Habits are very formative in anyone’s formation regardless of what it is they are seeking, or not seeking, to form. A habit is described as “a settled or regular tendency or practice” by the Oxford dictionary. When one has a settled or regular practice, this practice then begins to form them. For example, if someone is in the habit of waking up early every day, they will form their lives around getting enough sleep. Habits will cause one to reorient their life in a manner that is consistent with the habit.
This reorienting of life can be for the good or the bad. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance what habits one develops. If one performs bad habits, they will eventually find that habit as easier and easier to do. Much like addicts. They started with a small habit but before long that small habit had grown to an overwhelming addiction that has consumed their lives. This fits well with what Robert Saucy has written, “To deliberately engage in good actions that we don’t really feel like doing will strengthen the emotions associated with that action and make it easier and easier to do” (Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Formation 186). A deliberate engagement with an action is what habits are. One deliberately engages something continually until they are performing it as second nature.
This is much like a story James K.A. Smith wrote about driving. He said that when one first begins driving it is a sensory overload with all that is to be done. But after one has driven for a considerable time, they can drive home and pull in the driveway and not even realize they have been driving (You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit 35). The reason the person can drive home without much thought is because of the habit of driving. It has become their second nature and not one they need to think much of. Correct habits help one to have a different outlook on life and situations. They do so because when one has performed the same thing over and over, they do it without much thought. It is just what they do.
This leads to the specific role habits have in a person’s formation. Habits become our actions and responses to situations. When one has transformed their minds through the renewal of their minds, from sound spiritual habits, they will act in a manner resulting from that transforming (c.f. Rom. 12:1-2). As such, the habit drives the person into transformation and proper actions from the transformation. Just as James K.A. Smith stated about running. He started running for exercise because it was good for him, not because he enjoyed it (61-62). He continued to do this as a habit and he eventually got to where he said running was enjoyable (62). Eventually because of this habit he developed, not because he liked it but because he knew it was good for him, he now craves to run and enjoys it tremendously (62).
Good habits will lead to deeper joy and happiness. Whereas bad habits will lead only to more strife and bitterness. One may not necessarily enjoy the new habit they are creating but to evoke good emotional or spiritual change, one must continue in the habit. Saucy wrote of the scriptural commands to love, to mourn, have peace, and not to be afraid, which he said are emotions, that all are commanded to do (186). Yet, for this to happen one must alter their emotional state. This is only done through the habit of altering one’s perspective in their situation (Saucy 186). When one creates a habit of seeking the good in a situation, the joy of a situation, or deciding to love another regardless of the situation, then they can change their emotional state and obey these commands.
It seems clear that habits are very formative to a person. This is true because they become the regular method by which one responds or acts in situations. When one has good habits that are directed at altering their emotional outlook for the better, then they will have a change. They will not be down and out regularly, angry or bitter, nor will they look at others as enemies, but as fellow human beings, fellow image-bearers. Habits form one into the person they are going to be. The question all must ask is “what habits will I allow to form me?” because all habits form us for the better or the worse.
Since habits are so formative and life orienting, the habits we need to be developing are good solid biblical spiritual habits. We need to dedicate ourselves to the Word of God. To the habit of prayer and praise to God. The habit of worship to God. When we do these and do them consistently, we will be better able to face this fallen and reprobate world with the love of Christ. When we allow these to firm us we will truly love God with our all and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).