I remember being about ten years old when I advised my younger sister not to read the Bible every day unless she really wanted to, because God didn’t want her to do it just out of habit. I’m not entirely sure how I came to that conclusion myself, but as a child growing up in the evangelical church, I often heard messages like, “Reading the Bible/praying/serving God shouldn’t be just a habit; it should be something you love to do.”
Habit has a bad rap in the evangelical church. We are wary of anything that seems rote or unfeeling. We’re skeptical of traditions that might become legalistic. The word “liturgy” scares us. Some of this skepticism is well-founded. We have witnessed firsthand the harm that can come from mindless adherence to “the way we’ve always done it,” and we’ve seen the danger of elevating outward motions over inward devotion.
But the problem with scorning habit is that we are creatures of habit. God designed us to live in the rhythm of seasons and cycles of waking and sleeping, and we naturally build our own routines for our activities.
While our loves certainly influence our habits, even more often, they follow them.
Consider your eating habits. You can probably think of a food or drink—like onions or coffee—that you didn’t like as a child, but you kept trying, and now you truly enjoy. Your habit of consuming that food led to your love of it. We find the same principle true in almost every other activity we can imagine. I don’t like to run, but people who do enjoy running often say that they hated it when they first began, but the more they did it, the more they enjoyed it. I used to be a night owl who hated mornings, until I started making a habit of waking at 5:30 a.m. For weeks, it felt like torture, but now, over a year into this routine, I savor my early mornings (and am writing this during one of them).
Habit informs and strengthens love, and as Christians, we should use this knowledge to our advantage.
Do you want to love studying Scripture? Make a habit of study. Do you want to cherish time in prayer? Begin praying routinely. Do you want to enjoy practicing hospitality? Start opening your home to others regularly.
It would be tragic if our spiritual lives were only ones of habit, and that is a danger that must be avoided. We should guard against a faith that is rote and unfeeling. But the antidote is not to eschew habit altogether. Rather, we should embrace habits that honor God, while asking and trusting Him to supply the needed love to accompany our habits. And we should continue to do what we know is right, regardless of our feelings which will come and go.
I was right when I told my sister that reading her Bible shouldn’t be something she only did out of habit. Certainly, it would be a tragedy if that’s all her study of Scripture was. But I was wrong to think that it couldn’t start there.
As you begin the new year, consider what habits you need to change in order to influence your love of God and a life that is consistent with that love. Maybe you need to reject entertainment habits that are leading you to love things that are shallow or sinful. Maybe you need to embrace habits that will lead you to love what is good, true, and beautiful instead. This year, I pray that all our habits—and our hearts—may come more fully under the lordship of Christ.