“Habits of Grace”

The Spiritual Disciplines - Église Connexion Workshop, June 2016

The goal: Growth in Christ

Ephesians 4.11-16: 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 

The goal is growth…and the trajectory of Christian growth is joy. 

Jude 24: 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…

What do you want?

James K. A. Smith says that we often intellectualize Christianity, to the point that if we want to know who a person really is, what makes them tick, and why this person is the way he is, the question we naturally ask is, “What do you know?” or “What do you believe?” But, Smith suggests, this is not the right question: if we really want to get to the bottom of who a person is and why they are the way they are, the question we should ask is rather, “What do you want? What do you desire? What do you long for?” 

Psalm 135.15, 18 says, 15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,  the work of human hands… 18 Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them. In a very real way, we are what we want…but we might not want what we think. We are what we love…but we might not love what we ought. 

And try as we might, we are unable to change our desires on our own. The Spirit’s work is essential to this change. However, the Spirit does not work alone. The Bible encourages us to adopt certain “liturgies of life” (to use Smith’s term), certain practices which, through the Holy Spirit’s power, reform our hearts to desire what they ought to desire. These are the spiritual disciplines: the tools the Word gives us to train our hearts to want what they ought to want.

Spiritual Disciplines: Means of Grace.

Grace invades. It doesn’t depend on our goodness or ability, it doesn’t wait for our growth. It presses itself on us and offers itself to us, and there’s nothing we can do to earn it. Ephesians 2.8-9: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Grace calls with effect. Just as Jesus called Lazarus out from the grave and, through his call, caused life to enter into him, God calls us by his Holy Spirit and causes us to be born again. Ephesians 2.1-5: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…

Grace moves in. And grace doesn’t stop with new life. By grace, God sent his Spirit not only to wake us up and make us alive in Christ, but to move in, to live in us and unite us to the Father. Romans 8.14-15: 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Grace assures. And grace isn’t just for today, or for tomorrow, or for the next ten years. If we have received grace today, we will receive it forever. Romans 8.37-39:  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Channels of Grace

I think you see what I’m getting at. When we talk about the spiritual disciplines, the risk is to imagine that because of our effort, we can earn God’s grace. In his book Habits of Grace, David Mathis says it like this: “I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of Godflow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.”

This is why the spiritual disciplines are often called “means of grace.” They are not in themselves good for anything; God’s grace is necessary for them to be of any effect. And occasionally God decides to give a new abundance of grace simply by doing it, by making it happen independent of us. But most of the time, he has his regular channels. In other words, God has promised that if we pursue him in certain ways, he will give us his grace. Again, our confidence is not in our ability to perform, but rather in God’s faithfulness to keep his promises. 

Many books have been written on the spiritual disciplines, but Mathis (and John Frame and J. C. Ryle before him) helpfully groups them and summarizes them under three main categories: “hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body. Or simply: word, prayer and fellowship.” These headings are helpful, because they simply take their cue from the practice of the early church in the book of Acts. Acts 2.42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching [Word] and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The practice of the early church was to devote themselves to the teaching of the gospel as found in Scripture, to prayer, and to fellowship with the body.

Now before we get started, let’s be reminded that none of these things are an end in themselves; they are all a means to an end, and that end is drawing near to God. Remember what we saw this morning in Psalm 16: 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. We all want to be happy, and God promises us fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore, in his presence. What we want, he promises to give, if we seek it in him.

The goal of the spiritual disciplines is to get us there. Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19? Or of blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18? They couldn’t save themselves; they couldn’t heal themselves. All they could do is place themselves in the path where Jesus was walking, and wait for him to pass by. This is what the spiritual disciplines help us to do. They place us in the path God promises to walk. And God has promised that if we seek him in the means he so often prescribes in his Word, he will draw near. James 4.8: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you

Hearing God’s Voice: The Word

Psalm 19.7-11: 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. 

1) Read the Word

Every day…

Matthew 6.11 (The Lord’s Prayer): 11 Give us this day our daily bread… Obviously Jesus is talking about everything we need, even material provision. However, he clearly stated merely two chapters earlier that part of what we need is the Word of God: 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4.4).

John Blanchard: Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day!”

D. L. Moody: “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

…for the rest of your life.

David Mathis: “Good Bible reading is no mere science; it is an art. The Bible itself is a special compilation of great artistries. And the best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself… As much as we want a quick fix, some fast lesson that makes us near-experts in just a few short minutes, the best of Bible reading isn’t learned overnight or even after a semester of lectures, but day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, imbibing the Bible, having God’s words in- form our minds, inspire our hearts, instruct our lives. It is then that we slowly see the lights going on everywhere as we walk through life, and keep walking through the texts.”

This takes time.

Obviously, reading the Bible every day is a time-consuming activity. Some of us are so busy that we occasionally skip meals! But how do we feel at the end of the day when we do? How effective are we? If we lack in efficiency and energy when we do not eat well (and regularly), how much more will this be true for us spiritually if we neglect the spiritual nourishment God has provided for us?

Whitney: “Perhaps one of the main reasons Christians never read through the entire Bible is discouragement. Most people have never read a thousand-page book before and get discouraged at the sheer length of the Bible. Do you realize that tape-recorded readings of the Bible have proven that you can read through the entire Book in seventy-one hours? The average person in the United States watches that much television in less than two weeks.”

a) Schedule it.

For most of us, this will not happen if we don’t have a regular time to do it. And if necessary, remove something unnecessary from your schedule. (Remember this morning: leisure is not necessary. Hearing God’s voice is.) If it is scheduled, and we apply this schedule, over time this will become a habit, and the habit will inform our loves: we will feel uncomfortable if we don’t have this time, the way we feel hungry if we skip a meal. And this is where we want to be: we want to come to God’s Word because we love it. (Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is nothing more than a love-letter to the Word of God.) It is through the discipline of regular reading God’s Word that God teaches us to love his Word.

b) Have a plan.

The Bible is a big book. And in the midst of this big book are delightful, encouraging passages and hard, heavy passages. And yet: 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

We need a way to make sure we read all of God’s Word, not just the parts we like.

2) Reading, Study, Meditation and Memory

Mathis: “Bible reading is like watching the film in real time. Study is like going through a clip frame by frame. Meditation, then, along with Scripture memory…is for lingering over particular frames and pressing the significance to our hearts and into our lives.”

Read: Simply read the passage, according to your plan. Don’t hesitate to write in your Bible, mark it up, or keep a journal—there are things you’ll want to come back to later!

Study: Spend time trying to work out what the text means. Many study Bibles and study tools exist to help learn to do this.

Meditate: Take time merely thinking about what you’ve read. This might happen while doing other things during the day. Write down verses or passages that jumped out at you, and keep them on your desktop or in your pocket, so you can come back to them regularly. (Prayer is incredibly helpful here: more on that in a minute.)

Memorize: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119.11). Few things are more helpful for fighting sin and meditating on the grace of God than memorizing Scripture. Memorizing is like going to the gym to strengthen muscles, so that when it comes time to lift a heavy piece of furniture, you don’t hurt yourself.

The X Factor

Mathis: “The Bible is no magic book, but a strange, enigmatic power stirs when we reach for the Scriptures. Something influential, though invisible, is happening as we hear God’s words read or spoken, and when we read or study. Something supernatural, but unseen, transpires as we see the text in front of us and take it into our souls. Someone unseen moves… When we get alone with the Bible, we are not alone. God has not left us to ourselves to understand his words and feed our own souls. No matter how thin your training, no matter how spotty your routine, the Helper stands ready. Take up the text in confidence that God is primed to bless your being with his very breath. There is more than meets the eye to Bible reading and study as habits of grace. There is a variable we can’t control. An enigmatic power we cannot command. A mysterious goodness we can only receive. He is the Holy Spirit.”

Having God’s Ear (Prayer)

Jesus expects us to pray.

Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray.…” Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray.…” Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray.…” Matthew 6:9: “This, then, is how you should pray: …” Luke 11:9: “So I say to you: Ask …; seek …; knock.” Luke 18:1: “Then Jesus told his disciples … they should always pray.”

God commands us to pray.

Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” 

Jesus prayed regularly. 

Luke 5.16: But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed… (If Jesus needed it, how much more do we?!)

Prayer is Learned: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11.1).

a) By praying. You learn the fundamentals of a foreign language through classes, books, methods. You learn to speak a foreign language by speaking. So too with prayer. We learn to pray by praying.

b) By meditating on the Word. “David prayed in Psalm 5:1, “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing.” The Hebrew word rendered as “sighing” may also be translated “meditation.” In fact, this same word is used with that meaning in another passage, Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Notice that both verses are prayers and both refer to other “words” spoken in prayer. Yet in each case meditation was a catalyst that catapulted David from the truth of God into talking with God. In 5:1 he has been meditating and now he asks the Lord to give ear to it and to consider it. In Psalm 19 we find one of the best-known statements about Scripture written anywhere, beginning with the famous words of verse 7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” This section continues through verse 11 and then David prays in verse 14 as a result of these words and his meditation.”

Pray the Bible

George Mueller: “The difference, then, between my former practice and my present one is this: formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer. . . . But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then really began to pray. 

“I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental [today we would say “experiential”] fellowship with God, I speak to my Father and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word. It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point.”

Prayer is for Knowing God. 

John Piper: “It is not wrong to want God’s gifts and ask for them. Most prayers in the Bible are for the gifts of God. But ultimately every gift should be desired because it shows us and brings us more of him… When this world totally fails, the ground for joy remains. God. Therefore, surely every prayer for life and health and home and family and job and ministry in this world is secondary. And the great purpose of prayer is to ask that—in and through all his gifts—God would be our joy.”

1 Peter 5.5-7: 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Casting our cares on God is not merely a means to get our prayers answered: it is primarily a means of recognizing that God is the God in whose hands our lives and wellbeing rest. As we grow in humility, we grow in our trust and confidence in God’s faithfulness. 

Pray Regularly

As for reading, so for prayer. If possible, let your Bible reading and prayer go hand-in-hand (only one thing to schedule rather than two!). As we develop the habit of prayer, we learn to love prayer: we will feel hungry if we don’t, and satisfied if we do.

Belonging to His Body (Fellowship)

Mathis: “It’s a shame the word ‘fellowship’ has fallen on hard times in some circles, and is dying the death of domestication and triviality. It is an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives. The koinonia—Greek for commonality, partnership, fellowship—that the first Christians shared wasn’t anchored in a common love for pizza, pop, and a nice clean evening of fun among the fellow churchified. Its essence was in their common Christ, and their common life-or-death mission together in his summons to take the faith worldwide in the face of impending persecution. Rightly did Tolkien call his nine ‘the Fellowship of the Ring.’ This is no chummy hobnob with apps and drinks and a game on the tube. It is an all-in, life-or-death collective venture in the face of great evil and overwhelming opposition.”

The athlete trains in the gym, for the purposes of going on the field. But the field itself is a kind of training: the athlete learns from mistakes made, from the skill of his teammates, and from the play-by-play following the match. Private Bible reading and prayer is like training in the gym: the community of believers, life in the body of Christ, is the field: it is here that we put what we have learned into practice, and that we continue learning together.

We Need Each Other, and We Are Responsible for Each Other.

Ephesians 4.11-16: 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 

It is not the pastor’s job to “make the body grow.” His job is to equip the members of the body to help each other grow. 

We Are “Means of Grace” for Each Other.

Hebrews 10.23-24: 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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 3.12-13: 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

Building the Community

a) Meet regularly. Wayne Grudem compiles the following list of activities the Christian church has traditionally recognized as “means of grace:” the teaching of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, corporate prayer, worship, church discipline, giving, spiritual gifts, fellowship, evangelism, and personal ministry to individuals. Obviously, many of these activities can and should be practiced outside of our regularly meeting times. However, they will all be practiced with our brothers and sisters in the context of our regular services. This is why the author of Hebrews exhorts us to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10.24). Corporate worship in the church is one of the primary means God gives us to grow in the means of grace.

b) Meet informally. But our fellowship with one another should not be limited to our formal Sunday meetings. This is how the first church in Jerusalem lived. Acts 2.46-47: 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. The people would indeed meet together for worship, but they would also come together simply to eat, to be glad together. It is often in these informal times of meeting that our faith is put into practice, that the “muscles” we have trained in private are put to work.

c) Learn together. One of the best ways to learn to read the Bible and pray is to do it with one another. This is one of the goals of our community meetings and discipleship groups. It is during these times that we dig into the Word together, that we learn to ask the right questions of the texts, that we learn to apply the texts to our lives, that we learn what godly, Bible-based, gospel-centered prayers sound like. 

d) Know and be known. Another reason for discipleship groups is to let people into those areas of our lives which are ordinarily hidden from others. This is vital—one of the best ways to make sure sin continues to gain ground in our lives is by keeping it to ourselves. 

Ephesians 5.11-14: 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 

Does this image of light exposing darkness bring anything to mind? It makes me think of Dracula. A vampire, exposed to the sun, will shrivel and melt. In the same way, sin is deprived of much of its power when it is exposed as sin, for when we see it as sin, we see it as unlovely and unappealing.

James 5.15-16: And if [someone] has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

Mutual confession exposes sin, and God answers prayers for holiness. And like a vampire who shrivels and melts when exposed to sunlight, as we confess our sins and pray to one another, the sin that so easily besets us gradually loses its appeal.


God’s grace is free. It is unmerited, unexpected, and completely immune to efforts to earn it. And yet, God provides us with ways to put ourselves in the path of grace, to “keep on getting as he keeps on giving.”

As we discipline ourselves in these means of grace, we train our hearts to love the right things. We train our hearts to love God more than sin, to love him more than leisure, to love him more than our own lives and comfort. The scales fall off of our eyes to see that God truly is better than all of the things that take up our time. We become hungry for God…and the good news of the gospel is that the hungry will be filled:

Matthew 5.6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

John 6.35: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”


Resources for further growth


The Spiritual Disciplines


David Mathis, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines (Crossway, 2016)

Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 1991)

Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2014)


Reading the Word


Reading plans: 

See the Discipleship Reading Plan or Read the Bible from the Bible Project for good examples of a reading plan.



See the attached 6x6 Memorization Plan.


An incredibly helpful resource is one for children (let’s not be so prideful as to imagine we’re “above” resources for kids!). Songs for Saplings is a project to put Scripture verses and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (along with the questions’ corresponding Bible verses) to music. For more information, see www.songsforsaplings.com, or speak to Loanne, who is their European translation coordinator.


Studying the text:

Many helpful study Bibles and commentaries exist to dig deeper into the Word. My personal favorite (for depth and accessibility) is the ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008).


See the attached “Tools for Studying the Bible,” from the Village Church, Dallas, TX.




One particularly helpful tool for learning to pray is The Book of Common Prayer. At the beginning of the book is a series of “daily liturgies” with prayers of thanks, prayers of confession and prayers of worship (along with Bible readings) to help guide prayer time. 




See Jason or Julie for more information on community groups, or Perrine or Mandy for more information on discipleship groups. In addition, you can join the church’s Facebook Group in order to get together with people from the church in more informal settings.