Does Habitual Spirituality Work?

This year is leap year. That means we get one extra day in our calendar, and it got me thinking, what are we supposed to do with it?

I recently saw a television show devote an entire episode to leap year day. One family took the day off from work and school and did only fun, crazy, and adventurous things for the day. One person actually had his birthday on February 29, so he had a 10th birthday party.

I don’t know that I am going to go all out with a special day of adventure, but I do want to honor the extra time God has given me in some way to worship and praise Him. Each and every day we are to praise God, and this year we get one extra day to do just that. But am I really praising and worshipping God each day of my life? That’s a hard question to answer.

You’d think that since I am a pastor, the answer would be an easy and hearty yes. Virtually every day of my life I am involved in some aspect of ministry. Whether that be composing sermons, visiting the sick, calling on members and guests, or studying the Bible, my activities generally have some aspect of ministry and should inherently involve worship of God.

The problem is that sometimes I do these things out of habit instead of with admiration and awe for my Creator.

In thinking about this, I think we are all guilty of falling into habitual forms of virtually everything we do. We go through the same routine each morning. We drive the same way to work each day. We may even go to the same place for vacation each year. We get into a routine. And for the most part, we’re OK with that. We may even like that. It’s comfortable; it works.

The problem with routine is that we can do it without really engaging our brains or our emotions. We do it almost automatically and don’t consciously think about what or why we’re doing it. In Mark Batterson’s prayer devotion called Draw the Circle, he says that after singing a song 30 times, we stop thinking about the meaning of the words. We sing it out of rote memory, and the conscious thought process we once had with the song is gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t love the song – it just means we’re not thinking about it anymore.

That familiarity and disengagement of our brain’s thought processes has some pretty interesting implications for worship on Sunday mornings. It also highlights the need for us to reexamine other areas of our habit-filled life.

Habits, of course, are not bad. They allow us to do things quickly and more easily. But when we allow our spiritual practices to become habit, we are in danger of losing their meaning and true purpose – connecting with God in a personal way.

My challenge for you (and for me) is to examine your spiritual practices and ensure that you’re still engaging your mind and your heart when you do them. Are you praying the same prayer you’ve always prayed? Are you reading the same book? Are you just making donations without really thinking about or praying for the charity you’re supporting? If yes, change it up somehow so that you can really engage all of your being in the task. Try standing when you pray. Try reading outside, or a new book. Try writing a letter of thanks or support to send with the donation check.

Habits are not a bad thing – but they can become a trap for us when we allow our brains to go on auto-pilot when it comes to matters of faith and practice. Our relationship with God needs to be a matter of the heart and the mind – we must take care not to neglect either.