We are all creatures of habit, some good and some not so good. Many times we don’t even think about what we are doing or why we are doing things this or that way. It has become so ingrained within, almost second nature to who we are.
I’ve often wondered, in our Christian walk, if spiritual habits can also become so ingrained within us that they become second nature to us. I’m not thinking so much of the spiritual disciplines designed to help us mature in our walk. I’m thinking more of those spiritual qualities that the apostle Paul identifies in 1 Thess.5:16-18 or in Phil.4:4-7: rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving.
Now our first response might be to say that yes, we know that these are important and yes, they are an integral part of our lives but are they? When life is good and all is well in our world, of course we give praise and thanksgiving to God, interlaced with prayer. But what about those times when the storms of life seem to be breaking over us or people grate upon us, irritating the life out of us. What then tends to be our initial response? What are those thoughts, words or even actions which flow so easily from us? Do we thank God for those tough times? Are we prone to give Him thanks for the difficult people in our lives?
I think that most of us would probably, when we are honest with ourselves, say no; maybe even feel justified in railing against the storms or tearing down those irritating people. As we habitually move towards the negative when things go not our way, can we habitually move towards praise, prayer and thanksgiving when things go not our way? The Bible says yes.
The apostle Paul gives us keys in Phil. 4 to breaking the negative and creating new pathways or habits. The first is to recognize that the Lord is near (5). He is not a stranger or a casual visitor to your life. He is an ever constant companion who walks with you, regardless of your situation. Paul places our rejoicing clearly in the Lord, “Rejoice in the Lord” (vs.4). The Lord is very present when we praise. Secondly, we are encouraged not to be anxious but to pray and intercede. How often have we asked God to remove the situation or person from our lives and the more we pray or think about it, the more tense or upset we become. Anxiety praying only reinforces the negative. Thirdly, pray and intercede with thanksgiving. For even those difficult moments or people? Elsewhere he says “in everything give thanks”. Yes, in the good times and yes, even in those difficult moments. He wraps all this with a promise. “The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind”. Where? “In Christ Jesus”.
Why should I even bother to change? Why is this so important, that I should make the effort to forge new habits? I Thess.5:18 sums it this way, “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”