[#pictureLent] Mar. 25: Changing our Habits

By Annette Pendergrass
East Central District, Florida Annual Conference

First, read John 4:21-23

Old habits die hard. If you don’t believe that, just attempt to change something, even a little thing in your life that you routinely do to the point that you barely even think about it.

Recently, my car died. With 273,000 miles on the car, I knew I was tempting fate by continuing to drive it but I had hopes of making it last just a few more months. That hope did not become reality. It died, or at least it was so close to death that my husband banned me from driving it after he checked the engine when I had managed, somewhat miraculously, to drive it home from the office.

So as we pondered how we wanted to replace it, doing research into models, costs etc., I drove a loaner car for a couple of weeks. There was only one problem with the loaner car: I live in a gated community. Residents in my community have little stickers on their cars that trigger an automated gate to go into the community. Non-residents have to go to the gate house and show their ID to the gatehouse operator. My little sticker that operates the automated gate was on my dying car in my driveway. The loaner car did not have a sticker which meant I needed to go to the gatehouse entrance and show my ID and I could NOT go through the automated gate.

You can guess where this is going. For 2 ½ weeks, I would mindlessly pull into the automated gate lane only to realize the gate was not going to open. If lucky and no one was behind me, I could back up and go into the correct lane. If there were people behind me – well let’s just say, they were not happy with me for fouling up their return home.

Finally, we bought a new (used) replacement car. The day I took the car home I drove through the correct lane to the gatehouse and then straight to the homeowner’s office to get a new little, magic sticker that would allow me to return to the automated gate lane. Honestly, I think I was more pleased with getting that little sticker on my car than with getting the car itself.

Admittedly, this is a very small thing. But that experience points to a much larger and important issue. In our life of faith, in our relationship with God, how willing are we to allow Jesus to challenge old habits, old ideas, old assumptions that may be as routine and ingrained in us as my driving habits into my neighborhood?

To sign on as a follower of Jesus Christ is to sign up for a lifetime of transformation of our lives at the very core of our being. To claim to follow Jesus means that we are willing to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and allow the mind of Christ, the very life of Christ to become our mind, our heart, our life. To follow Jesus is to allow the power of Christ to renew us and to replace our values, our motives, and our agenda with Christ’s motives, values and agendas.

This is no easy process because old habits really do die hard. Lent is a perfect time to consider how we are allowing the mind or heart of Christ to be formed in us. We need to consider how open we are to allowing Jesus to challenge some of our most cherished assumptions, ideas and values.

The scripture reading for today is an example of one way that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus challenge us to rethink some of our assumptions. Specifically, in John 4:21-24, Jesus is challenging this Samaritan woman with a new way of understanding worship. While her question was focused on the “right place” of worship, an age old point of debate between Samaritans and Jews at the time, Jesus reframes the question.

In doing so, Jesus is clear that the place or location of worship is no longer the point. What matters now, with the arrival of Christ, is the focus on the object of worship, the living God. Likewise what matters now is the disposition of the heart or spirit in worship. “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” True worship is worship that is focused first and foremost on the living God who guides and leads us in spirit and in truth.

When you step back and consider the larger story in which Jesus makes this statement, you discover that everything about this encounter between Jesus and the woman, the disciples reactions to Jesus’ conversation with her and finally the response of the townspeople who come to know Jesus from this woman’s testimony, is a challenge to the common, status quo assumptions of the people involved in this encounter.

Jesus challenges the commonly held assumptions of the time regarding the Samaritans as people that the Jews disregarded and even despised. Jesus challenges the assumptions of the culture regarding the value of women in society. Jesus chooses to cross social and religious boundaries and to extend the gift of living water, the gift of salvation to all and in the process of doing so he challenges all those involved in this encounter to rethink their assumptions about life and faith and who and what matters most in life.

 Jesus will do the same for us if we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit in leading us to know and be set free by God’s truth. Jesus longs to replace his agenda for our agenda and he can empower us to allow some old habits of the heart to die so that we can discover a new way of thinking and living and being in the world that embodies his love, grace, healing and forgiveness. At the end of the story, the Samaritan woman along with many of the townspeople came to know Jesus as “the Savior of the world.” (v. 42) They began the journey of being transformed from the inside out. Jesus invites us to join them on the same kind of journey.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, thank you for Jesus and his gift of living water and abundant life now and in eternity. Help me to be open to the leading of your Holy Spirit, even when that Spirit challenges me to change the ways I live and think and relate to others and even when that Spirit leads me to see things in my heart that are still in need of transformation. Help me to allow the heart of Christ to shape my heart, my thoughts, my motives and my love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some examples of the ways that Christ has already been at work in you to transform your habits, thoughts or assumptions about life, faith or even other people?
  2. Are there times when you sensed the Spirit leading you to change something in your life and you have been resistant? What do you think that was about? Would you be willing to “go there” now?
  3. Do you think there are some assumptions that followers of Christ make today that Christ still longs to challenge and transform? If so, what are some of those assumptions?