Habits of Grace – David Mathis
By Dave Preston.
Habits of Grace by David Mathis is a remarkably simple book in many ways, yet it touches upon the fundamentals of life and growth as a Christian. It serves as something of a handbook simply pointing back to the basics of what it means to grow in love and devotion for Christ and be effective in service for him.
A helpful summary is detailed on the back of the book:
‘The Christian life is built on three seemingly unremarkable practices: reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. But these ‘habits of grace’ are the God-designed channels through which his glorious grace flows – making them life-giving practices for all Christians.’
With this in mind, the book takes a straightforward, intuitive approach to remind us of the importance of these ‘habits of grace.’ The book breaks into three sections:
- Hear his voice (Reading the Bible)
- Have his ear (Prayer)
- Belong to His Body (Fellowship)
Hear his Voice
Throughout this first section of the book Mathis has much practical wisdom to share about how we are to approach our own devotional times spent in the Bible. Something I found helpful throughout this section of the book was the reminder to read both wide and deep. Here Mathis establishes that there is a time to build a ‘habit’ of regularly spending time in God’s word to become familiar with the narrative (reading wide), and then there are times where we ought to sit in the text and meditate upon it (reading deep). All the while we are reminded that we do not engage in this practice in solitude but we have the very presence of the Holy Spirit helping us to ‘understand his words, and feed our souls. No matter how thin your training, no matter how spotty your routine, the Helper stands ready.’
This is an important tension that Mathis reminds us of. The partnership of human effort and divine blessing. We know that we have been saved by faith in the free gift of grace that we did not earn of Jesus Christ, we know that our faith is placed in the author and the perfecter of our faith, who will bring his work to completion in us. Yet we must put in a measure of effort, and at times this effort feels more exhausting than others, we’ve all been there, yet we are reminded of the help that our Heavenly Father affords to us through his Spirit.
Have his Ear
Here Mathis reminds us of the gift of prayer, and then helpfully reminds us to prayer both privately and with company. This is something that we need to be reminded of today. And in the times that we are in today it is good to be reminded of the need that we have as believers to prayer together as the body of Christ. Mathis refers to corporate prayer (praying together as the body of Christ) as ‘the high point’ of the believers’ prayer lives.
Belong to his Body
In this section of his book Mathis reminds us that ‘we were made for more than private devotions… We were made to worship God together.’ Perhaps this has never felt more real to us than it does now. In church the benefits of fellowship were always talked about, but never have we felt the pain of a lack of fellowship together like we do today.
As we look forward to meeting together in a more normal format, it would do us good to remind ourselves of the importance of being connected and committed to our local church.
We are also reminded in this section of the book how we ought to listen to sermons. It is a real blessing to belong to a church that in my experience meets the benchmarks that Mathis sets out for faithful preaching of Scripture. He states that a good sermon enables us to:
- Forget ourselves
- Fill our Faith
- Grow in Grace
- Be equipped
- Encounter Jesus
Perhaps the most helpful reminder that we are given here is on the importance of communion. Mathis reminds us of the past, present and future elements that are present in the act of communion in the church and while his treatment is brief it is incredible helpful in focusing our attention and reminding us why we do what we do in taking communion together as a church weekly.
Mathis in many ways says nothing new in this book, and while that may not be the inspiring, insightful book review that you were looking for; it is the exact reason why the advice contained within this book is trustworthy. The author does not intend to devise a new fast-track to spiritual maturity because such a thing does not exist. The author simply reminds us of the God given means through which we can grow in that ongoing process of sanctification.
My recommendation, and perhaps the thing that sets this book out as being worthy of a review is that I feel that it would be idyllic as a book to read alongside someone else. Perhaps in a setting where you are two believers at a similar stage in your faith, this would be a helpful reminder as you both look at how you can seek to mature in your faith in Jesus Christ.
Beyond that if you are leading a small group and would like something that would prove useful in discipling younger believers, I believe that this would be helpful as you seek to fan into flame the faith of those who you prayerfully serve. I also believe that it could be useful for those parents who have teenagers and are perhaps at their wits end looking for helpful devotional material!
It is important to remember when reading this book that although it is thoughtful in its approach it is by no means exhaustive. There are countless books that have been written in each of the areas that Mathis covers. So I would encourage you if you are reading this with someone else or in a group that you take your time with it perhaps take a chapter at a time and work through it so that you can discuss other means of help that you have found a help and benefit to you that may not have been covered in this book.
All in all this is a helpful little book that reminds us of the wonderfully simple means we have been given to mature in our faith.