What is a habit?
The dictionary defines as a habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Experts also generally agree that it takes anywhere between 21-40 days to develop a habit, depending on how much time you spend on it each day and how intentional you are.
But I would venture to say the amount of time necessary to develop a habit is proportional to the task you hope to become habitual.
Let’s take memorizing scripture, for example. If you simply wanted to memorize a new Bible verse every month, and you spent 5 minutes first thing every morning reciting and repeating that verse before you went about your day, chances are you’ll have it memorized by the end of the month, if not before.
However, if you want to memorize a chapter of the Bible every month, simply saying it aloud every morning upon waking probably isn’t going to cut it. (If one of your resolutions is, in fact, to memorize a chapter of the Bible in the New Year, I suggest purposing to memorize one new verse each week, and always repeating the previous verse(s) you memorized as you work on memorizing the current week’s verse. This is great to do on a morning or evening walk each day).
If the goal is to go even deeper into intentional Bible study in the New Year, the plan needs to be even more precise.
How to Develop Intentional Bible Study Habits in the New Year
1. Set a Goal
Why is it that you want to achieve with your New Year’s Bible study? Is it literally about spending more time pondering and reading your Bible? Or is there a particular study you hope to complete? Is this something you’ll be tackling on your own or is there a group you’ll be studying with? Whatever your answer, clearly state in one sentence (in writing in a journal, preferably) what your desired outcome is. Think of this as your Bible study mission statement.
2. Work Backwards from that Goal
Next, figure out how long it will take to complete your stated goal. If you choose a traditional Bible study, the time frame may already be decided for you (6-week study or 12-week study, for example). But if your goal is a little more obtuse, like working through Hebrews, you may have to get creative.
For example, since there are 11 chapters in Hebrews, you may decide to read one chapter each week. Instead of breaking up the verses over the entire week, you decide to read the chapter once a day, every day during the week. You then decide to spend an extra 5 minutes sitting quietly, reflecting after your reading as well as a-lotting another 5 minutes for journaling. Assuming it will take you about 7-10 minutes to read a chapter, you now know you’ll need 20 minutes per day for 11 weeks to accomplish that goal.
3. Carve Out Time Each Day
Now that you’ve ascertained exactly how long you’ll need to complete your goal, look over your calendar to find a consistent time each day you can carve out to work on your Bible study. Studies show your chances for success increase dramatically when you follow through on a habit at approximately the same time each day.
I know – I can already hear some of you saying, “Why make it so methodical? Doesn’t that take the spirituality out of it?” To the contrary: prayer and study are disciplines – a practice, if you will. Perhaps you’ve even heard people talking about practicing the presence of God. Developing a skill not only takes time, but it also involves a regular, daily pursuit.
Think about it in business terms: most businesses don’t assign a task they want done three months from now, and then simply expect it to get done without meetings, follow-ups and revisions. So why should we expect our personal disciplines to be any different?
I know when I wrote my book, Raising Uncommon Kids, I was given a very clear deadline with a very clear goal. If I had waited until the month before my manuscript was due to try to churn out 50,000 words, not only would my success be unlikely, the end product would not be very good. Instead, I took that word count and broke it down into a monthly word count I needed to accomplish, which I then broke down into a weekly word count and finally figured out how many words I needed to write each day to systematically reach that goal.
It’s time to come clean: how many of you have ever signed up for a Bible study, thinking you’ll enthusiastically complete the daily homework and show up each week ready and willing to share about all you’ve learned, only to realize two weeks in that you forgot to do your homework? Chances are, you rushed to cram a week’s worth of reading into a lunch break or, worse yet, during red lights as you raced to your meeting. Just like cramming for a final the night before an exam in college, you may be able to talk about the information intelligently for the next hour, but the likelihood of the message sticking with you long-term is slim to none.
I know we all want to purpose to do great things for the Lord and for our families in the New Year, but please promise me you won’t wake up January 1 setting yourself up for failure. It’s OK to start with a small, manageable goal, such as reading a Proverb every day for January and meditating on one verse from your daily chapter as you get ready for the day. Once you accomplish that goal, the practice of daily study will be setting in and from there you can re-establish a new goal to build upon the habit you started.
There are many Bibles and devotionals are designed for this type of disciple. One that you can use with your kids (to help them develop their own Bible study habit while they are young) is Every Day with Jesus, the first devotional for children from beloved pastor Dr. Charles Stanley (now available for pre-order). While not an in-depth Bible study per se, this is the perfect entry point to developing the daily habit of spending time with Jesus. The devotion ushers us into time with God, while the accompanying verse provides reading for deeper reflection and personal application for our lives. What I especially love is that at the bottom of each daily page, it gives you an affirmation of sorts – something to pray or say aloud as a reminder of the truth that was just presented in the text. And, if you download the ebook on your phone or device, you will always have it with you, increasing your chances to succeed in your daily Bible study goal.
When it comes down to it, you don’t have to do anything I suggest above, but please promise me you’ll do something. Zig Ziglar famously said, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time”. The worst thing that could happen would be that you don’t set any goal and then happen about this article again exactly one year from now that you’re in the exact same place spiritually as the year before because you didn’t choose to be active in developing your faith.
Whether it’s a book like Every Day with Jesus that points you to study the Bible more intentionally or simply spending more time digging into the Bible yourself, your efforts will not be in vain. More importantly, when you model the practices you pray your children will develop, they too are more likely to succeed in their own spiritual disciplines.
What practices have you found that help you develop new habits in the New Year? I’d love to hear about them below.