Do you  need some new habits?  Are you really free to be who you want to be?  John Ortberg in his book THE LIFE YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED gives some tests to see if you may need some new habits or spiritual disciplines:

1) Am I becoming more joyful or ungrateful in life?

2) Am I becoming more judgmental and critical to myself and others?

3) Am I becoming more or less approachable to my employees, spouse, or children?

4) Am I growing weary from stress and worry?

If your life is not becoming more filled with joy than critique, you need to become stronger in your ability to celebrate. You need these disciplines.   If you are less approachable and more stressed than ever, you need some new habits.  Currently doing whatever you want to:  grumbling, complaining, coveting, or blaming isn’t freeing you to be who you really want to be.  It’s not filling you with joy, peace, and strength.  You and I need new “ought to” structure in our lives.

Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and follower of Christ writes, “Put structure into your life in areas you are not mature enough to take the initiative.”  If you are not mature enough, spiritually or psychologically, to know how to find joy in hardship, to persevere in difficulty, or become less judgmental as you age, you need some outside structure (habits and disciplines) to aim you in the right direction. Henry shared that he needed structure to lose weight. He hired a trainer to push him to do his “ought to’s.” After weeks of diet, exercise and hard training, he stopped in the middle of the workout, turned to the trainer and said, “OH NO! We forgot to take “before” shots so we can see how much weight I’ve lost.”  Without missing a beat, the trainer looked at him and said, “Oh, we still can.”   Henry realized that he still had along way to go.  He put structure in his life before he got to one of those “have to moments” where fear was driving him.

Paul writes in the Bible that the starting point for training is realizing that “we haven’t already got what we want or need.”  When we realize that we are not “there” we are motivated to press on.

Phil 2:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Until we get a mental picture of what a life of grace, joy, peace, worry-free, purpose filled life is, we won’t be pursuing it.    But when we realize that doing what I ought to do can free me to do what I want to do… Those Habits turn into Passions.


A singer or musician says, “I want to play the piano like that.”  So they practice, and practice. Driven by the vision of playing in front of crowds.   Their desire to do what they want to do causes them to practice what they ought to do.   They know that their dedication to their craft now will lead to celebration later.   Limiting their freedom by taking time to practice will increase their freedom to play strong, to make beautiful music.

I remember hearing a youth speaker named Greg Speck speak when I was in 6th grade.  He used humor, real life, Bible teaching to grab my attention. I had never heard the Bible so relevant and compelling. I said, “I want to do that.” I took speech classes, drama classes, and every live presentation skill course that I could.   It became a passion.  I wanted the results of the disciplines I was learning. That Dedication leads to Celebration.  A habit turned to a passion, which turned to a career.

In his book, GENEROUS JUSTICE, Tim Keller tells a story of a young couple Mark and Heather. Heather graduated from Harvard Law School and landed a lucrative job with a major law firm in Manhattan. It was a dream come true.  She was a high-powered corporate lawyer living the life in the big city.  Her passion for this dream drove her to keep the discipline of study, the Bar, the late nights, etc.  Then something new happened.  She wanted to make a difference in the lives of individuals who couldn’t afford the kinds of fees her clients paid her firm. For a fraction of her former salary, she became an assistant district attorney, where so many of the criminals she prosecuted were those who have been exploiting the poor, particularly women.   Her new passion and vision to help those suffering injustice, drove her to practice new disciplines of frugality and selflessness.

I had a friend in college who was so struck by the poverty in the city, he made a discipline about going into Cabrini Green (one of the worst projects in the city where a person was shot almost every day).  This discipline seemed foolish, unsafe, and stupid, but he was driven to build relationships, help those in poverty, and work with children and families to escape generational poverty. This discipline of daily trips turned into an obsession. He decided to move into Cabrini Green. No white, suburban college student from a upper middle class family had ever done this to my knowledge.  The drug dealer thought he was a cop. The cops thought he might be a drug dealer. Who would shoot him first?  I worked with 30-60 children that he brought to our church every Wednesday.  He was so passionate about helping the poor and elevating these children to a new life. This passion of his “WANT TO” began as a “OUGHT TO” going into Cabrini Green as a requirement for a class in college.

Dedication leads to Celebration. I train and run, and eat right… so I can have the reward of good health, longer life, the thrill of crossing the finish line.

Ph 2:13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Paul notes that a mark of maturity (vs 15) is to “have this mind”… or “think this way” … focus on this bulls-eye.   When you are in an “ought to” pushing on, striving, you think about the “want to” the prize, the “things that are ahead.”

The rewards Paul is speaking of come from a deeply connected heart with God’s.  We get the prize? What is the prize?  The greatest prize is being at peace with God, but pleasing Him, rewarded by Him. We are psychologically motivated to pursue acceptance from those who matter most to us. Some of us pursue the prize of our spouse, some our colleagues, some our possessions.  Midlife crisis hits when we discover our success or prize isn’t all we hoped. We think “I thought I was on my way, but I’m not. I made it to the top, the zenith, and looked over to the other side of life and… well, the other side of life looks like the first half, like the bear that went over the mountain song, to see what he could see, and what did he see? The other side of the mountain is what he saw.  He realized that the prize of second half was the same success he already knew.   He needs a prize of being accepted, acknowledged, and rewarded by someone far greater than family, stockholders, or colleagues. Paul says being rewarded by God is far far far superior than anything you can taste on earth.  Paul disciplines himself now to taste of that prize of knowing His Maker.

We had a leader’s Bible study a few years ago. Two men shared their need to put the discipline of  “going home” into their lives. The work is never done.  They wanted to have a stronger marriage, time with the family, etc.  But, in order to do it, they had to make a discipline of going home at a particular time.  These two CEO’s also had a passion for their companies.  They chose to leave regularly.  They made going home a discipline.   Once they did it, they got the benefits of being home, of good health, of spending time with kids.  At the moment they left the office, they didn’t “want to” or “feel good about it” but the got the rewards anyway.  This is true in every area of life.

So, why would you want to go through this STRONG journey and get “more disciplined?”   What’s in it for me?  What are the benefits?    Well, let me summarize.   Too often, people go to the doctor, to church, to marriage counseling, to stress counseling, when they “HAVE to.”  There is a tragedy with their lives that drive them to “have to” start new disciplines. This next month gives you an excuse. Some outside structure to do some “OUGHT TO’s” before they become “HAVE TO’s.”  So this journey can save you some pain and prevent you from getting to the point you “have to” do something.

More confidence in God. More joy. More wisdom. More authenticity. More joy.  More Play.

Our first discipline is the discipline of joy and play.  You can become a joyful person. With God’s help, it really is possible.  Joyfulness is a learned skill.  You must take responsibility for your own joy, not your friend, not your parent, not your spouse, not your kids or boss…your joy is your responsibility. For some, this does not come easily.  You may be joy-impaired. You will have to fight for it, but it can be done.  ~ J. Ortberg

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