The secular world has gotten a hold of something Christians used to be really good at. Read anything about being a leader, being successful and it won’t be long until you find advice on habit building. Habits that lead to completed projects, promotion, and wealth.
Christians used to know all about habits. Habits of prayer that led to intimacy with Christ, habits of Scripture reading and memorization that led to a heart saturated with God’s Word, habits of accountability that led to lives lived more fully aligned with professed belief.
We used to be good at habits. Just ask Wesley and the Methodists.
Somewhere, though, we decided habits were – at best – pointless and – at worst –the “meaningless repetition” condemned by Jesus. My generation especially has embraced this idea. We’ve ennobled the idea of only doing these spiritual habits when we feel like it… usually for the sake of being “authentic”.
Oddly enough, this logic doesn’t hold in any other area of life. I eat even when I don’t feel like doing the dishes. I sleep even when there’s still a ton of work on my to-do list. There are a dozen good and healthy things I do every week out of habit.
“But wait!” one of my authentic readers might object. “Those things are different from having a relationship. You can’t do a relationship with meaningless, repetitive habits!”
Really? Then I recommend you and your husband don’t talk for the next month. You’ve talked to each other every day for the past year… isn’t it getting bland? Your best friend who you call every weekend just to catch up? You should probably wait until something REALLY big happens before you call again… don’t want to call out of vain habit.
“Wait!” the authentic reader shouts. “Are you some sort of weird, hermitlike freak? What’s wrong with you?”
You’re right. Anyone who would seriously recommend those things would be a sick sort of weirdo. So why when that skewed type of “authenticity” is recommended for our relationship with God, do we nod our heads in pious agreement?
No doubt, sometimes we go to Scripture and find the experience dry; pray and find ourselves mumbling the same words we mumbled the day before. But then, I would imagine, the problem is with us and not with the habits. They have, after all, proven fruitful not only in every other relationship we’ve ever had but in the lives of thousands of other Christians throughout centuries.
We will build habits one way or the other. It may be we’ve built habits revolving around Scripture, prayer and gathering together that lead us to God. The challenge is not in doing those practices only when we “feel” like it in a misguided attempt to be authentic. The challenge is to bring ourselves fully, authentically into these relationship-building practices.
But it may be that we’ve built habits revolving around our selfish selves, our comfort or status. Habits that lead us away from God. Those habits, I think, are the ones we should condemn as empty and meaningless repetition.
What kind of habits are you building? How are you setting your life on a trajectory towards God?