The habits of spiritual transformation
Hang on to your Healing – with Good Habits
Did you know your mind begins transformation when you receive/believe the truth that sets you free? (Read 1st Cor. 2) But you must "hang on" to the truth by establishing new patterns of thought – which means new habits of thought and action.
Roy Godwin reminds us that “establishing godly habits is like taking new spiritual ground: it has to be fought for with God’s help, then fortified, then watched.”
Make sure you’ve got the fundamental truths: your soul is cleaned of its sin and imputed with righteousness, and God is at work in you to produce good, lasting fruit that will bring glory to Jesus. What’s more, is that you have been given access to the mind of Christ, understanding spiritual truths that the world doesn’t get.
Reading the Bible regularly brings strength to your renewed mind. Yet most of us are aware that there is resistance within our minds that causes us not always align with Christ as it should. That’s where inner healing can bring breakthroughs!
But the enemy of our souls will try and dispel the truth that inner healing – or simply reading and believing the Bible – brings. The new truths you learn takes some time to form solid neural pathways in the brain. That’s what happens when you form a new habit!
I have found that developing good habits which cultivate God’s grace in my life has gone a long way to transforming my heart and bearing good fruit. You probably already know that good habits develop good character, and this ultimately determines a good destiny.
Going deeper: Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
Can good habits really transform us internally that lead us to bear good fruit? While the Bible only hints at suggestions to fast, pray and meditate upon scripture, methods to form good habits has been at the forefront of Christian formation for centuries. Called “Spiritual disciplines”, these have seen a resurgence in Protestantism in the past few decades, and the most well-known book on the subject is Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline”.
Here Foster points out that there are the two types of disciplines Christians have practiced: one that tames the flesh and the other that which builds up the spirit. I believe both are necessary to get your spirit – aligned with the Holy Spirit – to dominate your soul – and when that happens you basically are on track on what St. Paul urged the readers of his letter to the Romans: live according to the Spirit. (see Romans chapter 6).
The ‘building up’ type still gets more press because they can seem like good deeds in themselves: reading the Bible, practicing hospitality, praying, giving financial help, etc. But the ‘taming the flesh’ type is more unpleasant to do and may seem unnecessary: fasting, silence, solitude, etc. Also, it has a publicity problem – for several reasons – and the first is that sometimes they have been taken to excess. Another issue is that some suppose it is a misguided attempt to either suppress or eradicate human nature. Here is where we can best explain the “magic” of habits.
An important teaching Jesus left us is that people act out what they really are – so it’s the internal life we must attend to. When your inside is good, you produce good fruit naturally. “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” Matthew 7:17
Jesus pointed out to Peter that human nature is weak – and despite Peter having great confidence in his ability to do the right thing because of his love and loyalty to Jesus, Peter learned in the Palace courtyard the great limitations of human will. Jesus never said it didn’t matter; rather, he mourned that fact. But this weakness changed for Peter and the disciples because of two reasons: one was that the Holy Spirit came and empowered them from within. But also is the fact is that the disciples began to practice fasting, prayer and very likely other disciplines too. This fulfilled Jesus’ explanation to other religious groups regarding why his disciples needed to wait before taking on fasting.
It is correct to protest that habits don’t make you a better person by practicing disciplines. For the fruit we are called to produce is actual good works that impact people with love – not things we do for ourselves. Yet disciplines are always intended as activities that enable you “to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done” as Dallas Willard keenly observed. So, you don’t need to let anyone know what you’re doing on those – which probably explains why it isn’t discussed much!
It simply works this way: the practice of the disciplines renders the flesh to take a second seat to the Spirit when you’re called upon to choose the right thing to do. By practicing silence, for example, you should find your internal hearing receptors are more acute to hear and obey the voice of God in a room full of people who spout off ungodly advice or challenge you to patiently endure an offensive story without chipping in your 2 cents worth that gets you into trouble.
Here are some ideas to start improving your habits for spiritual transformation:
Prayer – get up each day at an hour where you can spend 15 minutes totally uninterrupted before you start your day. Finish your day in the same way. Try for some point in the afternoon too. Also, get apps, books, and prayer partners to help you.
Bible reading – aim to read the equivalent of a chapter each day. Take a half-hour if you can. If your mind drifts, re-read it; ask God to show you something new; read it slowly; read the footnotes; take time to cross-reference. Have a journal nearby to write down thoughts that might be God speaking to you.
Silence and Solitude – different things that go together. How long can you stand being in an empty room? Don’t say anything to God or anybody. Of course, don’t even look at your device. Don’t write anything down unless you’re truly inspired or have to note down a job you just realized you must do. Try that for at least 15 minutes a day, and/or take it in 2-hour chunks each week.
Lately, I haven’t lengthened my prayer times; I’ve added more chunks, and that took some effort to fit them. But they had to be different and something exciting to my heart – something life-giving: so in my late afternoons I used my pray-as-you-go app that’s a gentle but nourishing 15 minutes of devotional time (of music, reflection, scripture, and prayer) that I can just hit the play button and soak it in. For the late morning I use my prayer cards gleaned from the Oxford Book of Prayer, and take just one and keep on praying it ever more slowly each day, such as this one:
"Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, the flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of your love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. St. Dimitrii of Rostov, 17th century."