I hope you are preparing for a joyous Shabbat. If you are not Jewish, I pray your worship this weekend will be meaningful and healing.
This Shabbat I want to share with you words from Duties of the Soul, a collection of essays edited by Niles Goldstein and Peter Knobel. In the third chapter, by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, we read this profound statement:
Even for those who are able to connect with God and to feel commanded, they will not feel commanded every moment. Inspirations are brief, sporadic and rare. There will therefore be a temptation — a strong temptation — to observe mitzvot [commandments, religious duties] sporadically, episodically, and only at moments when the soul enters into accord with the spirit. The answer to this, of course, is religious routine, religious habit. Since we can only feel commanded some of the time, and since inspiration is not something that we can acquire once and for all, we are challenged to enter into a routine that holds us in readiness for God’s commanding voice.
Amen! If you are an evangelical and “religious habit” sounds scary and non-evangelical, I would point you to some of the best stuff to come out of the evangelical press: Richard Foster and Dallas Willard (Celebration of Discipline and The Spirit of the Disciplines).
If you are Jewish, I am speaking even more so to my Messianic brethren (and sistren) who tend to be slack in observance, this is a great reason to start praying three times a day. If you feel the regular course of prayer is too long, then say the Shema at least (if you are Messianic, you might add an Our Father and a Psalm). If you are not Messianic, I also urge you to pick up your dusty Siddur.
The same thing that is true for prayer is also true of Bible reading. If you are not well-read Biblically, you may find it boring to just start reading. You don’t understand and so you figure why bother. Well, get in a routine. Read regularly. Maybe you will have routine days. But if you have a routine, you will be reading at the time, whenever it is, that God wants your attention.
I think that is what gripped me so much about Yoffie’s eloquent essay: routine gets us in the right place when the time comes for God to reveal something to us. If we are praying or reading when God comes calling, we will be ready. If we have no routine, God will use other means — often not pleasant.
Many people object to routine. People especially object to doing something out of obligation that we are not exactly required to do. A command from the rabbis or from tradition isn’t good enough. God doesn’t directly command things like three-times-a-day prayer in Torah, so why do it? Why obligate yourself to a routine that is not a strict necessity?
My answer: people who have no tradition to fill in the gaps of obeying God have no idea the poverty they live in. Pick a tradition, a set of holy habits that fit your community. If you are Jewish, there is already one waiting for you.
Routine and obligation are not the opposite of devotion. Sure, you may say prayers or read passages without feeling on some dreary days. But you will also find devotion easier when you have the habit.
History proves it — in Christendom and in Judaism — those with the most devotion were not the least disciplined, but the most disciplined. Go check your Jewish or Church History and see.
Meanwhile, pray Psalm 8, just for practice.