On April 13 I entered self-quarantine with gallons of bottled water, a year’s supply of toilet paper, and a John Piper-esque mission statement: Don’t waste your quarantine.
I was going to use this time of isolation and solitude to grow in godliness and knowledge of God. Rather than consider the lockdown a disruption of daily life, I’d think of it as a retreat from the distractions of the world and use the time to develop new habits of grace. The pandemic was going to be a period of unprecedented spiritual productivity.
And then, a month later, I saw a headline on the satire site The Onion that summed up my actual experience: “Man Not Sure Why He Thought Most Psychologically Taxing Situation of His Life Would Be the Thing to Make Him Productive.”
Tired, But Also Lazy
The pandemic had undoubtably taken a toll on my psyche, and my soul needed to find rest in God (Ps. 62:1). But then I read Proverbs 19:15—“Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry” (NIV)—and wondered if my problem wasn’t just soul weariness but also spiritual shiftlessness. Perhaps the pandemic was revealing how my motivation and willpower had become stagnant. Had I become too lazy to do the work of spiritual formation?
Sanctification is a cooperative work that involves both the Spirit and also the individual Christian. Unlike regeneration, we have an active role to play in the process. While our spiritual formation is rooted in and dependent upon God’s grace, we are expected to develop it through the cultivation of such virtues and practices as knowledge, self-control, and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-5).
Every action is a step either forward or backward on the road to becoming sanctified. If we don’t put forth the effort, we are not likely to make much progress in sanctification. But even as we acknowledge this truth, we often find we have become spiritual sluggards, too lazy to even partake of the daily bread of God’s Word.
We can change these patterns of laziness by developing virtuous habits like daily Bible reading, study, and memorization. Yet sometimes we find our willpower has become so atrophied from lack of use that we are no longer disciplined enough to develop such habits.
Mini-Habits for Maximum Effectiveness
Fortunately, there’s an easy-to-implement method for getting us back on the right path—the cultivation of mini-habits. A “mini habit,” as Stephen Guise explains, is “a very small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day; its ‘too small to fail’ nature makes it weightless, deceptively powerful, and a superior habit-building strategy.”
Here, for instance, are a few examples of mini-habits we can develop to improve our knowledge of God and his Word:
- Spend one minute every day asking God to increase your knowledge of his Word.
- Read one paragraph of Scripture.
- Spend three minutes meditating on a single Bible verse.
- Read one entry from a Bible dictionary
- Study a Bible map for five minutes.
- Read a few pages from a systematic or biblical theology text.
- Memorize a few words from a Bible verse.
- Read a daily devotional.
Mini-Habits of Godliness
And here are also examples of mini-habits that can help us to develop the practice of godliness:
- Spend one minute at a set time every day asking God to increase your respect and reverence for him.
- Memorize and meditate on 1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
- Develop a habit of contemplating the price Jesus paid for our salvation by meditating on his crucifixion. (As the Puritan John Bunyan said, “A right sight of him, as he hanged there for your sins, will dissolve your heart into tears, and make it soft and tender.”)
- Make a list of seven characteristics of God’s nature. Once a day for a week, spend time thinking about what that part of his character means and how that attribute affects your response to him.
- Read an article or watch a short online video about an intriguing creature or phenomenon within nature. Use it to reflect on God’s creativity and to increase your desire to worship the Creator.
What makes mini-habits effective is that they are so small it doesn’t take much motivation to start them—and starting is often the most difficult part of completing a task. Once you commit, for example, to reading a paragraph of Scripture a day, you’ll find reading a few more paragraphs doesn’t require much extra effort. Eventually, through these “extras” added to your mini-habit, you’ll find it easy to transition into more robust habits of spiritual formation.
By making a habit of deepening our reverence and awe for our Lord and his Word, we will become more inclined to live godly lives, both now and also in the future. While they are small steps, the use of mini-habits can help ensure that when we look back on this period of our lives we won’t have to say we wasted our quarantine.