Shelly Cook Volkhardt grew up in Taiwan. She studied at Biola University where she met her husband, Glen. The Volkhardts were missionaries in Ecuador for twenty years. They currently live in Miami. Shelly is a Bible teacher and has recently authored her first book—Holy Habits, written with friend and co-author Mimi Wilson. Christianbook.com recently spoke with Shelly about the book and how "holy habits" have become a part of her life.

This book was a joint effort. How did you go about writing it? I did all the writing. We took the core of the book from a series of messages that Mimi gave in a Bible study, but in the preparation of that study we shared with each other nuggets and so forth, so it is really a blend of our materials. Because Mimi is dyslexic—which she perceives as a weakness but I see as a strength because she always pulls in a team around her—we did it as a team. I would never have written a book by myself. Doing it as a team was powerful. It really is a blend of our hearts. Our hearts were really united after having prayed together for 9 years. It's so amazing when we talk about a principle—she gives her insights, I give mine—and it's rich.

Your book's subtitle is A Woman's Guide to Intentional Living. Can you explain what you mean by "intentional living."?  Well, I think the idea is that it is something that you do deliberately, with intention. We are spending our time either with a purpose or without a purpose. So when we choose to operate with "holy habits" we're using our time intentionally rather than just letting time or activities dictate to us what we will do.

When Mimi launched out on her journey toward finding ways to focus on God's character, she did a time study where she set an alarm clock for every 15 minutes all day long for several days and recorded what she had been doing during that time as well as what she had been thinking.  That was very revealing to her. I was totally daunted by that idea. But it certainly made her aware of how much time she was frittering away. The thing that really overwhelmed me was if I had disciplined myself to do that, it would have been my thought life that was the problem. Really, the aid that holy habits have been for me is keeping my thought life focussed. It's changed my life. That's another aspect of intentional living—you have a focus.

I know that many women fall into the trap of thinking that if they only have a plan, a list of things to do, they'll be all set. Why do you think that doesn't work? In my early Christian days I thought that the formulas were the way to go, but every formula failed me at one point or another. I think basically it was because of me. The secret—and we try to bring this out in the book—is to just do it today. I remember for years I tried and tried to get going on an exercise program. I'd get up in the morning and take off and do my jogging and everything and think, Ok, I can do this. And I'd plan into the next week and into the next month about how I was going to do this and imagined myself running marathons. Well, the next morning something would happen and I couldn't get up and get going. So I set myself up for failure by saying that I was going to do this forever, when all I needed to do was to do it for that day. It's the same spiritually. When I changed my way of looking at it, I've ended up exercising 3 or 4 times a week for 9 years now. I don't think about tomorrow. I think about what I'm going to do today. If I can get my exercise in today, then that's all I need to do. And when you think about it, today is all God's given us really. So I need to think about what I can do today to focus on him.

I think when we are talking about a plan, the emphasis is in the wrong place. As I fall more and more in love with God, as he meets me more and more where I'm at, then I want to focus on him. It's a subtle thing, but when my focus is on Him rather than on the plan, what I do is more of an outflow of the sweet communion that we have.

I liked that your book gets you to cultivate the practice of looking for God in the things that go on in your day, developing more of a mindset than a "to do" list. My big concern in writing this book was that I didn't want to lay another "to do" on people because we are all trying as hard as we can (most of us are). Our hearts' desire—Mimi's and mine—was to point to God so that the holy habits would be something that would be a response to him.

Let me tell you a story about that from me. I have been through some very dark times in my life. There were times when I couldn't even pray which is one of the most basic holy habits. My heart was so heavy and so wounded and grieved that I couldn't even pray. My mother reminded me one day—as I was grieving over the fact that I couldn't pray—of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who wrote  Tortured for Christ. It's a powerful book that deeply impacted me. He was in solitary confinement and beaten and abused everyday. He would get back to his cell and just grieve because he couldn't pray; he couldn't remember any Scripture or anything. Finally one day he just said, "God, my heart beats for you."  That's enough sometimes. Sometimes the only holy habit I can put into practice is just telling him that the very blood that flows through my veins, that my heart pumps, wants to honor him even though I can't do anything.  I'm living and breathing with a longing to please God, and when I can do something, I will.

When it comes to becoming holy, you talk about resting and letting God do the work rather than us working hard at it. You use the example of Hudson Taylor and how he worked hard at his relationship by fasting, praying, studying, and disciplining himself but holiness still eluded him.  His friend told him to just rest in God. How do we find the balance between resting in God and doing? I struggle with that, too. I think a lot of Christians are drivers. I'm a driver. God has given us incredible abilities and I think it's very difficult to take that dependence on myself and place it on him. I am constantly brought back by God saying, "You're not resting." I think that there are things that God has given us to do that we can do and that's our responsibility. But when we try to do the things that we can't do, those are the things that we need to rest in God about. Knowing what those are is where we need to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and bring us up short when we're not resting. It's not that easy.

Can you share some of the holy habits that have impacted your life? One holy habit that has been significant to me is reminding myself daily of God's grace. It has helped me survive some of these dark times that I have mentioned. I took a bottle, filled it with water, and colored it blue. I was given the image of the verse that says, "He has all sufficient grace for everything." And so this bottle represented in my thinking God's grace. I would come up against a situation where I would think that I couldn't handle it and I would choose to remind myself that there was enough grace from God for even this. I put that blue bottle in the bathroom because that seemed like the place where I could most often escape, and I'd look at that bottle and remember that God's grace was sufficient for everything. The purpose of the book really is to stimulate other women to think of ways that they can do that. Daniel, in the Book of Daniel, repeatedly uses "the Lord Most High" when he speaks about the Lord and I see that as a holy habit because he is reminding himself of who is above the pagan authorities in his life and that was "the Lord Most High." Every time we pray at the dinner table I thank the Lord for his provision of the food—a simple holy habit—that acknowledges that the food comes from his hand. We talk in the book about celebrating his faithfulness and making it a holy habit to point out when we see God's faithfulness. We have special events when we have dinner with other believers and have them share about God's faithfulness in their lives. We talk about ways to choose contentment—not allowing ourselves to think along certain lines—in order to choose contentment rather than discontentment. It has been interesting that as the holy habits become such a part of my life, the Lord shows me or teaches me new ones that are appropriate to my circumstances currently.

I think in this modern age—especially in our country—women are so busy, they are juggling so much, and the cry of their hearts is to have more time with God, but the actual doing of it is often very difficult. How do you deal with this? Mimi sets aside a morning a week. At this stage my children are young and I'm very busy. I feel like a taxi driver, especially since we've moved here, and I just can't do that. But rather than beating myself up about it, I have times in the car, or sometimes I get up very early in the morning trying to find ways that I can have that time alone with God. A lot of times it's right in the middle of sitting with my son while he is practicing the piano. I can worship while instructing him. When we know God we don't have to live a cloistered life because he calls us to be faithful to him right where we are.

If you had one prayer for women today, what would it be? That they would know God, that they would know him and live their lives as if that were really true. For me the key truth that I'm clinging to these days is that He does not change. And if he doesn't change, that means that the God who parted the Red Sea can part that which is in front of me today. That only comes by knowing him. Every time Mimi and I sat down to write—whether I was doing it alone at my computer in Ecuador or when we were together—we would bathe it in prayer because our desire was that it would not be us but that the Holy Spirit would breathe through those pages. You can write the best book in the world, but if the Holy Spirit doesn't communicate that truth—it's not powerful. My heart's desire is that women would know God and live like that were true.

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