Last semester, two friends and I decided to run a half marathon. When we signed up for the race, however, we knew we would need to change some habits. I had to break my bad habit of avoiding exercise and form a habit of regular running throughout the week. I had to pay more attention to what I ate and to when I ate, breaking my bad habits of eating whatever and whenever I desired to form new habits of practicing moderation and of eating healthier meals. The process of breaking old habits and of forming new habits was difficult at first, but the work proved worthwhile when we each crossed the finish line of the race.
Fast forward to this semester. I’ve failed to run consistently since the race. I haven’t abandoned exercise altogether, but I haven’t worked as diligently as I did last semester. Although my intentions are good, I’ve found myself slipping back into old habits again.
What happened? What affected my progress?
Peter encouraged the church to “confirm [their] calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). When he did so, he provided them a process to follow, writing,
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
2 Peter 1:5-7
He then gives them a reason for such discipline.
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8
We might read Peter’s list of qualities in verses 5-7 and think of them as habits. Peter’s call, then, is to form new habits, good habits, holy habits. If Peter had stopped writing there and moved to another subject, we might find our motivation to build such habits lacking, but he goes on, providing a reason for building these habits. He argues that the formation of these habits produces effectiveness and fruitfulness in the Christian life. By forming these habits, the believer will grow.
Perhaps Peter’s words hold the key for our understanding of habits. Maybe the trick is to have a goal in mind, a finish line to pursue. For Peter’s audience, the goal is spiritual maturity and faithfulness to the Lord. For us, the goal could be a deeper prayer life, a more robust knowledge of God’s word, or a greater comfort with evangelism. For spiritual disciplines, maybe the key to breaking bad habits and to forming good habits is to simply set a goal and to work toward the completion of that goal.
I think I slacked off in my weekly running because I didn’t set a goal before me. When I consider my bad devotional habits, I see a similar trend. When I focus on a habit alone, detached from the reasoning or goal behind the habit, I can easily make excuses for my lack of discipline. But when I have a goal, especially a goal with a deadline, I find motivation comes more easily.
I would assume that most of us find spiritual discipline difficult. I wonder if we focus too much on the day to day work without considering the reason behind the daily discipline, the goal toward which we move. This week, consider your calling and your election. Remember who you are and what God has called you to do. And then view spiritual disciplines, holy habits, in light of that reality.