What will make 2021 a successful year? If you pay attention to social media or American culture, you’ll find quite a bit of optimism about 2021. Everyone seems to agree that it’s going to be a great year. The reasons vary, but it typically comes down to the simple fact that this year is not 2020. I too am excited about this year, but I’m also trying to remember that nothing magical happened last Thursday night at midnight.
Still, I think we’d all like to see some personal and family success this year. What do we as dads need to do in order for 2021 to be a “good year”? Your natural tendency might be to aim big. If this year is to be noteworthy, you’re going to need to accomplish some pretty big things, maybe in the form of a job promotion, the establishment of a new ministry, or an epic getaway for the family.
“It’s the little things over the long haul that make the biggest difference.”
There’s nothing wrong with big goals. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to a different strategy. Author and Pastor Zack Eswine observes that we often aim to accomplish “large, famous things fast” when in reality it’s the “small, overlooked graces over long periods of time” that lead to accomplishments that truly matter.1
Our daily habits over the next twelve months will shape 2021 in a way far greater than even the most commendable of our more lofty goals. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three simple, but powerful habits that every believing dad should cultivate this year. For each habit, we’ll not only examine the habit itself; we’ll also observe how that habit accesses the powerful grace of God.
This year, every believing dad should daily read portions of God’s Word. This habit is probably one you’ve already thought about, and chances are, you’ve already begun. That’s awesome! Don’t stop. If you haven’t yet begun a plan to read some or all of the Bible this year, all you need to do is google “Bible Reading Plans” and you’ll have more than enough plans to choose from.
As we read our Bibles this year, we will behold our Savior on its pages, and His Spirit will transform us into His image. Do you want to be more like Christ this year? Read your Bible every day. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Read in a quiet room without your phone. Quiet rooms are sometimes hard to come by, so try to find a time when your family is either occupied or sleeping.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to turn His beam on whatever passage you’re reading. In order for your Bible reading to be more than black words on white paper, He’s going to need to illuminate your heart with its meaning.
- Read with the Bible’s entire story in mind. The Bible is a story about how God saves sinful people through the God-man Jesus Christ. Before you start reading, make sure you’re oriented to that story.2
- Look for Jesus. When you’re in the Old Testament, He will be present in types, prophecies, or shadows. In the New Testament, the gospels announce that Jesus has come. And the rest of the New Testament tells us what it all means and how we should respond.
- Exclaim with your pen. As you read you’ll probably find some things that stand out. Keep a pen handy so you can underline those verses or even jot down a quick note in the margin. These simple actions have a unique way of etching the truth of Scripture onto your heart.
Why read your Bible every day? The children’s song explains, “You’ll grow, grow, grow!” As we behold the glory of the Lord, we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The growth may be incremental and slow, but God has promised: you will grow.
I once heard an elderly pastor relate that, for the last several decades of his life, he had read fifteen chapters of his Bible every day. He noted that it hadn’t always been exciting, like a palate-stimulating dessert. Instead, it had felt more like a daily serving of meat and potatoes for the purpose of simply living and growing. And over time, little by little, his (rather large) daily serving of “meat and potatoes” had been transforming him into the image of Jesus Christ.
It’s the little things over the long haul that make the biggest difference.
It is difficult to behold the glory of Jesus in the Bible without responding back to God with praise and petition. If Bible reading is breathing in, then prayer is breathing out. A Christian who does one to the exclusion of the other will pass out spiritually.
For this reason, every believing dad should commit to regularly come to God in prayer this year.
The reformer John Calvin divided prayer into two categories: we petition God because we are so needy and we thank God because He is so great.3 As dads, we know well how weak we can be, but do we know God’s strength? Through prayer we access the “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10), who also happens to be our Father. Here are two aspects of God’s grace accessed through prayer.
- Prayer is fellowship. David Mathis observes that “prayer . . . is not merely talking to God, but responding to the One who has initiated toward us. He has spoken first. This is not a conversation we start, but a relationship into which we’ve been drawn.”4 God has made some grand promises to those who seek Him in this way, such as “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
- Prayer is effective. In God’s inscrutable sovereignty, He has ordained to use our prayer to accomplish His purpose. Yes, prayer is a command, but it also comes with a promise. “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). “When he calls to me, I will answer him” (Psalm 91:15). “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). John Calvin remarks, “Some . . . are impressed by the fact that the prayers of the saints were often answered. Why was that? Naturally it was because they prayed.”5
Do you need strength this year? Do you want your children to grow? If so, you must regularly pray. Perhaps consider implementing a new habit, such as kneeling three times a day to pray.6 It can also be a great help to pray with an open Bible in front of you, responding to what God is communicating to you.7 In addition to regular times of prayer, try talking to God throughout your day, in the shower, as you’re driving, while you’re working on a project. Continually bring your needs and your loved ones before “the God of all grace.”
This may seem like a little habit, but, over the long haul, it will make a big difference.
Every believing dad must participate in Christ’s Great Commission this year by telling the good news to both believers and unbelievers alike.
What is the Great Commission?
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:18–20a).
“If a disciple is a follower of Christ, then making disciples is simply helping someone else follow Christ.”
It’s possible that you hadn’t thought much about this habit yet. You also may be wondering what evangelism has to do with growing fathers. Honestly, everything. A growing father is called by Christ to be a disciple-maker, not just of his family, but of others as well. If you want to bear fruit this year, then you must seek to faithfully make disciples as Christ commanded.
What does it mean to make disciples? If a disciple is a follower of Christ, then making disciples is simply helping someone else follow Christ. This involves an investment of time and words. We prayerfully discipline ourselves to spend time with those who need to hear the gospel, and we speak the truth of the gospel to them in love.
In his work on spiritual disciplines, Donald Whitney notes that
“Evangelism is a natural outflow of the Christian life. We should all be able to talk about what the Lord has done for us and what He means to us. But evangelism is also a Discipline in that we must discipline ourselves to get into the context of evangelism, that is, we must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.”8
For a dad, this discipline will involve the following:
- Intercession. Scroll through your contact list and jot down the names of those for whom you have a particular burden. As a part of your daily prayer, pray that God would send someone to share the good news with them. Pray for boldness in case He picks you.
- Investment of Time. Block out a portion of your weekly schedule and label it “Great Commission.” During this time, look for opportunities to meet people and tell them about Jesus.
- Immersion in the Gospel. Think of a topic in which you’re decently conversant. How did you get to that point? It’s possible that you either spent a good deal of time immersed in the details of that topic or you had a personal experience that provided a crash-course—or both. If you’re a believer, you’ve already experienced the message of the gospel first-hand. As you immerse yourself in the details of the gospel, however, you will become even more comfortable with its truths, to the point where discussing it out loud feels more natural.9
- Inclusion of your Family. Disciple-makers in the early church rarely “went it alone.” Include your family in your evangelism. Open up your home to those in need. Include an unbelieving friend on one of your family outings. Pray with your children for those who need Jesus. Including your family in your disciple-making will increase your own excitement in evangelism.
Where’s God’s grace in this habit? Interestingly, Jesus includes it as part of the commission: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). As you obey Christ’s command to make disciples, you will also experience the promise of His presence.
Not only that, but, as we help others follow Christ, we ourselves learn to follow Him better. Mathis notes that “good disciplemaking is always a two way street.”10 As you invest your time and energy to make disciples this year, you will find your own belief in the gospel bolstered and your walk with God strengthened.
This may seem like a small habit. But here’s what Jesus promised: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). How does “bearing much fruit” this year sound? It’s not going to happen in your own strength. Instead, as you access God’s grace through these simple habits, He will bear much fruit in and through you.
It’s the little things over the long haul that make the biggest difference.
Zack Eswine, “The Imperfect Pastor” (Sermon, TGC Indianapolis, Castleview Church, 10/13/20). ↩︎
Using a study Bible such as the Gospel Transformation Study Bible can offer some help in this area. ↩︎
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Robert White (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 534–35. ↩︎
David Mathis, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 94. ↩︎
Calvin, 534. ↩︎
For a helpful explanation of how this habit could work, see Justin Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 31–46. ↩︎
A great resource for this practice is Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015). ↩︎
Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 106. ↩︎
A great place to start is Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010). ↩︎
Mathis, 199. ↩︎