Happy New Year! I remember coming into 2021 feeling like it would be different from 2020. 2020 was a brutal year: living during a pandemic, racial tension, political instability, and fighting. But, 2021 wasn’t all that different from 2020. Not many of us thought that when we flipped the calendar into 2022, we’d still be dealing with these same issues. I heard comedian Jim Gaffigan describe 2021 as “the blowout diaper right after you just changed your baby’s initial diaper.” If you are a parent, you can relate. We’ve all been there. It just feels like we are going from one mess to another to another again. Time to clean up again. When will we get a break?!
There’s good news, though. Even when outer circumstances don’t or won’t change, you still can change. And, furthermore, as a follower of Jesus, even when all things around you aren’t what they ought to be, you still can be calm in the midst of the chaos, a voice in the noise. Our faith in Jesus actually allows us to shine brighter in darker times.
As another New Year rolls around, many people are clinging to change and using their New Year’s Resolutions to spur that change on. Through tracking the resolutions that people made this year, research tells us most resolutions revolve around these three things: physical health, financial health, and relational health. I love the heart from which resolutions typically come. People are interested in their health and growth, and many times, resolutions come from the fact that people have noted something in their life needs to change.
Personally, I still want to grow, I still need to change, and I still desire to step more significantly into the calling that God has placed on my life.
But three years ago, I made a resolution to stop making resolutions. Why?
Resolutions aren’t effective.
According to Jon Acuff’s book Finish, 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail. Only 8% succeed. From a guy that loves numbers and statistics, this is simply not an effective strategy to life change.
I then searched to find what is more effective than resolutions. It’s essential if I ditched resolutions that I pick up something else.
So I picked up setting goals. I love setting goals. It gives me something to shoot for and helps me focus on what’s essential in becoming the person God has called me to be. I followed the S.M.A.R.T. (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) method and found some success. And even with goals that I didn’t fully accomplish, I would typically make some progress. Some would say not achieving a goal is a failure, but making progress towards most goals is still a net win.
But still, there were pieces of my life that I was desiring a change in that just having a goal on paper didn’t help me get to. I found that willpower, hard work, and grit are helpful at times in accomplishing goals, but not the long-term answer. In my search for bringing about life change, I stumbled upon something that truly helped change my life.
Are you ready?
Habits help us accomplish goals or resolutions in life. The 8% of those that find success in achieving their goals in life go beyond willpower and grit. They go beyond writing it on paper. They go beyond finding an accountability partner. Instead, they have found a way to instill a habit in their life that helps them become the person God has called them to be.
Research from Duke University shows us that 40% of the decisions we make every day aren’t actually decisions we make, but rather habits that we’ve formed.
If that’s the case, that means we are just on auto-pilot for about half of what we do in life. I have spent many years as a pastor trying to help people make significant decisions (and that’s important), but what’s just as important is to help everyone instill the proper habits because that puts us intentionally in a place where we automatically make the right decisions.
The last two years have been years that have forced change to our habits. When major disruption arrives, new habits and rhythms come shortly after. What habits did you create?
A new year represents a great time to form new habits.
Here are two imperative truths around habits that you need to know:
1: Keystone habits are real.
Keystone habits were introduced to us by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. Keystone habits are habits that unintentionally spill over into other areas of our lives. They are no more complicated to form than any other habits. Physical examples of keystone habits are making your bed, flossing your teeth, and exercising regularly.
Over the past three years, I have become physically healthier (dropped 30 pounds), become far more productive (even with more sleep), and most importantly, have grown in my relationship with Jesus. It all started with a single keystone habit: exercise daily.
As I began to exercise daily, I realized other areas of my life that I could grow in, especially spiritually.
2: Not all keystone habits are created equal.
I believe that no habits create a more significant domino effect in our lives than spiritual habits. This is because, ultimately, all of our doing in this world should effectively come out of our being in a relationship with God. If that’s true, then our primary focus in life should always be on growing in our relationship with God.
If everything in our lives flows from our spirit, we need to be very careful what spiritual habits we are performing or not performing.
How do we grow in our relationship with God? Look to Jesus. He is the only perfect person who has ever existed in a perfect relationship with God. Therefore, He is the ideal person we look to as our example in this world.
Even Jesus tells us this: Matthew 11:29: Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
Jesus is inviting us into a way of life where He leads, and we follow Him. The more we sit at his feet and learn from Him, the more we become like Him. The more His habits become our habits. And the more these habits will begin to feel like unforced rhythms of grace in our lives.
Listen to how Eugene Peterson summarizes Paul’s word to Timothy in 1 Peter 4:7-8: Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.
So what habits did Jesus have in his life?
After a thorough study of the Gospels, noting anytime that Jesus either practiced or taught on certain spiritual habits, I found what I believe are the five keystone habits of Jesus. Here they are:
1: Commit to Community
You can’t read any of the 4 Gospels in the New Testament without seeing that one of the very first things that Jesus does is choose His disciples. He committed to a community of like-minded people from the very beginning of His ministry.
The stories of Jesus choosing His disciples are found in Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 6, and John 1.
4, 1, 6, and 1.
In other words, very early on in the accounts of His ministry. I think if anyone could have gone alone and had great results in this world, it would be Jesus. Sometimes I even think His community held Him back. But Jesus commits to community. Why?
Because of this truth: You are not meant to be alone.
As we think about and explore the different keystone habits of Jesus, this one may not come to the top of many lists. In fact, many spiritual discipline lists will be more personal/individual things you can do. Still, I would argue that this habit of committing to community could just be one of the most important things to help you in your relationship with God. Because who your friends are, what they do, it matters in your life.
Dr. David McClelland, a social psychologist from Harvard, says the people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95% of your success or failure in life. 95%. That’s crazy!
Who you do life with typically dictates the type of person you are.
2: Study Scripture
There are about 80 instances of Jesus quoting Old Testament Scripture in the Gospels alone, so it’s clear that Jesus had a thorough understanding of the Scriptures. Listening to a Tim Keller sermon, he said that there are 1800 Bible verses where Jesus is speaking…those red letters in your Bible. 1800 verses. And 180 of them are Him quoting Scripture. 10%.
As we talk about habits, so many of the habits in our lives flow out of our identity. I’ve heard before this phrase: “Identity determines biography.” The most incredible place to discover who our God is and who you are is through the Scriptures.
Studying Scriptures allows us to see our true identity and form other keystone spiritual habits that will help us be the people God calls us.
3: Prioritize Prayer
The success of any relationship has to start with communication. Prayer is how we communicate with God.
As I studied the life of Jesus in the 4 Gospels of our New Testament, I found nearly 50 times that Jesus either practiced prayer or taught on the importance of prayer. Jesus is shown praying alone, praying in public, praying first thing in the morning, praying in the evening, praying before meals, before important decisions, before and after healings. In fact, in one place where Jesus was praying, there must have been some way in which Jesus was praying differently than the disciples, for they asked Jesus, “Teach us how to pray.” The disciples had certainly prayed before, but there was something about how Jesus communicated with God that was different.
James, the brother of Jesus, declares that if we are ever in need of wisdom, all we need to do is simply ask God, and He will give it to us.
These days that we are currently living in are really confusing. What if you could any time and any place receive the direction and wisdom of God? Prayer is a powerful tool that allows us to cry out to a God that will answer us.
4: Seek Solitude
Jesus sought or taught solitude nearly 40 times in the Gospels. He would seek solitude before making decisions and beginning hard work, and he would even seek solitude in the middle of his work and recharge after the work was completed. He spent 40 days in the wilderness before He began His 3-year ministry that would lead Him to the cross to be alone with God.
Not only is the world confusing, but it’s also very noisy. Solitude with God allows us to quiet the world’s noise down and listen to His voice. It’s one thing in this world to receive direction from God, but it’s hard to stay on the right path with all of the noise and distractions. Isn’t that why we need to do things like resolutions, goals, and habits in the first place?
When you spend time with God, He gives you a focus that can cut through all of the noise and chaos of this world.
5: Choose Church
Even though the church looks very different today than it did in the day in which Jesus lived, there are several verses, including Luke 21:37, that tell us Jesus gathered with those that would make up the church every single day. He not only attended church, but He used His gifts for the benefit of the church.
Though our church looks very different from the day in which Jesus lived, and though our churches today may look very different from one another, let us not give up the habit of meeting together. Our world is filled with bad news and depressing statistics all the time. When the church is done right, even though churches today look very different from one another, it is the consistent place where the Good News of Jesus is proclaimed. Whether you are gathering online or in-person in these crazy times, consistently surrounding yourself with the Good News of Jesus is simply one of the best choices you can make.
These 5 keystone habits of Jesus are the habits we are called to put in our lives. Which keystone habit will you improve this year?
I’ve written a complete 40-day challenge around these 5 keystone habits called Being Challenge.
If you are a pastor and want to help your people instill these habits in their lives, now is the time. Here’s a post on why the beginning of the year is an excellent time for a challenge like this!
The challenge includes FREE sermon manuscripts and videos, small group materials, kids curriculum, graphics package, etc. In addition, there are kid’s workbooks available to help kids learn how to BE with God. We’ve even created training videos for FREE for you to help you learn how to implement a 40-day challenge in your setting. Click here to view those videos.
Our team is happy to help you implement this well. And we have some incentive right now!
Our church packs are normally 10-40% off, plus you get up to hundreds of dollars of FREE Bonuses! But, any church packs ordered before January 15, 2022, will receive an extra 5% off. Email our team for your own unique coupon code that could save you hundreds of dollars.
If you have any questions, our team would be happy to serve you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get back to you! God bless you as you lead God’s church courageously in 2022!