Head Heart Hand
Over the past few weeks we’ve been studying Atomic Habits through the lens of a Christian worldview (see list of previous posts here). His approach to habits can be summed up in his four step analysis of good habit formation (to break bad habits, just do the opposite):
- The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
We’ve been primarily focused on the first these laws: Make it Obvious. Now we want to move to the second: Make it Attractive. As Clear puts it:
“If you want to increase the odds that a behavior will occur, then you need to make it attractive…Our goal is to make our habits irresistible.”
Various experiments with the neurotransmitter dopamine have helped us to better understand the role of desire in behavior. While previously scientists thought that dopamine was released only when we experienced pleasure (hence it being called the happy chemical), it’s recently been discovered that it’s also released when we anticipate pleasure.
“Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. And whenever dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act. It is the anticipation of reward–not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. Interestingly, the reward system that is activated in the brain when you receive a reward is the same system that is activated when you anticipate a reward” (106).
Which explains why looking forward to a vacation is often as enjoyable (if not more so) than the vacation!
In fact, our brain has far more neurons allocated for desiring pleasure (wanting) than for experiencing it (liking)! Scientists have discovered that 100% of the brain’s nucleus accumbens is activated during desiring pleasure, while only 10% is activated in experiencing pleasure. Clear’s conclusion:
“Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response” (107).
This all raises the question about whether or how God uses this system and these chemicals in regeneration and in spiritual formation. Does he simply override all of this in spiritual life and progress, or does he use it? Although in spiritual matters, God works primarily in the soul, to some extent he also uses the biological structures and systems he designed and created.
Consider, for example, how God uses the brain to reach the heart; he uses the physical part of us to reach the spiritual part. It also goes the other way in that the brain is involved in rendering spiritual obedience and worship to God.
So why would God not use the dopamine system for spiritual purposes as well? Let’s think this through a bit further in three areas.
Prior to regeneration, we have no desire for God. In other words, there is no dopamine spike when we hear about God or think about God. No matter how many external or internal cues there are (e.g. Christian witnessing, preaching, conscience), there is no spiritual craving produced. As a result, there is no response, no pursuit or seeking of God.
In regeneration, one of the things (not the only thing) God may do to bring us spiritually alive is to use our spiritual life to stimulate dopamine spikes when we hear about God or think about God. Where previously there was death in this system when it listened to sermons, now there is life (and dopamine). By God’s gracious and sovereign intervention, cues now create cravings.
Does God use dopamine to make us love what is holy and hate what is evil? Why not? When we were unconverted, we saw a sinful cue and our dopamine spiked with desire for the sin. But now, that chemical factory is dead and still (or, at least, is now “understaffed” and working only “part-time”). Whereas previously when we saw a cue for godliness, dopamine was dead, now, when we see someone or something holy, we desire it, we want it.
When we pray to hate sin and love holiness, does God perhaps answer that prayer by working through the soul to tamp down dopamine when faced with temptation and to amp it up when we are called to godly living?
Communion with God
The book of Psalms repeatedly connects longings and yearnings after God with spiritual joy (e.g. Ps. 63). The Song of Solomon is one long poem about the beauty of relational desire. John Piper highlights how, in Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis said that joy is the experience “of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction….[so that] any one who has experienced it will want it again,” something that he would not exchange for all the pleasures in the world. Or as Lewis put it in The Pilgrim’s Regress:
“The experience is one of intense longing. It is distinguished from other longings by two things. In the first place, though the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight. . . . This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth.”
Lewis calls this intense longing ‘joy’. Is it not possible that part of this is created and experienced through God’s use of our dopamine system?
In the light of the science, especially its alignment with biblical revelation and Christian experience, it’s fascinating to me that John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is all about Christian hedonism. Although Piper does not come at this subject from a physical or biological angle, the physical and biological angle confirms the connection between desiring and pleasure, and specifically desiring God and spiritual pleasure.
Now, let me raise some caveats to avoid misunderstanding. I’m not saying that physical processes are all that’s going on in a person’s spirituality. We must not reduce all that is spiritual to physical explanations. I am saying that at least this is going on. There is far more than dopamine in Christian desire and pleasure. But there’s at least some dopamine.
Neither am I saying there is no pleasure in actually finding God and in being godly (the response and reward steps of habit formation). Unlike purely physical habits, the habits of godliness not only have pleasure in the desire but in the response and in the reward too.
Lastly, will there be dopamine in heaven? Why not? We will still have bodies, though glorified. Is it not conceivable that part of our glorified bodies will be a glorified dopamine system that perfectly aligns with our perfect souls, and in turn perfectly aligns with Christ in his perfectly glorified body? The spiritual and the physical pleasure systems will work in perfect harmony forever!
3 Reasons We Don’t Preach Gospel-Centered Sermons
“It’s just a theory, but perhaps the reason so many preachers who read all the gospelly books and blogs, listen to all the gospelly podcasts, and follow all the gospelly Twitter accounts still struggle to preach gospelly sermons is because they are not in regular communion with the Christ who is the center.”
Has Your Child Been Looking at Bad Stuff Online?
Tim guides us through these painful discoveries.
How to Teach Your Teen to Study the Bible
“Most teens are missing basic tools to help them read and learn the Bible on their own. By guiding them in some basic study methods, you can position them to use devotional and topical material with far better discernment and far greater benefit, as those types of resources assume a firsthand knowledge of the Bible many teens have not yet developed.”
Better Late than Never – Thoughts on Deathbed Conversions
“In the last couple of weeks I have come across two men who professed faith just before their deaths, which has prompted me to think about the subject. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.”
How to Form a Christian Mind in a Digital World
Greg Bailey reviews a book containing much common grace wisdom.
How Anxiety Can Feed Anger, Irritability, and Frustration
“Physical or medical considerations notwithstanding, there is always something going on in our heart in relation to God at the time we experience anxiety. We are never fully passive, but our heart (the control center) is always active. It’s always choosing between the lesser and the greater. Martha chose her to do list over Jesus. When your anxiety is provoked, what do you chose?”
Announcing: A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible
Very much looking forward to this. Sign up to pre-order and receive bonus material.
3 Ways Churches Coddle KidZ and StudentZ
“They lament the unintended consequences of an over-protective culture that shields people from reality, ideas, diverse thinking, and risk. They wisely conclude that coddling hampers growth and development. Reading the book made me think about parenting, kid’s and student ministry, and the temptation to coddle. Here are three common ways churches can coddle the next generation – either unintentionally or intentionally.”
Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype by Michael S. Horton $2.99.
Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney $2.99.
18 Words: The most important words you will ever know by J I Packer $2.99.
Here’s a list of all the posts so far about James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. And there are more to come!
You started last year with a tankful of gas — overflowing with energy, motivation, joy, and optimism. Twelve months on, you were empty, running on fumes, joyless, and dreading the new year. You wonder if you can even go another day, far less another year. Three questions are on your mind:
What went wrong?
How can I get refueled for this year?
How do I make this year different than last year?
You may have had no control over some of the life events that drained you dry last year. Your gas tank was punctured by holes not of your own making: the loss of health, of a loved one, of a job, of your marriage, of a friendship, or of a dream. For many of us, though, our emptiness is of our own making. Either we forgot to keep refueling with God’s word and grace, thinking we can live by our own wisdom and strength, or we put multiple holes in our own tanks through our own choices.
What Went Wrong?
What choices puncture the gas tanks of our souls? Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to counsel many Christians whose gas tanks looked more like sieves. They had holed themselves repeatedly by their own lifestyle choices. These were not caused by life events they had no control over, but were the result of their own free decisions. The most common decisions that caused the most damage were sinful habits (especially pornography), excessive working hours, sleep deprivation, refusal of God’s gift of a weekly Sabbath, and technology addiction. Often they came as a package.
Whether you were drained by holes that resulted from events outside your control or by those you made yourself, the question is the same, How can I refuel, and regain the joy I lost? Before we try to refuel, we must at least attempt to repair the holes we made ourselves. There’s no point in putting premium joy-fuel into our tanks if it’s just going to run out unrepaired holes.
We can’t deny the laws of gravity or of our humanity. We cannot flourish if we continue in sinful habits, or if we fail to wisely steward our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships for God’s glory. Start welding these self-inflicted gashes with repentance for sin, with reduced working hours, with increased sleep, with a weekly Sabbath, and with a digital detox.
How Can I Refuel?
Assuming that repair work has begun, let’s now focus on the joy-fuel that God has provided to reenergize us for the new year.
Read the rest of this article at the Desiring God website.
“I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.” James Clear, Atomic Habits, (94).
That’s pretty blunt isn’t it! He explains his conclusion in a chapter entitled, “The Secret to Self Control”:
“You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while. And that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy” (94).
That’s pretty hopeless isn’t it!
A Reason for Hope
But it’s not. First, because, even if it’s true that bad habit grooves are engraved in our minds, we can often change our negative environment. Clear highlights research into the people who appear to be the most self-disciplined and self-controlled. Their secret?
It turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations” (92-3).
That gives us all hope doesn’t it?
“The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. So, yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment” (93).
The secret to self-control, says Clear is, “Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible” (95). And the Christian does this, of course, in dependence upon God for guidance and decisiveness.
A Second Reason for Hope
But there’s a second reason for hope, and that is Romans 12v2: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
As other science has confirmed, our brains are remarkably “plastic” and can be re-wired, re-grooved, or renewed not only by psychological training but by spiritual training. And if anyone has reason to hope here, it’s Christians. After eleven chapters of filling the mind with the most sublime truths, the Apostle Paul says his great point is mind transformation and the great aim is proving, or demonstrating in practical ways, what God’s good will is for us in this world.
This doesn’t guarantee that God will eradicate all the old grooves of sinful habits. He may leave some traces of these to remind us of our past, to humble us, and to keep us dependent upon him for daily deliverance. But it does mean that as we absorb and imbibe God’s truth, we can expect not just internal but external transformation.
The secret to self-control, therefore, is truth-control.
One of my mentors sets apart a special chair for personal devotions. He told me that when he goes to his study every morning to read his Bible and pray, he always does it in a chair that he reserves for that purpose.
He found that if he sat in his desk chair, his mind was distracted and pulled towards the work that he had to do that day. He could get no peace to settle on seeking the Lord for his own soul. He therefore got an armchair for his study and always uses that for the one purpose of personal devotions.
This means that when he sits in that chair every day, all the sensory cues prompt him to get into personal devotions mode. There’s no internal argument or discussion. The chair “automatically” puts him in the mood and mind for this indispensable foundation of personal spirituality and ministry faithfulness.
I’ve also found this to be true in my own spiritual life and I’ve usually had my own “personal devotions chair” (or sofa) in my study. My personal devotional life is always much better when I’m at home and in my routine, but it’s much more of a struggle when I travel or go on vacation.
I’d never fully understood this until I came across James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. He explains how “over time our habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior” (87). He goes on:
“We mentally assign our habits to the locations in which they occur: the home, the office, the gym. Each location develops a connection to certain habits and routines. You establish a particular relationship with the objects on your desk, the items on your kitchen counter, the things in your bedroom.” (87)
The implication is clear; we can train ourselves to link a particular habit with a particular context.
“Habits thrive under predictable circumstances like these. Focus comes automatically when you are sitting at your work desk. Relaxation is easier when you are in a space designed for that purpose. Sleep comes quickly when it is the only thing that happens in your bedroom. If you want behaviors that are stable and predictable, you need an environment that is stable and predictable. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.” (90)
Let me give you an example from the ministry. The same mentor who has his “personal devotions chair” also encouraged me to think of my study as a sanctuary, as a tabernacle in which I meet with God and work for God.
As I was thinking about this again recently, I realized that, over time, I had moved away from this principle and that I was also now using my office to read the news, check social media, book vacation flights, and so on. Not like for hours and hours but even just 5-10 minutes a day (and during my break times!).
However, I feared that this had changed my mood and mindset somewhat when I was working in my study. It was no longer a place exclusively dedicated to being with God and working for God. It was no longer a tabernacle. It was now a contextual mixture of cues. I, therefore, used Covenant Eyes to block access to these sites on my work computer, and now only do these things at home, usually using my home iPad
The result was an almost immediate change in my mindset and spirituality when at work. I am not only more productive, but I believe I am closer to the Lord. When I enter my office or open my computer now, the environmental cues are all saying, “David, you are entering a tabernacle, a sanctuary, and the presence of God.” That changes me and my work.
Did you know that the human body has about eleven million sensory receptors and that about ten million of them are dedicated to sight? That gives a whole new meaning to Jesus’s teaching that, “The light of the body is the eye” (Matt. 6:22). By some estimates, half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to vision.
What we see, therefore, is a huge influencer of what we do and what we are. That’s why James Clear devotes so much time in his book, Atomic Habits, to the importance of filling our environment with productive cues and removing unproductive ones. He urges conscious attention to redesigning our environment for our good:
“Environment design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it. Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative ones. Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.” (87)
Clear is primarily concerned with behavior. As Christians, we also want to focus on thoughts and desires. We want to redesign our environment and control what we see in order to maximize good thoughts and desires and minimize evil ones. That may even require us to flee from certain environments and find newer healthier ones.
This isn’t an argument for Pharisaical separation—the Lord can keep us and our eyes even in the midst of multiple tempting visual cues. However, it is a warning to recognize the power of our environment and the influence of our eyes.
And, if we are unavoidably in environments which contain multiple cues to sin, this must prompt us to pray for the Lord to intervene between our eyes and our minds/hearts; to place an obstacle between what we see and what we desire. Otherwise our minds and hearts will be overwhelmed with fighting for purity and peace, and we will inevitably and eventually cave.
But let’s think about this more positively as well. It’s not just, “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness,” it’s also, “If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22-23).
That should encourage us to feed our 10 million visual receptors with all that is true, and beautiful, and good. That may be the true, beautiful, and good words of God. Or it may be the true, beautiful, and good people of God. Or it may be the true, beautiful, and good worship of God. Or it may be the true, beautiful, and good creation of God.
Let’s change or re-design our environment and flood our eyes with light. Then our whole bodies will be full of light!
I’m teaching a Doctor of Ministry course this week at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, so the Check out posts may be a bit sporadic.
5 Actions a Counselor Can Take In-Between Meetings: The Counselor’s Homework
“In biblical counseling, we often talk about the pastor/counselor collaborating with the counselee to develop “homework” assignments for the counselee. What can the counselee do in-between sessions to keep the change going? However, we much less frequently discuss the counselor’s homework. What could we be doing in-between counseling meetings with a counselee in order to prepare for our next session with them? Here are five activities I engage in the week in-between meetings to prepare for an upcoming counseling meeting”
Homeschooling Parents in Germany Lose Right to Educate Their Children
“A European court ruled that German authorities are allowed to forcibly remove children from their home if the parents homeschool. Could that happen in the United States?”
What Is the Opposite of Homosexuality? Why Marriage Is Not My Mission
“Holy sexuality consists of only two paths: chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage — as defined by God to be between a husband and his wife. Chastity is more than simply abstention from extramarital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity in marriage and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”
What Has the Lord Been Teaching You From His Word? – Tim Challies
“Earlier in the week, eager to be encouraged, I put this question out to Twitter: What has the Lord been teaching you from his Word recently? The responses were quick, plentiful, and encouraging. Here are a few of them.”
I Lost Mom, but I’ll Never Lose the Church
“It’s not hard to find articles pointing out the church’s shortcomings. Our reading streams are inundated with digital fingers pointing out her stains and failures. And yes, the church is frail and frequently falls short of her calling. Yet in all her missteps and imperfections, she met me in my sorrow, and she was exactly what I needed.
It doesn’t get any better than this. Three Greidanus books for $12!
Preaching Christ from Daniel $3.99.
There are holy habits and there are unholy habits. How do we tell the difference? Usually it’s pretty obvious, but sometimes there may be uncertainty. How can we tell if a particular habit is good or bad.
In Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, James Clear proposes a question to help us classify our habits.
“Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?” Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.” (65)
From a secular perspective, this is helpful advice. Obviously there’s going to be discord and dissonance if a person’s habits conflict with their actual or desired identity.
From a Christian perspective also, it’s helpful to ask whether our habits conflict with our Christian identity. Do they cast a vote for or against our identity? Do we turn from those that don’t and to those which do?
But, as Christians, we also want to insist that both our identity and our habits are defined by a source external to ourselves. We don’t just make up our identity and then choose habits which work with rather than against that. And we don’t just decide what habits we want and then form an identity from them.
Rather, for the Christian, the Bible is the ultimate source of both our identity and the decision about what is a good or bad habit. And we can be sure that whatever habits God commends in his Word will be consistent and harmonious with our God-given identity. This removes a lot of the guess work and also builds a clear and strong identity. We can say:
God gives the Christian a clear identity in Christ and clear guidance on what is good and bad. When this identity is embraced and this guidance is followed, they will not only multiply each other, but will produce unparalleled inner coherence, harmony, security, and peace.
3 Reasons to Study the Biblical Geography of Israel
Having visited Israel for the first time last year, I can Amen this article
“When we don’t know the land, we don’t really know the whole story. It’s like watching a play without a backdrop or props. Geography drops you right in the middle of the setting of God’s grand narrative and brings it to life. Here are three specific benefits of studying biblical geography.”
5 Leadership Practices Churches Should Adopt From Chick-fil-A
Mark Miller, vice president of high performance leadership for Chick-fil-A, recently addressed a group of pastors and denominational leaders at LifeWay’s Church Partners Summit. Based on his decades-long career at the successful franchise, here are five pieces of advice he gave on how to create an environment where existing and emerging leaders can flourish.
Shelter in the Shame Storm
“Helen Andrews’s essay on online shaming, featuring in the forthcoming January issue of First Things, is the kind of piece that can genuinely change readers. It is a stunningly powerful meditation that is simultaneously personal and sweeping. I can’t even choose a passage to excerpt without feeling like I’m under-representing the quality of writing, so please; if you haven’t read it, stop reading this blog and go read Helen’s essay.”
Church Planter, Redefine Success and Seek Emotional Health
“”Can you brothers pray for me? I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally depleted from pushing all week despite being sick. I’m so discouraged I don’t even want to go to our gathering today, let alone preach.” This was a text I sent a few dear brothers several weeks ago. Gripped by anxiety and physically zapped, I sat in my car and sobbed uncontrollably an hour before our worship gathering began. I’d hit a wall. Most church-planting training doesn’t prepare you for these moments.”
The Art of Dying
I love the moving story at the heart of this article.
A Sympathy for Empathy
Good to see Reformed writers exploring the emotions more:
“May we who know the Lord Jesus mature in our faith such that we are willing to draw close to the heart of the one who’s come so close to us. May we take advantage of the means God has given us toward that end. May we have open eyes and hearts to every image-bearer bearing the pains of life in a fallen world, and understand and experience with greater empathy the healing, life-saving work uniquely accomplished in this world by the Word incarnate, the only begotten son of God. ”
An Open Letter to the Student at the Start of a New Semester
“How do we faithfully approach a new semester as Christian students? How do we steward our studies well and honor Christ without idolizing this vocation?”
Let’s quit brainwashing kids that it’s a college degree or nothing | Chicago Sun-Times“I’ve recently read through a few books to study the topic of stewardship. In the process of reading about the use of time, I was helped by a few resources. I’ll share them below with a brief explanation.”
Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?
When liberals start warning about pot use, it’s time to be really worried. And here’s another at Mother Jones: This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.
The Strength of Waiting
“2019 just might be another year of waiting for you. As you ride in the passenger’s seat of life, practice the secret of strength and rehearse the promises of God. You will not be ashamed. God will renew your weary soul with an enduring strength you thought impossible. He will show you more of Himself. And He will powerfully act on your behalf in the perfect time and with the perfect means.”
Improving Sleep Quality: How is Sleep Quality Calculated?
“It’s no surprise that the amount of sleep you get plays a role in determining your overall health. However, it’s not as simple as assuming that if you were in bed for 8 hours, your sleep is having a positive impact. The quality of that shut-eye also plays a role in a person’s wellbeing; in fact, sleep quality relates more strongly to overall health than sleep quantity. To measure your sleep quality , consider these questions related to the way you fall asleep and how often you wake up during the night. ”
How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation
Long but important article that helps to explain the epidemic of anxiety and depression among younger people.
Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes by Nancy Pearcey $0.79.
The Privilege, Promise, Power & Peril of Doctrinal Preaching by Thomas J. Nettles $1.99
If we want to increase our success in forming good habits and breaking bad ones, we need a specific plan about the what and the where. As yesterday’s article explained, the key sentence to complete is:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
But if you want to move from the Bachelor’s to the Master’s level of habit change, you need to use what James Clear calls habit stacking. He explains,
“Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit” (74).
The habit stacking formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
In other words, it’s using the existence and practice of a current habit to cue a new habit. Using yesterday’s examples, it might look something like this:
- After showering, I will read my Bible in my bedroom.
- After supper on Saturday evening, I will pray for my pastor.
- After getting home from church on Sunday, I will teach my children the Shorter Catechism for 30 minutes.
- After getting into bed, I will read for 30 minutes.
The secret is to use something you do anyway to cue the desired behavior. Here are some examples from Clear’s book:
- Exercise. When I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of using the elevator.
- Social skills. When I walk into a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet.
- Finances. When I want to buy something over $100, I will wait twenty-four hours before purchasing.
- Healthy eating. When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first.
- Minimalism. When I buy a new item, I will give something away. (“One in, one out.”)
- Mood. When the phone rings, I will take one deep breath and smile before answering.
- Forgetfulness. When I leave a public place, I will check the table and chairs to make sure I don’t leave anything behind. (77)
Get the idea? The key is to identify your current habits and then choose the right habit upon which to stack another habit.
Once the new behavior is established, it can be used to cue another habit, and so the momentum and the stack grows. Think of how many blessed stacks and chains of spiritual habits could be formed with this method.
Postpartum Depression and the Christian
“In some women, however, despair lingers and takes root. Up to 13 percent of mothers suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), which the American Psychiatric Association defines as an episode of major depression during pregnancy or within four weeks following delivery (although many clinicians make the diagnosis within a year postpartum). The effects of clinical depression, heavy on the heart under any circumstance, can prove especially shattering when heaped on top of the strains and expectations of motherhood. ”
Why You Can’t Think Straight When You’re Sleep Deprived
“Sleep deprivation… disrupts levels of chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol, that affect thought, mood, and energy. leaves key areas of the brain in an “always on” state of activation. activates genes that interfere with optimal brain activity.”
American Psychological Association Claims ‘Traditional Masculinity’ Is ‘Psychologically Harmful’
“An influential psychological organization claims that “traditional masculinity” can be psychologically harmful. But in criticizing masculinity they reveal the danger of androgyny.”
How Biblical Doctrine Makes Us Beautiful
“The Reformation was intimately tied to beauty, goodness, and human flourishing because the Reformers were seeing—through Scripture—God’s glory shine. And as God’s glory is made known, it’s in that light that we are saved. It’s in that light of God’s glory that human lives flourish. It’s in seeing the beauty, goodness, and the truth of God that we come more fully alive. ”
Mental Illness and the Church
“These issues can feel overwhelming, but they are an important part of loving the people we serve well. We should be committed to seeking out the best training we have access to so that we may love people in truth. Let’s intentionally seek out ways we can be more effective hands and feet to those struggling with mental illness in our communities.”
Only one book today but well worth getting.
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method by Sidney Greidanus $3.99.
Three groups of people were given the following instructions:
Group One: Track how often you exercise.
Group Two: Track workouts and read articles on the benefits of exercise.
Group Three: Track workouts, read articles on the benefits of exercise, and formulate a plan for when and where you will exercise the following week.
Which of the three groups got fitter? Here are the results as reported in James Clear’s Atomic Habits:
- Group One: 35-38% exercised at least once per week.
- Group Two: 35-38% exercised at least once per week
- Group Three: 91% exercised once per week.
The third group had more than twice the success of the other two groups. A plan for implementation is clearly essential for habit change.
The third group were helped towards implementation by completing the following sentence:
“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
The implementation plan includes two key details: the when and the what, when and where to act. The general format is:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Clear comments: “The punch line is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through” (70-71).
So, if you want to change habits you need more than: “I’m going to read my Bible more often,” or “I’m going to keep in touch with friends this year,” or “I’m going to pray for my pastor,” or I’m going to love my wife better,” or “I’m going to get my children to learn the Shorter Catechism,” or “I’m going to read more.”
If that’s all you’ve got, you’ve got a 35% chance of success. Want to almost guarantee it?
- I will read my Bible at 6.30am every morning in my bedroom.
- I will meet with a friend for breakfast every Friday morning at 7am.
- I will pray for my pastor every Saturday evening at 9pm.
- I will dedicate every Friday evening entirely to my wife.
- I will teach my children the Shorter Catechism every Sunday at 12 noon for 30 minutes.
- I will read a book every evening from 9.30pm to 10 pm.
Obviously the Christian will want to add (D.V.) to each of these plans, but James 4:15 is no warrant for failing to plan. As Clear says, “Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.”
Another benefit of such clear implementation plans is that we can more easily say no to whatever might hinder our progress. Clear again: “We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead” (72).
With the Lord’s blessing and help, I would hope we can get the success figure up to 100%.
Toward a More Meditative Life
“We do not live in a time that encourages quietness and meditation. As Thomas Friedman, columnist for the The New York Times, said, “We have gone from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Age of Interruption.” Indeed, we live with the constant interruptions of beeps, blinks, and buzzes. They tell us now the average American spends more than half their days in front of a screen. We are not just interrupted; we are self-interrupted.”
May His Cancer Heal Millions: The Grandeur and Grief in Losing Tyler
Tyler Trent’s pastor reflects on his life and death.
Urban Meyer, Oswald Sanders, and the Pain Leadership Can Bring Your Family
“I’m done. I want him to be done.” I have heard this statement and similar statement from the spouses of leaders for years. I don’t know Urban and Shelly Meyer but I understand the pain of leadership, and know that impacts more than the leader.”
Systematic Theology Review
“Below you’ll find my brief evaluation of several systematic theologies, with the reading level noted for each (Beginner, Medium, Hard). I’ll start with my three favorites and then move on to the others in a few different categories.”
Reflecting on Social Media: Some Tips to Navigate this Medium
“Social media has changed, and we must change with it, especially if we are seeing that it has any negative implications in our lives.”
Life and Ministry with Conrad Mbewe (New Podcast Episode)
In this episode, special guest Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia discusses his conversion, calling, formative influences, and ministry with Brian and Jim. Conrad Mbewe has been referred to as “The African Spurgeon” because of his powerful preaching and zeal to raise up and train others throughout Africa for pastoral ministry.
Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert $2.99.
Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by R. Kent Hughes $2.99.
Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age by Erik Raymond $3.99.
Where Is Jesus in the Old Testament?
“Jesus unites the Bible. He is not absent from the Old Testament, sitting on the bench, awaiting his fourth quarter winning play. He is the player-coach-manager directing all things. Throughout the Old Testament, he is the one and only Mediator of God Most High, marching purposefully toward his own incarnation. Jesus is Lord. He always has been.”
And here’s a good example of this in Robert Rothwell’s article, David’s Son.
Teach Your Teen How to Read Their Bible
Jen Wilkin: “Your teen will be exposed to devotional content and topical studies at every turn, and they likely don’t need a resource that is targeted specifically at their demographic. What most are missing are basic tools to help them read and learn the Bible on their own. By guiding them in some basic study methods, you can position them to use devotional and topical material with far better discernment and far greater benefit, as those types of resources assume a first-hand knowledge of the Bible that many teens have not yet developed. Here is a simple approach that you can adapt to fit the age of your teen:”
How to Develop a Personal Growth Plan as a Pastor
“If you want to grow, you need a plan and the fortitude to see that plan through. So let’s develop a personal growth plan. Together.”
What Made #TylerStrong?
This from Tyler Trent’s pastor:
“Tyler Trent, who died this week at age 20, captivated the sports world and the nation after ESPN told his story. Tyler’s four-year battle with cancer and his indomitable perspective were inspiring….His inspiring battle led to awards, trips to bowl games, interviews on TV and radio, and calls from the vice president. He wrote a book. The gravitational pull of Tyler’s winsome spirit, his interest in others, and his unflappable courage attracted fans from all walks of life. It wasn’t hard to enter Tyler’s orbit. People marveled at his attitude and wondered, How is he so strong? As Tyler’s pastor for 10 years, I can tell you. It’s simple but profound: Tyler loved Jesus. That’s it. And it made him #TylerStrong.”
David Platt Drops 50-point Sermon from Revelation at CROSS Conference
I haven’t watched this, but the points are beautiful. There are 48 characteristics of Jesus and a pair of exhortations.
Love and Anger at the Cross?
I agree with Nick’s take on this:
“It is right for us to both affirm that the Father never stopped loving the Son when he hung on the cross and that the Father was justly angry with the Son “because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained.”Kindle Books
The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott $2.99.
The Son of God and the New Creation by Graeme Goldsworthy $3.99.
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxes $1.99.
If you want to increase godly habits in your life, increase godly cues in your life. If you want to decrease ungodly habits, decrease ungodly cues.
A cue is a trigger, a stimulus, that spurs your brain to initiate a behavior. For example, if you see your running shoes at the door, your brain will suggest going for a run. If you keep a water bottle beside you, you will want to keep more hydrated. Or, negatively, if you see a cookie, your brain will convince you that you are hungry and must eat. If you walk down the candy aisle at the store, you will crave sugar.
The “cue” is the first step in James Clear’s four-stage analysis of habit formation. He asks, How do we create a good habit? He answers, Make the good cue obvious. How do we break a bad habit? Make the bad cue invisible.
When it comes to sanctification, many of us fail because we focus our efforts on the second step (fighting the craving that results from the cue), or on the third step (stopping the response to the craving). Clear’s book calls us to begin the battle at the first step, the cue or the trigger.
So let me suggest some samples of good cues that will help trigger desires for godliness and then some samples of bad cues that we can remove to avoid cravings for sin.
Cues for Starting Good Habits
1. Place a Bible beside your bed to trigger craving for God’s Word.
2. Listen to sermons rather than talk radio to trigger craving for peace rather than hate.
3. Buy Thank You notes to trigger desires to thank people in your life.
4. Read missionary books to trigger prayer for missionaries.
5. Surround yourself with godly friends to trigger longings for holiness.
6. Listen to testimonies of conversions to stimulate passion for evangelism.
7. Converse about heaven to cultivate longing for things above not things below.
8. Go to church to fire up your longing for God’s presence.
9. Wear a Fitbit to boost your commitment to stewarding the temple of the Holy Spirit.
10. Talk to an unconverted friend or family member to stimulate evangelism and prayer.
Hiding Cues that Provoke Bad Habits
1. Cancel cable news if you are inclined to anxiety.
2. Avoid car magazines and showrooms if you don’t want to covet cars.
3. Don’t walk along the beach in summer if you want to stifle lust.
4. Install covenant eyes if you don’t want to see porn.
5. Avoid bad news if you have a tendency to depression.
6. Don’t sit with people drinking alcohol if you want to stop longings for it.
7. Remove email and social media from your phone if you are not “present” when you are at home.
8. Don’t take your phone into the bedroom if you want to seek God rather than the Internet when you wake up.
9. Stop following the NFL if you want to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
10. Don’t listen to bad language if you want to keep your own mouth clean.
Make the Unconscious Conscious
When it comes to sinful habits, there is always a cue. We may feel like the craving and desiring begins without a cue, but that is never the case. If we can’t identify it, we need to pray that God would reveal it to us, that he would make the unconscious conscious. As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Of course, sometimes the cue comes from our own sinful heart and mind; we don’t need an external trigger to make us desire evil. That’s why the ultimate action to create good cues and remove bad cues is the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”
Disowned for Jesus | Desiring God
A stirring testimony:
“When I left Islam to follow Jesus, I didn’t know what it would cost me. I hadn’t realized what it would take to deny myself, lay my life down, and take up my cross (Matthew 16:24). I wasn’t aware that even the precious relationships of my family should not come between me and following Christ — that I should even hate my family compared to my love for Jesus (Luke 14:26).”
Designed for smiling
“Happiness seems to be hard-wired into us. We are designed to smile, and made for joy. We are born that way, live longer that way, and prosper that way. And that’s exactly what the Bible says—we are made for joy. God is, in his three-fold existence, uniquely joy-filled. We are made by Him to know Him, and in knowing Him to enjoy joy.”
On Getting & Keeping Masculine Men in Church
This and the next article are by the same author. An extremely important subject:
“One of the things I’m grateful for over my 30 plus years of ministry is I’ve had a lot of good men in my churches. Getting them into church and keeping them there hasn’t been a big problem for me. I’d say my congregations have been roughly split, 50/50 between men and women. From all I’ve seen and heard, that’s unusual. And it isn’t just the result of belonging to a particular denomination, or holding to a particular theology. In two of the churches I formerly served my successors managed to drive the men out and return the ratios to something more like the norm–70/30 favoring women.”
“Everybody wants to reach the upper east side of Manhattan with all those artists and stockbrokers. And we should try to reach those folks. But you know what? Prioritizing those people at the expense of these men leads to bubbleization. And I know too many bubble-boy church planters who look more like Resnikoff than the Apostle Paul. Paul knew how to work with his hands. I suspect Paul wouldn’t have needed to call a plumber, even though he’d likely have known several personally.”
Five Ways to Be a More Effective Leader in 2019
“Five ways I think all of us can be more effective and Christ-honoring as we begin our leadership service this year. I hope these will provide you some food for thought as you reflect on where God has you and who he has under your care.”
Shepherds Gone Astray
“The very nature of the pastorate is being intentionally overhauled and the “new” worldly paradigm does not look much different from that which God condemned in the Old Testament.”
Wine, Women, and Social Anxiety: Helping Women Who Use Alcohol to Inoculate Fear
“Maybe you live in mortal terror of the mandatory office party, church fellowship, or bridal shower. You want to escape, hide, and forget. You don’t want to be drunk; you just want to shave off anxiety’s edge with a glass (or two) of pre-event wine. If you’ve ever tried to inoculate fear with alcohol, you’re not alone. Women are consuming alcohol at record-high rates and often drink to tame anxiety in social settings. How does the gospel speak to social anxiety? How does Christ offer freedom to vice-burdened hearts?”
The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word by R. C. Sproul $0.99.
The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D. A. Carson $1.99.
Find it hard to start good habits? Find it even harder to stop bad habits? Yeh, me too. So we just need to try harder don’t we? But what does that actually mean? What do we actually do? What steps should we take?
The core of James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, is a four-step analysis of how habits are formed (and broken). It’s an extremely important cycle to understand not only for our own sanctification, but also if we are involved in counseling people away from bad habits and towards good habits.
Step 1: Cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward and therefore leads to a craving. (47-8)
Step 2: Craving. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. (48)
Step 3: Response. This is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. 48-9
Step 4: Reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy our craving and (2) they teach us…which actions are worth remembering in the future. Hence a habit is created.
In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. (50-51)
Having analyzed the four steps of habit creation, Clear then suggests four laws of habit creation and four laws for breaking bad habits.
How to create a good habit
- The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
So, if you want to start a good habit at the beginning of 2019 ask yourself: How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying? (54). Ask the same questions if you are counseling someone towards better habits with food, money, technology, etc.
How to Break a Bad Habit
- Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
- Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
- Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
- Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying. (54)
As above with good habits, ask yourself regarding bad habits: How can I make it invisible? How can I make it unattractive? How can I make it difficult? and How can I make it unsatisfying?
Anyone with a sound biblical worldview can find many ways to “Christianize” each of these steps and can find many biblical and spiritual resources to enhance each step of good habit formation and to effectively break bad habits. Christians should therefore be far better at breaking bad habits and starting good ones than non-Christians.
Too often, we simply tell ourselves or others, “Just try harder.” But neither we nor they know where to start or what to do. What Clear does is identify the specific areas in which to focus our attention and therefore the specific questions to ask and the specific work required. In the following chapters, each of these steps is examined in more detail. We’ll follow Clear’s structure in further blog posts, suggesting ways that Christians can learn from him and improve upon him.
What the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’ Says About Young Adults in Your Church
“The networking website LinkedIn found that 75 percent of 25- to 33-year-olds report having a quarter-life crisis. I’m one of them.”
Great to see Desiring God tackling this weighty subject, and none better to do so than the wisest and most compassionate counselor I’ve ever met, Dr. Eric Johnson.
“About one in ten people suffers from a personality disorder, a deeply ingrained, long-standing dysfunction that forms part of the structure of someone’s personality. Although people with personality disorders often struggle to find long-term healing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, communicated by skilled counselors and patient friends, provides unique therapeutic resources that can, over time, bind up the most broken personalities.”
How Total Depravity Changed My Life
“Only through total depravity do the beauties of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints come into their full glory. Only through understanding how indebted we are in Adam do we ever even begin to perceive how deeply loved we are in Christ.”
Caring for a Friend with a History of Promiscuity and/or Abortion
Brad Hambrick tackles the question: “What does the process of redemption and restoration look like for a person scarred by a past that includes multiple sex partners and abortions?”
Diverse Theologians to Read in 2019
Thabiti provides “a short list of theologians and leaders from differing ethnic backgrounds for those who may be interested to diversify their reading lists.”
10 Exciting Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2018
“This past year brought numerous discoveries that supported biblical accounts and provided context for other scriptural knowledge. Here are 10 of the top discoveries from 2018.”
Prison Was My First Pulpit……
This is quite the story. “Linda Barkman was incarcerated after the man she lived with murdered her toddler. But she turned hardship into ministry.”
How protected is your teen from finding pornography online?
“Take this quiz to see how protected your teen is. While not every question may provide an answer that fits you exactly, choose the one closest to your reality. ”
Why Pray for the Media?
“Why pray for the media? The answer is simple. Because God answers prayers offered up for the media. Consider that in 2018 two of the heralded heroes of Sports Illustrated, Time, ESPN and other major media outlets were Rachael Denhollander and Tyler Trent. Both are Christians who have suffered immensely, and have persevered and/or continue to persevere. In various ways, they were heard in 2018 and still are being heard because of their faith.”
31 Days toward Trusting God by Jerry Bridges $2.99.
Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne $0.79.
The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson $0.79.
I’ve heard it argued that daily devotions are a bondage, that daily Bible reading and prayer is a legalistic imposition that restricts a Christian’s freedom. Though not a Christian book, James Clear’s Atomic Habits demonstrates why the opposite should be the case.
He turns to neuroscience to explain that as habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so we can allocate our attention to other tasks (46).
For example, how much brain activity is involved in turning the ignition key, putting the car into reverse, and easing out of the garage? Very little, if you’ve been doing that for many weeks, months, or years. But this frees the brain to concentrate entirely on looking for pedestrians and other cars.
“Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. In fact, the people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom. Without good financial habits, you will always be struggling for the next dollar. Without good health habits, you will always seem to be short on energy. Without good learning habits, you will always feel like you’re behind the curve. If you’re always being forced to make decisions about simple tasks—when should I work out, where do I go to write, when do I pay the bills—then you have less time for freedom. It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.” (46-7)
“Conversely, when you have your habits dialed in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges and master the next set of problems. Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.” (46-7).
Now apply that to daily devotions. If we have a good regular routine in the morning, we are engaging in numerous habits without even thinking about it.
Alarm goes off > get up > brush teeth > shave > shower > dress > coffee > breakfast > devotions.
The same routine, the same habits, each and every day. There’s no internal debate over each step, there’s no cognitive fuel used up in the process. There’s no “should I/shouldn’t I” argument. This frees the mind to focus on listening to God in his Word and speaking to God in prayer. Far from a bondage, this is freedom. The bondage is the daily debate, the daily guilt-trip when devotions are forgotten because not scheduled, and the daily battle to find a few minutes wherever whenever.