Last year, I climbed the highest peak in Texas. It took 6 hours, 4 bottles of water, and by the time I reached the top of the trail in Big Bend National Park, the golden sun was settling itself inside the westward ridge of the park. The entire landscape was filled with oranges and purples, and I found myself completely enthralled by beauty and inspiration.
As I sat and watched it completely disappear, two thoughts raced through my head.
We’ve all seen or heard something that inspires us, but one of the misconceptions of the creative mind is that we must wait for inspiration to strike in order to write something. Truthfully, amazing sunsets in the desert are far and few between! So, what do we do with all the times in between those beautiful moments to keep us creating?
Leaders, artists, and writers thrive when they adapt healthy rhythms and habits. Here are FIVE HABITS that kill apathy and keep us flourishing in all the in-between-moments of life.
My wife always tells our kids that “readers are leaders.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t coin that phrase, but she’s so right! Ask any great author or songwriter, and they’d tell you that INPUT is the key to output. Creatives should be seeking massive amounts of creative input, always reading, always watching, always listening. I’ve noticed that the most stale times in my creativity have been the seasons where I’ve stopped reading.
On my iCal, I have several blocks of time throughout every week that are reserved for reading. Tuesdays and Thursdays are some of my favorite days, because there’s built in time to just focus on reading.
On my desk, there are always 4-5 books that I’m reading. Sometimes I devour them and put them back on the shelf, other times I simply scour them for good ideas and practical insight. Read blogs, read novels, read commentaries, read short stories, read lyrics, read your journal, read new stories from across the globe… read, read, read. Input inspires output.
Writing isn’t an art form, it’s a discipline. How many times have we all said, “one day I’m going to write a _____”? There will always be a blank sheet of paper and blinking cursor on a white screen until we simply START writing. The habit of writing keeps us filling in all the little blank spaces.
I have a habit of writing every single day. Sometimes, it’s just a sentence or a thought. Some days, it’s a chorus or a lyric idea…a blog post or an entry in my journal…a hand-written letter to a friend…or a little poem that no one will ever read. The vast majority of everything I write never makes it to anyone’s eyes. But the habit of writing keeps the imagination muscle active, and sooner or later something really good comes out.
Writing is extremely vulnerable! It’s terrifying, isn’t it? What if it’s stupid? Or wrong? Or doesn’t make any sense? And what’s the point if someone has already written about it, right? Francis Mayes has some great insight on this:
“Writers often feel that everything that could be said on any subject has been said before – and better – by other writers. However, the art of writing is largely the art of REVISIONING, in one’s own time and style, the subjects that have always concerned humanity. What keeps the writer sharpening their pencils is a hope that one’s own way with the subject, one’s own experiences, will stand out.” – Francis Mayes
The habit of writing keeps us revisioning the things around us. Write about love — because your experience with love is unique to your story. Write about sorrow — because your experience with sorrow is different than mine. Write, write, write!
If you took a microscope to your weekly schedule, you’d probably find that a lot of time is being given to meeting with people over coffee and lunches. A few years ago, I noticed that I was spending disproportionate amounts of time driving from place to place to meet with lots of different people. I LOVE people.. and I love coffee… but I was spreading myself thin between trying to meet with everyone.
Meet with a select few, not the masses. I know it sounds counter the aim of “ministry,” but when we overextend ourselves to trying to meet with everyone, we actually become ineffective at pouring our lives into anyone.
Jesus ministered to the masses, but he discipled only a very few. It sounds exclusive, but think about the magnitude of discipleship that Jesus had on just a few people that He spent ALL of His time with. The entire world changed through just a few young teenagers that Jesus invested His life into.
I have two men that I mentor for two years. (Slightly less than Jesus, I know.. but He was God.. so there’s that) I have 3 hours every week reserved just for coffee with these men. If these two men go out and disciple two more men, and those each disciple two more… well, you get the idea.. multiplication happens. And that’s just so much more effective for the Kingdom of God than stretching ourselves so thin that we burn out.
Pick a few. Empower them to do the work of ministry. They will flourish, and so will you as you habitually mentor for the rest of your life.
I have a good friend who is the executive chef at one of Austin’s best restaurants. The food is amazing, the menu is always changing and creative, and it’s just an incredible experience. Every single day of every single week, my friend is in the kitchen practicing. He’s refining what he’s already created, while also re-imagining things that haven’t been tried. Every new plate that comes from his kitchen has come from hours upon hours of practice. Most people only see the final product, but he knows that practice is what makes good food.
Architects draw buildings everyday. Professional painters paint every day. Designers draw every day. Great songwriters practice writing every single day. Becoming an expert in what you do, requires practice… and the habit of practicing keeps us from becoming lazy and relying on our personality or charisma. There should be weekly rythyms reserved for practicing our craft, learning scales on the guitar, writing and re-writing, singing, working, refining.
For the past few years, I’ve incorporated 12 hours of practicing every single week. I want to steward whatever skill God has given me.. and that means putting the hand to the plow and practicing! There’s just no way of getting around it!
One thing is necessary… to sit at the feet of Jesus. There cannot be any habit that is more necessary in killing apathy than the habit of being still with Jesus.
A wise mentor taught me the habit of being still one hour every day, one day every week, and one week every year.
Every day, I try to spend one hour reading the Word of God and applying it to my life. We call it REAP, and you can see how our daily Bible reading plan works here. This is the most important time of every day. It’s the voice of God speaking to my wandering heart. It inspires, convicts, and challenges.
Every week, I take one day of sabath rest. Most pastors and worship leaders work all day Sunday, so there has to be another time of sabbathing. Do what fills your soul on your day of rest. Run, hike, read, swim, hang with your family, take your wife on a date.. BE HUMAN. Taking a whole day of rest keeps you from being apathetic, because it reminds you to trust God instead of yourself. Email can wait. Texts will be there when you return.
Every year, I carve out a week for solitude. It’s a sacrifice for my wife and kids, and honestly it’s a sacrifice financially. But none of us want to burn out. And sometimes killing apathy means intentionally walking into the desert, where there’s no one else to cling to except Jesus. My desert is Marfa, Texas, a quiet little town in West Texas. I sleep in a tent and spend the days reading, writing, praying, and meditating on the Word of God. And when I leave that tent at the end of the week, I’m reminded that Jesus is enough.
With all these habits, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or go anywhere fancy to accomplish them. We are already creatures of habit, by nature. You don’t have to be a fast reader, a prolific writer, have guitar-shredding practices, mentor thousands, or go on expensive vacations to kill apathy.
Make habits to flourish in your ministry by being diligent to do the things that matter most.