If you love to-do lists as I do, you’d enjoy creating goals for the day and relish that sense of satisfaction each time you tick off a task, knowing you have been productive.
Every morning, I open my to-do apps to set a few goals for the day: read my Bible, pray, sing a worship song, meet work deadlines, connect with at least three friends, exercise, catch up on world news, and take time for personal joys like reading or painting.
Even if I do not achieve everything on my list, setting tasks helps me start each day mindfully and motivated. Reviewing the list daily also helps me manage my time and expectations of how much I can realistically accomplish in a day.
When it comes to our spiritual walk, however, it can be tricky to measure progress using a to-do app or list.
Still, we set spiritual goals to help us stay diligent and directed in our ultimate aim of walking closely with Christ (Philippians 3:8-9). Although we will not attain this goal perfectly on this side of eternity, it is worth pressing on towards because it is the very thing Christ saved us for. And every step we take toward this goal brings us closer to our heavenly reward (Philippians 3:12-14).
Just like how to-do lists break down my tasks into more manageable sub-tasks, here are two habit-building steps that have helped me move toward the overarching mission of knowing Christ.
Strive for obedience, not perfection
There is undeniably a direct relationship between the time (amount and quality) we spend meditating on Scripture and our ability to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Psalm 1:1-3, John 15:7-8).
Yet, it can be challenging to read our Bibles consistently. I have on multiple occasions started a Bible reading plan beginning from Genesis, only to lose steam by Deuteronomy after chugging through the (occasionally dry and repetitive) laws in Numbers and Leviticus.
Maybe, like me, you find certain books of the Bible not engaging enough or confusing. Or you find reading three chapters a day with Bible commentaries too much to do in one sitting.
Building lasting habits takes time, discipline, and regularity. However, this can be difficult to achieve if we do not fine-tune our goals to the specific season we are in—whether it’s a smooth-sailing and sun-shining one, or a heart-wrenching or energy-sapping one.
When I found myself in a spiritually dry or exceptionally busy period, I was tempted to ignore my Bible altogether. This was partly due to an unhelpful “all-or-nothing” attitude; I felt guilty when I did not or could not cover the set readings on time.
Looking back, I see how a legalistic approach like this—measuring faithfulness by how well I met these goals—stifles, rather than spurs my spiritual growth.
In the insightful words of R.C. Sproul, “The gospel isn’t opposed to effort, but it is opposed to earning.” Reminding ourselves of how we are saved through faith in Jesus, not our works, frees us to focus on what is truly important—giving God our hearts and leaning on His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
God knows we will struggle at different points of our faith and offers His loving guidance and wisdom to help us make obedient choices (Hebrews 4:14-16). Obedience can look like reading a chapter or two of our Bibles a day, meditating on a particular passage that addresses a current need, singing along to a worship song, or praying a psalm.
But what if we have no mood to do any of these?
A friend once advised me to just start. Start with something small and simple. Don’t dwell on the “I should haves”, the “I’m just not feeling it”, or “There’s no point starting if I can’t keep up”.
There are many tiny ways to slowly develop our discipline, which in turn moulds our desires. Wherever you are in your faith journey, God will faithfully meet you there. We just need to keep showing up (Hebrews 10:22-23) and trust Him to work continually in us through every passage read, song sung, and prayer uttered—growing and maturing us to finish well (Philippians 1:6).
I find it helpful to see daily reminders on my to-do list app, while my friends have methods like setting alarms for specific times of the day, placing their Bible in clear sight on their work desk, or tagging Bible reading onto existing habits like grabbing a coffee.
As we set and take small steps in our spiritual disciplines, the Spirit powerfully transforms our hearts and minds, growing our capacity to love God and His Word more.
Commit to church and community
These days, we read of drastic declines in church attendance even after the safe re-opening of churches for in-person worship. Personally, I also struggled to want to attend church physically given the convenience of church online—getting to wake up 10 minutes before service starts, praising God in my pyjamas, and toasting bread during someone’s prayer.
I also noticed my withdrawal from needing to see people or fellowship with other believers. I grew accustomed to worshipping God solo or with two other people, and had forgotten the joy of gathering with other Christians.
After several months, I felt a stirring in my heart that this wasn’t how church was meant to be. As believers, we are to gather in God’s house, in each other’s homes, and share everything with great joy and generosity (Acts 2:44-46). The lack of fellowship and accountability was hindering my growth as part of God’s people (1 Peter 2:9).
So, again, I went back to small and simple goals. I asked God to first show me one small step I can take to commit to and love my church community.
I began by sleeping earlier on a Saturday night, winding my body clock 15 minutes backward at a time, until it went from 1am to 11pm. This allowed me to wake up earlier, alert, and ready for worship.
Then, I started showing up at church every Sunday despite how I felt, committing any deterring thoughts to God (2 Corinthians 10:5). Whenever I’m tempted to bail because it had been a long week of work, or I feel depleted after Saturday socials, I would pray and ask God for the strength to do what pleases Him (Romans 8:26-27).
I had to also commit to intentionally connecting with people in my church. I grew up in this church and knew many familiar faces, but having just returned home after many years of studying abroad, I had to take the time to get to know new people and those I’d lost touch with. Gently, God reminded me that loving others isn’t meant to be easy and would take time and effort.
Slowly, I started chatting with at least one person after church service, rather than dashing off after the benediction. It can be daunting to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know well, but I have found that a smile can go a long way as an icebreaker and signal of friendship. Introducing yourself and asking someone how they are can feel superficial or awkward at first, but these lay the groundwork for budding friendships that will sprout over time with patient tending (Galatians 6:9).
After growing more comfortable with a handful of people, I started being more intentional about joining or initiating lunch after church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. To take it a step further, we might challenge ourselves to encourage one another after the service by discussing the sermon or praying together (Ephesians 4:15-16), and to reach out to those on the margins. Working together, we can create ripple effects of God’s love as we welcome others into our circles.
In coming together, I’m reminded that we have the greatest thing in common: Jesus’s love for us on the cross, our identity as children of God, and our partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:4-6).
I am far from loving my church perfectly, and I fall again on God’s grace for the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-7). The Spirit will help us persevere in meeting together, to encourage and spur one another toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I can testify that with each small goal set and reached, God is slowly stretching my love for Him and His people.
If you are feeling jaded and discouraged and feel like you can’t do any of the above, take heart. When we are weary and weighed down, we can go to Jesus, to rest our souls in Him and listen to His voice (Matthew 11:28-30). As a line from my favourite song goes, “[We] labour on in weakness and rejoicing, for in [our] need His power is displayed.” God, who has begun a good work in you, will continue to perfect and complete it until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).