Practices for You to be Less You in 2017

I built the need for resolutions or “counterformative practices” in my previous blog. I would recommend checking it out here.

It seems odd to start out a blog for a church about smoking, but here we are. They say one of the best ways to quit smoking is to find a way to keep yourself occupied with something else at the times you usually have a cigarette. I believe there is great wisdom there when thinking about New Year’s resolutions as counterformative practices.

Walk through your daily routines and think about how they may be creating destructive habits in the future. Perhaps the best way to pursue holiness is to love God enough to plan counterformative holy practices into our lives that produce Christ-like habits and using them as replacements for the less than holy things that what we are currently practicing. I believe that this is an ultra-practical way of taking John Owen’s advice when he says, “He, then, that would kill any burdensome sin: let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience” (my paraphrase).

Here are some suggestions for practices to pick up in 2017. Note* It is a common assumption that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but studies have disproved that. It appears that the average time to form a habit is 66 days. Some of the following daily activities listed are not daily activities but weekly and monthly ones, so they may take more diligence in order to form as habit:

1. Prayer

“Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17).

The reason I put prayer first in this list is because I would advise praying for God’s strength, grace, and direction in being diligent in starting these practices. Prayer is the fuel for everything we do. If you do not know where to start, strive for a morning and evening prayer time. If you are doing these already, try to add in a lunch time prayer. These can be five minute prayers or hour long prayers (obviously, if you aren’t praying already, then anything is better than nothing because God desires to have a relationship with you. Just make sure that the goal is to work towards extended prayer).

Some people simply are scared to pray because they don’t know how. Jesus actually taught us how to pray by giving us the Lord’s Prayer. Something that has been practiced for millennia is taking the Lord’s Prayer as a framework and expanding it out. This is something that I practice and something that I recommend. You can hear John Piper giving an example of this here. For deeper study on prayer, check out Timothy Keller’s book Prayer.

2. Bible Reading

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8a).

Find a Bible reading plan that you plan to read daily. You have to plan in advance a specific time when you will do this, or it simply will be too easy to falter. You could choose to study the passages and context of the scripture that was covered on a Sunday, or you could start a year-long reading plan. Knowing more of the overarching story of the Bible will help you understand each individual passage.

I like the M’Cheyne Reading Plan (goes through the OT once and the NT and the Psalms twice in the year). This plan can be found on the Bible app or, even better, you can get D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God devotionals (Vol 1 and Vol 2) that follow the M’Cheyne reading plan and connects that day’s passages to the overarching story of Scripture.

3. Community Group

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

If your commitment to Community Group has been a little lacking in the past year, decide to be more committed this year. This will not only put you in a position to practice what the Holy Spirit has been producing in you, but it will give you people who can encourage you in your resolve to build habits of Christlikeness. If stuck to, this will be the perfect avenue to build the holy habits of concern and love for others, confession, and accountability.

If you are not in a group at Mercy Hill, we are having a Grouplink on January 27th. Sign up here to get placed in a group.

4. Serving

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Build the practice of serving on Sundays in whatever capacity the church needs. Many want to serve only where they are gifted and some have no idea where they are gifted. How we learn where our gifts intersect with the church’s need (especially at Mercy Hill) is to just get involved. The very first step, if you haven’t already, is to go through our Weekender. The next one is January 20 – 22. Sign up here.

5. Generosity

Paul says this about generosity: “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:7).

Yes, you can cultivate a habit of generosity. Those who begin to practice generosity become increasingly more generous. This is truly a counterformative habit that the Spirit can use to transform our hearts to be more like Christ who gave up all the riches of heaven to give us his own life. You can give for the very first time here or set up a recurring gift and start today on your road to being more Christ-like in your generosity.

I am praying that the Holy Spirit will give you all strength this year as you fight the good fight.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)