I have a lot of habits. Some of them are great. Others, not so good. Some are so second-nature, I barely even think of them as habits.
I brush my teeth on a pretty regular basis. This may go back to an event at boarding school. I had been awarded the ‘good egg’ one week. This was a blown egg that was painted, if my memory serves me correctly, silver. It was awarded to a boy in our section of boarding (middle-boys) who was deemed to have earned it. I can’t recall whether there were any particular requirements to earn this title, but I seem to remember it was awarded with some ceremony. Anyway, one morning during the week of my glorious reign as ‘good egg’, I was heading downstairs to school. I was hailed by our houseparent, who called, ‘have you brushed your teeth this morning?’ My response, perhaps hesitant and certainly untrue was ‘yes’. I was clearly too transparent and my houseparent too astute for me to get away with this. My look probably confirmed my fate, and her look gave away her recognition that I had lied. Suffice it to say, the ‘good egg’ award moved on to someone else the next week – not lingering long with those who lied. I’m now pretty good at brushing my teeth (though no-one’s thought to award me a ‘good egg’ award for many years now…)
Other habits include wearing a seatbelt, washing my hands after going to the loo, answering the ‘phone using my name (this also goes back to childhood traumas – being mistaken for my mother on countless occasions), and many other things that come pretty naturally now. These habits have been formed over the years.
There is another type of habit though. You could call them ‘Holy Habits’, though they’re more commonly referred to as ‘Spiritual Disciplines’. These are habits that followers of God have found helpful to draw them closer to Him. I’m going to be blogging monthly for BigBible about these disciplines during 2013.
Now, there’s a danger here when we start taking Spiritual Disciplines seriously. The danger is elevating the Disciplines, the habits, above the purpose for developing them. The disciplines are to make us more godly, not just more disciplined. We forget this at our peril. Treating the disciplines themselves as the goal makes us legalistic and teaches us to rely more on ourselves than on God. The focus must always be on God.
When it comes to criticism of the Disciplines, I’ve had people make comments along the lines of the Beatles’, ‘all you need is love’. In one sense, I agree. Our relationship with God is a response to His love, and should demonstrate, in return, our love. However, in another sense, I think this argument is weak. The implication can be that the disciplines are something that people might like to tack on if they’re not very good at the whole loving God thing; they’re a crutch for those who haven’t discovered true love. I don’t think that’s true at all. Jesus, after all, practised most of these things. Love is active. If I told my family that I loved them, and then did absolutely nothing to show them that, they would rightly question my honesty. To develop relationships, I need to act.
Let me give you an example from today that might help me explain further.
I was sitting on the sofa and my Little Boy (17 months old) was playing on the floor. He came over and put his arms on the sofa (which is about armpit height for him!) and then tried to swing his leg up to climb up. He failed and immediately gave up and wandered off again. A little while later, he came back to try again. This time, however, he scrabbled and clung and wrestled and started yelling at me insistently. My response? I pulled him up onto the sofa, of course. I responded to him. Yes, that’s an absolutely useless analogy in many ways, but it illustrates a point. Did I love him more the second time he tried? No, of course not. In fact, that’s a stupid question really. But I responded to his persistence. He couldn’t get onto the sofa without my help. But his first effort showed very little real desire to get up. The disciplines are a bit like at. It’s not that we need to yell at God before he’ll do anything (though in our troubling world, it can sometimes feel like that). But sometimes we need to be a bit more disciplined in what we’re doing. God doesn’t love us more if we are disciplined, any more than I loved my Little Boy more because he started shouting at me for help. But He is a loving God who responds to us. We have needs that only He can meet, and we need to be disciplined about putting ourselves in a position where He will do that.
Equally, I’m not saying at all that if you don’t get what you want from God you’re just not trying hard enough. That idea is a dangerous road that will lead to doubt, self-persecution and destructive thoughts. Discipline must be matched with trust. Not a trust that God will simply do what we want, but rather, a trust that God will do what is best. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before they were thrown into the furnace, we can know that God is capable and in control, even though we can’t guarantee what He will do in any given situation.
My resolve this year is to put a bit more effort in. Already this year, I’ve seen God responding to my greater efforts, my attempts to be a bit more disciplined. I’d love you to join me on this journey. Feel free to comment below, blog your own way through the disciplines (and put links to your blog in the comment section) or interact in any other way you find useful in developing your relationship with God. I’d like also to commend to you a blog called God52, which is following a similar course, though with a weekly, rather than a monthly, challenge.
Can I also suggest a bit of homework over the next month. First of all, if you want to see some changes in your life as a result of this journey, you’ll need to ask God to help! As we change our habits, God changes our hearts.
Secondly, can I suggest you take some time to review where you’re at currently with the disciplines. The likely ones we’ll cover this year are (in no particular order):
Study, Prayer, Confession, Worship, Service, Meditation, Submission, Silence, Solitude, Purity, Fasting, Simplicity and Generosity. Some might double up…
Let’s go for it!