorority and pledge sisters. Looking back I realized that God was using that time to transform my heart– giving me a greater compassion and heart for others.
As we take steps to make Christ known among our friends and peers we often see that our heart expands. As we step out in faith and trust God, we begin to find our eyes taken off ourselves and put onto others. It is as if we begin to share our bike with others, buy them a bike or teach them to ride. We become equipped, not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of others.
Jesus didn’t say, “Stay put. Stay where you are, and you will remain the same.” No, He gave them a mission to be engaged with as they followed Him. I think if we lose sight of the One we are following, we begin to lose sight of His mission. We begin to lose sight of the need to make Christ known. One of the best habits is to stretch ourselves, walk by faith, and place ourselves continually in a place of making Christ known.
If we find this is not a part of our regular life, then we should explore why.
Turning to the One who unties our knots
Like I said, I dislike unraveling knots. I would rather just prevent them from occurring. I don’t think anyone hopes to have a knotted life, or to be so entangled in sin that it feels like there is no going back. Fortunately, no matter how many knots there are and no matter how tightly knotted they are, God is so generous and abundant in His grace and mercy. He can untie the “knotiest” of knots. But I am thankful that He has given us habits and patterns that will deepen our love for Him and for others. He cares and loves us so much He desires for us not to remain immature but to grow and flourish.
I would challenge you to pick one of these habits you would like to grow in and make steps to having this a part of your life this month.