Spiritual Habituation

In his book God Is Closer Than You Think,pastor and author John Ortberg writes of what psychologists call “habituation.” As the word itself suggests, we humans are creatures of habit who are easily swayed into settling into the habit of our status quo.

Behind the specific psychological phenomenon of “habituation” is the idea that when a new object or stimulus is introduced into our environment, we are intensely aware of it, but, over time, our awareness fades. And so too that stimulus that so easily got our attention to begin with fades into the background of our habits.
For example, it might be a new wristwatch that we self-consciously feel on our wrist, until after a few days wearing it when we don’t even notice it’s there. Or, perhaps it’s something we notice around the house that we simply mustrepair, until we get busy enough and distracted enough that we stop noticing it and it loses its sense of urgency. We learn to get used to it.
Maybe it’s something we see, or something we hear, that we get accustomed enough to that we don’t notice any more. When we moved into our home many years ago, I was constantly awakened by the sound of a train’s horn just through the woods from our house. The trains are still there, many times a day, but I never even realize they’re there any more.
As Ortberg writes, one of the greatest challenges for us as believers is fighting what we might call “spiritual habituation.” We simply drift into acceptance of life in spiritual maintenance mode. It’s a kind of spiritual attention deficit disorder (what I like to call S.A.D.D.) that stops noticing the details of our walk with God. We simply quit paying attention.
The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15 that we are to “be very careful how you live–not as unwise, but as wise.” The older translations said we were to “walk circumspectly.” That suggests that we are to be aware, to pay close attention to how we live, to not allow ourselves to get into such a routine that loses it’s heart in the habits of life. We are to live intentionally.
“I hold this against you,” Jesus said to the church at Ephesus. “You have left your first love.” They didn’t mean to; they were as religiously busy as ever, as Revelation 2 tells us. But they were going through the motions in a habituated form of Christianity. I know how that feels, as I suspect you may as well, and I don’t want to live like that.
My prayer for each of us–especially in this season of year when we are busier than ever–is that we will not fall to the subtle temptation to habituate our walk of faith, and that we will truly pour our hearts into a living and vibrant relationship with the God who infinitely loves us.
My family and I missed you last week, and we look forward to seeing you this Sunday at Shelby Crossings. –Pastor Ken
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