The Power of Habit & Ritual (part 1)

 What happens when my alarm goes off at 5:30 am?

For those of you who don’t know, I love running and in order to fit it into my schedule, I get up between 5:30-6 am, 6 mornings a week and run 6 to 10 miles clocking an average of 50 miles plus a week. 

However, if you were to be at our house any evening, you will witness a strange little ritual that I complete just before we head up to bed. I get my running vest, head torch, hat, gloves, mini water flask and earphones  and lay them out on the kitchen table. 

Why do I do this? I do it because at 5.30 am on a cold January morning when it is chucking it down with rain, any ‘resistance’ to getting out of the door to do something I absolutely love, may cause me to crawl back into bed. In fact, we’ve taken this approach to the limit and we actually have a smaller Dresser in our downstairs toilet where all my running clothes are kept so I can roll out of bed, go downstairs, put on my clothes, grab everything from the kitchen table and be out and running with the least resistance possible!

There is nothing special about my evening ritual or changing in the downstairs loo, but what it has done is taken away as much of the resistance as possible to engage in the thing I love to do!

I think this principle of ritual and reducing resistance is something we see modelled in the life of Daniel. As a man with many things to do and many demands on his time, he created a simple ritual of praying at three specific moments throughout his day. This ritual was trying to reduce the resistance so he was able to engage in the thing he loved – devotion to his God. For those of you who know the story of Daniel, you will know that when all hell broke loose, he just allowed the ritual to take him to the thing he loved most – devotion to his God in prayer. 

My observation, among Christians today, is that pattern of ritual and reducing resistance has been thrown out with the ‘bath-water of boredom’ and with the attitude, “I don’t want to get stuck in a rut”. This can be seen especially when it comes to things such as setting up a Daily Devotion or Quiet Time. For fear of things becoming mundane, we jettison the power of ritual and of reducing resistance and then wonder why we experience weeks and sometimes months of not doing the thing we long to do. You see, the issue here is that when we don’t have any structure of ritual in our lives, it takes a huge amount of energy because we’re having to make decisions ‘on the fly’ and constantly have to work out what to do next. So when our energy or motivation dips, we don’t have anything to guide us into the things we love! Then we get stuck and don’t make it out of the door into the adventure of faith!

So, I want to encourage you to revisit the importance of having a Quiet Time. I want to encourage you that creating some rituals or habits is not a bad thing – in fact, they will most likely reduce the resistance in your life so that you can enjoy and embrace the thing that your heart longs after – daily devotion to your Saviour. Next week I’m going to share with you the rituals that I’ve created to help me with my own Quiet Time – my daily devotion. 

However, before I finish,  I want to talk about something that sits behind lots of people’s fears of setting up a ritual. So many people are worried that if they do this, they will find it boring and uninteresting which leads me back to my earlier running analogy. Runners have a saying about the days when it’s just tough. They say “runs like that make other runs that much sweeter”. However, there is an even more important principle that sits behind the importance of ritual and it is the power of compound interest. Take the example of having a pension. As you invest money monthly into it, the compound interest of years of consistent investment grows dramatically, in comparison to the amount of ‘effort’ that is put in. So, when thinking about a Quiet Time, or daily devotion, I think about compound interest.  This particular moment may have felt very ordinary and maybe even a little boring.   However, over time, the compound interest of devotion, maturity, of questioning and meditation, of journaling and attuning myself to recognise God’s will and purposes for me, will grow in ways and to levels that far outstrip the daily ritual of setting up a Quiet Time!

So today, I want to encourage you to start experimenting with setting up a ritual (like my running gear)  that will reduce as much of the resistance to having a daily Quiet Time as possible. Next time we’ll look at this in a little more detail.

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