The Habits of Worship

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Cheese burger

You are probably thinking that this is a post about spiritual disciplines. So, is it? Yes and No. Spiritual disciplines are included, more on that in a minute, but they are not primarily what we are here to talk about.

All of us know that we and others need to read our Bible more, pray more, and possibly even journal more (if we don’t think its too hipster to do so. ) If you are still reading this, you have probably also become familiar with the concept that what we do, shows what we worship, and you will find no disagreement here. However, over the last 2 years I have become increasingly aware of how my habits, or disciplines not only show what I worship, they can actually make me worship things as well.I have become aware of this primarily in the 3 following ways:

First, my own life and habits. I have never been a person that struggled with a particular addiction for a long period of time.  I have noticed of late, however that I am indeed an addict in 2 ways. The first of which is that I am ultimately addicted to self. I am addicted to habitually doing what I want to do. Sometimes this leads to sin and often leads to selfishness, but also is hidden behind every decision I make. I want things to be done my way, in my timing, and to be just right for my comfort and liking. Secondly, while I have never been addicted to any one thing for a long period of time, I have been addicted to many things for short periods of times. In high school I had to buy a “Surge” soda every time I filled up my car with gas. In college I started my love affair with coffee. Later in young adulthood, I couldn’t go to sleep without watching Seinfeld in syndication (pre-netflix obviously.) I have been addicted to multiple sandwiches at Wendy’s (baconator anyone?)  I lay out my clothes for the next day before bed (seriously the only OCD or frankly even organized thing I do.) As I’m writing this list, I am starting to think I have been long-term addicted to a few things after-all. Anyone know a good Biblical Counselor? As you can see, I am an addict, and by now, you might be thinking you are too.

Secondly, as I try and help and/or observe others. As I Pastor, counsel, parent, lead, and people watch, I certainly see that we do what we do because of what we want, or worship, but I also see my fellow humans doing things out of habit that will lead them to worship those things.

Let me bring this down to the street level.  Say you have never heard of Wendy’s, or the baconator, or his adorable son. You will not wake up in the morning and say “I must drive out of way to go to Wendy’s to get a baconator. Then, one day someone says, you should try the baconator at Wendy’s. Maybe you trust this friends restaurant recommendations (you probably shouldn’t if they recommend Wendy’s by the way,) or maybe you really need to raise your cholesterol level, blood pressure, or choloric intake, and so you find a Wendy’s and go all-in, skipping the son of baconator and go straight to the daddy baconator. As you take your first bite, you may or may not like it depending on your love for bacon and grease. But, lets say you try it again the next day. Then the next day. Then every day that week. The next Monday morning you will inevitable wake up not just wanting the baconator, but craving and needing the baconator (this is all contingent on you not dying in your sleep Sunday evening with a host of problems that eating fast food every day may cause.) So, do you now crave the baconator because you want/desire the baconator innately, and subconsciously, or because you have trained yourself to love it? I think we can all agree that it is both.

Thirdly, The James K. A. Smith rabbit hole. In an article entitled “Practice Makes Perfect” that originally appeared in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 27. 1,

Dr. Mike Emlet wrote what he coined as, “An extended pastoral meditation” on the book Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. I read this meditation by Emlet and realized I had been missing something in my life and ministry and also that I needed to read this book! While not stated as the official thesis of the book, I believe this quote sums it up well; “…all human beings at root are believers who are committed to and oriented by a fundamental constellation of beliefs that, even if not reflected upon, govern and control our being and our doing. “ (p. 24) He goes on to say that what we do, our “liturgies”, “whether sacred or secular, shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world.” (p. 25) In other words, (or in fast food terms) you eat the baconator on subsequent days both because you want it and because you have trained yourself to want it.

So what do we do with this? If indeed we do what we do because we want what we want, AND if we want what we want because we do what we do, it is imperative to pay attention to what we are doing, or instructing others to do. Notice, I used the word do. How much time do we spend, particularly in Christian ministry teaching and telling people how to think? Now, I am not saying this is not important, in fact, it is of upmost importance and we must think rightly about truth if we hope to know who God is and know what he wants for our lives. We must change our own thought patterns and help others do the same. But, in Christian discipleship, counseling, or Pastoral ministry, we must address and discover what people are actually doing, (I should probably write a post about how to do this next) and what God is asking them to do.

Lets conclude by talking about where we started. Habits and addiction. If someone is addicted to something do they need to cast aside their idolatry and worship the one true God who can satisfy their hearts desire? Or do they need to stop, not only doing whatever they are addicted to, but also change the habits, patterns, and rhythms of their lives? It must be both and in tandem with one another. If we see it as a linear process where they either need to change their habits first or their heart first, our theology is not biblical and therefore our practices won’t be either.

We must communicate the Gospel with how we help others change. The Gospel does not say, change and then God will love you and you will be inclined to worship him (Romans 5, 1 John 4:10.) Nor does the gospel say, just worship God with your mind, or assent to some creed or doctrinal framework, it says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17,) or in other words, if you have truly begun to worship God, then your actions will show you have a new God.

We worship all the time. What we do shows what we worship and what we do can cause us to worship something. So, what are you doing (worshipping) today?

Jason Blackley
@jasonblackley
Pastor – Grace Community | Downtown Iowa City

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