Habits

June 25, 2014

Martin B. Copenhaver

"They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom." - Acts 17:2

The Apostle Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica "as was his custom."  In other words, it was his habit.  If you do something out of habit, you don't exactly decide to do it.  You just do it.

When it comes to leading a moral life, we tend to emphasize the decisions a person makes.  But in such matters, habits are even more important than decisions.  Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, wrote, "We are what we repeatedly do."

We all need habits because we can't think about everything.  If I had to decide each day if I was going to eat three meals, brush my teeth, dress in the morning, go to work, go home at night—if I had to decide to do all of those things every day, it would be exhausting.  We cannot live happily with so many decisions.  So we have habits.

Aristotle also wrote, "Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit.  We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts."

That's why Jesus is so focused, not on how we think or feel, but on how we act.  Give your shirt.  Pray then like this.  Turn the other cheek.  Pray for your enemies.  Do this in remembrance of me.  You don't need to think about it.  Just do it.  If you do these things over and over again, they will become habits.  They will become who you are.

Prayer

Go, I have many habits.  Help me adopt some good ones.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is the president of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts, and the author of several books, including Living Faith While Holding Doubts.
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