The Christian’s Keystone Habit

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This week, I embarked on a new project. I was tasked with building an archway in our kitchen.

Why? Because my wife loves Pinterest, and I love my wife.

Pardon the mess, we’re remodeling the kitchen currently

Our little arch is merely cosmetic, but researching how to build it sent me down an internet rabbit hole of the history of arches and how they work. And this got me thinking about habits and the Christian life.

True arches were an important architectural feature in the ancient world. Because as beautiful as they were, they weren’t merely ornamental. Arches are marvels of engineering, able to hold tremendous amounts of weight over an open span while using surprisingly little material to do so.

The trick with an arch is how it evenly transfers weight. Arguably, the most essential part of an arch, therefore, is the keystone. Everything is downstream from the keystone, which sits at the top of the arch.

Get the keystone right, and the rest follows.

Drawing on this keystone concept, author Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit about “keystone habits.” Keystone habits have two features.

  1. They are habits that produce positive outcomes by themselves.
  2. But they also help you perform other positive habits as well.

According to Duhigg, exercise is one of the best examples of a keystone habit:

Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.

With habits, as with archways, get the keystone right, and the rest will follow.

Often, we have so many things we’d like to change in our lives—I want to be a better husband, I want to be healthier, I want to pray more. It can be overwhelming! But if you begin by carefully identifying a single keystone habit and focusing all of your attention on that, you’ll discover that other good habits follow it.

So, this leads to a very important question: What keystone habit should we begin with?

Well, for Christians, we might see all the benefits of exercise and think we should start there. But while exercise does have some value, for the eternally-minded, we want to pick a keystone habit that’s a bit more holistic.

for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:8

That’s why I can’t think of a better keystone habit than Bible reading and prayer. If I want to glorify God in my life, I need to have my mind renewed daily (Romans 12:2).

I think we would all agree that this habit is important, but what I’m suggesting is that instead of trying to cultivate a bunch of habits at once, you instead begin by focusing all of your energies on getting consistent in this single habit.

I’ve seen that when I begin my days by reading the Bible, many good things follow:

  • I am reminded of the Lord’s goodness, convicted, and encouraged
  • This leads me to prayer
  • My outlook on the day changes, making me a better worker, husband, and father.
  • Other good habits tend to follow, like exercise, planning, and eating well

I believe this is one of the reasons people have found so much success with the ​POWER Mornings​ routine. When you start with prayer and the Word as the keystone, the arch of an orderly Christian life almost starts to build itself. And a life well-ordered toward glorifying God can support a lot of weight.

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