I used to tell my singing students “I would rather you didn’t practise your songs at all than to drill them mindlessly. All you will do is reinforce your mistakes. There is no benefit to routine unless you are thinking about what you are doing. All that work is in vain if we have to spend your lesson time blasting a wrong note or rhythm out of the setting concrete that is habit.”
The benefit of routine is that it keeps you from having to think. As my husband reminds me, if I put my keys in exactly the same place every time I won’t have to think about where I left them. Routine saves time and brain space. Repetition and tradition reinforce important basic concepts and give us patterns for instant responses when we don’t have time to think. Practice and repetition are essential to learning, but when worship and prayer become mere repetitive routines, we are no longer engaged in a truly conscious way, mentally, physically, emotionally or even spiritually.
Jesus warned us not to be lulled into feeling super-spiritual by the number of words we repeat to try to impress God. “Vain repetition” the ancient King James version called it.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (Matthew 6:6-7)
I love worship music from the heart. Sometimes the tunes that carry my deepest love for the Saviour may be no more complex than nursery songs and when the heart is engaged can be sung over and over as a profound offering of praise.
And sometimes repeated simple choruses with iffy theology are like singing Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall -endlessly.
If God is worthy of our praise he is worthy of our best, thoughtful, skilled, creative, heart-felt praise. Today people with God-given talent like the composers Brahms or Vivaldi or artists Rembrandt or Durer or poet/lyricists Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts often have to go outside the church to find a place where they can praise with their whole beings and where they won’t be accused of “showing off.” Even accounting for the difference in communication styles and artistic vehicles many of us have lost sight of the concept of excellence as a higher form of worship.
No matter the tradition we come from we all have our forms of repetition. Praying differently, mindfully, listening carefully to Holy Spirit as we do so, can be less than placating sometimes.
Lord, be with him…
I never left him.
She doesn’t need more comfort. She needs to give up the role of perpetual victim and start acting like the brave overcomer I already told her she is.
Let the meeting run smoothly…
There are some old infected wounds that need to be excised first.
Provide for their needs…
You’ve got a fifty in your wallet.
Oh Lord, you are worthy of far more than we tend to give you. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you that you are turning our hearts of stone into soft, living beating hearts of love. Thank you that you continue to invite us to fully engage with you with every good thing you have placed in us.