I think would be safe to say that these times have altered our daily lives. As creatures of habit this time has been quite disorienting. When things get turned upside down, what habits do we go back to? I’ve talked previously here about big picture habits, or cultural liturgies like sports, school, consumerism, and work being destroyed during this crisis. The enduring habits practiced at church like adoration, confession, assurance, and commission are more important than ever. I want to talk for a minute about personal habits though. Personally, our daily lives have taken time to adjust, but have our lives been completely derailed? If they have, than maybe it points to a deeper reality that we have been depending on a rhythmic structure that was not stable and can’t deliver for us.
We Are What We Love
The reality is, our habits define us. We are primarily what we do, not what we wish we were. Our wishful thinking may be condensed in a belief system or manifest itself as we declare what we believe to others or affirm what we believe at church, but our habits and actions display who we are. It’s important to have ideals informed by Scripture, but we have to be honest with where we’re at in reality. As James Smith says, you are what you love, and you may not love what you think you love, but you always do what you love, desire, or want.
Now hold on. You may say, I don’t desire to do my job, but I do it anyway. True, but you like getting an income, or providing for a family right? Maybe you don’t like the chores you do, but you do it for a deeper reason like maintaining order, or maybe I do it to keepmy wife happy, which I of course love doing!
Now ultimately our truest self is in Christ, but are we becoming who we truly are, or living in the old self? What you do forms who you are in the practical sense that it shows the kind of person you are. You are not your doctrinal statement. Your habits form your desires. That’s why things can get so addictive for us! Our actions are not only things that we do, they do stuff to us.
Heart Desires Not Head Beliefs
That’s exactly why God is after our hearts and desires. Jesus says “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Proverbs 4:23 says “watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life”. Jesus asks his disciples what they want, not what they believe. He didn’t ask for Peter’s doctrinal statement before he commissioned him to begin planting churches and evangelizing , he asked Peter, “do you love me”?
Do our habits of heart reveal that we love God or something else? What about all those habits that had to die with COVID-19 lockdown? Do some of them need to stay dead and be replaced? To redeem this difficult time, we must consider how our previous habits have been turned upside down, and ask, what do those habits say about my loves and my goals. Are they work keeping? What kind of spouse, parent, child, coworker, and Christian do these habits form me into?
We talked last week about the broken cisterns that can’t hold water. Maybe some of these habits were formed around a pilgrimage to these broken cisterns. Maybe we were addicted to the little taste of something better that they kept providing. It never satisfied, but kept us coming back for more.
We Only Have Today
The time may be ripe to form new habits, but are the new ones we’re forming any good? Maybe we’re enforcing new de-forming habits of complaining, obsession with social media, and other things that are going to foster anger, anxiety, and discontentment. Maybe there’s even more screen time now than before, and thus more time to waste away in fantasy worlds. Take stock of your day, the things you do when you get up first thing and the last thing you do before bed. What’s the purpose? What is it doing to you? How much screen time are you putting in? Do your phone habits condition you to always expect entertainment, superficial connection, or information? Is there something better you can do to start or end your day? Start small! Don’t set yourself up for failure and discouragement because of how awesome you wish you were.
Seek God’s wisdom in creating new habits that are transformative and help you connect deeper with God and others, not isolate you. Some good ideas can be found in books on spiritual disciplines, like Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, or a shorter one called Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper. These disciplines of intentional and vulnerable prayer before God, slow, meditative Bible reading, and journaling, help us not just affirm what we believe, but help truth sink into our hearts. The liturgical rhythm of worship of God, confession of sin, and assurance of pardon to be commissioned into the world is not only for church but for every day! That rhythm will never change in value because it’s rooted in the gospel. If we let it form us, it will be the only habit that should never change until Christ returns or we go to be with him.
I hope you consider your habits and what they’re doing to you this week. Use this difficult time in your life to forge new habits that transform you, not deform you. May these new disciplines keep us coming back to the deep and refreshing well of God’s grace and love.