Two things are true about habits. If we ignore one or both of these truths, we’ll suffer. Our challenge is to hold both of these truths in tension.
The two truths: we need habits, and yet they’re not the point.
We Need Habits
According to some, we live almost half of our lives by habit. We tend to think that some people are good at this and some aren’t. The truth: we all live by habit. We need them, or else we’d have to rethink everything all the time.
The trick is to choose habits that put us in the path of grace. When certain practices like Scripture reading, prayer, and fellowship become second nature to us, we’re more likely to grow in our pursuit of God.
David Mathis writes:
Simply put, your habits are one of the most important things about you…By forming good habits — for instance, by making a beeline to the Bible in the morning, by praying at meals and at regular points throughout the day, and by meeting together with the body of Christ — we position ourselves in the paths of God’s grace. Habits free us from being distracted by our own actions and techniques so our attention can focus on God.
It’s highly unlikely that we will grow if we don’t build good habits.
Habits Aren’t the Point
At the same time, habits aren’t the point.
D.A. Carson observes, “The truly transformative element is not the discipline itself, but the worthiness of the task undertaken: the value of prayer, the value of reading God’s Word.” In other words, our habits aren’t the end. They’re means to an end; they’re ways of pursuing God.
Nobody was better at habits than the Pharisees. They were meticulous in their spiritual disciplines. And yet they missed the point. We need habits like prayer and Scripture reading, but the goal isn’t to complete the habits. The goal is that we pursue God through the habits.
We need habits, but we’re not meant to serve them. They’re meant to serve us by putting us on the path of grace.
The key for us: develop good habits. They’re important for your walk with God and your overall wellbeing. (I offer some suggestions on how to build habits in chapter 6 of How to Grow, but you can also find some helpful information in books like The Power of Habit or B.J. Fogg’s free Tiny Habits program.)
At the same time, never forget that they’re not the point; they are a way for you to get to the point. As you read Scripture, pray, and participate in the life of the church, hold on to the truths that these practices are both essential and means to a greater end: that you pursue God, and enjoy abiding in him.
We need to hold these truths in tension: we need habits, and yet they aren’t the point. Lose one or both of these truths and we miss out on the growth that’s available to us.