A third strength of the book is its recognition of its contribution. Mathis clearly indicates that his intention is not to replace larger and more prominent works on the spiritual disciplines (like Donald Whitney’s book). He merely tries to communicate the basic principles that will lead to a healthy Christian life.Strengths: The strength of the book is its relentless attention to the core issue of practicing the Spiritual disciplines—a genuine love and passion for God. Often times books on spiritual disciplines can focus on a laundry lists of “to-dos” that will grow the Christian (i.e., read your Bible once in a year, pray 1 hour a day, or serve in the local church). This particular work will constantly remind readers to focus on gaining more of Christ as a result of practicing the disciplines.Summary: The book covers the basic elements of the spiritual disciplines. The book provides three main sections that each correspond with a foundational spiritual discipline. The first section provides a foundation for Bible intake (chaps. 1-6), the second section on prayer (chaps. 7-12), and the final section on fellowship (chaps. 13-18). The book ends with a few appendices on gospel sharing (chap. 19), and stewardship of time (chap. 20), and money (chap. 21).
The book also excels in its section on church fellowship. Six entire chapters are devoted to the importance for a believer to be plugged in and committed to a local church. This is a discipline that may be overlooked in some of the other more detailed and elaborate works on the spiritual disciplines.
Weaknesses: The book does tackle a rather broad topic that should often require much more spilt ink. A little more guidance on the area of Bible reading or study would be better as well. To some extent all Christians should know that they should read their Bible, not many know how. This is a very very minor issue of the work since those reading it are probably familiar with other good resources.I was given this book to read and review since I teach a class at The Los Angeles Bible Training School on discipleship which focuses on the practice and passing on of the spiritual disciplines.Recommendation: This book is probably best suited for new believers becoming first immersed into the Christian faith. It will also highly benefit older saints looking to rekindle their motivation for persevering in the spiritual disciplines—a deep and growing love for the Savior. While it is a short work it is an enjoyable read that challenges the soul.Avoiding books on the spiritual disciplines is a natural response when you already find making time for plain old prayer and Bible reading a struggle. It doesn’t feel possible to memorize, study, journal, pray, and fast. To those who have struggled, as I have, to practice several spiritual disciplines at once, this book will provide a refreshing perspective. Rather than overwhelm with a wide variety of disciplines to keep in tandem with one another, Mathis offers the gift of simplicity, focusing on a few key conduits of grace, and then allowing the specific ways in which these conduits can be fleshed out to be creative and realistic for each individual’s season of life.
All in all, Habits of Grace is likely to do just what its title suggests: help the church to cultivate communion with Christ, through grace, as we welcome simple habits into our daily routines.
[T]he focal point of our lifelong learning is the person and work of Christ. . . . The heart of lifelong learning that is truly Christian is not merely digging deeper in the seemingly bottomless store of information there is to learn about the world and humanity and history, but plunging into the infinite food of Christ’s love, and how it all comes back to this, in its boundless breadth and length and height and depth, and seeing everything else in its light. (p. 85)Some readers will also question whether or not “rebuke” works as a spiritual discipline. At first glance, it raises questions as to why this “one another” command is elevated over similar commands, such as serving one another (Gal 5:13), encouraging one another (1 Thess 5:11) and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). However, given our society’s reticence to receive correction or to open ourselves for input, this discipline addresses a needed growth area and a timely word that could help us root ourselves more deeply in our identity in Christ, as well as encourage and challenge one another to grow in faith and holiness. Mathis’s guidelines for giving and receiving a rebuke provide help for those who are concerned that they do not have what it requires to give (or take) a rebuke. He writes, “The love of Christ for us is the key to unlock the power of rebuke. . . . Only in Jesus can we find our identity not in being without fault, but in being shown love by God when we’re still sinners” (p. 188–89).
One of the most valuable parts of Habits of Grace is the author’s practical ideas for how to incorporate the disciplines into our lives. For example, Mathis offers the following suggestions for being a lifelong learner: vary sources for education in differing seasons of life, redeem space and time for education during the mundane moments of life, switch mindless time into meaningful learning time, adapt to new media formats, and assume the identity of a learner (pp. 86–89). To add further strength to this section, the author could provide a brief explanation of some specific areas to consider for education (e.g., biblical and systematic theology) or a few key resources for learning more about specific books or topics in Scripture. Further clarification on the place of theological studies (both formal and informal) in hearing God’s voice or in continuing education could also provide potential benefit.
The chapter on lifelong learning contains a quote which well sums up Mathis’s emphasis on pursuing God the Person, as opposed to simply pursuing knowledge or performing the disciplines as duty:
Some may question Mathis’s placement of communion and baptism as spiritual disciplines—particularly baptism, since it is a one-time event rather than a repeated practice. However, Mathis frames the disciplines as a means of grace to the believer, and it works well in that context. Believers experience fresh grace in the gospel through the celebration of the Lord’s Table and through observing baptism (both our own and that of others).
Mathis’s emphasis on meditation as the “pinnacle” of hearing God’s voice provides a projected “meeting place” for the mind (as it processes the words of Scripture) and the heart (as the Spirit moves the heart to receive and live the Scripture). Meditation “bridges the gap between hearing from God and speaking to him. . . . We go deep into God’s revelation, take it into our very souls, and as we are being changed by his truth, we respond to him in prayer” (p. 59). Meditation creates a space for communing with God. And by striking a balance between reading Scripture (breadth) and studying Scripture (depth), Mathis points out the value of both approaches. Perhaps there would have been added value in spending time on a few key, tested methods for interpreting Scripture (or recommending some good resources for this), since some readers may feel ill-equipped to answer the questions that arise when they begin to study the Bible in-depth.Mathis helpfully streamlines the disciplines into three pathways of grace: “hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body” (p. 26). The first pathway refers to the ways in which we receive God’s Word: reading, studying, memorizing, mediating, and learning from other teachers. For Mathis, biblical meditation is the pinnacle of Scriptural intake. The second pathway refers to the ways in which we speak to God, and includes private prayer as a “test of authenti
city,” as well as corporate prayer, journaling, and fasting. The third pathway involves the grace we receive as we participate in the life of the body of Christ. This includes corporate worship, listening (to others and to God’s voice through the pulpit), communion and baptism, and rebuke received and given through the process of church discipline. Mathis includes a closing “coda” in which he discusses evangelism, money, and time stewardship. Habits of Grace makes several unique contributions. First, Mathis helpfully establishes the theological foundation that undergirds his understanding of the spiritual disciplines. Receiving God’s Word, speaking to God, and participating in corporate worship are the normal ways that God mediates his justifying, sanctifying, glorifying grace into our lives and hearts. Second, by viewing these disciplines as conduits for grace, Mathis maintains a gospel-centered focus that is too often lacking in books on spiritual disciplines. Third and most notably, he incorporates a community element to the spiritual disciplines, whereas previous books have focused primarily, and at times exclusively, on the individual nature of each discipline. This communal emphasis allows Mathis to present giving and receiving rebuke as a new category of spiritual discipline, and include baptism and communion in the corporate disciplines as well. Themelios is a peer-reviewed international evangelical theological journal that expounds on the historic Christian faith. Its primary audience is theological students, pastors and scholars. It was formerly a print journal operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008. In this first video, David Mathis shares three important discoveries he made in his Christian life that undergird this study and are helpful to mention right at the very beginning. One question we need to raise here at the beginning of our study is: What is the end of the means? Means are means to something, to some end. What is the end of the means?
Thank you for joining us on this five-day adventure through the habits of grace. We want to talk about the spiritual disciplines. There are three discoveries that I’ve made in my Christian life that undergird this study and I think would be helpful to mention here at the very beginning.And then, at the very climax of history, grace himself came, grace embodied, grace incarnate (Titus 2:11). The grace of God appeared; he’s full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus is the climatic manifestation of God’s grace and Jesus lived and he died for us, and then rose in triumph and ascended to heaven where he is seated at God’s right hand as the very paragon of grace in the Christian life.
So the Christian life, from beginning to end, is a life of grace. And God has revealed his channels us grace to us via his Word so that we can go on accessing and availing ourselves of his grace in the Christian life. The first discovery is grace; the second discovery is the means of grace.
Means of grace are like that. We don’t provide the power, we don’t celebrate our actions or what we produce. God provides the power and God reveals to us the actions that we can take to release the power. It’s similar to turning on a faucet. I didn’t put the plumbing in. I’m not the water company that turns on the water. I simply turn on the faucet and the flow of water comes. It’s similar with the means of grace. God has given us actions that we can take that release the regular flow of his power for the Christian life. There are God’s timeless principles related to the fundamental means of grace for our lives (the Word, prayer, and fellowship). Then there are various habits of grace that we can cultivate in various seasons that are specific to our particular life-stage and to our individual personalities and gifts. What I want to do in this study is encourage you along those lines—to have the timeless principles in mind: hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body. And then I want to help you begin to create and experiment with specific habits in your life that will avail you of those key channels of God’s ongoing grace. From being single in college, to being on staff at the campus ministry, to having a full time job, to getting married, to having twin boys and now a daughter, I’ve been through a few seasons of life. One thing I’ve learned is the manifestations of the spiritual disciplines or the habits of grace change—need to change—from season to season.To explain the means of grace we can think about a light switch. When I flip on a light switch in the morning, I don’t celebrate, “Hey! Look what I did! I turned the lights on!” I didn’t provide that power. An electrician wired my house, the power company provided the power; all I did was flip the switch that released the flow of the power.
Three seemingly unremarkable principles shape and strengthen the Christian life: listening to God’s voice, speaking to him in prayer, and joining together with his people as the church. Though seemingly normal and routine, the everyday “habits of grace” we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow—including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.
A text that kind of puts all the big ones together is Acts 2:42, which talks about the early church. You’d expect that in the description of the early church you’d have some kind of categorization of the main things they were engaging in or the means of grace in which they lived their Christian life. Acts 2:32 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” There are four things listed in that verse, but I think of “the breaking of bread” (i.e., the Lord’s Supper) as a part of “the fellowship.”In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines and the companion workbook for individual or group study, David Mathis helps us to discover simple ways to cultivate habits of grace that empower us for the Christian life by connecting us to God’s abundant grace.
And then, he broke into our own lives, not just two thousand years ago when he accomplished all that he did, but even now, as he applies his work to our lives. He calls us effectually by his grace (Galatians 1:6). And then he causes us to be born again by grace. We believe by grace (Acts 18:27). We are forgiven by grace (Ephesians 1:7). We are brought into union with Christ and receive the Holy Spirit by grace.
So all this grace comes into our lives before we can even recognize it. Before we do anything, we are only God-less, disobedient, and sinful. Then the grace of God breaks in and begins saving us. But the grace of God doesn’t stop there. The grace of God not only justifies apart from what we do, but the grace of God is so lavish it doubles (so to speak) by moving into our lives and changing how we live. The grace of God sanctifies, as the grace of God begins to work on us and make us progressively holy.
The first is the reality of grace. I grew up in church and so, before I was even born again, I was taught spiritual disciplines—I was taught to read my Bible, I was taught to pray, I was taught to be in fellowship with the church. Those are all really good things. But before I was born again—before my heart was new—I went through those things, I went through the motions, and they were mainly external. It wasn’t until college—where I was truly born again, where my heart came alive—that the various practices or habits of grace began to be significant to me in feeding my own soul and getting to know Jesus better.
Consequently, I’ve got three things in mind that I like to help Christians with in simplifying their spiritual lives. The apostles’ teaching is the first one. That’s the Word. That’s hearing God’s voice in the Bible. Then there’s the prayers. That’s having God’s ear in prayer. And then there’s the fellowship. That’s belonging to his body in the church.
The reality of grace was significant in all that. The Christian life is all of grace: before us, behind us, to the left of us, to the right of us, beneath us, above us—we are swimming in grace in the Christian life. Before we were even born—if you believe in Jesus—God chose you in him before the foundation of the world and gave you the grace of election (Ephesians 1:4). And that was on his own initiative and for his own purpose, not based on your works (2 Timothy 1:9). For thousands of years, the prophets prophesied of the grace that was to be yours in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:10).
The answer to that is Philippians 3:7-8: “I count all things to be lost in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Or John 17:3, where Jesus prays that we would know the true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Or, to put it in Old Testament terms, Hosea 6:3: “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” The end of the means is knowing and enjoying Jesus. The end is not growth per se. Growth will happen as a kind of a side benefit. What I’ll encourage you with, again and again, is that communing with Jesus—knowing and enjoying him—is the end of the means.One way the New Testament often talks about grace is that we’re justified by grace. That means we are counted righteous—we are declared to be righteous. Not on the basis of our works—what we do—but on the basis of Jesus’s perfect life. Jesus’s accomplishments for us at the cross and in his triumphal resurrection.
Though seemingly normal and routine, the everyday “habits of grace” we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow — including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.
Three seemingly unremarkable principles shape and strengthen the Christian life: listening to God’s voice, speaking to him in prayer, and joining together with his people as the church.Most people in the world have no experience of lasting joy in their lives. We’re on a mission to change that. All of our resources exist to guide you toward everlasting joy in Jesus Christ.Part 1 (chs. 1-6) focuses on God’s Word. Mathis exhorts that “Without the Bible, we will soon lose the genuine gospel and the real Jesus and the true God. For now, if we are to saturate our lives with the words of life, we must be people of the Book” (p. 40). He encourages his readers to read for breadth, and study for depth. He illustrates Bible reading at a swift pace as “raking,” while slow Bible study is “digging” to unearth diamonds. Both are necessary. Then meditation is marveling at the jewels (Josh. 1:8; Ps 1:1-2). Regarding application, Mathis correctly warns,corporate worship is the single most important means of grace and our greatest weapon in the fight for joy, because like no other means, corporate worship combines all three principles of God’s ongoing grace: his word, prayer, and fellowship.”Third, Habits of Grace encourages Christians to pursue joy in Christ through the God-ordained means of the Word, prayer, and fellowship. There is no guilt-tripping. Here is how Mathis carefully motivates believers to read Scripture:
Second, Mathis also distinguishes between the means of grace and the end of the means. For Mathis, the greatest grace is at the end of the path—Jesus himself (p. 30). The means of grace are ultimately about knowing and enjoying Jesus (cf. Phil. 3:8; John 17:3; Jer. 9:23-24).
Part 2 (chs. 7-12) is on prayer. Mathis points out that prayer is a conversation we did not start—prayer is not merely talking to God, but responding to him. Prayer is not about getting things from God, but about getting God himself (p. 95). Prayer begins in secret, but it is also taken out of the closet to continue with other Christians. Practical helps include discussion on fasting (ch. 10), journaling (ch. 11), and practicing silence (ch. 12).
For example, you might consider a simple pattern…: Begin with Bible reading, move into meditation, polish with prayer. On days when you have extended time, you can read and meditate longer, and include journaling, and take time to put some rich passage to memory, and linger in prayer, from adoration to confession to thanksgiving to supplication. But on a crazy morning, you can get through the reading-meditation-prayer sequence in just a few brief minutes if needed.
Lastly and above all, Mathis approach is solidly biblical. Each chapter, though not without practical suggestions, is replete with passage after passage from Scripture that is either quoted, cited, or explained.
David Mathis provides the church with encouragement and tools for spiritual growth in his monograph, Habits of Grace. Mathis highlights three principles of ongoing grace: hearing God’s voice (Scripture), having God’s ear (prayer), and belonging to his body (fellowship) (p. 15). His goal is to help the Christian see “how realistic and life-giving it can be to integrate God’s means of grace into daily habits of life” (p. 18).
Part 3 (chs. 13-18) is about fellowship, where Mathis argues that “true fellowship not only labors to win the lost, but serves to keep fellow saints saved” (p. 146). He draws this from Hebrews 10:24-25 and 3:12-13 where believers are commanded to stir up one another to love and good works by not neglecting the church gathering and to exhort one another daily so that none may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Mathis correctly asserts thatPractically, he suggests caring more about communion with Jesus than checking boxes on a Bible reading plan. This creates flexibility in morning habits. Here is the quote:I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.”
I highly recommend Habits of Grace by David Mathis. The chapters are short and easy to read. You can even get a free pdf copy here (as of April 2020). Mathis will stir up your soul to go to Jesus and enjoy him through the avenues that God has ordained: the Word, prayer, and fellowship. The whole book can be summarized in this quote:
Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But the habit of daily Bible reading can be a marvelous means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?
And it is God’s grace that enables us to make choices and expend effort to seek more of God (1 Cor. 15:10). It is a gift that we would have the desire for and take action to avail ourselves of the means of God’s grace–his voice (the word), his ear (prayer), and his people (fellowship)–with the most basic principle of grace being the immersing of our lives in his word.”
The Christian life, from start to finish, is utterly dependent on the grace of God. Not only do we come into spiritual life by sheer grace (Acts 18:27; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:5), but it is in divine grace that we continue on (Acts 13:43). It is by God’s grace that our souls survive through many trials (2 Cor. 12:9; Heb. 4:16), are strengthened for everyday life (2 Tim. 2:1; Heb. 13:9), and grow into greater maturity and health (2 Pet. 3:18).Fourth, Mathis provides practical helps throughout the book concerning pursuing the Word, prayer, and fellowship. He also includes other topics like evangelism, finances, and managing time. Here are some examples: Habits of Grace presents these three categories of spiritual disciplines as “means of grace” that strengthen your daily life as a believer. When you read the book, you’ll learn practical and accessible tips for creating sustainable lifelong habits. These habits can be adjusted based on the season of life you’re in so that the spiritual disciplines become a joy rather than a duty.[/su_highlight
For both seasoned or new disciples, this is a very clear and practical presentation of the spiritual disciplines. The practical suggestions can bring freshness to our quest to grow in grace.In Habits of Grace, David Mathis offers a simple, accessible and refreshing perspective on the spiritual disciplines, or “habits of grace” as he likes to call them. He categorizes these disciplines into three key principles: God’s voice, God’s ear, and God’s people. These three principles correspond to taking in God’s word (God’s voice), then praying back to God (God’s ear) and then fellowship and corporate worship (God’s people). Mathis aims to emphasize the joy and grace that we are given when we cultivate these habits. Mathis is well aware that “disciplines” can sometimes have a bad reputation because they appear contradictory to grace or the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mathis writes, “The final joy in any truly Christian discipline or practice or rhythm of life is, in the words of the apostle, ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Phil. 3:8)” (30).
Habits of Grace is a simple, accessible and practical resource to help believers discover the joy and delight of knowing Jesus through spiritual disciplines.
Do you know someone who is in a spiritual rut or season of dryness? Perhaps you are bogged down in your personal Bible reading or private prayer life. Perhaps you know many who read the Bible each day, checking off the box, but lack a clear understanding of its purpose. Or maybe you have this feeling that you probably should memorize or meditate on Scripture in a greater way, but you don’t have a clue where to begin. Or perhaps you read Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life many years ago and established a pattern, but you realize you could use a refresher course in the disciplines.
These habits of grace are not ultimately about habits or disciplines, but they are meant to know, love, treasure and worship Jesus more. Mathis says, “When all is said and done, our hope is not to be a skilled Bible reader, practiced pray-er, and faithful churchman, but to be the one who ‘understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth’ (Jer. 9:23-24)” (30).