With each new year, many of us turn our focus onto developing spiritual habits. We resolve we will begin reading the Bible each day, we will pray more, go to church, and a whole host of other spiritual habits we could name off.
However, like many other resolutions we make, we find that it soon wanes over time. Why? Why is it that we cannot stay focused on the goals we set and why reading the Bible and prayer are so hard to maintain? And is there a way to begin making reading the Bible a habit each and every day? Read on to learn more!
Developing Spiritual Habits – Why Willpower Won’t Work
Many times the reason our spiritual habits fall by the wayside with time is that we rely on willpower or discipline to keep us going.
Have you ever tried to go on a new diet only to find that in a short period of time you end up giving in to cravings? Or maybe a friend eats a huge slice of pizza in front of you and you give in and grab a slice? Why does that happen?
Because we are relying on our own strength and our own discipline to maintain the diet. Our heart is not in it but rather we are doing it out of a sense of obligation.
We hear it all the time when people say “I HAVE to lose weight”or “I HAVE to go on a diet” rather than “I CHOOSE to…”
When we feel we HAVE to do something out of a sense of obligation, it will cause us to be easily swayed the first time something derails us.
We are relying on one of the aspects of our inner man; our own will.
We Are Made in God’s Image
God is a triune being. He is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
God the Father could equate to the Soul or the Mind. He is the Creator. He is the Giver of Life! He is in control of all things! It is He that speaks things into existence.
God the Son, Yeshua, is the Body. He is the physical manifestation of Hashem here on earth. He physically walked the earth and He physically died to give all the nations of the earth eternal life who put their faith in Him.
God the Holy Spirit is obviously the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, that guides us and leads us in righteousness. It is that still, small voice that tells us when we are on the right or wrong path. He leads us and fills us.
When God created man in His image, He also gave us three distinct parts of our being as well.
We Have a Soul or Mind
This is the part of us that "feels" and makes decisions, oftentimes based on said feelings. We hear it often said that we are "soulish" beings, meaning we are sinful, selfish, and inner-focused. It is this aspect of us that the enemy usually attacks (the mind IS the battleground). It is our will.
We Have a Spirit
Our spirit or "heart" is what has us feel love. It is what caused us to seek God in our lives. This is the part of our being that has us do what is right and to follow God's will and not our own.
We Have a Body
And obviously we have a physical body. It feels discomfort, pain, pleasure and will eventually die. It is temporary.
Willpower Equals OUR Will’s Power
When we set out on a godly discipline or to develop spiritual habits, we often rely on one of the aspects of our OWN being, willpower, to do it and in doing that we rely on the “power of our own will”. In other words, we are relying on our mind and our “soul” to keep us going in that discipline. We are relying on our OWN attributes.
And if you have ever gone on a diet just to fall off, you have experienced why this does not work.
Willpower is making a mind-based decision to do something without the heart-based surrender to God that allows Him to work it out in us. It is relying on the power of our will instead of the power of the Spirit.
We are using that soul-ish side of ourselves to do that which is really a heart-based devotion to God. This is especially important to watch out for as new Christians because you are still developing those spiritual disciplines.Willpower is making a mind-based decision to do something without the heart-based surrender to God that allows Him to work it out in us. Click To Tweet
Relationship vs Religion
Religion on the other hand comes with a sense of obligation. It is a man-made list of “have to’s” and “musts” and leaves us with a sense of dread and condemnation.
Imagine being in a relationship where someone dictates how you need to speak to them, how often you can speak to them, a certain amount of time you need to spend reading about them. Would that be a fun relationship?
But yet many times that is exactly what our relationship with God looks like. A set of “have to’s” and “must do’s” that leave us feeling condemned when we don’t achieve them.In the battle between relationship vs religion, relationship will leave you feeling filled and religion will leave you feeling failed. Click To Tweet
You Cannot Have a Successful Relationship Without Communication
In any relationship, romantic or otherwise, communication is key. It is this that forms the main distinction in relationship vs religion.
In religion, there is a focus on must-do’s and requirements that are devised by man. They tell you how to pray, how to worship, what Bible to read and in some cases tell you you’re not qualified to read and interpret the Bible yourself at all.
Those have no place in relationship because relationship is personal. No two people will relate to someone the same way and man cannot tell you how you NEED to interact with God.
Our God is a personal God. He is not just Hashem but He is Hashem Eloheinu…he is the Lord OUR God.
He relates to each of us in His own way. When religion steps in, IT determines how God relates to you and how you need to relate to God, stripping away the free communication between you.
It tells you when and how to pray, what words to speak, how to dress, how to worship, how to relate to others.
This communication can only happen when we spend time in His Word and in prayer.
The Bible is not an ordinary book. It is the story of God and the story of His people. It is the story of Israel, the story of our Messiah and the coming age. We read it in a much different way than we do other books.
When we open God’s Word we are opening His love letter to His people. The gift of His Word is something we should never take for granted.
Developing the Habit of Reading the Bible and Prayer – A Heart Surrendered to Relationship
So how do we develop the spiritual habit of daily reading and prayer?
Pray to Avoid Distractions
We pray and ask the Lord to keep us from any and all distractions that keep us from spending that time with Him. It never fails! As soon as I sit down to study, my phone will ring or something will happen to pull me away.
We need to be proactive in eliminating distractions. Using a Bible reading plan can help you to keep focused on what you are planning to read that day during your Bible study time.
Alos, finding a quiet place is an important step toward praying with kavanah or intention.
Ask the Lord to Fill Your Heart
Ask the Lord to fill your heart with the desire to grow in your relationship with Him by reading the love letter, the books of the Bible He has given us and the Biblical narrative that so deeply shapes our faith.
As modern readers in a time when we, as a people, focus so much on how we "feel", often our "feelings" can sometimes get confused with our heart's leading so asking Him to keep the enemy at bay so that you can focus on God's leading and not on how you feel is the best way.
Find an accountability partner who can keep you on track. This can even be someone online, like in a Bible study Facebook group.
Life happens and when we are trying to follow good spiritual habits we can get side-railed. A good accountability partner will help you stay in relationship, which is so vitally important when life DOES get out of control.
Remember, do not rely on willpower to keep you going in this new spiritual habit! Stay accountable! Maybe use the same study Bible as your accountability partner or study group and read together and then you can study that key verse or verses together by looking at the meanings of words, other scripture references, etc.
A good study Bible is a great resource for partnered study time and can help you dig in deeper into the Word of God and they come in all kinds of different Bible translations.
This is especially useful when reading the prophetic books as they will help you to cross-reference them.
Make a Date With Him
Schedule your time so that you have a set time of day devoted to daily Bible reading, study and prayer!
One thing I have learned over time is that my day will VERY quickly get away from me if I am not careful about setting that time aside. So make a date with the Lord each day and keep that date!
You do not have to try to read the entire Bible in a certain timeframe! Start with what you are comfortable with and show up every day!
Consistency is key.
If you are wondering what book of the Bible to begin with, why not start at the beginning, with Genesis! Or start with another one of the books of the Old Testament if you're not quite ready for historical narrative or Torah! The Book of Psalms or Book of Proverbs is a good choice!
If you feel you really want to begin with the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, then start with the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of John as then move on to Matthew and Luke (I suggest reading Luke paired with Acts).
Sticky Note Challenges
Use sticky notes around your house!
Ok this may sound odd but it works. Recently our church did an all church study on habits and each week we had a sticky note challenge that went with that week's habit.
In Christian life, having those sticky notes around where you see them every day can go a long way in reminding you to take that time out for whatever spiritual discipline you are trying to instill in your life and make Jesus Christ the center of your day and make great choices about how we spend our time!
Find a good place to put them up so that you will see them every day, even multiple times a day! Then you will remember to open God's Word and see what He has to teach you or to stop and pray or do whatever it is you are trying to build into a spiritual habit.
Reading the Whole Bible – What Should You Use?
Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be done just by reading a physical Bible. You may choose to use your lunch hour to do your reading and it may just not be feasible for you to carry a Bible with you each day. You may ride a bike to work or walk and, while they DO make smaller Bibles, they often also have smaller print and if you are like me, it may be difficult to read.
So there are some other options for you when you cannot bring a physical Bible with you.
You can use a Bible app on your phone or tablet and read the Bible that way! The benefit to this is that you can easily switch translations and you can highlight and take notes. Blue Letter Bible is a great app, as is Bible Gateway and YouVersion Bible App. Just open God’s Word on your app and you’re ready to go!
If you CAN bring a physical Bible with you or keep one just for work, you can get a Bible cover so that you don’t have to worry about your Bible getting dirty or something spilling on it.
Reading the Bible and Other Spiritual Disciplines
We are in a heart relationship with the Lord so let’s not rely on willpower or our own mind to keep us growing in that relationship. The same way a couple makes dates to see each other and plans things together, we need to set those times aside for the Lord.
Any time you rely on willpower to keep you going, you risk falling away from that discipline because, let’s face it, discipline is NOT something we as humans are very good at!
But over time, as we work out our faith and develop those habits, we will find that we cannot stay away! We will crave that time with the Lord and that is how we know we have crossed from our minds to our hearts and we have made a substantial start!
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Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved