Jen Pollock Michel was 16 when she began following Jesus. Someone told her then about the importance of the habit of daily Bible reading. Thirty years (and five kids) later, she wishes she could thank them for their wise advice. In her fourth book, A Habit Called Faith, she invites both the convinced and the curious into a 40-day habit of reading the Bible to find and follow Jesus. Jen takes readers through the wild, unfamiliar landscape of Deuteronomy into the Gospel of John to explore how faith, small as a mustard seed, might grow into a life-defining habit. It’s a grace to welcome Jen to the farm’s front porch today…
Before the pandemic upended life—spinning it, stilling it, setting it on its head—it was my job, every morning, to unload the dishwasher. I’d pad downstairs, make coffee, and set the kitchen to rights. It was just enough time to clear the fog before meeting with God.
With everyone working and learning from home these last many months, our household responsibilities are more equally shared between the seven of us. Dishwasher duty has become one twin son’s responsibility. Most days he’s dutiful about the chore. But sometimes I’ll find him, nose buried in a book, scowling in the corner of the family room.
He’s discovered the unrelenting dailyness of the dishes.
“You’re learning something about faithfulness,” I told Andrew a couple of mornings ago when a storm brewed on his face.
“Faithfulness is built on the ordinary things we do faithfully every day.” I wanted him to know something about life—but I also wanted him to know something about faith.
Our life, hidden with Christ in God, has as much to do with habits as it does with epiphanies.
Faith is built by repetitive motion.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminded Israel that they had a habit of forgetting God, and he constantly commanded them to “remember.” Take care, Moses commanded, to remember God’s grace once the wilderness is behind you. Otherwise, the blessings of the land you’re set to inherit might become a curse.
When life is moving placidly along, when the diagnosis is negative and the mortgage is paid, we are easily lulled into habits of self-reliance and self-congratulations. Without clouds in the sky, we are given to forgetting that every ray of sun, every hint of spring is a gift from the Creator and Sustainer God.
The human habit is to forget God. This is why Moses provided a means for remembering, a practice that is still in force today in Jewish synagogues and homes across the globe. It was the twice daily recitation of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Rehearsed like lines from a play, these words from Deuteronomy 6:5-8 reminded the people of who God was and what their obligations to Him were. God was a God of rescue, and their obedience to Him was offered as a response of love.
The Shema had none of the stiff formality of classroom learning. It demanded no emotional hype. It was an education woven in the hum of the ordinary and the motion of the everyday: as parents talked to children at the house and on the way, from their waking until their sleeping. The Shema was a habit of remembering for God’s habitually forgetful people.
The Shema had all the dailyness of the dishes.
In the Gospel of John, like the Book of Deuteronomy, we’re reminded to keep at the repetitive motion—or the habit—of faith.
As John closes his book, he explains his purpose for writing: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:31). In the Greek manuscripts, “believe” can be understood as “come to believe” or “continue to believe.” This is to say that faith is a journey to begin—and a road to keep traveling.
We must turn to God as often as we turn toward the dishes.
In my own life of faith, daily Bible reading has been a keystone habit for continuing in belief—one small practice effecting incremental, if also monumental, change. I’m not as faithful as I’d like to be in studying or memorizing the Bible, and I find myself far more forgetful in middle age, struggling to recall references to familiar passages learned long ago. Still, most mornings, before the sun rises, I can be found sitting in an armchair in my living room, imbibing the words of Scripture.
I’ll be honest to say that there are days—and strings of days—when I seem to be impervious to God’s words. They sit on my skin like glistening drops of water, and I feel myself disinterested, distracted by the errant jogger I glimpse from the front window.
But there are other days, not altogether rare, when I hold audience with the Creator of the universe—or rather, He holds audience with me.
Stilled, I become “the tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:8).
I am learning to trust; however I may feel on any given day, that this daily habit of faith is rooting me deep.
Jen Pollock Michel is the award-winning author of Surprised by Paradox, Keeping Place, and Teach Us to Want as well as the recently released book, A Habit Called Faith: Forty Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus. She’s an American writer living in Toronto with her husband and children.
A Habit Called Faith is a 40-day Bible reading experience for the convinced and the curious. It vividly translates ancient truths of faith for a secular age, inviting readers to see, know, live, love, and obey. The daily reflection questions and weekly discussion guides invite both individuals and groups, believers and doubters alike, to explore how faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, might grow into a life-defining habit.
Today’s neurological research has placed habit at the center of human behavior; we are what we do repetitively. When we want to add something to our life, whether it’s exercise, prayer, or just getting up earlier in the morning, we know that we must turn an activity into a habit through repetition or it just won’t stick. What would happen if we applied the same kind of daily dedication to faith? Could faith become a habit, a given–automatic?
So well done and needed today: A Habit Called Faith, invites both the convinced and the curious into a 40-day habit of reading the Bible to find and follow Jesus.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]