Three Habits to Cultivate Now (+giveaway winner!)

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I’m so excited to announce that the winner of my very first giveaway is Jazzy Belle! Congrats! Please use the Contact form to send me your address sometime in the next few days, and I’ll mail you your goodies! 

For me, a new school year has always been my favorite time to set goals for myself, even more so than January. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to come one step closer to the person who you were made to be.

But if you try to change everything about yourself overnight, it won’t last (trust me). The better method is to slowly, patiently cultivate some new habits, making some small but lasting changes that will have an impact on your whole life. Focus on a few areas where you know you could improve, a few things that will have a positive effect on your physical, mental, or spiritual health as you move forward in life.

If you’re stumped, here are three habits that would be especially good to cultivate while you’re a teenager.

1. Memorizing Scripture.

This is one of those things that will only get harder as you get older (or so I hear…). So take advantage of your young brain and memorize chunks of the Bible now to comfort, encourage, and inspire you when things get tough down the road.

If you have no idea how to begin, here are a few great resources to help:

2. Attending church every week.

For some of you, this is a no-brainer. On Sundays, your families get up and go to church; it’s just what you do. Even though this might be something you’ve done for as long as you can remember, make sure to actually think about why you do it, to own the practice for yourself, so that when you’re on your own it will still be a weekly habit.

And if your family doesn’t go to church every week, it should still be a priority for you to find a church family and a way to get there on Sundays! There is no greater gift that God has given us than the church, and regular fellowship with other believers is one of the most essential aspects of the Christian life. Rooting yourself in a Christian community, no matter where in the world you end up over the course of your life, will be one of the best things you can do for your spiritual health.

3. Setting aside regular time to read.

Reading for school doesn’t count in this category – I’m encouraging you to read books that you choose! Whether that’s fantasy novels, biographies, or Christian nonfiction, regularly reading outside of your assigned books is a much more productive use of your time than always watching TV or scrolling through social media. Some of that is fine, of course, but reading helps stimulate your brain and your creativity. Getting in the habit of always having a book on hand now, as a teenager, means you’ll probably read a lot of really great books in the years to come!

To get started, check out these previous posts:

And if you’re looking for more recommendations, I’ve done lots of book reviews, so browse through some of those for ideas!

 

I’m not going to claim that these three habits will totally change your life. But each of them will have a small, positive impact that will ultimately last longer and have a greater effect on your well-being than all of those superficial, overnight changes that disappear in a month.

Don’t feel like you have to “remake yourself” this school year – start small, and gradually you will build a life to be proud of.

What do you think? Are you already cultivating any of these habits? What habits do you want to add to your life this school year? Share in the comments! 

A final note before I go: School starts for me on Monday, so I’ll be switching back to my weekly Saturday posts. I love posting more often when I can, but weekly posting is always the most realistic schedule for me during the school year! 

love, grace

Read more:

24 Resolution Ideas for Christian Teens

Why You Need to Overcome Procrastination

4 Time Management Tips

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Lessons from the Law: How to Get Into the Old Testament for Yourself

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The Old Testament is so important for us to read if we are to grow as Christians. I hope that in this series I’ve convinced you of that with my few examples (sacrificesworshipsocial justice), but there is so much more to learn! That’s why I want to encourage you to get into the Old Testament yourself, to dig deep and seek to understand and appreciate this often-overlooked part of Scripture.

Here are four tips to help you:

1. Pray for guidance and understanding.

Prayer is always a good idea when you read the Bible, since you won’t be able to understand anything without the Holy Spirit’s work in your heart. But it’s especially important when you’re struggling to understand something.

Pray that God would open your eyes to see how the Old Testament, especially the law books, apply to you. Pray that He would teach you through them, teach you about Himself and about the gospel and about the Christian life. Pray that He would help you to understand the parts that you just can’t get through.

2. Don’t read too much at once.

If you read too quickly, skimming through the “boring” parts, you won’t get anything out of it. Don’t try to read more than a chapter or two at a time, and really focus your attention on that chapter or two. The less you read, the more time you have to think about each part of what you read, and being thoughtful as you read the Old Testament is incredibly important.

3. Make notes, journal, or something…don’t just read.

If you’re having trouble being thoughtful, write things down!

My understanding of the Old Testament shifted dramatically when I started reading with pencil in hand. The physical act of making notes and writing down my thoughts got me out of skimming mode and into thinking mode relatively quickly. You can write directly in your Bible (what I do), or use a separate notebook or journal. Whatever you choose to do, writing down the things you are learning will prime your brain to learn even more.

4. Look for application in everything.

And what are you supposed to be thinking about? Applications. Whenever you read the Old Testament, think about how it applies to you. What can you learn about God that will affect how you worship Him? What can you learn about yourself that will affect how you live? How does what you are reading connect with the New Testament, with the gospels? Why did God include this particular chapter in the Bible?

Everything in the Bible is there for a reason, and there is always something you can learn from any section. Read slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully, and search for the purpose of the text. In doing so you will discover the beauty of the Old Testament.

What do you think? How have you been able to find meaning in the Old Testament? Share in the comments below! 

love, grace

How to Take Sermon Notes

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Ever since I was very little, I’ve been sitting in church during sermons. Before I could write, I drew pictures and listened (or “listened”). Then my parents started helping me write a few notes. Then I copied my dad’s notes, or they gave me a template to fill in myself.

Eventually, I began to take notes on my own, which I now do every Sunday. I can’t listen to sermons without taking notes; my mind wanders and I don’t focus as well. So today, I wanted to share with you how I take notes and why it is beneficial.

Why Take Sermon Notes? 

Taking notes during sermons is helpful for two reasons:

1. It helps you pay attention and be actively engaged in the sermon, as well as making it easier to organize the information in your mind. 

If you just sit and listen to the sermon, your mind will probably wander on occasion. If you are taking notes, it’s easier to stay focused the whole time and be an active participant. I just find that I get much more out of it.

2. It gives you something to look back on later. 

How many sermons have you listened to in your life by now? Probably a lot. How many of them can you call up from memory? Probably very few, if any.

If a sermon really encourages you, challenges you, or speaks to you, don’t you want to be able to remember that a month later when you need that encouragement all over again? Taking good notes allows you to go back and be reminded of the truth preached in that particular sermon, re-motivating you to apply it to your life.

Speaking of which, do go back and look at your notes every once in a while! Don’t just shove your full notebooks away forever. Actually spend time (maybe on Sunday afternoons?) going back and reading through notes from a few old sermons.

A Caution

It’s important to say that taking sermon notes may not work for everyone. Some people get more out of the sermon if they are just listening, or if they doodle or something. What’s important is being open to try different things and find what helps you benefit the most from your sermons.

A Basic Template

First of all, get yourself a pretty notebook and pen. Walmart and Target have good notebooks. I’ve gotten most of mine from them over the years.

There are different ways to take notes, but here’s the basic format that I use…

1: The Header

Always write down the date, the pastor’s name (especially for guest preachers), the Scripture reference being preached on, and the title or theme of the sermon. If you want, you can also copy down the main section of the Scripture into your notes (especially if it’s a short passage).

2: The Intro

Sometimes, there will be an introduction before the points are mentioned that has helpful background information or interesting things you want to remember. You don’t have to wait until the points have been mentioned to write things down! Jot down a few notes at the beginning as well.

My pastor usually talks a little bit about the Scripture itself and how it is interpreted, the meaning of certain words, or the historical background before he gets into his points. That can be very helpful to have written down.

3: The Points

If there are any, write down the points next. If your pastor doesn’t mention them at the beginning, leave space and write them down as he brings them up. If he lists them at the beginning and you miss one or two, don’t despair; just listen and see if he brings them up again. If not, ask someone else about them afterward.

If your pastor doesn’t use points, don’t worry about this. Just move to the body of the notes.

4: The Body

This is the part that will look the most different for every person, and it’s also the largest and most important section.

For this section, take notes in a way that makes sense to you. Write down the main points and anything that catches your ear that you want to remember.

  • You can write these in bullet points or in paragraph form, or a mix.
  • If there are clear points to the sermon, maybe divide your notes point-by-point.
  • Underline things or even use highlighters or colored pens if you want.
  • Write down Scripture references if you want.
  • Maybe add your own thoughts and questions alongside the other notes.

Take notes in a way that you understand so that you will be able to go back and remember the sermon later on just from reading the notes.

5: The Conclusion

Once all of the main points have been talked about, your pastor may have a section at the end for application or inspiration. My pastor always has a specific section devoted to application, or how we can apply what we have heard to how we live our lives. Your pastor may do this, or he may have a more inspirational approach to finishing the sermon. Either way, be sure to write down any points that you want to remember here as well.

Example: How I Take Mine

To help you visualize it, here is an example from my own sermon notes.

A caution before we start: I take A LOT of notes. Like, pages and pages. This is only because I have trouble summarizing the most important things and feel like I need to write everything down, as well as the fact that my pastor preaches 45-minute sermons. Please don’t feel like you have to take as many pages of notes as me; there is no “right length”.

First of all, here is the notebook that I use. It came from Walmart.

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Here is the header. You see that I have the date, the pastor’s name, and the Scripture reading on the top line. The next thing down, in the brackets, is the theme of the sermon as printed in the bulletin.

After that, I jotted down a thought from the introduction; in this sermon, it was just an expansion on the theme. Below that, I have the five points of this sermon. (Also notice that I did have to cross something out…your notes don’t have to be perfect!)

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And here we have the body of the notes. You can see that I just jotted down each point and wrote things down underneath it.

A couple of things to notice here:

-I started with a paragraph format, moved to a list, and then back to paragraph form…who knows why. The point is, there isn’t one right way to organize it.

-Under the first point, at the top of the second page, I have a sort of “subset” list of what it means to be like God. That was a secondary set of points within the first point.

-I completely missed the beginning of the third point and had to go back and add the III in parentheses next to it…look at the top of the third page. Again, they don’t have to be perfect!

-Also notice the underlined parts and the Scripture references in parentheses.

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After that, we have the final section: the application. I headed this part separately and just wrote down the main points.

 

Remember, as I keep saying, that there isn’t one right way to organize your notes. Every pastor will have a different style, everyone will think different things are important, and as long as you can read and understand them a year later, you’re taking notes the right way.

It requires experimentation: try different methods until you find your own personal style of note-taking that works for you. And if you already have your method, tell me in the comments! I would love to hear how other people take notes.

What do you think? Was this helpful? Do you already take notes? If so, how do you organize them? If not, will you start? Tell me in the comments below! 

love, grace