By Emily Miller
There is an old saying (said in several ways by various people):
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
We are creatures of habit; a word defined as “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior.” Your life is shaped by the small things you do every day. You know what you truly value by what you spend your time doing. You know what you really believe by what you live out every day.
“Your life is shaped by the small things you do every day.”
I tend to be a bit idealistic. When I was younger I had an idea that my ideal self was a soul with beautiful spiritual needs stuck in a sinful body with gross physical needs. I had an echo of an old heresy: Gnosticism. To over-simplify a complicated worldview: my flesh is bad, my spirit is good and my job is to deny what I like to do in order to do what I should do. I was missing the fact that both my body and my soul are made in the image of God, both my body and my soul are corrupted by sin, and Jesus redeemed, is sanctifying, and will resurrect my soul, body, and even this physical world.
With this idealism I demanded that my quiet time be either a euphoric spiritual experience or a terrible sacrifice as I forced myself to do what was good for my soul. I began to value self-denial and difficulty for the sake of self-denial and difficulty. I worshiped the process rather than the God Who uses such things to drive us to Him.
With this soul-good, body-bad mindset, my quiet time was supposed to be a terrible sacrifice, it was supposed to be miserable. In fact, the more miserable I was, the more I felt that I was doing the right thing, perhaps I was even doing God a favor.
In my pride, I would comfort myself with the fact that I loved God enough to sacrifice fifteen whole minutes of my precious time. I soon gave up on my initial desire to enjoy my time with God. I would see my wandering thoughts as attacks from Satan. I would see my exhaustion as proof that my soul was winning the battle with my body. I would rely on my effort rather than on God’s help.
“I would rely on my effort rather than on God’s help.”
As I got older (and slightly more humble), I realized that I am a holistic being. God made my body, soul, emotions, and mind and He wanted me to love Him with my body, soul, emotions and mind. He went to the cross not to suffer for sufferings sake but for the JOY of what His suffering would accomplish. As this sunk into my heart, I began seeing my Quiet Time as a gift to me rather than something I do for Christ’s benefit.
He is the One Who made me a pleasure-pursuing creature and He also made me a habit-forming creature. My desire comes and goes but my habits, once formed, dictate my smallest daily action. My actions eventually lead my affections back to what I am choosing to value. It takes a lot of will-power to form a habit but once a habit is formed it takes a lot of will-power to break that habit.
As with most things, my habits could be used as tools of rebellion against Him or they could be used to help me do all things to the glory of God. A bad habit is terribly destructive and a good habit is powerfully helpful.
I started seeing that habits weren’t less important than my spiritual convictions. Ideals that I never live out are meaningless compared to the daily patterns of my life and the daily patterns of my physical life are not beneath God’s interest. So my question became: “How do I love God with my habits?”
I had been attempting to have a Quiet Time motivated by pure idealism: “There’s Emily exhausted, groggy, and unfocused bravely reading through Leviticus at four in the morning because she should… what discipline!” Such idealism tends to last only as long as something is new. A few weeks into the New Year most of us will abandon the resolutions we hate and find an easier way to feel good about ourselves. Unless we enjoy or greatly value something, it will not become our habit.
“Unless we enjoy or greatly value something, it will not become our habit.”
So the first step was to really know why reading the Bible was valuable. For me that meant getting past any false idea of God loving me more because I read the Bible, getting over any self-satisfaction in my own effort, and getting down to my desperate need for God’s words to pour into my heart, shape my worldview and help me live in close relationship with Jesus.
Once I had that foundation, I started approaching my Bible study not as a spirit fighting against the needs of my body but as a whole person motivated by joy and trained by my habits. What would motivate me to have my Quiet Time every day and even begin to look forward to it? What was I doing that might be making my Quiet Time unnecessarily difficult?
I found that the only way I could be consistent with my Quiet Time was to do it first thing in the morning.
I found that eating before or during my Quiet Time made it very hard for me to focus.
I love coffee. So I made a rule that I could drink my first cup only at the start of my bible study. My desire for coffee is now used to remind me to spend time with Jesus.
I love candles. So I light a candle which helps create an atmosphere that invites me to sit and be quiet.
I love colors and pens and notebooks and I learn best by writing things out. So I have an obscene number of pens which I use to write out my prayers, verses, and notes.
I love variety. So I created my own system of people to pray for, ways to study, and things to do in the day (like praying, fasting from something, inviting someone over, writing a note etc.) that changes what I do every day.
“What was I doing that might be making my Quiet Time unnecessarily difficult?”
I let go of my idealism to the point where I treated myself as a dog that needed to be trained. Pavlov discovered that ringing a bell right before feeding a dog would cause the dog to begin salivating whenever a bell was rung. So I started setting up little routines to ready my mind and body to have my Quiet Time. I make coffee, get a glass of water, light a candle, open the curtains, arrange my stuff and – like Pavlov’s dog – my body and mind takes these as signals to sit still and focus.
In these ways, I started the process of trying to love God with my habits. For over five years now my Quiet Time has been the best part of my day, my thoughts rarely wander, and -instead of fifteen painful minutes of sheer effort- I easily spend two hours a morning reading the Bible out of sheer enjoyment.
Friend, you too have a way in which you were made that will help you love God with your habits. Maybe the evening is the best part of the day to reserve time with your Maker.
Maybe you learn best by reading out loud or listening to an audible Bible.
Maybe fifteen minutes is the best amount of time for your Quiet Time.
Maybe you need to eat while you read.
Maybe tea is more your cup than coffee.
Take the time and effort to figure yourself out and then intentionally find creative ways to form the daily habit of pursuing Jesus. You really won’t regret it.
Emily is a mother of two young children and has little time for much else. She began a daily quiet time at age thirteen, and her relationship with Jesus has remained a constant for Emily as she went from being a missionary kid in Mongolia, to working as a barista in Oregon, to marrying and starting a family in Florida. Emily enjoys writing poetry, dancing while doing housework, watching storms, and laughing at her husband, children, and herself.