The Wonder Report: June 25, 2021
A Habit Called Faith
Happy Friday! It’s been dark and rainy all day here in central Indiana, but since I have to be inside working all day anyway, I haven’t minded.
This week we are beginning an eight-week series on A Habit Called Faith, where we’ll talk about both the new book by that name by Jen Pollock Michel and the actual habit of faith.
Notice I didn’t say “habits.” We’ll talk about those, too. But this week, I want to begin with this distinction.
When I was a new Christian, I began hearing pretty early about the fruits of the Spirit. I’d see them depicted on a bulletin board arranged as a bowl of fruit, love as an apple, joy as a banana, peace as a peach—you get the idea. For years, I learned about the importance of having all these fruits in my life, so I diligently set out to be more patient and kind and self-controlled.
It wasn’t until years into my faith, when I was reading Galatians 5 for probably the 50th time, that I realized there was no “s.” It wasn’t the fruits of the Spirit; it was the fruit. And just like that, the distinction became significant. See, the fruit of the Spirit isn’t a character-quality wishlist for me aspire to. It’s the actual result of God’s work in my life, the fruit of his salvation. I’d never collect these fruits like spiritual badges on the sash of my soul. Rather, this fruit, or evidence, of the Spirit’s work in my life would as I demonstrated more goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness toward others.
In other words, the fruits weren’t the point. Rather, the fruit simply pointed to what the Spirit was already doing in me.
There’s a similar distinction between the habits of faith and the habit of faith. Yes, there are habits we can practice that help us grow and mature in our faith. Many of you have started a list in the comment section over on The Wonder Report Substack page: Bible reading, prayer, meditation, silence, worship, and more.
But the point that Jen starts off with in the first week of A Habit Called Faith is that all of these habits are just pointing to this bigger reality of faith itself, and faith begins with the work of God in our lives.
“[Moses} wants them to understand that faith is not the cause but effect, not call but response: a response to the God whose love sets everything into motion. We don’t love God in order to be loved by him. We love God because he first loved us. And just as God’s love for his people isn’t expressed in the abstract, neither is our love for God …. To love God is to obey him—because the commands of God are not simply for us to know but to do.”
In this way, faith is not only a system of believing but also a habit of practicing—with each action demonstrating God’s work in us. So yes, we should read our Bibles. But the habit of Bible reading is not our faith. It’s an action that helps us practice our faith. Yes, we should pray. But the habit of prayer is not our faith. Like Bible reading, it's also the way we practice our faith. And I could go on.
As Paul writes to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:8-9). Just like the Spirit producing fruit in our lives, the habit of faith reveals God at work. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10).
The point of making this distinction is not to diminish the habits of our faith. They are good for us. They ground us and anchor us. At their best, these habits can even usher us into the presence of God. Instead, I want to remind us that these little habits are part of a bigger more significant habit: the working out of our faith. And thankfully, in that we are not alone.
“When I first became a Christian,” Jen writes, “I used to imagine that my connection to God was as tenuous as my feeble grip. I tried holding fast with a strict regimen of spiritual habits … but it always seems that my fingers were slipping …. Only years later did I realize that it wasn’t, in fact, my grip that mattered. As another habit of faith, I had to believe I was held fast in his strong hand.”
Summer Reading Club
Let’s discuss Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
This week, we read Days 1-5 of the book. If you’re reading along (or even if you aren’t), consider responding to one or more of these questions in the comment section by clicking on the button below:
How does remembering that God is the author of your faith help you think about the habits of your faith thus far? In what ways are you encouraged to continue?
What is a habit you’ve practiced for at least five years? How would you compare it to your faith? What can it teach you about faith as a habit?
In what ways are your expectations of God (and the Bible) confirmed or challenged as you read and study God’s word?
How would you like to begin or deepen your own habit of talking to God?
Prayer and Bible reading seem like the two most popular habits of faith. What other habits, maybe even ones that aren’t so obviously “spiritual,” help you live out your faith?
It’s not too late to read along. Here’s the Reading Schedule for the rest of the summer:
Week 2 (June 26-July 2): Days 6-10
Week 3 (July 3-9): Days 11-15
Week 4 (July 10-16): Days 16-20
Week 5 (July 17-23): Days 21-25
Week 6 (July 24-30): Days 26-30
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
This and That
Here are a few articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
1. “Dad, why does Deuteronomy 20 talk about killing the boys and girls?” by Matthew Schlimm for The Christian Century. If you’re reading along through Deuteronomy at Jen Pollock Michel’s suggestion in A Habit Called Faith, then you may have asked yourself a similar question. The Bible often includes scenes and issues we have no easy answers for. Jen tackles this dilemma herself in the first week’s readings, but I really liked the answer this Bible professor offers, too.
From the essay: “The truth is, we’re finite beings trying to grasp the infinite through texts that are thousands of years old. We’re fooling ourselves if we think everything will have an easy answer—or even any answer at all. Maybe these texts are in our Bibles so that we worship God more than God’s word.”
2. The social-media-examined life is not the one that sustains us by Karen Swallow Prior for Religion News Service. I’m a huge fan of Karen’s, so I’d probably share this essay anyway. But I thought her wisdom here on taking the long view of the Christian life adds another dimension to our discussion of the habit of faith. Faith is both given to us by God as an act of grace, and it’s also something we live out and grow into over the long journey of our lives.
From the essay: “It takes seconds to send a tweet that goes viral. It takes an hour to give a talk. It takes a year or two or more to write a book.
But it has taken two decades to restore this home, to tame its grasses and shrubs, to cultivate the flowers planted years before by others, and for the roses planted by us to climb over the garden wall.
It has taken two decades to live with, get to know and serve, and love our neighbors — to see their children grow up and their parents pass away, to be the ones who mow a lawn during a medical crisis, to plow the driveways after a snowstorm, to get the texts when they are going on vacation, to share pictures from graduations, to celebrate the milestone birthdays, to look for a lost dog and to share holiday dinners together.”
Nature Outside Your Door
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” — Rachel Carson
For the next several weeks, I’ll offer a summer series called “Nature Outside Your Door.” In it, we’ll talk about ways to connect with nature and appreciate God’s creation even if you can’t leave your neighborhood.
This week, let’s look for the unexpected.
By the way, while we’re talking about connecting with nature, I wanted to pass along an opportunity. My friend Heather LeFebvre is offering her online nature journaling class Nature & Nurture: the lives and landscapes of Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Beatrix Potter this summer beginning July 16th. Her six week class combines history, literature, botany, geography, watercolor instruction and even tea time for a unique nature journaling experience. You can find all the details at her website.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
This week, welcome Tasha Jun.
When I write, I sometimes feel like there’s an invisible wall between me and the sea of white in front of me. I often need help unlocking the tangled mess of what’s in my heart and mind before I can befriend a blank page.
Listening to music, reading poetry, looking at artwork in a book or museum, or taking a walk under the cover of trees almost always helps me. Observing and immersing myself in art that I didn’t create somehow helps to untangle and pull out thoughts and emotions word by word. It can feel counterintuitive to focus on another person’s artwork or stanzas, but in many ways, all of our unique stories and expressions give us reflections of one another. One person’s painting of wilting flowers reminds me of what I (or my characters) am longing for in my own life. The canopy of trees whose leaves clap for us with the help of the wind, reminds me that I’m not alone and have something to say about that. Music pulls at my heartstrings, and another person’s song about love or loss or beauty, shows me how to write what’s inside my heart with honesty and bravery.
Try it for yourself. Give your eyes a break from your own page, offer your mind a break from your own efforts to organize its contents, and focus on the work of someone else. Pick one of these art forms and allow yourself to get lost for a while. Let the words or colors wash over you as if your only job is to observe, think, and feel what you see or hear. May the company of another’s song, poetry, canvas, or the trees guide you.
Tasha Jun is a melancholy dreamer, a biracial Korean American storyteller, wife to Matt, and mama to three little warriors: two wild boys and one little lady. As long as she can remember, she’s lived and stood in places where cultures collide. Writing has always been the way God has led her towards home and the hope of shalom. Her book A Roar that Trembles will be published in 2022.
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Until next time,