Stephen Covey:
See Why Habit 1 is Biblical

No doubt about it, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits are popular. His recent passing reminded us all of their impact over the last several decades. My tribute at Patheos highlighted their impact on my own life. No doubt about it, the 7 Habits have been helpful.

But are they Biblical?

Stephen Covey himself claimed he drew inspiration from Scripture according to this article in the New York Times. I’ve certainly found that to be abundantly true. And yet I’ve often met resistance to my teaching Covey’s 7 Habits from well-meaning Christians who claim them to be man’s wisdom as opposed to God’s wisdom.

I disagree.

I’ve taught these principle many times to a wide range of audiences. I’ve incorporated them into my personal and family life. I believe they work because they come from the ultimate book of wisdom — the Bible.

I invite you to join in a series of posts that surveys Covey’s 7 Habits to see how biblical they really are.

Habit 1: Be proactive.

In the space between stimulus and response, there lies our God-given responsibility to choose.

I like the kid’s version of this habit even better: ”You’re in charge of you.” By that, Stephen Covey did not mean that you are your own authority who submits to no one. Indeed, he often wrote at length about the need in all of us to acknowledge the claims of the divine. This habit does mean that you are responsible for the choices you make. All of them.

And you have more control over more choices than you’d like to admit.

You’re not in control of a lot of what happens to you. But you are in control of how you choose to respond to it all. And that’s abundantly biblical:

  • “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15 ESV)
  • “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deut. 30:19 ESV)
  • “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.” (Prov. 1:28-31 ESV)
  • From Eden, we have been trying to shift the blame for our own decisions. “But the woman who You gave me…” “But the serpent…..” (Genesis 3)


In Habit 1, Covey simply calls us to take ownership for our choices in life, to reject the victim label. It challenges us to quit making excuses and apply our creative energies to what is within our circle of influence and to let go of what is only in our circle of concern.


How does this habit effect a family?

Covey gives this example in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (p.35) of a time when a young man confided in him that he just didn’t love his wife anymore and asked what he could do:

“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I inquired.

“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest.”

“Love her,” I replied.

“I told you, the feeling isn’t there anymore.”

“Love her.”

“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”

“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”

“But how do you love when you don’t love?”

“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love the verb. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do this?

Stephen Covey adds “We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

What’s an emotional bank account?

Another intensely practical application of Habit 1 is Covey’s concept of the emotional bank account. In any relationship, we will, at some point, need to make “withdrawals.” Jesus himself said that because we live in a fallen world, “Offenses will come.” Thus we must choose to intentionally make positive deposits in our relationships before we need to make those withdrawals.

I’ve seen this principle played out most vividly as a school administrator. Whenever a new student first comes to the school and needs some disciplinary intervention at the start of the school year, I know I’ll likely have a challenging interaction with both the student and parents. I simply haven’t had an opportunity to make any positive deposits in the emotional bank account.

On the other hand, when those deposits have been made, freedom exists to truly engage in effective discipleship. I recall one time when a young lady’s father called me with concern over how an issue was being handled. When I spoke to him, however, he said simply, “Once I knew you were involved, I was fine.”

That level of trust took time to build and did not always come easily. It happened because I had authentically poured into those relationships with positive deposits before I needed to make a withdrawal. Because I had chosen to invest in the relationships ahead of time (Be proactive), I had earned the right to make a withdrawal of trust if needed.

I think of Nehemiah who asked for a significant withdrawal from the Babylonian king to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. We don’t know all the details of how he did it, but clearly, as the king’s trustworthy cupbearer, Nehemiah had intentionally made deposits in that relationship. When the time came to make the ask, his credit was good.

How’s yours?

In what relationships are you choosing to invest today? Do your choices show you’re aware of what you can change and not worried about what you can’t? Leave a comment to share the growth.

7 Responses to “Stephen Covey:
See Why Habit 1 is Biblical”

  1. jerry lynch July 24, 2012 at 12:45 AM #

    “Covey gives this example in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (p.35) of a time when a young man confided in him that he just didn’t love his wife anymore and asked what he could do:”
    What Covey relates next is almost verbatim to an exchange between a well-known Christian saint and a soon to be well-known new monk. Apparently this is universally good advice.

    Breaking the victim-spell, especially for those who have endured a highly dysfunctional childhood, is not easy, for it seems to model what it means to “act like a good Christian” or simply be a “good person.” Options to think and behave differently are meager. I have met very few Christians who did not have this “enduring” quality to their faith. But acceptance makes enduring look pompous and silly. Joy is the muscle that “turns the other cheek.” There is no sacrifice.

    I have come to see that the belief anything can happen “to me” or “for me” is misplaced; it all happens within me. Reality is only in the heart; the life I get is there. But first I had to go through the pain and realization that as a child I was a victim, I had to get angry and want to get even over the injustice and cruelity. This, I feel, was grace, a proactive movement of God to energize my spirit to be part of life again. My will is not proactive for my well-being; it is submissive. Spirit alone needs to be proactive in my life. I merely seek surrender, not self-improvement (or success or righteousness or peace or anything else). My task is to wait on the proactive direction and strength of the Holy Spirit, while I comfortably rest in Christ. The work is to enter the rest. Everything in faith is a movement to this place.


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