Category Archives: books

5 tips to starting a consistent Bible reading habit

Most Christians I know want to read the Bible more but struggle to establish a consistent Bible reading habit. They start with the best of intentions and maybe even succeed for a few days or weeks, but they’re never able to establish the kind of routine necessary to make the habit stick. This has been me at different seasons in my life.

I just finished reading the bestselling book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. Clear has written this book to help anyone establish and stick with good habits and break bad habits. The book applies to all kinds of habits, and Clear never specifically mentions the habits of Bible reading and prayer. He does, however, talk a lot about meditation. And, if you mentally replace “meditation” with “spiritual discipline” you wind up with a reasonably solid guide for spiritual growth – so long as you add a spiritual dimension to his otherwise thoroughly materialistic worldview.

I read this book primarily through my pastoral lens and, with that in mind, I wanted to share six practical pieces of advice for anyone who struggles with starting or sticking with a Bible reading habit (or any other spiritual discipline).

#1 Connect it with your Identity as a follower of Jesus

Clear talks about three levels of transformation: Outcomes, process, and identity.

·         Outcome: What tangible changes do you hope to see? Do you want to be closer to God? Do you want to know and love him more?

·         Process: How are you going to achieve that outcome? Reading and meditating on God’s word is one path God has given us.

·         Identity: What kind of person are you?

Changes in outcome come from changes in process. Long term changes in outcome only come through a change in identity. I am a follower of Jesus therefore I want to seek him through Scripture and prayer. If we disconnect our identity from our process then the process (the habit) isn’t going to last. Focus, first, on your identity, on the person you are and the person you want to become.

#2 Write down when and where you are going to read your Bible and pray

Studies have shown that when people say or write down when and where they are going to perform a habit, their chance of performing that habit goes up significantly. Clear calls this writing an “implementation intention.” Here’s the formula: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]. Try writing down something like: “I will read a chapter from the Bible at 6:30 am in my living room.”

A variance of this is called “habit stacking.” Habit stacking involves connecting an existing habit to a new habit. For instance, you already have the habit of brushing your teeth so your intention statement could be “I will read a verse from the book of Proverbs after I brush my teeth.” This is effective because the first part of habit formation is the cue, the thing that reminds you to perform your habit. The existing habit (brushing your teeth) becomes the cue for the habit you want to form (reading your Bible).

#3 Modify your environment

Much of our behavior is shaped by our environment so we can effectively modify our behavior by modifying our environment. For instance, if we want to get rid of a bad habit, we try to make the cues for that bad habit invisible. We might move the back of sweets out of sight if we want to improve our eating habits. Conversely, to add a good habit, make the cues for that habit as obvious as possible. For instance, if you want to read your Bible each morning, at night put your Bible at the table where you eat breakfast. If you read it at night, keep your Bible on your nightstand.

#4 Make it easy

This is important when starting a new habit. Habit formation takes repetitions, so if we make that habit too hard, too soon, we won’t stick with it long enough to make it automatic.

Clear recommends following a 2-minute rule. Only perform the habit for 2 minutes. For those new to reading the Bible, this might mean just reading a few verses each day and saying a quick prayer.

Once the habit has been established through repetition, begin increasing how much you read and how long you pray.

#5 Track your Bible reading and don’t miss two days in a row

Clear recommends using a “habit tracker” which could be something as simple as a calendar. Every time you perform a habit (read the Bible) mark an X on that day. Tracking helps keep it at the forefront of our minds and also gives a sense of accomplishment.

Related to this is the principle of keeping the streak alive. Missing one day won’t hurt, but if those misses stack up you can quickly derail. Clear recommends that you try to never miss the habit two days in a row. For instance, if your plan is to work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and you miss Wednesday, make sure you don’t miss Friday. This helps keep habits alive.

I recommend daily Bible reading – or perhaps Bible reading on weekdays. If you want to establish a Bible reading habit and you miss a day, that’s Ok. But to keep the habit going, try not to miss the next day.

Grace and the Spirit

Atomic Habits offers advice is practical and wise but, especially for the spiritual disciplines, we cannot approach this with a purely practical mindset, otherwise we will sink into a worldly and ultimately self-oriented mindset.

Our relationship with God is built solely on his grace. His Spirit that works in us to transform us into the likeness of his Son. Nevertheless, God has given us minds and bodies which work in certain ways. We are embodied followers of Jesus, and we do well to use those minds to the best of our abilities to seek and to serve Him.
Book Recommendations


Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators)

10 Books that Influenced the way I think in 2018

This isn’t the list of the best books I read in 2018, but the books that challenged or influenced the way I think. Even if I didn’t agree with all of their conclusions, they stimulated my thinking. I could tell these books were influential for me if I brought them up in conversation, went over their contents more than once, or actually changed the way I lived.

10. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams: Life without God is absurd, and this is the world of Douglas Adams. This book is bit like a humorous version of Ecclesiastes, except that Adams doesn’t recognize the irony of it all.

9. Five Views of the Church and Politics (IVP): This book provided me with key paradigms to understanding how different traditions have understood the relationship between church and politics.

8. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher Wright: This book, along with the podcasts being published by The Bible Project, have given me a deeper understanding of how the Bible fits together as a whole.

7. American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 by H.W. Brands:It helps to see things in historical perspective. Class warfare and political corruption are nothing new. We’ll get through this (well, probably).

6. Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble: Noble invites us to examine the ways in which our message, and the way we share it, can help people understand the gospel.

5. The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker: You won’t see food in the same way again. Also, I think the quote “The chicken situation is dire!” will stick in my head for a while.

4. Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters: Big churches and small churches are different, and that’s Ok. This book made me more critical of advice given specifically with big churches in mind, and more comfortable with my own small church.

3. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig:This book gave me some great tools for apologetics and strengthened my faith.

2. American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales: Nancy Jo Sales effectively shows the dangers of social media, especially for girls, and the corrosive effects of porn and hook-up culture.

1. Becoming a Welcome Church By Thom Rainer: This book didn’t only change the way I think, but it drove me to pursue a few specific changes in our church.

How to use What does it Mean to be a Christian? in Discipleship

I remember teaching the story of Joseph at a church-based after school program for Junior and Senior High students. When I told them that his brothers sold him into slavery, many of them were genuinely surprised. For them, the story was new and exciting. For me, it was a wake-up call that I could not assume these student would have a basic understand of Christianity I so often took for granted.

What the students thought they knew of Christianity was often skewed, or so incomplete to be unhelpful. They didn’t know how to connect the dots between the gospel and the Christian life, and many had no connection to a local church, or any understanding of why it would be at all important.

In this, and other ministry contexts, I began to see the need to have a ready outline of the Christian faith, something that would present the gospel and the call of salvation clearly, without a lot of religious jargon, that would connect salvation to the life of the Christian and the life of the church. I wrote What Does it Mean to be a Christian? as an attempt to draw out such an outline. It’s an outline, not exhaustive, but complete enough for new and deeper information to be incorporated into the unified cloth of the faith.

In my church context, I have used the content of this book in two specific ways:

  • Introduce teenagers with limited knowledge of Christianity to the basics of the faith
  • Prepare adults to take the step of believer’s baptism

What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? is split into three parts, and outlines the following topics:

Part 1: Salvation

  • The unified story of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Rescue, Completion
  • The character of God: His Divine and Moral attributes
  • Mankind: Made in the image of God, yet slaves to sin, and in need of God’s rescue
  • Salvation: The gift of God and the call to repentance

Part 2: The Christian Life

  • New life in Jesus through the Spirit: Freedom from sin, freedom to serve
  • The greatest commandment: Love God and love neighbor
  • The Spiritual disciplines: Bible reading, Prayer, Church attendance
  • Embracing the “weirdness” of Christianity, being salt and light

Part 3: The church

  • The nature of the Church: An outline of the theology of the church
  • Baptism and Communion: Essential symbols for a distinctive community
  • The relationship between the Church and the World
  • A call to participate in a local, Bible believing, church

How a ministry leader could use What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?

  • Form an outline for further curriculum development
  • Supplemental reading material for classes giving the basics of the Christian faith
  • A resource to provide to those curious about Christianity
  • A resource for new believers to grow in their faith
  • Preparatory reading for teenagers and adults preparing for baptism

Two more essential notes for ministry leaders:

  • What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? addresses sexuality when discussing the Christian life. It is in no way explicit, but it is probably not appropriate for younger kids.
  • If you’re a ministry leader interested in using this book and have questions, or want to know about a group rate, email me at steve@wpbiblefellowship.org. I would be happy to provide copies of this book at cost ($2.15/book + shipping) to anyone using it in a ministry context.

Available on Amazon

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