It is said that famed American motivational speaker Earl Nightingale observed that humans are – for lack of a better phrase – “creatures of habit.” Another well-known motivational speaker named Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar is reported to have shared similar views.
Ziglar is quoted as saying the following two statements: “When you choose a habit, you also choose the end of that habit,” and, “We build our character from the bricks of habit we pile up day by day.” These aphorisms speak for themselves.
Every person has a pattern of behavior that for the most part they rarely depart. Joe Smyth wakes up, showers, dresses, eats breakfast, takes the 8:15 AM to work, and then at 4:45pm Joe finishes his daily paperwork, takes the 5:20 PM home, and eats dinner, watches a little ESPN, checks his email, and then goes to sleep. Then, the next day it starts all over again.
But wait, Joe Smyth is a Christian. Somewhere in his routine prayer, Bible study, the worship of God, his spiritual and moral maturation, and the sharing or defending of his faith must come into view – but where? That’s where the word habit comes into play – these actions must be made part of the routine.
A Call to Spiritual Routines
Paul said to the church in Rome:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8.5-8)
Notice the phrase “set the mind” and the other similar phraseology in this section of Romans, and observe that Paul is speaking of two routines. One brings “life and peace”, while the other brings “death” and hostility with God. Obviously, the zealous and devout Christian would choose the routine that brings life and peace.
How does a Christian begin to consider obtaining – or realizing – this goal? Paul is quite clear – with the mind. In 8.5, Paul says a person must “give careful consideration” with the intention of espousing one side of a cause. This demonstrates that we are embroiled in an inward controversy.
In fact, there are only two options with no middle ground. Logicians call this the two horns of a dilemma, where the selection of one option is equal to the rejection of the other option.
In essence he says, “make up your mind without reservation and stand up for the principles which will guide your life to the end that you desire. If you want life and peace then follow after the principles set forth by the Spirit, should you not take this decision then you have rejected the life and peace which are promised those who ‘set their minds on the things of the Spirit.’”
This passage articulates one major theme; namely, that in order to obtain spiritual goals a mind daily focused on the Spirit is essential. What we have here is a quest to obtain a spiritual habit, a spiritual routine, a spiritual lifestyle. And this begins first in the mind, and then into action.
If your life was narrated like the opening few scenes of Stranger Than Fiction (2006), where the number of steps it took to walk from one block to the next, where the time it took to wait for the bus was “clocked” to the minute and seconds, and even how many documents at work you sort through – would there be any time in your routine that included spiritual things on a daily basis?
If not, start the quest now by making room for spiritual things in your mind and routine. Make participation in worship a routine in your life. Be mindful of the blessings you have as you regularly give upon the first day of the week. Create a steady Bible reading program for moral and spiritual development.
- Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2000, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature (3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P), 1066.
- In Romans 8.5, the verb phrase “set their minds” comes from a present active indicative Greek verb (phroneo); meaning, that the action here is continuous – even habitual. There is no end to the action in sight, thus the Christian is to “always keep in view the direction which thought (of a practical kind) takes” (H. A. A. Kennedy, 1901, Expositor’s Greek Testament, edited by W. Robertson Nicoll (New York, NY: Doran), 3.420; cf. James H. Moulton and George Milligan, 1930, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Repr. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), 676.