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Do you have any bad habits?

This is a silly question. Of course you do. Please list your five worst habits in the comments section of this blog before continuing to read.

All humans have bad habits no matter what age, ethnicity, or other determining factors. Infants pick their noses. Come to think of it, I just saw a guy driving a pick-up truck doing this. He was not a baby. Some people smoke and cuss. Others have gambling habits. Still others have bad habits like blaming those around them for their own mistakes. I could go on.

Of course, what it is that makes a habit bad is a matter or moral judgment. (I already know that many of you reading this seriously question my labeling of smoking and cussing as bad habits. This is how we know we are worship leaders of the twenty-first century). Whatever your scruples, the word habit generally conjures negative thoughts.

Why are habits so rarely thought of as ‘good’? The word ‘habit’ has picked up negativity through years of habitual use. Even the dictionary definition betrays a negative tone calling a habit a “repeated action that is hard to give up”. The implication is that any habit with which we are involved ought to cease to be a habit for us. All habits are best given up.

However, there is one wise Frenchman who viewed habits as having incredibly positive potential. Blaise Pascal in his Pensees said it like this:

“We must resort to habit once the mind has seen where the truth lies, in order to steep and stain ourselves in that belief which constantly eludes us, for it is too much trouble to have the proofs always present before us. We must acquire an easier belief, which is that of habit.”

Read that again. It’ll be worth it.

Here, habits are seen as positive means toward belief and faith in God. For Pascal, habits sustain ‘belief’ much more easily than rational proofs do. In other words, knowing the right stuff does not create faithful people as effectively as actually doing faithful stuff does. There is a strong element of repeated and active participation necessary for ‘steeping and staining’ us in faith, according to the Frenchman.

It is interesting that Pascal uses a tea metaphor. We all know he drank French Roast. But, there is another reason I find this interesting. Have you ever seen someone with tea-stained teeth? Such a stain does not come from sipping a single cup of Earl Grey. One must be a habitual tea-drinker to gain this kind of stain. Of course, with today’s teeth-whitening craze, it is rare to actually locate such an odontological tint. Scientists can eliminate the effects of such bad habits, but those lads in lab coats can’t stop us from drinking, or smoking, or whatever we’re doing habitually that is the root cause of our difficulties.

See, look at that. Here I am talking about bad habits again. @#%$^!

Anyway, Pascal is right. There is such a thing as good habits and the right ones can lead to a deepened and deepening faith in God.

There is another word for these kinds of habits. I call such habits, “worship”. My most recent version of an always morphing (and hopefully continually improving) definition of worship helps clarify:

Worship is habits of ritual and missional action that glorify God while simultaneously forming us more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

Let me explain a bit about the two kinds of habits mentioned in this definition.

Ritual has a bad reputation especially in many Protestant communities. For instance, I grew up in a Protestant home where all things Roman Catholic were taboo, including their penchant for rituals. My understanding of ritual was some action that was performed mindlessly and which was completely devoid of value. I now know that a ritual is simply a repeated practice done in celebration of someone or something. In other words, the fact that something is a ritual does not make it bad (the same way that all habits are not bad).

Birthday parties are rituals celebrating the person who is turning a year older. Tail-gating at the football game is a ritual celebration of the (hopefully) impending win of the favorite team. Rituals for worship celebrate God. ‘Ritual habit’ is a somewhat redundant phrase since the idea of repetition is already contained within ritual’s definition.

What about missional habits? These are repeated actions through which we bless others in the name of God. A missional habit can be serving regularly in a homeless kitchen, or habitually putting another’s needs before your own.

The reason I like this language for worship is that throughout all of scripture – no matter when or how worship is mentioned – it fits into one of these two categories without fail. Try this exercise: Think of an instance in scripture in which worship is either talked about or is actually taking place. Then decide, is it ritual or missional worship.

The worship of the Levitical priests? Ritual. The offering of one’s body as a living sacrifice as talked about by Paul in Romans 12? Missional worship. Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats? Missional again. In serving the ‘least’ we serve Christ. The entire book of Psalms is made up of ritual worship songs.

Why should we care that good worship boils down to habitual action of either the ritual or missional kind? I can think of two reasons.

First, knowing that God desires both ritual and missional worship, we should want to check our progress. Take a moment right now and ask yourself: Am I a better ritual worshiper these days or a better missional worshiper? In which kind of worship am I weak? It may be time to develop some new habits in one category or the other.

Second, if we are struggling in faith, it is possibly due to the fact that we are striving to keep the “proofs always present before us” in order to sure up our belief. This is the more difficult path according to Pascal. Instead of rational striving for faith, it may be time to choose some concrete ritual or missional actions to add to your personal and corporate worship schedule. Once these new habits begin to develop, you may be surprised at how naturally your faith proceeds.

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