Building Habits Together

I groaned as my alarm went off earlier than usual today. I am not a morning person, and I do not naturally roll out of bed chipper and eager. But we had fixed a time with a few friends to pray for an hour this morning, and so I did it. While I didn’t love the early wake up call, I am so grateful to have this habit back in my life. Because the past 18 months have had SO much displacement and disruption, I haven’t had some of the rhythms with others that had become constant for so many years. Finding these again has done so much to get legs under us again.

In the Christian life, we often talk about our personal spiritual disciplines. Well, at least we should be talking about them. Things like daily reading our Bible, praying, fasting… these are good and necessary habits.

In the business world, many excellent and insightful books have been written on the power of habits to impact company cultures and drive success. When we do something over and over again, it shapes who we are and what we do. In the church, we can glean much wisdom from these insights. However, I reject the notion that says, “Look! These things are successful in these awesome companies. Let’s use them in our churches too!” Reading scripture shows us that godward habits have been part of God’s gift to us as frail humans long before TED talks hit the scene.

I’m going to use the word “habit” and “discipline” interchangeably, referring to intentional activities we do in our lives on a regular basis.

And while I have read many helpful resources on spiritual disciplines we each can cultivate in our individual lives, I hear much less taught on corporate disciplines that help us grow. In the hard seasons, I think habits I have kept up with others have been most instrumental in keeping me moving forward toward Jesus.

Let me comment briefly on these two words:

“Corporate” (meaning “together”)

The Word points us to this in Hebrews when it says to “not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I do read my Bible every morning and pray on my own, but when I talk about it with others and pray together, it guards me from keeping my spiritual walk some private, isolated thing. It becomes woven into my family, my friends, my attitudes in the workplace. It often involves crying babies or interrupting kids. This morning, our prayer time looked like walking around our neighborhood while we prayed, so my friend’s sleeping baby would keep sleeping happily in the stroller.

Living in Asian cultures most of my adult life has also revealed blind spots that my American upbringing cherishes. We can tend to see communal events as designed to serve my individual growth. We say things like, “Sunday fills me up so I can face the week,” or “I’m looking for a church that can meet my needs.”

I get that these statements do have a degree of legitimacy to them (and yes, salvation is an individual event), but scripture describes the Christian life lived together way more than it describes it lived alone. I need to be doing this with others.

Disciplines done with others also happen to feel the hardest for me. Praying with others exposes me. Talking about how the Word intersects with my life and confessing sin and weakness to close friends requires a vulnerability that is often uncomfortable. Getting together with other people who also have kids is logistically complicated. But in the context of grace, even these hardships are sweet gifts. A word from a friend on a hard day often kicks my wayward heart back in the right direction.

“Disciplines” (or “habits”)

We also often talk about our worship gatherings primarily as “experiences.” Certainly we often can and do experience many things in a worship or Bible study gathering, but I don’t go to Sunday worship for the same reasons I would go to a concert or a movie. We do want to be active in receiving, worshipping, listening, repenting, remembering, giving, etc…. As we do these things, we develop well worn paths that keep us tethered to what is true and unchanging.

Words like “discipline” and “habits” make us kinda cringe a bit, but in an attempt to evade a ritualistic meaninglessness (which should be evaded!), we throw out the baby with the bath water. Throughout church history, liturgical calendars and repeated traditions have helped the saints rehearse and remember the truths of the gospel over and over.

These habits (or disciplines), however, are not the end goal in and of themselves. The goal of the Christian life is not to pray or read the Bible more. We aren’t aiming ultimately to be more prayerful people or biblically literate. Prayer and Bible literacy are necessary and good, but the goal is Jesus. We aim to know him, and these disciplines are a means of grace through which we know him and grow in him.

This should give us immense freedom from having to check boxes or perform. Miss a meeting with your Bible study circle? Did a sick child keep your mind distracted from praying all week? These things are not what justify you. If you are in Christ, you have already been declared righteous. We have courage to jump right back in, knowing that we are constantly reminding each other of these things and all need those constant reminders.

Some Basic Habits

Three specific habits come to mind that I seek to cultivate with others as we pursue Jesus together:

  • Praying together – At least weekly, a few of us gather to pray for our families, our individual struggles, our neighbors, and pressing needs. I have learned if someone ask for prayer to pray with them right then if at all possible. At times through the years, we’ve also fasted together for specific days or seasons. Last year, I came together with a group to lament together things that had been lost, and it was such a gift to share that grief together before the Lord.
  • Being in the Word together – Right now, this looks like meeting every other week with a group of ladies. We split our time into three parts: sharing how we’ve been, looking at a passage of scripture with some simple questions, praying for one another.
  • Church gathering – It is so good to sing songs that praise God and rehearse truth. We need teaching together from the elders of our various congregations. Something important happens when we gather to learn, confess, sing, and proclaim the good news to one another over and over again.

If you were to take a snapshot of any one of these things, they would look very ordinary. They rarely are accompanied by surges of powerful emotions or bullet points of “here’s what I learned today.” But over the years, they have made some well-worn paths that lead us together to Jesus.

I’ve been thinking for a whole month on one verse from Colossians our ladies talked about recently. It was one minute of our conversation, but that one minute gave me a concrete prayer to keep going back to for them.

It’s also worth noting that these things all happen in the context of our local church community and with people who are involved in my day to day life.

What “together” kind of disciplines have you found impactful? I pray that we continue to persevere together as we follow him.

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