A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Practicing our faith

Well, it’s that time of year again: with the new year comes the discussion of New Year’s resolutions. And the most popular resolutions never seem to change: lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more, stop smoking, etc. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making resolutions, nor is there anything particularly hard about it. The challenge, of course, is keeping New Year’s resolutions, not making them.

And there are two big reasons for that. The first is that the most common New Year’s resolutions tend to be about changing something that we think is wrong about us. So there’s an inherently negative frame around most of our resolutions, and they often come with the extra baggage of guilt, shame, and inadequacy, which makes it much harder to get motivated.

The second reason that New Year’s resolutions fail is related: they tend to be about stopping something that we think is a bad habit. Again, changing bad habits can be good, but there’s actually significant research on human behavior that says we can’t simply stop a bad habit; if we want to change our behavior, we have to replace a bad habit with a good one. And to do that, we can’t simply decide on a different direction, like a one-time pull on a lever to switch from one set of rails to another.

No, we have to come up with an alternative set of practices that we use over time to build a new habit, practices that aren’t simply stopping something negative, but doing something positive. To practice something means to do something well over and over again over a long period; that’s how you get better at it, whether it’s another language, a musical instrument, or any other new skill.

It’s true of faith, as well. We often talk of “faith” as something we have, specifically a set of beliefs. But while belief is an important part of faith, they’re not the same thing. We don’t simply have faith, we practice it; we follow the practices of faith as a means of living it out well over a long period of time. Those practices include things like worship, Bible study, prayer, serving and caring for others, and much more.

This first Sunday of 2020, we will be gathering as usual for the practice of worship, and that will include Communion, which is our practice as a congregation for the first Sunday of every month. So that is a great way to begin a good practice of faith this year.

But I encourage you to consider what practices of faith you want to adopt in the coming year, as well; not as resolutions to change something wrong, but as practices to embrace something good as you dwell more deeply in God’s presence and purpose for you and for us as a congregation. Happy New Year!

Grace and Peace,