WoW 117: On heart-based transformation [Words of Wisdom]

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Take the next 63 or so breaths slowly and reflect deeply on your life. I hope these words help you grow in you the most valuable treasure in life: wisdom. Wisdom grows imperceptibly but flourishes like a mighty oak, standing the test of time

WoW 117: On heart-based transformation

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Your wisdom determines the quality and potential of your life. You will fall to the depth of your vices and rise to the heights of your virtues. It is your inner life, your spiritual maturity, that is the foundation for your outer life–your relationships, accomplishments, wealth, and circumstances.

James Clear wrote a compelling book, ​Atomic Habits​, which has been the best selling book on Amazon for 2 of the last 3 years. In it he writes, "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." This is true. He goes on to say there are two types of habits – outcome-based habits–where people focus on what they want to achieve, and identity-based habits–where people focus on who they want to become.

He argues that identity-based habits are far more powerful. "The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It's one thing to say I'm the type of person who wants this. It's something very different to say I'm the type of person who is this."

James has this insightful mental model to show the value of what he calls identity-based habits. All three are necessary. Identity is based on what you believe. Processes are based on what you do. Outcomes are based on what you achieve.

Identity-Based Habits

Identity-based transformation

I highly recommend ​Atomic Habits​.

However, as helpful as it is, there is a danger here.

I don't think James went far enough in his book. He does not address wisdom, or how we live out our moral and ethical choices and habits, and he definitely doesn't touch on the spiritual realm and discuss our desires for God, for His Kingdom, and the spiritual war that is raging against it.

Developing habits of going to the gym, writing, meditating, these are all wonderful and helpful for your flourishing. But if you focus only on behavior change and ignore your relationship with God and how that forms your character then you are in dangerous territory: you will not experience the fruit of the Spirit or the abiding presence of God. If you run life on the fuel of your own identity you will not experience deep love that leads to radical transformation. If you direct your life solely on what you want you will not advance God's kingdom.

There is nothing worse than seeking your own selfish agenda instead of God's.

Ignoring wisdom then, James Clear missed a critical component. I believe at our core of who we are is our heart.

Our heart, Scripture teaches, is what we want, or our will. It is our desire that ultimately defines us and directs who we become.

Heart-Based Habits

heart-based transformation

When Jesus taught to pray for God's Kingdom to come, he was teaching his disciples to pray that what God wants would be what his people want. God's Kingdom is when what God wants to happen, happens. So a key aspect to advancing God's Kingdom is to see your heart change–so that you deeply desire God, loving Him first and above all, enabling you to love yourself and others as you have been loved. This is such a radical thing that Jesus described it as being born again, or being born from above.

As your heart goes, so your life goes. As your desire is deepened and focused on God, your identity will be changed.

If your heart is changed, if your desire is purified and you 'put first the Kingdom of heaven' then all the rest can fall into place–your identity is aligned with the Spirit that created and empowers all life, your processes can improve, and outcomes can be achieved. But if you don't address your heart, your growth will remain stunted. Scripture goes on to say that the human heart, without God's redemption, is desperately wicked.

This isn't popular to say, but it's true. Not only is your heart stunted, but your twisted desires, if they are not transformed, will sabotage your efforts and lead to destruction.

If your core spiritual strongholds or vices aren't transformed, you might change or stop a behavior, but your vices, your twisted desires, will still be influencing your heart and habits and you will never experience deep flourishing.

Sure, you might stop looking at pornography, for example, but you will still struggle with intimacy. You might grow to where you aren't compulsively doing a certain behavior, but ruled by selfishness, fear, resentment, and distorted thinking, you will never experience an abiding sense of peace and unresolved conflict will plague you.

Your specific wounded behavior patterns, habits, and addictions are important. It's necessary to address them specifically and they do have unique consequences. But more important than your specific behavior patterns is addressing the system and the spiritual dynamics that influences your behaviors. This is no small task. The early recovery community wisely observed that addiction is:

"cunning, baffling, powerful!" Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power–that One is God. May you find Him now!"

(p. 58-59 ​Alcoholics Anonymous​)

First comes being, then comes doing. First comes dwelling with God, then comes living out those desires and doing the loving work of the Kingdom of Heaven.


"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Augustine of Hippo, ​Confessions​

”One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.“

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭27‬:‭4,‬ ‭​NIV‬‬​


What do you seek? Are you fundamentally seeking to dwell in God's presence and pursue His kingdom?

Are you seeking to grow and change fueled by your own power, or relying on God?

(Use these questions as a journal prompt and to guide your prayers this week)


Seek God today, while He may be found. Open your heart to whatever God has for you in this moment. There is nothing more important. Desiring God and His will for your life is the best use of your will.

Live wisely,



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