Change your Habits, Change your Life

If you came up to me and said that you wanted to lose 50 pounds in 2015 because you found an advertisement for a “skinny pill” that would take it off in a week, I’d tell you that you should reconsider the time frame and the method by which you’ll use the weight. If you want to shave 50 pounds in 2015, you must start with modifications to your diet, workout, and sleep patterns, not simply look for the quick fix. If you desire better grades in school, you must devote time for study at night instead of wasting it on video games and Netflix.

In fact, your future doesn’t change by dramatic turns later; it begins with incremental changes today. Minor adjustments today yield long-term dividends. The exact same is true with your spiritual life. You will not wake up tomorrow and be a perpetually-happy 4am riser.

Not All Habits are the Same

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Work smarter, not harder.” The same applies to spiritual growth as well. Even though it is God Who grows us as Christians, we can plant ourselves in an environment for spiritual growth. Lifestyle change occurs when one or both of these factors are present: your ability to do a task changes or your motivation for doing a task changes.

There are habits and there are what Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, calls “keystone habits.” Keystone habits set off a chain reaction of events that affect other areas of your life similar to a domino effect. These habits affect how we communicate, work, play, eat, spend our money, and allocate our time. Duhigg shares the necessity for fostering these practices, “The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”[1]

You are probably asking yourself: what are Keystone habits in my life? Let me elaborate a little bit.

Exercise Does the Body Good

My first job after getting sober from drugs and alcohol was as a sales manager for Powerhouse Gym in Mobile, Al. My day consisted of signing people up for gym memberships and then outlining a comprehensive plan for achieving their goals, like losing weight, building lean muscle, or getting physically fit. The common question I was asked after people signed on the dotted line was, “What should I do now to achieve ___________?”

Early on in my short-lived fitness career, I emphasized the need for a healthy diet to some, aerobic exercise to others, and weight training to the rest. I continued prescribing random modifications until I understood the importance of keystone habits.

Cardiovascular training, for instance, is a keystone habit that has a holistic affect on the body. If you invest 50 minutes at 6:00 a.m. running on a treadmill or an elliptical machine, you reduce the chances of eating a hot and ready Krispy Kreme glazed donut for breakfast or junk food later in the day. The desire for smoking is diminished as well when aerobic exercise is introduced. With this newfound knowledge, new gym applicants were escorted immediately to the elliptical machines upon signing up.

James Prochaska, a researcher at the Universty of Rhode Island, explains the importance of training for the body: “Exercise spills over. There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”[2] Other keystone habits are food tracking, making your bed after rising in the morning, and quitting a bad habit, i.e. binge eating or smoking.

Christian Keystone Habits

Certain habits have greater impact on our spiritual growth as well. I believe Christians ask similar questions, consciously or unconsciously, after coming to Christ, “How do I grow closer to God?” or “How can my life change for the better?” Answering these questions can seem overwhelming at times, much like losing 50 pounds for someone who is overweight. However, the right habits have the potential to produce epic results over time.

Many successful people are creates of routine. In his book, Daily Routines: How Artists Work, Mason Curry documents the habits of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Ludwig van Beethoven, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Immanuel Kant, and Jonathan Edwards, to name a few. “In the right hands,” cites Curry, “[routines] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”[3] The writer shared the impact on his own life of adopting daily routines—for him it was waking up everyday at 5:30 to write. Every person he chronicles experienced success out of the mundane routines of daily rituals.

Complexity surfaced from simplicity. Here are three simple keystone habits that will produce immediate results.

Wake Up Early

The last thing anyone wants is for his or her sleep to be cut short. However, a reward is waiting for those early risers. In order for this to happen, you’ll have to get in bed earlier. I know late night television is tempting, but it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things. In light of eternity, no one will care about the nightly guests on Jimmy Fallon or the final score to the last Monday night football game, especially if you are still bitter like me about the Saints loss this past week.

Get to bed so you can rise before anyone else does. Your may get your best work done because you’re fresh and rested. Develop a schedule for getting up. Take control of your schedule. English-born writer W.H. Auden posits, “The surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”[4]

Does your schedule control you or do you have control of your schedule?

Ronnie Floyd, President of the SBC, shared with me about the importance of giving our mornings to God. He wrote on his blog about why he gets up every morning at 3:00 a.m. Yes, you read that right—3:00 in the morning. Listen to why he does this:

In 1980, at an evening session of the Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference in Dallas, I heard the late and great W.A. Criswell challenge pastors to give their mornings to God. The following Sunday, I stood before the small church I pastored, the First Baptist Church of Milford, Texas, and announced to them my decision to give my mornings completely to God for prayer and study. All these years, I have lived by this firm commitment. Over the years, on a typical day, my schedule has evolved into me typically getting up at 3:00 a.m. from Sundays through Thursdays.[5]

My daily morning routine consists of working out 3 or 4 days a week. My stress level and overall attitude is affected by workout or the lack thereof. If you aren’t working out, start now. You’ll see an immediate change. Additionally, I read the Bible, journal, and memorize Scripture: the effects will be immediate and the habits you form will be long-lasting.

Read the Bible and Journal Daily

In addition to training my physical body, I equip my spiritual body for the day. The ideal time for me to read the Bible is the morning. I haven’t always done my quiet time with God in the morning. For years, I read at night. Unfortunately, my concentration level was hindered after a long day at the office, so I moved my reading time of the Bible to the morning. This single habit will change your entire day.

Where do I start reading?

When I was a new believer, I used the “OPRA” technique for reading the Bible: I would randomly Open the Bible, Point to a passage, Read the verse, and try to figure out a way to Apply it to my life. Thankfully, I didn’t land on the Scripture that says, “He[speaking of Judas Iscariot]went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). Reading random Scriptures will not provide solid biblical growth any more than eating random foods out of your pantry will provide solid physical growth. An effective reading plan is required.

My wife Kandi and I recently developed, along with the help of our Replicate team, a reading plan called the F-260 which stands for Foundational 260. The 260 day reading plan highlights the foundational passages of Scripture that every disciple should know. After failed attempts of reading through the Bible in a year with previous discipleship groups, I wanted a manageable plan that believers who never read the Bible before could complete.

The plan expects believers to read 1 or 2 chapters a day for 5 days each week with the weekends off. The 2 off-days a week are built in so you may catch up on days where you’re unable to read. With a traditional reading plan of 4 to 5 chapters a day, readers are stressed when trying to make up lost days because the unread chapters pile up, resulting in entire sections being glossed over or skipped entirely to get back on schedule. Bible reading is reduced to a system of box checking and not time hearing from God.

In order to digest more of the Word, the F-260 encourages believers to read less and to keep a journal.

Memorize the Word Weekly

Scripture memory has become a lost art for many Christians. Instead of storing God’s work in our hearts like generations before, we download information to hard drives, smartphones, and the cloud. Many are inconsistent to memorize because it takes work; therefore, few pastors, and fewer Christians, have mined the hidden riches of disciplined scripture memory.

No time is no excuse.

We all have time to memorize Scripture – we just have to make it. During my workout times, I recite my weekly Scripture passage. If you don’t know how to memorize Scripture, check out Chapter 8 of my book Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple who Makes Disciples for a step-by-step system.

On the days I don’t train, I memorize my verses in my car on the way to the office. Turn off sports radio or morning talk shows and store a verse of Scripture in your heart. My 15-minute mundane, routine commute has been converted into a devotional time that sets the tone for the rest of my day. This is the single tweak to my schedule that has made the greatest impact on my spiritual life. My entire morning is affected by this simple habit. Also, on the days when I bring my boys to school, they listen and learn the verse with me.

How do you stay consistent? Accountability by D-group members keeps me on task. Left alone, you will probably not continue with Scripture memory, which is why you should, if you’re not already, join a discipleship group. For more information on D-groups visit: growingupchallenge.com.

So, what are you waiting for?

  • Wake up early
  • Read and journal through the Bible
  • Memorize Scripture

Habits are solidified through accountability, and the ideal environment for fostering accountable relationships is a D-group (discipleship group). Don’t miss the opportunity you have to begin a discipleship group is January. If you are uncertain of how to form a group, lead a group, or what material to use, head over to www.growingupchallenge.com for videos, handouts, Scripture memory verses, reading plans, and much more.

Can you do me a Favor? If these ideas resonate with you, would you:

  • REACT. Do something.
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[1]Keystone Duhigg, Charles (2012-02-28). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (p. 101). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2]Duhigg, Charles (2012-02-28). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (p. 109). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3]Mason Curry ed. (2013-04-23). Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Kindle Locations 139-142). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ibid., (Kindle Locations 182-185).

[5]Ronnie Floyd, “My Mornings,” https://www.ronniefloyd.com/blog/3842/pastors/my-mornings (Accessed 24 November 2014).

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