I began this blog in the Summer of 2013 as a response to something God was asking me to do. This adventure has produced more than half a million words, fifty speaking engagements, and an enriched perspective on life. More importantly, a calling from God to pastor. But the greatest challenge I see facing Christians today is a willingness to engage the principles of personal development without a willingness to engage in faith development.
I began writing what I thought was going to be a traditional blog post (800 words) to unpack the principles of personal development. What resulted was a 5,000 word thesis on faith development. Those words are below. I hope they offer an eager invitation for you to embark upon an adventure of your own.
In addition, at the end of the article, I have provided a link to my new faith development mentoring series.
The 7 Habits of Highly Faithful People
By Matt Ham
This post originally appeared in four parts at www.youprint.life
When I originally wrote my book, Redefine Rich, I was intent on making it more about the principles rather than the faith behind them. That would make it more palatable for a crossover audience and more likely for me to get a publishing contract. Appealing to the genre of Personal Development was safe, calculated, and practical. But as my writing continued, I couldn’t escape the elements of faith that were revealed.
I casually dismissed the nudges until I was diagnosed with spreading malignant melanoma during the final stages of publishing. Then, I became keenly aware that something much bigger and much deeper was happening—something I could no longer ignore. It was as if everything prior had happened for this distinct purpose and couldn’t have possibly happened any other way. If the world was calling me to be effective, God was calling me to be faithful. I chose the latter. It was scary and unplanned. But it was absolutely liberating. Since then, I’ve given up any hope of trying to logically explain what I’ve only come to know by faith.
However, I quickly learned that corporate America is quick to reject anything “faith-based” for fear of religious discrimination. As a speaker, I was often asked if my message was overtly “religious” as event planners were hesitant to make a potential misstep in hiring me to speak for fear someone would be offended. I still don’t understand how to answer that question, but always promise not to throw Bibles at people or try to lay hands on their employees.
Despite their hesitations, many of these organizations pray before their meetings and many of their employees profess a Christian faith. It’s as if they’re willing to pray, but unwilling to talk about the God they’re praying to. Or, they’re willing to go to church on Sunday, but unwilling to bring faith into their work week. As a result, we have collectively and individually dismissed faith as a practical option for our navigation and opted for the wisdom of the world instead. And we pay handsomely for that trade.
In 2016, sixty billion dollars was spent on personal development. But if you look at the statistics, the majority of those consumers remain unchanged. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because time kills our motivation if it’s not tethered to a deeper sense of purpose—purpose that can only be discovered by faith. Without faith, we live in a perpetual cycle of consumer-driven motivation where our chief aim is not our purpose, but the avoidance of pain and our practical effectiveness. I think we’re making a terrible mistake if we express a disinterest to explore the impact of faith development, despite a great interest in what we culturally refer to as personal development.
Now, I understand the need to be prudent in this area—to deeply respect the religious freedom of others—but, it’s not my agenda as a Christian to undermine or convince anyone. I simply share what I have learned from experience as a way to provide perspective for others. It’s their responsibility to continue and God’s responsibility to do what He has promised. That is the journey of faith.
Why do we so adamantly refuse to welcome faith as the foundation of our lives?
Perhaps it’s the stigma of religion, but if you take an honest look at some of the greatest personal development minds of our time—Zig Ziglar, Andy Andrews, John Maxwell, Jim Collins, Jim Rohn—they all profess a Christian faith. And while their books may be traditionally listed under the “personal development” heading, thus making it safe for our corporate palate and for the publishing companies to make money, what’s really beneath their principles?
The answer is faith.
The Influence of Faith on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
By way of example, I have taken Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and sought the truth lying underneath. I want to unpack the influence of faith on the Habits shared. Before we go any further, remember this is simply an exercise—one I hadn’t actually intended to complete myself. But as I did, I found it incredibly helpful. In turn, I was able to bridge the gaps in my mind and I saw the concepts of faith development that we so often overlook. This isn’t a condemnation of personal development but rather a call for us to not just welcome the magic wand, but press in to the magic behind it all.
Whether you’re willing to receive truth at the surface level covered in principles or whether you’re willing to engage it at the deeper level of faith is up to you, but don’t make the error of pretending like you have no room for faith.
A Word on Habits
It’s important to note that Stephen Covey chose the word Habit instead of Principles.
Habits are the actionable byproduct of what we believe. Principles can exist in our heads, but if they never make their way into our hearts, they will remain actionless and we will remain unchanged. For example, we believe that going to the gym will help us maintain a healthy lifestyle. But it is that belief, along with the feeling of being in shape or the social approval we encounter, that causes us to develop a habit of working out. Likewise, we believe good communication facilitates a healthy organization, but it is that belief, along with a desire for success, that causes us to create the habit of regular conversations with our employees.
While some might see faith as a passive, inactive hope, true faith is belief combined with action. And that faith can easily be seen by the habits we maintain. Where we fail is in refusing to slow down long enough to analyze our habits, what’s actually driving them, and if they line up with what we truly believe. It’s like the daughter who cuts the end off of the Christmas ham only because her mother did. When questioned about it, the daughter asked her mom, who answered, “Well, I did it because your grandmother always did.” Finally, when the daughter asked her grandmother, her grandmother responded, “I always cut the end off of the ham because my pan was too small.”
We are byproducts of our habits. Our habits are byproducts of our actions. Our actions are byproducts of our beliefs. In essence, our faith is the driving factor and the foundation behind what we do and who we are becoming. Faith is the engine beneath our habits. Unless we’re willing to give that faith an honest welcome and develop it accordingly, we might become something very different than what we intended.
A Word on Effectiveness
Next, I want to take a look at the word Effectiveness by posing this question:
What’s more important, to live effectively or to live with purpose?
This isn’t to say effectiveness and purpose are mutually exclusive; we just can’t forsake one at the expense of the other—or accept one and reject the other. Again, it’s not the concept itself but our willingness to place it on the throne of our hearts that presents a problem. That’s precisely why the five regrets of the dying don’t include, “I wish I would have lived more effectively.” In fact, quite the opposite. But it doesn’t take us getting to the end of the road to realize there’s more to life than living it effectively.
We get so consumed with effectiveness that we inadvertently dismiss faith. If we’re unwilling to understand the purpose of our effectiveness, we might end up with the wrong pursuit. I think the point is to understand both effectiveness and purpose need to work in harmony—a harmony that can only be completed by faith.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Stephen Covey’s first Habit is all about understanding that you’re not a victim to your circumstances. Along those same lines is Andy Andrew’s First Decision from his book The Traveler’s Gift, “The Buck Stops Here.” This is the idea that we have to take personal responsibility for every decision we make, even the ones we don’t make.
What the great teachers would say is that we can spend our time on earth living in blame and unforgiveness, or we can choose the opposite path—the path of responsibility, forgiveness, and action. One of the greatest books of all-time, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, forges this idea. Despite Frankl’s confinement to hell on earth, an imprisonment at Auschwitz during World War II, he concluded that when we realize our power to make choices, regardless of our circumstances, we begin to free ourselves from those circumstances.
But Jesus had a lot to say about this as well: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). “And forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). For Christians, responsibility and forgiveness are not merely our call, but our proactive path to living effectively. They are precisely how we share the “good news” with others. And Jesus didn’t just speak these as a command, He lived them as our model. Even as He was being crucified He cried, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
Another point Covey makes is that being proactive begins with what we say—that our tongue has more power than we realize. He talks about how proactive people use words like, “I will” and “I can” whereas reactive people use words like, “I won’t” or “I can’t.”
This is probably one of the most powerful principles that people don’t regularly relate to faith. But Jesus constantly taught His followers the importance of the tongue. More importantly, Jesus showed His command of this principle by His ability to heal the sick, wilt fig trees, and cast out demons at the utterance of a word. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). “Everyone who asks receives” (Luke 11:10).
Being aware of the proactive nature of life and setting faith as the underlying foundation grants us the opportunity to begin to rise above and speak power into our circumstances.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
To Covey, this habit was all about envisioning and the imagination, or as Napoleon Hill said in Think and Grow Rich, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” If we want to take certain action, we have to have a certain direction. That is our end, our goal, our destination. Once we have our destination set, from there, all of our actions begin to propel us along. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the philosopher Seneca: “No wind blows fair for the ship without port.” Or as it says in Proverbs, “Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
This is the idea laid out in Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist: each of us has a Personal Legend waiting for us, and when we’re willing to go after that Personal Legend, the Universe will conspire to help us achieve it.
Beneath these phrases is the idea of individual purpose. We have been uniquely and creatively made with our own gifts, talents, and desires. But where does that concept of individualism come from?
The Bible says we were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Think of it this way: all of us have a thumb print, but every single thumb print is different. We begin to have a vision for what we were created for when we know who we truly are and understand our God-given DNA. The beautiful journey of faith is that we get to leave God’s fingerprints on the world through our own. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
When we remove the element of faith from this principle, when we fail to let God be the One who gives us our why, we can quickly find ourselves with the wrong pursuit. I think of King David, a man who was anointed by the prophet Samuel as the King over Israel, but had to wait for more than fifteen years under the terrible leadership of King Saul until his appointed time came. Or I think about Moses who hid in the desert of Midian for forty years before God called Him to become the deliverer of His people. Or I think about Saul, a Christian-killing, rule-abiding Pharisee who was radically transformed after meeting Jesus face-to-face on the road to Damascus and would later become the most prolific author in the history of the world.
These heroes of faith were real people with real stories and they all teach us that when we pursue our own end, it often leads to stress, exhaustion, and frustration. But when we live from our place of purpose—our God-given why—we watch Him complete that work before us.
Faith teaches us that life isn’t something that should be relegated to a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather an individually crafted and wonderfully created purpose that God has prepared for us—an end in mind that drives all of our beginnings.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Covey emphasizes that Habit 3 is where Habit 1 and Habit 2 collide—it’s where responsibility meets purpose. We need to focus our energy and efforts on that which is important. This habit is about priorities, it’s about remembering our “end,” and it’s about constantly recalibrating our compass.
Covey created his Time Management Quadrants to help with this idea. By gathering our actions into urgent and important, it helps us drill into what’s now and what’s next. This type of process keeps us from spending time on things that aren’t moving us forward and causes our distraction-free efforts to become effective.
But what does the Bible have to say about it?
I immediately think of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians to “Set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2). The idea is that there is a first and foremost to faith and that is the will of God—His will for our lives. Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33a). This, of course, is where the water between “personal development” and “faith development” may become muddy for some. But for the believer, first means first and this is the moment of conviction where we have to get honest with ourselves about what we are truly seeking.
The promise Jesus made is that by placing first things first, ultimately our faith in God and His purposes, the “end” that we desire will be given to us: “…And all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33b). Or consider the Psalms: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Our compass is always properly calibrated when He fills our quadrants.
So where do you stand?
I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not intend to create guilt. Guilt is a weak tool that the enemy uses to keep us shackled and ineffective. These points are intended to create a zeal and excitement for God and the adventure of discovering our distinct purpose. During that process, we will have challenges that disrupt the order and cause secondary things to seem like first things. But our constant emphasis must be to focus our efforts on that which is ultimately important as echoed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Our purpose, our why is directly related to whatever is first. That is what we are to think on and give our efforts to. For the Christian, with unwavering certainty, that must be Abba, Father, our God.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
The Win-Win Habit is about seeing life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. At its core, this is about an abundance mentality (knowing that there is enough to go around) instead of a scarcity mentality (the fear of not having enough). Covey goes on to say that characteristics of a win-win individual or corporation include integrity and maturity.
Interestingly enough, Covey points out something that Jim Collins would later expound upon in his book Built to Last. This is the genius of the And. That great individuals and corporations alike embrace the And of empathy and confidence, courage and consideration, continuity and change, and so on.
Quite honestly, this is the principle that western culture and corporate America seem to have overlooked because, quite frankly, it feels like a dog-eat-dog world. When fictitious characters like Gordon Gekko flooded the abundance of the ‘80s with slogans like “Greed is good,” we followed suit and flipped our mindset to that of scarcity. After that happened, life became more about win-lose.
But where does faith chime in on this?
If anything, the message of the gospel is more of a lose-win scenario. “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:13). Those passages seem counter-intuitive to popular culture, which tells us to lose ourselves in pursuit of our dreams, but in essence, Jesus taught and modeled that life is about the building up of others instead of building a kingdom for yourself. Which is why the early church held to the philosophy “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
After more than fifteen years in competitive sales, I believe that it ruins our genius and robs us of excellence. Instead of thriving, competition keeps us shackled to a mindset of winning. That’s not to say that we can’t engage in sales or that we can’t win, but it does mean that we have to get really honest about our motives.
Whose kingdom are you really building?
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you can do the wrong things and win, but you cannot do the wrong things and thrive—good fruit never grows in bad soil. Until we understand this truth and work diligently to shift our perspective to a Kingdom mindset, scarcity and fear and striving will be close at hand.
As for the And, I think Jesus’s life modeled grace and truth, confidence and humility, strength and weakness, death and life better than any example in the history of our world. Those are the true markers of maturity and the true markers of integrity. Somewhere along the way, we’ve been conditioned to refuse grace, overcome weakness, ignore humility, and avoid pain. But it is only through those where we find community with God. As those who live by faith, we must embrace the And.
In the end, I think this principle and its faith-based application has to do with the removal of competition as our chief aim. If there is such a thing as winning, it begins with losing ourselves for the sake of trusting God and investing in the lives of others.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
The capacity to listen is a lost art form for most of our culture. And this is a much bigger challenge today with the onset of social media. In 1989, Covey’s 7 Habits was just scratching the surface. Today, it feels like we’re screaming in a crowded room and no one hears us.
Covey draws on the effectiveness of listening purely for the purpose of understanding. Not to form an opinion, not to judge, and not to offer advice. Simply to understand. He continues to say that most people listen with the intent of replying which hinders their willingness to understand. As we saw in Habit 4, this is more about others than it is about self.
An echoing cry of Jesus to the crowds that followed Him through first century Palestine was, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). His request seems odd on the surface, but He’s calling them to truly hear what He is saying—to listen and understand. He wants them to allow it to process through their hearts, not just pass through their minds.
Too often we bring our own woundedness, our own prejudices, and our own judgment to the conversation about faith—we keep thinking of it in terms of religion. In turn, we guard our hearts and we’re unable to understand beyond the surface level clichés that we’ve become so acquainted with. Because of that, faith becomes a mundane recitation of a few verses and a tireless duty of our hands rather than an active adventure in our hearts. As a result, we remain unchanged and miss the adventure.
Just as Covey calls us to listen for the purpose of understanding, King Solomon writes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). That type of trust and listening requires humility. It’s us saying, “I’m willing,” instead of “I’m right.” A desire to be right will always keep us from seeing that which is true. It’s only when we set aside our agenda that we’re able to, as Jesus said, “Seek and find. Knock and the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9).
It’s our willingness to understand that will always grant us the relationship to be understood. And as it relates to faith, that is where God himself will meet us. But unless we’re willing to slow down, we’ll miss Him altogether.
Habit 6: Synergize
Stephen Covey wrote, “Two heads are better than one.” This is confirmation of the words of King Solomon who wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Community with others is what forges our best results. That when our gifts, talents, and purposes collide, magic happens. However, in order to make that work well, we have to value the differences in others. I suppose this is where most people feel a rub with the religiosity of faith, because if religion has been anything, it has been exclusive. But by now, I hope you’re beginning to see that religion and true faith are very different.
To that point, the concept of synergy is prevalent throughout the entire Bible. In fact, the gospel was intended for the Jewish people only, but after Jesus’s death and resurrection, it was offered to the Gentiles—an inclusive act for all of God’s people.
God desires synergy for us. The writer of Proverbs says, “Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another” (Proverbs 27:17) and Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20). Additionally, Jesus sent His disciples out “two by two” into the countryside to share the message of faith. Even Jesus, who was the Son of God, surrounded Himself with disciples and a trusted inner circle of three: Peter, James, and John.
The problem with synergy is our own little selfish egos. They’re like tiny little dictators in our heads that feed on our pride. In fact, pride is the only reason we refuse the concept of synergy. That’s why the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis said, “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Synergy brings together our collective genius. It’s God’s handiwork in each of us on display for the benefit of the whole. It’s like an orchestra. Alone, the instruments can produce their own distinct sound, but when combined, it adds a layer of emotion and depth that simply can’t be achieved individually.
True synergy is a picture of the church—the body of believers—the way it should be. It is the collective expression of individuals that magnifies His divine purpose.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The seventh and final Habit is about maintaining our greatest asset—ourselves. Covey highlights four distinct areas of our lives: Physical, Social, Mental, Spiritual. Sharpening the saw is about constantly renewing ourselves in each of these areas to ensure that we are most effective. He uses the phrase “living life in balance” to describe the nature of the ongoing upkeep needed to thrive. For Covey, that begins with rest. That is where we are reenergized.
The traditional approach to accomplish this task is getting your Physical, Social, Mental, and Spiritual ducks in a row. By default, we compartmentalize our life into these areas and it feels a lot like filling buckets of water. As long as we maintain the effort, the buckets will stay full. In turn, we approach this with our will power, determined to maintain a full life. Because of that, we spend our time filling buckets instead of actually living our lives. But eventually we hit a snag and forget, or simply don’t have the energy anymore, and we stand among dry, empty vessels.
This type of segregated view keeps us busy and robs us of the true fullness we long for. Busyness is the great culprit of our culture today—the thief of everything we hope for. The enemy knows if He can keep us busy, he can keep us ineffective. As a result, we have become consumed with doing instead of being. That’s precisely why we spend our days creating to-do lists instead of creating to-be lists. We use busyness as a cover-up because we’re fearful. If we really slow down and listen to God, we’re be afraid of what He might actually say.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). If Jesus meant what He said, that has drastic implications on how we navigate our lives—we begin living from abundance instead of living for it. This is where personal development falls short: it leaves us in a cycle of consumerism, wanting more to keep us full. Jesus gives us that fullness from the very beginning.
Sharpening the saw begins with the restoration that is found in knowing who we truly are. The process of discovering our identity is birthed from knowing who God really is. That takes us humbling ourselves and being quiet before Him. Instead of seeing God as an intangible idea or a rule-bearing dictator, what if we shifted our view ever so slightly to see Him as a loving Father who wants nothing more than fullness and abundance for us? Once we begin to understand God as Jesus did, as a loving Father, we learn to rest in His presence. From that place of rest, He gives us our identity, and with it, our purpose—the very desires of our heart.
Jesus modeled Sabbath in every aspect of His life. Many times, His disciples would go looking for Him only to find Jesus praying by Himself. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus taught us that we can’t earn rest, we just have to receive it and step into it.
It is in rest where we find peace. From that place of rest, we can eagerly move toward action as our faith and spiritual foundation directs. God created you to grow, develop, and become. “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). However, if you’re constantly in a state of action, you’ll miss those periods of rest and renewal needed to nourish yourself in every area so that you can grow properly.
Christians across the world are constantly exhausting themselves in the name of faith, overlooking the very importance of stewarding their own personal well-being. One of the greatest quotes as it relates to this is from Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who died of typhus at the age of twenty-nine in 1843. On his death bed, M’Cheyne said, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.”
The subtle line we must not cross is in becoming fearful of our own well-being. The journey of the faithful is marked by prudence and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to complete the work He began. Just be careful not to kill the horse.
The Importance of Faith Development
There is a truth that exists beneath all things. Whether you surround it with practical principles or religious jargon, whether it comes from the innocent mouth of a child or from the dignified mouth of a saint, it is that truth and our willingness to engage it that begins our journey. But we have to take it one step further; we have to engage that truth and process it through a lens of faith in order for it to become rooted in our lives. As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This isn’t a journey of to-do lists and efficiencies, it’s a journey of becoming. Instead of buying more books that scratch the surface, are we willing to dig into the truth beneath it all?
At this point, are you more likely to go out and buy the next bestseller, or are you more likely to buy the writings of great men and women who lived with uncompromising faith? If you’re willing to pause for one and not the other, I think you’re making a grave mistake. And that mistake will perpetuate a cycle of stress, frustration, and exhaustion. I can only say that because I have lived it.
Instead of simply consuming more information, we must learn to let God consume us. Then and only then, is He able to fully use us. God has to work in us before He can work through us. If you’re truly interested in transformation and lasting change instead of a quick, feel-good in the moment, develop your faith.
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