How to cultivate a life with Jesus through “a habit called faith”

An interview with Jen Pollock Michel

We all have our own combination of personal habits. From morning routines before the day’s work begins to evening habits that help us decompress from each day’s stresses, we even have habits for every waking hour in between, both healthy and unhealthy. In her newest book, A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus, Jen Pollock Michel shows that a life of following Jesus is a life spent cultivating “a habit called faith.” In a world where there is unprecedented competition for our attention and for our habits, Michel shows her reader (and invites them to practice) what it takes to stay on the narrow way with Jesus: the practice of putting one intentional foot in front of the other habitually, day by day. 

Recently, Jen was kind enough to talk with us about the book and about some of her own experiences following Jesus, which you can read below. 

The title of your latest book, A Habit Called Faith, may catch some readers off-guard. Can you describe why you call faith a habit? 

Habit can be a bit of a dirty word, can’t it? We imagine something rote, something perfunctory, even something insincere. But to imagine faith as a habit can do a couple of really important things. First, it can remind us that faith is more than emotion, that it’s something to practice regardless of our feelings. Second, it can remind us that faith is more than a cerebral exercise, that it involves more than the ideas we hold about God. To say that faith is a habit is to grant how active it is, even that it involves a life of training. 

How do our habits contribute to or detract from our faith in Jesus?

When I was a new Christian, someone told me to practice certain habits of faith as a way to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). Thirty years later, I’m so grateful that someone gave me practical ways to shore up my faith. Read the Bible. Pray. Share the gospel. Belong to a local church. It’s a real failure when we make Christian growth a matter of mystery or magic. Of course, there’s always the temptation to make the whole point the habits themselves, as if they could ever save us. 

I think the late A.W. Tozer said it best. When he was asked, “What makes a saint a saint?” his answer was, “The lifelong habit of spiritual response.” That language allows us to hold in tension the great paradox Paul outlines in Philippians 2:13, which is that “God works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Spiritual habits can be a way we participate in this mystery.

You say there is a “persistent idea today that we’ve grown out of religion like a child grows out of shoes.” What do you mean by this? What’s the solution?

I live in Toronto, where many people consider the claims of biblical Christianity primitive. They imagine that science has supplanted the need for religion. If we have mapped the genome and discovered quarks, what need do we have for God? I think the only solution is to get people reading the Bible for themselves and making sense of what they find. It’s a kind of come-and-see invitation, which is the approach we see Jesus himself use. I’d love to see churches develop more groups like this, making room for the spiritually curious to read the Bible alongside other Christians. Truthfully, I continue to marvel at the work of the Holy Spirit as people get their noses in God’s book. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a couple of people come to faith in Jesus doing just this.

Early on, you write that “faith looks a lot like the kind of belief all people practice.” Can you expound on this? 

Again, many people who don’t share any kind of religious commitment often assume that faith acts like “superstition.” They think it’s the stuff of fairy tales and myths. By contrast, they imagine that their agnosticism (or atheism) is decided by objective, rational thought. I think this begs a really important conversation. How “objectively” does any of us decide anything? Research tells us that we’re not the “thinking” beings we imagine ourselves to be, that all of us — religious and irreligious alike — construct our beliefs by way of intuition, reason, gut instinct, and emotion. Of course, the good news about Christianity is that it never requires us to check our brain at the door. The Gospels are reliable documents, bearing witness to historical events. Christian faith is a response to evidence, even if evidence alone will never compel faith.

In trying “to make sense of the habit of faith in the context of contemporary life,” you focus your attention on the books of Deuteronomy and John. Why these books?

At first glance, the Gospel of John seems to make a lot more sense than Deuteronomy! It allows readers to carefully consider Jesus: his claims, the work of the cross. Is he God? What does his death mean? Is he, in fact, “the Way, the Truth, the Life?” But Deuteronomy prepares us for the Gospel of John (and the revelation of Jesus) in a number of important ways. From the very opening phrase of the book, “These are the words,” Deuteronomy tells us something important about the nature of faith: that we must surrender to the words (and later, Word) of God. It exposes the nature of human sin, that for as often as we’d promise to keep the words of God, we can’t. Finally, it leaves us marvelously bewildered at the end of the book, when Moses blesses the unfaithful people of God. How can such grace be? Deuteronomy is the appetizer for John’s Gospel meal.

In describing your conversion to Christianity, you say that “when you took up faith in Jesus . . . you took up its habits too,” having been encouraged by someone to “commit to forming the habits of the Christian life.” What are some of those habits that you developed, and how have they contributed to your development as a Christian? 

I’ve already answered this in one sense, but maybe I can simply add this. In the pandemic year we’ve all lived, it seems obvious that we’ve needed grounding in our spiritual lives. Life has been turned upside down for all of us, and for those of us with established spiritual habits, they have provided a tether in the storm. To look at our circumstances, we might not always feel convinced that God is good. But to have habits of Scripture reading, prayer, worship, body life, service: it gives us a way to keep putting one foot of faith in front of another, even when we don’t know that we can, even when we’re not sure that we want to. We keep the habits — and often, the habits (by God’s grace) keep us.

The format of the book itself, with its 40 daily readings, seems intent on helping readers establish a daily habit of their own, which I assume was intentional. Why did you choose 40 days? What does each reading consist of? 

Forty seems like a biblical number, no? Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness during his temptation; Israel was 40 years in the wilderness after the Exodus. There’s nothing magical about the number, of course, but I do think that if we do something consistently for 40 days, we’re on our way to forming the habit. In this case, I’d love to see people forming the habit of daily Bible reading. The book travels 20 days in Deuteronomy, 20 days in John. Each daily reading focuses on one chapter of the Bible, athough I’ve also suggested a shorter selection of verses (for the time-pressed) as well as a key verse. My own reflections on these passages are meant to probe Scripture as a means of transformation. If I can say it this way, I try to engage the Scripture in a way that “reads” us as readers. Perhaps most importantly, I try to make gospel connections for readers, so that they can see that the Bible is one story, that it’s soaked, from beginning to end, with the good news of God’s grace.

For those, like you, whose lives are filled with work responsibilities and raising children and school and the like, how can we strive to maintain the habits of the Christian life amidst a busy schedule, and why is it vital that we do so?

I have five children, so I suppose I know a little something about this. I do think certain harried seasons of life require creativity and intention. As a young mom, I always thought it counted when I read the Bible, prayed, and worshipped through song with my children. I did try maintaining a morning habit of regular Bible reading, too, but I do remember one long stretch of time, when my twin boys (the youngest) were infants. I gave up that morning time, figuring sleep was also a means to godliness. I copied Psalm 145 on index cards, tucked it into the pocket of my nursing chair, and pulled it out throughout the day. I was meditating on that psalm for a good year! I think there are all kinds of ways to imagine how we might connect to God — but one thing is for sure. It won’t simply happen. We’ll be met with resistance. We’ll be given to distraction. As the late Dallas Willard once wrote, there’s nothing accidental about spiritual life and growth.

What are your hopes for those who read A Habit Called Faith, and how would you encourage them as they seek to “take up the habits of faith in Jesus?” 

I have one hope alone: that readers will discover (or rediscover) that the life of faith in Jesus Christ is just this: life. He’s bread. He’s living water. No amount of money, no professional achievement, no domestic happiness will ever fully satisfy our restless hearts. I hope Christians will read — and I hope they’ll read alongside their spiritually curious friends. We can’t tire of the perpetually good news of the gospel: that we were once estranged, that we’ve been befriended by Jesus, that the world will one day, finally be made new.

Jen Pollock Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is the award-winning author of Teach Us to Want, Keeping Place, and Surprised by Paradox. She holds a B.A. in French from Wheaton College and an M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. An American living in Toronto, Jen is a wife and mother of five. She is the … Read More

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24