Forming Holy Habits

by Alexa Hess

Every weekday morning, I get out of bed, brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee, and get breakfast going. This seems like an ordinary morning routine, but here’s what I left out. When my alarm goes off, I hit the snooze button at least two times before accepting the reality that I need to get up. Then, since my phone is already in my hand, I scroll on Instagram, convincing myself that it’s helping me “wake up.” These are just a couple of bad habits that make up part of my morning routine. 

Our routines are established by certain kinds of habits. On the surface, our habits might not seem to be a big deal. But our habits form us. Our habits are shaping us into a certain kind of person, whether we realize it or not. This is why, as believers, we should be aware of what makes up our regular practices. As followers of Christ, we are undergoing sanctification, which is the process of becoming more like Christ. Our sanctification involves spiritual formation, practices that shape us in Christlikeness. Who we are becoming is partly rooted in what we do, so the more we focus on our spiritual formation, the more we become like Christ. 

But here is the tricky part. Even if we have a desire to be like Jesus, we still have a sinful flesh that desires other things. Our hearts can be on the trajectory of pursuing Christlikeness but then veer off in another direction toward something else that captures our attention. This is because our hearts seek after what we love. We worship what we love, and what we worship is revealed through our habits. James K. A. Smith writes this in his book, You Are What You Love, “Your deepest desire is the one manifested by your daily life and habits. This is because our action—our doing—bubbles up from our loves, which, as we’ve observed, are habits we’ve acquired through the practices we’re immersed in.” So who we are becoming is rooted in what we do but also in what we love.

This can be a hard reality to accept, especially because most of us would likely say that we love the Lord and desire to worship Him. But because we live in a sinful world and have a heart that is not yet glorified, we will experience obstacles to our worship that we need to be aware of. And how do we become aware of them? By examining our habits. 

Consider the regular rhythms of your day-to-day life. How do you start and end your day? Taking the time to list out habits is a great way to become aware of your regular practices. It is also helpful to consider what isn’t on that list or a part of your normal routine. Is there an aspect of your spiritual, mental, or physical health that is being neglected? Also, consider what you focus on and move toward throughout your day. Is there something you spend more time doing than others? 

A natural question that may arise from examining habits is: is this a bad habit or not? Something that is part of your regular routine may not be something that is in and of itself a bad thing. So is it wrong to keep doing it? In considering and examining our habits, we must think about what is aiding us in our sanctification.As believers, our habits should spur us on in holiness. After all, that is what sanctification is about. We grow in our sanctification and spiritual formation by seeking to walk in holiness. 

So in thinking through our habits, we should ask ourselves: is this habit helping or hurting my holiness? Ultimately, our habits should be God-honoring and not self-fulfilling. If a particular practice is more about making ourselves happy, comfortable, or satisfied than honoring and pleasing the Lord, we should seek to change this practice. Colossians 3:17 tells us, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” As we desire to glorify God in all things, we will find our loves rightly ordered. Our hearts will be directed in worship to the Lord, causing our habits to reflect our worship. 

Changing habits can be hard, especially if they are something we have done for a long time. But we are not on our own in the process of forming holy habits. Galatians 5:16 says, “I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.” The Spirit aids us in our sanctification, so we can lean on His power to pursue holiness. We can ask Him to help us walk in obedience to the Lord and worship God over the things of this world. The Spirit also aids us in self-control, an integral aspect of changing habits. Through the power of the Spirit, we have the ability to fight against unholy habits and substitute those with what is God-honoring. 

And don’t forget that forming holy habits takes time. Repetition breeds discipline, so don’t give up if the process of changing or forming habits takes a while. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and rest in His grace in the moments you fail, but keep aiming for holy habits. If we are what we love, we must set our gaze on the One we love—Jesus. When we do, we will walk in holiness that makes us more like Him. 

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