Faithful Christians want to live a God-glorifying life. John Piper proclaimed: Don’t Waste Your Life. In Jesus Continued . . . , J. D. Greear challenged readers with “don’t waste your white space,” an appeal to glorify God in seasons that seem meaningless—Israel in the wilderness or David returning to pasture sheep after being anointed king (1 Samuel 16). While such admonitions motivate us to appropriately consider the overall trajectory of the Christian life, we must not forget that our future is determined by what we do with the little moments of our day. It’s not the dreams you dream, but the small decisions you make, that determine your destiny. While many of us aspire to live meaningful lives for Jesus, I fear that we might be actually wasting our lives by wasting our moments.
You Are What You Do
The Christian life is a lifetime journey of abiding in Jesus Christ. However, without realizing it, we can easily float through our days with a false assurance that the amount of Bible-knowledge in our brains is the most accurate gauge of our commitment to Christ. But you are not simply the composite of what you know with your mind. You are what you love.
This idea becomes most apparent in moments where our brains and our hearts disagree. Have you ever done something in spite of the information in your brain? Sure you do. We all have. We’re not brains on a stick, acting precisely in accordance with intellectual computations. Even when I know I’m not hungry, I see a video advertisement for a cheeseburger, and suddenly I’m in the kitchen scavenging for something to eat. Such heart-level desires form the core of who we are.
If what we love is so important, how do we know what we love? The answer is not as obvious as it might initially seem. What we love is not immediately found in what we think or in what we say. The secret to unearthing what we truly love (and who we truly are) lies in observing the many involuntary habits happening each and every day. You are what you do.
Indeed, what we love (and who we are) is revealed by what we do (cf. James 2:14–26). Process this with me. We can all immediately say things that we love, but our words can be misleading sometimes. And this is precisely the point made by James K. A. Smith in You Are What You Love. Each day is comprised of thousands of tiny decisions, some voluntary and many involuntary. Consider what you did first thing this morning. Choices abound pertaining to alarm clocks, bathrooms, food and drink, Bible-intake and prayer, time with family, or exercise. Behind every decision is the steady hum of the heart as a want-machine—what do your actions say about your desires, and your desires about the trajectory of your life? The Christian life, in the words of Smith, becomes “. . . more a matter of hungering and thirsting than knowing and believing.”¹ And we best understand our hungering and thirsting by analyzing our habits.
Question Your Routine
A significant step toward glorifying God with your day is to begin questioning your daily routines through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The goal of this step is to increase both awareness and analysis. Start by thinking through the underlying motivations behind your everyday actions, no matter how small.
As an example, I have an unhealthy habit of constantly checking my smartphone while driving. It’s not for lack of knowledge about the danger. I’ve seen ads about the dangers of distracted driving. My family members lovingly raise awareness when they see me reaching for my phone. But at the same time, there’s something in me that is conditioned to constantly check my phone. I think part of it is an idol of efficiency and achievement. I find it hard to “shut it off” and put the phone down. But at another layer, my problem is also a fear of missing out — whether that’s news, social media, or even texts from friends. Each of these heart motives rebel against the gospel that proclaims satisfaction for our souls in God, that our identity in Christ is not determined by what we do, and that only God holds ultimate power and control. As such, I need to repent of these sins and ask God to give me his grace to (a) not look at my phone when tempted and (b) pursue more potentially God-glorifying alternatives—talk to a friend, enjoy music or a podcast, or devote my commute to Scripture memory or prayer.
The Hard Work of Gospel Growth
The example above is just one of the very many ways the desires of our flesh are at war against the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:17) every day. When we start down this road, the Holy Spirit will inevitably convict each of us in specific ways how our lives are motivated by sinful desires. But awareness of sinful desires is not enough. Neither is fighting sinful desires in our own strength. The key is to live in the power of the gospel and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). The good news of the gospel is that Jesus’s death on the cross provides forgiveness for our sins and new life in the resurrected Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
With our faith in Christ’s work for us, let us not overlook the importance of our own hard work done in Christ—re-programming our once-sinful desires to honor God through intentionality and routine. In an age when many Christians shy away from dry routines in search of fresh feelings, perhaps more of us need to commit to the hard work of gospel-saturated growth. Not every action toward obedience should be labeled works-righteousness. When practiced in Christ and by the Spirit, intentionality and discipline can produce more Christ-exalting habits. You are what you do. So do what honors God.
Consider these practical components as you ask God to change your desires:
- Guilt and shame over our sin is normal and healthy, but we must beware the temptation to get stuck in unshakeable guilt. God’s judgment against our sin is paid for by the death of Christ on the cross. The finished work of Jesus in his death and resurrection frees his people from condemnation (cf. Rom 8:1) and any lingering guilt associated from our sinful desires. Thus, don’t feel defeated just because you feel tempted. Look to Jesus.
- Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we kill sinful desires and cultivate new ones. Acknowledge your inability to change by human effort, and abide in Jesus, asking him to change you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Though this process might look like a new works-righteousness at first glance, any work or effort belongs to our faith in the grace of God at work within us (cf. 1 Cor 15:10, Gal 5:6).
Glorifying God in the Little Moments
A primary point of this article is a recovery of Proverbs 4:23 in the seemingly-mundane moments of the day—“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Consider what your habits say about what you worship. Talk about these ideas with other Christians in community. And allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you intentionally cultivate more Christ-exalting habits each and every day. For every little moment is another opportunity for us to give God the glory he deserves. Don’t waste your moments.
What’s next? Maybe the next step for you is to start questioning your habits. Introduce a layer of Spirit-led inquisitiveness into your daily routine. Why do I habitually do that? What desire motivated that action? Is that habit leading me to worship Jesus, or an some other idol? Two helpful resources for curious readers are Smith’s You Are What You Love and Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary.
Looking for ways to respond and apply these truths?
- Take an inventory of your habits. What actions do you involuntarily practice every day or even multiple times a day? Remember, no habit is insignificant. Every habit is either fueling affections for Jesus or appealing to our sinful flesh.
- In what ways is the Holy Spirit calling you to repent from ungodly habits? How can you replace those habits with practices that seek to exalt Jesus and find satisfaction in him?
- Invite others into this conversation. What would it look like to evaluate your habits with your family, your friends, or your small group? Share a specific habit with the group and verbally trace the action to the heart-level desire that fuels it. Do these desires seek to exalt Jesus or an idol?
¹James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2016), 2.