The beauty of Monotony: Forming Christian Habits
Scott Oh | MARCH 13, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
My 10-year-old-son has been training in jiu-jitsu for about six months now. Much like with other martial arts, he needs to practice with endless repetition. All of this is done in good faith that these routines will become habits, these habits will eventually become instinct, and these efforts will culminate into mastery of the craft.
The process of mastering a skill takes a long time and it oftentimes isn’t very exciting. But the necessity of monotonous devotion is precisely its unique beauty. Sadly, we confuse consistency with boredom, devotion without continuous exuberance and motivation with boredom. And it shows in our Christian lives.
Habit has become a dirty word in Christian circles. “I don’t want Bible reading just to be another habit,” we say. But habits are essential to reaching our goals.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Will Durant, philosopher)
This is no less true in the life of a Christ-follower. Even if we desire to mature in likeness of Christ, maturity does not take place at an instant. We do not one day wake up with greater capacity to know and love God. Instead, the beauty of our transformation or sanctification takes place along the long road of faithfulness -- simply doing the right thing over and over again.
A word of caution here. We do not want to be legalists, creating habits to try to please God. But rather it is because we know that as Christians we are fully recipients of God’s love that we can form habits that are a response to God’s grace.
So, Christians are not exempt from adopting certain practices that lead to maturity, and though they may seem mundane they are necessary.
Some of these are:
Faithful observance of the Sabbath
Selfless and faithful service to Christ’s body
Sharing our faith with seekers and non-believers
Participation in mercy and justice in the world
Sometimes, reading the Bible does not feel right. You not only feel uncomfortable or you may not feel anything at all for that matter. But I wonder how many of us miss out on the beauty of transformation (sanctification) because we fail to attend with unchangeable regularity.
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.” (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit)
If, indeed, we are what we repeatedly do, then we must continue doing the right things.
But that’s pretty hard for us, isn’t it? How many of us bemoan our lack of Bible reading habits? How much is prayer incorporated into our lives? Do we observe the Sabbath regularly and intentionally? How long do we serve on a particular ministry team at their church?
It’s so difficult to see these things stick to us and become necessary habit because we are quick to jump on and off as our feelings lead us astray.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is of King David before he became a king — his epic showdown with Goliath. You can see his fearlessness and his insuppressible confidence as he faced the giant with “five smooth stones in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag, with his sling in his hand” (1 Samuel 17:40). What courage! What confidence!
David was not endowed some supernatural slingshot power as God chose him for this mission. Rather, he chose a man who had been prepared — a man who day after day, for all the days of his life worked on his craft.
34 But David said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1 Samuel 17:34-37)
And God would eventually choose David to be the shepherd of his Israel. He would be a man who led with integrity of heart and with his skillful hands (Psalm 78:70-72).
Ask yourself this question today. What do you want to see happen in your life? What purposes and visions has God inspired you with thus far? How devoted are you in carrying out the desires and the convictions God has given you?
Let me implore you with these simple steps to begin your journey:
Identify and choose something of value to you
Commit time and resources
Participate — regularly attend to the matter
Perhaps you have already been doing this. You have identified your goal, configured your path to achieve that goal, and you’ve been going at it. Embrace monotony. Love it.
Trust the Process
My son has had the most difficult time escaping the arm bar where the opponent attacks from the guard position. After being submitted repeatedly with the same move by different opponents, we went to work at home. We would recreate the different scenarios and practice using a counter move to properly escape. Repeat. Play. Repeat.
During his most recent practice, he was put in that familiar situation where an arm bar was coming from the opponent in the guard position. Faster than I could let out a sigh of worry, he diffused the situation using the move he rehearsed a hundred times and over.
Trust the process. When nothing seems to be happening, keep at it. When no one seems to validate your efforts, trust the process and keep on keeping on. God is faithful, and he will use your monotony for his glory.
Scott Oh is the senior pastor of Rooftop Church in Brea, CA. He is committed to advancing God’s kingdom by empowering this generation of believers so that they can, in turn, make an impact in the world. He and his wife, Esther, have two children together, Sammy and Abigail. He graduated from UCLA with a Mathematics degree and has a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. His passions include sports, Monopoly, and grilling.