31
Aug

James K.A. Smith: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit [altær]


[upbeat music]>>I wanna talk to you
tonight about the theme You Are What You Love
and the way, I guess, part of what has pressed
me to think about this is I’ve been spending some
time in the Gospel of John recently and one of the
things that strikes me in John’s portrayal of
Jesus is how often Jesus is the one posing the questions. It’s the teacher who’s
asking the questions and if you were to read the Gospel of John with a highlighter pen and sort
of highlighted the questions that Jesus puts to his followers, to those who he encounters, you would find that they
are often very incisive and rather uncomfortable questions. So while he’ll ask questions like, “Do you want to be healed?”
or he’ll encounter someone and say to his disciples, “Do
you want to go away as well?” or, of course, at the end there
is that sobering encounter with Peter where he asks him
heartbreakingly, in some ways, “Do you love me?” I’m intrigued by the sense
of Jesus’ encounters with us, posing questions that
come to us as challenges and, in fact, if you open
the Gospel of John and you, don’t do it right now, but if you were to open
the Gospel of John, and especially if you have,
like, a red-letter bible, I think one of the things
that will strike you is that the first words
that Jesus ever utters in the Gospel of John are a question. And they are the question I
want us to think about tonight. There are these disciples, these followers of John the Baptist who are
getting sort of caught up in the frenzy and they’re
excited about what’s happening and they wanna sort of join
the gang and they wanna join the crew and they’re
starting to trail along and they’re tryin’ to get up close and they want to get in the picture and they want to join something, and what’s intriguing is that
Jesus wheels around on them and he points to them with a question, and he says, “What do you want?” I think this is such a suggestive question at the very opening of the Gospel of John: what do you want? When Jesus encounters a Matthew or a John, when Jesus encounters you and me, that’s the question he puts to us. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t
turn around and say what do you know? What do you think? What do you believe? He turns around on them and
he puts this question to them, he puts this question to
us, “What do you want?” I think it’s the most
incisive, piercing question that Jesus can ask of us. I think it is, in some ways,
the fundamental question of discipleship. What do you want? It’s the most crucial question
because we are what we want. Our wants, our longings,
our loves, our desires, they are the very core of our identity. Our loves, our wants,
our desires, our cravings are actually the wellspring from which our actions and our behavior flow. Our wants, you could say,
sort of reverberate up from our heart which is the
epicenter of the human person, and so it shouldn’t surprise us, then, that scripture counsels, for example, in Proverbs four, “Above
all else, guard your heart “for everything you do flows from it.” So can you see when
Jesus asks this question what do you want, He’s actually piercing
through to the very core of who you are because
it’s actually a question that is posed to your heart. It’s not just a puzzle
that is posed to your head. So discipleship, then,
following Jesus is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than merely knowing and believing. Jesus’ command to follow Him
is a command, you could say, to align our loves, to align
our longings with God’s. We are made to desire God, to enjoy God, and to want what God wants,
to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst
after what God craves for in His world as we long for Himself. But if that’s the
question, what do you want, and if that’s the question
that is in some ways so fundamental to discipleship
because it pierces through to the core of who we are, then I also think it means we kinda need to rethink discipleship a little bit. Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do? Anybody with me on that? Am I alone in that? That experience, that
frustrating experience where you understand something,
you believe something, you know something, and
you do something else. We’ve all that kind of a
frustrating experience. We’ve all had the
experience of, say, hearing this incredibly illuminating
lecture on a Wednesday night at Biola on the lawn and being
so brilliantly illuminated, and then waking up the next day
with all this great resolve, yes, I’m gonna change my life, I’m gonna be a different person. I know I learned something last night, I know what to do now. Everything’s gonna be different! ‘Til about Friday. You’re hungry for knowledge, you’re drinking up all these ideas, and yet somehow something keeps failing and you start to realize that you can’t think your way to holiness. Oh, that we could! Because, in some ways,
knowing is relatively easy, but you can’t think your way to holiness. Why? Why not? Why is that? Is it because you forgot something? Is it because you don’t know enough yet? Is there some other piece
of knowledge that you need? Is it because you’re
not thinking hard enough that you can’t think your way to holiness? No. No, no, no. That’s not it. The problem is that we falsely assume that we are just thinking things as if knowledge and
information and the acquisition of sort of doctrinal belief
would be enough to transform us, but we are more than that,
we are other than that, and so the problem here with that notion, one of the reasons I
think we get frustrated with not being able to
think our way to holiness is because we overestimate
the power of thinking in some ways. We actually fail to appreciate that we are more than thinkers. We are not just, as Descartes
put it, thinking things, so the problem isn’t just
your individual knowledge or your lack of resolve, in fact, your best thinking often gets you to very frustrating places. Now, I’m a philosopher. I make my living inviting
people to think about things. In fact, that’s what I’m
doing for you tonight. I want you to put your
thinking caps on with me and rethink discipleship, but at the same time, I want us to recognize
the limits of thinking and come to appreciate
what I wanna call now the power of habit, the power of habit. I think that many of us as
evangelicals have underestimated the power of habit and, therefore, have a sort of stunted understanding of what discipleship looks like. If we are going to appreciate
the spiritual significance of the power of habit, I think we need to embrace
a much more sort of holistic, biblical, embodied
picture of who we are. In strange ways, we kind
of implicitly imagine that we’re just brains on a stick. Do you know what I mean? We kind of think we’re
just these thinking things and if I can just deposit
all the right information into that intellectual receptacle, well then that should translate
into the kind of way of life that Jesus is calling me to, but we all know that
gap between what we know and what we do. The gap is the power of habit. And so I want to invite us
this evening to think about and come to a deeper appreciation of this power of habit in the scriptures. I think one of the reasons why, because we tend to think of
humans as these thinking things, we almost misread the Bible. We sort of read that thinking thing-ism back into the scriptures. Let me give you one example. In Philippians, chapter one,
there’s a beautiful prayer that Paul prays for the
Christians in Philippi and it simply goes like this, and in many ways it’s
almost like a manifesto for what a Biola education should be. Paul says this, “This is my prayer, “that your love may abound more and more “in knowledge and depth of insight “so that you may be able
to discern what is best “and may be pure and blameless
for the day of Christ, “filled with the fruit of
righteousness that comes “through Jesus Christ to the
glory and praise of God.” Now, what’s interesting
to me is if you listen to that prayer and if you sort of, if you have the habits of
mind that we tend to have, you might imagine that
Paul is actually praying that we would know, right? That we would increase in
our knowledge and increase in our wisdom so we know what to do, but actually that’s a sign
that we’re reading too fast because listen again to
what Paul’s prayer is, “This is my prayer, that your
love may abound more and more “in knowledge and depth of insight.” Do you get that? We almost don’t even know
what to do with that. Paul isn’t praying that you
would know what to love. His prayer isn’t for knowledge so that you would know what to love. His prayer is almost the exact opposite. I pray that you would
love in order to know. What does that even mean? What does that even mean
that love precedes knowledge? I love in order to know. Well, I think this gives us an insight, a signal into what the scriptures, how the scriptures
understand the very nature of who we are as creatures
made in the image of God. Paul, you could say,
appreciates that in a way the center of gravity of the human person isn’t so top-heavy. It’s not centered up in
the mind and intellect. The center of gravity of the human person is centered in the heart, in our cardia, in this sort of visceral
center of who we are, the seat of our longings
and desires and loves. That’s why Paul, when he’s
praying for us to be transformed, he actually begins by
praying for our loves. So what difference would that make for how we think about the Christian life, how we think about discipleship? What if the center and
seat of the human person is found not in the kinda
heady regions of the intellect, though that’s important, but is actually in the
kind of gut-level regions of the heart, the seat of our wants. Remember, the question
Jesus is posing to us is what do you want? Well, what difference would that make, how would that sort of
change the way we think about who we are and whose we are
and what we’re called to be? I think one way, I want to
suggest a metaphor for you to sort of rethink what your orientation to the world looks like. One way to do that would be imagine that every human being is on a quest. We’re all kinda little
Frodos or something, right? We’re all on this journey. To be human is to be created as pilgrims who are on their way to somewhere. We are on a journey, we are
headed towards a destination and one of the things I wanna, I’ll talk about this a little
more tomorrow afternoon, is this is true of every
single human being, to be human is to be on the move. We’re like existential sharks. Do you know this deal that
sharks actually don’t have gills, they have to keep swimming to breathe and I think human beings are kind of like these existential sharks
who have to keep moving, it’s like we live our
lives leaning forward because we’re after something, we’re on to something,
we’re longing for something, we’re journeying towards
some destination, some place, and philosophers of habit
like Aristotle or Aquinas or others would say that kind of goal, that place that we’re journeying towards, they gave it a Greek word called telos. You can impress your parents with your one Greek word
that you’ll take home, but it’s a great shorthand
because it’s actually to say that every human
being is sort of wired to be journeying towards
a telos is to really say that to be human is to
be the kinds of creatures who are leaning towards questing for some vision of the good life, something that we think
is worth living for. It’s what we want, it’s what
we long for, it’s what we crave and what’s interesting is
it’s actually that kind of implicit vision of the good life that pulls our action out of us. We are sort of, we are pulled towards, it’s like a tractor beam
or something, right, and it gets sort of a hold on your heart and now you become the kind
of person who is headed towards that telos, that
vision of the good life. You become oriented in
a certain direction, not, this is something I
wanna talk about a little more tomorrow as well, not so much because somebody
convinces you with an argument or puts ideas in your head, but rather because somebody
has painted a picture of a sort of vision of flourishing and you’re like Liz Lemon, you’re, like, I want to go to there. Do you know what I mean? It’s like no, no, no
that’s where I want to be. And all of this is happening on very, very sort of subconscious
and unconscious levels because it’s less that a
picture of the good life has convinced your intellect. It’s more like it has
captured your imagination and now you’re pulled towards that end. So it’s not a question of
whether you long for some version of the good life or some
version of the Kingdom, the question is just which? And this is true for any human being, this is what it is to be made as humans. It’s a structural feature of being a creature made in God’s image, that we are longing for some kingdom. You can’t not love. To be human is to be a lover, is to want. It’s why the heart is
the seat and the fulcrum of the human person, it’s the engine that drives our existence. We don’t think our way through the world, we long our way through the world. We’re pulled by a vision that attracts us, we are lovers first and foremost. So if we ran with the journey metaphor then maybe what you could
say is the human heart is like a compass or the human heart is like a compass and
homing beacon all in one because on the one hand,
your heart, what you love, what you long for is giving
you an orientation to things, but it also has this
magnetic, attractional pull that is now pulling you towards that. And so think of the heart as this compass. It’s kind of part engine
that’s driving you and part homing beacon and, this is the important piece, your loves, your longings,
your cravings, your desires, your wants are often operative under the hood of consciousness. We’re not often very aware of this, especially if we have fallen
prey to thinking thing-ism and we imagine we are just what we think. Then what happens is we just
become completely oblivious to all of these dynamics that
are going on under the hood, but you are what you love. So in this sort of more holistic
picture of the human person where we see the center in the heart, the center of gravity then is this visceral region of our loves and longings. But here now is the crucial question. We will really only appreciate
the significance of this for the life of following Jesus, for a life of discipleship
if we recognize that love is this kind of subconscious
desire that operates without thinking about it. When I say that it’s operating, what I mean is you might not even realize the way you’ve learned to love. You might not even realize
the way that your compass has been oriented to a certain end. So in a certain sense,
what we need to appreciate is that we are lovers, but now the next question
is we need to appreciate how is our love shaped,
how is our love aimed, how is it oriented to this good life. And this is where I think one
more crucial, biblical insight again from Paul is to
appreciate how love is a habit. Let me highlight this one more theme from Colossians chapter three, just a very brief passage to try to get our head around the sense, what would it mean to
say that love is a habit? If you are what you love,
but love is a habit, what difference would that make? Here’s what Paul says to the Colossians. This is in Colossians, chapter three. “Therefore, as God’s chosen
people, holy and dearly loved, “clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, “gentleness, and patience. “Bear with each other
and forgive one another “if any of you has a
grievance against someone. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you. “And over all of these virtues, “put on love which binds them “all together in perfect unity.” So notice what’s going on in this passage is Paul uses this clothing metaphor, he says I want you to put on compassion, put on forgiveness, clothe
yourselves in kindness, and then he says over all of these things, like the big belt that pulls
together the whole ensemble, right, over all of these
things, put on love. But notice the NIV is
actually super helpful here because it articulates and
says over all of these virtues, put on love, over all of
these virtues, put on love. What are virtues, why might
that make a difference? Virtues very, very simply
are good moral habits. Good moral habits. And what are habits? Habits are something that
we often call second nature. Do you ever use that phrase, oh, that’s second nature for her, right. What does that mean? When something is second nature for us, it means we can do it without
thinking about it, right. It comes to you automatically, it’s so woven into the
character of who you are that now it sort of
bubbles up from your person and it’s not like your sitting there consciously thinking about how to do it because it’s something that
you do sort of automatically. That’s what a habit is, therefore, good moral habits, virtues have that sort of feature about them. What significance does it have then to say that love is a habit? What it means is that your
loves can be so trained and shaped and formed by
the power of the Spirit that you start to become
the kind of person for whom Christlike life bubbles up from the very character of who you are and you start to become the
kind of person who does this without thinking about
it, as it were, right? This is woven into your character. If you are what you love
and love is a habit, what is discipleship? Discipleship is re-habituating your loves, is re-habiting your loves, it’s recalibrating that compass
of your desire and longings. So discipleship then isn’t just a matter of acquiring information, it’s not just coming and
filling up your intellect with all of the right beliefs
and, ideas, and doctrines, although that’s absolutely
fantastic and important, it’s not less than that,
it’s more than that because what it also
has to do is spill over into a way of life that
reforms my very wants. Jesus doesn’t just ask me what do you know or what do you think, He’s asking me what do you want? And what He wants is for
me to want differently, to want what He wants. That kind of learning that is fundamental to Christian formation
is actually a way of recalibrating our loves,
retraining our longings. And here’s the kind of messy,
frustrating part of this. Learning to love takes practice. Learning to sort of form the
habits of my longings and wants in a certain direction isn’t something, I’m sorry, you can’t think your way to it. Not even after brilliant
talks on the lawn, not even that is enough to enable you to have fully reformed your loves. What needs to happen is
our loves are trained by the rhythms and routines
and practices and communities that we place ourselves in,
that we immerse ourselves in, that we submit ourselves to, and here’s the scary part. You can be learning how to
love without even realizing it. You can be learning to
love the wrong things without even realizing that
your heart is being trained in a disoriented direction. You might not even realize
all of the subconscious and unconscious ways that you
are sort of immersing yourself in rhythms and routines
and cultural rituals that aren’t trying to
convince your intellect, but they are very much tryin’
to get hold of your heart, that aren’t trying to change your mind. They’re trying to change what you want. And if they can change what you want, they’ve got you. That’s why Jesus comes around
and says what do you want? We can learn to love in unconscious ways. Our hearts can end up getting aimed and directed and bent elsewhere, our orientation can become askew, our compass begins to malfunction, it’s giving us false bearings
and all of that sort of miscalibration happens often
without our being aware of it. I remember reading a story sometime ago, this is back in the
early twentieth century shortly after the Titanic sunk, there was another terrible
nautical disaster off the coast of the Carolinas and it was
so significant that Congress convened this hearing
to sort of figure out why these two ships, the
Nantucket and the Monroe, had collided with one another in the fog off of the Carolina coast, and as they were trying to
get to the bottom of it, what they found out was that
Captain Johnson of the Monroe had been steering his ship
with a compass that deviated two degrees off of its right orientation. Now, you might say out of 360 degrees, two degrees is not much, right. That seems like a pretty minor miscalibration of orientation, but we all know that what
starts at two degrees here, can have disastrous consequences when you keep going in that direction. What might look like a tiny,
little, minor, insignificant disorientation or
misorientation at the beginning, when it becomes a habit, when it becomes a way
of life that you pursue, and by the time you get to the end, you are way off course. And, in fact, you can have
disastrous results of collision. I think there’s a
spiritual reminder in that that if the heart is like a compass, this kind of homing device
that is made for Christ and to find its aim and end in Him, then actually we need to
regularly recalibrate our hearts. We need to retune this
orientation of our loves to be directed to our Creator who is our true magnetic North, and we need to realize that
just because we are in Christ is not any guarantee that
the habits of our loves aren’t being bent by the
other rituals and practices and forms of secular liturgies
that we are immersed in. We need to be awake to all of the ways that our heart compasses
can be miscalibrated. It’s crucial for us to recognize
that our ultimate loves, our longings, our desires,
our cravings are learned, and they’re not learned
just by what we know. They are learned by what we
do because love is a habit and habit is learned through
practice so we learn to love, then, not primarily by
just acquiring information about what we should love, but rather through the practices, the rhythms of a community
that train us how to love. So I think the crucial insight
for Christian discipleship and formation here is that
his learning by practice isn’t only how our hearts
are correctly calibrated, it’s also how our loves and longings are miscalibrated, misdirected. Not because our intellect has
been hoodwinked by bad ideas. Sometimes I think we sort of go out into our cultural immersion and
we sorta turn up our kind of cultural discernment radar, but our cultural discernment
radar is all calibrated and attuned to pick up on ideas. But if all you’re worried about
is bad messages and ideas, you will completely miss,
you’ll just not even see the blind spot of all the
cultural practices and rituals and rhythms that aren’t trying to put bad ideas in your head, but they are trying to
get you to love rival gods and get you aimed towards rival kingdoms because they’re training your wants. Those kinds of what we could
almost call secular liturgies, right, that are shaping and forming us, they’re not just something that we do, they do something to us. They’re not just neutral
things that we go about doing, they are forming us in important ways. But, positively, that also
means that Spirit-led formation of our loves is going to be
this recalibration of the heart, this reorienting of our loves
that will help us to unlearn those tacit bearings we’ve
absorbed from the world. To say no to the world
is actually not enough. You have to unlearn the
habits you’ve learned there. You have to roll back the
dispositions and inclinations that we’ve absorbed there. Now, thanks be to God, our gracious Lord knows that
we are creatures of habit. This is not a surprise to Him. We sometimes function
as if we’ve forgotten that we are creatures of habit, but God has made us as creatures of habit, knows that we are creatures of habit, meets us where we are
as creatures of habit, and so what He does is He
gives us the gifts of worship as a way to recalibrate our heart compass. It’s the way that He invites
us to retune our hearts to sing the song of His kingdom. I was recently reading in St. Augustine, some of you might say St. Augusteen, who I know gets good play here at Biola, and I was reading, so St. Augustine is a
fourth-century, fifth-century North African church father, one of the great doctors
of the church as we put it, incredible witness to the Gospel
and to the power of Christ, and I recently had an
opportunity to be reading in his sermons on the Psalms. He did a whole series of
sermons throughout the Psalms and there’s this stunning
passage in which he meditates on the crucifixion and he
sees how the crucifixion points towards the church, and it comes, actually, in this context in which he describes
the church as a hospital. The church is a healing center, the church is this hospital
where God invites us in so that our loves can be healed
so that the body of Christ extends the healing work of Christ. It’s actually this really,
friends, I think this is such a revolutionary concept. You know, we often talk of the
church as the body of Christ, but we act as if it’s
decapitated. [laughs] We act as if, Augustine always emphasized what he called the Totus
Christus, the whole Christ, that the Christ who is the head is the same Christ who is
the body and so the church that is His body is Jesus, it is the hands and feet of Jesus and so when he is reading this psalm and he’s meditating on the crucifixion, he sees the body of Christ as
extending this healing work of the risen ascended
head and he says this. Listen to one snippet from this sermon. “Adam,” he says, “was a type of Christ. “God sent a deep sleep upon
Adam in order to fashion “a wife for him from his side. “In Christ’s case, a
bride was made for Him “as He slept on the cross,
and made from His side. “With a lance, His side
was struck as He hung there “and out flowed the
sacraments of the church.” Outflowing from Christ’s side is the sacramental power of the church. Friends, God knows we need
the hospital of Jesus. Salvation. Think of it this way. Salvation is surgery, right. Salvation is surgery
and because it is really a heart transplant, thanks be to God, it’s what
makes it possible for us to love aright. It’s what makes it possible,
the grace of a new heart is precisely what makes it
possible for us to love God. So salvation is surgery, but after surgery, especially
after a transplant, you need a lot of post-operative care. You know what I’m talking about? You don’t sort of walk
in, get this new heart, and then everybody’s like see you later! There has to be post-operative care. We need to be protected from infection, we need to exercise, we need therapy, we need to change our habits, we probably need to
change all the bad habits that gave us the bad heart that put us in the operating room in the first place. And just because you have
the new heart doesn’t mean that you yet have the new habits. What you have is the
capacity and the possibility for those new habits. We need to learn to live with new hearts. The church, then, you
could think of the church as the sort of post-operative care center for people with new hearts. Sanctification, that’s
what we’re talking about when we say you can’t
think your way to holiness, we’re talking about sanctification. Sanctification is rehabilitation. It is this recalibration that
is also healing our hearts and the church is the place where Christ’s healing power flows. Do you want to recalibrate
the orientation of your heart? Here’s the remarkable yet
simple message of the Spirit. Lay it on the altar of worship. Worship is the space, is the
incubator, is the gymnasium, if you will, in which we are invited to learn how to love again,
to learn how to love anew, to learn how to love the
right things in the right way so that we love God and
we love what God loves. That’s the invitation that we
have this week to think about, that to lay yourself on the altar is precisely how you will be altered. Let’s pray together.>>Voiceover: Biola
University offers a variety of biblically-centered degree programs, ranging from business to ministry, to the arts and sciences. Visit biola dot edu to find out how Biola could make a
difference in your life. [uplifting music]

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6 Comments

  • Nedko Boqnov says:

    Amen God bless you all

  • chimichangacharles says:

    I love seeing how Smith has developed his ideas through the years. Very excited for this book to come out!

  • The Scapegoat Mechanism says:

    He's the new Pascal of our time!

  • Carl Peterson says:

    He does ask who do you say that I am? Belief. Not just what we want. I do not mind if he says that we are more than just thinking things but we are thinking things and feeling things and doing things. So our thinking, feeling, and doing is all part of it. You are what we love but love is not just a heart (as we understand it) thing. WE love with our mind, heart and will. That is why the greatest commandment says that we should love God with our whole being. I do not think he is wrong except that he has limited things without necessity. I think different types of people with different personalities and backgrounds will put the emphasis on one of these things. (Thinking, feeling, doing).

  • MrMurfle says:

    I don't think he's quite nailed it. There seems to be a gap, and that is in determining what habits you are going to practice (and if you do them is that really 'practice'?). Doesn't that require knowledge and will? In any case I need a clear picture — the knowledge, if you will — of what those habits are, and I'm not finding that here. I'm still just left with a life that encounters an inspirational or admonishing message here and there, easily soon forgotten, if in fact I get it at all.
    Isn't the big problem a lack of disciplined character formation? You pretty much do what you are, don't you? Maybe that's what Smith is saying, but I need specifics as to what I'm to be, as there seems to be a lot of different views about what that entails out there. And if it's just up to each person to figure that out (and to be effectually instantiated in a life it has to be more than just love God and everybody as best you can), I don't know that we're getting anywhere.

  • Christian Wilson says:

    Wonderful lecture. This information and viewpoint is straight out of Eastern Christian Soteriology, or Eastern Orthodoxy. Check out the Eastern Church Fathers for even more insights – St Basil, St Ireneaus, St Athanasius, etc.

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