Accidental habits are easy to form and hard to break.
No one means to leave the towel on the floor. Only the cruel and heartless consciously keep the toilet seat up. It doesn’t take much self-discipline to become obsessed with a cellphone. The alarm clock is supposed to wake us up but we can hit the snooze button in our sleep. Drinking multiple cans of soda or smoking multiple packs of cigarettes is never the original intention. There are a lot of drivers on the road who have driven the same route for so long, they can make it to their destination without even thinking. It doesn’t take much to develop a habit.
Many of the habits we possess don’t require much attention to detail. We just did things a certain way, and we kept doing them that way.
Then why is it so hard to establish habits like, dieting, saving, exercising, and studying? It’s as if we have to develop the habit of trying to develop a habit before we can focus on the habit we want. Habit forming is exhausting.
Habits can be healthy, benefitting our lives, work, and relationships. Some habits are harmless, they’re just the product of how we chose to do something. Other habits can have negative consequences in ways we never imagined.
The same goes for our faith. Habits can be healthy, harmless, and harmful to our faith. Our faith can thrive with a helpful habit, and it can deteriorate with an adverse habit. Just like any other habit, if we aren’t mindful of a particular faith practice it might lose it’s meaning and influence. When habits don’t engage our heart and mind, they’ll never touch our soul.
This goes with any faith habit. Take worship songs. Most churches have a habit of singing worship songs together. Whether it’s traditional hymns or progressive anthems, there will be singing in most churches. If singing is the habit, it can be very easy to overlook the meaning behind the lyrics. A worship habit that doesn’t engage the heart and mind is just singing empty words.
This can happen with The Mass (communion, Eucharist) as well. Churches differ on how frequently the bread and wine should be served, but most of them have a habit–once a week, once a month, or a couple times a year. Whatever the habit, it’s just plain bread and wine, if the heart and mind are less active in consuming the sacred meal than the stomach is.
I see this aloofness most prominently with the practice of prayer.
Some prayers said from memory possess absolutely zero meaning to the person reciting it.
God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food…
Some prayers are just for show, flashy displays of vocabulary and theology. (I’ve prayed my fair share of impressive prayers.) Why are some habits nearly impossible to quit?
And some prayers can be all together dropped because they pray for what we already possess.
Here are a few:
This is the common title for the prayer before a meal. The implication is that someone will say a prayer to bless the food. This prayer must have originated around the time of the Bubonic Plague or some bad food poisoning. If food was making people sick it must be cursed.
Might as well put a blessing on it just in case. (Bojangles and processed food could use an extra dose.)
Who knows what a meal is going to do to us, but there’s no need to bless it, because it already is.
When God created the universe, He called it all good–the edible and inedible. When God labels something as “good” I call that all the blessing it needs. Fruits, veggies, meat, and ice cream…blessed.
No need to bless the food, it already is.
Alternative Prayer: God, thank you for your provision (and for my parents or spouse or roommate who bought it). Thank you for food, the means for food, and the ability to eat and enjoy food.
We don’t need to bless it, but we should say “thanks” for it.
Be With Us
This is a well-meaning prayer. Who doesn’t want God to be with them? It’s just misinformed. As food is already blessed, God is already with us. There is no place that He is not. The Scriptures tell us that God will be wherever we go–to the heights or in the depths, in the light and in the shadows.
When someone prays, God, be with us, they’re praying for something that is already answered. As you read the Scriptures you’ll see story after story of people who didn’t walk in and out of God’s presence, but woke up to the reality that God was with them the whole time.
Wherever we go, God is there.
Alternative Prayer: God, I know you’re with me, open my eyes to see your activity within me, and all around me.
We don’t need to ask God to show up, we just need to wake up.
Give Us Favor
If The Blessing was for our food, this prayer is for our life. This pray is prayed to receive the favor (blessing) of God. There are at least two issues with this prayer: 1. It assumes that we don’t currently possess God’s blessing, and 2. It leads to a confusing understanding of what is and what isn’t a blessing from God.
Do we need to ask for God’s blessing, or do we already possess it? I tend to lean towards the latter for three reasons: Life, the cross, and the Holy Spirit. Breath, blood, and brainwaves are a blessing; The death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf is a blessing; And the energy and presence of God’s Spirit is a blessing. These are ours.
What qualifies as a blessing, and what doesn’t? Is an open parking space a blessing? Is a hot shower a blessing? Is a raise a blessing? Is a BOGO deal a blessing? Is family a blessing? Is electricity a blessing? Is family a blessing? Is the ability to travel a blessing? Is vacation a blessing? Is technology a blessing? Is clean water a blessing? Is a job a blessing? Is school a blessing? Are braces a blessing? Is a house a blessing? Is friendship a blessing? You get my point. It sounds like all of it is. It’s all a gift.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that even the sun and rain are to be considered blessings from God. The book of James ascribes all the good gifts we receive in life as coming from God (he even calls the trials we face in life a blessing to be grateful for, that’s next level stuff right there).
Whatever we have, it is a gift of God’s favor, therefore we are blessed.
Alternative Prayer: God, as I have received so many blessings from you, make me an extension of your blessing in someone else’s life.
We don’t need to ask for God’s favor, we just need to accept it.
We don’t need to bless it, it already is.
We don’t need God here, He already is.
We don’t need God’s favor, we already have it.
Embracing these realities as a daily practice is a worthwhile habit.
There are two scriptures that are so mysteriously fascinating that emphasize what we’re getting at. The first comes from 1 Corinthians 3:21-23:
So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Whatever good you receive from Christ, parents, pastors, mentors, family, jobs, school, career, the earth, the world, now or in the future, it is a gift, and it is from God.
The second comes from the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:31
My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours…’
The father in the story is reminding his older son of who he is and what that means for him. The son doesn’t realize it but he can partake in, receive, and enjoy what belongs to his father, because he belongs to the father.
At the beginning and end of the day we can partake in, receive, and enjoy the blessing, presence, and favor of God because we belong to Him. A worthwhile practice to make a habit of.