Friday, November 26, 2010

When Good Habits Work Against Us

My habits were strangling me. No, I don’t mean addictions. I mean routine patterns I had developed for my quiet time. For a number of years previous to this point I set my goal to read through the Bible each year. But eventually my consistent habit of daily devouring chapters of the Old and New Testament left me dry and spiritually listless. My habits had finally begun to work against me.

My finely tuned habits for regular “devotions” served me well through high school, college and even into missions. They kept me on track, provided regular spiritual input for the routine traumas of life, and periodically gave me a kick just where and when I needed it! But the time came, when my well established routines actually stunted my growth. And that is what I’ve been pondering - this strange phenomenon of how habits, routines, and even traditions can fail us and actually work against us.

Routine habits can become cumbersome. Okay, in some things I am a routine junkie. If something is worth doing, it is worth a good routine. Routine junkies are tempted to keep fine tuning their habits until the task requirements become so daunting that the routine collapses or they begin to avoid the task for self preservation. The habit can relate to having a quiet time, regular prayer time, answering email, preparing a teaching, or even exercising. I can be an expert at making anything more and more complicated!

For a while, I was getting up before dawn every morning for my quiet time. Coffee at hand, Bible spread out on my desk, computer open to commentaries, and I was off and running. I wrapped up my quiet time with an extended time of praying my new found insights into my mission setting. Sounds great (and it was awesome!) But after a while, I dreaded the early hour and couldn’t quite stir up the enthusiasm for extended prayer times. My spiritual passion was still there, but my fine-tuned routines had become too tedious. Another routine bit the dust…until I established my next routine.

Routine habits can actually prevent improvements. When I’ve established a noble habit, it is profoundly difficult to dislodge that fortress of efficiency! It’s mine. I created it. It has served me well. How could I possibly change it? Enter, my quiet time that was killing me. No matter how good it was to read my Bible through every year, the ease of my daily ritual delayed even thinking about improving the quality of my devotions. It was convenient to drag myself to my chair, open my Bible, read through my assigned chapters, and check off my list. Done for the day!

My well established routines were like wall paper covering cracked walls. Until I began peeling back the rituals, I was unaware of the emptiness that had crept into my relationship with God. And when I really saw the cracks, I was willing, even eager, to let go of my devotion rituals. Only then did God lead me down a new path of Bible reading and journaling that led to deeper reflection on his character and to learn about myself.

Routines can be very helpful in establishing patterns for Bible study, communication, church attendance, exercise, healthy eating, or building relationships. But when good habits begin to become cumbersome, ineffective, growth-stunting, or block needed change, I am left with one option. Let God challenge my routines and direct uncomfortable changes that will move me on to deeper growth and deeper levels of yieldedness. I can’t afford to let my good habits work against me.

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