361) Faith and Habits (part three of three)

    One does not grow in faith spontaneously. What we believe about original sin tells us that sin is what increases spontaneously.  Sins, like weeds, will grow unattended and without effort.  This is how we get into some of the habits that we don’t want and would like to get rid of.  And when we think about habits, we might think only about harmful habits like smoking or annoying habits like nail biting.

    But not all habits are bad.  We can, by a determined act of the will, cultivate good habits, and then, once established, these good habits can serve us well.  Frederick Whittaker said, “Habits are about the only servants that will work for you for nothing.  Just get them established and they will operate for you even if you are going around in a trance.”  When something becomes a habit it is not so much a chore anymore, but an established part of one’s routine.  We can then find ourselves doing the desired action automatically.

    It can be difficult on a Sunday morning to get up for church, especially when there might be other things to do and other places to go.  Many people are very busy these days, but consider this:  most people do fit a shower and other personal grooming time into their busy schedule, and they do that every day, including the very busiest days when that extra 45 minutes could be used to accomplish something else.  But we do not neglect personal grooming just because we are busy, do we?  That is because we are convinced of its importance, and we do not want to look bad or smell offensive to our friends and co-workers.  God has told us that worship is important and he has commanded that we take time for that, and God also makes it clear in the Bible that he is offended and angered when we despise his commands and neglect his Word.  We should be at least as diligent and as consistent in our attention to our God as we are in our attention to our personal grooming.  The habits of worship and daily prayer are, I am sure, as possible to fit into our busy schedules as are the habits of showers and shaving and fixing hair.

    One of the enemies of disciplined habit is our own ‘feelings,’ and a common belief today is that we must pay attention to our feelings.  But most people, ministers included, do not always ‘feel’ like going to church or taking time for daily prayer.  This does not have to be a problem, unless you have come to believe that our spontaneous feelings should be honored and obeyed.  Disciplined habits do go against the grain of many of our spontaneous desires, and if we are determined to follow our feelings, our spiritual life will be in trouble.  But this high regard for ‘feelings’ needs to be examined.  Where do such ‘feelings’ come from that would prevent us from spending time with God?  Thomas a Kempis wrote:  “Keep in mind that your enemy, the devil, works to hinder your desire in every good and to make you void of all good exercise.”  It is ‘your enemy the devil,’ who is the source of those feelings that would keep you from God.  Therefore, feelings like that must be fought against and rejected, not honored and obeyed.  We must commit ourselves to prayer and to worship, every day and every week, even when, indeed especially when, we don’t feel like it.  It is precisely when we don’t feeling like talking to God that we need to talk to God most of all. It is especially when we don’t feel like worshipping God that we most of all need to worship.  Because it is when we do not feel like praying or worshiping that the tempter has our ear and our heart and our mind under his control.

    We can freely choose these disciplined habits as loving responses to God’s love and promises.  Then once chosen, we must make a slave of our will and rigidly adhere to our commitments, especially when we don’t feel like it.  We cannot be like children who want to stay home from school because they don’t feel like going.  Mature adults know that there are many things we must do whether we feel like it or not.   Wise people know that disciplined habits, though often not spontaneous and free, are in the end more freeing than acting on one’s moment by moment feelings.  We know we are sinners.  We must therefore know enough to be firm and strict with ourselves, our own ‘sinful selves’ as the catechism says.

     There is an old proverb that says, “Habit is a cable, and we weave a thread of it every day until at last we cannot break it.”  Another old proverb says, “Habits are at first cobwebs, but they become chains.”  Habits are chains and cables, say the old proverbs, holding us firm.  The question you must ask yourself is ‘to what do you want to be chained?’  The habits of faith chain me to God and his Word and that chain, or cable, grows stronger by my consistent practice.  However, the habit of neglecting God and his Word can also become a cable, a cable which grows in strength, binding me to the devil and keeping me away from God.  Our physical habits can serve our bodies or destroy them.  Our spiritual habits can give God the opportunity to sustain our faith, and our lack of spiritual habits can give the devil the opportunity to lead us to drift away from our faith and be lost.  God commands good habits.

    Weekly worship is the most basic of these habits of the faith.  Daily devotions are also important.  If you are not already having some form of daily and weekly time with God, begin to do so now.  Studies have shown that it takes 3-4 weeks to form a new habit.  Discipline yourself for those few weeks to spend time with God every day, and then let the established habit serve you.  The reading of these ‘EmailMeditations’ can be that daily habit of faith, an established time each day to be reminded of God, and to spend a few minutes in his Word and in prayer.

John 8:31-32   —  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Romans 12:1-2  —  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
John 4:23-24  —  (Jesus said), …A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
    O God, the strength of those who put their trust in you:  Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.    
 —Book of Common Prayer