Christian Life Essentials in 2021
“We made it!”
“We did it!”
“We survived 2020!”
These are phrases that have been said, typed, and Tweeted aplenty over the last few days. And it is a worthy consideration. 2020 was so trying that it has become a negative unit of measurement. It presented difficulty across a scope of issues, none of which are surprising any longer. COVID-19, concerns about race and justice, politics, and related subjects dominated our minds, conversations, news coverage, social media, and preaching. Yet, it breeds the need for thoughtful consideration and subsequently, the answering of a very important question. Both as a pastor and as a counselor, I have spent hours thinking about this venture. As such, I ask this question with great respect and consideration:
Why is it that so many Christians seemed to barely survive last year?
Upon these hours of reflection, there are a number of obvious answers to this. Yet, given that it is now 2021, I almost hesitate to outline them. Instead, what seems the most prudent and helpful is to equip our church body and all who may read this to ensure that they do not just survive 2021, but thrive in the faith, and application thereof!
To this, Pastor Steve preached the following the first Sunday of 2021:
“Romans 11:36 (ESV) says: ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.’”
This verse is an all-encompassing statement of God’s purpose for everything and in everything. It’s all from him, through him, and to him. “Him” is Jesus. It’s all for his glory. It’s all about Him.
This is really important. As Pastor Steve noted, and the Apostle Paul wrote, from [God], through [God], and to [God], 2020 came. He sovereignly foreordained, allowed, and was active within the last year. God was not unaware of it. His Word did not change to accommodate it. And yet, many Christians seemed to struggle in both spiritual and practical ways. Their faith wavered and was unsteady, or they were uncertain as to how best to apply the truths of the Bible to the circumstances they were faced with.
The men and women of our church ministry staff gathered to prayerfully consider this at great length throughout 2020. We desire for the whole of our church and beyond to stand unwavering, fully certain, and steadfast in God’s strength in the midst of an uncertain era. To that end, our goal in the fresh start provided to us by 2021 is to begin a process of equipping our church to be spiritually prepared for whatever comes next. Again, as Pastor Steve preached this past weekend, our faith is worked out in our actions. As such, we want to bolster your faith, in order that the action and application of biblical truth becomes increasingly natural, if not second nature.
Throughout this year, we are going to provide various opportunities to grow in what is sometimes referred to as “spiritual disciplines,” or what is more recently referred to as “habits of grace.” Specifically, this is referring to things like: focused Bible reading, intentional times of prayer, serving the community, fasting, and worship lived out as a lifestyle and not an activity. These habits, or disciplines, are the backbone to our Christ-centered faith. They are the daily mechanisms through which we have the ability and subsequent confidence to weather the storms of life as they come.
Consider this passage on the essentiality of the Bible alone:
“The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.”
This is to say nothing of Psalm 119:9, 105, Matthew 4:4, John 1:1, and Hebrews 4:12 (among a plethora of others). There are ample Scriptures that could be referenced for the significance of all of these Christian life essentials I mentioned above.
The above-referenced opportunities will include, but are not limited to, this month-long blog series on healthy spiritual habits in the month of January, various workshops outlining the necessity of these Christian life essentials and best practices in doing them both individually and as a family (more details on this in a few weeks), and opportunities to grow in community with others pursuing the same forms of growth!
Consider this blog the starting place. To that, I want to leave you with a single word that will be an essential for the success of this growth-venture in your life…
Habits are unconscious activities that are formed through repetition. But the thing about every habit is that it started as a conscious activity. It started with dedicated thought and followthrough. Nothing becomes a repeated pattern without intent and thought. It is intent and thought, repeated over time, that form unconscious, more natural and automatic, habits.
Habit expert, author, and professor Dr. Wendy Wood of the University of Southern California, LA, wrote of habits: “[Habits] form as we repeat actions over time. Habits form incrementally, slowly, through repetition.”1 She continues: “[Habits] start as things we choose to do. For example, you may have a goal of drinking more water, so for a few weeks you’re intentional about carrying a water bottle around your office and filling it up each time you leave a meeting. After a while, you no longer need to actively try to stay hydrated— you just do it.”2
For the Christian, this is how spiritual habits should be manifesting themselves in our lives. Let’s take Bible reading as an easy example. At first, dedicating time to read the Bible by yourself or with your family (think Family Month and gospelizing your family) might seem tough. It involves scheduling the time, the awkwardness of starting something new, figuring out what to read, and then repeatedly doing it. But in time, with a little thoughtful planning and dedicated repetition, much like the example above, “Bible time” eventually becomes second nature. And you just do it.
Now you might be thinking: “But Pastor Stephen, I have not done this for so long, I don’t want to look foolish or like a hypocrite in front of my husband/wife/family.” I completely understand. In fact, I respect this because in years past, that was me. I was embarrassed, if not ashamed, at my lack of leadership in leading my family in “family church.” And it took a hard conversation to make that right. I had to apologize to my family, tell them I was wrong, ask for their forgiveness, and ask for their help. This act of humility yielded the appropriate benefits. Now, years later, as the now-father of two kids with growing awareness, I don’t have to prompt them for our evening Bible and prayer time, they prompt me. It is a desired habit for all of us; simply apart of the routine of our day. Not taken for granted, but expected, if not desired!
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Can you imagine a lifestyle where Bible-reading, prayer, and spiritual acts of godliness are not a thing on the to-do list, but instead, a sought after, if not longed-for part of your daily routine? Bethelonian, it is not unattainable. And in 2021, it is our desire to grow with you in forming the habits to get there.
As we launch into this endeavor of developing healthy, gospelized disciplines as a part of our corporate life, the word I will encourage you to lead this effort with is “habits.” With repetition, habits become natural. Don’t get bogged down by a missed day. Instead, readjust, and keep going. God is not asking for perfection; he’s asking that your desire to grow in Jesus results in action. Let’s start strong, together, as a church family!
1 Dr. Wendy Wood as quoted by K. Rockwood, “The Power of Habits,” Real Simple: Special Edition – Finding Good Habits (2020), 6.
2 Ibid., 7.