So, where did you sit at church yesterday (assuming, of course, that you went!)? If you are like most, you sat in the same spot you have been sitting, maybe for years! As a pastor, I could tell with one glance who was missing from church on any given Sunday because I knew where everyone sat. (I also knew about what time each attendee would arrive!) Well, having recently retired from the pastorate and now attending a new assembly, my wife and I found ourselves doing the same thing–sitting in the same location each Sunday, so yesterday (knowing I was going to write about this today) we sat on the opposite side of the church–probably taking someone else’s places! At least no one stood there and glared at us to indicate we had their spot!
It is amazing how we are such “creatures of habit.” We do something often enough in the same way and soon it becomes automatic. I remember that when I was working at Hyster Company in Portland, we first lived in some apartments on 133rd and Sandy Blvd. and I would take the 122nd exit off the freeway. Then we bought a house in Gresham on 213th so I needed to take a new route home. More than once I found myself turning off at 122nd. It had become automatic. It had become a habit!
Athletes often develop a routine (habit) they go through, say before they step up to the plate in baseball. I think of Nomar Garciapara, who played shortstop for the Boston Redsox and how he had an annoying habit of adjusting his batting gloves for several seconds when he came up to bat, and often even in between pitches. For you Seattle Mariner fans, I’m sure you are probably thinking too of Ichiro Suzuki and his unusual routine of pulling at the sleeve of his jersey before he bats. Or for you tennis fans, you have probably noticed how Rafael Nadal goes through a little ritual not only before he serves but also before he receives serve. We are “creatures of habit.”
And humans aren’t the only ones who develop routines or habits. Our neighbors’ two golden retrievers, for example, when they come over to the fence to see us (and get their daily dog treats!), always follow the same path out to the fence, and it is not in a straight line! I also recall once when I had taken down our field fence to do some repairs, I watched a couple of our resident deer come to where the fence had been that they were accustomed to jumping and they stopped and–jumped as if the fence were still there–creatures of habit. When you are out in the woods hiking or hunting, you often see what we call “game trails” and sometimes you can even lose your way when you start following them instead of your own path because they are quite pronounced, having been used often due to the habits of animals taking the same routes each time. In fact, you can see trails made by rabbits or even tiny little chipmunks or squirrels. Though they weigh very little and don’t make much of an impression on the ground, because they use the same path over and over, they soon have left a definite trail–“creatures of habit.”
Since we all have the tendency towards habits, whether in attitude or action, we obviously need to beware of developing bad habits, because they will be hard to break. Someone said, “Bad habits are like a comfortable bed (or chair), easy to get into, but hard to get out of.” And, because they develop over time, we may not realize that it is becoming a habit–or an addiction. “The chains of evil habit are oft too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken” (Franklin). “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us” (John Dryden). So, as the sign on the old muddy road said, “CHOOSE YOUR RUTS CAREFULLY–YOU WILL BE IN THEM FOR THE NEXT ____ MILES!”
Since we all are prone to developing habits, let’s focus on developing good ones. I’m reminded of Daniel of the Old Testament, who, even when Darius, the Medo-Persian king was talked into making an edict that anyone caught praying to anyone other than himself, would be cast into the lions’ den, “he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Dan. 6:10). Would you say that prayer is a habit for you? It should be; in fact, we are commanded in I Thes. 5:18 to “Pray without ceasing,” meaning that we should always be in communication with God as well as having special times of prayer, such as before we arise in the morning or when we go to bed at night, or when we sit down for meals. What a great habit to have to automatically take things to God in prayer. Even Jesus, while on earth, made that a routine of his life. How about you?
Another good habit to acquire is that of reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scripture. We sang a chorus in Sunday School years ago that went: “Get the Bible reading habit and then daily keep right at it ’til you read the Bible through, clear through…” Most of us have the habit of eating two or three meals a day. Obviously our body needs us to do that. But, equally important is the daily intake of God’s Word. Our soul becomes starved without feeding on Scripture. The Psalmist wrote: ” The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…They are more desirable than gold…Sweeter also than honey…Moreover by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward…The law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces…O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day…Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path…the unfolding of Thy words give light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa. 19:711; 119:72, 97, 105, 130). Jeremiah the prophet wrote: “Thy words were found and I ate them, and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Do you have the habit of spending daily time in God’s Word?
We also need the habit of assembling with other believers for fellowship, encouragement and edification through hearing and studying God’s Word. God made us to need one another and to work together in service to Him. We like to think we can handle things on our own and that we don’t need church. But God never intended for us to isolate ourselves. In fact, we have a commandment in Hebrews that says: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day (of His return) drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25).
Habits can make a person or break him or her. Good habits can lead to useful lives, and those that are bad lead to wasted energy and time, and destructive priorities–not to mention sin! Bad habits can be broken and good ones put in their places–if we’re willing to work at it and to depend upon God to help us. But that’s a topic for another day!