This is the fourth article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.” Today’s article is called “Discipline Makes the Conscious Unconscious” and continues our discussion of the benefit of engaging in spiritual disciplines routinely, over time, in an ever-increasing measure.
Making Choices …
We control our days more than we realize. What we decide to do or not to do impacts so many other things every day. Our choices impact our conversations, they impact our relationships and they guide our behaviors. Our choices influence our very thoughts.
Even after counseling people in both spiritual and legal situations for over 20 years now, it still amazes me how little people understand the connection between the choices they make and the state of affairs their lives are in. Too often, people fail to make the connection between how the little choices made (or not made) each day have set the tone for their attitudes and expectations, and, ultimately, their “day.” Instead, many believe that their life situations are “caused” by some external forces beyond their control and that the chaos of their life is simply something that is “happening to them.”
But the reality is, that what we choose for ourselves makes all the difference. What we choose to read, what we choose to watch, whom we choose to be around, where we choose to go, and what activity in which we choose to engage is OUR CHOICE. And when we make poor choices, things don’t go as well for us.
The difference between a chaotic life and a peaceful life is developing habits so that the routine, everyday choices are made effortlessly, almost unconsciously.
Choosing without Thinking
Any great athlete will tell you that the main goal of practicing each day is to create an “unconscious response” to a given game situation. More accurately, the goal is not just an unconscious response but the CORRECT unconscious response.
We make unconscious decisions all of the time. If you have been driving a car for any length of time, then you experience unconscious decision-making. You don’t “think about” moving your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal to stop the car, you just do it. You don’t “think about” smoothly turning the steering wheel in a curve so that the car doesn’t jerk repeatedly, you just do it. Why? Because you have trained yourself to “think unconsciously” via days and days of practice and habit-formation.
The same mental capacity to “choose unconsciously” is also available in our spiritual lives. We can practice spiritual disciplines until they are so habitual that in given situations we simply “respond without thinking.”
The Benefit of Spiritual Discipline
As we “train” in areas of spiritual discipline such as Bible study, scripture memorization, controlling our speech, and removing ourselves from problematic situations and conversations, the wise choices we make start to become part of us — Godly choices become natural for us.
In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist exclaims to God: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
What an awesome goal! The daily spiritual training of Bible study, reading, memorization and meditation eventually leads to God’s Word being “hidden” in us, almost at an unconscious level. What that means is that when we are confronted with conflict, instead of reacting harshly (our natural selves), we respond with patience and kindness. It means that when we are tempted, instead of giving in to the temptation to satisfy our flesh (our natural selves), we are actually repulsed by the temptation before us.
What we previously “thought about,” becomes “unconsciously natural” after we have hidden the Word in our hearts.
The Bottom Line
The more we engage in spiritual discipline activities such as study and scripture memorization, the more our decisions, actions and speech become Biblically unconscious. Our nature actually becomes more “Christ-like.”
Go back to the article titled “What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?” and pick out three or four spiritual disciplines that you will seek to develop more fully. Make a commitment to make these disciplines part of your daily routine so that they become habits. As they do, notice the difference in your life — the difference in your relationships, in your attitude, in your outlook and in your behavior.