Preachers have been saying it for years, but now the research is proving it too. Cultivating even the simplest of spiritual habits will make you feel closer to God and result in you loving others better, says Matt Jolley
How can I grow as a disciple of Jesus?
And how can I make sure this growth impacts every area of my life, not just my Sunday mornings?
These are the questions we can find ourselves asking when we’re unsure how best to live for Jesus in our everyday places. Whether we’re at work on Monday, looking after the kids on Tuesday, or speaking to our mates at the pub on Wednesday. Spotting what God’s doing in those places – and then joining in – isn’t always easy.
But what if I told you that it only takes a subtle shift in our daily habits to see that kind of visible, impactful growth, regardless of age or stage?
Well, that’s exactly what the latest report in LICC’s Shaping Disciples research project has found.
We recruited 82 normal Christians from across the UK to take part in the research, aiming to explore the effect different spiritual practices – intentional habits designed to help disciples deepen their faith – can have on how Christians live.
Over the course of the project, the participants integrated four tailor-made spiritual practices with a whole-life focus into their lives. We then got the participants to complete surveys before and after the project with ‘fruitfulness indicators’ to see whether there were any changes.
The results were even more encouraging than we’d hoped.
most people reported living more like Jesus and having a closer relationship with God because they regularly embedded spiritual practices into their daily life
After spending three months doing daily spiritual practices including Bible reflection, the prayer of Examen, breath prayers, and their own DIY practice, there was an increase in participants living fruitfully a lot of the time in every single indicator we measured. These included doing jobs or tasks well, acting with grace and love, seeing God work through them, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit.
To really hammer this home, we also gave them 14 statements relating to their life as a disciple, and asked whether these things were happening more or less than before. When we asked about how often they felt aware of God’s presence, knew how to act in everyday life, prayed for situations, felt close to God, had healthier thought processes, and had a better attitude to tasks, the majority were seeing them happen more. For another five statements, at least 40% were seeing them happen more.
In other words, most people reported living more like Jesus and having a closer relationship with God because they regularly embedded spiritual practices into their daily life.
The practices used were all oriented towards applying faith to everyday life, and using the things they already did throughout their days – brushing their teeth, driving, even just breathing – as a prompt to pray, reflect and invite God into their entire lives.
By now, you might be considering trying out some of these practices for yourself, and we’ve got some advice to get you started. You might also be thinking, Those stats sound encouraging, but exactly what sort of difference can I expect to see if I start incorporating practices into my life?
Great question. We saw growth take place in three key areas, which we’ll call ‘up’, ‘in’, and ‘out’.
Up: The change in people’s relationship with God
As a result of doing practices like breath prayers, participants saw God at the centre of all they did, instead of at the periphery.
Two in three participants felt more aware of God’s presence with them during the day. Most felt closer to God. And over 40% were more aware of his love for them as they went about their tasks. That amazing feeling of seeing God work through you in your job, or in your relationship with your neighbour, became a more regular occurrence.
In: the change in how people view themselves
Relating to God differently helped people see themselves differently too. Participants described themselves as more peaceful and more prayerful as they went about their days.
By the end of the three months, 13% more described themselves as ‘purposeful’, and more people chose to describe themselves as ‘faith-filled’ or ‘flourishing’.
Meanwhile, 13% fewer felt ‘stuck’, and fewer felt frustrated or jaded, too. Having embedded practices into their life, most participants had a healthier thought process and a better attitude to their daily tasks.
Out: the change in how people act
The inward change in self-perception led to an external change in how people approached everyday life. By the end of the project, most participants reported having a better sense of how to act, and nearly half felt they represented Jesus better and related to others better at the end of the process. They were being more patient in responding to frustrating situations with the kids, more honest where they got things wrong, and more kind and considerate towards friends.
When we embed spiritual practices such as prayer and Bible reading into our everyday lives, it quickly changes the way we behave, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we see our relationship with God. It’s really that simple.
If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’re convinced and ready to get going. And we’re here to help with that! Our Shaping Disciples research also explored what helped people keep going with spiritual practices beyond day one or two. So whether you’re looking to embed practices in your own life, or you’re a church leader wondering how to help your congregation engage, check out our findings – which are full of practical tips you can use.