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The 4 Habits of Highly Effective Disciples

Text: Romans 12:2; Luke 24:32; Exodus 33:13-15; Acts 1:8

Dr. Alex Tang


The 4 habits of highly effective disciples of Jesus Christ are developing informed minds, cultivating hearts on fire, living contemplative lives that experience the Presence God in all things and being filled with the Holy Spirit.



1n 1989, Stephen R. Covey published his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book is based on his doctorate thesis when he reviewed 200 years of success literature and 25 years of working with people in business, university, marriage and family. He observed that there are seven habits that are powerful lessons in personal change:

Habit 1: Be Proactive (Principles of Personal Vision)

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind (Principles of Personal Leadership)

Habit 3: Put First Things First (Principles of Personal Management)

Habit 4: Think Win/Win (Principles of Interpersonal Leadership)

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Principles of Empathic Communication)

Habit 6: Synergize (Principles of Creative Cooperation)

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (Principles of Balanced Self- Renewal)

Covey found that effective successful people have developed these habits. He has excluded intelligence, socioeconomic advantages and political influences in his study on what he calls the character ethics. Unlike genetics and family, habits are not something inborn. It is something developed.

Importance of Developing Good Habits

Covey showed the world that people could be effective and successful by developing desirable habits in their lives. Habits are something that can be trained. As a doctor, when we examine a patient, we automatically look from head to toes, looking for signs of disease. Then we begin to examine system by system. It is a habit we developed after many years of training. There are some habits which when developed can make us highly effective disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple of Jesus Christ is a follower of Jesus Christ. You cannot be a follower without being a disciple so I would use the words interchangeably.

I like to suggest the 4 Habits of Highly Effective Disciples or Followers of Jesus Christ:

Habit 1: Develop Informed Minds (Principles of Orthodoxy)

Habit 2: Cultivate Hearts on Fire (Principles of Orthopathy)

Habit 3: Live Contemplative Lives that Experience God’s Presence in All Things (Principles of Orthopraxy)

Habit 4: Be Filled with the Holy Spirit (Principles of Empowerment)


Habit 1: Develop Informed Minds (Principles of Orthodoxy)

Romans 12:2

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people think I am?”  Some answered, a prophet like Jeremiah, Elijah and John the Baptist. Jesus then asked, “Who do you think I am?”  Peter answered the Christ. Jesus is not interested in what people think but what the disciples think. The lesson here is what you think and know is important to be a highly effective disciple. You do not need much knowledge to be saved, just faith. Abraham was reckoned righteous before because of his faith. Later he has to follow God’s command to leave his people. That needs knowledge to lead his family into a strange country.

The habit of developing an informed mind will make us highly effective disciples. Informed mind means knowing and understanding the Word of God. A disciple must know the word of God. How do we know to be what God wants us to be if we do not know the word of God? Hence a disciple must be a learner.


§         Our minds become informed when we have a regular intake of the word by listening to sermons, lectures, Bible study.

§         Quiet Time

§         By meditating on what we have learnt. Lectio divina

§         By learning from our life experiences. Examen of consciousness.

§         Pray for the Holy Spirit to open our minds to spiritual truths.

We are whom we think. What we believe in determines who we are, how we behave and what we will give our lives for.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of kampung (village) chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the kampung chicken did, thinking he was a kampung chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would trash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked.“That the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbour. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth- we’re chickens”. So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.


We are who we think we are. “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Transformation comes from the renewal of our mind.


Habit 2: Cultivate Hearts on Fire (Principles of Orthopathy)

Luke 24:32 On the Road to Emmaus

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;  16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast.  18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”


How many of us still feel the fire in our hearts that was there when we first become a Christian? Are we still passionate about being a Christian? Last week, we were all holding a lighted candle in the service. I was looking at the flame of the candle. Then the Lord impressed upon me while I was looking at a flame. The fire should be inside me, not outside on a candle. When we leave our Sunday service, we often comment on the songs sung and the sermon preached. We said that we enjoyed the service or that we were bored or angry at the service.


Then I was comparing it to when we leave a cinema after watching a movie. We said we enjoyed the movie or that we were bored or angry at the movie. And it dawns on me that there is not much difference between attending a church service and watching a movie. Both we were passive participants. We were consumers, waiting to be entertained. We are watching the flame on a candle. Outside of ourselves. No fire within. God said to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.


§         Love and compassion

§         Love for Jesus. Passion.

§         Become like Jesus’ feeling for people. Field is ripe for harvest. Compassion for the sick.

§         See the world through God’s eyes: the needs of a world heading for self destruction; lost souls heading for hell and eternal damnation.

§         Want to please God.

§         Pray for the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire.


Habit 3: Live Contemplative Lives that Experience God’s Presence in All Things (Principles of Orthopraxy)

Exodus 33:13-15

13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”


 What is contemplation? Contemplation is becoming aware of the Presence of God in our everyday life, in all things. We often think that spiritual life is all about the great things we can do for God. We read biographies of great Christians who seem to sacrifice so much, convert entire continents and did great miracles. We must realise that not all of us care called to do great impressive things. All of us are called to be faithful. To be faithful in the small things. And life is full of small things. A highly effective disciple should be able to experience God’s Presence in all the small things in his or her life. Moses knew this. That is why he said, if  God’s Presence do not go with them, then they will not go.



§         Praise and gratitude.

§         Thanksgiving. Wake up giving thanks, not grumby

§         Open our eyes and look for God in everything. God’s creation. Circumstances.

§         Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

§         Holy symbols

§         Sacred space

Someone once asked Mother Teresa how she could stand working in the slums of Calcutta. Everyday, she will go out to help the poor, the wounded, the sick and the dying. She and her nuns will bring them back to the convent to tend to their wounds, wash their filthy smelly bodies and feed them. Was she not revolted by them? Did the evil and injustice that she sees oppress her? She said that what motivates her is that she sees Christ in every single human being she rescued from the slums. As she tends their sickness, wash them and feed them, she feels as if she is tending, washing and feeding the broken body of Jesus Christ. She feels God’s Presence, not only in her time of prayer in the chapel but also as she walks and work in the slums of Calcutta.


Habit 4: Be Filled with the Holy Spirit (Principles of Empowerment)

Acts 1:8

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


A highly effective disciple must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. At our spiritual birth, we are given the Holy Spirit as a seal of God’s covenant that He has forgiven us for our sins and we are His children. But we are also to ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we receive power. The filling of the Holy Spirit gives us power to perform services, miracles, spiritual gifts, transformation of our old self and bear fruits of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.


The greatest problem of many disciples today is that they are not filled with the Holy Spirit and is running on their own strength and talents. This may work well for a few years. Then we become tired and discouraged. We become spiritually dry. We do not bear fruits. And we wonder why? And what is worst is that because we depend on ourselves, the church become more like the world. The church become like a big corporation and the pastor become a CEO. In many churches, sad to say, if the Holy Spirit is to leave today, no one will know the difference. The reason is that we are not being empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are not filled with the Holy Spirit and our ministry and our lives do not flow out of this fullness of the Holy Spirit. Bernard of Clauvaux, said that we should not be like a stream. A stream can give water but sometimes a stream can run dry. We must be like a deep pond, a reservoir. Than we will never run dry. The Holy Spirit is this deep pond.


Closing Remark: The Challenge of Highly Effective Discipleship

The various habits keep us balanced in our Christian life of discipleship. The habits of mind, heart and actions are like the three side of a tripod. This tripod supports our soul so that the Holy Spirit can transform our lives. If one leg of the tripod becomes longer than the others, the tripod becomes unbalanced.

§         too much emphasis on informed minds make us Pharisees,

§         too much emphasis on hearts on fire makes us zealots,

§         too much contemplative lifestyle makes us Seducees 

§         too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit and we go out of control like the Corinthians.

The challenge is to keep our habits in balance. Only when our habits are in balance can we be highly effective disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit and be used by God in the expansion of His kingdom.

                                                                                                                                                  Soli Deo Gloria



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