Habits of Grace

We refer to them as “spiritual disciplines,” and then we stiffen our upper lip — all the while fumbling tentatively for our boot straps.  Then, we proceed to dismiss the more rigorous of the lot (fasting, meditation) as pertinent only to high-power spiritual giants, and it turns out that we’ve got the wrong idea after all, says David Mathis in Habits of Grace,  in which he examines the spiritual disciplines as a means of enhancing the believer’s enjoyment of Jesus, a gift that comes through these grace-empowered practices.

With a goal of simplifying his readers’ approach to the pursuit of holiness, Mathis organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. Belonging to His Body.

Hearing God’s Voice can involve a limitless array of potential practices —  reading, studying, memorizing, or meditating on Scripture.  However, rather than offering formulaic advice, David Mathis invites the reader to find a regular time and place, to block out distractions, and to “put your nose to the text.”  I appreciated the advice to go for “breadth in reading” — covering the biblical landscape on a regular basis —  but to go for “depth in study” by asking questions, stopping to ponder, and consulting resources.  At this point, study may segue into one of the mightiest means of God’s grace for His people:  meditation or “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”  The helpful pattern offered for application of Biblical truth is to read for understanding of the words as they were received by the original audience, to consider how they relate to Jesus’ person and work, and only then to make personal application.

Because I am so thankful for the impact that Scripture memorization has had on my own spiritual journey,  I loved the author’s description of this habit of grace:

“When we memorize lines from the Bible, we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God.”

It is at this point that spiritual disciplines become a spectrum of relating to God at each level: read, study, memorize, meditate, and by resting the mind on the things of the Spirit, the gap is bridged between hearing from God and speaking to Him.

Enjoying the gift of Having God’s Ear emphasizes the truth that the speaking God not only has spoken, but He also listens.  We set our sights far too low in prayer, asking for things, when God wants to give us Himself.  Relating to Him in terms of who He is will have a momentous impact on the praying life:

“He is holy, and so we worship (adoration).
He is merciful, and so we repent (confession).
He is gracious, and so we express appreciation (thanksgiving).
He is loving and caring, and so we petition Him for ourselves, our family, our friends, and our world (supplication).”

Prayer is prescribed as the perfect remedy for a lack of desire for God, for prayer is the context for relationship in which we come to God not as servants, but as friends.

Fasting is included under the principle of Having God’s Ear, because, as Matthew Henry has said, fasting serves to “put an edge upon devout affection.”  Basic to Christianity, fasting intensifies prayers’ earnestness:  “We fast from what we can see and taste (food, media, etc.), because we have tasted and seen the goodness of the invisible God – and are desperately hungry for more of Him.”

Journaling can be formal or informal, an aid to prayer or a record of study and meditation, but primarily, it is a “way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God.”  Silence and solitude are also habits of grace that enhance listening to God’s voice and responding to Him in prayer.

Belonging to His Body is commonly referred to as “fellowship,” but is far deeper and more purposeful than the casseroles and hot wings that first come to mind. This partnership in the Gospel and speaking truth into the lives of fellow believers is a means of grace and is best practiced within a body of committed members in the local church.  Worship, an end in itself, is most magnificent when it happens in corporate preoccupation with the risen Christ, His person and His work.  Mathis unpacks Psalm 73 in a stunning call to the church to press into corporate worship as a means of fulfilling the soul’s search for joy.

With clarity and grace, David Mathis upholds the Sunday sermon and the ordinances of baptism and communion as events that bring God’s presence near to His people.  I was challenged to open my mind to the role that rebuke plays in the life of sisterhood — that it is a reciprocal blessing spilling over onto giver and receiver alike!

Finally, the trio of mission, money and time reveals the object of our heart’s affection with uncomfortable clarity.  We manage all three only as stewards under the God who dispenses grace to and through us in their employment.

Habits of Grace is unlike other books I have read about the spiritual disciplines because David Mathis, with elegant prose, has managed to do away with the check-list and bring the practice of godliness into our everyday life along with the cluttered desk, the sticky kitchen table, the overflowing inboxes, and the cranky toddlers (or teens).  We never arrive in our journey God-ward, and it is in practicing the habits of grace that we become most aware that even in this small and tentative movement toward righteousness, we are fueled by God’s empowering grace.

//

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

37 thoughts on “Habits of Grace”

  1. Michele,
    Maybe I’m simple minded, but it’s a lot easier for me to grasp three precepts vs. a long list of “to do’s”. I love a study I’m doing right now which takes me deeper into God’s Word – really mining all the truth to be found in the passages I read. This, to me, takes me even closer to the heart of God, which is where I/we need to be. Great post my friend…
    Blessings,
    Bev

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes church is the hardest part of being a Christian. I’m working through Hebrews 10 this week (ironically), and really being convicted about some of my attitudes toward community.

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  2. Michele, I always enjoy your book reviews! They are so thoughtful and well-written!

    I have read several books about the spiritual disciplines and indeed it does almost come across as a “checklist” of what to do. I definitely like the approach this author is taking.

    I was especially taken by his quote, “When we memorize lines from the Bible, we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God.” Just recently I read a secular article that was quite fascinating about complaining. It said when we complain, there is actually a physiologic response in our brains that “re-shapes” how the synapses fire, making it easier and easier to complain. How much more powerful this quote became to me with that knowledge. Indeed, “we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God”!

    Thank you so much for sharing this very edifying review!

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    1. Ooooh, that is such a good neurological picture of what why we need Truth! I loved that Mathis quote too, and really, I had to exercise a pretty stringent level of self-restraint because there are so many lovely sentences in this book that I would have liked to “decorate” my review with, but I try to keep things under 1,000 words when I can. Thanks for your encouraging comment, Karen.

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  3. I enjoyed your review. I’m all for a book that is not a checklist – I already do pretty good at making checklists myself – but practicing godliness in everyday life? Yeah, I can use help with that.

    I loved the line about journaling: “way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God.” Yes, that!

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  4. i just might have to get this book michele. i tend to like books from crossway and not having checklists helps me a lot. as much as i wish it were true, checklists aren’t realistic when it comes to spiritual growth or much of anything relational i’m afraid. it took me way to long to figure that out, but i finally did!

    thanks for this helpful review:)

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    1. Crossway is definitely one of my favorite publishers, and I, too, am a list-follower. Grace just doesn’t work that way, for the most part, and I’m thankful that this review has been helpful for you!

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  5. Love this, Michele: “… by resting the mind on the things of the Spirit, the gap is bridged between hearing from God and speaking to Him.”
    What a beautiful picture that paints in my mind of what it looks like to memorize and meditate on Scripture. Thank you. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It sounds like the author presents spiritual disciplines in a refreshing light. Even the title presents a different perspective than I typically hear! I’m looking for something new to read in conjunction with my quite time. I’ll be considering this one. Thanks!

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  7. Thanks for this book review. I like that fasting is added under Having God’s Ear. Somethings can not be done by prayer alone. Fasting is so hard for me. That is the area I am working on now. Found you from The Cozy Reading Spot

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  8. I’d never heard of this book, Michele, but I love the idea of spiritual disciplines being habits that enhance our enjoyment of God. I’ve also heard of them as a means of opening up more space for God in our lives. Interesting how he groups them here, a little different than what I’ve read before!

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  9. I love anything to do with learning more and more about God’s grace, so I was interested with just the title. Of course, I have a running list of “Michele’s Books” that I need to find and read because I love nearly every single one you share. This, however, is going right into my Amazon ‘wish list’. 😉
    Thanks for sharing this!
    Blessings,
    Dawn

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Michele, for the book review. I had not come across this one yet. Having spent the last year really digging into the Spiritual Disciplines, this sounds like a book I need to pick up!

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  11. Michele,
    This makes wonderful sense and I think that’s what I am doing with the S.I.M.P.L.E. Method of Bible study. I love: invites the reader to find a regular time and place, to block out distractions, and to “put your nose to the text.”
    blessings,
    Janis

    Like

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