Subtitle: “The importance of your daily habits.” This week, we continue with Lesson #6 in the series “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 Years Ago.”

Here is Lesson Number 6:

The daily habits of your life will be one of the greatest single factors in your own personal spiritual growth, as well as your future ministry effectiveness. Develop good, healthy, God-honoring habits!

Develop, pursue and practice daily habits that build spiritual stability and vitality! Never stop growing! Self leadership is the most important leadership that you will give!

“You are responsible for the depth of your life; God is responsible for the breadth of your ministry!”

(Dawson Trotman)

“This much is certain: we will never preach more than we know and we will never preach above our reading.”

(R. Albert Mohler)

If you do not plan into your daily / weekly / monthly schedule time to…

1)    be alone with God in prayer and in his Word,

2)    to read good, spiritually stimulating books,

3)    to rest and refresh yourself physically, mentally and emotionally,

…then your spiritual life and ministry leadership will suffer!

Listen to what John Piper says about the importance of planning time for prayer into your regular routine (this is powerful, rich stuff!)…

“I close this chapter (his chapter on Prayer) with an earnest exhortation. Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, ‘Hey, let’s go today!’ You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer you must plan to see it.

Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide  you. Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need mid-course corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer – for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.”

(from Desiring God, pages 150-151)

I’m convince that things and people, when left to themselves, drift towards mediocrity and sloppiness.  They  become wandering generalities.  God calls us to live life intentionally.

As Howard Hendricks used to say, “I have never met a Christian who sat down and planned to live a mediocre life.”

Mediocrity, both in our spiritual life and in our ministry leadership, come naturally. This is why we need to be intentional about growth in all areas of our life.

As Eugene Peterson said in his classic book, God calls all of us to “a long obedience in the same direction.”

“What have I learned in these last six years? That Spirit-motivated disciplines facilitate the Christian walk.  Oh, I’m not discounting all the warm feelings along the route, when I’ve sung Jesus-songs and held hands and the rest.  But our sensuous age forgets that feelings come and feelings leave you, but the disciplines of life are what get you to where you want to go.”

(Anne Ortlund)

The well known author Elisabeth Elliot wrote these classic words on the importance of planning and personal discipline when it comes to writing (these thoughts also apply well to the preparation of sermons – as a pastor, I’m sure you will be able to relate!)…

“We all have to do things by an act of the will that we don’t really feel like doing.  I am often asked, ‘Do you write when you feel inspired?’ My answer is, “No, I write from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.’ I don’t usually feel inspired at any of those times.  In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been inspired for five minutes in my life.  But I take myself by the scruff of the neck, march myself into the study, sit myself down in the chair, turn on the computer and write–or chew on a pencil and think about writing.  I try, cogitate, meditate and think, and then sometimes something comes out that eventually turns out to be publishable. But it takes a lot of perspiration–not inspiration.  If I wrote only when I felt inspired, I would never have written a book, let alone anything else.

So there is a sense in which each of us has to master ourselves…actually, that’s the way I do most of my prayingnot because I’m in a spiritual mood or feel particularly pious or heavenly minded, but simply because I need to pray.

“Freedom and joy come on the far side of obedience.”

As George Müller wrote…

“It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were of no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer; whilst the truth is, in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying; for the less we read the word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.”

Make the reading of good books a high priority in your life! Read biography regularly! I have such a high respect for a “well finished (though far from perfect) life!”

John Wesley, in writing to a young minister, wrote the following about the importance of reading (this was quoted by D. A. Carson and John D. Woolbridge in Letters Along the Way, Wheaton, 1993, page 16)…

“What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading.  I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little.  And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for itHence your talent in preaching does not increase.  It is just the same as it was seven years ago.  It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.

Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer.  You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this.  You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.  Oh begin!  Fix some part of every day for private exercise.  You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasantWhether you like it or not, read and pray dailyIt is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher.  Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.  Do not starve yourself any longer.  Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether.  Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours.”

As someone once said,

“Show me a person’s daily habits and I will show you who they will become in the future!”

God uses our daily habits to build our character, develop our mind, strengthen our body and deepen our spiritual life.

The daily habits of your life will determine more about your personal growth and future ministry effectiveness than any other single factor! Develop good, healthy, god-honoring habits.

Rick Warren, at this past years Desiring God National Pastors Conference in Minneapolis, MN (which I was privileged to attend), talked to the thousands of pastors gathered about “The Battle for your Mind.”

One of his main points was “Never let up on learning!” He went on to talk about the importance of developing a good personal library (he has over 20,000 books in his library)! He just finished reading this past year the entire set of “The Works of Jonathan Edwards” (who is his hero in the faith). He recommended pastors read 25 percent of your books from the first 1500 years of church history, 25 percent from the last 500 years, 25 percent from the last 100 years, and 25 percent from recent years.”

We so often think that nothing of any value was written before 1900. The legacy of the great saints of the past can teach us a great deal. I personally love church history and biography. Whenever I read it, it reminds me over and over that there truly is “nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Tim Challies recently wrote in his blog…

“A couple of years ago I read Warren Wiersbe’s book 50 People Every Christian Should Know and marked a couple of paragraphs that I thought would prove worth sharing. These words come from a chapter devoted to Alexander Whyte. Here they are:

The sales manager of a successful Christian publishing house tells me that pastors are not buying books. “Most of the books sold in Christian bookstores are sold to and read by women,” he said. If our pastors are not using their valuable time for study, what are they using it for? Perhaps Whyte had the answer: “We shroud our indolence under the pretext of a difficulty. The truth is, it is lack of real love for our work.”

Alexander Whyte loved books, and he read them to his dying day. The Puritans in general and Thomas Goodwin in particular were his main diet. But he also thrived on the mystics and the princes of the Scottish church, such as Samuel Rutherford. Whyte constantly ordered books for himself and his friends in the ministry.

Whyte often contrasted two kinds of reading—“reading on a sofa and reading with a pencil in hand.” He urged students to keep notebooks and to make entries in an interleaved Bible for future reference. “No day without its line” was his motto. He wrote to Hubert Simpson: “for more than forty years, I think I can say, never a week, scarcely a day, has passed, that I have not entered some note or notes into my Bible: and, then, I never read a book without taking notes for preservation one way or another.”

It’s important also to remember that a personal library isn’t just about the books that you have read, but also books that you will reference at some point in the future. Having good books to reference when the time comes is vitally important. You can’t always wait a few days for a book to arrive when you need it that “day” in your preparation of a sermon or other written material.

I leave you with these two passages of Scripture…

“My son, if you receive my words

and treasure up my commandments with you,

making your ear attentive to wisdom

and inclining your heart to understanding;

yes, if you call out for insight

and raise your voice for understanding,

if you seek it like silver

and search for it as for hidden treasures,

then you will understand the fear of the LORD

and find the knowledge of God.

For the LORD gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

(Proverbs 2:1-6)

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

(1 Corinthians 9;24-27)