Discipleship: Healthy Habits

When my friend and I interviewed ministry leaders about spiritual growth, many outlined habits that help us grow. Three habits in particular received the most mention — reading the Bible, talking to God, and learning together with other Christ-followers. Consistently doing these things is to spiritual maturity what diet, exercise, and rest are to physical fitness.

Each of these three habits are relational. With God in conversation, and with others as we learn Christ together. Like the best relationships, they never run dry or wear out. The oldest of saints derive as much pleasure from them as “on fire” new believers. We were created for these relationships.

For those just beginning, here are a few basic recommendations for each:

Reading the Bible: Many new Bible readers begin with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) or Psalms. Some enjoy narrative books like Ruth and Esther, while others find the “letters” helpful (Philippians, Colossians, James, 1 John). Long term, I recommend reading the Bible through regularly — with someone close by to answer questions.

Talking to God: First, do it all day long in every setting. He is always with you, understands you completely (Psalm 139), and loves you unconditionally. You can talk with Him constantly. If you prefer a guide or talking points, I use the Lord’s Prayer:

  • Praise God for what you know or notice about Him
  • Ask Him to spread His influence throughout your world
  • Ask Him to meet your needs (and the needs of your family, friends, and others)
  • Confess your sin and failures
  • Ask Him for protection from temptation and evil.
  • Affirm His ability to do all these things.

Learning Together: We grow best when we grow together. Get together often with others who follow Christ — and talk about it. Ask questions, share your insights and experiences, learn from those with more experience, and lean on them when you are weak. Finally, always pray together and for each other. Always.

More can be said, but shared experience will serve as its own guide. Keep these healthy habits alive in your life, learn how to thrive in them, and do them with others — as if you were joining a gym or finding a running partner. They are not the main thing, but they’ll keep you focused on the main thing, which is learning Christ.

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Christmas (from Reading the Bible*)

(1) Jesus existed before He was born. The Gospel of John begins Jesus’ story before there were Wise Men, shepherds, or angels. John reveals the backstory: Jesus existed before the universe began; He is God; He created the universe (John 1:1-3).

(2) Jesus is the heir to King David’s throne. The Christmas story features two genealogies — Joseph’s and Mary’s. Matthew traces Jesus’ legal right to the throne through Joseph, and Luke reveals His royal bloodline through Mary (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).

(3) Jesus did not have a human father. When the angel told Mary she would have a baby, she asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Gabriel’s answer is the crux of the story: His Father will be the Most High God (Luke 1:26-35).

(4) The shepherds were the bottom of society. God’s Son — the Creator of the universe — is born six miles from the Holy City. Who does God tell? Shepherds. The lowliest, humblest of people. Why? Maybe because shepherds exist to care for others (Luke 2:1-20; About Shepherds).

(5) The Wise Men understood God better than the priests. They were watching for the long-awaited King. When God signaled His arrival, they came from afar with lavish gifts. The priests didn’t even bother checking it out (Matthew 2:1-12).

(6) Jesus’ name explains His reason for coming. The Jews used names to describe a person’s character or role in the community. So what did God name His Son, sent to deliver all people from the curse of sin? Jesus means God is the Savior (Luke 2:21).

(7) Jesus was born into your family. God joined your family — humanity — so He could pay the penalty for your sin. Now you can join His family by accepting Jesus’ perfect life as your own (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 6:23).

* Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2; 3:23-38; John 1:1-18; Isaiah 53:5; Romans 6:23

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Reading the Bible

Wander into any church and ask, “Who wants to read the Bible this year?” and most hands will go up. Even those who don’t embrace Christianity often think about reading the Bible. It’s a worthy goal. No book has had more influence on history, and its themes of love, loss, and redemption are universal. It reveals the God who created us, and its finale reveals the final triumph of Good over Evil.

The Bible claims authority and has been known to bring great lifechange. If reading it is one of your goals, here are seven things we’ve learned about making it happen. This is not a “do all” list. It’s a list of approaches, one of which might be just right for you.

(1) Start with the story books. Twenty minutes per day of a good story whets the appetite for more. Popular story portions include Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua through Second Chronicles, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, Jonah, Matthew through Acts, and Revelation.

(2) Set a healthy one week goal and be tenacious about it. Read the Gospel of Mark, or try five Psalms per day. At the end of week one, set a similar goal for week two, and so forth. Some people read five psalms and one chapter of Proverbs each day. That pace will see you through Psalms and Proverbs in a month.

(3) Use a “Read the Bible in a Year” chart. By tackling the Bible in bite-sized portions you’ll know what to read each day and finish the entire Bible in one year. Click here for a good option: Two Readings Per Day Bible Reading Plan.

(4) Do it with friends. Be accountable to one another and discuss what you’re reading. Shared interest and camaraderie are strong incentives, and hearty discussion heightens interest.

(5) Ask God every day to make you thirsty for more. The Bible is God’s book. That’s why it’s significant. Whether or not you believe in God doesn’t matter. Think of Him as its author and ask Him to give you a love for it. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).

(6) Remember what it’s like to get in shape or learn a new skill. At first you struggle with it (like when you begin to run), then you get used to it, then you enjoy it, then you make it a top priority. The Bible is a spiritual book. If you’re not accustomed to spiritual exercise, you’ll need to grow into it. Stick with it. Make it happen.

(7) Pick a Bible that matches your reading style. If you’re a casual reader, buy a New Living Translation. If you’re a curious person — someone who likes to know what everything means — buy an ESV Study Bible. Or, if you just want to get started . . . read any Bible you can get your hands on. Tis action makes the hero.