Thursday, November 12, 2009

Working Together in Developing Godly Habits

Last night I taught some of our parents and teens about how families can work together to develop godly habits.  What I taught does not only apply to the family but any group or partnership where mutual accountability takes place.  Mutual accountability is when two or more people give one another permission to help them grow and develop in their relationship with Christ.  It involves learning together, doing together, praying together and using scripture to teach, correct and rebuke one another (2 Timothy 3:16).

When we receive Christ hold habits have to be replaced by new habits.  Jesus taught that if anyone is to follow him they must take up their cross daily.  He also said that those who would save their life will lose it and those who lose their lives will save it.  Paul goes on to explain that when we receive Jesus as our Master and Savior he makes us a new person and the old person dies.

It is an interesting discussion concerning personhood.  What makes a person a person?  To be brief, a major part of personhood is character.  Stephen Covey said "Our character is basically a composite of our habits.  Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character."

I think Stephen hit it on the head.  Our character, and part of what makes us a person, is based on our habits.  Before we knew Christ as our Master and Savior we had developed a "worldly" character that was a composite of different habits.  Some were destructive and worthless.  But!!  When we came to know Jesus as our Master and Savior it should have become obvious that many of our habits were in fact sins.  It was for our sin that Jesus died.  He took our sin upon himself.  He paid what should have been our penalty for our sin.  The result of really understanding this should have caused us concern over those habits that were/are sin.  This is what Jesus and Paul meant.  Our understanding of what Jesus did should lead us in putting to death our old selves and developing our new selves.  In short, replace the old habits with new ones.

It is essential that the Christian develop new habits, or godly habits.  Habits have a tendency to reassert themselves if they are not replaced by new ones.  Christians must be consciously developing godly habits to replace the old.  Here are three reasons why it is essential to develop godly habits.

First, in the beginning of a new Christian's life habits have to be formed to help a person grow closer to Jesus.  I've seen too many new Christians go back to their old lives because no one has helped them develop new habits that replace the old which help them in their fledgling relationship to Jesus.  It is sad, and I think it reveals the state of the Christian church today.  I think part of the reason why new Christians are not encouraged and taught to develop these new habits is because many people in the Church have never truly developed godly habits.

Second, the continued development of godly habits is essential for the Christian to "remain" in Jesus and produce "fruit" (John 15:1-11).  A person who truly understands what Jesus did in their life will be a changed person, but it does require work on our part.  I think that some church traditions, such as ours, so emphasize the fact that there is nothing we can do to be saved that we assume there need not be any work done on our part.  The truth is, what Jesus has done for us should cause us to want to change and tell the world.  Jesus says in John 15 that if we are to truly remain in him we will bear fruit.  We will make disciples and our character will change (Galatians 5:22).  In fact, godly habits are fruit within the Christian's life.

Third, our godly habits eventually determine how we reflect Jesus to the world around us (Matthew 5:13-16).  In the famous salt and light passage of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  A quote I found says "Watch your thoughts; they become words.  Watch your words; they become actions.  Watch your actions; they become habits."  Habits are in essence repeated actions.  If we want to reflect the truth of Jesus to the world we have to have godly habits in place.

Though godly habits can be developed on a person's own, I believe that the best place for the development of godly habits is within the context of relationships.  God has created us as social human beings.  Richard Foster said in his book The Celebration of Discipline "God intends the Disciplines [godly habits] of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns.  In fact, the Disciplines [godly habits] are exercised in the midst of our relationship with our husband and wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors."

The truth is, there just are not that many truly self-disciplined people in the world.  That is not to say that self-discipline cannot be developed (and in reality is a godly habit itself), but people need people.  Godly habits are best developed in mutually accountable relationships.  One of the best places is within the family dedicated to God.  In order to be mutually accountable there has to be some type of regular contact with one another, and I can't think of any better place then the family.  This isn't to say that mutual accountability cannot take place within other relationships such as discipleship partnerships, small groups, etc....  It just means that an opportune place is within the family committed and devoted to God.

In fact I need to make something very clear.  Parents are given the responsibility by God to disciple their children.  In reality, it is not my job as a youth pastor.  It has become my job as a youth pastor, but it is really the job of godly parents.  Parents must take the call to disciple their children seriously.  In the process of discipleship mutual accountability will develop and should be encouraged.  Families should be holding each other accountable and helping each other develop godly habits. 

I want to give a model in which mutual accountability can lead to the development of godly habits.  Before I do this I want to stress once again that I believe mutual accountability can take place in any kind of relationship between believers.  I am merely saying that the godly family presents an opportune environment for this to happen.

Here is a model for mutual accountability with the purpose of developing godly habits.  In other words, here is a model were a group of godly people work together to get closer to Jesus.

1.  Someone has to take the lead in humility.  The biggest obstacle to mutual accountability is pride.  Someone has to be humble enough to go to another person, or group of people, and say "I need your help in developing godly habits."  A mutually accountable relationship is a relationship where all individuals are honest about their need to grow in their relationship with Jesus through the development of godly habits.

2. Meet as often as possible.  For the family this can occur daily.  The point here is to stress that godly habits are not formed overnight.  Godly habits take time to develop.  If we are trying to develop them within the context of relationships then we need to be in each others' lives as often as possible.  Meeting together as often as possible gives all involved a chance to take a break from the business of life and focus on what is important.  This leads us to number 3.

3.  Discuss scripture.  The standard of our Christian life, and the standard of godly habits, is Jesus.  His story and example is revealed through the Bible.  If we want to grow in godly habits we must devote ourselves to understanding the Bible.  People who are in mutually accountable relationships realize the importance of scripture and the role it plays in developing godly habits.

4.  Confess short comings.  I'm not saying reveal every sin you've ever committed to others, but I am saying be open about what may hold you back from putting into practice what scripture says.  We need to identify where the obstacles lie.  In developing godly habits we will often find that what we are doing is replacing an old habit with a new godly one.  Being open about where the obstacles are helps us know how to hold each other accountable and leads us to number 6.

5.  Discuss ways to put Scripture into action.  Having gone over Scripture and discerning what it says and having talked about our short comings, it is now time to put it into action.  Talk about what it will look like as we develop godly habits.  Again, by openly doing this we can encourage one another and hold each other accountable.

6.  Pray together and for one another.  Prayer is essential to the process of developing godly habits.  The reason why we are developing godly habits is to get closer to Jesus.  The very cool thing is, Jesus wants to be a part of the process as well.  Not only are we in this process with others in our mutually accountable relationships but we are in this process with our Master and Savior.

7.  Hold each other accountable.  This involves discerning what the problem is when someone is not following through in developing a godly habit.  Scripture is useful for four things, according to Paul.  It is used to teach, correct, rebuke and train in righteousness.  Those in a mutually accountable relationship need to approach each other with these in mind.  We will find times when our partner needs to be taught what scripture says.  There will be other times where scripture will need to be clarified so that thinking needs to be corrected.  There will be other times when we will have to confront wrong head on knowing that our partner knows what they are doing is wrong.  There has to be an understanding though.  We understand that we have given each other permission to hold us accountable.  This also requires humbleness on everyone's part.  Also, holding someone accountable needs to be done out of love.

8.  Pray together and for one another.  Again, prayer is key. 

We need to work together to help each other develop godly habits.  The purpose is to grow closer to Christ.  It is vital that we remember why we are in these mutually accountable relationships.  Jesus needs to be the center of our lives.  Jesus is a part of the process.  Never should our mutually accountable relationships become more important than our relationship with Jesus.  Never.

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