How Habits Form Us and Why It Matters

Think back to how you began your day yesterday. Take time, think it through. What did you do? What was the order?

I’m guessing you either woke up to an alarm or just woke up at the same time you usually do. Either way, it was probably a similar morning to most. You got out of bed and went into the bathroom for your morning routine. You might have taken a shower, gotten a cup of coffee, checked your social media, and so on. Then you got ready for the day and went your way.

But the routines did not stop in the morning. Think about the rest of your day. When did you eat lunch, and what did you eat? What about your evening routine? What activities did you do? What did you watch on TV, view on social media, or read in a book? What was your bedtime routine like?

Now, each day is a little different. There are often wrenches that are unexpectedly thrown into the schedule. That’s a given. I’m going to guess, however, that many of the activities you did yesterday are quite similar to what you do most days. Your routines. Your schedule. Your habits. These routines or habits can be good or bad, but they are things you have repeated so much that you don’t even think about doing them.

Creatures of Habit

There is a lot of varied research out there about how habits are formed. Most of it revolves around how physical and psychological triggers produce cravings that we instinctually fulfill. Habits and routines develop over time, partially because our attention span and our power of concentration can only do so much at once. We can only concentrate on so much at any given moment, and God has built into us the capacity to learn to repeat certain tasks almost automatically to lift our mental load.

The thing is, we are infected by sin. We live in a broken world. Not all the habits or routines will be good ones. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge something: our flesh, according to its sinful nature, will always gravitate toward developing bad, sinful habits—habits of speech, thoughtless words, lustful thoughts, mindless actions, addictions to satisfy sinful cravings.

Thanks be to God, though, that Christ has overcome our sinful flesh for us. He took on human flesh, assumed our sins upon Himself, carried them to the cross, sacrificed His life in our place, buried our sins in the tomb, and came to new life again. In Him, we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Though we who are called by grace through faith into Christ will struggle against the sinful flesh in this life, we have the assurance that Christ gives us the rewards of His perfect life through Word and Sacrament.

Habits that Define Us

As God’s redeemed children in Christ, how then are we to live? We are to continually receive God’s gifts by abiding in God’s Word. Do we do this to get on God’s good side? Absolutely not! Instead, we return to God’s Word and abide in it because through it, God continually forms our faith and transforms our lives.

It’s time to develop the most important habits of all. It’s time to develop the habits of abiding in God’s Word.

A working definition of mature discipleship, or life as baptized believers in Christ, is that mature disciples of Christ actively cultivate the attitudes, understandings, and habits of abiding in God’s Word in a variety of ways throughout life. Previous entries in this series of blog posts explain the essence of this definition, but it’s time to start unpacking and uncovering what we mean when we talk about the habits of abiding in God’s Word.

What I’m proposing is that we think differently about the place of habits in our lives of discipleship. As mentioned above, habits and routines are, generally, automatic. We form them in a variety of ways, but more importantly, they tend to form us.

Think about it. I mean really think about it. It’s easy to think that we first develop attitudes and understandings of something and then form habits around those things we believe. This certainly can be true, and when it does happen, our lives can be improved for the better. More often than not, however, we start developing habits, almost unconsciously, and then our attitudes and understandings in life are formed.

Take waking up, for example. Do you, first thing, reach for your smartphone or device to check your notifications? Did you choose to develop that habit based on your understanding of how you want to live your life? Not likely. But the habit, formed from a craving for that hit of information given through social media, does have a way of impacting our attitude during the day and our understanding of what is important, doesn’t it? Or how about the habit of getting up from your desk when tired at work to gossip with co-workers? The habit, formed from craving some interaction and a break in the day, does have a way of impacting your overall attitude toward others in your workplace and color your understanding of who they are, doesn’t it?

Let’s Do This!

Our habits have a way of forming our attitudes toward life and our understanding of what is truly important. God has promised to be with us always, and He has promised to work through His Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, to form our faith. Habits are powerful, so let’s think about the power of the habits of abiding in God’s Word.

Let’s get into the habit—and encourage others to get into the habit—of attending the Divine Service as often as we can. We may not always feel like going. Our attitude toward it may be terrible at any given time. But through it, we are formed—not just by the power of routine but, more importantly, through the power of the Spirit working through the Word and Sacrament.

Let’s get into the habit—and encourage others to get into the habit—of gathering with our households one or more times a day for prayer, devotion, or Scripture-reading. Let’s pick consistent times and rituals and build them into the rhythm of our days. Once the routines are formed, they will become more automatic, and the Spirit will use the Word to strengthen and grow faith in those whom God has entrusted to our care.

Let’s get into the habit—and encourage others to get into the habit—of taking time each day to meditate on God’s Word on our own. Pick a consistent time, place, and resource. Through repetition, routine, and habit, the Spirit will not only encourage our faith but build into our memories the Word of God, which He will bring to our memories at the appropriate time.

And through the habits of receiving God’s Word in our congregations, households, and on our own, God will continually form us and, through us, bear good fruit that will last.

For some help building up the habit of Bible-reading, try Thirty Days in God’s Word: A Path of Discovery.

Order Thirty Days in God’s Word

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Written by

Pete Jurchen

Rev. Dr. Pete Jurchen is an editor of Bible resources at Concordia Publishing House. In addition to his MDiv, he holds a BSEd in secondary education, an MSEd in curriculum leadership, and an EdD in instructional leadership with a focus on adult learning. He works to cultivate lifelong learners of God’s Word so that the ordinary is transformed into epic. He lives in Imperial, MO, with his wonderful wife, Deb, and his five children.

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